In the late 1960s, you swapped a flourishing career as a pop star to perform in staged musicals and plays. How did that come about?
The move into musicals seemed to be a natural progression for me. When on tour in a pop show I would often catch the matinée of a play somewhere and often went to plays and musicals in London pretty much as soon as I entered the profession.
At 17, I was hungry to learn, keen &and inspired by everything I saw. Many of the outstanding actors and singers of the day fired my enthusiasm. Crossing the threshold into musicals and straight plays presented a greater challenge – the opportunity to sing different music, to dance.
I started to attend Pineapple Studio classes and, having played title roles in very big pantomimes with large casts(which were more like musicals), working in a "book" show alongside others appealed to me,a constant learning process. Whereas the life of a solo singer is rather limited and solitary.
Now you're playing the father of a would-be pop star in the current tour of "Dreamboats and Petticoats". How do you see the role?
My role in "Dreamboats & Petticoats" is Phil Croft who runs the youth club. My stage son Bobby being an aspiring singer songwriter and initially falling for the wrong girl is a harkening back to my own teenage years. Practically a replica situation – and I always fancied the wrong girl!
Many of the songs in this show I sang as a 16- and 17-year old in a couple of youth clubs I belonged to; badgering the local group to let me sing when their resident singer went to the pub halfway through the session.
So, Phil is the authoritative link man who wants what is right for his son, whilst at the same time being an avuncular figure to all. Involved in the fun, singing songs of the period but also understanding their teenage concerns and angst on their way to adulthood.
For the finale you resume your own persona to sing some of your 1960s hits. What has influenced your choice of numbers?
Choosing three of my own 1960s hits was a simple thing since they were my biggest successes, and they represent perfectly boy-girl teen romance. All in the top ten – "Venus in Blue Jeans", my biggest, a lady I'm always happy to have looking over my shoulder.
There's a fashion at the moment for "nostalgia" musicals - ones based on the hit parades of previous decades or on the lives of performers. What do you think of this trend?
As has been proved recently not all pop nostalgia is successful. It may seem an easy ticket but a mere shoal of hit songs does not spell automatic success. An interesting story-line, humour, characterisation and pace, with songs furthering or commenting on the story are essential components along with many other ingredients.
There is perhaps a degree of overkill. But it's the public who decide what they will pay to see. "Dreamboats & Petticoats" has all of the above and the title tells us a lot about what to expect – as does " We Will Rock You".
In your opinion, has popular music changed for the better or the worse since you began performing? And why?
Pop music today is more to do with technology, a heavier bass beat and a hook line. Form and structure of a song has largely been phased out. Often there's too much embroidery of the brief melody line. Dionne Warwick had it just right. Since then, most melody lines are lost in fancy interpretation.
Personally I'm not a fan of rap; sometimes, it's quite clever with the rhythmic dialogue but I switch off. The same goes for heavy metal. Although Led Zepplin are something special, very fine musicians. In fact Jimmy Page, as a young session guitarist, played on some of my early hit records.
Pop music from the mid-Fifties until the mid-Seventies had structure with melodic content. The great classical masters had it, as did Bacharach & David, Paul Simon (who still has it). Lennon and McCartney too (early on) are legendary cut-glass examples that less is more.
How do you see your own career developing in the future?
My own future? I've had several bites of the cherry and am still nibbling away nicely thanks to opportunities that still present themselves. Show biz is capricious and unpredictable. Today in "Dreamboats...." I may be considered a "main course" on the menu, but down the line I may not even be considered as "wines and spirits".
The learning continues with every new production.I love playing characters, layering my own persona with something new, discovering fresh territory. Always being the same I find is tedious. Part of my good fortune is in that the public have accepted me in various guises over the years.
Right now I'm playing an older version of how I started out but with the experience of life, it's the circle of life. But in a way it's a new chapter, all in the lap of the gods. As the Irishman said to his chiropodist: "Me fate is in your hands."
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