Now I’ve Got a Witness – remembering The Rolling Stones’ 1960s roots with Richard Houghton

Stage Presence: The Rolling Stones giving it their all at Warrington Parr Hall in late November, 1963 (Photo: Martin Culleton)

Stage Presence: The Rolling Stones giving it their all at Warrington Parr Hall in late November, 1963 (Photo: Martin Culleton)

I’m not sure how old newly-published author Richard Houghton thought I was when we first spoke, but he was hoping I might fill him in with my memories of seeing The Rolling Stones at the Wooden Bridge in Guildford in March 1963.

As it was, I wasn’t set to make my world debut for another four and a half years after those particular appearances (I believe two more followed). In fact, I was only six weeks old when they released their overtly-psychedelic sixth album Their Satanic Majesties Request (one of my favourites in parts, although there may just be the odd hint of special sweetie intake during the recording process). And by the time of their fabled free concert in London’s Hyde Park in July 1969 – following inspirational guitarist Brian Jones’ death – I was barely 20 months old.

The confusion was down to me mentioning how I was always intrigued by the thought of the Stones at one of my past lunchtime watering holes, having worked nearby. I was talking about the late ’80s and early ’90s though. I soon put him right anyway, Richard responding: “Ah – the idea they were playing there of a lunchtime was a bit puzzling, quite apart from the fact it would make you at least as old as Mick.” There are days when – with apologies for going down the Maroon 5 route – I’ve been known to move like Jagger, and age catches up with us all eventually, but please.

As it turns out, Richard also missed out on seeing the Stones in the ’60s, despite catching them many times since (20 times, I understand). But he’s given us a valuable portrait of those halcyon days in You Had To Be There! The Rolling Stones Live 1962-69, a new book reliving those early days. He mentions within how he hopes he gives the reader a flavour of what it was like to be ‘there’. And it certainly does. He never set out to write a definite account of this seminal group’s first decade, but that doesn’t diminish or undervalue the sense of history recounted and set down here.

As Richard stresses, some accounts contradict each other, some are clearly embellished by the contributor, and the band themselves were somewhat complicit in helping blur the lines in the first place. But what we get is an often raw portrait of how it all was back then. Many of those responding suggest the PA was poor in the rare circumstances when you could hear the music above the screaming girls, yet you get the feeling that this really was a scene to experience first-hand. And while most of us never were there, this publication allows us to at least experience a sense of the spirit of the times.

I can’t go without a little criticism, and while I admire the fact that Richard has given his contributors free rein with their memories, I’d have taken the hatchet to a few accounts. Several go round in circles, more or less saying the same thing twice. But that’s a minor quibble for something that proves to be a valuable addition to the Rolling Stones literary canon, not least in the way it illustrates the band’s meteoric rise and swift progression alongside subtle shifts within the ranks as we go along.

The idea of catching the Stones in a huge stadium in later years never really appealed to me, but what I’d have given to see them in my hometown, in the capital or even The Ricky Ticky Club at the Star and Garter in Windsor in that first year, or in fact any number of shows mentioned here from those first seven years.

Many of the accounts jump off the page, and while there are far too many to name-check, I’ll at least give you a flavour of that first year, Richard starting with recollections of the band’s residency at Ken Colyer’s Jazz Club at Studio 51 in London’s West End in November, 1962, four months after the first Stones performance and around a dozen shows into what would prove such a mammoth rock’n’roll career. On one such night Brian Robinson, then 17 (and I’ll stick to the ‘then’ ages here), was clearly impressed by his namesake Mr Jones’ slide guitar skills and a chat with the man himself after their set, while Andrew Crisp recalls how his harmonica skills improved after a few tips from a certain Mick Jagger at the same venue.

We then have members of The Presidents talking about gigs on the same bill at Sutton’s Red Lion that same month, and while Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts weren’t yet on board, they were by mid-January ’63 for the first Ealing Club shows, where Trevor Baverstock remembers lots of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley covers. Furthermore, Trevor still appears to be quietly fuming, having given up his place in the drinks queue one night to Keith Richards, only to be blanked for his kindness.

Early Date: A flyer from the Wooden Bridge at Guildford from 1963 (Photo:

Early Date: A flyer from the Wooden Bridge, Guildford, for two more dates in 1963 (Photo:

Adele Tinman, 16, was always impressed from her Studio 51 nights out at how Mick would always acknowledge the original artists they covered, encouraging her to go out and find those records herself. And then we have Stuart Farrow, 24, part of that Wooden Bridge audience at Guildford, telling us, ‘You had your good looking Billy Furys and people like that, but they were a scruffy group and a lot of people didn’t bother. I remember standing around, jigging around to the music. It wasn’t tremendously busy but the music was very loud.’ What’s more, Stuart recalls snippets of conversation with Brian between numbers, about where they were next and what he was playing.

On we go via shows at Eel Pie Island, Twickenham, more at Ealing Club and then the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, with a couple of mentions of ‘sixth Stone’ Ian Stewart’s live contributions. And I empathise with Tony Donaldson, 20, when he says, ‘You went to dance as well. Unfortunately for spectators, once they started doing ‘proper’ concerts this exciting aspect of seeing live bands was lost’.

Jackie Hankins, 24, was at Eel Pie Island, saying how ‘They looked like they’d just got out of bed. They didn’t look like they’d washed for a month’, while Robin Mayhew, who saw them at the Red Lion in Sutton and the Ricky Tick Club in Windsor, reminisces about the early days and how he knew ‘Stu’ back in Scotland. And then we have the afore-mentioned Trevor Baverstock remembering an overheard bit of needle that summer of ’63 from Mick about Brian at London’s Scene Club, seemingly jealous of the attention given by the early punters to his band-mate.

At Middlesbrough’s Outlook Club – on a double-bill with The Hollies – Mike Gutteridge compliments Mick on his footwear and is told, ‘Yeah, man, these are Chelsea boots’. At Dunstable’s California Ballroom, David Arnold, 17, remembers chatting to ‘an affable Brian’ at the interval, while at Banbury Winter Gardens, Trevor Nevett, 22, reckons unimpressed owner Ethel Usher sent the band off to get haircuts before she let them on, while Ken Pratt, 15, tells how he went backstage and all the band managed to cadge one of his Senior Service ciggies off him. What’s more, Joe Freeman, 16, said the band ended with Shake, Rattle and Roll, Mick’s stage presence inspiring the audience into a chorus of ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’. Yep, different times.

Gay Jinks, was impressed at Northwich Memorial Hall by her conversation with Stones boss Andrew Loog Oldham, who went on to get her a signed photo, while back at the Ricky Tick at Windsor, Martin Osborn, 18 – who turns up again four days later at the Il Rondo Ballroom, Leicester – recalls a chat with Bill about the band’s new gear, courtesy of their deal with Decca. And then there’s Christine Murphy, 15, cycling into Manchester after school, getting changed at Kendals department store, meeting a friend and getting her autograph book signed by Mick, Keith and Brian before the Oasis Club gig.

Having been at the first gig outside England – Prestatyn Royal Lido – Trefor Jones regrets losing his autographs following his divorce, while – skipping forward to October – Susan McLaren, 13, recalls Brian throwing a photo out of a window at the Streatham Astoria, later that night signed by Keith. She did however have to eventually chuck the apple core Brian also threw out. She kept it in a tin in her shed until her Dad discovered it, complete with maggots.

At the Watford Gaumont, 22-year-old Diana Whitney’s mother-in-law’s neighbour Queenie (are you following this?) didn’t let the boys back in after they popped out of a rehearsal, as they were a ‘scruffy bunch’. Apparently, the manager was later phoned to let them in. And later that month a young diner at a Wimpy Bar in Poole obviously agreed, telling Margaret Gray, 17, ‘they are scruffy long-haired oiks and they will never last’. It didn’t deter her though – she was soon screaming ‘Keith!’ at the Bournemouth Gaumont.

Rolling+Stones+The+Rolling+Stones+-+Alta+Fide+52981Elsewhere, Peter Wood, 28, recalls the trip home from the Salisbury Gaumont in his mate Len’s A35 van, not least a sudden stop when they reached their destination, leading to an exchange with the guy behind the wheel behind them, a squeal of brakes followed by frantic reversing and quick acceleration, the irate driver – a certain bloke with the surname Jagger – stopping long enough to ask, ‘What f***ing clown is driving this f***ing van?’ before roaring off.

And before I roar on, I’ll mention Ray Hulme, 16, and how he reckoned he couldn’t understand Mick and Brian when they pulled up outside Crewe Town Hall on November 10th, 1963, but along with his mates helped them unload their gear, taking it upstairs to the venue. He also adds, ‘I’d never seen long hair like it’.

But that’s just a snapshot of this hugely-entertaining 288-page read. Instead, let’s get back to my chat with Richard. And then you can stop reading over my shoulder and work out how to get a copy of your own.

Richard, 55, works for a housing association in Chorley by day, writing in his spare time while based with his partner in Manchester. And while he admits his latest project has ‘taken up a fair chunk’ of his life, he reckons it‘s ‘a labour of love’.

As with many books covering 1960s’ pop culture, there are plenty of Beatles vs Stones comparisons from the contributors. So it’s worth noting here that the Fab Four were the first band Richard saw – albeit as a four-year-old.

Richard, whose 19-year-old son Bill has inherited his love of the Stones, said: “They played a string of shows at Hammersmith Odeon over Christmas 1964.  My recollection was going to see Santa Claus in a department store that afternoon and unwrapping the present he gave me when we got to the gig that evening.

“It was a set of wooden skittles and balls. I managed to drop one of the balls, which rolled away to the front of the theatre, never to be seen again. But my mother says we went to one of the early January shows, so I can’t in all honesty say they made a big impression.”

He certainly remembers his first taste of the Stones though, performing 1971’s Sticky Fingers’ lead single Brown Sugar on Top of the Pops.

“Mick was wearing a pink satin suit and a baseball cap, doing the moves he’s still famous for. I think that was a turning point – at the age of 11, he was as charismatic as Marc Bolan, Noddy Holder or the other pop stars I was aware of.”

Rolled_Gold_-_The_Very_Best_of_the_Rolling_Stones_(album_cover)It was Decca’s 1975 Rolled Gold greatest hits double LP that really got Richard hooked though.

“Growing up in a small town in Northamptonshire, my friends were more into Genesis, Pink Floyd and Yes. I was ‘the only Stones fan in the village’. They were viewed as being past their best and weren’t a singles band anymore so weren’t in the headlines, at least not for their music.”

As it was, Richard didn’t see his idols live until an open-air one at Feyenoord’s stadium in Rotterdam in 1982, alongside ‘40,000 rabid Dutch fans’.

“UK shows were rumoured but the European dates were announced first and I bought a coach package. I didn’t want to miss out. This was in the pre-internet and social media days, when the only source of information was the music weeklies.”

By then, the Stones were two decades into their stellar career, but now Richard has recreated something of the feeling of seeing the band in those early days, having collected eyewitness accounts from 500 fans who were ‘there’, the reader taken on a journey from the first London gigs in 1962 through to Hyde Park in 1969.

That includes plenty of revealing Lancashire anecdotes, and Richard – who devised his epic tome with the help of Cambridge-based husband and wife team Trevor and Julie Bounford, of GottaHaveBooks – certainly gives a flavour of the ‘60s Stones experience.

“I used to work with Julie, and Trevor said he liked the book so much he was prepared to set up his own publishing company to publish the book when discussions with another publisher appeared to be going nowhere.

“Trevor’s a graphic designer by trade and has worked on a variety of projects over the years, including designing other books about the Stones.  While this is the first book they have published they have ambitious plans.

“It’s really exciting to be associated with a start-up company that had the faith to invest in my book and I’m really pleased with the way the book has turned out. Feedback has been really positive.”

Can he pick out a favourite anecdote or early gig he wished he saw?

“I’d have loved to have been at one of the gigs at the Red Lion in Sutton, Surrey, when they were struggling to attract more than a dozen people. Imagine seeing the Stones playing in the back room of a pub and being able to go up and ask Mick to play a Chuck Berry song!”

Richard must have despaired at what he’d taken on at times though. As he mentions, they played more than 750 times between 1963 and 1966 alone, and memories do get hazy.

Rolling Richard: The author, Richard Houghton, with his Stones bookshelf

Rolling Richard: The author, Richard Houghton, with his Stones bookshelf

“I had to do a lot of triangulation of facts, as people remembered seeing them at Venue A with support band B on such and such a date. Sometimes the books suggest they never played that venue on that date or appeared with a different support.

“But I tried not to rewrite memories. I didn’t want to lose the spirit of what people told me.  I wanted it to be in their words as much as possible.

“There were two memories I didn’t include because I couldn’t authenticate them.  One was a lady from Hereford who claimed to have seen the Stones in Hereford supported by the Jimi Hendrix Experience and by Olivia Newton John.  As far as I know, those three acts have never performed together on the same bill in Hereford or anywhere else.

“And there’s another story from a guy who says he saw the Stones play a show in Bangor in Northern Ireland in front of a tiny crowd.  I couldn’t find any reference to it in any books or on any websites but the timescale fitted in with when they visited Northern Ireland in 1964.  In the end I contacted the Stones manager from the ’60s, Andrew Loog Oldham, to see if he could verify the story.  Andrew said they didn’t play there so without someone else to substantiate the facts I sadly had to leave out what was a very plausible story.”

Is ‘truth stranger than fiction’ in some cases?

“Absolutely. Some of the early encounters people relate are fascinating. Essentially, the Stones started out as a pub band playing music very few people wanted to hear, so audiences were often no more than a handful of enthusiasts.

“The band would just step off the stage and wander to the bar during the interval, and there are some great anecdotes – with Mick showing someone how to play the harmonica or Keith teaching someone a chord on his guitar.

“Once the vibe about how great a live act they were started to spread, and when they’d had a hit with Not Fade Away, things started to take off very quickly.”

Bill Wyman’s autobiography, A Stone Alone, proved a good reference point, a combination of the band’s original bassist’s diaries and research by journalist Ray Coleman using press reports of the time. But Richard’s favourite was Roy Carr’s Illustrated Record’, listing all the gigs and adding ‘great images’.

“I knew Roy was a former NME journalist. What I didn’t know was he was from Blackpool and his band was one of the Winter Gardens support acts on the night of the infamous Empress Ballroom riot (with that 1964 date covered in great detail within).

“Plus, Bill’s book is not infallible.  The Stones played a show in Sunderland at the town’s Odeon Theatre.  Bill lists it as the Rank Theatre when it was never known by that name.  The discrepancy came to light when a journalist on the local paper in Sunderland queried it with me.  So although it’s a bit ‘trainspottery’ I’ve played a very, very small part in ensuring the history of the Rolling Stones is accurately recorded.”

Young One: Richard Houghton, around the age he saw The Beatles

Young One: Richard Houghton, around the age he saw The Beatles

So much has gone into print about the band, but Richard clearly envisaged a gap in the market.

“I did. I’m a bit of a collector of books about the Stones, at the last count having more than 200. But as far as I know there’s never been a book trying to tell the early history in the words of the fans.

“I didn’t want to tell the story by rehashing old interviews, doing cut and paste jobs from books already out there. I wanted something I could step back from and say, ‘I’ve added a different perspective, and wanted people’s stories heard while they’re still around to tell them.

“I couldn’t have written this without the help of local newspapers, primarily as older people whose stories I wanted to collect are still avid readers of print media and won’t necessarily respond to internet appeals.

“Newspapers have been an invaluable resource. I particularly wanted to hear stories that perhaps hadn’t been told before outside of friends and family. And I had so many letters and emails which began, ‘I saw your letter in the paper and it brought the memories flooding back.’”

As hinted at before, it’s the earlier accounts really resonate – from fans who chanced upon the band at those smaller venues, some of which are long gone.

“It would be great to have a time machine and see them play I’m A King Bee or Walking The Dog. But hopefully this captures what it was like and inspires people to go out and listen to the early albums again or discover them for the first time.”

You make a good point about how so many of these concert halls, clubs and pubs mentioned are now either gone or going.

“Many venues they played are still standing but lots have gone, replaced by car parks or supermarkets. Others are in intensive care, awaiting a major injection of funds to restore them or a planning decision as to whether to demolish them.

“We don’t seem that interested in preserving our civic and musical heritage or recognising that without places to play there won’t be the opportunities for another Stones or Beatles to play live in a different town every night and break through to a wider audience.

“It’s a dispiriting thought to think we’ll have to rely on The X-Factor to break a new group.”

Points Made: The Stones in the '60s. From the left - Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, and Brian Jones

Points Made: The Stones in the ’60s. From the left – Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, and Brian Jones

There’s certainly a strong sense of nostalgia and even sadness in various anecdotes, not least those regarding Brian Jones or earlier ‘sixth’ member Ian ‘Stu’ Stewart.

“I tried to keep the commentary from myself to a minimum. I wanted the fans and others associated with the group to speak for themselves.

“Stu was an old friend of one contributor, and his role in getting the group work in the early days is reflected. Before (Stones manager) Andrew Loog Oldham came along he was their pianist, road manager and booking agent.

“He had an office job and ready access to a phone when Mick, Keith and Brian were slumming it in a flat in Chelsea, living off money they could get from taking empty beer bottles back to the off-licence.

“Brian’s role in founding the group and subsequent demise has been much documented. I think what’s really sad is that the tensions between Brian and Mick in particular seem to have been evident from very early on.

“People were aware that Brian was troubled but were unable to do anything about it. But I’m a firm believer that his life was back on track once he left and that he was murdered at Cotchford Farm. His death wasn’t an accident. Perhaps the truth will come out one day.”

I’m guessing this is a project that never really ends. Have you already had fresh responses?

“I’ve had quite a few more stories. It turns out my brother-in-law saw them at Eel Pie Island in 1963 and was miffed I hadn’t asked him! If I have enough new material I’d love to do a second book.

“I’ve only just come off the phone from a guy who went backstage to meet them when they played Exeter. He had a great story about Mick signing something while hanging upside down, telling him the autograph would be worth more as a result!”

Is that right you’re contemplating a Beatles book along the same lines?

“A lot of people who responded wanted to tell me about seeing or meeting The Beatles too, so it’s started to write itself.

“I’ve a great story about them staying in a small hotel in Wiltshire while filming scenes for Help on Salisbury Plain, marching through the lobby in a line to get to their rooms. Even at the height of their fame they didn’t have the tons of security modern bands seem to surround themselves with.

“I think it’s a sign of just how much affection there is for both groups that so many people want to tell their stories. And people with teenage memories to share are great story-tellers. Sometimes they’re just looking for an audience, and hopefully I can help them find one.”

5181I3hOY-L._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_For the writewyattuk interview with Stones legend Bill Wyman from October 2013, head here.

You Had To Be There! The Rolling Stones Live 1962-69 By Richard Houghton (GottaHaveBooks) is available from various independent retailers, including – on my patch – Chorley’s Ebb & Flo bookshop and Malcolm’s Musicland, or online via and Amazon.

And anyone with Rolling Stones memories stoked by Richard’s project can email him via or write to 7 Hartley Road, Manchester, M21 9NG.

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Highway to Hull (and back) – the Lucy Beaumont interview

Mamma Mia: Lucy Beaumont has just let her mother know she's arrived

Mamma Mia: Lucy Beaumont has just let her mother know she’s arrived

After a five-year apprenticeship on the comedy circuit, it’s fair to say Lucy Beaumont is making a name for herself.

Her ‘blend of surreal offbeat humour’ (as her press biog would have it) has led to several plaudits since becoming a finalist in 2011’s nationwide stand-up comedy competition So You Think You’re Funny? And BBC Radio New Comedy and Chortle Best Newcomer awards followed in 2012, while her Edinburgh Fringe show We Can Twerk It Out was nominated for the Foster’s Newcomer Award in 2014.

Lucy was originally mentored in 2008 by Jeremy Dyson as part of a BBC initiative to find new northern comedic voices, going on to write one-woman play Bananas are Blue, produced by Theatre by the Lake and previewed at the 2010 Manchester Theatre festival.

And seven years on, her BBC Radio 4 sitcom To Hull and Back – which you can catch up with via the BBC iPlayer – is making waves, Arthur Smith reckoning we have ‘the next Victoria Wood in the making’.

Johnny Vegas, who also features in Lucy’s sitcom – along with Norman Lovett and her ‘Mum’ Maureen Lipman – said, ‘She’s got the timing of Les Dawson… an absolute natural’, while her other credits include Crush, a 90-minute monologue that scooped a Sony Radio Award.

Add to all that appearances on Comedy Central’s Live at The Comedy Store and Dave’s As Yet Untitled with Alan Davies, and a stage background, Lucy performing in various premieres and touring with Hull Truck Theatre, York Theatre Royal and West Yorkshire Playhouse.

In fact, word has it that Lucy – on the back of a sell-out, critically-acclaimed run at the Soho Theatre, Edinburgh Festival and venues spanning the country – only switched to comedy in a bid to conquer stage fright in preparation for an acting career.

What’s more, it seems that she’s also a success in Norway, judging by her reception there last weekend. She was a little gutted at missing out on the Northern Lights while on stage though. Did she not have a retracting roof at the venue?

“No, I wish! It went surprisingly well though. They don’t even understand me in Scotland, let alone Norway … but their English is impeccable. Even little colloquialisms – they get it all, because they’ve grown up on British and American TV and film.”

My excuse for catching up is her forthcoming Funny Northern Women date at Chorley Little Theatre next Friday, November 27th, which just happens to mark Lancashire Day. So let’s go for the offensive and ask if this lass from the East Riding of Yorkshire (with her defining Humberside accent) is looking to infiltrate.

“Oh, is it Lancashire Day when we visit?”

It certainly is, the 720th anniversary of the Red Rose county sending its first representatives to Edward I’s Parliament, I understand. I’m not sure how many people know of the origins, but it certainly seems to be getting a little more coverage these days.

“That’s good. You need something to cling on to! No, I’m kidding, and anyway, the other two girls – Hayley and Katie – are Lancastrian. And we’re all Northern, aren’t we.”

Manchester Roots: Hayley Ellis is also on the bill at Chorley Little Theatre

Manchester Roots: Hayley Ellis is also on the bill at Chorley Little Theatre

That’s as good a place as anywhere to add brief biogs about those other two acts appearing, with Manchester-based Hayley Ellis, a former XFM breakfast show regular, began performing in 2009 and MCs at gigs around the country. She’s seen success in various UK new act contests, BBC Radio 2 DJ Steve Wright saying she was ‘fast becoming Manchester’s funniest female.’

Meanwhile, Katie Mulgrew has also played up and down the country, and is the daughter of James Mulgrew, aka North West-based Northern Irish veteran funnyman Jimmy Cricket. You can also hear Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize winner Katie’s dulcet tones on BBC Radio 2 documentary series The History of British Comedy, while she hosts The FunnyGirl Podcast, discussing musicals with guest stand-ups.

Had Lucy worked with her fellow Funny Northern Women before this tour?

“Yeah, we seem to work well together actually. It should be a good night. And if there’s one of us you don’t like, you’ve got two others.”

Do you travel together? Is there a big tour bus?

“Oh no! Me and Hayley travel together though.”

What can you tell us about life on the road with Hayley then?

“It’s great. She drives and I talk to her … it works well.”

Junior Cricket: Katie Mulgrew, out for the day with the Funny Northern Women

Junior Cricket: Katie Mulgrew, out for the day with the Funny Northern Women

And Katie just shows up on the night?

“Yeah. She’s had a baby recently, so she’s just glad to get out of the house!”

We might as well get this out of the way – Lucy has a strong Lancashire link anyway, having married fellow comic and 8 out of 10 Cats star Jon Richardson back in April.

“Yeah, he’s from Lancaster.”

Does he take you to the north of the county now and again?

“I have been, yeah, a few times. It’s lovely. I’ve got some good friends there. I like it. Nice people.”

And what does Jon make of Kingston upon Hull? It’s hardly Kingston upon Thames, where he was previously based.

“He likes it, although he finds it a bit rowdy of a night.”

Be honest, what were you first thoughts when you heard your old neck of the woods had got the City of Culture status for 2017?

“Just over-joyed! It’s been a long time coming, and we need some recognition. You wouldn’t believe the amount of professional actors, writers, artists and musicians who come out of Hull. For such a small place, it’s incredible, and people need to know.”

Hull Raisers: Lucy and fellow To Hull and Back cast members, including Maureen Lipman, Norman Lovett and Jon Richardson to the right

Hull Raisers: Lucy and fellow To Hull and Back cast members, including Maureen Lipman, Norman Lovett and Jon Richardson to the right

Fair enough. If you search for famous Hullensians on the internet, you’ll find far more than you probably realised were from that way, including Lucy’s close family friend Roland Gift, of Fine Young Cannibals fame.

“Yeah. It’s had hard knocks has Hull, but deserves this. Let’s just hope people visit.”

What are the best things about Hull, on a personal level?

“Similar to Lancaster, really – it’s the people, and there’s community spirit. People care about each other. That’s so important, and you sense it.

“When you’re proud of where you’re from, it gives a place an atmosphere. You’re not living there because you have to work there, but because you’ve got roots there, and those bases are special.”

A friend at the Lancashire Evening Post told me just before I caught up with Lucy, ‘Ask her about chip salt’, going into a rant about how Hull got there long before any franchise chicken eateries. What’s all that about?

“Well, it’s an American chip spice, but made in Goole or somewhere, and just makes chips taste amazing.”

That’s at least one great export other than all those theatrical and musical links then.

Theatrical Links: Lucy Beaumont takes a seat (Photo: BBC)

Theatrical Links: Lucy Beaumont takes a seat (Photo: BBC)


Is Lucy, now 31, aware of a Northern-ness – for want of a better or at least a proper word – in her humour and in her act?


Can you define that?

“I don’t know, really. It goes down well in Norway too.”

Well that is the proper North, I guess.

“There are a few jokes that only go down well with a Northern audience. They’re the only ones who get it, including one I’ve got about taxi drivers being grumpy.”

It was only when I was watching a few live clips of Lucy that I realised ‘Mamma Mia’ is a phrase from Humberside rather than Italy. Not a lot of people know that. And what’s her toughest crowd been so far?

“You have a lot of tough crowds. I couldn’t pick one, but drunk crowds at Christmas are the worst. Or hen-dos and stag parties. They’re hard.”

All thinking they’re funnier than you after a few drinks?

“Yeah! Completely. And when a fight breaks out, that’s hard.”

What’s it like to have Hull-born Maureen Lipman play your Mum on the radio? Is she anything like your real mother?

“Oh no … she’s not, nothing like my Mum. I have to say that. But she’s just an incredible person is Maureen. You think you get to know her, then she surprises you.”

Husband Material: Jon Richardson

Husband Material: Jon Richardson

After all those years of proper elocution and voice coaching, did you need to give Maureen plenty of retraining to get her to remember her Humberside roots?

“No, she soon got back into it. She left when she was 18 to go to drama school, but the accent’s so infectious … it never quite leaves.”

Was she someone to look up to when you were growing up?

“Yeah, completely. She’s the one I always cited, having done a lot of drama.”

Did your time with the Hull Truck Theatre company help you on the way?

“Yeah, I’ve grown up with Hull Truck really, because my mum’s a writer, and the first professional stuff I did in theatre was with them.”

Actually, I see there’s another date in the diary for Lucy back on home ground early next year, playing Hull Truck on March 17th. So how did your Mum – Hull-based Gill Adams, a playwright whose TV writing credits include EastEnders and Doctors – get involved in the trade?

“She just had a passion for writing, really. It was meant to be.”

It turns out that there’s another Lancashire link with To Hull and Back – with Lancaster-based actor, writer and director Sue McCormick, originally from Preston, playing a part, having worked all over the country in theatre, film, TV and radio.

“Yeah, the radio show also involved Sue, who’s really well known in Lancashire and in the theatre. I worked with her at Hull Truck, so it was nice to get her involved.”

And how did you get Norman Lovett – perhaps best known as Holly from cult BBC TV space sitcom Red Dwarf – involved?

“I just asked him. I went to see him in Edinburgh a few years ago, and had tears running down my face. I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. I thought I just had to get him involved.”

Electric Dreams: Lucy Beaumont waits for a bus home

Electric Dreams: Lucy Beaumont waits for a bus home

Did you build the part around him?

“Yeah, he’s not an actor, but what he can do, he can do! Nobody else can … if you know what I mean. He’s a one-off.”

I’m only just catching up with To Hull and Back now. I’m well impressed though. Have you had a good reaction?

“Yeah! I’m hoping for a second series. That would be nice. You never know, but it would be lovely to write another one.”

Did you listen to a fair bit of radio comedy growing up?

“Oh, yeah. I was brought up on Steptoe and Son and Hancock’s Half Hour. All the old greats. I was obsessed with ‘70s BBC sitcoms. All my friends thought I was really weird. I watched them all, and it’s obviously stayed with me. My favourite was One Foot in the Grave. That’s the one I got most inspiration from.”

What’s it like working with Johnny Vegas (who has also guested in Lucy’s sitcom)? He’s another performer who said nice things about you.

“He’s lovely. He’s a good guy. I was too young when he was in his heyday in stand-up, before he started doing telly stuff. But from what I gather, when he was on form he was the most incredible performer. Him and Peter Kay lit up a stage. You never knew what was coming next. And he’s multi-talented is Johnny – he can act, he can write, he can direct.”

Have you ever suffered stage fright, like your radio character – hiding in a cupboard when it’s time to go on?

“Yes, basically! I used to shake like a leaf on stage. People would really worry about me.”

But there was never a moment when you couldn’t bring yourself to go on?

“No. There have been times when it’s been like an out-of-body experience though.”

Lancashire Visitor: Lucy Beaumont is all set to explore Chorley with her fellow Funny Northern Women

Lancashire Visitor: Lucy Beaumont is all set to explore Chorley with her fellow Funny Northern Women

Do the various awards and fellow professionals’ accolades make you more nervous, piling expectation on, or do they make you rise to the challenge?

“I dunno. I just try to knuckle down. I’m still learning, and I’m at the beginning of my career. You just like those quotes because they look good on posters! But at this stage it’s just about working with people you find funny.”

Can you see yourself doing more writing and less performing in time?

“I think so. I’d like to have a few years really honing the writing skills and trying to get a telly sitcom off the ground. But then I’m sure I’d miss doing shows. There’s nothing better than the feeling of doing a live performance. I think I’ll just alternate between the two.”

And when you get back to your South-West London base and you’re talking to Jon, can you switch off? Or is there plenty of comedy ‘shop talk’?

“Yeah, we have to stop ourselves!”

Noel Fielding recently told me about sharing a house up at Edinburgh with Lee Mack, and how difficult it was for Lee to shut off. Is that the case with you two?

“Well, Jon will be cracking jokes all the time. He doesn’t know any different and doesn’t miss a trick if you make any mistake or say anything wrong. But like Lee Mack, they’re just hilarious. You can tell they’re just as funny off the stage. I think it’s actually an infliction.”

Do you go off a in a huff then secretly write down what’s just been said?

“Well, that is a problem, because we share so much together. We have to ask, ‘Are you using that … or shall I?’”

So what can those who get along to Chorley next weekend expect from you and your fellow Funny Northern Women?

“A good night of comedy, really. It’s so rare that you see three women on a bill. Apart from charity nights, I don’t think it happens. And there’s something for everyone, you know.”

Funny Northern Women is at Chorley Little Theatre, Dole Lane, Chorley, on Friday, November 27 (8pm-10pm), with tickets (£12 or £10 for concessions) from Malcolm’s Musicland on 01257 264362.

To catch up with To Hull and Back, follow this BBC iPlayer link here. And for the latest from Lucy, try her website here.

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Bill Bailey – Preston Guild Hall

Expecting Bill: Before curtain-up at Preston Guild Hall (Photo: writewyattuk)

Expecting Bill: Before curtain-up at Preston Guild Hall (Photo: writewyattuk)

With his Limboland tour continuing for some time yet – doing the rounds up and down the country until December’s switch to the capital – I should walk the line carefully here, not giving away too much for those yet to catch this Bath-born comic and musical genius.

But however well I phrase it, you’ll get it better first-hand judging by my night to remember in Lancashire.

With the horror of Friday night in Paris stamped on us all, Bill was quick to jump in and slam all those intent on attacking the age-old concept of fun and good times, breaking the ice in doing so.

From there he was up and running, tackling domestic politics in support of the NHS, railing against the PM and IDS, among others. This being Bill, there was plenty of veering off too, something he’s taken to art-form level, and he was soon treating us to his jarring new animal liberation anthem, The Day the Chickens Marched on Kiev.

From there we covered Bill’s failed attempts at Skype conversations with his Dad and the songs we play in our heads as we walk, leading to an examination of the effectiveness of the Star Wars theme and its Imperial March in such situations.

The Daily Mail was his next target, not least dwelling on how certain scandals are written off as youthful high jinks while others – far less inflammatory – are capitalised upon, not least a certain well-documented incident which in some press quarters received about as much interest ‘as a chord change at a One Direction concert’. He was on a roll now, that particular boy band getting a right pasting, Bill describing its remaining members as resembling ‘four blank Scrabble tiles’.

Limbo Lad: Bill Bailey processes another thought in his tombola mind

Limbo Lad: Bill Bailey processes another thought in his tombola mind

His switch between subjects and observations continued apace, coming at us pinball-style while gradually leading to his main theme, Limboland, that corridor of despair where life doesn’t quite match up to how we might have expected it to. That included a look at British definitions of pleasure, first explaining the Danish term hygge, loosely translated as cosiness. And believe it or not, there was even a visitor from Jutland in the crowd to help out with the pronunciation.

As Bill suggested, we have differing definitions – cue several examples of true happiness, British style, such as finding receipts for faulty electrical appliances, before a spot-on appraisal of the phrase, ‘Not too bad … all things considered’.

As he digressed again, I particularly enjoyed his alternative version of the haiku, a more football-oriented 4-4-2 formation poem, as given in the example:

I hold you close,

You look morose,

Dead wasp

Before the interval he even tackled Happy Birthday in a minor key on the grand piano, and then in Kurt Weill style (although neither are likely to lead to children’s party bookings if the day-job falls through).

The music theme continued when Bill returned with a brief examination of shoe-gazing indie, before an evaluation of the rock riff and acceptable facial accompaniments, not least advice to avoid the ‘concentrating’ look, which doesn’t quite carry the same kudos.

We also learned the ‘chord progression of Satan’, Death Metal style, as tested on several mainstream tunes, not least crowd suggestions Lady in Red and If You’re Happy and You Know It.

Vitamin Vision: Bill Bailey sees it as it is (Photo:

Vitamin Vision: Bill Bailey sees it as it is (Photo:

Returning to his main theme and that ‘true nature of happiness’, he regaled us with the rib-aching tale of his extended family trip to Tromso to see the Northern Lights. And then came his revelatory glimpse into the working of the male ‘tombola’ mind, including honest responses to the partner’s standard question, ‘What are you thinking of?’ which rang a bell for a fair few of us.

Bill’s climax followed, so to speak, as we helped him record his own take on a hit in the style of ‘vegan chancer’ Moby. And there was still time for another great tale illustrating his ‘life’s great disappointment’ theme, involving Bill and his mate getting tongue-tied while meeting Sir Paul McCartney, our comic master then leaving us with an inspired Jamaican ragga dub take on Downton Abbey.

On a dark and wet weekend when it seemed that the world was on a collective low, our special guest gave us plenty to smile about. Thanks for that, Bill. And come back soon.

For the recent writewyattuk interview with Bill Bailey, head here. And for details of the rest of the Limboland tour, head to his website here

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Farewell to The Dubious Brothers: reacquainting myself with Monty (part one)

Dubious Dancing: Monty, third left, and co. live in 2014 (Photo: Ashley Jones)

Dubious Dancing: Monty, third left, and co. live in 2014 (Photo: Ashley Jones)

Listen up. I realise it’s late notice if you didn’t already know, but this Saturday, November 14th, marks the end of an era, with the final show by The Dubious Brothers.

I’ll take part of the blame – not for the fact that this cult collective are calling it a day, more the case that I’m only mentioning it now. It’s been on my list for a while, but time overtook me, and I only finally got in touch with the band’s founder, leader and singer-songwriter, Monty, last night. The result was an entertaining three-quarters of an hour chat (some of it even relevant to what I planned to cover).

Time is against me now to transcribe all that in time, so I decided towards the end of our chinwag that I’d do this as a two-parter instead, with the first instalment flagging up the gig itself. Because I’d hate for anyone who can actually get there on the night to see this too late and miss out.

Part two will follow on this site very soon, and will involve more of a personal nostalgic retrospective of the band, and a bit of a potted history of the life and times of Monty – before, during and after The Dubious Brothers.

But first, the rudimentaries – the where, the when, the why and the how, including a little biog for those who might not have had the pleasure, first-time around, or those who need reminding. It might even inspire you to get to North London this Saturday night and see them in all their pomp and finery. Think of it as the last chance saloon.

Then, when you get back (and no doubt have something to tell your grandchildren), I’ll carry on and give you more, maybe even calling Monty back for a few words on the whole emotional experience this weekend.

Sigh. It’s only just sinking in that I won’t be there on the night to revel first-hand in all those great songs, the likes of classic DB tracks like South America Welcomes the Nazis, Falling Masonry, You’re Wernher Von Braun (And I Claim My Five Pounds), Britannia’s Grand Machine, Inspector Le Strade, My Goodness! This Bazaar Is like a Jumble, and A Heck of a Dubious Day.

So just who are this ‘cult ’80s’ anarchic music hall act back by popular demand to play for just the second time in 25 years, for one night only at the Assembly Hall in Islington’ (not my words, but about right, I suppose), formed around Banstead way in my native Surrey all those years ago? Well, let’s delve into their own official press release:

“The Dubious Brothers have to be seen to be believed. Between 1986 and 1990 they amazed and bewildered audiences all over Europe with their anarchic, satirical pre-War sound and spectacular theatrical stage show.

“Whilst the band played a heady mix of music hall foxtrots, tangos and waltzes, surreal Greek dancing surgeons flung themselves into the frenzied audience whilst ghostly Victorian gentlemen rode strange upside-down bicycle machines on stage. The set was reminiscent of both the misty docks of Victorian London and the inventing room of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang‘s Caractacus Potts.

“Although their dance music looked firmly backwards in time, the lyrics were rich in biting, modern political satire. The Dog Ate My Poll Tax Form and What A Lovely Day For A Hunt Sabotage were particular fan favourites, and The Dubious Brothers took particular delight in mocking the British Establishment.

Stage Presence: The Dubious Brothers, for your listening and viewing pleasure (Photo: Ashley Jones)

Stage Presence: The Dubious Brothers, for your listening and viewing pleasure (Photo: Ashley Jones)

“No judge or freemason was safe from their gaze. As a cult indie act, their vinyl releases are now collectors’ items, but the recent success of the album Antiques- The Best Of The Dubious Brothers has led to this one last glorious night of twisted dancing sing-a- longs and chaotic delight.”

Right, now we’ve got that out of the way (which is good, because they’re bloody hard to explain to people who haven’t chanced upon them before), did you make note of the bit that said, ‘second time in 25 years’? Well, yeah. I missed that last comeback gig, and as I’ve already mentioned, circumstances as they are (not least geographical ones) I won’t be able to make it this time either. Shame on me, and for me. But a few of my mates made it to last November’s packed-out show in the capital (which was supposed to be a one-off), and were full of it.

That included my namesake, Malcolm Smith, the esteemed graphic artist who was my right-hand man in the days of the Captains Log fanzine I wrote and self-published back in the late ’80s. In fact, it was my fellow Malc and his mates who first introduced me to the wonder that was The Dubious Brothers, and a scan through the diaries this week reminded me I went on to see them 10 times between mid-July 1987 and the end of March, 1990.

Those first and last outings were just two of six DB gigs I saw at the Fulham Greyhound, along with one at the nearby King’s Head, and one at Guildford’s Lockwood Day Centre, the charity gig at which I interviewed them 27 and a bit years ago. That leaves two others, one supporting The Corn Dollies at the Marquee, and the other at midnight (or thereabouts) on the Saturday at Glastonbury Festival in the summer of 1989. Heady days.

It was only looking through Monty’s sleeve notes and past interviews this week that it struck me that their previous last-ever gig at Warwick University in October 1990 was just a couple of weeks before I headed off on my world travels. It was the end of an era for both of us.

Yet they came back eventually, and now they’re doing it again – with a few promising tweaks by the sound of it. And from what Monty’s told me, it’s going to be a night to remember.

The first time we properly talked, the head honcho of The Dubious Brothers (on that occasion joined by band-mates Simon and Steve) came over all pretend-John Lydon-esque snarly when I showed him an earlier copy of Captain Log and he spotted a review in which our star rating at the time suggested they were a ‘good night out’.

You got the feeling that level of praise was beneath him. You can understand that too. They played their little hearts out night after night, and all they got was a ‘good night out’ rating. But – as I explained at the time – that was a positive review for our standards, and surely it was a very British way of doing things, something his band could surely appreciate.

They were bloody good though. They were clever, they were witty, they were musically adept, and they were of the now. In fact, all these years on, the edge they had then still shines through, and their songs seem somewhat timeless (despite some of that ’80s sound on the recorded output) – even the one about poll tax non-payment.

Tee Hee: The Dubious Brothers are back, and here's the proof

Tee Hee: The Dubious Brothers are back, and here’s the proof

But enough of that for now. Let’s just talk about this weekend’s big event. So, Monty, why now? You’ve had your farewell gig already … twice. Who do you think you are, Frank Sinatra?

“Well yeah. Last year was supposed to be the last one ever. When the Dubious Brothers Fans’ page on Facebook was set up, people started joining and talking about the band, and emailing or messaging me asking about a reunion and when we were going to do it all again.

“And the way people talk about it all suggested that the band meant a lot to people at the time, for various different reasons. For example, people going to university for the first time who might have come to see us, and we might have been the first band they ever saw.

“We appealed to them, and there was a social side to it … ‘a good night out’, as you would say! We kind of reminded people of that exciting time, of being young and going to see gigs. We said we’d just do one show – the one we did last year.

“But because of various factors like illness, and not all the original members being available to play, we drafted in Dominic Luckman from Cardiacs on drums. And because I didn’t want everyone to have to learn all 16 or 17 songs we had Jackie Carrera, formerly of Girlschool and The Flatmates, playing bass on a few tracks, and Des Burkinshaw from theghostorchestra, and various original members and other guests.

“We even had Tom Dolan, who started the fan page, on keyboards. So it was a family affair. And it was a great night, virtually sold out. Everyone had a fantastic time, but we weren’t really happy with the sound on stage as we were hearing it.

“It sounds fine on the DVD of the show, but we struggled on the night. The stage was quite cramped too, with it being such a big show. So although it was a fantastic night there were lots of things for me personally that didn’t quite hit the spot, professionally.

“I think we did put on a great show and had a great time, but I just kind of wanted a few other things, and it was a shame we didn’t have the Time Machine and that we didn’t have more room to muck around and dance.

“People ended up saying, ‘Do it again! Do it again!’ and I did a little straw poll in a bid to make sure that they would turn up. They promised they would, so we decided to do it, and as it turns out one of our people has rebuilt the time machine from new, and it looks absolutely incredible – far better than the original.”

Valuable Antiques: The Dubious Brothers, on the cover of the newly-repackaged Antiques compilation

Valuable Antiques: The Dubious Brothers, on the cover of the newly-repackaged Antiques compilation

So has there been a lot of hard work to get things ready in time for Saturday?

“Absolutely, and we have a children’s choir to kick off the show, which is mainly children of the band and others drafted in, all dressed as street urchins, basically lamenting why I sing about Nazis, and all that.”

Fantastic, and very Lionel Bart meets Monty Python, 21st century style. In fact, here are the actual words:

Why do you sing about Nazis? Why can’t you sing about love? 

Why don’t you sing about wonderful things like daisies and butterflies and doves?

Why can’t you be more like Coldplay? Then we’d be very rich. 

The way things are going, with record sales slowing, you’re sure to end up in a ditch.

Inspired, and apparently, with that, Monty comes on and asks if the choir would like him to sing a nice song instead. But to find out what happens next, you’ll have to pop along this Saturday night.

You mention family members. Any of those belong to you, Monty?

“Yes, my little boy is one of them. He comes on and sings during Oh! Mother Borden.”

Brilliant, one of my favourites, and it turns out that this particular Victorian urchin has the wondrous line, ‘God bless yer, guv’nor, d’you fancy a pie?’ What’s more, young Joseph also has another line later, but again I’ll leave that for those who are there to find out. And there won’t be a dry eye in the house, I’m guessing.

Word has it that there will be several more surprises and new highlights on the night, with some of the more obscure songs represented via a new extra medley.

12108181_10154431125211164_310946541293862547_nAnd will there be a live DVD this time?

“Not this time, no. It was very expensive, and the last one is great, so that will be our epitaph … testament, whatever you want to call it.”

I’ll stop there for now. Otherwise, no-one will get a chance to read this before the event itself. Stay tuned for part two, and in the meantime, if you can possibly make it to Islington on Saturday night but haven’t quite tracked down tickets yet, they’re available via this link here.

And for more about Monty and The Dubious Brothers – not least how to get your hands on the best of CD and his own solo material – try his website via this link


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Rise and Shine – the return of Hugh Cornwell

headercss8A quarter of a century after he left The Stranglers, Hugh Cornwell remains a regular on the live circuit – still in love with his back-catalogue, and still ticking off life ambitions.

In the scheme of things, he’s been outside the band with which he made his name for 50 years all told, yet the Men in Black’s material continues to feature heavily in his live set. That said, the 66-year-old Londoner’s latest tour celebrates his solo years too, on the back of a new compilation album and live DVD.

All these years on, Hugh remains a respected songwriting talent and accomplished performer, with seven solo studio albums (if I’ve counted right) behind him, as well as a couple of collaborations, several live recordings and a few collections.

His first solo album even pre-dated the departure from his old band. But he remains best known as the original guitarist, singer and main songwriter in The Stranglers, (largely) enjoying massive success, not least 10 hit albums and 21 top-40 singles. Along the way, the band etched themselves into the European and American musical psyche through classics such as Peaches, Something Better Change, No More Heroes, Duchess, Golden BrownStrange Little Girl and Always the Sun.

And while former bandmates Jean-Jacques Burnel, Jet Black and Dave Greenfield continue touring and recording under the old name – to a large and appreciative following, Baz Warne having led them for almost as long as Hugh and interim vocalist Paul Roberts now – the founding frontman is receiving his own accolades, not least on the back of his most recent album, 2013’s Totem and Taboo.

Hugh was between dates in Shrewsbury and Leeds when I caught up with him, not far off my patch and set to head over to Lancashire for dates in Morecambe (November 12) and Colne (November 13), before returning again for a show in Southport (November 28). And while he was only three nights into the latest leg of the tour at the time, it seemed that he’d made a bright start.

“I’ve got a few old numbers I’m playing that I’ve never played before, and they’re going down very well, so I’m quite happy with what’s going on.”

fall and rise front cover compressed353x359I should explain at this point that Hugh likes to go back to the back-catalogue and try out a few numbers from his past, giving them a fresh twist.

“Absolutely. I’ve taken an idea I had two years ago, last time I was on an acoustic tour, to go through the albums I’ve been involved in, both in and out of The Stranglers, pulling one off each album. And it went down so well before.

“I’ve managed to change the whole selection this time, which is great. And that’s what’s nice about going out acoustically – you’ve got a chance to experiment. It’s a bit more complicated when you’ve got a live band. With an acoustic guitar you can get away with murder!

“When you’re doing a band interpretation, you’ve a lot more original parts to try and arrange, whereas all anyone expects with an acoustic guitar is some chords … and a voice to go with it.”

Can you give me examples of a couple of songs you’re bringing into the set?

“I’ve gone back to The Gospel According to the Meninblack and found another song I can play, Second Coming. That works well and is really going down well. Then I found another from 10 which is working well, Man of the Earth, then I go forward in time, get to Totem and Taboo and a song from the next album which I’m quite happy with.”

The last time I caught up with Hugh was in June, 2013, just prior to your 53 Degrees date in Preston on the tour for that Totem and Taboo album. And that at least saved him from a grilling over the distant past with a band from my neighbourhood, once known as The Guildford Stranglers, and their practises at my old Surrey village scout hut in Shalford. So if you want to know all about those days, check out the link at the end of this feature. Because this time it’s more about the now … at least for a while.

Anyway, Hugh’s playing just short of 20 dates this month, followed by another in Paris on December 9th. Are they all venues he knows well?

“I can’t tell until I get there. I’ve done so many dates over the years, that’s it’s only when I get somewhere that I realise I’ve been there. That happened yesterday in Shrewsbury. I went to a venue and it looked like a couple of other places I’ve played. Then I went to the pub for a beer after and remembered the pub!”

Still Firing: Hugh Cornwell, after all these years

Still Firing: Hugh Cornwell, after all these years

Incidentally, a fellow Lancashire-based journalist – who shall remain nameless here – reminded me about the last HC visit to Morecambe, and asked me to put it to Hugh if he recalled an awestruck, wrecked reporter coming backstage with a mate to interview him 10 or so years ago. That same scribe also added ‘what a lovely, genial, cool bastard’ he was. I relate this to the man himself, and he laughs.

“Well, that’s very nice of him to say that. I have absolutely no recollection of that incident though, so he’s probably relieved.”

While Hugh’s never been one to mince his words, and was once part of a volatile band that appeared to court controversy, I’ve found that most of his peers have huge respect for him. In fact, he also came up in conversation during my recent interview with Rick Wakeman, when I noted how – despite the supposed ‘year zero’ approach to all that came before punk – The Stranglers carried traces of the prog legend’s past product in places, not least Dave Greenfield’s keyboard wizardry.

Rick mentioned how Hugh said Golden Brown was him trying to write a prog piece, adding, ‘I like Hugh a lot, a smashing fella, and he told me they never considered themselves a punk band, but just got put in that category, and because it suited they went with it.’ So is that true, Hugh?

“Absolutely. It was an opportunity, and no one can convince me The Police were a punk band, or Blondie were a punk band, or Elvis Costello was a punk. Yet it was an opportunity for us all, and we didn’t care what they called us. Who cares! It was an opportunity for us to break into the music business and gain an audience. And it’s funny, because all the people that were on the periphery were the ones that came through and went on to bigger things really.”

hooverdamGetting back to this tour, I can’t believe it’s more than two years since I caught Hugh at Preston’s 53 Degrees. That was a great night, with Caroline Campbell on bass and Chris Bell on drums. But this time it’s just Hugh.

“Yes, and there are a couple of reasons for this tour. It’s 25 years since I left The Stranglers, and that was pointed out to me by a record label that phoned up and told me they wanted to put together a compilation of my solo stuff for that reason. I was very flattered they’d even considered it, and that’s now out, The Fall and Rise of Hugh Cornwell, so on this tour I’ll play quite a few of the tracks from that collection.

“The other interesting thing is that two years ago – on that last acoustic tour – I was fortunate enough to film one of the shows – at the Lemon Tree in Aberdeen. And we’ve since put together, lovingly, a beautiful little DVD of the show, called Anthology, out as a limited edition in the UK.

“Each copy of the DVD will have a personally-numbered sticker. So those who buy a copy can photograph their number and scan it to my website. And at the end of the tour I’m going to hold a draw, and the one with the lucky number is going to get a great piece of memorabilia, probably unique – a 30” by 20” poster signed by me for the Stranglers and Friends versus the Media cricket match in 1979.”

What do you remember about that match?

“Alan Edwards, our publicist at the time, realised I was really big cricket fanatic, so suggested a charity match between the Stranglers and the media, because we had this on-going thing with them. So we wanted to take it on to the cricket pitch! We got all our equipment in black – hats, bats, pads and so on, while they were in white. It was a great spectacle.

“I designed the poster with a little cartoon, and we ran it off to fly-post around London, let people know it was on. I recently found a pristine copy of it in my attic, and doubt it that anyone else was one of these. So that’s going to be the prize.”

Full Toss: Hugh Cornwell faces a tricky delivery at Paddington Rec in '79 (Photo found on the site)

Full Toss: Hugh Cornwell faces a tricky delivery at Paddington Rec in ’79 (Photo found on the site)

Who was playing in your team that day? Were the roadies queuing up to join you (God forbid)?**

“Yeah …. I’m not sure if Dave Greenfield played, but Jet and Jean definitely did, and Captain Sensible and a few of our friends. Lemmy was going to play, but he had a verruca. He did show me a note from his Mum though, saying he couldn’t play. Kate Bush was going to play, but she chickened out in the end.

“And our fast bowler had the pleasure and delight of being able to clean-bowl Richard Williams with the first ball, which was great. Richard was the editor of Melody Maker, and went on to become a well-respected journalist in many fields, not just in music.”

Back to today, and when it came to the track listing of the Invisible Hands Music solo years’ compilation, The Fall and Rise of Hugh Cornwell (already out on CD and now released on vinyl too), was there as bit of head-scratching in selecting which tracks to include?

“There would have been if I’d been involved. Thankfully they made the choice before I even got involved, which was probably a good idea. If I’d have been doing it, it wouldn’t have come out. I’d still be scratching my head now.

“It’s a very melodic, almost romantic selection they’ve gone for. I’d probably have gone a bit darker and heavier, predictably. But a lot of the tracks are ones I would have put on there. I’m very pleased with it.”

The new compilation album covers Hugh’s first six solo albums, with the tracks remastered, and the CD/digital version including a new recording of Live It And Breathe It.

HC wolf frAs it is, Hugh’s first solo album, Wolf, even pre-dated him leaving the Stranglers, going back to 1988.

“That’s right, and there are a couple of great tracks from that included. And I was always a fan of Getting Involved.”

I note that Totem and Taboo is not represented. Was that a conscious decision, seeing as it’s not so long ago in the scheme of things?

“Well, it is, and I think I agree with them there. They felt it would have been a bit cheeky to put something so recent on.”

I was mightily impressed with that album, not least performed live alongside all those ‘oldies but goldies’, as you put it at the time. Have you been writing a few new songs of late?

“I have indeed. I have about half of the songs written and will continue, after this tour, writing and demoing songs. I’m making an album by default every four years, which takes me to next year. But I’m not sure if I’m going to have the time to get it all done by then. We’ll see.”

Would you work with Chicago-based Steve Albini (who engineered Totem and Taboo to great effect) again?

“I haven’t even discussed with the people I work with who we’d like to work with, or our dream team. But Steve is a great guy to work with, and so easy to work with. He suits my way of thinking. I went in with quite a strong idea of what I wanted to sound like, and he said, ‘It’s so easy working with you, because you’ve an idea of what you want’.

“He said, ‘The difficulty is when people come and they want to be produced – because I’m not a producer! I’ll help someone get the sound they want, but they need to tell me what they want.’ He’s very comfortable with that, and does make creative decisions within that sound. But he likes to have arrangements worked out, which is one of my fortes.”

When you’re not on the road, are you still hovering between bases in London and Wiltshire?

414TTGFVHFL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“I am indeed, and various other points on the globe. I’ve a lot of projects I’m in the midst of at the moment.

“Funnily enough, seeing as you mentioned Rick Wakeman and prog earlier, I’m just finishing an album with John Cooper Clarke singing. No one else is really aware of this, but he’s got a great baritone voice, and we’ve done versions of  a lot of old classic songs. Those include MacArthur Park, with the world’s chief prog flute player, Ian Anderson, playing on there.”

That must put a smile on your face, moments like that – meeting people who were such an important part of your musical heritage, and paying homage to songs and songwriters you rate.

“Absolutely, and I’m going to write a song about Jimmy Webb, because he’s one of my heroes. What a great writer, and a pillar of musical achievement.”

It must be good that all these years down the line you’re still ticking off major firsts and life’s ambitions.

“Yes, I’m still doing that. I had the pleasure of shaking hands with Ginger Baker a week ago, which ticked another box. That’s amazing, being able to do things like that.”

Away from the music, Hugh is an accomplished writer in another field, with five books behind him. His first dates back to 1980, Inside Information telling of his time in HMP Pentonville for drug possession. Then there was The Stranglers – Song by Song in 2001, followed three years later by his A Multitude of Sins autobiography. Since then, we’ve had two novels, Window on the World (2011) and Arnold Drive (2014), with the next on its way.

“Yeah, I’m halfway through another. This one’s taking a bit longer as it has a more complicated story, involving a lot of research. But it’s coming on.”

Since our last chat, I confess to Hugh, I’ve spoken to a certain fella called Jean-Jacques Burnel (the legendary Stranglers bass player), and we further reminisced about those halcyon days of his old band.

Taboo Subject: Hugh Cornwell

Taboo Subject: Hugh Cornwell

So, dare I ask if he’s re-opened the channels with his old band-mates these past couple of years after past fall-outs?

“No, I haven’t. They’re out there doing it, and the thing we have in common is that we both love the old catalogue. But the fact is that I didn’t want to continue playing it ad infinitum for the rest of my days, so I’ve created this alternative life, where I play some of it, a different way, and people also expect me to play a lot of new stuff.

“We do share the love of that old catalogue, and the longer it goes on and the longer the new line-up of The Stranglers keep playing reaffirms the strength of it. That can only do good for me and The Stranglers. It’s of mutual benefit. But I don’t really have anything in common with those guys anymore. It’s all a long time ago. Life moves on … and that’s it.”

Finally, the drummer who helped get the band together in the first place, Jet Black, has had a few health scrapes in recent times. When Hugh thinks back on everything they got up to over the past 40 or so years, it must make him wonder how the old band are all – thankfully – still alive and kicking.

“It’s remarkable, isn’t it. And if you look back, most of the old punks are still alive. Very odd, Very crazy.”

** ‘Roadies?’ you ask. Yes, I know. Last time I interviewed Hugh, I mentioned how in Golden Brown, I originally thought he was name-checking an obscure illegal cigarette when he sang, ‘Lays me down with my mancherums’, rather than ‘with my mind she runs’. So this time I’m bringing up another historically-misheard Cornwell lyric, having thought for many moons the line from Duchess was, ‘And the roadies are queuing up, God forbid’. It’s actually ‘Rodneys’ (meaning posh fellas, I presume). I still prefer ‘roadies’ though.

For the July 2013 writewyattuk interview with Hugh Cornwell, head here. For the July 2014 writewyattuk interview with Jean-Jacques Burnel, head here. And for the March 2015 writewyattuk interview with Baz Warne, head here.

Hugh is at Morecambe The Platform (01524 582803) on November 12 , Colne The Muni on November 13 (01524 582803), and Southport Atkinson Theatre on November 28 (01704 533333). For further tour dates and all the latest from Hugh, including details of the new compilation album, live DVD and poster competition, head to his official website here 

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Cast / The Sherlocks – Preston 53 Degrees

Fraggle Rock: Skin, JP and Jay tell it like it is (Photo: Jason Donegan)

Fraggle Rock: Skin, JP and Jay tell it like it is (Photo: Jason Donegan)

If ever there was a fear that it might just be about nostalgia with the 2015 line-up of Cast, this seminal four-piece quickly put that to bed during a stonking set in Preston.

While there was no doubting the power (sorry) of all those songs from their ’95 debut All Change and ’97 follow-up Mother Nature Calls, the post-reformation material suggests we’re on track for a sixth studio album that warrants comparison.

And a sell-out Friday night in the upstairs room at this mothballed university venue – opened specially for the night – proved a perfect occasion to celebrate the songwriting craft of John Power across the years, even without touching on his admirable solo work.

I missed the first act, Flight of Arrows, but can at least vouch for the quality of the next support. We could well be hearing a lot more from The Sherlocks. They’re young, of the now, look good, and while never arrogant have proper stage presence. I detect a bright future (sorry again).

At times this Sheffield quartet echoed the Arctic Monkeys (not least the accents and delivery), Babyshambles and fellow sibling-heavy Yorkshiremen The Cribs (in fact, there are two sets of brothers involved, so take that Jarman Bros!) but I could think of far worse ABC-approaches to songcraft. All wholesome influences.

Personally, I preferred their quirkier touches, but there are plenty of singalong ‘whoah’ choruses for the more commercially-minded, suggesting a couple of hits to get them going. I’ll watch their progress with interest.

Pretty soon, the main act were gracing the stage, and at least geographically I could say we had the Three Graces up front, with JP flanked by the hirsute Liam ‘Skin’ Tyson and Pete Wilkinson’s replacement Jay Lewis. In fact, hirsute is an understatement with wild man of rock Skin, while bass buddy Jay and drummer Keith O’Neill are – on Friday’s evidence – working on their own facial hairy peacenik presence, making me wonder at times if I’d chanced upon the set of Fraggle Rock.

Keith stoked up the Cast engine throughout, truly in his element. Come to think of it, the whole four-piece were in their element, genuinely pleased to still be out there, still coming up with the goods.

Power Ballad: John in acoustic mode at Preston's 53 Degrees (Photo: Jason Donegan)

Power Ballad: John in acoustic mode at Preston’s 53 Degrees (Photo: Jason Donegan)

They didn’t pander to the hits straight away, although La’s-like opener Time Bomb deserved to be one anyway. And while I was a little surprised they followed that with Not Afraid of the World from the same 2012 comeback album, that’s not because half of the audience didn’t know it, but because it seems more of a slow-burning, epic show closer.

Truly warmed up, we were treated to four straight tracks from All Change, the rousing exuberance of Tell It Like It Is (and yes, it gets better each time) and Promised Land leading to Sandstorm and Fine Time, this packed-out venue’s clientele elevated to cloud ’95.

As I said, it wasn’t just the crowd enjoying it. John, Liam and Keith must have played those songs a heap of times, but still seem genuinely inspired by their output. Meanwhile, the ever-present guitar tech hovered throughout, this non-playing fifth member offering sterling service and sharing occasional private smiling asides with the band.

See That Girl was next, the band back to Troubled Times with another timeless melody song suggesting a nod to JP’s first band, with Liam and Jay’s harmonies spot on and the frontman’s delivery never less than passionate, seemingly forever on the fringes of losing his voice.

From there we had the most recent song on offer, Baby Blue Eyes suggesting great things ahead, its creators on a songwriting high.

The gorgeous I’m so Lonely – which I really hope the band are rehearsing for an encore at the Royal Liverpool Phil – plus Guiding Star and the wistful Live the Dream reminded us of the strength of the second album, sandwiched around non-album single Flying, the general throng again floating on high.

Then we were back to that 20-year-old debut LP, every bit as fresh today, crowd favourite Walk Away leading into a guitar-heavy Free Me from ’97, that ravishing rocking riff ushering in the night’s highlight for this punter – a mountain of Who-some noise building towards a powerhouse percussive play-out, Keith in namesake Moon territory.

Funnily enough, despite his extra stint, it was the drummer who was back first to count his co-workers in for the encore, a laid-back Four Walls leading to a truly baggy History, Jay calling the rhythmic shots as the band built to a monumental finish, perfectly segued into anthemic finale Alright – seeing us flying on swift on our journey home.

Two decades after kick-starting the Cast story, John Power clearly still has it and fronts a revitalised outfit proving there’s still plenty of life in the old model. And I await the new album with genuine hope and expectation.

cast_logo2_no_text_zps24fda102If you missed this blog’s recent feature/interview with John Power, head here.

For the latest from Cast, visit their website here. And to be a part of the Pledge Music campaign for the new album, try here

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Beyond the Boosh – the Noel Fielding interview

Boosh Baby: Noel Fielding is heading your way (Photo: Dave Brown)

Boosh Baby: Noel Fielding is heading your way (Photo: Dave Brown)

Memorably once described by Jimmy Carr as looking like ‘Rod Stewart has made love to a raven’, that there Noel Fielding’s back out on the road this month.

Hot on the heels of a successful first couple of legs of his tour, the 42-year-old Londoner – best known for multi-award winning comedy The Mighty Boosh – continues with his An Evening with Noel Fielding tour.

This being Noel, you can expect a magical mix of his somewhat unique brand of stand-up, live animation, music and meet a few of his best-known TV characters, such as the Moon and Fantasy Man, with guest slots thrown in from the likes of Noel’s brother Michael Fielding and Tom Meeten, both familiar to Boosh fans.

Noel’s never been one to rest on his laurels, or his hardys for that matter, and as well as a successful writing partnership with Julian Barratt – the NME labelling them ‘the funniest comedy double-act in Britain’ – he’s worked on several other successful projects, not least the half-live action, half-animated Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy, which also starred several Boosh regulars and included music by Kasabian’s Sergio Pizzorno.

Then there were his roles as Cradle of Filth-loving Goth Richmond on The IT Crowd and Jones the DJ on Nathan Barley, appearances in Doll & Em, How Not to Live Your Life, Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, Comic Relief Does Top of the Pops, The Big Fat Quiz of the Year, his long-running team captaincy on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and a little film work too.

As a solo performer, 2002’s Perrier Award-nominated debut show Voodoo Hedgehog also helped cement his live reputation, and then there were the art exhibitions – Psychedelic Dreams of the Jelly Fox and Bryan Ferry vs. the Jelly Fox – and his Scribblings of a Madcap Shambleton book of old and new paintings, drawings and photography.

But it was his link-up with Julian Barratt that made Noel’s name, first bringing to life Howard Moon and Vince Noir in the upstairs room of a North London pub, the Boosh making their Edinburgh Festival debut in 1998, winning the Perrier Award for Best Newcomer, further Edinburgh live shows and more awards following.

By 2001 the duo were commissioned by the BBC to write and star in a six-part comedy series for Radio 4 that won the Douglas Adams Award, their first TV series aired on BBC Three in 2004, soon moving to BBC2.

The awards and re-commissions continued, 2005’s series two leading to the duo’s first nationwide live tour, overwhelming public demand seeing the dates double in size, performing to some 100,000 punters and culminating in a sell-out five-night recorded run at Brixton Academy. A third series followed in late 2007 and a second UK live tour, Future Sailors, involved 100 arena performances, playing to more than a quarter of a million fans.

Untitled Sequence: Noel Fielding with Alan Davies and co on As Yet Untitled (Photo: Dave)

Untitled Sequence: Noel Fielding with Alan Davies and co on As Yet Untitled (Photo: Dave)

Fast forward to today, and Noel remains something of a regular on our TV sets, most recently spotted by this scribe on Alan Davies’ As Yet Untitled for Dave, where he told a rather compelling, typically-entertaining story about his brief spell in retail down in Brighton.

“Oh my God, I know! I recently saw Kevin Bishop from Star Stories, and we have a mutual friend, Dolly Wells, from Doll and Em, and we were with her, chatting about our absolute nightmare stories from when we got too drunk, and got on to that. That was a long time ago. I’m not even sure if that shop’s still there. If it is, I’d love to go in and say hello.”

Might that be the retirement plan one day – a move away from this business called show to take on a busy boutique somewhere?

“Do you know what? The reason we actually did that in the last Boosh series, when we had this second-hand shop, was because I thought it would be quite fun to work in a second-hand shop. I don’t know why. It’s probably really hard work, but … maybe. And I’ve got enough clothes that I could easily do that. It wouldn’t even make a dent in my collection.”

Perhaps you should start collecting envelopes now, unless you go on a till-training course.

“Exactly, or use some sort of barter system.”

Meanwhile, the live work continues, Noel now embarked upon on a month-long leg of his current tour. I take it – I ask – he’s enjoying the live experience.

“Yeah. I loved doing it the first time, with quite a big tour here, then went to Australia and New Zealand. That was really good fun. There were places we didn’t quite reach, first time, so we thought it might be nice to do another month and hit all those.

“And the shows got better and better. When we first went out in England, we’d just written it, so there were a few teething problems. By the time we got to Australia for that second phase, it was much stronger. So I’m hoping that phase three … this is where it takes!”

Mighty Alrighty : Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding (Photo: The Mighty Boosh!)

Mighty Alrighty : Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding (Photo: The Mighty Boosh!)

I’m guessing you know the set well enough to comfortably come off-plan?

“Totally! It’s a bit jazzy. It allows pockets of improvisation, I suppose. But there are a lot of points I have to hit. There’s stand-up in it, and the Moon’s got an alter-ego, a Dark Side. There are a few new characters, some sketchy stuff and some songs, and animation.”

Are you good at remembering what you’ve come up with on the night, or do you have moments where you did something good but can’t quite recall what?

“Weirdly, comedians never forget a joke. It’s the oddest thing. I can’t remember anything else, but I’ll never forget a joke! Somehow it comes back to you, and comedians never throw anything away.

”In the second half, there’s a break and then – after an hour of material – you have to introduce some sort of narrative, otherwise it gets a bit boring. I like to mix it up live. I can see comedians and they’re absolutely brilliant, but sometimes after 50 minutes I’ve had enough if it’s just stand-up.

“I was determined not to do that. I’ll do 45 minutes or so then make it more sketchy, or more cabaret-like, bring in some music, bring others on stage, some animation, then in the second half really get some narrative going.

“To raise it from there, I go and chat to the crowd. That makes it a bit more exciting and zingy. At the end, we bring someone on from the crowd, and they go into the animation. So hopefully there’s something for everyone.

“It’s a long show, but we work very hard at it, and if you work really hard at a live show you don’t have to worry so much about it when you take it out on tour. It’s quite knackering being on tour, so you don’t want to just be constantly fixing or tweaking stuff to make it work for you.”

Some would have you down as an improviser above all else, but you can’t be just that. There must be some preparation.

“You have to a little bit … yeah. Me and Russell (Brand) were talking about an unplanned show, because we’re both quite good at that. But there’s something slightly unsatisfying about a show that’s completely improvised. It can never be as good.”

Mannequin Madness: Noel Fielding and a friend, live

Mannequin Madness: Noel Fielding and a friend, live

It seems to work with yourself and Russell though.

“Well, we did a Royal Albert Hall gig for the Teenage Cancer Trust, in which we literally had a few bullet points – that’s all! It was like, ‘Oh my God, this could be an absolute disaster!’ But somehow we always managed. I think you can if there’s an audience there, playing off them.”

Isn’t that just a special vibe with Russell? Could you even do that with Julian, as well as you know him?

“I think we could a bit, but with Julian it’s very jazzy. He likes to know what the theme is.”

There’s no obvious foil with you two. You’re both a bit off-kilter.

“The thing with Julian is he likes to know what he’s doing, go off then come back. He’s obsessed with Miles Davis, whereas with me and Russell, we’re quite free-form. There’s not even a script to begin with. We’re jumping off an invisible script at the same time! It can be good, can be quite chaotic, but occasionally you need a little bit of structure.”

You mentioned music links in the show, there was the Never Mind the Buzzcocks team captain’s role, and you have a few celebrity mates from that world. If you had a chance to nip back to any time in the history of music, which band do you wish you could have slotted in with?

“It would have to be the ‘70s, in the days of glam probably … or prog. Marc Bolan’s band, or a proggy rock band like Hawkwind. I love all that stuff, and Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. Me and Julian were obsessed with all that – the dressing up and the weird psychedelic, frightening stuff.

“It’s a bit conservative now, and I feel a little sorry for the kids. When you’re young it’s quite fun to dress up. I should imagine going to a Ziggy Stardust concert would have been pretty good if you all dressed up and went out together. Now, there’s not so much of that going on. Or maybe there is but I just don’t know about it. There certainly doesn’t seem to be too much ‘out there’ stuff.”

I’d personally steer clear of all The Rocky Horror Show type scene, but could see you in Beefheart or early Roxy Music.

Pleasure Seekers: Roxy Music in 1973, from the gatefold sleeve of their For Your Pleasure LP. Noel Fielding not yet added.

Pleasure Seekers: Roxy Music in 1973, from the gatefold sleeve of their For Your Pleasure LP. Noel Fielding not yet added.

“I absolutely love Roxy Music! Then again, The Rocky Horror Show stuff is sort of amazing, and people love to join in with all that. Something like that today would go down so well, when people are more used to being in front of a camera or being in the limelight now.”

We heard it here first, eh?

“Yeah! Well, it was your idea!”

On a similar note, do you think you could have taken on being a full-time art teacher?

“I make a joke about that! I dunno, I like the art side a lot – paintings and animation, so it was good we were able to bring a bit of that into our live shows and with Julian, as with the music. But I don’t know if I would have been happy just doing that. I did a little teaching when I was at sixth form, and there’s something quite amazing about that.”

Perhaps you’d have been happy if you could have done that by day, and played in a glam or prog band by night.

“Maybe that would have been okay! There’s something quite rewarding about teaching. Kids are very open to learning.”

What were you like at school? Were you the quiet one, waiting for a moment to tap all these ideas?

“I was quite shy, but good at painting quite early on, so I think it was always felt I would go on and do that. The idea of performing was probably a bit frightening. I probably said maybe I was going to be a comedy writer.

“Then I started reading lots and realised I might have to do some stand-up, which seemed quite horrifying to me at the time. I did a few gigs at art college and they sort of went okay, so I thought I’d give myself a year when I left art school to go on the dole, try and get housing benefit, and do as many gigs as I could and see what happens.

“As it turned out, it all happened quite quickly. I think in my heart I felt I could do it. I had friends who were much more gregarious, outgoing and better performers, but maybe they didn’t have as much writing behind them. I had a whole backlog. You can get a certain way on performance and character alone, but you really need a lot of ideas.”

Buzzcocks Banter: Noel, right, with Phill Jupitus, left, and Rhod Gilbert on the Never Mind the Buzzcocks set (Photo: BBC)

Buzzcocks Banter: Noel, right, with Phill Jupitus, left, and Rhod Gilbert on the Never Mind the Buzzcocks set (Photo: BBC)

There have been several key moments along the way – like meeting Julian, or Bill Bailey asking if you’d like to try Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

“I know! In a way, you can’t control stuff. It’s weird. When you’re looking for it, it never really happens. The thing with meeting Julian – I don’t think that will ever happen again. Now we’ve not done the Boosh for a while, it’s clear how much people love that show and how special our relationship was. Double acts are few and far between anyway, but good ones are like unicorns – they just don’t exist.”

Don’t tell my youngest daughter that, I add, before Noel continues.

“With Julian we had a natural chemistry and could write together, which was pretty insane. You then think, I’ll be able to do that with lots of other people, but you can’t actually … or at least only to a degree.”

Seeing as you mentioned unicorns there, can you really talk to the animals, you’re your character, Mowgli in flares?

“I do have a weird sort of affinity with animals, although I’m not that bothered. My girlfriend loves animals, but they always bite or sting her, even jellyfish. With me, they always seem to love me, especially dogs. They tend to follow me about, and I’m like, ‘Look, come on, I’ve told you!’

Speaking of your other half – radio presenter Lliana Bird – have you any ambitions to do a bit more DJing – like Jones on Nathan Barley. Or are there already too many of those in your house?

“I think there are too many. I’d like to do a bit more acting, if something interesting came along. But it would have to be more interesting than whatever I was writing. That’s always going to be the case, unless what you’re offered is unusual.”

Personally, I’d love to see you and Russell come up with, as mooted a while ago by the tow of you, The Goth Detectives.

“I’d like to do that as well! But Russell’s quite hard to pin down, now he’s gone political. I’ve not seen him for a while.”

Goth Detectives: Russell Brand and Noel Fielding (Photo:

Goth Detectives: Russell Brand and Noel Fielding (Photo:

I guess we all expect the two of you to be partying all the time, but I guess the reality of it is probably quite tame – a cup of coffee and some Digestives perhaps?

“Well, especially with Russell. He hasn’t drunk for years. He likes a coffee, yeah – a coffee and mung beans! I don’t know what he’s up to at the moment. He’ll have something up his sleeve though.”

I was talking to Steve Diggle from the Buzzcocks the other day. I didn’t dare mention I had you up next though, in case he expected royalties from the makers of Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

“I do see him occasionally. He must live around here.”

He told me he lived quite close to Noel Gallagher actually.

“Really? I think I saw him around Highgate way. They’re an amazing band, aren’t they. But it’s gutting that Never Mind The Buzzcocks has been cancelled now.”

I must have missed that announcement. Apparently so – after 18 years, 28 series and nearly 270 episodes.

“Yeah. That’s really annoying. I loved doing that, and loved working with Phill (Jupitus) as well.”

Do you see Phill – who memorably described Noel as ‘a gothic George Best’ – socially outside of the show?

“We’re mates, yeah. He’s such a lovely dude, a good artist as well. We send each other art books and things. A lovely man.”

Totally Wired: Noel Fielding is plugged in (Image: Dave Brown)

Totally Wired: Noel Fielding is plugged in (Image: Dave Brown)

Many moons ago, when he was doing his stint with Go! Discs and I was writing my Captains Log fanzine, I’m pretty sure I received something from his office, and he’d signed a compliments slip in his Porky the Poet guise. Unfortunately, I think it’s long gone now.

“Actually, I think he might actually have started doing some poetry again, in Edinburgh last year.”

Who do you think the real Noel Fielding is closest to, character-wise – Richmond Avenal or Vince Noir? Or maybe the Moon?

“It was Vince, but I might be getting too old now. I’m getting like the Moon now, forgetting stuff, getting stuff wrong. Those characters I think were the ones that were probably the closest to me, rather than the scary ones like Old Gregg.

“I did like The Hitcher though, because it allowed me to play a slightly more evil character … or as evil as I can go. I’m not very evil naturally. When Julian goes evil, like with The Crack Fox, it’s really quite horrifying. But he’s quite sweet as well.”

I mention a wonderful visual gag on The IT Crowd where someone comes to look for Richmond in the office, and he’s hiding on the ceiling. Was that one of Noel’s ideas?

“Erm … I don’t think it was. I think it was one of Graham (Linehan)’s, but he was very generous and let us have a lot of ideas for our characters. I seem to think I was very hungover when I did that scene, and nearly vomiting.

“But when Graham said he was interested in talking to me about the part, I had an idea straight away for the voice. There was a documentary about Pink Floyd, live in Pompeii, and it made me laugh the way they were very posh … (Noel switches to his Richmond voice) because Goths are often quite posh.

Gothic Masterpiece: Noel's Richmond Avenal, with The IT Crowd co-stars Katherine Parkinson and Richard Ayoade (Photo: Channel 4)

Gothic Masterpiece: Noel’s Richmond Avenal, with The IT Crowd co-stars Katherine Parkinson and Richard Ayoade (Photo: Channel 4)

“Cockneys or chavs would never dress like Goths, really. I was a bit of a chav myself, but think the working classes like to dress a bit more smart, like Mods, whereas I imagine most New Romantics and Goths were middle class.”

Is that right you shared a flat with Lee Mack?

“Yeah … years ago. We lived together for two years running in Edinburgh, for six weeks or so while we were doing the Festival. Me and Julian, Lee and another comedian one year, then the year after it was me, Julian, all the Boosh, Lee, and someone else.

“Those days were quite fun. It’s the only time you ever live with other comedians. Some of them can be quite annoying, but Lee is probably the funniest person I’ve ever known. Or maybe it’s between Rich Fulcher (Bob Fossil in the Boosh) and Lee. They’re both unbelievable.”

Edinburgh Flatmate: Lee Mack

Edinburgh Flatmate: Lee Mack

Can Lee ever switch off?

“No. It’s like a disease. Really entertaining, and nice to live with, but me and him trying to make a cup of tea was unbelievable. It was the Chuckle Brothers meets Laurel and Hardy. Literally, you’ve never met two people less equipped to deal with real life!”

Finally, who do you think you’re closest to of all the past comics. I see the wonderful Spike Milligan mentioned a fair bit.

“I love Spike. I would never compare myself to him, but love his sense of being quite child-like. And I’d like to write children’s books, as he did. I have an idea. I also love Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Julian and I always thought we were quite like them. We always felt we had an affinity with them.

“The Pythons are amazing too. Really, it’s the classics – Spike and The Goons, Pete and Dud, Python, Vic and Bob, The League of Gentlemen, then us. But I’ve probably left out a lot of my friends there! Blackadder and The Young Ones are in there somewhere.”

An Evening With Noel Fielding POSTER IMAGEAn Evening with Noel Fielding hits Preston Guild Hall on Friday, November 27, with tickets via 01772 804 444, and Blackburn King George’s Hall on Saturday, November 28, with tickets via 0844 847 1664.

For the rest of the tour dates and more details, head to or

And for all the latest from Noel, head to his official website here.

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