Destination Venus, via Edinburgh, with The Rezillos’ Eugene Reynolds

New wave legends The Rezillos are back on tour, prompting writewyattuk to speak to co-founder Eugene Reynolds about 38 years of music, motorbikes and madness.

800px-The_RezillosI was too young to catch The Rezillos live the first time around, but my brother and his mates’ interest led to a love of Mission Accomplished…But The Beat Goes On, recorded at Glasgow Apollo two days before Christmas, 1978.

It still stands the test of time in this blogger’s eyes, up there with iconic recorded gigs of that era like the Live Stiffs album, Dr. Feelgood’s Stupidity, and breakneck Ramones LP It’s Alive.

R-2183252-1268500525Yet it wasn’t until 1981 – when I was 14 – that I owned my first Rezillos product, and it came in the unlikely form of a ‘cassingle’, a novelty double A-side cassette in a cardboard box, featuring Top of the Pops on one side and the delightful Destination Venus on the other.

I had a bit of a thing about cassingles, also buying Tubeway Army’s Are Friends Electric/ Down in the Park and Ramones’ Baby I Love You/Don’t Come Close in the same format.

Within a couple of years, my mate Steve had copied Mission Accomplished onto a C90, and it was pretty much worn out by the late ’80s.

But in recent times I discovered the band’s lone studio album, Can’t Stand The Rezillos had been reissued alongside those live recordings on The (Almost) Complete Rezillos.

So once again I got to enjoy the wonders of I Can’t Stand My Baby, (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures, inspired Fleetwood Mac cover Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight, and much more. Pure adrenaline, classic new wave, as fresh today as the first time around.

download (33)Incidentally, have you seen any of the weekly Top of the Pops shows the BBC are repeating, from 1978 and 1979, broadcast again 35 years on?

There have been some quality moments, not least when Tony Blackburn introduced these energetic Scottish art school punks playing their big hit, the rather ironically-titled Top of the Pops, which reached No. 17.

I’ve certainly been tuning in, but while I can’t vouch for the rest of the band, I can reveal that Eugene Reynolds – him of the wraparound specs and gravelly voice – was more likely to be washing his hair than watching that night, as he confided in me.

“I’m not really interested in looking at myself. I don’t know anyone in a band who plays their own records. It’s like watching yourself in a mirror all day.

“It’s about what happens next, not before. While you leave a legacy, it’s really about moving to the next thing.”

Does it worry Eugene (real name Alan Forbes) that some people might think they were one-hit wonders? Because they were about so much more than that.

“Well, it’s not my fault if they’re ignorant, is it?”

Rezillos Revival: Eugene Reynolds (Photo: John Bolloten Photography http://www.johnbolloten.co.uk/)

Rezillos Revivalist: Eugene Reynolds (Photo: John Bolloten http://www.johnbolloten.co.uk/)

The Rezillos were far from ignorant, as you’ll realise when you see their careers since.

Singer Fay Fife (real name Sheilagh Hynd) took on a post-graduate acting course and appeared in Taggart and The Bill before re-training as a doctor of clinical psychology at the University of Edinburgh.

Fellow survivor Alasdair ‘Angel’ Paterson completed an architecture degree before re-settling with his German girlfriend in Bremen, setting up his own practice there.

And among past members you’ll find two more architects, a research geologist, and a university lecturer.

Eugene had already completed his degree in Edinburgh, studying glass, when he joined forces with guitarist Jo Callis. Quite a bright bunch really.

“We all had fireworks going off in our heads. I just can’t stop doing things and everyone is just incredibly diffuse in their interests and all very intense.

“One thing feeds off the other and acts as therapy for it. I’ve got 1,001 interests and if I’m not playing music I’ll go off and do something else, then come back to it.

“No matter how much you might love the best chocolate in the world, you can’t sit and eat it for a month, without trying something different.”

download (36)One of those other interests was motorbikes, and Eugene has a successful business selling Indian motorcycles these days, having been fascinated ever since seeing them being ridden on a US air base near his family home on the Suffolk/Essex border.

He set up an import business that helped pay for his studies, and after original spin-off The Revillos split he registered the name of the Indian brand in the UK and created a new version of the Indian 4.

“I’ve flown all over the world looking for antique Indian bikes, pulling them out of swamps, forests or a peat bog where some missionary drove it in back in the 1930s.

“Then there are the new bikes we’ve made. Then there are a couple of dozen other interests I’ve got.

“My life has always been birds, booze and bikes, or music, motorcycles and madness. Whatever.”

While co-vocalists Eugene and Fay and drummer Angel have other interests, they’re back touring again now with The Rezillos – with Chris Agnew and Jim Brady in tow.

And they’re about to release their first studio album since 1978.

Is Eugene amazed that people still talk about his band and play their records, 38 years after they formed?

“Well, you don’t really start out in these things thinking long-term.”

I invited Eugene to take a flying saucer ride back to those early days on the Edinburgh scene, when the band formed in 1976.

“There wasn’t really a scene, not a punk rock scene. We pre-dated that.

“Quite a few bands came on the scene and emulated what they thought punk rock should be, but when you start doing that you’re only going to be a copyist.

“By then people had decided what the uniform should be and what music they should like, which was not really what punk was about.

“If you look at the best punk groups, hardly any actually looked like punks.”

download (35)I get the feeling Eugene always saw The Rezillos more ‘new wave’ than punk.

“We were signed to an American label, Sire, whose owner, Seymour Stein, was really excited by punk.

“It reminded him of the new wave of music in the beat era – The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and so on, heralding a new era of pop music. He saw direct parallels of that with punk – seeing it as a new wave of sound and attitude.”

Eugene was previously in The Knutsford Dominators with Jo Callis. So how did they differ from the band they gave rise to?

“We were just a bad rock’n’roll band with attitude. It was just a prototype, and prototypes don’t tend to work very well.

“At that time there was a lot of prog rock around, everybody taking themselves very seriously.

“We wanted to get back to that more care-free irreverent approach, split it open, start from the middle and work outwards.

“That very soon forced itself out into this rock music with attitude, which I guess punk rock was really.”

A bit like Dr. Feelgood did on the r’n’b scene?

“Dr. Feelgood were in their golden period then, and something that really solidified in our head, making us think – yeah, this is it!

“On our first album, the track Getting Me Down was totally influenced by them.”

logoDoes Eugene ever get back to East Anglia, where he left at the age of 18?

“I do, but it’s not the East Anglia I remember. It’s become a county of roundabouts. If you drive anywhere, every 500 yards there’s another damn roundabout.”

In fact, Eugene stuck around Edinburgh, living on the outskirts these days, with Fay living nearby, in the city. So was it fate that made him choose to study in the Scottish capital?

“If you believe in fate. You make your own fate, don’t you – as you do your own good luck and bad luck. I just seek out the happy times.”

The Rezillos created their own look and sound, using elements like science fiction, B-movies, ’50s rock’n’roll, ’60s beat and garage, and ’70s glam.

“It’s like anything in the art world. You absorb what’s going on around you. It was like a melting pot.

grouppromo“We absorbed bits from the Ramones, The Damned, Dr. Feelgood, Roxy Music, The Rolling Stones, blues and soul – anything that fitted into our blend.

“There are only so many chords in pop music, only so many words in the English language, only 26 letters in the alphabet.

“It’s like having this special lock for which you have a particular key, different from everyone else’s.”

There were also American bands like The B52s and The Cramps who followed in their wake, although perhaps you hear more of a shared sound with The Revillos later.

“People can see aspects, but there’s nothing to say a group you influence can’t then influence you.

“I’ve met bands I’ve admired that have said certain tracks of ours inspired them to writer one of theirs. It’s all a big cross-fertilisation!”

Do you still love science fiction and B movies?

“I used to, a long time ago. Now I can’t be bothered. People like to pigeon-hole us and think that’s what we’re all about, but it isn’t. That’s only a slither.

“It’s a little bit of spice in a recipe, but it’s a recipe that changes all the time. While it’s good to have an image and an identity, it can also hold you back if people think that’s what you’re all about.”

To that extent, The Rezillos are now – finally – recording a new studio album, more than 35 years after their debut recording.

“We do have a particular sound and a particular approach, but the idea is to come up with new songs that capture another side, and that’s where we’re aiming to be.”

Despite the original band only making one studio album and a live follow-up, they made a big impact.

But amid tensions, main songwriter Jo Callis quit, in time enjoying major success in The Human League, from Dare onwards, with writing credits on several hits, not least Don’t You Want Me.

Would Eugene ever have guessed the way Jo’s future would pan out?

“No, but I don’t think he would have either. We just thought, ‘good for him’. There was no animosity by then.”

While Jo formed Shake after quitting, Eugene and Fay continued as The Revillos, leading to a new chapter for the band – albeit with limited commercial success, continuing until 1996, evolving as they went.

download (38)This was the ’60s revivalist era of Motorbike Beat, She’s Fallen in Love With a Monster Man and Johnny Kidd cover Hungry for Love, a similarly-quirky pop phase perhaps more in tune with The Shangri-Las and the Crypt-Kickers, but still with a large dose of that Dr. Feelgood spirit.

It was never an easy journey for the band, with plenty of arguments and creative flashpoints along the way.

“But we all got to know each other again soon after. It was purely too much too soon back then. It was the way fame puts too much pressure on you.

“It’s all quite easy if you have one strong-headed personality and others happy to go along with that. But our problem was the band was full of strong personalities!

“Put all those fireworks together and maybe one match sets the whole lot off!”

That spirit brings me nicely onto the Fleetwood Mac b-side they remoulded into their own – Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight – covered many times since and even used on the soundtrack of Jackass: The Movie. How had it come to Eugene’s attention?

“Probably when I was playing my old records. Sometimes those old b-sides were better than the A-sides.”

Has that song ever gone the wrong way – creating an unwanted element of menace at gigs?

“I think our audience were more thinking people. Out of a thousand times we played it, it’s probably happened twice, and I’m sure that was just coincidental.”

The+RezillosThe original members of The Rezillos got back together again in 2001, following an invite to play Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations. And they’ve not really stopped since, although Jo left again in 2010.

“It did bring us all together again, but we got together five years prior to that, writing songs, one of which will be on this new album, with a couple more from before then.”

Has Eugene ever tried tallying up the amount of people who have featured in the band over the years?

“I haven’t actually got a calculator. We’ve had a lot of people play with us, but still have three core members, and it was only ever four in the first place.”

I note how Eugene glides between his given name, Alan, and his stage monicker, asking if he has a split personality.

“Well, no more than Cliff Richard or Ringo Starr. Stage names used to be de rigeur. I at least chose one which sounded like it was my real name.”

The story goes that Eugene Reynolds was someone he met while working one summer.

“Jo always maintains we met someone by that name and I said that would be a great stage name, but I don’t remember that.

“I wanted to call myself Eugene Creem, which is how I started out, with brilliantined hair done like a Teddy boy.

“But there was also Lol Crème, and I didn’t want people to think I was something to do with 10cc.”

Are you all a lot easier to get on with now?

“If the spark works creatively, that’s good. There’s always a tension, but I’ve seen families get on less well than we do. We refer to ourselves as the Magic Family.”

Overseas Angel: The Rezillos' fellow main-stay Angel Paterson (Photo: John Bolloten http://www.johnbolloten.co.uk/)

Overseas Angel: The Rezillos’ fellow main-stay Angel Paterson (Photo: John Bolloten http://www.johnbolloten.co.uk/)

While Fay and Eugene, who both have families, meet socially off the stage these days, they only tend to see Alisdair when he flies over from Germany for gigs.

“Every time we do a show he has to fly over, which is expensive sometimes. He has children and lives on some fancy farm out there.

“He has his tower, as I call it, but then he jumps on a plane and there he is, with his drumsticks.

“We still have some big arguments, but then decide it’s probably not worth falling out and say we’ll forget about that and start talking again.”

Getting back to families, Eugene tells me Fay has a son, while he has daughters aged 15 and 10.

IMG_3111-3

True Fife: The incomparable Fay Fife (Photo: John Bolloten http://www.johnbolloten.co.uk/)

“Her son plays guitar. My eldest daughter plays saxophone. In fact, I was relaxing the other day while she was playing Rhapsody in Blue, which sounded fantastic to my ears.

“And the younger one started the violin, but is now on with trumpet.”

Is this a New Generation Rezillos in the making?

“Well yes, when we’ve got our whicker chairs, We can send the next generation out on tour.

“Not for a long time yet though! I don’t plan to be hanging up the shades for a bit.”

Do either of you do ‘good sculptures’ these days?

“Oh, absolutely! All the time.”

rezillos5Do they still use the old props like the motorbikes and the dalek in their live shows?

“I’ve still got the bikes, and the dalek’s somewhere in the garage. It can be a bit claustrophobic inside though.

“Once, I rode through an audience then hit a patch of beer and almost drove into the stage. I think health and safety would have a problem with that.

“But who gives a damn? The most healthy thing is to get out there and take risks, as far as I’m concerned!”

Do they still wear lots of plastic, leather, and lurid colours?

“I still wear the wraparound glasses when I feel like it. It depends on the size of the stage. It also depends how we feel.

“We did one gig where me, Faye, Alisdair, Jim and Chris all went on in black, like Gene Vincent – wearing black leather jackets, trousers, boots and gloves.

“Then a review said, ‘they bounced on stage in a day-glo riot of colour’. You think, this is someone who’s just read Wikipedia. They gave us a good review, but clearly weren’t there!”

rezillos2So what can we expect if we pop along to see the band on their latest tour?

“A set of about 20 songs, lots of old ones plus a few new songs from our forthcoming album.

“It’s not like we’re going to be sat there in Val Doonican sweaters, smoking a pipe and playing acoustic guitars on a stool.

“The Rezillos were on a rocket booster when the first album was launched, but now we’re onto the second phase, after all this time.

“We’re faced with a dilemma – to release something that relates to the first album but takes you musically further on, but not so far on that people don’t see the link.”

For more details about The Rezillos and their forthcoming dates, head to their official website here.

This is a revised and expanded version of a Malcolm Wyatt feature for the Lancashire Evening Post, with a link to the original here.

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Frank Skinner – Preston Guild Hall – a live review

Going Live: Frank in live action, albeit at a different venue (Photo: http://www.channel4.com/)

Going Live: Frank in stand-up action, albeit at a different venue (Photo: http://www.channel4.com/)

I’d like to say Frank Skinner’s cleaned up his act now he’s a proud dad, moving away from his more risque material in a show of middle-aged respectability.

For much of this gig that seemed to be the case – at least by his old standards. But to paraphrase fellow turn-of-the ’90s breakthrough comics Reeves and Mortimer, he just wouldn’t let it lie.

He’ll tell you he does it in a bid to not let down his loyal fans, and – despite his brief no-swearing policy experiment a few years ago – towards the end of his Man in a Suit set, Frank was back on familiar territory, with a few X-rated disclosures designed to make you squirm.

Not easy to summarise, but for those who are likely to catch him on this tour, I’ll just add a few pointers – like a novel use for Status Quo style dancing; the use of ’50s British film dialogue in the intimate act; and on similar ground, alternative employment of the ‘help yourself’ hand gestures you’re more likely to encounter while sharing packets of crisps down the pub with friends.

But while you might not yet be ready to share a night out watching Frank with your parents or your children, it’s fair to say this West Midlands comedian is something of a national treasure these days.

And any comic who comes on stage, grabs a microphone, launches into Latin carol Gaudete, then invites the audience to sing the next line, is alright by me.

Unsurprisingly, the vocal response was a little muted on that occasion, but Frank had his first laughs in the bag. And we were away.

The 57-year-old was in charge from then on, as you might expect, rambling between subjects, some more likely than others.

Early on, he remarked how it was quite unusual to see a grey-haired celebrity still at large, in this era of various unsavoury allegations and arrests – our first example of that crossing-the-line humour for which Frank is feted.

Talking about his partner, he then apologised for using the term ‘my girlfriend’, saying it was a little like saying ‘my skateboard’ for a man of his advanced years.

He also added how they’d stopped holding hands in public, lest he should be perceived as receiving help.

The laughs continued, not least as Frank related how he equates marital rows with watching established bands play live – explaining how ‘new material’ was followed by a few ‘greatest hits’ i.e. those inflammatory moments in a relationship that still rankle.

His observation humour included how people use archaic speech at unexpected times, letting on how during an audience with HRH Prince Charles he ‘beseeched’ the next-in-line not to reply to comments on his YouTube page (yes, apparently His Royal Chuckness has one).

That led to talk of ‘chip and pin’ machines, and how we’re asked to tap in details then ‘return to merchant’, before an anecdote about an incident in Preston earlier that day.

Apparently, someone shouted ‘legend’ from a van, the comic feeling self-consciously proud of the accolade until he noticed King Arthur stood behind him. Only some of that may actually have been true.

download (28)Frank also invited us to join in his latest passion, asking that when we see someone out walking in a long black leather coat to proclaim a Carry On style ‘Ooh, Matrix!’ in respect of both Keanu Reeves and Kenneth Williams.

The subjects came thick and fast, with plenty of input from the audience, including a re-enactment with embarrassed Duncan on the front row of the day a woman stood directly in Frank’s personal space on a crowded Tube train.

We even had a treasured routine from long ago – one viewers to Frank’s appearance on Room 101 in the Nick Hancock era might recall – his rendition of Harry Belafonte’s Yellow Bird (‘up high in banana tree’).

There was social comment too, including advice for the homeless and an unsavoury anecdote about a drunken dancer in a soiled suit hassling buskers, and recognition of how the poor’s waif-like days seem to be over, judging by the average size of Jeremy Kyle guests.

5982-resize-5982-390Then came the tale of the police car that screeched to a halt, a frantic copper asking if Frank and his partner had seen a guy brandishing a samurai sword in the area, before speeding off again – leaving the petrified comic pondering, ‘where does that leave us?’

There was an on-going theme about haiku on the night, Frank giving comic examples of this Japanese poetic form, and reflections on what Lord Ga Ga must think about his wife’s canon of work.

The sound wasn’t great at times, and with tickets priced in the higher £20s, that was disappointing.

But overall this was a winning evening in the company of a comedy great, who – eight years after his last UK tour – clearly still has that stand-up magic, while seeming to have lost none of his ability to make an audience cringe.

* If you’re going to see Frank, it’s worth getting in a little earlier and checking out support act Gareth Richards, and not just for his eye-catching omnichord.

Support Role: Gareth Richards

Omni Busker: Frank’s support act Gareth Richards

Frank may not have embraced a routine involving parenthood yet, but Gareth offers a nice twist on that topic.

Gareth, who has co-hosted Frank’s Absolute Radio show, supported Rhod Gilbert, and guested on Russell Howard’s Good News, proffered an engaging act with a couple of songs thrown in – one a lament of unrequited love for shy teenagers, the other detailing unwanted gifts from your child. Well worth looking out for.

For the recent writewyattuk interview with Frank Skinner, head here.

And to find out more about Gareth Richards, head here

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Suits you, Frank – in conversation with Frank Skinner

As West Midlands stand-up comic, actor, writer, DJ and TV presenter Frank Skinner set off on a major 35-date UK tour following a successful theatre run in London, writewyattuk managed an audience with him – and got to tackle everything from England’s World Cup chances and West Brom’s highs and lows to music, alcoholism, fatherhood and retirement.

frank_header_1000I had a few technical problems before my over-the-phone chat with Frank Skinner, somehow misplacing my original questions.

I confessed that I had contemplated doing it ‘unplanned’ in homage to his past unscripted ventures with comedy partner David Baddiel, but hadn’t had the confidence to go through with it.

His response was typically candid, that personable yet sharp edge there from the very start, unsullied by the years.

“You should have lied to me. How could I have possibly known?”

So does he put much work into his live show, or is that pretty much unscripted?

“There are always elements, because I always talk to the crowd. But you never know. For example, a woman spoke to me the other night and sounded like she had an American accent.

“I said, ‘are you from America?’ and she replied, ‘no, Iraq’. That was probably the wrongest guess anyone has ever made.

“The audience was laughing for about a minute, because of the awkwardness of the thing.

“Obviously, that kind of thing is unpredictable. We also had a succession of people in from ‘90s indie bands. I had in someone from Then Jericho, then someone the following night from Go West.”

Did he not have any Then Jericho gags up his sleeve then?

“No, strangely enough. And the problem is, you’ll say something that gets a huge laugh sometimes and think ‘I’ll never be able to use that gag again.

“But there’s something nicely decadent about one-off jokes.”

x19608Frank’s Man in a Suit tour – 35 dates in all – marks the Room 101 presenter’s first nationwide itinerary since a sell-out schedule seven years ago, having started his live career back in 1987.

I can’t imagine the 57-year-old getting nervous though.

“Well, when you first start putting together a show, and you’re trying out lots of new stuff, it would be very odd not to be nervous.

“You’re trying out something you’re aware of, as it’s been in the notebook for a while, but then have share it for the first time at one of those early gigs.

“In the old days doing the clubs, I’d do 10-minute sets, but this time I did an hour of new material. If none of it had worked, that would have been a difficult moment.

“No matter how long you’ve been doing comedy, you never know what people are going to laugh at – until they’ve laughed at it.”

Now he’s on to the nationwide section of the tour, including two nights at Preston Guild Hall, where I was set to see him. Did he have any particular memories of past Preston visits?

“Well yes, I always remember Preston being a good gig. I think I did five minutes about Tom Finney last time, which of course I won’t be doing this time.

“Sir Tom was a bloke my Dad used to talk about with a far-away look in his eye, so when that was all on the news, I felt genuinely sad. Partly because it made me feel about my Dad, but partly it was like old football had died a bit as well.”

I mentioned to Frank how – supposedly – thousands of supporters would walk ‘off Deepdale’ on matchdays if they were officially told that Sir Tom wasn’t playing.

“Really? I don’t think there’s any player who could inspire that today … and certainly not at £70 a ticket.”

Three Lions: Baddiel, Skinner and Broudie

Three Lions: Baddiel, Skinner and Broudie

Frank is of course well known for his love of football, his stint alongside David Baddiel on Fantasy Football League even leading to a No.1 recorded with Ian Broudie, of Lightning Seeds fame, during Euro ’96.

He’s a big West Bromwich Albion fan, not least as it’s the club that brought his parents together.

Frank’s dad was a semi-pro footballer with County Durham’s Spennymoor United when they played a pre-war FA Cup match at West Brom. After the game, he met a local girl out on the town, and soon went about re-settling in the West Midlands.

Frank was born Christopher Graham Collins, with his parents using his middle name while his mates – to this day – call him Chris.

The name Frank Skinner was ‘borrowed’ from one of his dad’s old dominoes team members. So have the original Frank’s family ever approached you about that?

“Interestingly, they sent me a photo of his grave, which I had on my cork-board in my kitchen. In the end, my girlfriend asked me to take it down.

“That was my one contact. But I must get that sorted out and made into a t-shirt.”

Before he became a comedian, Frank was an English lecturer. I put it to him that if he’d stuck with that career, he might have taken early retirement by now.

“I think my plan now is to go on now for ever and ever. I think comedians can be old and people think it’s all right, in a way that they don’t when musicians are old.

“No one does zimmer frame jokes the way they do with The Rolling Stones. The idea is that with age comes wisdom, and maybe that makes you funnier. But with music, you just think, ‘oh, stop it now’.

“If I was still an English lecturer I might have been thinking early retirement. But I’m thinking late retirement now.”

Frank-Skinners-Opinionated-2-562x374While he’s been on the road as a comedian for 27 years now, Frank has also been ‘on the wagon’ for quarter of a century too, as a recovering alcoholic. Does he think he could still fall back into those old ways after a couple of swift ones?

“Definitely. I’ve always got that to fall back on! For years, I would always keep drink in the house, just in case I suddenly woke up at three in the morning and thought, ‘do you know what …’

“But now in this era of the 24-hour supermarket, there’s no need for that. I know I could get somewhere quick.

“I’ve been drinking non-alcoholic wine, lately, which I think is a bit of a dangerous road, if you start to like the feel of a glass in your hand. But I can’t really remember what real wine tastes like now.

“What’s nice about it, is that it doesn’t taste like sweet, fizzy pop – which I’ve drunk a lot of over the last 25 years. That’s one of the problems of being on the wagon – most soft drinks are designed for seven-year-olds. I like something a bit more bitter.”

frankskinner_medMusic has always been a big love for Frank, an Absolute Radio presenter on Saturday mornings these days. So is he still, in the words of Tom Petty, ‘crazy about Elvis’?

“He’ll always have a place in my heart, and I have a 22-month-old son who can say ‘Elvis’. Only because we’ve got a set of mugs with him on, mind. He always points at them and says ‘Elvis’.

Could it just be his way of saying ‘drink’?

“Yes, probably.”

I was listening to Frank’s appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, and like John Peel he raved a little about Mark E Smith and his music. Is he still slightly obsessed with The Fall?

tumblr_mph4oi6wej1qckm0wo1_1280“Yes, I am. I think they still sound – even when they sound bad – more interesting than most bands.

“On my radio show I play a lot of what I’d call ‘popular music’, and it’s just nice to hear something that sounds different, and not just the old formula being banged out.”

We’re soon back on to football, and I ask him about his thoughts on this season at the Hawthorns.

“I think at the moment Pepe Mel’s just looking to keep his job. Particularly after what happened at Fulham.

“One thing they never do in football is substitute a substitute. But I think that’s what they’re starting to do with managers now.”

In his autobiography, Frank talked about one of his first special moments in football, witnessing a mighty Tony ‘Bomber’ Brown finish for West Brom in the late ’70s. Has anything come close to that in the last couple of years?

“These have been fantastic times. This season bears no relation to the last couple. Roy Hodgson – whatever you might think of him as an England manager – was fantastic for us.

“That continued, and it’s been an absolute blast these last two or three seasons. It’s just that something’s gone a bit wrong at the moment.”

I’m guessing he’s still a season-ticket holder. Does Frank get to many matches these days?

download (29)“This season I’ve been to the least amount of matches since I started going, mainly because of having my little boy and working a lot.

“When I go to a match, I leave at midday and get back at eight at night. So I’ve seen a lot less.”

Has Buzz Cody – Frank’s son – had his first match yet?

“Not yet. He hasn’t had his industrial ear-plugs fitted yet, so I haven’t been able to take him.”

I used this as an excuse to mention how I’d taken my eldest daughter to a match in a carry-cot in the early days, albeit with plenty of room on the terraces to put her carefully down.

His response was something of an audible gasp, but only when I let on that my team was Conference outfit Woking.

This was – for those who don’t know their football history – because of a certain fateful day in early 1991 when my boys won 4-2 at the Hawthorns in the FA Cup third round, Tim Buzaglo scoring a hat-trick against beleaguered Brian Talbot’s Albion side.

Timmy Time: Woking legend Tim Buzaglo back in the BBC Sport studios in 2009, 18 years after his hat-trick in the 4-2 win over Frank's West Brom (Photo: BBC)

Timmy Time: Woking legend Tim Buzaglo back in the BBC Sport studios in 2009, 18 years after his hat-trick in the 4-2 win over Frank’s West Brom (Photo: BBC)

The best way I can describe his reaction to me re-opening that wound was an ‘oh gawwww’, quite refined by his own past sweary standards. He wasn’t finished though.

“And we all know what their golden moment was, of course.”

Was he there that day?

“I wasn’t, I’m very glad to say! Albion fans still talk about it though. Can you believe that?”

I told him that a few Baggies fans followed us for years to come, if we were in the Midlands or nearby, seeing that defeat as something of a redefining moment in the club’s proud history.

“It was. Definitely. It was a historical turning point.

But he’d still rather forget about it?

“Yes. Of course!”

Staying on the subject of football, what does he think of England’s chances of success in Brazil at this summer’s World Cup?

download (30)“Erm… I would say, very close to zero. If we could get to the quarter-finals – and according to FIFA ratings we’re something like 12th – that would be a fantastic achievement. I’d settle for that.”

I tell him I like us being an underdog though. There’s not much worse than being expected to succeed.

“I also think one plus is that the worse we play in World Cups is when we play not very good teams, and at least we’re in a strong group.

“At least we get to play some proper teams this time … so maybe we’ll play some proper football.”

Will he be doing a Fantasy Football League revival show with David (Baddiel) to mark the occasion?

Baddiel-Skinner-Portrait-2“Do you know, I’m not sure. I’m starting to think it might be nice to just sit around and watch it on the telly, like in my youth.”

Frank’s CV also include lead parts in two sitcoms – Blue Heaven, from 1994, about an aspiring singer who dreams of breaking free from the Birmingham bar scene, and Shane, from 2004, about a middle-aged taxi driver and his long-suffering family.

Rumour has it he wrote second series for both, with Shane only held up by contractual problems.

“I never wrote a second series of Blue Heaven. But I like that as a rumour – the great lost sitcom!

Blue Heaven: Conleth Hill and Frank Skinner in sitcom mode in 1994

Blue Heaven: Conleth Hill and Frank Skinner in sitcom mode in 1994

So could he be inspired to go back to Blue Heaven?

“I never really thought about that, but the guy who played my best friend (Conleth Hill) became an incredibly close friend. In fact, he’s one of Buzz’s godfathers.

“He’s now in Game of Thrones, so he’s done well for himself. Maybe we could revisit that. If we do, I’ll give you a credit.”

The BBC’s Room 101 has kept Frank on our screens for a while. I was trying to recall if he ever appeared on the original Nick Hancock version.

“I did – for the radio and TV versions. On the TV one I got in ‘tubes in meat’. You know when you eat meat and there’s those horrible rubbery things – like main arteries.

“They managed to find me a nice example, which I attempted to play, like a beef harmonica.”

I’ve watched that episode again since, and I can confirm that it’s a classic, making you realise just how great the series was back then.

608Frank is currently – alongside his Absolute Radio duties – working towards a BBC Radio 4 programme called The Rest Is History, a comedy discussion show basic around the past.

“I’m someone who really likes history, but don’t know much about it. So I thought I could either google it, or do a radio show!

“It’s really a show in which I learn about history by asking a lot of odd questions, alongside a proper historian and a couple of guests each week.”

This is of course from a man who in his autobiography said Radio 4 was something he equated with death. So is this the end for him?

“That is true. I also mentioned that if I ever said I was passionate about radio you’d know my career was through. So read into that what you will.”

Boxing Clever: A  Tardis, yesterday

Boxing Clever: A Tardis, yesterday

Frank was involved in the recent Dr Who 50th anniversary celebrations too. Does he still hold out hope of getting that gig – maybe following on from Peter Capaldi?

“Well, I said I would quite happily play a lunar rock, and I haven’t even had that phone call. I did however do one of the audio adventures for the ‘eighth Doctor’.

“That’s part of the Dr Who cannon, so I am officially part of that world.”

In 2008, Frank dropped swearing from his set. Is that still the case?

“No. It was a temporary experiment!”

Has he a new responsibility on that front, brought on by Buzz’s arrival?

“I suppose I have a new responsibility to him, but I don’t feel that affects my set. I don’t talk about my fatherhood. Having said that, I might by the time I get to Preston.

“I’ve always been very wary of comedians talking about nappies and all that stuff. I’ve avoided that. But who knows, I’m still constantly tweaking.”

So what’s being a dad like, after all these years? Has it changed his routine?

“I think it’s fair to day it has. It’s hard work, but much funnier than I thought it would be. The other day he did an impression of me doing an impression of Louis Armstrong. I’ve never felt so proud.”

A beautiful moment.

“Exactly. I’m absolutely convinced he’s going to be a stand-up comedian. I can’t even consider anything else.”

frank_skinner1Frank’s been with his girlfriend, Cath, a long time now. Has that relationship changed him?

“It’s made life easier. I like being able to meet an attractive woman now and not have to think, ‘right, how am I going to make this work?’

“It’s much more relaxing, and I like being spoken for. It’s great going round and chasing … you know, various sexual activities, but it’s quite hard work.

“And I don’t think I have the knees for it now.”

Frank’s a practising Roman Catholic too (and I guess there’s a link there somewhere).

“I am. My regular parish is St Mary’s in Hampstead. Actually, I was just talking to (TV presenter and fellow Baggies fan) Adrian Chiles yesterday and last Lent he went to church every day, so we were talking about the possibility of doing that. But whether I’ll get around to it, I’m not sure.”

So – actor, stand-up, TV and radio presenter, writer – what’s Frank’s greatest accolade out of all that lot?

“When I first started, I saw my name in a listings magazine in London, Time Out, and it said, ‘Frank Skinner, comedian’. I was very, very proud of that. That’s still my best-ever accolade.”

Finally, with Frank now just three years off 60, what does he reckon he’ll be doing by then?

“I’ll probably be talking to you about my next tour.“

4163-resize-4163-390* Frank’s Man in a Suit tour is heading all over the UK at present, leading up to dates at the Brighton Centre on June 1 and a two-night finale at Manchester Apollo on June 5/6. For details, try here.

* For a live review of Frank at Preston Guild Hall, head here.

* This is a revised and expanded version of a recent Malcolm Wyatt feature for the Lancashire Evening Post. For the original article, try here

 

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Miles Kane / Telegram – Preston 53 Degrees (March 31, 2014)

Miles Away: Miles Kane at Preston's 53 Degrees (Photo: Lisamarie Stirling Photography/ http://www.lisatakespictures.blogspot.co.uk/)

Miles Away: Miles Kane at Preston’s 53 Degrees (Photo: Lisamarie Stirling Photography/ http://www.lisatakespictures.blogspot.co.uk/)

My heart went out to Telegram on Monday, on the last night of their stint with Miles Kane yet still having to work their respective butts off to win over a partisan home crowd.

This happening Anglo-Welsh outfit may already have won over the likes of the NME and Radio 6 jock Mark Riley, but were back to square one at Preston 53 Degrees.

That’s not to say there wasn’t any love for them out there. Far from it, hopefully. But this was a crowd waiting for one thing only – the return of Birkenhead’s finest.

There was a laddish element among the students too, occasional football chanting coupled with general bemusement at the special guests.

This determined four-piece certainly gave it their all though, even if personable but shy front-man Matt Saunders’ stage banter rarely went beyond mentioning the name of the city he was visiting.

Telegram set the bar high, a raucous six-song salvo leaving its mark, complemented by a visual dimension – guitarist Matt Wood passing for Ronnie Wood’s grandson and bassist Oli Paget Moon seeming to have stepped out of late ’60s Haight-Ashbury.

If they were largely ignored when they took to the stage, they got a bit more attention as soon as they launched into the swirlingly-raucous Rule No.1.

1534408_829190497107620_923867913_n

Message Sent: Telegram proved their worth as Miles’ support (Photo: Lisamarie Stirling Photography/ http://www.lisatakespictures.blogspot.co.uk/)

Two of the band previously played in a Roxy Music tribute outfit, and I could hear that influence – at least from the Brian Eno era. No synths perhaps, but a shed-load of glorious guitar noise punctuated by Jordan Cook’s energetic drumming.

That set the tone, but five songs later they were gone – a few nervous smiles still in place – having kept up that hectic pace throughout, not least on the wondrous single, Follow.

But this was a Kane crowd first and foremost, here for one thing only – an express train performance from the Meols master.

My ears were still buzzing from the guitar assault of Telegram when Miles’ band took to the stage, and it took a few songs to adapt.

There was no doubting the passion, on the stage and the dancefloor, but the sound was a little soupy for starters.

Whether it was down to a few tweaks or me audibly re-aligning, I’m not sure, but they were soon delivering that rock’n’roll sexy soul riff Miles had promised.

Actually, I didn’t recognise him at first. Gone was the younger Paul Weller look, his new barnet suggesting more The The-era Johnny Marr or dare I say it, Phil Daniels.

Taking Over: Miles Kane in full voice at 53 Degrees (Photo: Lisamarie Stirling Photography/ http://www.lisatakespictures.blogspot.co.uk/)

Taking Over: Miles Kane in full voice at 53 Degrees (Photo: Lisamarie Stirling Photography/ http://www.lisatakespictures.blogspot.co.uk/)

But there was no mistaking the songs, with the night time the right as he launched into debut single Inhaler and Counting Down the Days.

We were spoiled for choice for catchy riffs, each song seemingly with a cut-out-and-keep singalong section, and next was Kingcrawler and the sublime retro-pop of Better Than That.

The band were definitely upping the stakes, Ben Parsons appearing behind his keyboards with a trumpet to announce the chirpy First of my Kind before a call to scream and shout (from the floorboards up) on the Weller co-penned You’re Gonna Get It.

From there it was Telepathy and the near-anthemic Taking Over, then the Arctic Monkeys track penned in Miles’ honour, Wirral Riddler.

There was a brief chance to catch the collective breaths while the main man tried to work out where the biggest noise was coming from – left, right or centre of this packed floor.

It was inconclusive of course, Miles deciding we were all ‘one big happy family’, before the more paid-back T-Rextasy of My Fantasy, and a more Arctics-like Tonight – because it’s never too late, apparently.

An extended Give Up incorporated the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil, so I suppose it was quite fitting that the laddish element got carried away and a couple of punches led to Miles stopping the proceedings while calm was restored, someone’s evening prematurely ended.

But thankfully this was no Altamont situation, the good-time vibe quickly restored for a big finish, the wailing intro of wondrous Turner-Kane floor-filler Rearrange going down a storm before Phill Anderson’s down and dirty bass signalled Come Closer as we saw Miles away (so to speak).

He returned for an impassioned Marc Bolan-esque solo acoustic run through Colour of the Trap, and then the Kane gang were back in tow to see us off in style with a storming Don’t Forget Who You Are, the ‘la-la-la’s still ringing out as we made for the exit.

For an interview with Miles Kane prior to his Preston visit, head here.

A version of this Malcolm Wyatt review was also set to be appear in the Lancashire Evening Post this week. 

To learn more about Miles Kane and his forthcoming dates, head here. And for the latest from Telegram, try here.

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I concede for Miles – on the line with the happening Miles Kane

522053_10151549852268326_1024798562_nThere’s a bit of a stir being created about Miles Kane at the moment, this affable lad from Birkenhead making a big impression on audiences around the UK and beyond.

He’s certainly put the leg-work in over recent years too, with plenty of prestigious support roles, and lots of big names featuring on his records.

Now the former Rascals front-man – Alex Turner’s co-driver in The Last Shadow Puppets – is enjoying his own headline tour.

Miles is selling out several shows en route – including one at Edinburgh’s Liquid Room the day we caught up.

The same goes for visits to Brighton Concorde 2 and Liverpool Olympia, on a tour where he’s clearly relishing the small venue vibe.

But Miles also has a couple of bigger dates too, not least those with his Arctic Monkeys buddies at London’s Finsbury Park in late May.

And he has a series of further outdoor appearances ahead, including Kendal Calling in early August then V Festival appearances in Essex and Staffordshire.

Furthermore, he’s all over Europe this summer, with festivals in Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Russia and Hungary.

But you get the feeling that – while the music press is carefully tracking his progress – success won’t change this personable 28-year-old.

And his live shows suggest there’s plenty of mutual respect with his loyal audience and his four-piece band.

It took us a while to get a connection as he was ‘roaming the streets of Edinburgh’ with his drummer, ‘the extraordinaire, Jay Sharrock’, who also happens to feature in Liam Gallagher’s band, Beady Eye.

Miles-Kane-2-500x671Asked if he was taking in the sights of Auld Reekie, he wasn’t so sure, telling me, “Nah mate, just strolling around, trying to find a coffee’.

We spoke about that night’s sell-out and the others already confirmed, and I put it to Miles that he must be on a creative high at present.

“It’s been fun – a lot of fun, and you can’t ask any more from the crowds that have been turning up.”

We spoke briefly about his Blackpool show on the tour – not so far from my neck of the woods – and he added: “Yeah. That was great. Actually, it was the first time we’d played there – like a lot of these cities on this tour.

“This whole thing just feels like it’s getting bigger … and broadening … it’s getting wider … and it’s getting taller!

You can’t argue with that logic. And I get the feeling Miles can’t be serious about it for too long. He’s having too much of a good time.

Miles seems to be at the vanguard of a number of fresh new acts on the up – a relative glut of proper singer-songwriters and honest rock’n’roll or rhythm’n’blues acts.

“I guess so, I’ve been around a while though, so maybe this is more like a farewell tour! But I’m better than all those younger bands. I do have that to my advantage.”

I don’t think he’s being big-headed. It’s more tongue-in-cheek. If anything, it’s a justified belief in his own talent.

Support Role: Telegram are on the road with Mikes Kane at present

Support Role: Telegram are on the road with Mikes Kane at present

How does he get on with his support act, Anglo–Welsh four piece Telegram? And does he tend to stick around and listen to their set each night?

“Yeah. I go and have a quick watch. They’re a really good band, and I love their tunes, like the single Follow. Really cool.”

I heartily agree with that sentiment, having just watched the video for that single. Have a look via YouTube, but try and get to the end of this feature first. It’s only polite.

Anyway, Miles cut his teeth with The Rascals, a band that evolved from his first project, The Little Flames, winning valuable supports along the way with fellow Liverpool acts The Coral and The Zutons as well as Arctic Monkeys.

He went solo in 2009, having by then already seen success with Alex Turner in acclaimed ’60s-tinged side-project The Last Shadow Puppets.

theageoftheunderstatementThe pair became good mates during an Arctics tour, their 2008 debut album, The Age of the Understatement, consequently reaching No.1. But you probably knew that.

In 2011, Miles’ first solo album, The Colour of the Trap, reached No.11, with half of the tracks co-written with Alex.

More prestigious guest slots continued, including those with The Courteeners, Beady Eye and Kasabian, as well as the Arctics.

Then came last year’s Don’t Forget Who You Are, with more big names involved, peaking at No.8 this time, its three singles and headline-making Glastonbury appearances keeping his profile high.

If Miles’ solo work is still new to you, it’s difficult to know how to explain his appeal. But there’s clearly a ’60s Liverpool meets sharp-suited Mod thing going on.

17464796x-467x467There’s also a Lennon-like quality, as well as that Arctics-type delivery. But it’s not just that.

Maybe seek out his website and sample the sub-three minute perfect pop of Better Than That, or the two album title tracks -the similarly-infectious Don’t Forget Who You Are and more mellow, Marc Bolan-esque Colour of the Trap.

So I’m guessing this tour is leading up to the third Miles Kane solo album?

“That’s the plan. Hopefully we’ll get something recorded by the end of the year. That would be great, releasing a new album maybe next year.”

Is this a good time to try out the songs on your public, seeing their reaction to them and adapting as you go?

“Yeah, and we’re still busy, so that’s the best way, with this part of the tour followed by loads of festival dates.”

22878b7b564b3fac91ff190207833b92-378x378Will it be nice to have your name at the top of the bill this time around, after so many top support roles over recent years?

“It will. These last few years we’ve really connected with audiences, and now we’re carrying that on – in the interests of getting better all the time.”

On that last album alone, there were contributions from highly-influential artists right up this blogger’s street, not least Paul Weller, Lightning Seeds’ mastermind Ian Broudie, XTC frontman Andy Partridge, and producer/songwriter Guy Chambers.

So will there be a few guest appearances on the new album, when it sees the light of day?

“Who knows, man. I’m very close to some of those people now. It’s still early days, but we’ll continue to do our stuff and just see what happens.”

You’re clearly on top of your game, with lots of new songs to the fore and quickly becoming crowd favourites.

“Nice of you to say. I hope so, man. It’s a strange one, writing songs. Sometimes it’s very easy, other times a lot harder.

“We just want to keep this live feel we’ve got. It’s happening out there, so you want that on your records.

“We want this rock’n’roll, sexy soul riff we’ve got going on. That’s the way forward!”

Getting to know all those revered songwriters must rub off on you too, taking on their influences.

“I think so. Everyone you work with, it tends to rub off on you. And you learn some more by listening to records.”

103109_2Are there likely to be a few famous guest slots on this part of the tour?

“No guests. Not really. Well, I don’t think so, anyway. What are you doing next Thursday?”

He’s off again. There’s plenty of swagger with Miles. But quite a bit of charm too.

After all that’s been happening in the Crimea, does it worry you, playing Moscow this summer?

“No. It won’t affect us. We went there a couple of years ago and we had a great time. I’m looking forward to it, and everywhere else.”

All this time out on the road probably means you’ve missed out on seeing your beloved Liverpool FC too.

“True. I haven’t been to a game for a while, but they’ve been very good in my absence.”

Miles-Kane-6-500x668With our time almost up, I quickly ask Miles about his band, and how it feels to be trading under his name alone, while there’s clearly a proper group ethic about it all.

Are they – namely Ben Parsons on keyboards, Phill Anderson on bass, George Moran on rhythm guitar and vocals , and afore-mentioned drummer Jay Sharrock – good company?

“The band are pretty tight. That’s the other thing really. I couldn’t do what I’m doing now without them.

“I couldn’t put on such a great show, if it wasn’t for the boys in the band. They’re a great bunch of lads, and we’ve hit a great stride. Sound!”

And with that, Miles is away, presumably to finally find that coffee then get ready for another wild night in front of an adoring audience – starting as he means to go on.

For  details of Miles’ tour dates this year and the latest news from the Kane camp, head to his website here

This is a revised edition of a Malcolm Wyatt feature written for the Lancashire Evening Post. You can find the original piece here.

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Hollow Horse riding to success in the Valley – just ask Midge and Dodgy

Into the Valley: There's a new tourist potential on offer in Lancashire's Ribble Valley, thanks to Hollow Horse Events (Photo: http://www.visitribblevalley.co.uk/)

Into the Valley: There’s a new tourist potential on offer in Lancashire’s Ribble Valley, thanks to Hollow Horse Events (Photo: http://www.visitribblevalley.co.uk/)

For those of us based in the North West, thoughts of Lancashire’s Ribble Valley might bring to mind an area rich in heritage and quaint market towns, among a scenic backdrop of lush hills and fells.

But while there’s no doubting the tourism potential here, you probably wouldn’t equate this countryside idyll with a burgeoning music scene.

Hollow Horse Events is changing that though, through its bold mission to bring nationwide artists to local venues.

Eyebrows were raised as former Ultravox front-man and successful solo artist Midge Ure played Hurst Green Village Hall at the end of February.

That wasn’t a one-off either, with indie darlings Dodgy set to rock the valley this weekend, the night after a more likely gig at West London’s Borderline.

Other acts are confirmed to follow too, including acclaimed singer-songwriter Nick Harper and ex-Icicle Works frontman Ian MacNabb.

Not bad for a village that only has around 500 residents.

Hollow Horse Events – named after the 1984 Icicle Works single – is the brainchild of Carl Barrow and his wife Sarah, who happily swapped a thriving Manchester scene for a new life in the country around seven years ago.

They love their adopted home, and everything about the Ribble Valley. But they weren’t prepared to give up one of the more important parts of their social life.

As a result, Carl decided to look into the possibility of promoting gigs, in a bid to not only help out the local economy, but also bring big-name acts to the countryside.

So, hot on the heels of their last sell-out gig in Hurst Green, this Saturday (March 29), Dodgy drop by for one of only a handful of gigs throughout the country, taking time out from recording their new album.

Valley Visit: Dodgy's dynamic three find the Hurst Green's peace sweet

Valley Visit: Dodgy’s dynamic three will find Hurst Green’s peace sweet

Best known for feelgood Britpop era hits like Good Enough and Staying Out for the Summer - and loved by this blogger on a wider scale for first three great albums The Dodgy Album (1993), Homegrown (1994) and Free Peace Sweet (1996), this London-based three-piece’s booking is another great coup for the area.

I must admit I took my eye off the ball when they reformed. Put it down to new-found responsibilities and having kids. But Real Estate followed in 2001 and in 2012 they were back with Stand Upright in a Cool Place, which at first glance might even have been written about one of Carl’s intimate gigs.

I’ve since caught up a little and can confirm Dodgy are still that original trio of  Nigel Clark, Matthew Priest and Andy Miller. And every bit as good as before, that last album with a bit of a mellow ’70s folk-rock feel – with Fleet Foxes like harmonies in places – as well as those sublime ’60s influences that always characterised them.

Dodgy’s appearance was set to be part of a double-bill of gigs in the village this weekend, but slow ticket sales meant Friday’s show featuring Mercury Award-nominated Ian McNabb had to be rearranged for September 6.

download (25)That late pull-out perhaps shows what Carl ‘s up against in his promotions dream. And as Ian McNabb sang 30 years ago on Hollow Horse, “Be careful what you dream of, it may come up and surprise you.”

But Carl remains determined to succeed, with the early signs pretty good. And McNabb clearly likes the concept, the Liverpudlian acknowledging the intimate feel of the village hall after so many city centre venues.

He speaks from experience too, having put on two previous Hollow Horse events shows in the Ribble Valley.

So why are all these headline acts choosing the backwaters of Lancashire? Well, to explain that, we should go back to the beginning of the story.

Carl and Sarah, based in nearby Goosnargh, couldn’t see why upping sticks and heading for the country should change their outlook on night-life.

Carl, 50, said: “I moved to the Ribble Valley, initially to Ribchester, for the love of a good woman, and it was a fantastic move.

“But without being disrespectful, apart from the odd amateur theatrical production and occasional local band in pubs, there wasn’t much going on.

Village Centre: The place to be is clearly Hurst Green's Village Hall

Village Centre: The place to be is clearly Hurst Green’s Village Hall

“I enjoyed nights out and loved going to gigs and comedy nights, so I missed that aspect and decided to try and do something about it.

“Rather than trudging into Liverpool, Manchester or wherever, we thought, ‘let’s try and bring artists to us’.”

Carl previously worked in local Government in Stockport, at first commuting to and from his new base, while his wife worked in the retail sector.

They then decided on a total change of direction, opening a tea room in Ribchester, incorporating a gift shop and florist’s.

Carl added: “We thought it would be nice to get the premises licensed and bring in a few comedy nights and acoustic music nights, opening it as a proper venue.

“We did that, and it went down really well. Then, as we had quite a big garden, we did a few outdoor music events too, which also proved a success.

“In time, we sold the tea room, and while Sarah carried on with the florist’s, I missed doing the promotions side for the music and comedy.

“So we got thinking as to how we could carry on, and the obvious thing that sprang to mind was through village halls.

Travelling Men:  Manchester's alternative folk outfit The Travelling Band

Travelling Men: Manchester’s alternative folk outfit The Travelling Band proved a winner

“We’ve been doing it a while now, with a few biggish names. Last year’s highlight was with The Travelling Band, playing the opening night of their UK tour at Chipping Village Hall.

“That really rocked the venue, and to this day is still one of my favourites, because of the atmosphere it generated.”

As well as Chipping and Hurst Green, Carl has also put on gigs at Ribchester and Whalley, and plans to continue with his village hall model.

He added: “It may sound corny, but it’s about bringing the music to the people.

“We enquired about using venues such as the Clitheroe Grand and Blackburn King George’s Hall, but that’s getting away from the principle.

“And if we can break even on ticket sales, we can run a bar which will hopefully pay a little on top, so we won’t be out of pocket.

“There have been a couple of shows where we’ve lost a little, but overall you don’t mind if people leave the venue with a smile on their face. Hopefully, you can break even next time.

Vox Pop: Midge Ure proved a big hit in Hurst Green (Photo: http://www.midgeure.co.uk/)

Vox Pop: Midge Ure also proved a big hit in Hurst Green (Photo: http://www.midgeure.co.uk/)

“The Midge Ure gig was the first gig of this year’s Spring season, and went down really well. And it’s all a part of our bid to bring national names to local venues.”

In parts of rural Lancashire – as all over the country – there might just be a pub and a community hall these days, and sometimes not even a shop. So is he helping revive the local economy?

“Using Midge Ure as an example, there were people staying in the Shireburn Arms overnight, and before and after, local pubs had a lot of people in, eating and drinking.

Those visitors might return to the area, if they like what they see. So I’d say we’re definitely contributing.”

What did Midge Ure – who carried on from Hurst Green to Belfast, Dublin, then a German arena tour – make of his visit?

Carl added: “He loved it, telling us he did a couple of similar small shows, including one near Southampton.

“That said, there’s always an element of people turning out to see the big rock star in town. A regular gig audience might be there more for the music than the occasion.”

How did Carl go about booking Ian McNabb and Dodgy?

“The first one’s an easy one – I’ve always been an Ian McNabb and an Icicle Works fan, taking our company name from one of their songs.

“It was always a standing joke with my wife when we ran the tea room, saying we’d get Ian to play it.

“Maybe it was never going to happen, but when we decided to do village halls he was one of the first artists I got in touch with. He’s done each year since.

“With Dodgy, their manager’s from Blackburn, and when we did a series of events in Chipping last year, he came along and suggested we put them on.

“I believe they’re only doing three or four live dates. They were launching a greatest hits album, but are still in the studio at the moment.

“They’re in London the night before, so it’s a fair trip, but it should be a great night.”

 

Harper Leads:  Nick Harper is also set to visit the Valley

Harper Leads: Nick Harper is also set to visit the Valley

Beyond that, Hollow Horse’s next dates also include one in mid-May featuring acclaimed solo artist Nick Harper – son of folk star Roy Harper – whose CV includes work with Squeeze.

Carl’s gig promotions are not yet a full-time job, and he works in customer services at a Clitheroe department store.

But he added: “I still like to get out in the evening – and then music takes over!”

Hollow Horse Events is something of a family affair too, with Sarah’s daughter working behind the bar at the last show.

You’re not likely to find Carl and Sarah posing for ‘selfies’ with the star attractions though. He said: “We like to fade into the background, really.”

That also explains why there’s no photos of him or Mrs B in this feature.

So has he got any other big names in mind to grace the stage of Ribble Valley village halls?

Listed Status: Elbow frontman and Radio 6 disc spinner Guy Garvey is on Carl's list

Listed Status: Elbow frontman and Radio 6 disc spinner Guy Garvey is on Carl’s list

“I’d love to do something with Guy Garvey from Elbow. He’s a Bury lad, so he’d not have too far to come.

“I’m not sure we’d get Elbow playing a village hall, but we could always try and turn it into an outdoor event.”

What a great backdrop too – a fine advert for the Red Rose county. Has Carl considered going into the outdoor festival business?

“Whether the local council would like the idea of a few thousand people coming here is another matter. But never say never.

“I’d love to do something like that. The Ribble Valley has Beat-Herder, but why not. And there are a few places I’d have in mind.”

For ticket details for Dodgy and other Hollow Horse Events, check out their facebook page or head to www.ticketweb.co.uk.

This article is a revised and expanded edition of one written by Malcolm Wyatt for the Lancashire Evening Post, published on March 27, when the Ian McNabb gig was still set for its original date. The LEP version is here.

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Creative twists on children’s fiction – a writewyattuk book review special

In which writewyattuk runs the rule over three recent publications offering a creative twist on established children’s fiction – with great success.

Nowhere Boy: Aunt Mimi gets her point across in The Beatles (Art copyright: Mick Mannine & Brita Granstrom)

Nowhere Boy: Aunt Mimi gets her point across in The Beatles (Art copyright: Mick Mannine & Brita Granstrom)

Back in my school days, I’d have loved poring over books of the quality of Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom’s The Beatles (Frances Lincoln, 2014).

Come to think of it, that’s still the case today. Age ought not be a barrier when it comes to great reading.

I loved the same authors’ My Uncle’s Dunkirk, and further Second World War themed biographical picture books, Tail-End Charlie and Taff in the WAAF, re-telling Mick’s parents’ war-time tales.

In all three cases, Mick’s simple but honest narrative is perfectly complemented by a visual poignancy created by Swedish-born illustrator Brita.

And now we have their latest offering, moving on to the 1960s to tell the story of The Beatles in that same stimulating picture book biog format.

Look In: Mick and Brita pose for the camera

Look In: Mick and Brita pose for the camera

There’s a thin line between entertainment and education, and it’s a tricky one to negotiate, but somehow Mick and Brita manage it every time.

I know the Fab Four story pretty well – as will many of us ‘older’ readers – yet all the same I was impressed by just what was covered, even finding a few surprises.

I tend to get a bit precious when it comes to anyone man-handling my pristine copy of 2000’s The Beatles Anthology, but this tells the tale in more child-accessible fashion.

It’s a perfect introduction to this Liverpool four-piece, and I could easily see the younger me dipping in and out of its pages, then seeking out the records and trying to find out more.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had only been in the shops five months when I was born, but I grew up loving everything John, Paul, George and Ringo related. So this would have fitted the bill perfectly.

It could so easily have been a Beatles-by-numbers style half-arsed tome, but Mick and Brita have far more about them than that. The fact that band historian Colin Hall played a part tells us a little too.

In short, it’s well researched, visually intriguing, and even if there are – inevitably – parts of the story I’d rather have seen covered, it’s all more or less there.

From the band’s post-war Merseyside roots through to their split at the turn of the ’70s, it’s an absorbing story condensed pretty well into 48 or so picture-led pages.

Past Success: Mick and Britas's My Uncle's Dunkirk

Past Success: Mick and Brita’s stunning My Uncle’s Dunkirk

Like My Uncle’s War, there are moving moments too, not least the shot of Paul with his arm around his dad after his mum’s death, and one of John in similarly sad circumstances.

From the Quarrymen days, George’s top-deck audition and Ringo’s introduction at Pete Best’s expense onwards, it’s a wonderful account.

Right through to the Get Back rooftop finale, all the big moments are there, not least Stu’s remodelling via Astrid, Brian Epstein’s Cavern epiphany, George Martin’s studio ponderings on this cheeky quartet, the band’s big US break, and the film years.

A few of the songs get more in-depth treatment, including the tales behind Yesterday, Lady Madonna, Strawberry Fields, Ob-La Di Ob-La Da, and Octopus’s Garden.

From a personal point of view, I was pleasantly surprised to see as much coverage of the wondrous Revolver as the over-hyped Sgt. Pepper.

There’s also a look at where the individual members went from there, and a timeline charting the band’s progress against wider achievements in that amazing decade of social revolution.

All in all, Mick and Brita capture the story through that heady mix of artwork and frugal prose, including the humour of this great band.

There are incidents described where they must have struggled with the wording in a children’s book. But nothing’s been swept under the carpet.

And if they only tell half the story in places, younger readers should still get the subtle inferences and find out the rest for themselves.

The-Beatles_700This will never be – by definition – an authoritative work on the Fab Four, but it’s a fantastic starting point to the band and those special times.

The captioned illustrations also suggest stylish shades of a favourite cartoonist from my NME and Punch reading days, the late Ray Lowry, who dealt with that same period so well.

In the wider sense, Mick and Brita‘s approach to non-fiction continues to impress, and they offer a window on to this 1960s phenomenon here – telling the story of a group just as relevant in modern culture all these years on.

To learn more about Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom, head to their website here.

ODNT_2 copyBali Rai’s Old Dog New Tricks (Barrington Stoke, 2014) is in certain respects a more conventional tale.

It follows 15-year-old Harvey as he gets to know his new neighbourhood, including Mick, the bad-tempered racist next door.

Harvey is a likeable lad from a Punjabi family, deep at times but always dependable, and determined to follow his Dad’s example in this Leicester-based story – seeing the best in everyone, even when all evidence is apparently to the contrary.

In so doing, he tries to look beyond Mick’s gruff, rude exterior, trying to understand just what makes this ‘old man’ tick.

What sets his curiosity in motion is the sense that despite his outspoken, dodgy views, Mick seems to dote on his mangy old mongrel, Nelson, albeit with a questionable care regime.

And with Harvey set on owning a dog himself, he sees a way he might be able to bond with Mick and help look after his loveable mutt.

Harvey reckons Mick can’t all be bad in his choice of music too, hearing through the walls the blaring sound of bands his Dad introduced him to, like The Beat and The Specials, as well as Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix – a taste seemingly flying in the face of all those dubious right-wing tendencies.

As the story develops, Harvey happens to be around – with his new girlfriend in tow – as Mick is taken ill, and helps get him to hospital, using his opportunity to try and find out more about him.

There’s more to the story of course, and in the wider sense Bali’s tale is about far more than doing the right thing amid blatant racism and bullying issues.

There are wider themes of friendship and fitting in too, as well as an underlying love story.

We’re also offered a subtle portrait of life among Britain’s multi-cultural communities, and Sikhism today.

Safe Hands: Bali Rai during an author visit to the John Lyon School in Harrow, Middlesex

Safe Hands: Bali Rai during an author visit to the John Lyon School in Harrow, Middlesex

And we’re in good hands with Bali, who’s already proved his worth with past works like Rani and Sukh – on the GCSE English set-text list – and North East Teen Book Award-winner Killing Honour.

This 82-page read is all the more powerful for its seemingly simple style, nicely crafted by the author to help entice more reluctant readers and keep them gripped.

Yes, there are moral lessons here, but there’s nothing ‘in your face’ or patronising about Bali’s style. And for that he deserves high praise.

There’s another aspect too. It’s a ‘dyslexia friendly’ read, the book’s publisher having more than 15 years’ experience working with dyslexic readers aged eight and up.

Books in this same series – from a number of acclaimed children’s writers – include a raft of accessibility features to open up the love of the written word to young people with dyslexia and other issues, or those simply daunted by ‘big books’.

download (22)For more information about Barrington Stoke, how it aims to help dyslexic readers, and more of its recent releases, head to www.barringtonstoke.co.uk.

And to learn more about Bali Rai, his books and events, head to his website here.

Finally, I’ll wax lyrical about a book covering similar territory. OK, so it’s been around a while, but I’d argue that it often takes a while to stumble across some of the better examples of great fiction – and that’s definitely the case with me on this one.

Sarah Crossan’s The Weight of Water (Bloomsbury, 2012) was recommended to me by my 14-year-old daughter, and has won many admirers since publication.

theweightofwaterLike Bali, Sarah offers a vision of 21st century multi-cultural Britain, with her story set less than 30 miles down the road from Leicester.

While it concerns Coventry, it could so easily be about Anytown, UK in this era of soapbox pontificating about foreigners and national identity.

The issue of refugee arrivals is nothing new, yet Sarah offers a valuable, empathetic understanding of the immigrant experience.

There are other factors too – as with Old Dog New Tricks – not least bullying and teenage pressures such as the need to fit in amid falling self-esteem.

Our protagonist is Kasienka, the daughter of a lovelorn, abandoned Polish mum who has followed her ex to the land where he escaped to build a new life.

So what’s Kasienka like to her new schoolmates? Apparently she’s ‘too white’, and:

No one likes too white,

Eastern white,

Polish winter white,

Vampire-fright white.

Yes, I forgot to mention that. You see, this is no ordinary immigrant’s tale, but one written entirely in verse – and all the more absorbing for that, thanks to the author’s great skill with this artistic form.

There’s a lot here about identity, as you’d expect from a story written from the viewpoint of a self-conscious teenage girl trying to make sense of her world.

Sarah Crossan: Offers a fresh insight into the immigrant experience

Sarah Crossan: Offers a fresh insight into the immigrant experience

By way of example, she’s told by her fellow pupils that her hair’s the wrong length and is told she’s carrying the wrong bag – just the latest barriers to assimilation in this strange country.

While her Mama still yearns for a happy reunion with Tata, it becomes increasingly clear to Kasienka, friendly neighbour Kanoro and us that it’s not likely to happen.

If that’s the general thread of this story, the focus for Kasienka is how she adapts to a seemingly-uncaring school system and makes new friends.

She clearly wants to conform, but in coming up against ‘popular’ classmate Clair, it becomes clear that she’ll have to fight to retain any degree of individuality.

We find signs of her spirit of independence through her prowess in the swimming pool though, and her budding relationship with a lad she meets there.

A lack of family funds rules out too many visits to the baths, but swimming becomes Kasienka’s main escape from problems at home and at school.

She also gleans strength from her friendship with Kanoro, the mild-mannered hospital cleaner from the next flat.

Kanoro, a practising doctor home in Kenya, is just another down-trodden immigrant in his adopted country. But he has a faith and belief that Mama seems to have lost.

Like him, we find that Kasienka – despite her intelligence – has to prove herself in her studies before she can join children of her own age in the classroom.

But Sarah’s strong narrative ensures we’re there at her side from the moment she arrives at Stansted, fresh from Gdansk.

We also feel her pain, not least when she first surveys her new home, a dingy fourth-floor flat in a crumbling building just off Coventry’s ring-road.

‘It’s just one room,’ I say,

When what I mean is

We can’t live here.

‘It’s called a studio,’

Mama tells me,

As though a word

Can change the truth.

We get glimpses of Tata’s new life too, and snapshots of the family’s Polish past, as Mama struggles to adapt while her daughter resolutely clings to her own identity.

The Weight of Water is a brilliantly-observed case study of casual racism and assumptions, bullying and peer pressure, friendships and families.

Sarah’s economy of language allows the story to flow throughout, and what could so easily be a depressing tale is ultimately uplifting, while casting fresh light on the immigrant experience.

To learn more about Sarah Crossan and her publications, head to her website here.

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