In the last couple of blogs, I’ve chatted to Colin Copperfield about what happened backstage on Jesus Christ Superstar and about his East End upbringing – His sizzling showbiz autobiography It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Zing! is on sale now.
Over the years, he appeared in over 900 TV shows in 26 countries. He appeared in three Royal Command Performances and on five albums and eleven singles and his multiple West End appearances have included not just Jesus Christ Superstar but also The Who’s Tommy…
JOHN: Tommy was the stage musical based on the Who’s album…
COLIN: Yes. Tommy at the Queen’s Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. I played the Pinball Wizard.
JOHN: Did everything go smoothly?
COLIN: (LAUGHS) It was the previews… We’d been rehearsing all afternoon. I was in the dressing room with Steve Devereaux, who was playing the father, and I went to say something and nothing – literally nothing – came out of my mouth. I wrote down: STEVE – I’VE LOST MY VOICE!
He ran downstairs to the production office where Pete Townshend was and said: “Come up! Col’s lost his voice!”
So Pete Townshend came up.
Pete’s almost deaf from all the years of playing and I’ve got no voice. The understudy could not stand in for me. He said: “I don’t know all the staging of it yet.”
So Pete said to me: “Give me the script and I’ll go on in the wings with a microphone. You mime it all and I’ll sing it in the wings…”
So, on stage, I make my big entrance in my lovely huge outfit with flashing lights on it and everything, I grab the microphone and I mouth (COLIN SINGS) “Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve played the silver ball…”
Pete’s in the wings singing…
I’m miming (COLIN SINGS) “From Soho down to Brighton, I must have played ’em all…” and Pete is singing (COLIN SINGS) “Even on my favourite table…”
And we sang all the wrong words all through the rest of the song, because Pete had changed the order of the verses round for the stage show.
There was a very famous throat doctor named Norman Punt.
COLIN: Punt. They got him to the theatre and stuck a thing down my throat and he said: “You’ve got a virus.”
Opening night was three nights later.
He said: “The understudy will know it by tomorrow. You must go home. You can’t talk for three days, till you come to the opening night. Until you go on stage in three night’s time, you cannot talk to anybody or sing.”
So I didn’t do anything for three days.
I go on stage after three days and off we go again. My big entrance in my lovely huge outfit with flashing lights on it and everything. I grab the microphone and… the microphone wasn’t on.
Luckily somebody managed to give me another one.
I thought: I’m doomed! I’m absolutely doomed!
But the show ran for seven months and Pete Townshend was there most nights. It was completely booked-out. Brilliant reviews. It would have carried on, but there was a play already booked in – Flowers For Algernon – with Michael Crawford. Pete Townshend was producing our Tommy and he couldn’t get another theatre in London to transfer it to. We did the cast recording, but I don’t think it was ever released.
JOHN: Why had Pete changed the order of the verses for the show?
COLIN: I have no idea, because it made no difference at all. Though it was longer. The overture was changed to call it the underture.
COLIN: Showbiz is all a matter of luck.
JOHN: Partly. But also talent. You’re a singer, dancer, songwriter. You can also write. Now you’ve written this astonishing book It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Zing!
There’s no money in writing books, though.
COLIN: Not only have I discovered there’s no money, I’ve discovered there’s less than no money… because I got hacked. I only just found out the week before last that my KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) account was hacked before this book was even released last October.
I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t got any royalties. Eventually a guy who was good at computers said: “Your money’s been going to a girl with a strange name.”
The account was hacked in September last year right up until now. It’s only now that Amazon Kindle have closed the account that was going to the hacker. All the money I made up till about three weeks ago was going to a hacker.
JOHN: You’ve also written a whole new musical: Paradise Lane.
COLIN: Yeah. Still trying to get that one on.
JOHN: It’s written?
COLIN: Written and all recorded. CD’s all done. Got a very good agent.
JOHN: It’s credited to Colin Satchell, not Colin Copperfield.
COLIN: When I wrote it a couple of years ago, I thought I should revert to my original name, which I did.
The Australian guy I wrote it with, Dave Mackay – the first record producer I ever worked with – said: “What’re you changing your name for, mate?”
I said: “It’s something new. I thought I might as well revert to my name.”
JOHN: Yes. You have a brand; you should build on the brand. What’s Paradise Lane about?
COLIN: It’s about a market in the East End.
JOHN: It’s a tribute to your piano-playing father?
COLIN: Exactly that.
COLIN: It’s based on my dad, who worked on the stalls down Petticoat Lane Market, selling shoes. The one-size-fits-all shoes he flogged were so cheap that they didn’t fit anybody.
JOHN: So he was a dustman and a piano player AND a flogger of dodgy shoes…
COLIN: Yes, weekdays he was a dustman with some evening busking; at the weekends he was down Petticoat Lane; and, in the evenings, he was stooging at the Theatre in Stratford. That’s a helluva career, isn’t it?
JOHN: I’m surprised he had time to have two children. He lived long enough to see you succeed?
COLIN: Yeah. He lived till he was 80-odd.
My mum and dad remained down-to-earth. When Wall Street Crash were starring at Talk of the Town (in London’s West End), the venue made a huge cardboard cut-out – huge – of the band – of us standing outside.
We played Talk of the Town a number of times a year: two or three weeks at a time.
My mum and dad came along a few times.
The last time we were there they came up on the train and asked the front-of-house if they could buy the cut-out. They were going to take it home on the train.
JOHN: They must have been so proud.
COLIN: So proud.
JOHN: Why did Wall Street Crash come to an end?
COLIN: It had just had its time, really. Television variety had finished. We’d been on all those shows – Morecambe & Wise, Cannon & Ball, Des O’Connor – and all the clubs had closed – Blazers in Windsor, Baileys, Talk of the North, the Night Out in Birmingham – all those.
Back then, we had been able to go from one club to another, but that had all finished and that was the end of the band, really. We had had 25 years out of it.
It had just had its time.
When we started off, our manager, who had managed Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck at the time… We did our first Royal Command Performance at the London Palladium and he was dropping me off at my little flat in Islington. And I said to him: “Jerry, how long do you think we’ve got?”
He said: “If you all behave yourself, I reckon you’ve got a good three years.”
We didn’t do any behaving ourselves but we lasted for 25.