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Past/Present/Future for … David Essex

David Essex has been writing and performing professionally for nearly 40 years, after rising to fame in 1971 starring as Jesus in the original West End production of Godspell. Since then he has starred in musicals including Evita, Mutiny! and Aspects of Love. His film credits include That’ll Be the Day and Silver Dream Racer and he has released a number of top-selling albums, including Rock On! (1973) and All the Fun of the Fair (1975), which is also the title of his new musical, touring nationally until May 2009.

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PAST: I started out as a 15-year-old playing drums for a few blues bands. My mentor at that time was Derek Bowman, who was heavily involved in the theatre scene, and he introduced me, a young working class east end boy, into what was a very middle class world.

There was an extraordinary period when I became the first person after the ending of censorship to play Jesus in the West End (in Godspell). That led to me getting cast in That’ll be the Day opposite Ringo Starr and then my album Rock On went number one in the states. So I had the biggest stage show, film and album all in quick succession - it was an incredible time.

I’ve done all kinds of work and written music for many different mediums – from ballet to film scores. I love the theatre, I did 18 months with Peter Hall’s ensemble, but I always feel most at home when music is involved.

PRESENT: All the Fun of the Fair is about several different kinds of relationships. I play a fairground owner, Levi – he has a difficult time with his teenage son who’s a bit of a hot-head and wants to make some changes that I’m a bit resistant to. It’s also an unrequited love story, though there’s plenty of humour in there as well. And it\'s all set in the murky underworld of a travelling fair - on my mother’s birth certificate my grandfather listed his occupation as ‘travelling tinkerman’, so I’ve always been interested in gypsy culture.

It’s not a ‘jukebox’ musical – we’ve only included songs from my back catalogue which fit the story, rather than trying to pack them in with only tenuous plot connections. There’s much more to it than just my greatest hits. I may be shooting myself in the foot by saying that – maybe people do just want to clap and sing along – but that’s not really my style. I like things with a bit of an edge.

I’ve been genuinely overwhelmed by the response so far. You can hear sobbing in the audience and we’ve had a standing ovation every night. I knew we had something special but I really couldn’t anticipate what the reaction would be, so it’s been tremendous. We’ve got a bit of everything in there – including carousel horses and a synchronised dodgems sequence! So obviously I’m hoping to attract as wide an audience as possible, not just people who are already familiar with my music.

FUTURE: I’ve already started planning my next show with Nikolai Foster, who directed All the Fun of the Fair. It\'s not going to be a sequel, it’ll be something completely new, though I’m not sure I’ll star in it this time – eight shows a week is a pretty punishing schedule!

I’ve always worked on projects for myself in the hope that it’ll appeal to a wider audience – there’s no secret to my career in that respect, I just keep trying to work to the best of my ability. Writing is very important to me, always has been, and hopefully I can keep producing work that keeps people interested.

In the more immediate term, I’d love to make a film of All the Fun of the Fair. We deliberately made the show quite cinematic, for example it makes a lot of use of surround sound effects. I think it would adapt very well to the big screen, and the album’s selling well so hopefully there’s an audience for it. I’m really enjoying the tour at the moment and we’ll see how it goes, but I’m not sure about the West End. Ask me again in May – it’s possible we’ll be looking for another Levi by then!

- David Essex was speaking to Theo Bosanquet

All the Fun of the Fair is currently at the Cliffs Pavillion, Southend-on-Sea, and tours nationally until 30 May 2009.


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