Tag Archives: The Who

3rd Colin Copperfield – speechless at Pete Townsend’s staging of “Tommy”

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


“Did everything go smoothly?” – (LAUGHS)

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

JOHN: 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.

“… with flashing lights on it and everything”

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.

“The account was hacked in September…”

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?

“Written and all recorded. CD’s all done.”

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?

“It’s based on my dad… down Petticoat Lane”

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.

Rave Stage review of Wall Street Crash at Talk of the Town

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.

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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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