Tag Archives: Jesus Christ Superstar

An East End child, my mum and Dean Martin – Colin Copperfield (2nd of 3)

In yesterday’s blog, actor, dancer, singer and songwriter Colin Copperfield talked about his time performing in London’s West End in Jesus Christ Superstar

He started in showbiz aged 14 and, as well as multiple stage appearances, appeared in over 900 TV shows in 26 countries. His autobiography It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Zing! was recently published.

Colin was born in Forest Gate in the East End of London. 

He told me: “I had a bit of a tough upbringing…”


JOHN: You did 25 years performing with Wall Street Crash but you’ve worked solidly all over the place as an actor, dancer, singer and songwriter because you’re a hyphenate. You can turn your voice and your feet to everything. 

COLIN: I could do it all well enough. I was never the best singer; I was never the best dancer; I was never the best actor. But I could do it all pretty well – not bad.

JOHN: More than not bad, I think, given your career…

COLIN: You’re very kind. 

Early band rehearsal – Colin is centre, behind microphone

JOHN: You started in a band at 14.

COLIN: Well, we did a lot more rehearsing than we did gigs. It was a good little band, though. A couple of the others went on to be session musicians.

JOHN: At 14, you wanted to  be a rock star?

COLIN: I wanted to get out of school, basically. I was so bad at school academically.

JOHN: So was Churchill. 

COLIN: That makes me feel better. I only found out about ten years ago I was dyscalculic (difficulty understanding or learning maths).

I can remember very long Shakespeare speeches but I can’t add anything up. Numbers are a complete blur.

COLIN: Before I was in Jesus Christ Superstar. I had done my bands and a solo cabaret act. I’d done the ships and then I was doing the clubs. I went and worked on the cruise ships and round the Mediterranean for three years. And I did the Superstar cast album before I went to Australia.

The ships were fantastic. We did one-hour versions of West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Oklahoma! As an actor, it was the equivalent of doing Rep. It was a different show every night.

The guy who directed the shows – Jeff Ferris – also worked for Cameron Mackintosh.

Colin’s inspirational mum and dad (at the start of WWII)

JOHN: Your family background was theatrical?

COLIN: My dad Wally worked at the Theatre Royal in Stratford (London) as a ‘stooge’. He was a dustman during the day and a stooge at night. When visiting comedians – all the top comedians – people like Max Miller in those days – used to come in… he worked with a lot of the top comedians just by being a straight-man – a ‘stooge’. 

JOHN: The comedians didn’t have their own straight men touring with them?

COLIN: No. Especially the American comics who’d come over. He’d give them the local references to make.

JOHN: So your dad was a dustman who really wanted to be a showbiz star but he had to support a wife and two children…

The banjo uncles (centre front) with their East End mates

COLIN: Yeah. My dad was REALLY frustrated. My two uncles were very famous buskers.

By day, they were crane drivers around Silvertown Docks, Canning Town Docks, that area. 

But they were also the most amazing banjo players and they played all the local pubs at night – often outside the pubs.

If they were playing inside, my dad would sometimes go along and play the piano with them… which would have been fabulous if he could have played the piano. (LAUGHS) He used to do this technique called ‘vamping’

His fingers could land anywhere. There was no technique to it at all, but it seemed to work.

JOHN: So he wasn’t off-key, but he…

COLIN: He wasn’t OFF-key, but he wasn’t IN-key. It was his own way of doing it. I think my uncles (LAUGHS) played even louder just to drown him out.

JOHN: To play ‘badly’ but entertainingly is really difficult – You have to be a very good piano player, like Les Dawson.

“We worked (safely) with Rolf Harris a lot…”

COLIN: Yes. He was a lovely guy. I worked with him. I used to dance with this group called The Young Generation. We worked with Rolf Harris a lot – on The Rolf Harris Show. After us, with Dougie Squires, they turned into The Second Generation.

I was rehearsing the Les Dawson television showwhen he was massive. We were doing this dance routine and I was waiting for my cue to enter; the door opened and it was Les Dawson.

He went: “You a’right?”

I said: “Yeah. You awright?”

He went: “Naw. I got terrible diarrhoea.”

That was my introduction to Les Dawson. He was a really lovely bloke.

JOHN: He didn’t seem to have a big ego.

COLIN: I was so lucky to work with all the people I did, because I got to work with the end of ‘showbisiness’, really.

Lots of zingy gossip in Colin’s autobiography

The most miserable git we ever worked with was Dean Martin. Miserable sod. We were supporting him at the Victoria Apollo Theatre in London. We were there for ten nights with him. He never used the theatre at all. He would come up to not even the stage door; he would come up to a pass door in his limo and walk straight onto the stage. Afterwards – straight off the stage into his limo and off. He had a little bar made by the side of the stage with curtains round it with all the optics in it and everything.

JOHN: So he did drink a lot? I thought it was just his schtick.

COLIN: Well, no, I don’t think he did drink. Or, if he did, not the nights we were with him. We’d be waiting to go on first. We’d do 15 minutes, then it’d be Dean Martin. He went on straight after us and he never once went into this little bar.

Straight onto the stage. Sing. Mock drunk. And walk straight past this bar to his car.

JOHN: Your mother… Was she in showbiz?

COLIN: No. My brother THOUGHT he could sing and he REALLY wanted to be in show business but he was completely tone deaf. 

JOHN: So, when you were 14, you were a music person. In the rock bands, you were the singer?

COLIN: Yes. I could play the guitar but didn’t: I just purely sang. 

JOHN: But then you got into dance…

Young musical Colin with his encouraging mum

COLIN: Only because my mum – she was a real Cockney – said: “‘Ere. You gotta lose yer accent,” she said, “and you gotta ‘ave more than one string to yer bow if you’re gonna go into showbusiness.”

So the dancing is down to my mum. 

I played with some show bands and dance bands. I did a bit of everything coming up. Then my singing teacher said: “It’s all very well doing all this but you need to get some theatre stuff… They’re auditioning tomorrow at the Prince of Wales Theatre (in London) for the Harry Worth stage show in Great Yarmouth.”

Summer seasons were big business then. They would last three or four months. You could almost go from Summer Season into (Christmas) Panto. I was singing with a show band at the time.

It was an open casting. Number One in the Hit Parade was Tom Jones: Love Me Tonight. I went along and didn’t really know anything and all these hundreds of guys before me in the audition, they were all singing (COLIN SINGS) “My boy, Bill! He’ll be tall and tough as a tree, will Bill. Like a tree he’ll grow…” (a song from Carousel).

At the audition, I gave my Love Me Tonight music to the pianist who was doing the accompaniment and he said: “Are you really gonna sing this?” and I said “Yeah…??”

So I started singing (COLIN SINGS) “I know that it’s late and I really must leave you alone…”

Immediately they said: “Thankyou, Thanks very much, Colin…”

The pianist told me: “Wrong type of song.”

I rang my singing teacher and told him: “One line and they said Thankyou very much…

“What did you sing?”

Love Me Tonight.

“You prat; come round here now…” 

And he told me: “Learn this… (COLIN SINGS) On a wonderful day like today, I defy any cloud to appear in the sky… Go back tomorrow. They won’t remember you.”

So I went back the next day. Same rehearsal pianist. “Thank God, mate,” he said. “You got more of a chance with this one…”

Harry Worth was a very big name in Great Yarmouth…

I sang: (COLIN SINGS) “On a wonderful day like today, I defy any cloud to appear in the sky…” and they said: “Do you want to do three or four months with Harry Worth at The Britannia Theatre in Great Yarmouth?”

JOHN: They didn’t recognise you from the day before?

COLIN: No. And that was my start in proper showbiz.

JOHN: Were you called Colin Copperfield at this point?

COLIN: Yes. Back in the rock bands I was still Colin Satchell but then I started doing my own cabaret act and, for that, I turned into Colin Copperfield. Everybody at the time was called something like that.

JOHN: You did 900 TV shows in 26 countries, 5 albums, 11 singles, 3 Royal Command Performances. 

COLIN: Yes. I was almost as busy as my dad. I was so lucky. A lot of times I was just in the right place at the right time.

JOHN: Well, it’s talent AND luck, isn’t it? You can get just so far with luck. There has to be some talent to last. You have multiple talents and you’re still working. Your mother gave you good advice.

COLIN: Luck is so important in everything in life. Like after I finished on Tommy

JOHN: This was the musical based on the Who album…

COLIN: Yes. Tommy at the Queen’s Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. I played the Pinball Wizard.

JOHN: Tell me more…

…CONTINUED HERE
with The Who’s “Tommy” and a brand new musical

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Colin Copperfield (1st of 3) – Behind the quirky scenes of Jesus Christ Superstar

“Oozing energy… sheer delightful naughtiness”

It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Zing! is a wildly entertaining autobiography by Colin Copperfield. 

Colin started in showbiz aged 14 and has spent his life as an actor, dancer, singer and songwriter – including 25 years in the vocal group Wall Street Crash.

He spent 3 years on cruise ships, 6 years on shows in London’s West End, including Jesus Christ Superstar and The Who’s Tommy, and he appeared in over 900 TV shows in 26 countries.

He appeared in three Royal Command Performances and on five albums and eleven singles.

He told me: “I’ve recently finished composing the musical Paradise Lane, fingers and eyes crossed coming to a theatre near you soon.”

He was born in Forest Gate in the East End of London. 

“I had a bit of a tough upbringing. I’m 72 now… Now I write songs for other artists and I’m a dance teacher specialising in tap, modern and ballet. I also work as personal fitness trainer.”

Obviously I had to talk to him.

Colin in his Wall Street Crash days…


JOHN: So… Jesus Christ Superstar in the West End.

COLIN: It was just one of those flukes of showbusiness. I was around 28. I was doing singing telegrams to pay the rent.

Superstar needed rock singers for the stage production.

They couldn’t make rock singers out of the traditional people in showbusiness – they were all My Boy Bill singers. They needed rock singers so, when they started, they auditioned people who sang in bands, like I did. But most of the people who sang in bands had no theatre discipline. They could sing on television but couldn’t do theatre.

There was a big problem getting enough good suitable singers. So we very often used to do Jesus Christ Superstar – this is a top West End show remember – with seven disciples. 

We had lots of Japanese tourists coming in and you could see them looking confused. Surely there were 12 disciples???

We – truly – sometimes used to dress the girls with short hair up as boys to sit round the Last Supper table, because you really HAD to have 12 disciples at the Last Supper.

At some points we were all round the table and we’d all link up hands and have to stretch a bit: different arm lengths.

JOHN: It must almost be relaxing performing in a successful, long-running West End show, though…

COLIN: Well, when I was in Jesus Christ Superstar, I was really busy. I was also working at the Stork Club in Piccadilly Circus – doing the midnight show and the 2 o’clock in the morning show. And I was also doing a television show at Teddington Studios with Tommy Steele.

I was doing the Tommy Steele show all day, which was really hard; we were tap-dancing down this staircase all day. Guys were breaking their legs going up and down. I only got the gig because of one of my friends, who was a proper dancer. I went along and it was quite a long rehearsal period – a 2-month rehearsal period –  and then we filmed at Teddington.

I was doing that during the day and Jesus Christ Superstar at night and then I was working at the Stork Club after that. So I was a bit tired. I was getting about 2 or 3 hours kip a night.

Just before the interval, they did this song called Gethsemane

Anyway, one night I’d been tap-dancing during the day in Teddington and then I got to Superstar in the West End.

It was a Saturday night performance – I was knackered.

Just before the interval, they did this song called Gethsemane – everyone’s asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus sings this very long song.

It went on for about eight minutes about how he was going to be denied and all that.

At the end of it, Jesus sings (COLIN SINGS) “…before I change my mind…” – then BLACKOUT.

So, there’s a blackout and we all clear the stage – Interval – the audience buy their ice creams. Then, at the beginning of the second half – BLACKOUT – we all come back into our sleeping positions – Jesus is standing there.

So, at the end of the first half, I had got onto the floor; it was a really warm floor; perspex squares; I’m slunk down; Jesus is singing; I’ve fallen asleep. BLACKOUT. Peter and John have gone. Jesus has gone. 

But I’m still fast asleep on the stage. 

They were about to lower the iron curtain; all the lights are up and somebody saw me lying there, more or less under the iron curtain.

“Colin! Colin! Colin!!!”… 

They had to send the stage hands on to wake me up.

All the audience have seen this. So, at the beginning of the Second Act… BLACKOUT… and, as the lights came up, the whole audience stands up and starts clapping and shouting “Bravo!” just as Jesus is about to be denied. Literally, a standing ovation.

I was in Jesus Christ Superstar for three years. I was in it three times. 

JOHN: Three times?

COLIN: I had been in Superstar for about a year, then left to do a show at the Ambassadors Theatre – Let The Good Stones Roll, about the Rolling Stones. I played Keith Richards. That was on for about 8 months.

After Heaven, an unexpected encounter

Then I went to do another show called Leave Him to Heaven at the New London Theatre with Anita Dobson. That came off and I was meeting a mate of mine in town for a drink near the Palace Theatre where Jesus Christ Superstar was still on.

As I passed the Palace Theatre, suddenly Peter Gardner, the company manager, appeared out of nowhere and rushed over: 

“Colin! Colin! You gotta come over, darling. We’ve got nobody to play Peter and Simon Zealotes!”

“Peter,” I said, “I’m going to meet my mate for a drink. I haven’t been in this show for a year.”

“Darling! You’ll remember it, darling! You’ll remember it! Come in! Come in! Go up to the wardrobe department!”

I went in. I went up. New people. Nobody I knew. 

So I go on stage. It’s the Saturday Matinee and I’m on stage with this cast of 35 people I’ve never met in my life. They are all thinking: Who is this bloke?

I was on stage, singing all the relevant songs. And, at the end of it, bless their hearts, the whole company did the Who’s Best and the whole company turned to  me. I didn’t know ANYbody.

I never ever took time off when I was in the West End but, another night, I got Hong Kong flu. Loads of people were off sick. I think some theatres even went dark. I was living in Islington (north London), lying there ‘dying’ in my bed and Peter Gardner phones up: 

“Treas, treas” – he called everybody ‘treas’ as in ‘treasure’ – “you gotta come in, darling. We’ve got nobody to play Peter, Simon or Herod and…”

I said: “Peter, I’ve got a temperature of 104, otherwise I’d be in there. You know that.”

“No, darling, you gotta come in…”

“Anyway,” I said, “I can’t play four parts, because they overlap!”

He said: “Oh, no no no. We’ll work round that, darling.”

JOHN: We’ll kill Jesus early?

COLIN: “We’ll change the story a bit… We’ll send a car for you. You’ve got to come in, darling. We’re in terrible trouble.”

So I get in this car and I really was feeling like I’m dying. 

I got to the theatre and they put me in the first costume and threw me on to the stage. Then they put me into the next costume to play Herod. Then off into the next one… And I have very little memory of the whole thing. I was nearly dead when I did it! Four roles! They had a cab waiting to take me home and I slept maybe for three days.

JOHN: They were able to change your face by putting on different wigs?

COLIN: All of that, but I don’t think it was fooling anybody: Hold on, that short bloke was just playing Herod… Why is he playing the High Priest now? I guess people thought it must have some deep theatrical meaning.

Anyway, one night I played four parts in the same play in the West End, with a temperature of 104.

…CONTINUED HERE..
with the dustman, the buskers and Dean Martin

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