Public Service Broadcasting / Smoke Fairies – The Ritz, Manchester

Beamed Up: Pubic Service Broadcasting, the live spectacle

Beamed Up: Pubic Service Broadcasting, the live spectacle

It’s ironic that the night we decided to do without the car and took the train to Manchester, my better half and I were let down by public transport.

Not so much Public Service Broadcasting as Replacement Bus Service, cheated out of the show’s climax by ill-timed engineering works, dragged away from the band that once delivered their own awesome spin on the cult documentary Night Mail.

So after loitering at the back during a stonking run through Gagarin and new album finale Tomorrow, we had to head into the night and miss Everest so we could leg it up the road to Piccadilly Station to find a waiting coach, like a modern-day Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

But enough of our first-world problems (at least for now). Instead, let me salute two fine bands deserving of big time recognition.

First off, Smoke Fairies, as beguiling (warning: I’m in danger of over-using that word while describing the delightful Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies) as I could have hoped – at times exquisite, yet perhaps ballsier than I might first have envisaged.

Our let-the-train-take-the-strain dilemma (sorry, but I didn’t rule out further mentions) meant we arrived mid-set, but at least in time to hear the gorgeous Eclipse Them All, apt given the evening’s over-riding space theme.

Unfortunately, we had barely half a dozen songs to thrill to before the band were away, but I’ll definitely seek out Katherine and Jessica – on this occasion at the heart of a five-piece – again, and until then will happily check out the furthest reaches of their vast back-catalogue.

For all the support band’s power on the night, there was strength enough in the front pair’s vocals and guitars alone, let alone the added visual impact of their matching sparkly metallic spacewear.

Smoke Fairies: Jessica Davies, left, and Katherine Blamire, in action (Photo: Elliot McRae c/o

Smoke Fairies: Jessica Davies, left, and Katherine Blamire, in action (Photo: Elliot McRae c/o

The title tracks of Blood Speaks and Wild Winter suggested a darker edge that PSB’s fans may not have expected, but Chichester’s finest were a perfect addition to the bill and should have attracted a whole new fan-base on the night.

There was never any doubt that Public Service Broadcasting would live up to expectations, and while this show had a different dynamic to that of my last viewing at Preston’s 53 Degrees two years before, I’m pleased to report success has not gone to their heads.

From the moment J. Willgoose Esq. and co. made their entrance amid a spot-on public service broadcast about the do’s, don’t and general etiquette of gig-going, this was a blast.

The corduroy-trousered legend and his drumming sidekick Wrigglesworth remain at the heart of it all and resolutely anti-rock, and are now joined live by their own techno wizard Mr B and a seemingly more-animated bass, horn and keys provider JF Abraham.

The set added to it all, a bank of TVs on each side of the stage and the video screen backdrop augmented by fancy but never showy lighting and even their own satellite creation (the graphics just the right side of London Planetarium smart-aleckness).

If you haven’t yet sampled their first two albums, I despair of you, but this was a crowd that knew just what this South London outfit were about, and the band mirrored their enthusiasm.

Throughout, they alternated between new and old material and a variety of styles, from the Balaeric beep-beats of Sputnik to the sheer grunge of Signal 30 and a toe-tapping banjo-fuelled Theme from PSB onwards.

As one, we defied gravity in space-walking soundcape EVA, then clambered aboard the Night Mail and found ourselves wide-eyed at a colour-decoded ROYGBIV as Willgoose went to town on his synth.

Live Signal: J Willgoose, Esq. in action

Live Signal: J Willgoose, Esq. in action

The mood changed as Smoke Fairies Jessica and Katherine returned to treat us to a stirring, heart-rending Valentina with the main act, the PSB punters swooning again in their presence.

There was a new song too and we were asked somewhat randomly – via the band’s talking computer, which stands in for Willgoose’s own vox  – if we enjoyed films about ice skating in Dutch, before the band glided its way through Elfstedentocht Pt. II.

Next up was a reminder of PSB’s archived beginnings, If War Should Come giving rise to breakthrough hit and crowd favourite Spitfire.

We were soon back to The Race for Space, and I swear the temperature dropped, hairs rising on the back of the neck for tense dark side of the moon drama The Other Side.

Then we experienced the sheer exuberance of Go! as the Apollo landing tests saw us to new heights that only first encore Gagarin could match.

Appearances can deceive, and the guesting brass trio belied their initial stage presence with a few stunning dance moves, while Willgoose asked us how we liked his own other-worldly glittering space jacket.

Meanwhile, Smoke Fairies brushed past near the sound-desk on their way to their own launchpad, and I swear on two occasions I picked out a spaceman up in the gallery. It was that kind of evening.

Then came the part-elatory, part-poignant show-stopper Tomorrow, but time was against us now. Our replacement bus was waiting, and I’m afraid that would have to be that this time around.

Rumour has it that Everest provided a fitting finale though, and came with a dedication to those affected by the recent grim happenings in Nepal.

And with that in mind I’ll curb any further talk of traffic dilemmas, instead directing all those who haven’t quite done so yet to consider a DEC Appeal donation. Because every little bit helps.

For an interview with Public Service Broadcasting’s J. Willgoose Esq., head here, and for the writewyattuk verdict on The Race for Space, try here.

Meanwhile, a feature/interview with Smoke Fairies’ Katherine Blamire will follow on this blog next week. 

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University of the Nerd Age – the Talk Nerdy 2 Me feature

Nerd Coming: Last year's Talk Nerdy To Me organisers outside the Harris Museum, including (centre, front row) Helen Day, Gary Cartwright, Jessica Senior and Victoria Todd

Nerd Coming: Last year’s Talk Nerdy To Me organisers outside the Harris Museum, including (centre, front row) Helen Day, Gary Cartwright, Jessica Senior and Victoria Todd

According to US young adult author John Green, of The Fault in our Stars fame, ‘Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it’.*

In fact, nerdiness is a state of mind for some, and you can include Lancashire library officer Victoria Todd among those.

Victoria, from Leyland, is one of the prime movers behind Preston’s Harris Museum and Art Gallery-based Talk Nerdy 2 Me event, the follow-up to last year’s … erm, Talk Nerdy To Me, surprisingly enough.

First time around, it drew somewhere up to 1,000 people to this historic setting. And there are hopes that even more may show up this time.

The event is being run by Victoria and fellow Harris Library staff, in conjunction with the Hijack the Library youth forum, ‘a small group of focused individuals who have a passion to engage more young people with libraries and make it a venue accessible to everyone’.

And in a week’s time, Victoria will quite possibly be jumping up and down in the chair at the thought of an unconventional convention designed to celebrate all kinds of nerdiness.

From Doctor Who to dressmaking and from Star Wars to superheroes, anything and everything you can get nerdy about will be going on at the Harris library.

Costumes are encouraged too, the best outfits liable for prizes in a competition judged by Costume and Play’s Siriusly Cosplay.

But isn’t being a nerd something Victoria and her team should be whispering about rather than shouting from the rooftops of Market Square?

“No, we’re all really excited about being nerds at the Harris!”

Talk Nerdy 2 Me final A4 poster (1)So what’s changed to make nerdiness cool after all these years? Or has that always – secretly – been the case?

“I think all nerds have always found what they love to be cool. But just more recently people have been getting more into it, probably with the expansion of the internet.

“Back in the ‘80s it was all a little more secret and you had to join magazines to write fan fiction. It was all a bit more cloak and dagger. Now everyone can be nerdy about everything, and more importantly find others nerdy about things.

“Libraries have always been seen as nerdy places too, so we just want to celebrate that more than be ashamed of it, saying, ‘Come on, bring all the nerds in!’”

Have I got it all wrong then? I had it in mind that the average nerd tends not to leave the house, happier at home with a Star Wars DVD boxset, a highly-prized Marvel comic collection and improving their scores on the X-box rather than being social. Am I wrong?

“Erm … no. A lot of us nerds do like to stay at home with our boxsets, but I think there’s more of a culture now for getting out and meeting other people.

“And people can be nerdy about anything and everything. That’s what we’ve been finding since we started Talk Nerdy To Me.

“For example, this year Deborah Simms is coming, a contestant on The Great British Sewing Bee. And I for one am a complete nerd about sewing. I’ve got all the books, read all the blogs, have all the equipment.

“You don’t have to be nerdy about sci-fi and fantasy … although it helps. You can be nerdy about anything you like. “

Sewing’s certainly not something I would have thought of on that list. We’re clearly talking a broad church here.

Dressing Up: Looking the part at last year's Talk Nerdy To Me

Dressing Up: Looking the part at last year’s Talk Nerdy To Me

“Absolutely, and last year Kate McMahon, one of our fantastic Hijackers (from the Hijack the Library youth forum) came dressed as Tinker Bell and was telling everyone how wonderful Disney was. That was what made us think it can be a bit wider than just sci-fi and fantasy.

“We also feel the likes of Deborah Simms appeal to the less traditional geek. And with a specialist on Cosplay along too, we thought that would fit in nicely.”

Comic Con events seem to be big news these days, and as well as larger events in Manchester and London there have been those nearby, like one at Preston Guild Hall last year.

Is Talk Nerdy 2 Me competing with them, or complementing them? And why should Comic Con fans come to their event too?

“Because ours is free! And we’re branding it as a Nerdy Con rather than a Comic Con, as it’s not just about comic books.

“We are promoting our graphic novels and do have a lot around the comic book scene, but it’s not just about that. We’re trying to appeal to as broad a range of people as possible.

“We also support Preston Comic Con … although we were there first! And Blackpool has its own in September, their first too.

“Interestingly, we were approached by Deafway when we started promoting the event, saying this kind of event isn’t usually something deaf people get the opportunity to go along to.

“Now we’ve managed to get two British Sign Language interpreters along to interpret all the talks. That way we can promote the event to the deaf community in Preston as well.

“This is the only free event of its type in the North West, and we want to make it accessible to anyone and everyone.”

Nerd Gathering: Listening in at the 2014 event in Preston

Nerd Gathering: Listening in at the 2014 event in Preston

The original event was set up by University of Central Lancashire students Jessica Senior and Gary Cartwright, as part of a brief to come up with an event to inspire more interest in libraries.

“Gary said, ‘I have an idea, and it might be stupid, but …’ We thought he was going to suggest school visits, but then he said, ‘Let’s do a Comic Con’. And we all said, ‘Yes!’

“Then he came up with the idea of Talk Nerdy To Me, so we decided to go that way instead.”

Are Jess and Gary involved this year?

“It’s dissertation year, so not so far, but I’ve just had an email from Gary saying, ‘I’ve handed in my dissertation. What do you want me to do?’ He’s very keen to get involved again, which is lovely.”

Victoria was first brought in by Dr Helen Day, her Master of Arts Writing for Children course leader and UCLan’s senior lecturer in English literature.

It was all part of the UCLan Literature Live initiative, Helen – who was also my MA course leader and has a similar passion for books as Victoria, I might add – wanting at least one project to involve libraries.

“She asked if I could write a brief, so I did one about getting more young people involved in libraries. Then Gary came in with his idea and it grew from there. It was a real collaborative process.”

There were impressive attendance figures for that initial event.

“Yes, between 600 and 1,000 according to the door-counters, and that purely from promoting around the university and via our facebook page.

“I just hope it can be as good again this year, and I’m really excited about having BSL interpreters involved.

Special Guest: Lancaster sci-fi writer Jex Collyer (Aka JS) will be on hand at the Harris Library

Special Guest: Lancaster sci-fi writer Jex Collyer (Aka JS) will be on hand at the Harris Library

“We’ve some really good artists, poet Tom Higgins, fantasy author AS Chambers and sci-fi author JS Collyer – both from Lancaster – among others, and have an open mic. session involving readings.”

The event involves a 4pm until 9pm slot. Is the idea primarily to get people straight from school, college and lectures?

“Pretty much, and we intend to advertise around schools this week. It’s a completely family-friendly event and all the vendors and speakers have been told that. The only one that perhaps isn’t is our 8pm talk on horror films.

“We were surprised last year how many families came along, especially parents with young kids dressed up for the occasion. We had some fantastic costumes.

“Last year the Steam Punk Society got involved as well, helping promote the event, which was absolutely fantastic.”

What will Victoria  be most interested in on the day? I’m guessing it may be Timelord-related for this Dr Who fan.

“I wish! Unfortunately our related session and debate has been dropped as the Cardinal Newman Dr Who Club recently folded.”

Perhaps they’ve regenerated one too many times. So has Victoria already decided on her costume, or at least her personal theme for the day?

“I will be wearing a t-shirt with Talk Nerdy 2 Me on it as part of the crew, although some of the staff have revolted, insisting on coming in costume.

“In fact, one’s coming as the Queen of Hearts and another as the Mad Hatter, as part of the Alice in Wonderland 150th anniversary celebrations.”

Door Policy: You should get in okay at the Harris Library, but watch your step all the same

Door Policy: You should get in okay at the Harris Library, but watch your step all the same

It’s fair to say Victoria – a gifted writer in her own right – is in the right job, her passion for young adult fiction and all things nerdy rewarded daily and at events like this.

The former Wellfield High School, Runshaw College and UCLan student has worked for six years with Lancashire Libraries, the last two at the Harris, and prior to that – before a spell at Edge Hill University – at her hometown library in Leyland.

And if this event can help bring a few more people through the doors of the Harris library and others in the area, she’ll be more than happy.

“We just want to show off the range of what we do. When I speak to people who are not library members, they don’t always realise what we offer.

“At last year’s event, some of those that came said they didn’t know we had graphic novels. We’ve got hundreds, and lots of Manga books as well.

“We do all sorts of great things here, and this is a good excuse to get people in and show them. Perhaps we’ll get someone along dressed as Spiderman and listening to a talk on horror films that didn’t know we had a family history group, for example.

“We want to lose that misconception that it’s all about books. We have lots of books, and they’re really important, but we have so much more.

“We’re also hoping to get camera equipment so we can interview people about what they’re wearing and what they’ve enjoyed.”

Not all the ideas put forward have come off, but there are only so many hours.

“Someone suggested a Hobbit-marathon, but I’m not so sure we could fit nine hours of film into a five-hour event!”

Talking Nerdy: A scene from last year's inaugural event at the Harris Library

Talking Nerdy: A scene from last year’s inaugural event at the Harris Library

While entry is free for the Harris library event, Victoria jokes that visitors are encouraged to bring ‘galleons, credits and gold coins to trade’. It probably makes more sense to take real money though.

There will be stalls from indie vendors such as Styx and Harlequins, chains like Game, Waterstone’s and That Comic Shop, authors and artists selling their wares, and a programme of special events.

That includes talks from Mecha Man, digging deep into the science of superheroes, a seminar and Q&A on how to get started with costuming, and much more.

In short, there’s plenty for Victoria, her fellow library staff and Hijackers to get their teeth into. And she can’t wait.

“It’s a dream to be able to get involved in something like this. When we started we didn’t think it would be anywhere near as big.

“As Jess, Gary and I were setting up tables at three o’clock on the day last year, we were thinking barely anyone would turn up.

“But they did, and so many people had a fantastic time and kept asking us to make sure we would do it again.”

Talk Nerdy 2 Me final A4 poster (1)

Talk Nerdy 2 Me is a free event and takes place at Preston’s Harris Museum and Art Gallery library from 4pm until 9pm on Friday, May 8. 

For more details check out the event’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.

This is a revised version of a Malcolm Wyatt feature for the Lancashire Evening Post, published on April 30th, 2015.

* Thanks to my eldest daughter for the John Green quote. All I did was mention nerdiness, and she was straight in there with that  one.

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The Crumpsall Kid rides out – the Mike Harding interview

Grandfather Folk: Mike Harding is out on the road again, this time offering a little poetry in motion

Grandfather Folk: Mike Harding is out on the road again, this time offering a little poetry in motion

Veteran comic, folk singer-songwriter, author, broadcaster and playwright Mike Harding is set to visit 17 small theatres and arts clubs in May.

From Keswick to Barnsley via Pocklington, Mike has a busy few weeks ahead of him, and it’s not a case of ‘folk singer-songwriter does stand-up’ either.

Instead, the 71-year-old is offering poetry readings – drawing upon four published poetry anthologies – alongside excerpts and tales from his forthcoming autobiography, The Adventures of the Crumpsall Kid.

With his CV also mentioning plays, internet radio and TV broadcasts and a passion for fell-walking and fly-fishing, it’s hard to pigeon-hole Mike.

Once described by Billy Connolly as the ‘funniest man in England’, you can add multi-instrumentalist, photographer and filmmaker to that resume.

While skim-reading his biography, I mis-read Grandfather Clock too. It really said Grandfather of Folk though. Is that a title he’s proud of?

“I don’t mind what you call me, as long as it’s not rude!”

So how does this tour differ?

“This isn’t my usual stand-up, although I did four of those a couple of years back – 20 nights each – and it was fun, great to be back on the road.

“It was also effortless. My friend Geoff (Sargieson) did the driving while I got the train. It’s no fun anymore being on the M6 for three hours on a Friday afternoon for a half-hour journey.

Lancashire Lad: The cover of Mike's forthcoming autobiography

Lancashire Lad: The cover of Mike’s forthcoming autobiography

“I had a new poetry book out a year or so back and did a couple of festivals. Geoff was impressed, said, ‘This show’s got legs’, and we decided to do this tour.

“In the meantime I signed a contract to write my autobiography with Michael O’Mara Books. I’ve done 106,000 words, have 4,000 to do, and I’m only up to my A-levels!

“It could end up being a trilogy, at least a duology. I’ll be reading from that, mostly funny stuff, and reading a few poems – a mixed evening of anecdotes and readings.”

Will there be many opportunities to sleep in your own bed during this tour?

“Not many, but I don’t mind that. You put yourself in one end of the tunnel and get into the mentality that this is your job and you have to give people value for money.

“And at the other end you get out and hopefully you’ve enjoyed it yourself too. The minute I don’t enjoy it, I won’t do it.”

One of those May dates sees Mike play Chorley Little Theatre, my excuse for getting in touch. Has he played there before?

“Yes, way back, with Hamish Imlach. If I remember right, that night there were 30 glasses of brandy lined up in front of him on the stage, and he worked his way through. Amazing.

“This was the late ’60s. In those days I didn’t drink before a show then and couldn’t drink during a show. I don’t know how he did it. You wouldn’t have thought he’d even had a drink.

“The folk scene in those days was full of characters like that. All very anarchic.”

It was in 1967 that Mike started telling jokes during a gig at Leeds University, filling in a few awkward gaps while his band, The Edison Bell Spasm Band, tuned up.

That patter became part of the act, and when the jokes dried up he delved into a few real-life stories.

“The band came from the Bury and Radcliffe area, smashing lads, really good musicians, with a mate called Stef Hoyle on jug, now living around Chorley, John Hemingway on guitar, and Dave Hardy on washboard, who sadly died quite recently, far too young.

“We’d do university and pub gigs with this little jug band and John was taking a long time to tune up for Davey Graham’s Angi, so I started chatting to the audience.

Past Days: It took a while for Mike to find his feet

Past Days: It took a while for Mike to find his feet

“I told jokes, then ran out and started ad-libbing. That was the lightbulb moment when I realised, ‘This works’.

“I went on the road as a solo act and the first couple of gigs were dire. I was rubbish. I was so used to having the band behind me as a foil.

“I’d say, ‘Dave only discovered last week you should play washboard with thimbles, which is why he’s got such incredibly short fingers’. But all my old routines had gone without the band.

“I soldiered on though, running a folk club in Blackley, Manchester, working in a book shop, eventually going back to university as a mature student.

“I had kids by then and paid my way through college working in folk clubs at night. By 1971 I’d got to the stage where I could either have gone into teaching with my degree or on the road.

“I gave teaching a year because I did enjoy it, but then I had a full diary for the next year, so it made no sense to pack it in. I was enjoying it, building up a following.

“Then in 1975 I made a ridiculous single about the Rochdale Cowboy ….”

I thought he was coming to that, and it will be 40 years ago this August, to be precise. So is he a one-hit wonder and proud?

“Aye! People ask if I get fed up being called the Rochdale Cowboy, but I remind them of George Formby being asked if he got fed up of being associated with Wigan.

“When George headed home from Blackpool he always made a dog’s leg to go through Wigan. When he got to the middle of town he pressed a button on his Rolls Royce window, stuck his head out and shouted, ‘Thanks very much Wigan!’

“I’ve not got a Rolls Royce, and don’t want one, but thanks very much the Rochdale Cowboy, which put me on the road doing theatre and TV and paid for my kids’ education. I’m very grateful for that.

“It was a daft summertime single, like Benny Hill’s Ernie. The b-side got more plays, Strangeways Hotel, but not on the radio – it was too bawdy for the average punter.

“It would have gone even higher in the charts if not for Glen Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy and huge confusion – people coming out of shops with the wrong song.

“Actually, there’s a kink to this tale. I was on the island of Benbecula trout-fishing a couple of years back and in the pub that night this fella told me a woman at the post office wanted a word.

Bin Shooting: Mike Harding on the lookout for chart competitor Glen Campbell

Bin Shooting: Mike Harding on the lookout for chart competitor Glen Campbell

“Word had gone round that I was around. I went down and she said, ‘You got me in a lot of trouble. My husband sent me – and bear in mind it was a seven-hour boat trip from there – to get him a copy of Rhinestone Cowboy’.

“She said, ‘I went back with your single, and he was no pleased!’

“Yep, 14 hours on a boat and she bought him the wrong record! I think they probably turned that copy into a plant pot with some hot water.”

I tend to associate Mike with a group of folk-singers-turned-comics who broke through around that era, including Billy Connolly, Jasper Carrott, Max Boyce and Chorley’s own, Phil Cool.

“I’ve thought about this before. It seemed to me we were there at the right time. TV is a monster that eats you up and spits you out and I think people were fed up of the men in the velvet smoking jackets with big floppy ties and mother-in-law jokes.

“Some were absolutely brilliant, but audiences – as they always are – were looking for something fresh.”

Mike added that he was proud to have played a part in Phil Cool’s ‘discovery’ on that circuit.

“He’s one of the most talented men I’ve come across in my life. I saw Phil at the Band on the Wall in Manchester on this punk night, and he was just brilliant.

“I was living between Manchester and the Dales at the time and would often go for a last pint at The Band on the Wall, one of my favourite haunts at the end of the night.

“He followed this terrible punk band called Housewife and the Burglars. I was so knocked out. There were no props, but he could just do that with his face and his voice was perfect, with all the intonation and accents spot on.

“I went to the BBC a couple of days later and was friends with a producer there, Barry Bevan, and said, ‘You’ve got to go and see this bloke’.

Before all that though, it was the likes of Lonnie Donegan and the early skiffle bands that initially made Mike realise this was the life for him.

“Absolutely right, that and the Bert Weedon play-in-a-day guitar book.”

Does he have any memories of sharing a bill with The Beatles in those formative band days?

Reflective Mode: Mike has fond memories of support slots with The Beatles and The Hollies

Reflective Mode: Mike has fond memories of support slots with The Beatles and The Hollies

“Well, it was obvious there was something incredibly different about them and bands like The Hollies.

“We also played with a band featuring Shane Fenton, who became Alvin Stardust, and he was a great man and a good entertainer.

“With The Beatles it was obvious they had star quality and were very special. Even though we were on the same bill and they were only getting paid slightly more, they’d gone that extra mile.”

Did this Crumpsall lad ever think he’d still be out on the road doing something he loved at the age of 71? If he’d have carried on teaching, he’d have long since retired.

“I don’t want to put my feet up. I was up at six this morning working on the last bits and pieces of the book. I don’t ever want to retire.

“I’ve done books on photography, fly-fishing, walking the Himalayas and in Ireland, all things I enjoy doing.

“Even though it’s tiring at times, hard at times, and frustrating at times, it never felt like work.”

I can feel another illustrative Harding anecdote coming on.

“Years ago, when I was married with two kids before my mature student days, I’d been doing various jobs – digging holes in the road, steel-erecting, boiler-scaling, dustman,  road-digger, bus-guard, carpet-fitter, and got this job working in a chemical factory.

“I was sweeping the floor one day in my overalls in this big storage depot, and this foreman in a brown coat, a pocketful of pens and a clipboard, with nothing better to do than check up on everybody else, was watching me.

Rubber Soul: Mike's breakthrough single

Rubber Soul: Mike’s breakthrough single

“He said, ‘Who the f**k taught you how to sweep a floor? That’s not how you hold a brush’. He put his clipboard down, took the brush out of my hands and started sweeping towards him rather than away.

“I thought, that’s daft, you’re putting chemicals all over your feet. I copied him until he’d gone, then did it my way … Frank Sinatra worked at that factory as well.

“Anyway, I thought no matter what happens to me in my life, I’ll never again be in a position where someone can come and take a brush out of my hand.

“It took a while, but I got there in the end. I’ve been very lucky. Since 1971 I’ve never worked for anyone else.

“I never had an agent, never had a manager, and my relationship with Geoff is one of friendship, working together on various projects.”

That initial hit with Rochdale Cowboy effectively gave Mike the springboard to play all over the world and he’s gone on to make more than 20 albums.

Does Mike, now based in Settle, ever get back to Rochdale now?

“I still have a little flat in Manchester for when I’m working there, but we were living in Altrincham when I wrote that hit song, and I have no real links back there now.”

There are plenty of other passions too, like his part in a campaign to reinstate the Wensleydale Railway, support for Right to Roam rambling causes, and speaking out for traditional story-telling initiatives.

Then there’s the broadcasting and writing, the books and plays, and all over a wide range of subjects too.

Web Sensation: Mike Harding has won a whole new following with his internet radio show

Web Sensation: Mike Harding has won a whole new following with his internet radio show

His BBC Radio 2 folk, roots and acoustic show won Mike a huge audience, and while that ended after 15 years at the end of 2012, he is currently enjoying major success at the helm of his own weekly internet show.

Apparently, there were 500,000 downloads from more than 120 shows as of last year, with Mike now going out live across the airwaves in Canada, Australia and Ireland as well as over the worldwide web.

“Our show is the No.1 folk show in the world on Podomantic, and all done from a shed in Yorkshire”.

Talking of the White Rose county, he clearly has an affection for his adopted Yorkshire – as he should after 40-plus years there, although that might not go down too well in these parts.

“I’ve been there on and off since 1971. I’m what they call an agent provocateur, a Lancastrian in their midst.

“But Yorkshire folk are like Lancashire folk – North Country, and there’s a marked difference between that and the South, just as there is with the Geordies”.

I’ll stand up for my own South-East roots there, quoting Fred Dibhah, who once said, “There’s awkward buggers wherever you live’.

“Oh, there are! And some parts of the South are very different. My daughter’s living in Kent and I like it down there, the people are very welcoming. I go into shops and think, ‘This is like back home.”

Of course, others might know Mike better for his work on cult children’s cartoon Dangermouse between 1981 and 1992 for now sadly-defunct Chorlton-cum-Hardy studio Cosgrove Hall Films, co-writing episodes and composing the music.

Old Pals: Dangermouse and Penfold were a blast for Mike Harding (Image: Cosgrove Hall Films)

Old Pals: Dangermouse and Penfold were a blast (Pic: Cosgrove Hall Films)

Unsurprisingly, he has an anecdote about that David Jason and Terry Scott-voiced project too.

“I had a cottage in Ireland and was asked to open an arts festival out there. I said no one will know who I am, but they said Seamus Heaney couldn’t come as he was ill, so I agreed to go along.

”There were around 600 people, mostly kids from sixth form down, and first I mentioned how I worked for the BBC and a folk programme and made various films.

“Then I said I also wrote the music for Dangermouse, and they went wild!”

Wasn’t he involved with spin-off series Count Duckula too?

“Indeed, in fact it’s my voice at the end that says, ‘Duckula … Count Duckula!’

“They’ve redone Dangermouse now, but I’m not sure when it’s going out. It was great working for those people at Cosgrove Hall though.

“They were lovely folk, and it was just terrible when Mark Hall died. Both Mark and Brian Cosgrove were great to work with.

“When you work with like-minded people and all you want to do is make something good, it’s effortless and there’s no competition.

“They got me in and explained how Dangermouse was a sort of James Bond mouse, but at the time it just wasn’t happening.

“I told them it wasn’t happening because they were making a mouse do James Bond type things, and they needed to accept the fact that he was a bloody mouse, so he could do anything!

“In the first episode I wrote, Baron Greenback was stealing all the bagpipes in Scotland to make a big sonic gun. Once you do stuff like that, and have planets made of cheese and all that …. Well, sometimes you just need someone from outside to come in with a fresh idea.”

Lancaster Tribute: Mike's 1984 LP, Bombers' Moon

Lancaster Tribute: Mike’s 1984 LP, Bombers’ Moon

On a more solemn note, one of Mike’s more poignant songs, Bombers’ Moon, is written about his father, Flight Sergeant Louis Arthur ‘Curly’ Harding, who was killed returning from an RAF mission just four weeks before Mike’s birth in 1944.

He’s written a related play about that night and the Lancaster crew too, undertaking a fair bit of research over the years.

“I have, and soon learned that Bomber Command didn’t have a specific medal like all the other major campaigns.

“My father was involved in flying from Archangel when they bombed the Tirpitz and got a Russian Star for that, but no campaign medal. That fascinated me, yet this wasn’t just morbid curiosity.

“There’s always been a sense of loss in my life, and when I was a kid everyone else had a Dad, but I didn’t. Thankfully, their Dads made it back from the war.

“In researching his plane I found out a lot via the log books. After 30 missions you were usually stood down and became an instructor, and this crew were due to come off. But then they volunteered for this mission on September 23, 1944, and on that night were shot down coming back from bombing a night-fighter airfield in Munster.

“I found out all this through 9 Squadron Bomber Command, and have been to the aerodrome where they flew out.

“It was a curious thing to stand in that RAF control tower in Bardney, Lincolnshire, one of the few remaining. Standing there, thinking back to that night he went down that runway right in front of me was very strange.

“We then found out that when the plane was falling from the sky, the bomb-aimer, Langley, managed to get himself out. He was the sole survivor.

“The Gestapo would have been looking for a complement of seven in that crew where it came down in this little village near Maastricht. But it turns out that another fella parachuted out of a burning plane and was killed, my father’s plane landing on top of him.

“That was tough, obviously, but at least meant they had the requisite number of corpses when the Germans came to take the dog-tags.

“They were buried in a little churchyard in the village of Holten, and a record kept by the local schoolteacher reported that Langley spent time playing Monopoly in a barn with an American serviceman that had also escaped.

“They were later picked up by the Dutch resistance and secretly housed until the end of the war.

Poignant Tribute: Mike's father's ill-fated Lancaster crew. Back from left: Sgt. Simkin, Fl/Sgt Harding, Fl/Sgt Langley, Sgt Hambly. Front, from left: Sgt Hayward, Fl/Lt Scott, Sgt Frank Alfred Saunders (Photo: Gordon Thorburn)

Poignant Tribute: Mike’s father’s ill-fated Lancaster crew. Back from left: Sgt. Simkin, Fl/Sgt Harding, Fl/Sgt Langley, Sgt Hambly. Front, from left: Sgt Hayward, Fl/Lt Scott, Sgt Frank Alfred Saunders (Photo: Gordon Thorburn)

“I also learned from the school teacher that his pupils put flowers on the grave each year and helped tend the grave.

“I wanted to write something about all that but just couldn’t for a long time, but then I  thought more about this phrase, ‘bombers’ moon’.

“It hadn’t occurred to me at that stage how that was a double-edged thing. You could see the landscape but also it gave them a clear sight of you.

“I then sat at the piano and the phrase, ’44 in Bomber County, came to me along with the tune, and I had it all down in a short space of time. But I always say it took half an hour and a lifetime.”

There’s a related story too, one involving a colleague of Mike’s from his time working on troop concerts in Germany with the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS).

“My pal, Jurgen Boch, who died tragically of a brain haemorrhage, was from Cologne, Germany, and a senior recording engineer at BFBS.

“We met when I visited Cologne to work on concerts at all the camps out there. We became pals and he would stay with us in the Dales.

“We worked out that my father was bombing his home city one night while he was in his cellar. A very sobering fault – if he’d been maybe two streets away he could have copped it.”

There’s a clear anti-war message in Bombers’ Moon. Did those tragic circumstances colour your own world view?

“Not so much my world as my mother’s. There was this anti-Russian thing after the war with Churchill’s thoughts on the Iron Curtain and all that, yet he’d sat down with Stalin and Roosevelt at Yalta.

Folk Roots: Mike Harding

Folk Roots: Mike Harding

“My mum was a member of CND and was at Greenham Common, very active in the peace movement, and that did have an impact.

“There are lots of reasons why I’m completely anti-war, not least when I look back at the lads and lasses coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq now, their lives completely trashed by an illegal war.

“I wonder just what the politicians are doing. I’m completely against nuclear weapons too. How we can we justify frying an entire population?”

Mike also recorded a tribute on 1984 album, Bombers’ Moon, to the victims of the First World War, in his track The Accrington Pals.

“That was something that came from my great-grandmother. Even though she was Irish, her son – my Grandad – fought in the First World War and was captured in the Somme while with the Manchesters.

“He spent the war behind German lines in a prison camp, but came out fatter than when he went in, because he was a master tailor and the German officers got him to make their clothes and in turn fed him with sausages and brandy.

“But his mother was republican with a little ‘r’, and always said what a terrible thing it was that happened to those boys in Accrington.

“We were in Crumpsall, not a million miles away, and of course there were so many Pals regiments, including the Chorley Pals.

“So she inspired an interest, and once I’d read up on the Pals, the song – again – more or less wrote itself.”

All those years later, Mike reckons it was his Mum’s resilience and a general community spirit on his patch that helped get his family through those hard times of his childhood.

“My mother was one of that band of women that mourned and grieved but then got on with it.

“We had it tough when I was a kid, but there was a great atmosphere in the streets and sense of community.

download (1)“Those who had come back from the war didn’t want any more of that, instead wanting a decent life for their children.

“That’s how we ended up with our NHS and free education system, for those who had given six years of life to defeat Hitler and now wanted a different world.

“We’d go to Blackpool by coach, singing all the way there and back, with plenty of Christmas and street parties.

“My mother was on a war widow’s pension and my Irish grandmother, also living with us, also had hers – and neither of those pensions were very good.

“We slept under bundled overcoats, as was common for working class families at the time, and I never had a holiday with my family. I left home at 18 and had never been away before with my mum and her second husband, a Polish exile.

“When I joined the scouts, my Mum made my uniform, because she couldn’t afford to go to Black’s or the Scout and Guide Shop.

“There’s a piece in the book about going to Whittle-le-Woods, Chorley, for my first scout camp, having to carry my stuff in a kit-bag made from khaki canvas, as we couldn’t afford a rucksack.”

In fact, Mike sent a copy of a passage about that first Scout camp after our conversation, and it’s a highly-entertaining one, one suggesting The Adventures of the Crumpsall Kid will be a corking read.

I asked if there a bit of his Mum’s resilience and will to succeed in Mike too, in the way he’s battled for what he’s wanted in life. He thinks on his answer for a while.

“Years ago I was having a pint with Billy Connolly after a play I did for Manchester Youth Theatre, about the mass trespass on Kinder Scout, based around the Ewan MacColl song, I’m a Rambler.

“We were talking about someone else who’d not quite made it, despite being in the same situation as Billy and I on that folk stand-up circuit, and he said, ‘Yeah, he was incredibly talented but he never went that extra mile’.

“The difference between genius and being very good is sometimes 10,000 hours of practise. I’d work really hard at what I was trying to do with a show.

“I wouldn’t write down every word but I’d always have some kind of plan, so even though it looked like I was making it all up as I went along I knew where I was.”

For more details about Mike Harding and his latest tour dates, head to his website here. And for a link to his internet radio show, try here.   

With thanks to Ian Robinson at Chorley Little Theatre, where Mike plays on Wednesday, May 20 (with ticket details here).

Meanwhile there’s an in-depth account of the tragic Lancaster mission that inspired Mike’s Bombers’ Moon on the site here, and details of Gordon Thorburn’s Bombers First and Last can be found here.  

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Voicing an opinion – Paul McLoone on life with The Undertones

Derry's Finest: From the left, Damian O'Neill, Billy Doherty, Paul McLoone, Michael Bradley, John O'Neill

Derry’s Finest: From the left, Damian O’Neill, Billy Doherty, Paul McLoone, Michael Bradley, John O’Neill

It was only supposed to be a one-off show, a November 1999 date to mark the opening of a new venue in their home city.

There would be no Feargal Sharkey this time, he of the fantastically-distinctive warbling voice by then a music industry high-flier and having ruled out any reunion.

Instead, local lad Paul McLoone stepped up to the mic at the Nerve Centre in Derry, Northern Ireland, having previously seen service with a band called The Carrellines, who also happened to feature drummer Billy Doherty.

And guess what? The new-look Undertones – McLoone joining Doherty and fellow founder members Mickey Bradley (bass) and brothers Damian and John O’Neill (guitars) – loved it so much they’ve regularly reconvened ever since.

Over 15 years they’ve added two more albums to the catalogue and played around 300 additional shows. What’s more, a new 15-date tour starts at Leamington Spa Assembly on Friday, May 1, and includes a visit to Liverpool Academy 2 on Saturday, May 30, the closest they’ll get to me this time around.

They’ll also be back in my neck of the woods on Saturday, October 31 too, alongside From The Jam and The Beat at Manchester Academy in what appears to be a dream bill for this old timer, just part of another year of dates fitted in alongside the five-piece’s day-jobs.

Anyway who’s read more than a couple of features on this blog will know that from their punk beginnings to a more soulful re-direction over their initial 13 singles and four great albums, these were my heroes as an impressionable youth.

I had plenty more musical loves, not least one right on my doorstep, The Jam, but while we grew up at opposite ends of the UK amid very different circumstances, The Undertones somehow still seemed to be the boys-next-door for this young new wave obsessive.

They didn’t sing about the Troubles in their homeland, at least not blatantly, tending to tackle more universal themes like teenage angst and heartbreak, amid infectious guitar hooks, that amazing voice out front and some pretty perfect harmonies.

I was barely a teenager when I first caught them live on the Positive Touch tour at Guildford Civic in June 1981, and within two years was seeing The Undertones with Feargal for the last time, another date in my hometown followed by their final British gigs at London’s Lyceum in late May 1983 and supporting Peter Gabriel and the Thompson Twins at Crystal Palace FC two months later.

Past Days: The Undertones in their prime (pic courtesy of BBC)

Past Days: The Undertones in their prime (pic courtesy of BBC)

The vinyl passion continued long after, with a potted history of that supplied in my September 2012 feature, Why I Still Love The Undertones. And to cut a Spandau Ballet song title short I finally got my chance to enjoy those earlier hits and near-misses first-hand in the year 2000 (when, incidentally, Jarvis Cocker failed to show up at ours after all).

And while their new lead singer was the same age as me, I felt he fitted in just perfectly, adding a youthful, fresh approach to the proceedings that the songs deserved.

Life moves on for all of us of course, and I haven’t seen the band for a while, possibly not since a few London and Manchester dates in 2003 and 2004. And the last time I spoke to Paul in person was after the band’s set at GuilFest in 2003, I reckon, as I reminded him when we caught up on the phone this week on the line between Dublin and Lancashire.

“That’s the one I nearly missed! It’s actually quite embarrassing. I slept in and had to get a later flight, and it was all really tight.

“I was rushed down to get to the airport and had to break every speed limit known to British law on the way. The whole time the promoter was on the phone asking, ‘Where are you now?’

“The band were on the stage contemplating doing the set without me. I literally got out of the car, ran up the steps and started singing. And as it turned out, it was actually a great show!

“There was a lot of hassle getting in, and with festivals there’s always going to be guys stopping you, looking for wristbands or ID. I didn’t have anything, because we didn’t have time. But somehow I got through.

“It’s funny now … but I think it only started being funny about two years ago!”

We go on to reminisce about those earliest Undertones Mk II shows in June 2000, their first outside Ireland since reforming, not least a fantastic night at the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden before the following day’s Fleadh appearance in Finsbury Park. Great memories.

Past Product: Paul and Billy's former band's sole single

Past Product: Paul and Billy’s former band’s sole single

“I played the Mean Fiddler with The Carrellines too. It was great to play, and like you say one of those moments that sticks in your head from my early involvement with the band.”

With all my past history involving this band, I let on how it made me laugh when the promoter told me before, ‘Paul is the new singer, having been with the band since they reformed in 1999, so no point asking him about the old days`.

That said, I sympathise with him having to regularly answer those inevitable Feargal questions, from people wondering if he’s still involved with the band.

“Sometimes they’ll just catch me in a bad mood, like on Twitter recently. I felt bad about that, because that guy wasn’t even being nasty.

“But that’s a problem with Twitter, people just butt in on other people’s conversations. I just let fly, saying I was so sick about it.

“You’ve just got to take it on the chin though. I’m not like the guy who took over in Queen. We’re not on that scale, so I guess we can’t expect everyone to know the full story.”

Paul’s one school year older, but we were both born in 1967, albeit some distance apart. My own love of The Undertones came via my older brother and his mates. How about his?

“I was around 11 when Teenage Kicks came out and my first memory of the band is actually not getting to see them!

“They were scheduled to play a show in a small working men’s club in the Bogside in Derry, where I grew up.

“People were very excited about The Undertones doing this free show, but I wasn’t allowed to go, because it would be full of ‘those punks’. And then it didn’t happen anyway for some reason.

“I also remember a friend who had the Teenage Kicks EP and brought it to Mass! We were sat at the back looking at it.

“Of course, it had a couple of expletives on the back written on a wall, so there was this frisson of transgression about it in that setting!

Mass Transgression: The offending EP

Mass Transgression: The offending EP

“I was also fascinated by the fact that I’d never seen an EP before, the fact that it had two tracks on each side. What sorcery was this?

“Then there were those first Top of the Pops appearances. Even then I had an idea I was going to be a musician, an embryonic notion that this was what I wanted to do.

“Seeing these guys from your street up there proved to be an incredible lightning bolt. It absolutely short-circuited this idea that it couldn’t be you!

“These guys were not just from Derry, but were really ordinary guys who hadn’t even dressed up. There was this really powerful sense of, ‘That could be me!’

“I often say this – and Mickey and John would probably just roll their eyes – but it was a tremendously important thing that they achieved.

“Let’s not labour the point, Derry was going through really terrible times. Yet this was such a positive thing.”

There must have been a sense of pride in these local lads making good?

“Absolutely, but equally and oppositely there was a lot of resentment and aggression towards them.

“Anyone with a brain and a perfectly-functioning soul was on their side, but you’ve got to remember how tough things were at the time.

“People were getting killed all the time and there were terrible economic circumstances, and still are to a large extent, with very few jobs and a very down-trodden people.

“You can get a little bitter in those circumstances, and maybe cynical. Unfortunately that’s the negative side of human nature.”

While I was far away from the Troubles in my corner of the South-East of England most of the time, I too could relate to these lads, irrespective of all that.

“Yes, they definitely embody that. People talk about punk being about how everybody can do it and it wasn’t about dressing up and all that. But it was! The Sex Pistols were styled to the nth degree.

Famous Five: The Undertones Mk I

Famous Five: The Undertones Mk I

“Take That weren’t any more styled than the Pistols! The Clash too. And I’m not knocking that at all.

“But The Undertones took it literally, frowning on dressing up and airs and graces and any idea that you were in any way different to the guys down the front at your gigs.

“They still do, and in their dotage the lads are still very anti-rock star behaviour.”

That attitude makes it for me … plus the fact that you’re such a brilliant band, of course.

“Well, that helps!”

When the band split in the summer of ’83, Paul had not long turned 16. Was he still a fan? Had he followed their development?

“I had. I’ve got to be honest and say I was unenthused by The Sin of Pride though. I really liked Positive Touch, which was a great record, but then the next album came along and there was just something about it.

“I wasn’t hugely enamoured by Mike Hedges’ production, although I liked his work with The Associates and several other bands and felt he was a great producer.

“I’ve gleaned since that there were other factors feeding into how that record turned out, but it just felt like a failure and that they hadn’t really nailed it. And that was the first time I’d felt that about The Undertones.”

Which is a real shame, because song for song it’s fantastic, so maybe it’s all down to that production.

“I agree there are some great songs there, and they left a brilliant song off in Bittersweet.”

Ah, now you’re talking. Funny you should say that. One of my favourites too, but never quite recorded the way I saw it. I remember That Petrol Emotion doing it in the early days too. So are you playing that again now?

“We have done, but it’s John’s call. I suppose every great songwriter has the one that got away, and it’s a song he’s never been completely happy with.

“We’ve tried it and I think it’s been fine, but he’s not pushed for it to be in the set. I suppose it’s one of those songs that comes from that Smokey Robinson thing he was into at the time.

Feargal's Finale:  The Sin of Pride

Feargal’s Finale: The Sin of Pride

“Maybe it’s a bit of a hangover from a time he feels creatively was a bit of a rough patch for him.”

You could always try to re-record the whole album.

Paul laughs.

“Well, we’d have to drop the key of a couple of the songs! Love Parade is so hard to sing! Having said that, I agree with you.

“Actually, we do a roughed-up garage version of Love Parade, rather than the pastiche style on the album – a style I feel undermines that whole album.”

Turning Blue is another great example of a forgotten gem from that era as far as I’m concerned.

“There are a few, and John’s played me demos of songs that never even got to the studio. There’s also some great stuff on the album, but it just doesn’t gel as a record.

“I don’t know why, and don’t really know why they did the cover, Got To Have You Back. It’s not bad, but The Undertones were a band that didn’t need to do a cover.

“At the time – as a slightly over-zealous, over-intense music fan – I thought, ‘There’s a cover version – it’s over!’”

Were you already destined for a career on the airwaves at that stage in your life?

“I started in radio when I was 17, although I had no hankering for that. It genuinely happened by accident – just as a sequence of events.

“I was messing around doing funny voices, which people who know me will tell you I do to an irritating extent when bored.

“Someone recorded me and gave it to a local radio presenter, and it all mutated into this (satirical) sketch show for a couple of years.

“Then I moved to Dublin to produce the breakfast show for Today FM, all down to work I did in the North at the BBC for Stephen Price, who’s still my best mate.

Graphic Equaliser: Today FM presenter and Undertones lead singer Paul McLoone

Graphic Equaliser: Today FM presenter and Undertones lead singer Paul McLoone

“That was all parallel to playing music. I was in a couple of dead-end bands in my late teens and then The Carrellines was a bit more solid and of course also included Billy.

“We weren’t a bad band, but maybe just weren’t good enough. But Billy and I continued, had a recording studio together and a little label, and managed a couple of bands.

“Our hearts were in the right place, I just don’t think we had the acumen or killer instinct to make a big success of it. Then the radio career got a bit more solid and became more my main thing.

“Then, coincidentally, weirdly, I’d just moved to Dublin and was starting to make a bit of headway with the breakfast show when Billy called – very much out of the blue – and asked me to sing for The Undertones, for what was only meant to be one gig, the opening of The Nerve Centre in Derry. Yet here we are now!”

Was there a touch of irony in the fact that you joined Derry’s most famous band the year you left your home city?

“It wasn’t lost on me! Absolutely, and I think I may have used the Al Pacino quote (as Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III), ‘Just when I thought I was out … they pull me back in!’ It was less than convenient, that’s for sure.”

I don’t always have time to listen to Paul’s four nights a week show on Today FM, but even so, just reading the set-list can be enough sometimes, this accidental DJ supplying a grand mix of influences from across the years. Well worth a listen.

“Thanks very much. I make a virtue of showing my age with the show, and try to level that by playing more up to date and brand new stuff and Irish music.

“I was a producer there for years but never really intended to be a presenter. Most things happen to me completely as a fluke.

“My presenter Tom, still a very good friend, upped and left abruptly for another station and I was left wondering what I was going to do.

Chips Again: The Undertones' second coming - from left, John, Paul, Dee, Billy, Mickey

Chips Again: The Undertones’ second coming – from left, John, Paul, Dee, Billy, Mickey

“I stuck my neck out and said maybe I could do the show. It was more expedience than any ambition on my part. That was eight or nine years ago, and touch wood, we’re still in there and doing okay.”

Did Paul get to work alongside fellow Undertone Mickey – also a producer-turned-presenter – in his Radio Foyle days?

“I did. Funny thing was that I was doing stuff there before him, as a kid. I then drifted out of that for a wee while, and Mickey tried a few things after the band split.

“He was in London at the time but ended up back in Derry and found his way to Radio Foyle through who he knew.

“Being a clever and talented guy he rose through the ranks very rapidly and in the early ‘90s I was back as a researcher and he was already a senior producer. In certain circumstances he was kind of my boss!”

So he knew of your band experience?

“Oh yeah. We talked about that and he would slag off my choice in music, like in 1993 when I brought in the first Suede record. He kind of sniffed and said, ‘When are you going to learn?’

“Now I’m sure he would love Suede, but at the time I think he felt, here comes Paul again, slavishly following the dictats of the New Musical Express. Which I wasn’t. I just knew a great record when I heard one.”

All these years on, you clearly love your new life in your adopted home city, Dublin.

“Yeah, and that’s absolutely no reflection on Derry, but if you live in a place for a certain amount of time it becomes home.

Sitting Pretty: The Undertones take it easy, with Paul McLoone out front

Sitting Pretty: The Undertones take it easy, with Paul McLoone out front

“I went home to Derry quite recently and thought I’d just go out and bump into people I’ve known for years and it’d be great. But I didn’t meet a single person I knew.

“You kind of realise the guys you knew are at home with their families or have moved away. Things move on. It’s a natural thing.”

Paul has two sons from previous relationships, with his eldest Stephen, 21, also at Today FM in Dublin.

“The power of positive nepotism! He’s a studio engineer, and his half-brother James is 17 and in the middle of his A-levels. They’re both very clever, handsome young men … obviously.”

And you’ve got the dream gig surely, your own radio show and fronting The Undertones?

“It is a bit jammy … yeah. I constantly give thanks to the universe for how things are going. I’ve always felt very lucky to be doing both my jobs, even as a producer.

“To be working in radio, which I’ve always loved, while always looking forward to playing too. I’ve always loved being on the road.

“It has its downside too, but I really enjoy it. And the trick with us is that we don’t do it all the time.”

I got the impression recently talking to your band-mate Damian (O’Neill) that he enjoys the European dates more than the home nation shows sometimes.

“Yeah, I think it’s because it’s a change of scene, and we see their beautiful cities. If the schedule’s right you get to walk around.

Dee Factor: Damian O'Neill in action with The Everlasting Yeah

Dee Factor: Damian O’Neill with The Everlasting Yeah

“We had a lovely day in Turin, for example, where we just hung out for the day, the sun was shining, we were around these piazzas with beautiful women everywhere, and just felt, ‘This is alright’.”

On the other hand, Get What You Need was as long ago as 2003 and Dig Yourself Deep was in 2007. Surely we’re ready for another album by now.

“Well I am!”

Is it just fitting it all around your various schedules?

“It’s partly that, and also just that the creative elements aren’t really aligned, to be perfectly honest.

“John is still making music but it’s kind of project-based and I think he prefers that right now.”

I believe he’s been working with his former partner from Rare again.

“He has. I’ve heard it and it’s very good, but it’s a million miles away from The Undertones.

“I also don’t think Mickey is in a songwriting phase, but with everything it’s a question of getting it kicked in, getting a bit of momentum and people coming in and creating more stuff.

“I tried to force it with a single for Record Store Day a couple of years ago, hoping it might lead to a bit more, but it didn’t take.

“Damian is writing again and I really liked his last single, which would make a great Undertones song. We’re talking about throwing that into the set.

“He’s also getting on with raising a daughter and his marriage, and priorities do change as you get older. And he’s also got The Everlasting Yeah.”

What did Paul make of their first album, Anima Rising?

“I think it’s really good, and would like to hear what they do next. It feels like where they were maybe a year ago, so I’d like to know where they are now. It’s that kind of record for me. I really do like it though.”

Debut Album: The Undertones, repackaged, Salvo style

Debut Album: The Undertones’ Salvo repackage

Will you be doing anything for Record Store Day this week?

“Unfortunately not, but I wish there was something.”

It’s never been Undertones karaoke for you, and the five of you clearly don’t need to do this for the money. You’ve all got other stuff on. In fact, there may come a time when you decide you’re all getting on a bit and Teenage Kicks and Let’s Talk About Girls don’t strike a chord anymore. But for now you seem to be doing it all for the right reasons.

“I like to think so. We just enjoy it. We have fun doing it, and it’s immensely gratifying when you go and play a gig in England – never mind New York or Tokyo, which was amazing – and people show up!

“That’s kind of affirming, and you get such a buzz out of it. I’m not so sure that we’ll be doing it for much longer, because we’ll getting a bit long in the tooth, maybe.

“That’s the last thing we would want to be perceived as – dragging our weary carcasses around again. But I said that 10 years ago and we’re still doing it!”

That was my point before. I think a big part of the appeal of the band with you out front was that I hadn’t seen the band until the Positive Touch and The Sin of Pride tours.

I thought I’d missed out on the songs that first turned me on to this band – like Mars Bars and all that. But there you were playing them again, with me beaming from ear to ear at the Mean Fiddler.

Then there were the new songs like Thrill Me, as good a moment as much of what had come before, and of course a rare example of a song legendary DJ and great fan of the band John Peel felt the need to play twice in a row on his show.

So for those who might not yet have latched on to the Undertones Mk II (and there’s really no valid excuse!), what other tracks would you recommend we dig ourselves deep for? Or should they just go out and buy both of your 21st century albums?

“Well, if they can find them – yes! But you’re right, Thrill Me is a great song and Mickey’s come up with a lot of great songs too.

“That sour, sarcastic kind of baleful look at the music industry in Oh Please I always felt was great, then a song by John called Fight My Corner on Dig Yourself Deep.

“Maybe the only reason it’s not been in the set that much is because it’s not very Undertones – it’s more That Petrol Emotion. But it’s a great song.

The Comeback: The new band's 2003 debut LP

The Comeback: The new band’s 2003 debut LP

“Then there’s Precious Little Wonder on the first LPDig Yourself Deep itself … there are a lot of great songs on those albums. They don’t work 100 per cent, but albums often don’t. But there are enough good songs on there to make it worthwhile.”

Meanwhile, I believe Mickey’s working on an autobiography. I think he’s getting tired of me asking how it’s going and offering help, so I’ll ask you.

“Do you know what? That book’s now becoming an even bigger joke than the Pete Townshend one. But that did finally come out, so I wouldn’t hold my breath but I live in hope.”

Well, make sure you keep pressing him, because we all want to see it finished.

“Well yeah, we all keep ribbing him about it, and he has very little else to do with his time in fairness.”

There’s that in-house Undertones piss-taking in a nutshell, and Paul clearly fits in well with the original band members.

I was told to avoid the F-word, you’ll remember, but am I right in thinking Feargal’s never likely to pat you on the back one day and say, ‘Thanks for keeping it going, I’m back now. Push off!’ Has Paul ever had any word from Mr Sharkey about the Mk II years?

“I’ve genuinely not heard a thing, but wouldn’t expect to. He has a business relationship with the guys separate to – and rightly so – from any business I have with them.

“Most of that I imagine just happens third party through (original manager) Andy (Ferguson). I don’t think there’s any degree of direct contact.

“I certainly have no contact, and that’s not out of any rancour. I don’t know him, or what he thinks of me. I should imagine artistically he might feel, ‘Well, he’s not as good as me’, and he’s entitled to that opinion.

“Whether he’s grateful in any sense, I don’t know. I’ve never thought of that. It’s an interesting idea.”

For all the in-house tensions over the years, Feargal certainly had such a wonderfully evocative and pretty much unique voice. Were there songs you struggled to get your head (or at least your vocal chords) around when you got the job?

Great Voice: Feargal Sharkey

Great Voice: Feargal Sharkey

“There were a few, and like I said before we do Love Parade and it’s a real struggle. I really think, ‘Wow, that guy could sing!’

“Sometimes his phrasing is very specific, so to try and do it that way would just be to ape him, and I try to avoid that as a priority.

“Having said that, I think as the band progressed Feargal became more and more idiosyncratic as a vocalist and those are the songs we play less.

“So the potential for sounding like a Karaoke Feargal is played down naturally. But sometimes I think, ‘The guy must have been on helium’ Perhaps he was.”

You’ve all got your own projects, with yourself and Mickey in radio, Damian playing with The Everlasting Yeah and London-based, and we mentioned John too.

How about that wonderful new ceili outfit, The Billy Doherty Rambling Band, doing Undertones covers as well as traditional material?

“Yeah, they were our support act when we did a show at the Button Factory in Dublin in January, and they’re doing a festival with us in Killarney, County Kerry, in late June.

“They’re on the main stage and we’re in the marquee! I prefer marquees, but it appears that the Billy Doherty side-project is now threatening to outdo us!

“It’s great though. I saw them not knowing what to expect, thinking it was a bit of a joke, but it’s actually brilliant, with really great players like Robert Peoples on fiddle.”

Do you tend to keep in touch with each other when you’re not working together? There’s clearly a great camaraderie.

“A bit of that. Exactly. A bit of gentle piss-taking around the emails and even the occasional phone call.

“When I go to Derry I often stay at John’s house. We’re all good friends, although we don’t see a lot of each other because we’re all doing our own stuff.

“There are tensions when you’re on the road a few days, but generally speaking we get on really well. And if there was separate transport, no eye contact on stage and all that, it would be like, ‘Hey, come here …”

Ceili Covers: The Billy Doherty Rambling Band. Feet off the stools please, lads.

Ceili Covers: The Billy Doherty Rambling Band. Feet off the stools please, lads.

I was reminded of late of all those fall-outs within bands while doing a new feature on another of my favourites, The Jam. Sometimes you just feel, ‘Why don’t you all just kiss and make up?’

“We don’t have that. Do you know, that would probably come under the list of rock’n’roll don’ts. That’s rock star behaviour right there, so it’s a no-no.

“If you don’t like a guy, don’t travel with him, don’t be on a stage with him or be in a band with him.”

Finally, I ask Paul to tell us something about each of his band-mates that us fans probably don’t know.

This question causes a lot of soul-searching, Paul clearly keen not to upset anyone or tell us too much which might be deemed private. Finally, he’s ready to go.

“Okay, Michael has a very large … subbuteo table, which he gets out at parties. And Michael throws a great party! I don’t always get to go, but they’re always great.

“Billy? I was going to tell you about the ceili band, but you already know that. I know, he owns a collection of synthesisers, which he likes to fiddle around with.

“I think they’re a hangover from The Carrellines days, but he still buys them and is still really into electronics.

“I think they’ll discover one hopefully far-off day when he shuffles off this mortal coil this vast backlog of genius electronic music.

“John … I know him and Billy the best but I’m really struggling here. I tell you what, he makes a mean bacon bap. You’ll not get a better bacon bap than you get at his home.

“And Damian? Damian looks disgustingly good with his shirt off for a man of his age.”

Late Breakfast Mickey and Billy get ready to tuck in at John's

Late Breakfast Mickey and Billy get ready to tuck in at John’s place

Superb! Actually, it’s always worried me as he gets older that Dee might turn into one of the Gibb brothers.

“Well, totally. He did actually get mistaken for – God rest his soul – Robin Gibb at Euston station or somewhere once, and genuinely didn’t have the heart to say he wasn’t him. He just kind of smiled and waved.”

That seems to sum him up, and perhaps all of you in the band – always eager to please the fans.

“Yeah, and of course he started out as Ian McCulloch before mutating into Robin Gibb.”

Tickets for The Undertones at Liverpool Academy 2 on Saturday, May 2 – priced £20 in advance – are available from the venue box office on 0844 477 2000 or online here or here.

For more from the band and further live dates in 2015, try the official website here or their Facebook page.

To find out more about the Billy Doherty Rambling band, not least listen to a cracking version of Here Comes The Summer, try their website.

And for various past features and reviews for The Undertones, That Petrol Emotion and The Everlasting Yeah and interviews with Damian O’Neill and Raymond Gorman, just try the search section on this site.

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Cleaning up with Crissy Rock – from Liverpool to Peterlee, via Benidorm

Duster Date: Crissy Rock as Elsie Collins in Dirty Dusting, ready for action

Duster Date: Crissy Rock as Elsie Collins in Dirty Dusting, ready for action

Award-winning actress, stand-up comic and best-selling author Crissy Rock is in a Teeside tailback, and has clearly forgotten our 11am phone date.

We go ahead anyway, while Crissy inches slowly along amid A19 amid traffic gridlock, ‘hands-free’ communication and backup satellite navigation saving the day.

She’s not complaining anyway, showing more concern for a driver cut out of his over-turned tanker by fire crews and flown to hospital in Middlesbrough by air ambulance.

“You’ve just got to think of the poor driver. It could be any of us. I’m just hoping he’s alright.”

For someone based in the North-East a couple of years, there’s no denying Crissy has retained a strong Liverpudlian accent, while her croaky tones suggest a busy social life over the years.

Our reason for this barely-mobile phone chat was Crissy’s role in Dirty Dusting, ‘an evening of pure theatrical Viagra’ apparently.

“It’s brilliant. We can’t wait. We’re really excited to be on tour again. When we first went out it was like, ‘Is anybody ready for this?’ but it’s just gone from strength to strength.

“This is our second year and we all get on. There are no prima donnas. We’re like a family. When it’s our last night we’re so upset, because we do everything together, including when we have a day off.”

Crissy – real name Christine Murray – brings Dirty Dusting to Lancashire soon, visiting Oswaldtwistle Civic on Saturday, April 18, then Blackpool Grand on Sunday, April 26.

“That’ll be a shock for Blackpool, won’t it?’

I find it hard to believe anything will shock Blackpool, but she sticks to her guns.

“It’ll be good fun. I hope it really does well there. I’ve done the Grand as a comic but never as an actress.”

51M1KrWnoHL._SY300_Does that put extra pressure on the 56-year-old, whose big break came playing Maggie Conlan in legendary British director Ken Loach’s gritty 1994 film Ladybird, Ladybird?

“No! And we never take for granted we had a good night the night before. You always have to give the same 100% performance. We don’t get lazy.”

Crissy is best known to many as Janey York in Benidorm, a role she played for four years from 2007, returning briefly in the fifth series then again in the seventh series, replacing Sherrie Hewson as the Solona manager.

You may recall she also survived I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here in 2011, finishing sixth in a series won by McFly’s Dougie Poynter.

Then there was Celebrity Come Dine With Me and The Chase, plenty of prime TV such as roles in Peak Practice, Dalziel and Pascoe, Dockers, Brookside, Trial and Retribution and The Commander, plus a daily stand-up comedy stint in a UK cabaret club in the Spanish resort with which she’s associated.

But now her priority is Dirty Dusting, building on a sellout UK tour in 2014, its plot centred around three ‘past their sell-by date’ cleaning ladies who start a phone sex line, ‘Telephone Belles’ Elsie, Gladys and Olive – about to be put out to pasture by an overzealous office manager – working on boosting their falling income.

Thankfully she doesn’t try out any of her lines on me, but Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood’s ‘heart-warming feelgood comedy’ is certainly causing a stir by all accounts.

It’s directed by Crissy’s co-star and fellow comedienne and actress Leah Bell, the pair appearing alongside stage and TV actress Dolores Porretta Brown.

With the show only re-starting with April 9th’s trip to Hull New Theatre, I asked Crissy if she’s been back in southern Spain recently, where the cast of Benidorm are filming the eighth series of the popular comedy drama?

“I was out there for a couple of weeks, but only for a break. I haven’t been involved with the latest series. It was really nice to go back, but I haven’t been invited since.

“It’s nothing personal. Paul (Bazely)’s only just gone back after being out of it for five years, and I’m really thrilled for him. You’ve just got to take what’s there, and never say never.

“I can’t thank (production company) Tiger Aspects enough. They brought the phoenix out of the ashes for me. But we’ll just have to see what comes along.”

Had Crissy worked with Leah Bell before?

“No, but we’re like best mates now, and did All Star Family Fortunes with us.”

Family Time: Crissy Rock, Vernon Kay and H from Steps on the set of All Star Family Fortunes (Photo: ITV)

Family Time: Crissy Rock, Vernon Kay and H from Steps on the set of All Star Family Fortunes (Photo: ITV)

On that occasion of the Vernon Kay-fronted quiz show, the Rock family won £10,000 for the Families Fighting for Justice cause.

“I’ve been involved with them for a couple of years. It’s all about families involved with homicides.

“For me the sad part is that the body doesn’t belong to the family, but to the coroner. A lot of them don’t get chance to say goodbye. By the time they get the body back it’s a closed casket.

“There are nearly 500 families in Liverpool alone orphaned to homicide, sometimes with the grandparents bringing them up while having to struggle with the loss of a son or daughter. So it’s nice to give them some money to help with the cause.”

Crissy is also a prime mover in the Just the Tonic charity project for a dry bar in Whitley Bay, her celebrity backers having included fellow Liverpudlian Ricky Tomlinson.

”It’s not just for alcoholics. It’s for people with problems in the family unit, depression and mental health issues and might have been abused as a child.

“It’s what’s going on behind the scenes of the café that’s more to the point. I’ve been finding a room and can’t afford to pay for it myself …”

At this point, the traffic starts moving and Crissy is uncertain where her diversion is taking her.

“I’ll just follow this lot and see where it’s going. Oh no, we’re going the wrong way back up the A19!”

We’re soon back on track though, Crissy carrying on where we left off.

Charity Project: Crissy joining forces with Ricky Tomlinson as part of her work for Just the Tonic (Photo:

Charity Project: Crissy joining forces with Ricky Tomlinson as part of her work for Just the Tonic (Photo:

“Someone complained the other day that there was no vodka or whisky. I said, ‘It’s a dry bar! You’re not gonna give an amputee a pair of shoes, are you?’

“Of course, we were all laughing … but I hadn’t meant it to come out like that.”

That’s Crissy in a nutshell – down-to-earth edgy, capable of borderline quips, but well meaning.

Before we can be accused of offending anyone, I get back on to Dirty Dancing and mention Dolores Porretta Brown.

“Dolores is lovely! She’s a fabulous actress. We went to see her in a play and she absolutely stole the show. She’s dead funny as well, and talks terribly far back.”

Crissy’s doing her version of a posh accent now, amid those unmistakable Scouse tones, but is soon distracted again by her continuing travel conundrum.

“Oh no, it’s going to take me on the A1! I’ve got to go round this roundabout now and … shit, I’ve come in the wrong lane! But not to worry, all roads lead home.”

I’m not too sure that all roads lead to Doncaster though.

“I’ll probably get there and it’ll be shut!”

So what does Dirty Dancing’s male cast member, Lee Brannigan, have to put up with these three mad women?

10171917_543379825783834_265486369454926380_n“Ah, he’s lovely, and all excited because we both like the bingo! If he’s got a night off, he’ll go to the bingo.”

Do you think there’s the chance of a feelgood UK movie version of the play a bit further down the road?

“I’d love that! It would be so funny. We’ve heard Bill Kenwright’s coming to see it. That’s only a whisper, but it’ll be great if he does.

“This can really travel, even though it’s a Northern play. The fella who wrote it has been brilliant. It’s about a dozen years old but Leah and me have updated it, putting our own twist on it but on the same wavelength.”

So what she’s saying is they need to be script supervisors if a film comes off.

“Yes! And we’re writing another play between us. It’s about a café and called One Lump or Two. It’s 90 per cent finished.”

So what does Crissy see herself as first and foremost now – actor, stand-up comic or best-selling author?

“Well, the book’s sold a lot but it’s not brought me much. Everyone thinks I must be minted but it’s never happened like that.

“I think you have to write for the joy of writing. You’re supposed to get around £1 a book, but by the time everything is taken off I think I get around 7p a book.

“But if it’s helped just one person it’s been worth it. And it helped me get it off my chest.”

51dH3Dzi4BL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This Heart Within Me Burns, published in 2011, chronicles the ups and downs of a troubled life, including childhood abuse, violent relationships, bankruptcy and homelessness.

After seven months in The Sunday Times’ best-sellers’ top-10 it was released in paperback in 2012 after 35,000 sales, Crissy becoming a regular on ITV’s This Morning discussing the book and its issues.

Does she get a lot of comments from fans inspired by her story in their own lives?

“I’m going to write a follow-up, based on all the comments I’ve had. I went to a club the other night and got this lovely card off a lady saying, ‘Thank you, I read your book, I’ve had a life like yours. It’s helped me see things from a different angle’.

“Forgiveness is worth its weight in gold. You don’t have to forget, but if I forgive him, I forgive me. Carrying all the hatred and bitterness is no good.

“You can’t change what’s happened, but you can change your future. Everything’s for a reason and though that doesn’t always make sense you either come out a better person or you can’t cope with it. I could have turned to drink and drugs.

“One of the saddest things I’ve felt was when this lady came to me, an absolute nervous wreck, God love her, and told me she was in a very abusive relationship.

“She said, ‘But then you smashed the table’. All them years before, the only thing I had left that ‘he’ still wanted was his table, so I put a hammer through it.

“I paid someone £10 for that table, a lot of money to me then, paid off at £2 a week. It wasn’t the best table in the world, but I liked it … and it was mine.

“But he wanted it and I had nowhere to take it anyway. I opened an under-stair cupboard, found a hammer and put it right through it.

“Now this woman told me she felt if I could lose my table, she could lose her abuse. That made me think about what might have happened if I’d have stayed.

“What would I be like now? It brought it all back to me, and I felt so sorry for her.

“I still have dark days but try and brush them aside, convince myself to get a grip. It never ever leaves you but I say, “I mightn’t win the war, but wanna win the battle!”

“Another lady came to me who was in a very controlling relationship. In that situation they break you down until you can’t think without them and become like a robot.

Dust Allergy: Crissy Rock gives her own twist on the working girl pout, and Elsie Collins is clearly unrelated to namesake Joan

Dust Allergy: Crissy Rock gives her own twist on the working girl pout, and Elsie Collins is clearly unrelated to namesake Joan

“She told me she left in the end and now owns two funeral parlours, having left him, got a job, done courses and in the end bit the bullet and set her own business up.”

That key table-smashing moment came in Crissy’s early 20s, and within a few years she was ‘back on track’ and had embarked on her acting career.

Crissy’s film role in Ladybird, Ladybird won her the Silver Bear best actress award at the 44th Berlin International Film Festival, with Tom Hanks winning the male equivalent.

Ken Loach clearly recognised her talent. Did he realise what he’d taken on?

“No! I never told him anything. I just thought I was going to be an extra. I’m just dead down to earth.

“My grandmother always said, ‘Earn respect, don’t demand it’. I’m an ordinary person who just happens to have an unusual job.”

At this point it’s clear that Crissy is well and truly lost on her diversion.

“I’m just following these cars. I’m going to end up someone’s drive at this rate.”

Who does she think she’s learned most from on the acting or comedy scene?

“I love Kathy Bates. When she did Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café and Dolores Claiborne, she’s unbelievable. She’s a big woman and knows she’s not a typical Hollywood Barbie.

Acting Inspiration: Kathy Bates

Acting Inspiration: Kathy Bates

“I once had to a do a scene for Peak Practice alongside John McArdle, and was told, ‘There’s no make-up. The director doesn’t want you to wear any’.

“I wasn’t bothered. I said, ‘The only thing that can help me is surgery. I’ll just have to go about with what God gave me!’”

Who’s closest to the real Christine Murray – Crissy Rock, Dirty Dusting’s Elsie Collins, Ladybird, Ladybird’s Maggie Conlan or Benidorm’s Janey York?

“None of them really! As soon as Crissy Rock’s finished, she goes back. A lot of people expect me to be like Joan Collins. But I turn up in a pair of jeans, no make-up, and sometimes no teeth in!

“That surprises people, but what are they expecting – Julia Roberts? If you’re done up like a dog’s dinner all the time, you don’t feel the benefit.”

Looking at Crissy’s Facebook page, I see she recently ran out of space for ‘friends’ after accumulating 5,000.

“I’ve now got two Facebook pages and a Twitter account, and can’t have anymore on! I’m computer-illiterate and can’t work out how to add more without deleting others.

“I think they’re getting the idea now, going on to my Just the Tonic page. And there’s one for Dirty Dusting too.”

Why the 2012 move to County Durham for this South Liverpool lass?

“My partner’s from the North-East. I miss Liverpool terribly, but I’m settled up here and I’m near a town, a city, a village, the sea …

”When you’ve got a car, you can be anywhere you want in 20 minutes. It’s a beautiful area. People from home ask why I’ve come, but you just need to open your eyes and see what you’ve got, appreciate what you’ve got around you.”

Was that just the next logical step after Crissy’s overseas stand-up stint, swapping Alicante for Peterlee?

Solana Sunshine: Crissy as Janey York on the set of Benidorm (Photo: ITV)

Solana Sunshine: Crissy as Janey York on the set of Benidorm (Photo: ITV)

“Oh, it’s too hot there!”

What did it feel like going out for her first stand-up show, at The Montrose in Liverpool?

“That was like forever ago! When they called my name I just stood there and froze.”

At this point, Crissy’s sat nav gadgetry is chatting away to her as she mutters about having to ask a policeman where she needs to go. We soon pick up again though.

“I was wondering what I was doing that first night, but at the same time felt like the stage was home. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve died a death on a stage, but everyone’s had a bad day at work. And if you’ve never died in comedy you’ve never lived!”

Was comedy good therapy too for all those hard times in Crissy’s past?

“There’s always someone worse off than yourself, however down in the dumps you feel. I take that on board and feel ‘it could be worse’.

So I’m guessing the 19 days she survived in an Australian rainforest for I’m a Celeb was nothing in comparison.

“I’d love to go back to the jungle. It was an amazing experience! And if you look at life as a scale, all the bad in the past is now balanced out by all the good.”

Ms Murray: Crissy Rock, off stage

Ms Murray: Crissy Rock, off stage

I leave it there and let Crissy try and work out how to get back on the right road. So where is she now?

“I haven’t a clue, but the scenery is lovely! It appears I’m on the way to Yarm now. And with a bit of luck maybe I’ll get to Doncaster sometime today.”

For Dirty Dusting ticket details and a full list of dates, visit the Facebook page here. For tickets for Oswaldtwistle Civic Theatre try 01254 398319/380293 or here and for Blackpool Grand Theatre try 01253 290190 or here.



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Time for Truth – the Rick Buckler interview

Going Underground: Rick Buckler, down in the tube station (Photo: Tony Briggs)

Going Underground: Rick Buckler, down in the tube station, mid-afternoon (Photo: Tony Briggs)

There have been insider accounts of the story of The Jam from various angles since Paul Weller called time on the band in late 1982.

The first to made an impression on me – and I was barely 15 when the band split – was Paolo Hewitt’s The Jam: A Beat Concerto, an authorised biography that bass player Bruce Foxton was keen to distance himself when I first interviewed him in Captains Log in 1987.

There may be contentious passages, but it’s largely stood the test of time for me, giving insightful background on a story I was just a little too young to know first-hand.

Bruce and drummer Rick Buckler’s own version, Our Story, followed in 1993, put together by Alex Ogg. It too had revelatory moments, but was a little too quickly assembled, although of its time perhaps.

For me, John Reed’s Paul Weller: My Ever Changing Moods from 1996 struck a major chord, not least for the added colour about the band’s Woking roots and his main subject’s post-Jam days with The Style Council and his early solo career.

I’ve yet to tackle founder member Steve Brookes’ own version of those early days, Keeping the Flame, but it’s on my list, and writing this has inspired me to track down a copy.

And now Rick Buckler feels the time is right to tell the tale from his point of view, 22 years after Our Story, with help from biographer Ian Snowball, whose past works include co-written publications on everyone from Dexy’s and The Jam to Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene.

When I caught up with Rick earlier this week, It had been seven years since our last chat, backstage at Preston’s 53 Degrees after a memorable From The Jam performance in late 2007.

He was back on board with Bruce at that stage in a tribute band with a difference – having initially joined forces with Jam fans Russell Hastings and David Moore as The Gift to celebrate the continued appeal of one of popular music’s most successful bands.

That's Entertainment: Rick Buckler's version of events is out in May

That’s Entertainment: Rick Buckler’s version of events is out in May

Rick was on fine form that evening, joking with me about our shared Surrey heritage and my subsequent move to Lancashire, struggling to make sense of this scribe’s regular visits to Woking Football Club, something he couldn’t quite get his head around.

That conversation followed a typically-blistering performance behind his drum-kit, and – as with my chats with Bruce and Russ that same evening – seemed fairly indicative of the lack of distance between the band and their fan-base.

The Jam always had that great relationship with their fans. There was no elitism, just a shared love of great and somewhat timeless music and a real down-to-earth approach.

As it was, Paul Weller was always unlikely to re-join his old band-mates, but Bruce and Rick felt something of a compulsion to not only re-live the great times but also secure a little closure on a story that ended so abruptly 25 years earlier.

By the end of 2009 only Bruce and Russell remained of that From the Jam line-up, with Rick busy with other projects, albeit leaving in seemingly abrupt circumstances.

But now he’s back, promoting That’s Entertainment – My Life in The Jam, set for publication next month by Omnibus Press, including a foreword from Tony Fletcher and quotes from Paul Weller, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and broadcaster, presenter and DJ Gary Crowley.

And I guess the obvious first question for Rick when we caught up on the phone earlier this week was ‘why now?’

“There’s no real reason for now in particular, but I’ve been writing down things I intended to use as an autobiography over the last couple of years, then got approached by Snowy, who’d written a couple of other things that were Jam or music–related.

“He was up for helping me finish it off, otherwise it could have been one of these things I just kept adding to it and meandering on.

“He helped a great deal, giving it shape and form and putting me in touch with various publishers, making that process fairly easy.

“That forced my arm to a certain degree and I thought I’d just get on with it and do it.

“I’ve known Snowy on and off from other books he’d done and have helped promote or support him in one way or another, and it was nice to have a sounding board with regard to what I’d left out, what I didn’t need to put in and how to structure it.

“Only I can be a little flaky when it comes to office work!”

Our Story: The Bruce and Rick co-penned Jam memoirs from 1993

Our Story: The Bruce and Rick co-penned Jam memoirs from 1993

I assume Our Story didn’t go far enough for you. Besides, that was – rather frighteningly – 22 years ago now.

“Yes, there’s been some mileage since then. Also, Our Story was mostly anecdotal and really only about stuff on the road involving the Jam years.

“Then again, nearly everything in my life – and I’m sure this is the case for Bruce and Paul – has been because of our involvement in The Jam, so a lot of it does rotate around that.

“I’ve also encompassed the school days, growing up and how the band formed. It does keep coming back to The Jam, so in one respect it is like Our Story. But I think it’s got a broader remit.”

Personally, I always felt Our Story – although very illuminating in places – could have been done a bit better, at least presentation-wise.

“It was done in a bit of rush, and was written by Alex really. We just sat down and talked about those stories. I went back and read a few reviews recently and think people’s expectations of what they were going to get were higher than what we were going to deliver.

“It was difficult at the time. We were in a court case with Paul and weren’t going to get the knives out. I still haven’t got the knives out in this one. There’s no point.

“Perhaps people wanted something a bit more salacious, but they weren’t going to get it.”

That was written 11 years after the split, while this is an amazing 33 years on. Did that make it easier or harder to write all about that stuff?

“One of the things we were well aware of was the fact that nearly everyone who was a Jam fan knows the general story, so I’m trying to convey an insight not just of being part of The Jam but being the drummer inside The Jam.

“I do worry that people are going to say the same about this – that there’s not enough in there exposing this and that, but I don’t know if I actually can please everybody.

“It is what it is, and it’s very difficult for me to judge it.”

There’s been plenty written about the animosity felt by Paul Weller’s band-mates after the front-man broke up the band to form The Style Council, and subsequent fall-outs. Is there a danger of this just being a re-tread of all that?

“To be honest, I’m actually sick to death of all that griping. A lot of it has come from Paul’s camp. I don’t know why, but I don’t even want to go there. This was really just from my point of view and the success of the band.

Drum Major: Rick Buckler, captured in 2011 by Danielle Tunstall (Photo:

Drum Major: Rick Buckler, captured in 2011 by Danielle Tunstall (Photo:

“It obviously had a big effect on my life as well as Bruce’s and Paul’s, but when I talk to Jam fans there’s this real connection that it had an effect on them as well.

“They were part of The Jam as much as we were. I think that connection was really important. I don’t think you see that with many other bands.”

Rick had access to a lot of material to help with the book through involvement with website.

“It was an archive I put together over the years, fantastic to draw upon, all the information coming from tour itineraries and so on.

“It’s reasonably accurate, although I am pulled up every now and again by fans about something or other. But there you go!”

You still live in the Woking area, I understand.

“Yeah, I’m closer to the M3 these days but still on the outskirts of that same area.”

Do you still go into town now and again?

“Sometimes, when I have to! It’s like any big town these days, constantly on the change and it’s not the place I grew up in. Where the houses were that I used to live, there’s now a Premier Inn or something.”

Much is said of Stanley Road, where Paul was brought up, but what about your own base in those formative days?

“Not far from there, there used be a main road that ran right the way through Woking, called Church Street, and I was at the Goldsworth Road end. And if you carried on up Church Street you’d end up with Stanley Road cutting across it.”

My grandmother lived in nearby Arnold Road, Maybury and in her later days in the ‘80s when I’d ask her when she visited, ‘How’s Woking?’ she’d tell me without fail she hardly knew the place anymore, as they were forever pulling stuff down.

I’m guessing from that, even by then Woking was a different place to the town Rick knew when the band was coming together in the early ‘70s, and right up to when The Jam left to make it in London.

Final Flame: The Gift, The Jam's 1982 studio swansong

Final Flame: The Gift, The Jam’s 1982 studio swansong

So how does he think today’s Woking fairs to those early days when the band were playing Michael’s, the Working Men’s Club, the Liberal Club and Sheerwater Youth Club?

“A lot of those have gone now, and even Arnold Road and Eve Road are not really the main trunk road to Sheerwater anymore. They’ve put a main road through further up. It’s constantly on the change, and it’s got a lot bigger than it used to be.”

It always struck me that while my Nan couldn’t get used to a new-look Woking, her part of town – largely Pakistani these days – now shows more signs of community spirit than in her later years.

“Yes, from the earliest times that was the case, because Woking was the first place in Britain to have a purpose-built mosque. Even one of Lawrence of Arabia’s entourage retired to Oriental Road because of the mosque.

“It does attract a lot of people, and it amazes me whenever I drive past the mosque how devote they are, and that they still go in droves to that little tiny mosque, which is a fabulous looking building.”

Have you ever been inside the Shah Jahan Mosque?

“I have. I went when I was in Time UK. We wanted to do a photo-shoot there because it was cheaper than actually going to India! The photos looked great, with the pine trees and the backdrop.

“It looked like we could have been in Pakistan or Northern India, and they were fabulous at the mosque.

“A guy came out with a big bowlful of huge oranges and gave us one each, and invited us in. I was actually amazed how tiny it was inside. I don’t know if you remembered the factory nearby, Walker’s … “

Yes, my Grandad worked there.

“I think nearly everyone who lived in Woking did at one point! I mention Walker’s quite a bit in the book, because John Weller (Paul’s late father, The Jam’s manager) worked there, I worked there, and the reason the mosque was there was because one of the buildings was originally the Oriental Institute. So Woking does have a history to it because of that.”

Wild Wood: Sculptor Richard Heys,  Barratt Homes MD John Fitzgerald and Rick Buckler at the 2012 unveiling of Richard's work (Photo:

Wild Wood: Sculptor Richard Heys, Barratt Homes MD John Fitzgerald and Rick Buckler at the 2012 unveiling of Richard’s work (Photo:

After our history lesson, we briefly get back on to more modern Woking, and how – while both Paul and Rick’s childhood homes have now gone – The Jam at least have an abstract presence in the town, through Richard Heys’ 2012 three-stump tree sculpture, outside a new block of flats on Guildford Road.

“Yes, Barratt Homes commissioned three oak sculptures, and some wit described them as Pole Weller, Stick Buckler and Spruce Foxton!

“I have to say though I was disappointed Paul or Bruce took absolutely no interest in that sculpture being put up. I don’t know that much about art, and how good a sculpture it is, but I think the gesture was there.”

Can 59-year-old Rick still clearly recall his first day with The Jam?

“Yes, it was about 1973 I think. It was Paul and Steve Brookes to start with, and they asked me to join them on drums, with one of the first shows at Sheerwater Youth Club.

“It was a matter of, ‘There’s a stack of Chuck Berry records there. Learn those!’ It was a music I wasn’t that familiar with at the time, being around 16 or 17.”

In fact, Rick’s own taste in music was more heavy metal back then, but while they were in different years at secondary school, a shared love of music brought the band together.

“Nearly anybody interested in music or played an instrument would hang around in the music rooms at lunchtime, and I knew Steve and Paul because of that.

“In the whole of Sheerwater School, there were three drummers I know of, A guy called Nigel Constable, myself, and ‘Bomber’ Harris.”

Bomber was Neil Harris, whose place in the band – so the story goes – went to Rick after he couldn’t commit to a particular live engagement.

Burning Love: Steve Brookes' account of the early days (Sterling, 1996)

Burning Love: Steve Brookes’ account of the early days (Sterling, 1996)

“Well, I don’t really know what his place was. I think it was fairly temporary. It was more of a duet, although Steve and Paul wanted to make it into more of a band and have a full-time drummer.”

Did Paul stand out in those days?

“Not really. If anything, Steve Brookes was the proper musician, and still is. He’s a really good guitarist. I bump into him every now and again, which is nice. I’d first seen him in Sunningdale about three or four years ago, which was a real surprise.”

Bruce was next to join, having been with local prog band Zita, Steve Brookes soon quitting as the seminal three-piece took shape, Rick honing his skills.

“I pretty much taught myself by listening to records, but did have an older guy who was very good. He was very much into the big band thing and took me to see Buddy Rich play and was really good in showing me a few fundamentals.

“The rest I picked up as I went along. Looking back I wish I had maybe taken proper lessons, but as with any instrument you have to discover it, whichever way round you do it.”

Rick’s twin brother Pete played bass around that time, the two of them practising under the name Impulse with guitarist Howard Davies.

“We’d only really just started and never did any shows. So when I got offered the chance to join Paul and Steve and play at the Youth Club, I jumped at it.”

The rest is history, with many highs and a few lows following, The Jam amassing 18 consecutive UK top-40 singles between 1977 and 1982, including four No.1s, with major success all over the world.

There were so many great memories over the years, it must be difficult to pick out just a few. From supporting the Sex Pistols in Dunstable and that whole early London scene through to the first time they went straight in at No.1 and so much more.

Did Rick get to the end of this book and think of more great memories he’d neglected to include?

“It’s constant! All the time people remind me of things I’ve forgotten. It was for that very reason I got the idea of doing Q&A sessions.

Band Substance: From the Jam, live in Chester - Russell Hastings, Steve Barnard and Bruce Foxton (Photo: Warren Meadows)

Band Substance: From the Jam, live in Chester – Russell Hastings, Steve Barnard and Bruce Foxton (Photo: Warren Meadows)

“I was talking to a fan who really liked the idea of the stories – not necessarily what you read in the press but the things that happen behind the scenes.

“I did an event earlier this year involving authors who’ve done music-related books and did half an hour or so, and it worked really well. After about 15 minutes people started to open up. There were a few you’d expect, but a few surprises too. It was all good.”

“So if anyone’s got a question they’ve been bugging to know about, come along and ask!”

Talking of questions you get asked all the time, does Rick still think Paul was wrong to quit when he did, and that The Jam still had a couple more great albums to come?

“From the fans’ point of view I still get people saying, ‘You had no right to split the band up’. Because of this connection we had I think they were almost insulted.

“No artist is anything without fans, and I think a lot of people think that was out of order that wasn’t taken into consideration.

“I don’t know. I know myself and Bruce think we probably could have done a couple more albums.

“Looking back, we should have had the strength, probably of management, to say we’re going to stop, take a break, do our solo things or put our feet up on a beach for six months – just step away from it.

“We were in a position where we could have done that. I don’t think we needed to burn all our bridges, so it’s a real shame he took that view.

“We were all under pressure. Paul wasn’t so much the first to snap, but the one who decided he wanted to take control of his life.

Early Biog: Paolo Hewitt's The Jam: A Beat Concerto (Omnibus Press, 1983)

Early Biog: Paolo Hewitt’s The Jam: A Beat Concerto (Omnibus Press, 1983)

“When you’re in a band, I’m not saying you don’t have a life, but it’s not your own.”

Oft-repeated questions, part two – what’s your favourite Jam album now? Or does that change quite a bit?

“Generally that does change. But because most of my memories of The Jam were of the live shows I think the live album would probably be the one for me, because it evokes such memories, and there’s a fair mixture of some of the best material in there.

“I like all of them though … but I would, wouldn’t I!”

It’s a fair point, but why shouldn’t he?

Moving briefly onto From the Jam, why did Rick quit when he did? I got the idea Bruce and Russ weren’t expecting that.

“Well … to put a quick answer on it, the fun was literally gone out of that for a couple of reasons which unless you’re actually in a band you wouldn’t understand.

“There were things going on there that shouldn’t have been. I really started The Gift (the band’s name before Bruce joined) because I wanted to revisit The Jam songs. That was the itch I wanted to scratch.

“When we did the last shows in December 1982, I was reading the set-list as I was playing the songs and had it in the back of my mind I’m never going to play these again, and this is the last time we’re going to be doing this.

“So this was my chance to go back and be able to again. I couldn’t really see Bruce coming on board when I started, but then he found himself out of Stiff Little Fingers and eventually came on board full-time.

“But from then on out, unfortunately, it fell apart quite quickly, which was a real shame.”

For all that, I still get the feeling there shouldn’t really be any animosity. Maybe you could just go round and make friends, give each other a big hug and get on with it.

“Erm … yes.  I’ve absolutely nothing against Bruce or Paul, despite what people might write in the press, which is one reason why I get so fed up with it.

“When me and Bruce got together again, we did reach out to Paul and ask why don’t you just come along and do a couple of numbers. We didn’t even get a ‘good luck but no thanks’. That would have done.

Mood Swing: John Reed's Paul Weller: My Ever Changing Moods (Omnibus Press, 1996)

Mood Swing: John Reed’s Paul Weller: My Ever Changing Moods (Omnibus Press, 1996)

“I didn’t really understand that and still don’t. I know sometimes the press want to sensationalise some of this stuff, but sometimes it’s a lot simpler than you think.”

Bringing us right up to date, is Rick still keeping his sticks in as a drummer now and again?

“I did a couple of things not so long ago with a two-drummer set-up with Ian Whitewood and including Alan Campbell on bass, called If.

“It was a bit of a stop-gap thing but I enjoyed it because I’ve never done anything like that before.

“So yes and no really. I’m not doing anything at the moment because I’m focusing on the book and the Q&As, which I’m finding enjoyable as well.”

You’ve done a fair bit of band promotion too, and a little production over the years. In fact, I was only recently reminded when looking through what was left of my LP collection that you’d produced The Family Cat’s debut album Tell ‘Em We’re Surfin‘ as far back as 1989.

“I came across them because I owned a recording studio in Islington and they came in there to do some stuff. They were very insistent on doing everything themselves if I remember right. But that was fair enough, and they did include my name on their album.”

Are you still involved in promotion work?

“Yes, I was involved with a local band called The Brompton Mix, who I believe might be going through a few personnel hiccups at the moment. But they were really good and I got them shows with The Blockheads, The UK Subs, Stiff Little Fingers, and various others.

“It’s not very much to give back, but it is a little.”

I get the feeling that despite everything over the years, the huge highs and a few lows, you’ve still got that love of the whole scene.

“I’ll always remember how difficult it was as an unsigned band trying to get some work, not really knowing much about the mechanics of the music industry, live shows and so on.

”And you see bands not knowing exactly what direction to take, and I think they find that a big help.”

There was also a more conventional spell as a furniture restorer too. Do you still dabble in all that?

Happy Days: The Jam in the studio, April 1980.

Happy Days: The Jam in the studio, April 1980.

“No, I don’t. I was in a band called the Highliners, and when that petered out I decided I was going to indulge myself in something of a personal passion, carpentry.

“I pestered a cabinet maker, hoping to learn cabinet-making properly, having made my first drum-kit at school, something which lasted as long as it needed to.

“I really got into that and ended up doing all that for around 10 years. I enjoyed it and still have my workshop.”

Could that ever have been a full-time job then? And do you ever wonder how much different you life might have been if The Jam hadn’t happened or Neil Harris had remained the band’s drummer?

“I don’t know. It’s really because of The Jam that I found myself in a position that I was able to do that, and only really because I wanted to take a break from the music industry. It wasn’t anything that was on the horizon other than that.

“I know it sounds odd but I don’t think I would have taken it up as a career if I’d not had the opportunity to spend two or three months without having to earn any money, particularly at the age I started that.”

That just left me time to thank Rick for his time and above all his honesty, although I did voice my thoughts that I didn’t think he was capable of being anything other than honest.

And his response? “Mmm. Well, I try to be.”

51IachMsG9LFor details of Rick’s forthcoming Q&A shows go to

 And for more about That’s Entertainment – My Life In The Jam, go to the autobiography’s facebook page here or pre-order via Amazon here.

In the meantime, there are plenty of Jam-related links on this blog, including live and CD reviews for Bruce Foxton, From the Jam and Paul Weller, plus interviews with Bruce Foxton and Russell Hastings.  


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Flying in the face of fashion – the Wayne Hemingway interview

Sun Trap: Wayne and Jack Hemingway enjoy the ride in Morecambe last summer (Photo: Emma Sudall)

Sun Trap: Wayne and Jack Hemingway enjoy the ride in Morecambe last summer (Photo: Emma Sudall)

This September, Vintage by the Sea returns to the Lancashire coast, aiming to build on last year’s successful event in Morecambe, one that attracted 40,000 visitors.

The two-day festival will see the resort seafront and its landmark venues transformed, the event co-delivered by the town’s Deco Publique, Lancaster City Council and HemingwayDesign’s Vintage Festival team.

The latter includes Morecambe-born Wayne Hemingway, his wife Gerardine, originally from Padiham, near Burnley, and their eldest son Jack.

And for Wayne and Gerardine it’s a further chance to give something back to the county they left in 1982 to set up the world-renowned Red or Dead fashion empire.

As with last year, the festival, backed by Morecambe Town Council, celebrates music, fashion, film, art, design and dance from the 1920s through to the 1990s.

Its organisers promise a seafront rich with music, people, classic cars and glamour, making best use of the coastal setting, art deco Midland Hotel, iconic Winter Gardens and Morecambe’s old railway station in a multi-venue playground.

And from dance workshops to live performances, DJ sets, classic car shows, air displays, catwalk shows, food and cocktails, decade-specific hair and beauty makeovers and vintage shopping opportunities, it promises to be a visual feast.

Wayne was buzzing this week about the prospect of helping bring the event back to the town, promising ‘a feelgood factor that spreads far beyond the local community.’

“We’ve been doing it for a few years now, and have a good local team, so it’s a lot of work, but do-able. A lot of those involved worked on the Preston Guild too.”

Wayne’s no stranger to Morecambe’s seafront, having early memories of being dressed up as Elvis, a Beatle or Tarzan and paraded up and down the pier by his mother and grandmother.

Sea View: Wayne Hemingway returns to his Morecambe roots

Sea View: Wayne Hemingway returns to his Morecambe roots

Since 2010, the Vintage Festival has seen the Hemingways help organise events from London’s Southbank Centre to Glasgow via Morecambe and Preston.

Could he and Gerardine ever have imagined such an event when they upped sticks for the capital all those years ago?

“We never planned anything when we left, but it is nice to do something that has such a positive impact on a place that means such a lot.

“There’s so much to do in London and people tend to focus on the capital because of the sheer numbers of people and the amount of money that’s around.

“For that reason alone, it’s obviously a first choice for events, with the best chance to get it underwritten. But now we’ve worked out how to do it in the North.

“Preston Guild was the first of our festivals in that respect. That worked such a treat, with around 200,000 people coming along.

“So to be able to carry on working in Lancashire and in the town I was born in – and such a great seafront location – is really something.”

With the revival of the Midland Hotel, the seafront Eric Morecambe statue, a Football League team in town, and so much more, it seems Morecambe is well and truly back on the rise these days.

How does it compare to the 1960s town where 54-year-old Wayne spent the first seven years of his life, before relocating to Blackburn?

“It’s not quite back to the vibrancy it had when I was growing up, but it’s certainly in a better position than quite a few seaside towns. It also has something quite a few of those don’t have – that amazing view across to the Lakes.

Classic Touch: Jack and Wayne Hemingway take to two wheels for last summer's Vintage by the Sea (Photo: Emma Sudall)

Classic Touch: Jack and Wayne Hemingway take to two wheels for last summer’s Vintage by the Sea (Photo: Emma Sudall)

“There are very few things more dramatic than watching the tide coming in and going out at Morecambe Bay at the speed it does.

“And it’s blessed with a pretty good climate and a lovely long seafront that you can cycle or walk along.”

Wayne’s childhood was punctuated by key moments, not least when his father – Canadian Mohawk chief and former wrestler Billy Two Rivers – returned to North America when he was just three.

Is there a bit of the outsider in that Native American heritage on his father’s side that helped Wayne him stand up on his own two feet as a businessman?

“Well, you never know. Obviously, he was a rebel and an outsider and did things differently, and I have done too.

“But he didn’t bring me up, he buggered off! I like to think it came from my Mum really.”

His father left in 1964, and it doesn’t take much research to realise how much of an influence his mother and grandmother were to his upbringing.

Incidentally, it also transpires that another influential female figure lived next door to the family in Thirlmere Road – Sadie Bartholomew, mother of Eric Morecambe, as memorably portrayed in 2011 by Lancastrian writer and performer Victoria Wood.

Memories of Sadie may have been a bit before his time, but I put it to Wayne that those matriarchal figures in his life were clearly determined, strong women.

“Yeah, my Nan and my Mum were both very feisty, very stylish too, and did things very differently. That’s where I think it all rubbed off.”

Bass Instinct: A scene from 2014's Vintage by the Sea (Photo: Emma Sudall)

Bass Instinct: A scene from 2014’s Vintage by the Sea (Photo: Emma Sudall)

Wayne has certainly never forgotten his Lancashire roots, regularly returning home to see his mother, who was based in Garstang.

She passed away just 10 days before we spoke, at the age of 78 after a battle with lung cancer, family and friends holding a party to celebrate her life last weekend.

It was clearly still a difficult time for him to open up about her, but Wayne did voice his own tribute.

“She was always a fighter, trying to do things better, rise up from the background she came from, with great aspirations.”

It might surprise a few people that just know about his fashion roots that Wayne, with 10 O-levels and 4 A-levels under his belt, that it was geography and town planning he studied at degree level at the University of London.

But while some of that background later came in handy, that was never the draw.

“I went to the capital for London itself rather than for the university. That was my route.

“Not having much money, Blackburn Council paid for me to go, with a scholarship. But I didn’t think I’d have that much interest in geography and town planning.”

The Red or Dead fashion label was the result of a permanent move to the capital in 1982 alongside Gerardine, the couple initially selling items from their own wardrobes on Camden Market, making £80 that first day after spending just £6 to rent a stall.

The rest is history, their brand receiving global acclaim and the couple winning the British Fashion Council’s Streetstyle Designer of the Year award for an unprecedented three consecutive years from 1996.

But initially Wayne had other aspirations, word having it that the idea of the stall being to buy equipment for his band.

“I attempted to sing and attempted to play saxophone, but neither of them very well. We were into indie funk at the time, bands like A Certain Ratio.”

From an early and enduring love of Northern Soul to flirting over the years with the disco, punk, new romantic and rockabilly scenes, this was a lad who dearly loved his music. And music and fashion often go hand in hand.

“Yes, especially back then the two went together. You could stay underground a lot longer then because there wasn’t the internet – that movement had time to mature.

Certain Ratio: Wayne and Gerardine during those early '80s pioneering days (Photo: Hemingway Design)

Certain Ratio: Wayne and Gerardine during those early ’80s pioneering days (Photo: Hemingway Design)

“Me and Gerardine met in a nightclub and were going out dancing and watching bands.

“It was a very exciting time, and a lot of pretty famous people came out of the club culture scene of the late ’70s and early ’80s.”

Was Wayne, aged 21 when he started his market stall, a regular clubber at that time?

“Yeah, me and Gerardine met in a nightclub and were going out dancing and watching bands.”

One of the pair’s founding business ambitions was to create affordable fashion for youth, a principle that often put them at odds with the more elitist fashion industry, but something that clearly remains important to them today.

“Again, that’s the background we came from, and I think we’ve stayed pretty true to our roots.

“We’re not the kind of people who got money then started to buy Bentleys. I find that all a bit obscene. We live reasonably nobly.”

Despite those principles, the pair went from one to 16 stalls within a year, two decades of successful ownership of the Red or Dead empire following, first setting up in areas like Soho and Covent Garden.

Was Wayne a natural pitcher?

“No, I never needed to, and we never borrowed money. We’ve always done everything ourselves, never having to approach money people. We’ve always been in control of our situation and our lives.”

Surely it took a little persuasion to find funding when they first set up in areas like Soho and Covent Garden.

Sole Power: Fine examples of the Red or Dead footwear range (Photo: Hemingway Design)

Sole Power: Fine examples of the Red or Dead footwear range (Photo: Hemingway Design)

“Not back then, really.

“London wasn’t really the expensive place it is today. You could rent shops at £20 up to £60 a week.

“We were just good at finding cheap locations and building followings. We’ve always seemed to have that ability to spot opportunities.”

It must have been hard to keep so fresh and see off the competition. Was it a case of recruiting the right people around them to keep tabs on the scene and the market itself?

“We’ve always had a brilliant team around us, and now our eldest kids are well into their adult years and are partners in the business.

“They add that nice fresh thinking we had when we were in our 20s, and we had the elder statesman with the experience to add to that – it’s quite a good mix really.”

Eventually, Wayne and Gerardine took a step back, selling their fashion business in 1998 after 21 consecutive seasons on the catwalk at London Fashion Week, in a multi-million cash sale.

“The fashion industry can almost be like being on a treadmill really, and I think it was good to get off and do something different.

“Neither of us started out as fashion designers, but both of us were really pleased we had the chance to do that then do all the things we’re doing now – from regenerations to festivals and housing, furniture, product design, branding and graphics.

“It’s also useful if you’ve built up a business to sell it. That gives you the security to go and try other things.”

Like their first enterprise, HemingwayDesign has been a major success, their initial ambitious affordable housing development on Tyneside winning a series of high-profile awards and setting the tone for all that was to follow.

“That was the first really large-scale project, with 700-odd homes. It’s been a massive success too, there’s no other way of putting it.”

Today’s HemingwayDesign is a multi-disciplinary agency led by two generations of the Hemingway family and a wider team of designers, working to a core philosophy that ‘design is about improving things that matter in life’.

Catwalk Days: From the Hemingway-era Red or Dead fashion range (Photo: Hemingway Design)

Catwalk Days: From the Hemingway-era Red or Dead fashion range (Photo: Hemingway Design)

From further housing and regeneration projects to interiors, company uniform design and even dabbling in an alternative amusement park, it’s no doubt been a steep learning curve.

“Yeah, but it’s not rocket science, it’s all common sense. You wouldn’t want someone unqualified doing heart surgery on you, and you can’t teach yourself those skills.

“But designing houses, and designing anything really, is about common sense, understanding the human being and what life is all about. You can teach yourself anything in that respect.”

These days, Wayne and Gerardine spent most of their time between London and Chichester, West Sussex, where they brought up their four children, now aged 27 down to 19.

“We’re still in London at least half the week, but Chichester was a great place to bring up the kids, with a handy beach nearby and all that. But they all came back to London as soon as they were old enough.”

Life remains as hectic as ever for the Hemingways, who became MBEs in 2006 for services to the design industry.

Wayne for one is now part of the South Coast Design Forum, Building for Life and a patron of the Unite Foundation.

Then there are the charity projects with the likes of Oxfam, the Prince’s Trust, Shelter and Traid, the coffee table art books and writing, the talks and lectures.

Does he remain as passionate about today’s projects as he did with Red or Dead all those years before?

“Probably more so. Red or Dead was just fashion, after all. It’s not quite as important as some of the things we do today.

“I always felt very responsible for everything we did there and all the staff we employed, but sometimes now you’re holding more responsibility.

Interior Design: Wayne and Gerardine and their company have moved into challenging new areas (Photo: Hemingway Design)

Interior Design: Wayne and Gerardine and their company have moved into challenging new areas (Photo: Hemingway Design)

“You might be dealing with communities and people’s lives. If someone’s bought a blouse and it doesn’t fit, it’s not the end of the world.

“But if you’re designing a house or doing a regeneration scheme the potential impact of doing something wrong is a lot more.”

Looking back, would he do anything differently given what he knows now?

“I’d do it all again. There’s no point looking back, thinking you could have done things differently. That would be pointless.”

The adages about mixing business and pleasure or working too closely with a loved one don’t seem to apply to Wayne and Gerardine. So what’s the secret of their success?

“Well, we’ve been together since we were so young, always working together. We don’t really know any differently.

“Our lives have been wrapped up in it all, and all the way through the kids have been too. Gerardine, as soon as she had a baby, was back at work almost a day after.

“When we went on business trips to wherever, more often than not the kids would come with us.

“At the time we thought it was possibly the wrong thing to do, but they all absolutely loved it. We thought we were being cruel dragging them round trade shows buying shoes.”

Sunshine Legacy:  The organisers are hoping for great weather in Morecambe Bay this year too for Vintage by the Sea (Photo: Emma Sudall)

Sunshine Legacy: The organisers are hoping for great weather in Morecambe Bay this year too for Vintage by the Sea (Photo: Emma Sudall)

I’d suspect not, looking at their blossoming individual careers now – two having followed their parents’ lead into design, while one became an artist and the other a cricketer.

“They’ve all developed interests. We dragged them around housing estates all over Europe when we were studying all of that, instead of going on holiday. But they loved it and found it all fascinating.”

Vintage by the Sea runs on September 5 and 6, with more details at, the VintageFestival Facebook page, @vintage_2015 Twitter link and



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