SUZI Quatro will mark the 60th year of her reign as “the Queen of Rock’n’Roll” by embarking on a five-date autumn tour, taking in York Barbican on November 15 as the only Yorkshire venue.
60 years? Michigan-born singer and bass guitarist Quatro started out in bands in Detroit, playing concerts and teen clubs with Ted Nugent, Bob Seger and others. In May 1964, her sister Patti formed the group The Pleasure Seekers with her, leading to their first single coming out on the Hideout Records label in 1965, when Suzi was 15, Patti, 17.
Further singles Never Thought You’d Leave Me and Light Of Love followed in 1966 and 1968 respectively.
In 1971, Suzi flew to England to work with songwriting hit factory Chinn and Chapman after producer Mickie Most saw her perform live.
She duly chalked up chart toppers with 2.5 million-selling Can The Can and Devil Gate Drive and had further hits with 48 Crash, Daytona Demon, The Wild One, If You Can’t Give Me Love and She’s In Love With You.
In the United States, her million-selling Stumblin’ In duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman reached number four in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979, giving Suzi her only American Top 40 success.
Of York note, after appearing together in Annie Get Your Gun in the West End, she co-wrote the Babbies & Bairns signature song with dame Berwick Kaler in his York Theatre Royal panto pomp.
As well as selling more than 55 million records – she featured in the UK charts for 101 weeks between 1973 and 1980 – Suzi has branched out into acting, writing novels, broadcasting, making her documentary film Suzi Q and presenting her autobiography Unzipped live in a one-woman show.
She released the album Quatro, Scott & Powell, with two Seventies’ cohorts, Sweet’s Andy Scott and Slade’s Don Powell, in 2017; made two albums with her son, Richard Tuckey, No Control in 2019 and The Devil In Me in 2021, and joined forces with Scottish singer-songwriter Face To Face in 2023.
“It’s my 60th year in the business, and it still feels like I’ve just started,” says Suzi, 73. “Devil Gate Drive, number one, 51 years ago. Are you ready now? Let’s do it one more time for Suzi.”
The wild one will rock on, she vows. “I will retire when I go on stage, shake my ass, and there is silence,” she says.
BERWICK Kaler, Britain’s longest-running pantomime dame, is “bowing out gracefully” after 47 years on the York stage.
The final curtain has fallen after Grand Opera House panto producers UK Productions decided not to retain the services of veteran dame Berwick, 77, who had transferred across the city in 2021 after 40 years at York Theatre Royal.
Exiting panto stage left too will be long-serving comic stooge Martin Barrass, vainglorious villain David Leonard, principal golden gal Suzy Cooper and “luverly Brummie” A J Leonard after their three-year run at the Cumberland Street theatre.
In his quote at the very bottom of the Grand Opera House’s official announcement of Beauty And The Beast as the 2024-2025 pantomime, Berwick says: “After 47 years of getting away with complete nonsense, it’s time to bow out gracefully and I couldn’t have wished for a better production than Robinson Crusoe [And The Pirates Of The River Ouse].
“I’d like to thank all of the audiences over the years, and particularly those who came to the Grand Opera House this year for making it so memorable. I’d also like to thank the producers UK Productions for their support, and for bringing to life my frankly mad ideas so spectacularly.
“Last and of course not least, my loyal gang, David, Suzy, Martin and AJ, for putting up with me for so many years.”
The official statement reads: “Also announced today is the departure of Berwick Kaler from the Grand Opera House pantomime.
“Berwick has been a beloved Dame in York since 1977 and it has been a privilege for the Grand Opera House to host Berwick and the gang for the last three years. Martin Barrass, Suzy Cooper, AJ Powell and David Leonard will also not be returning.”
UK Productions took over the Grand Opera House pantomime after only one year of Berwick and co performing for Qdos Entertainment/Crossroads Live in his comeback show Dick Turpin Rides Again.
Managing director Martin Dodd, always an enthusiastic advocate for Berwick Kaler’s pantomimes, nevertheless makes no mention of the parting of the ways in the Grand Opera House announcement.
Instead, he looks to the future, as the pantomime partnership with the York theatre is retained but in a new form with “star casting”. “We are delighted to continue our relationship with the Grand Opera House and bring one of the most popular fairy tales of all time, our award-winning Beauty And The Beast, to audiences in York,” he says.
“The production is spectacular and contains all the elements that young and old will love, and we look forward to announcing the star casting very soon.”
Likewise, Grand Opera House theatre directorLaura McMillan, focuses on the new era: “The annual pantomime is the biggest show in the theatre’s calendar and to be welcoming Beauty And The Beast to our stage is incredibly exciting.
“There’s nothing like pantomime to introduce children and young people to Theatre and I have no doubt that Belle, The Beast and the rest of the characters will bring so much joy this winter.”
Beauty And The Beast will run from December 7 2024 to January 5 2025.Tickets, from £15, will go on sale on Monday, March 11 at 4pm at atgtickets.com/york.
HEADING out of 2023 into 2024, Charles Hutchinson’s recommendations are not out with the old just yet, but definitely in with the new too.
Still time for pantomime: Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse, Grand Opera House, York, until January 6; Jack And The Beanstalk, York Theatre Royal, until January 7
DOWAGER dame Berwick Kaler goes nautical in Robinson Crusoe for the first time in his 43rd York panto and third at the Grand Opera House. Jake Lindsay takes the title role alongside the Ouse crew’s regulars, Martin Barrass, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Nina Wadia’s Fairy Sugarsnap waves a magical artichoke wand over York Theatre Royal’s fourth collaboration with Evolution Productions, wherein CBeebies’ James Mackenzie’s villainous Luke Backinanger takes on returnee Robin Simpson’s Dame Trott, Anna Soden’s Dave the Cow, Mia Overfield’s Jack and Matthew Curnier’s very silly Billy in Jack And The Beanstalk. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Last chance to see: Badapple Theatre Company in Farmer Scrooge’s Christmas Carol, Sutton-under-Whitestonecliffe Village Hall, near Sutton Bank, Hambleton, December 27, 4.30pm; East Cottingwith Village Hall, near York, December 29, 4pm
A GRUMPY farmer? From Yorkshire? Surely not! Welcome to Kate Bramley’s rural revision of Dickens’s festive favourite, A Christmas Carol, now set on Farmer Scrooge’s farm and in his bed in 1959 as Green Hammerton company Badapple Theatre put the culture into agriculture.
York actors James Lewis-Knight and Emily Chattle play multiple roles in a tale replete with local stories and carols, puppets and mayhem, original songs by Jez Lowe and a whacking great dose of seasonal bonhomie. Tickets: Sutton-under-Whitestonecliffe, 01423 331304; East Cottingwith, 07866 024009 or 07973 699145.
Twelfth Night celebrations: Navigators Art & Performance, A Feast Of Fools, Black Swan Inn, Peasholme Green, York, January 6, 7.30pm
DEVISED by York arts collective Navigators Art & Performance with White Sail, A Feast Of Fools: Folk Music and Words to Celebrate Old Christmas & Twelfth Night is billed as “the final festivity, when lords become servants, beggars rule and convention goes to the dogs. Summon the Green Man! Hail the Lord of Misrule!”
Taking part in this “seriously different and seriously good” gathering will be: Wiccan singer-songwriter Cai Moriarty; experimental neo-folk band Wire Worms; leftfield story and song dispensers Adderstone; poet, architect and musician Thomas Pearson and multi-instrumental alt-folk legends White Sail. Box office: TicketSource at bit.ly/nav-feast or on the door if available.
Audition time: Be Amazing Arts, Disney’s Beauty And The Beast, for staging at Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, April 11 to 13, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee
MALTON company Be Amazing Arts will hold open auditions for the spring production of Disney’s Beauty And The Beast at Huntington School, Huntington Road, York, on Thursday, January 11 from 5.30pm to 9.15pm, when performers aged seven to 18 are invited to attend.
For more information or to book your child’s place, visit beamazingarts.co.uk. “We can’t wait to bring this tale as old as time to life with some of the best young talent in York and beyond,” says creative director Roxanna Klimaszewska. Box office for April tickets: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
Album showcase: One Iota, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, January 13, 7pm
YORK indie band One Iota return to the JoRo to showcase new album Shadows In The Shade. Expect strong melodies, rich harmonies, soaring guitars and epic soundscapes from a full band line-up, including a string section, topped off with a light show. James Merlin supports. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
50th anniversary cartwheels: Mr H Presents John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett, The Crescent, York, January 13, 7.30pm
TWO “unlikely lads” from Aylesbury reunite for John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett’s Half A Sentry Tour, sure to feature Cor Baby That’s Really Free and Beware Of The Flowers (Cause I’m Sure They’re Gonna Get You Yeh), number seven in a poll of the best lyrics ever, one place behind Paul McCartney’s Yesterday.
Barrett, 73, will be equipped with acoustic and electric guitars, fiddle, balalaika and brown wheelie bin; singer and somersault enthusiast Otway, 71, will still be scampering around like an untrained puppy. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.
New season: Dementia Friendly Tea Concerts, St Chad’s Church, Campleshon Road, York, January to December 2024
AFTER raising £2,159 for the Alzheimer’s Society in 2023, the dates for next year’s 45-minute Dementia Friendly Tea Concerts are in place, beginning with organist Chantal Berry on January 18 at 2.30pm.
Further dates are: February 15, Isobel Thompson, trumpet, and Grace Harman, piano; March 21, James Sanderson, piano, and Friends; April 18, Alison Gammon, clarinet, Maria Marshall, cello, and Robert Gammon, piano; May 23, Flaute Felice, flute ensemble; June 20, David Hammond, piano.
Then come: July 18, Hannah Feehan, guitar; August 15, Robert Gammon, piano; September 19, Lucinda Taylor, harp; October 17, Billy Marshall, French horn, and Robert Gammon, piano; November 21, Giocoso Wind Ensemble, and December 12, Ripon Resound Choir. No charge but donations are welcome. Organiser Alison Gammon will be trying out new cake recipes alongside old favourites.
Looking ahead: Ben Elton, Authentic Stupidity, York Barbican, September 1, 7.30pm
BEN Elton returned to the live comedy circuit in 2019 after a 15-year hiatus, playing York Barbican that October. Next year, the godfather of modern stand-up will return with his new show, Authentic Stupidity.
“Since my last live tour, a whole new existential threat has emerged to threaten humanity! Apparently Artificial Intelligence is going to destroy us all!” he says. “Well, I reckon our real problem isn’t Artificial Intelligence, it’s good old-fashioned Authentic Stupidity! Forget AI! It’s AS we need to be worrying about.” Box office: ticketmaster.co.uk.
In Focus: Kestrel Investigates, Christmas Eve episode of online paranormal comedy with York connection
YORK filmmaker Miles Watts, of Zomlogalypse zombie movie fame, is producing the Christmas Eve episode of paranormal comedy Kestrel Investigates.
Entitled O Holy Fright, this festive special edition of the cult web series will feature a guest appearance by Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe, himself a cult icon from Channel 4’s 1990s’ show Fortean TV.
“The web series began screening online in 2018 and is now between its second and third season,” says Watts. “It follows inept paranormal investigator Agravain Kestrel (Stephen Mosley) and his reluctant documentarian, Mike, played by writer-director Oliver Semple.”
The pair worked previously on the fantasy comedy film Kenneth, directed and co-written by Peter Anthony Farren, now streaming on Amazon.
Reverend Fanthorpe, now aged 88 and retired, became involved after the idea of A Christmas Carol-style story was pitched to him by the creators. “Filming with the Kestrel team brought me as much fun and excitement as working on Fortean TV – and it made me feel 20 years younger!” says Fanthorpe, who hosted Fortean TV from January 29 1997 to March 6 1998 on Channel 4.
Filmmaker Semple and producer Watts – whose own web series Zomblogalypse has just been given the film treatment – will release online teasers ahead of the Christmas Eve episode that follows Kestrel and cameraman Mike as they are dragged unwillingly through a series of Scrooge-like visions.
Semple says: “Kestrel is thinking about quitting his paranormal investigations until he is visited by three ghosts, kicked off by a zoom call from Lionel Fanthorpe in place of Marley’s ghost, with each ghost trying to convince Kestrel that for the good of mankind, he must not give up.
“Kestrel Investigates is very British in that it follows in the footsteps of classic sitcoms like Steptoe & Son or Only Fools And Horses: humour mixed with working-class misery and pathos. I’m also a huge fan of Christmas, so this is our take on the classic Dickens tale.
“Working with the Rev Lionel Fanthorpe has been a dream come true for us, as we were all huge fans of Fortean TV back in the day – and he was an absolute gentleman to work with.”
Both filmmakers have written a slate of feature film scripts and created a new film company, Outward Films, joining forces with producers to pitch a number of film projects for production from 2024 onwards. These include an action-horror, a creature feature and eventually a Kestrel movie.
Reverend Fanthorpe lauds the show’s blend of humour and the paranormal. “It has the same consequences as putting a drop of rum in a mince pie: it produces pleasure and excitement,” he says. “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to Kestrel – and the very talented team who created him!”
Watts concludes with a piece of advice: “You can subscribe to watch the episode on the Kestrel Investigates YouTube channel, and by searching for Kestrel Investigates on all social media outlets.”
TRUE to form, dowager dame Berwick Kaler has advice for Jake Lindsay, the long-serving Essex lad in his York pantomime ensemble in Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse.
“Ah, Jakey lad. I keep telling you, take up painting and decorating,” teases the dowager dame, who earlier told The Press in his panto interview: “Every year I tell him, ‘go and get another career’ and he never listens. Anyway, it’s a while before you see him as Robinson Crusoe!”
It is indeed: not until the second half on Destiny Island in fact, but for all those years as the butt of Kaler’s jesting, Jake has enjoyed a gradual graduation from ensemble to “Jakey Lad” character parts, now crowned by playing the title role as well as being the leading light of the ensemble of Villagers and Pirates at the Grand Opera House.
“I’ve done 11 pantos for Berwick now, and he’s always really lovely to me off stage,” says Jake. “He’s really seen me grow up. I would have been 20-21 when I started at the Theatre Royal, when you’re like a vortex or a mirror, taking in everything. Now I don’t think I could go and do any other panto after being part of this pantomime spectacular for a decade.
“There’s a certain magnificence and magic that Berwick captures that’s in keeping with classic panto; the details that he can zoom in on. He’s always watching from the wings when he’s not on stage; he never misses a trick.
“When he directs us, he’s very clear what his vision is, and now we’re working with commercial pantomime producers [UK Productions], he’s a maestro of walking that tightrope of what we can say on stage with a certain savvy.
“It’s a delicate dance…where you have to keep up with the times, when it’s tough to know what’s too much, but that commercial edge is useful because it keeps us aware of what the boundaries are now.”
Relishing the “Jakey Lad” panto persona that “has kind of stuck”, Thurrock-born Jake enjoys adding to the diversity of a Wearside dame (Kaler), daft Yorkshire sidekick (Martin Barrass), luverly Brummie lackey (AJ Powell), pucker principal gal (Suzy Cooper) and devilishly thespian villain (David Leonard).
“It’s wonderful to be part of the team; I’ve learned so much from them,” says Jake, 31. “This style of pantomime is such an art in itself; how they carry things from year to year while embodying a new character, retaining the essence the audience first loved all those years ago. And it’s an audience where it feels like they are on stage with you.”
Trained in musical theatre, heavily focused on dance, at CPA Studios in Romford, Jake recalls his early on-stage encounters with Kaler’s dame. “Initially, when he introduced me to the audience at each show, there was genuine fear on my part! Like a father-and-son fear, more respect than fear, but let’s call it fear!” he says. “It was a genuine reaction because Berwick is such a character, but we’ve kept that going over the years.”
A switch to painting and decorating, however, will not be happening. “An apprenticeship is not on the cards but I wouldn’t rule anything out. I’ll try anything,” says Romford-based Jake.
“I’m retraining at the Collective Acting Studio to become a television actor, and I’ve been doing that since Covid. I thought I’d fallen out of love with acting at that time, but as I’ve progressed there’s a lot I want to showcase in different ways.
“Theatre is such a beautiful medium to broaden perspectives, so I’d like to broaden out into writing too, and there are a few projects that I’m exploring at the moment. I’d like to incorporate dance into that: it was my first love, more than acting. I suppose I’m a dancer first and foremost.”
In the meantime, as the pantomime programme reveals, Jake is Berwick Kaler’s understudy as the dame – Dotty Dullaly this time – in Robinson Crusoe. What does his preparation for that role entail?
“In honesty, Berwick’s ability to see what an audience likes in the first few scenes, to gauge and then respond to that, is something that can only be learned from observing him, side of stage,” he says. “Of course, they know each other so well and they have grown together, so it isn’t something that could ever be replicated.
“Prep looks like taking note from the wings and hoping I never have to practise being ready on stage in front of an audience! But knowing the core audience would always be supportive and understanding in that scenario, with a plus being that there isn’t much of a script to learn!”
If the call came to be Dotty, “I would have to give Berwick’s accent a go for a laugh – or perhaps I wouldn’t put people through that, but the beard would probably have to go.”
Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse heads for Destiny Island at Grand Opera House, York, until January 6 2024. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
One last question, Jake
Have you had any memorable understudying experiences?
“Last year, rehearsing for the flying scene, it took a few more of the tech team to get me in the air!”
Copyright of The Press, York
In Focus: Relaxed Performance of Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse at Grand Opera House, York, on January 4
AS Christmas Day approaches, many feel rushed, but the new year could be the perfect time to relax and enjoy a pantomime show in a less formal environment.
The Grand Opera House, York, will be holding a Relaxed Performance of Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse on Thursday, January 4 at 2pm.
“This year’s panto is popular with all ages but anyone who is very young, new to the theatre environment, or struggles with staying in their seats, may find the Relaxed Performance just the thing,” says Grand Opera House theatre director Laura McMillan.
“The performance, which fits in perfectly with school holidays, enables those who would normally find a trip to the theatre daunting or stressful to come to the show and suits those with an autism spectrum condition, a learning disability or anyone who would benefit from a more relaxed environment.
“Loud bangs are removed, the lighting and sound are adjusted, and everyone is free to move around as they wish. While the environment is more calm, there will still be plenty of panto excitement to enjoy. We also create a chill-out room for anyone who would like to have time out of the auditorium.”
Ahead of this theatre visit, if any audience member would like to be prepared for what to expect, the Grand Opera House can provide a visual story via firstname.lastname@example.org
The parent of a child who visited the pantomime with his school last week said: “As a result of having it [the visual story], our son was able to sit through his first-ever full pantomime today and he loved it so much.
“I can’t explain to you how much that means to him or to us when so many things aren’t accessible and he has so many struggles. For a couple of hours, apparently he was belly laughing, booing and hissing and cheering, and knowing what was going to happen massively reduced his anxiety.”
Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse has two performances most days of the run until January 6, including a BSL (British Sign Language) interpreted show on Wednesday, December 27 at 5pm and an Audio Described performance on Thursday, December 28 at 1pm.
The Grand Opera House aims to be as accessible and inclusive as possible for all visitors, so that everyone can enjoy live entertainment at the Cumberland Street theatre.
Relaxed Performance: Thursday, January 4, 2pm
Show length: Approximately 1 hour 50 minutes, including interval
Box office: Open 90 minutes before the performance
BRITAIN’S longest-running pantomime dame, Berwick Kaler, had never done Robinson Crusoe until now – and he still hasn’t. Or not Daniel Defoe’s 1719 story of York-born Crusoe being cast away on a Caribbean island for 26 years.
Slave Man Friday has gone altogether, understandably in our slavery-sensitive corrective age, and Crusoe himself doesn’t make an appearance until post-interval, and a brief cameo at that for Jake Lindsay, otherwise busy in the piratical ensemble and as the perennial butt of Dame Berwick’s career advice about jacking in the stage for painting and decorating.
Crusoe does, however, feature in the first half’s back story, once York pantoland’s Infamous Five have reassembled once more after Kaler’s voiceover welcome to “sit back and enjoy the rubbish” and an opening number for ensemble Villagers and children from Dance Expression School of Dance (sharing performance with Lisa Marie Performing Arts through the weeks ahead).
Here comes Martin Barrass’s skipping sidekick, Willy Dullaly this year, as we learn that the dame is running late, “still writing the script”, he conjectures. Cue Berwick on film, in bed at home with his dogs, as he makes a dash in polka-dotted Dotty Dullaly regalia from Acomb to box-office door via York streets and an encounter with nefarious characters at York Dungeon, looking more spooked than the dowager dame.
All the while, he is singing his variation on The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), sending up his veteran age: 77 this year, having first brought a punk spirit of rebellion to York Theatre Royal’s pantomime in 1977, the year of The Sex Pistols and The Clash.
Robinson Crusoe is writer/director/dame Kaler’s 43rd York pantomime and this third since his Sol Campbell-style crosstown transfer to the Grand Opera House after regretting his decision to retire after 40 years.
His audience, the pointedly named York Pantomine (Berwick Kaler) Appreciation Society et al, have moved with him and he still gives them what they want, only less of it, whether in performance length, well below the two-hour mark this time, or the number of scenes with the dame to the fore.
Kaler makes a play of ageing, albeit insistent that he feels fit, but thinner of leg, body and facial feature now, he is pacing himself. That said, who else would be flying across a stage at 77, or wrapping his feet around a high wire in a slapstick scene – or tap-face scene, more accurately – with the ever-compliant Barrass?
Like his well-worn wig, the show’s structure could not be more familiar, Kaler having a gossip with ensemble faces old and new (decade-long regular Lindsay, on the one hand; York-born Henry Rhodes, among the latter, appearing for the first time since his days as a bairn in Kaler’s Theatre Royal ranks).
Later will come the dame’s rocking chair reminiscence in Willy’s Kitchen, the cue for a powder-puff slapstick routine with Barrass, and the second half staples of a ghost scene (or in this case a banana-thieving ape) and the obligatory sing-song (the Yorkshire Pudding “Better Bit Of Batter” song).
Ad-libs remain his forte, his teasing trademark, but the near-the-knuckle gags are beginning to rival those cracks, at least three in this panto, the first leaving the villain open mouthed. Even windy bottom gags, not a Kaler staple but loved by children, become a running joke.
Suzy Cooper is Polly Dullaly, 18-year-old sister to Barrass’s 16-year-old Willy, and this year she is Cooper at the double, speeding off at one point for the villain to orchestrate a Countdown-tuned costume change to Fairy Britannia, or Britney, as she is quickly renamed.
Dame Dotty has news for Willy and Polly: they have a stepbrother, Robinson, from her previous marriage to a Mr Crusoe. She should have gone to the Caribbean with them, but illness stopped her travelling, never to see Robinson again. She has since lost two husbands: to lose one husband, Dotty, may be regarded as a misfortune, but to lose both looks like the need to explain why she is a widow twice over.
AJ Powell will be Lovely Jubbly this time, a Brummie with a crush on Cooper’s Polly, and soon to be in service as Captain’s mate to David Leonard’s Narcissus. Their opening routine takes a godsend of an unexpected turn when Leonard’s moustache starts to detach, so much so that by the end that he removes it. Leonard is a master of such comedy opportunism, but he is somewhat under-used this year when Kaler’s panto now needs him to lift a heavier load.
Leonard’s Narcissus has the vainglorious villain’s usual plans for overthrowing the world order, this time one half of an amulet to complete a key to unlock a Book of Spells from the Tomb of Destiny. Guess who has the matching half? Lindsay’s shipwrecked Robinson on Destiny Island, even later to arrive on stage than Kaler’s dame at the start.
UK Productions’ sets and costumes are serviceable rather than spectacular, save for the entrance to the Tomb Of Destiny and walkdown finale. For all the potential for nautical nuttiness and the River Ouse reference in the title, the peak-era Kaler double whammy of water slapstick and ultraviolet underwater scenes make way for a first-half closing video projection of sea creatures and shark attack. Not the transformation magic you might crave.
Songs move swiftly under Richard Baker’s musical direction, cutting verses from Walking On Sunshine and giving Cooper only a taster of Kylie/Edith Piaf’s Padam Padam in the desire to keep the pace up. Kirsty Sparks’s choreography lives up to her surname.
Robinson Crusoe won’t surprise, although it might occasionally shock with Kaler’s innocent-faced sauciness, and while it will not attract new Kaler converts, if you like greatest hits shows, this one with a nod to Sinbad The Sailor and Aladdin, then this is still “the rubbish” for you, albeit fewer of you on the evidence of ticket sales so far.
‘TIS the season for pantomime as three start at the same time amid a glut of Christmas shows, from kitchen disco to classic rock, as Charles Hutchinson reports.
York pantomimes at the treble: Rowntree Players in Cinderella, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, today until next Saturday, except Monday; Jack And The Beanstalk, York Theatre Royal, until January 7 2024; Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse, Grand Opera House, tonight until January 6
ROWNTREE Players “rollicking pantomime” director Howard Ella is joined in the writing team for the first time by comic Gemma McDonald, who will be playing Buttons alongside Sara Howlett’s Cinderella, Laura Castle’s Fairy Flo and the baddie trio of Marie-Louise Surgenor’s Wicked Queen, York ghost walk host Jamie McKeller’s Cassandra and Michael Cornell’s Miranda.
York Theatre Royal’s fourth collaboration with Evolution Productions goes green with Nina Wadia’s Fairy Sugarsnap and CBeebies’ James Mackenzie’s villainous Luke Backinanger joining returnee Robin Simpson’s Dame Trott, Anna Soden’s Dave the Cow, Mia Overfield’s Jack and Matthew Curnier’s very silly Billy in Jack And The Beanstalk.
Dowager dame Berwick Kaler tackles Robinson Crusoe for the first time in his 43rd York panto and third at the GOH. Jake Lindsay takes the title role alongside the Ouse crew’s regulars, Martin Barrass, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell. Box office: josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk or 01904 501935 (last few tickets); yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or 01904 623568; atgtickets.com/york.
Debut of the week: The Elves And The Shoemaker Save Christmas, Pocklington Arts Centre, until December 16
WRITER Elizabeth Godber and director Jane Thornton are at the helm of Pocklington Arts Centre’s inaugural in-house production: the children’s story of Jingle, Sparkle and Daredevil Dave, who have gingerbread to cook, peas to find and shoes to make. But who gives the Elves their Christmas? Surely they too deserve a break? Dylan Allcock, Jade Farnill and professional debut-making Matheea Ellerby star. Show times and tickets: pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
Yuletide on the dancefloor: Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Christmas Kitchen Disco, York Barbican, Sunday, 7.30pm
WHAT began as a lockdown online sensation from Sophie Ellis Bextor’s kitchen turned into her 2022 Kitchen Disco tour. Now she follows up Cooking Vinyl’s June release of her seventh studio album, Hana, with her Christmas Kitchen Disco tour for 2023. Hits from throughout her career will be combined with festive classics, served in her seasonal disco style. Tickets update: Sold out. Could be murder on the dancefloor to acquire one now. Box office for returns only: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Homecoming for Christmas: Mostly Autumn Christmas Show!, The Crescent, York, Sunday, 8pm
BEFORE heading off to Belgium and the Netherlands next week, York classic rock band Mostly Autumn play a home-city Christmas show heavily influenced by 1970s’ progressive rock, trad folk and, increasingly, contemporary influences after 28 years together led by guitarist Bryan Josh.
Meanwhile, York folk-covers, busker rock’n’roll troupe Hyde Family Jam have sold out both Thursday and Friday’s Christmas Party gigs, but tickets are available for Tuesday’s 7.30pm double bill of folk trio The Magpies and York singer-songwriter Dan Webster. Box office: thecrescentyork.
Tribute show of the week: Bootleg Beatles, York Barbican, Wednesday, 7.30pm
PERFECT timing for the Bootleg Beatles to return to York this Christmas with their nostalgic whirlwind trip through the Fab Four Sixties, after the reissue of the ‘Red’ and ‘Blue’ compilations and especially the chart-topping renaissance of Now And Then.
And yes, that reactivated ghost of a John Lennon song will feature in a set combining the then and the now as Steve White’s Paul, Tyson Kelly’s John, Steve Hill’s George and Gordon Elsmore’s Ringo re-create the sound and look of each Beatles’ phase in fastidious detail, accompanied by a brass and string orchestra. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Mouse in the house: A Townmouse Christmas, Fairfax House, Castlegate, York, until January 7, 10.30am to 4.30pm, last entry 4pm
FAIRFAX House’s 2022 festive exhibition, A Townmouse Christmas, returns this winter with double the magic and double the mice, causing even more mayhem and mischief amid the Georgian Christmas festivities.
Hundreds of merry mouse guests can be spotted swinging from the ceiling and bursting out of drawers as they play among the 18th century décor, festive foliage and displays of Georgian Christmas traditions. Tickets: fairfaxhouse.co.uk.
Busiest company of the week: York Stage presents Santa’s Sing-a-Long, Wednesday to December 23; Festive Feast, December 15, 16, 19 to 22, 8pm, both at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York
JOIN Mr and Mrs Claus in their busy home as they prepare for the big day, entertaining children with 45 minutes of sing-a-longs, Christmas stories, interactive wonderment and Christmas songs aplenty. Santa has a Christmas book for every child to take away to read on Christmas Eve. Show times and tickets: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
At night, York Stage vocal talent, accompanied by Adam Tomlinson and his band, dishes up a Festive Feast of Christmas songs, ranging from the traditional to modern pop, plus lashings of musical theatre favourites.
On song will be Katie Melia, Jess Main, Tracey Rea, Matthew Clarke, Cyanne Unamba-Oparah, Carly Morton, Finn East, Jack Hooper, Hannah Shaw, Stuart Hutchinson and York Stage debutant Jess Parnell. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Christmas in full swing: Down For The Count, Swing Into Christmas, Royal Hall, Harrogate, December 16, 7.30pm
MIKE Paul-Smith trained as a doctor but is now principal conductor of London vintage orchestra Down For The Count, specialists in bringing jazz’s Swing Era back to life, in this case with a festive focus.
Paul-Smith and arranger Simon Joyner re-create the music of Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and many more in a luscious 30-piece orchestral setting, evoking Capitol Studios recordings. Cue original arrangements of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting) and It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, alongside Let’s Face The Music And Dance and S’Wonderful. Box office:01423 50211 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk.
Reopening of the week: Victorian Christmas at York Castle Museum, Eye of York, until January 72024
YORK Castle Museum’s Victorian Kirkgate street has reopened for a magical Yuletide experience full of activities and performances for all ages.
Highlights include Chris Cade’s Scrooge shows; a Victorian green-clad Father Christmas; carol singing on Sundays, and Janet Bruce and Cassie Vallance’s Story Craft Theatre bringing cute Museum Mice to life with puppets, games and family fun, followed by a craft activity on several weekdays. To book tickets: https://beta.yorkmuseumstrust.org.uk/york-castle-museum/admission-tickets
BERWICK Kaler first performed in a York pantomime in 1977. Now he is 77.
“I feel fit,” says the grand dame, ahead of Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse setting sail on Saturday with the usual crew on board. “When I get on stage, I don’t feel any different. I’ve just been doing the flying sequence, and they worry for me, but I was fine. I didn’t think twice about doing it. It felt the same as ever.
“Yes, I do see changes in my dame, but it’s only age.” Physically, however, Dame Berwick has shrunk from his prime panto fighting weight of 11 stone, thinner in the face and legs, wiry of frame, eyes as big as a spaniel’s, as he sits in Dressing Room One at the Grand Opera House for this lunchtime chat.
He breakfasts on porridge, smoked salmon and two poached eggs, but has not recovered any of the two and a half stone he lost in a year when his long-time partner, David Norton, died.
“The doctors have checked me over, and no-one can find anything wrong with me. It’s driving me mad,” says Dame Berwick, who had a double heart bypass operation six years and relies on “Gerry”, his pacemaker, to keep him ticking over.
Not only does he feel fit, but he feels Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse is fit too for its public bow this weekend – even if Daniel Defoe’s 1719 tale of adventure and survival is not the easiest fit for pantomime service.
“I’ve never done Robinson Crusoe before,” says writer-director Dame Berwick, who will be appearing in his 43rd year York panto. “It’s not a pantomime; it never has been! But now, yes, it is a pantomime, but I’ve had to mix a lot of ingredients into it because it’s essentially a one-man story – and Man Friday has had to go.
“What was I on to have made that decision to do it,” he asks himself. “But I do like picking at bones to make a show.”
Robinson Crusoe does have York links: born in the city in 1632 to a middle-class upbringing, he set out from here on his travels. That fact alone gave Dame Berwick the bones on which to flesh out his script. “I blame Martin Dodd for the title!” he says, referring to the managing director of UK Productions, producers of the Grand Opera House pantomime for a second year. “He suggested pirates for the show, and so we have the Pirates Of The River Ouse.”
Those pirates will be played by the dance ensemble, while Jake Lindsay, so often the butt of Kaler’s jesting in his gradual graduation from ensemble to character parts over the past decade, will take the title role. “Every year I tell him, ‘go and get another career’ and he never listens,” says Dame Berwick. “Anyway, it’s a while before you see him!”
As ever, Dame Berwick’s regular partners in pantomime are reassembling. “I’m playing Dotty Dullaly, and we’re getting very modernistic as she was married before, to Mr Crusoe. Robinson is her son,” he explains.
“She was going to go on a cruise with Mr Crusoe and Robinson, but at the last minute she was taken ill and it was the last time she saw them. Then she got married to Mr Dullaly, and they had two children: 18-year-old Suzy Cooper [Polly Dullaly] and 16-year-old Martin Barrass [Willy Dullaly]!
AJ Powell will be appearing in trademark Brummie mode as Luvverly Jubberly, while inveterate villain David Leonard will revel in the vainglorious name of Narcissus. “He has to come to York to acquire half an amulet before sailing to the Island of Destiny – it’s not called that in the book! – to extract the other half from around Robinson’s neck,” says Dame Berwick.
“You can’t do anything with the real story of Robinson Crusoe, so I’ve introduced magical elements, like a book of spells that Robinson is in control of. Since he was shipwrecked on the island, he’s been made into an idol, but Narcissus, whose mother was a good witch, who never wanted him to get his hands on that book, is determined to force Robinson into the Tomb of Destiny to retrieve it.”
Echoes of Aladdin’s Cave and the arch antagonist Abanazar in Aladdin, you ask. “There are hints of Aladdin, hints of Sinbad The Sailor, in there, but it’s not a copy of them. It’s my new twist on them,” he says.
After Dick Turpin Rides Again and The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose, Dame Berwick is enjoying creating his third Grand Opera House panto. “Why keep doing it? I don’t need to do it, and I’ve told my agent I don’t want do to TV, films and stage shows any more. I’ve done all that. Just panto,” he says.
“I’m not a writer but I have to say I quite like the process of writing. Would I miss panto? Yes. I’d just be sitting at home with the dogs watching rubbish TV, which would be bliss, but I prefer to be doing this.”
Familiarity breeds content that suits long-serving company and York Pantomime (Berwick Kaler) Appreciation Society devotees alike. “It’s the only pantomime where you can get away with in-jokes, as it’s the audience that laughs, not the actors, because they’ve been following us for so long,” says Dame Berwick.
“We are five performers who know each other inside out; we can talk on common ground; we know how to work together; I know what to write for them all, though it gets more difficult over the years! I could bring others into the cast but no, this is a staunchly loyal group that has served York so well, doing great deeds in the world of panto.”
The core team remains intact, but Dame Berwick has had to adapt to the age of cancel culture. “Up to the last couple of years I wrote with a sense of humour that we’d had since I can remember, where nothing was taken as an insult to anyone,” he says. “But lately, if anyone said, ‘oh that’s a bit naughty’, I’d have to say, ‘no, I wrote it in innocence’.
“The last two years I’ve learned that it’s a lot safer if we laugh at ourselves on stage, taking the mickey out of each other, but that does take away from a lot of things that worked before and that’s a shame. There still has to be a shock element to comedy.
“I’ve always found that people come away from our shows saying, ‘I didn’t expect your panto to be so different from all the others’. You still have to have ‘he’s behind you’ in there, but come on, let’s keep surprising people.”
Contemplating the future, Dame Berwick says: “I’m not going to announce my retirement. I’ll just go quietly, whenever. I’ve had my big send-off already [after 40 years at the Theatre Royal]
“When they announce the next Grand Opera House pantomime, it will either be with us or without us.”
Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse, Grand Opera House, York, December 9 to January 6 2024. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
STOCKTON Foresters Drama Group will perform Andrew Hull’s little-known gem, Being Of Sound Mind, from November 30 to December 2, much to the approval of York pantomime legend Martin Barrass.
Dame Berwick Kaler’s stalwart sidekick visited last week’s rehearsal of Hull’s murder mystery with all the twists of a corkscrew.
“The Foresters provide the highest standard of any amateur drama society I’ve ever known,” enthused Martin, ahead of the run at Stockton on the Forest Village Hall, near York. “Forget the telly. This is real live entertainment that will have you captivated from start to finish!”
Foresters’ chair Karen Ilsley responded: “Martin has been so supportive of our thriving company, encouraging our talented actors and crew, and letting us in on a few trade secrets! We are honoured to welcome him into our fold and look forward to a long and fruitful association.”
Foresters’ newcomer Jasmine Lingard will play Penelope Asquith, who is eager to discover the truth as to why her late aunt haunts the Goodchild residence. Will the household survive the night to inherit Edward Goodchild’s fortune? Or are the inhabitants destined to succumb to supernatural forces?
Jasmine will have a further role as Eleanor, joined in director Louisa Littler’s cast by Stuart Leeming as Martin Bodmin; Martin Thorpe, as Marshall; Pete Keen, Stephen Asquith; Lynne Edwards, Rebecca Lockhart; Nicky Wild, Jane Brunt, and Russell Dowson, Shaun.
“I have hugely enjoyed working with the Foresters on this production,” said Louisa. “The cast are really responding to the challenge of creating a suspense-filled piece that will have our audience intrigued to the end.”
Stockton Foresters present Being Sound Of Mind from November 30 to December 2 at 7.30pm nightly. Doors open at 6.30pm. Stockton on the Forest Village Hall is on the Coastliner bus route and there will be plenty of accessible parking and a bar. Tickets are on sale at thelittleboxoffice.com/stocktonforesters or Stockton on the Forest Village Shop.
Did you know?
STOCKTON Foresters are teaming up with The Fox Inn for this production. £9 tickets include a voucher for ten per cent off a meal at the village pub in January and February 2024. Vouchers will be available at the village hall.
What will panto favourite Martin Barrass and co be doing this winter at the Grand Opera House?
MARTIN Barrass will star alongside Dame Berwick Kaler, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper and A J Powell in the swashbuckling pantomime adventure Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse at the Grand Opera House, York, from December 9 to January 6 2024.
Today, by the way, is Berwick Kaler’s 77th birthday. This winter, Britain’s longest-serving dame will be starring in his 43rd pantomime and second for producers UK Productions.
Meanwhile, the dowager dame’s costume and boots are on display at the V&A Museum, Cromwell Road, London, taking pride of place in the Theatre and Performance galleries until at least February 2024.
Writer-director Dame Berwick will lead his groundbreaking take on Daniel Defoe’s 1719 story of the sailor from York who finds himself marooned on a desert island, but on this occasion, Crusoe will not be sailing solo. Expect the unexpected as the familiar gang assembles again from December 9. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
EVEN after five decades of pantomayhem, York dowager dame Berwick Kaler is still setting himself new challenges at 76.
“I’ve never done a Robinson Crusoe pantomime, and now I’m discovering why!” jokes the writer and director of…Robinson Crusoe And The Pirates Of The River Ouse, his third pantomime for the Grand Opera House following his crosstown transfer after 41 years at York Theatre Royal.
Dame Berwick and his regular crew launched this winter’s sea-faring adventure at the Cumberland Street theatre at Wednesday’s press day, where perennial sidekick Martin Barrass, villainous David Leonard, golden principal gal Suzy Cooper and luvverly Brummie AJ Powell completed York pantoland’s infamous five once more.
Why tackle Robinson Crusoe now, Berwick? “I’m blaming Martin Dodd,” he says, attributing his 2023 choice of pantomime to the managing director of UK Productions, producers of the Grand Opera pantomime for a second year.
“He caught me off-guard, which made me say ‘I’d like to do something a bit different this year’, and somehow that became Robinson Crusoe! But I’ve no regrets about taking it on. It’s a challenge, and fortunately I’m still up for it.”
Dig deeper and another reason emerges for Berwick’s panto pick. As with Dick Turpin, whose life ended in a flash white suit and a noose around his neck on the Tyburn gallows on April 7 1739, Robinson Crusoe has his York connections. Turpin and his horse Black Bess have twice stood and delivered in a Kaler pantomime, most recently in his Grand Opera House debut, Dick Turpin Rides Again, in 2021.
As for Robinson Crusoe, the lead character in Daniel Defoe’s 1719 tale of adventure and survival was born in York in 1632 to a middle-class upbringing. The son of a German immigrant, his surname Crusoe is an anglicised version of Kreutznaer, an amalgam of his parents’ surnames.
That much we know, but as for the rest of Crusoe’s York story, the cupboard is bare, says Berwick. “We only know that Robinson Crusoe was shipwrecked, not how his story began [in York] or how he got to the island,” he notes.
Cue Kaler coming up with his nod to Johnny Depp’s swashbuckling Caribbean capers in his title, Robinson Crusoe And The Pirates Of The River Ouse, for the story of “the sailor from York who finds himself marooned on a desert island…but he’s not alone”.
Who will be these “Pirates of the River Ouse”? Wait and see, but just as Berwick’s 2011 Theatre Royal pantomime, The York Family Robinson, bore little relation to its 19th century source material, Swiss army chaplain Johann David Wyss’s The Swiss Family Robinson, so Berwick will find a framework for his partners in panto in a nautical setting.
For research, “I’ve re-read the story, and when I was going through some old VHS tapes I was throwing out, I found the old Peter O’Toole film, which I’ve now watched,” he says.
Have crew members David, Suzy, Martin and AJ ever read Defoe’s story? “No, but I remember the TV series,” says David. “No, but I remember the TV series,” says Martin, breaking into the theme tune. “And I know Crusoe set off from Hull [Martin’s home city].”
“I’m the only one with a character name so far,” says AJ. “I’ll be playing Luvverly Jubberly, which I only found out from Berwick just before the press launch.” And no, he has never had Robinson Crusoe on his bookshelf.
You can imagine David Leonard’s villain in swaggering piratical garb in the Adam Ant meets Captain Hook style, but who might that character be? “I haven’t the faintest idea who the baddie is,” he admits, still in the dark about his latest venture to the dark side.
“I don’t yet know who I’ll be playing, but I don’t think I’m playing the fairy,” says Suzy, another member of the non-Robinson Crusoe reading club.
“What’s important, even more so now, is that we are family – performers and audience – and people want to celebrate that. We make those connections each year; they make them with us and with each other and that’s why Berwick’s pantomime works.”
Berwick and co are enjoying the partnership with UK Productions. “They let us get on with it,” says Suzy. “They found that it worked last year [The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose) and they’re happy to let us do that again, saying that they’d never seen a pantomime like ours!
“They know that we have an identity as ‘the crazy gang’. What they get when they get us is they’re buying into the history of who we are and what kind of pantomime we do.”
Berwick chips in: “They’re not used to someone ad-libbing, even at rehearsals, but what I’m doing is always trying to find a better line.”
Suzy rejoins: “It must be a very tough job for whoever is on the book each performance, because the cue will come, but they really have to listen because the dialogue will change every day!”
The same applies for the signer doing the sign language, prompting Martin to recall: “When I was dressed as a seal one year, standing next to the signer, I remember saying, ‘oh, signed and sealed’!”
Also confirmed for the cast is the returning Jake Lindsay, along with Henry Rhodes, who once appeared as a bairn in a Kaler panto at the Theatre Royal and has been starring in the musical Newsies this year.
AJ Powell, by the way, has been filming for the latest series of Father Brown, “doing a bit of ballroom dancing,” as he puts it.
Come rehearsal time in November, Robinson Crusoe and those pirates will be heading for ship shape and York fashion. “Berwick hates the constraints of traditional pantomime and he’s in his element when he’s creating,” says Suzy.
“He does like to use these random titles,” says AJ, recalling 2016’s Dick Whittington And His Meerkat, for example.
“Sometimes, when you think, ‘why’s he doing that?’, it turns out to be a brilliant show,” says Berwick, as he adds Robinson Crusoe And The Pirates Of The River Ouse to that list.
“We often find people don’t care what the show title is; they just want to come and see us as they always have,” says Martin.
“People will say to us, ‘we’ve booked for such and such a night’, and then they’ll say, ‘by the way, what’s the title?’.”
Robinson Crusoe And The Pirates Of The River Ouse will run at Grand Opera House, York, from December 9 to January 6 2023; tickets are on sale at atgtickets.com/York.
Launch date: Robinson Crusoe And The Pirates Of The River Ouse panto stars Martin Barrass, left, Berwick Kaler, Suzy Cooper, David Leonard and AJ Powell announce their return by the Grand Opera House stage door
PLAYING Leeds Brudenell Social Club on Friday will bring back memories of Stephen Jones’s early Babybird travels.
“We deliberately requested these places [Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, London and Cardiff] as it feels like a rite of passage to return,” he says of this month’s short tour.
“These cities featured in our first tours in 1996 and 1997 and are the most memorable for the between-song banter and the enthusiasm. Though I live near Manchester, these other cities are our musical homes too.”
Joining 60-year-old Stephen on the road will be guitarist Luke Scott and drummer Robert Gregory, fixtures in the line-up since 1995, and bassist Danny Lowe, a band member for 15 years. “Everyone’s doing different things these days – Luke is a senior lecturer in London – but as soon as we get into the tour van it’s like a Chuckle tour,” he says.
Babybird officially split after ten Top 40 singles and 11 albums in 2013, but Stephen continues to write prolifically – up to seven songs a day – for solo release on Bandcamp. Around 100 albums so far and still rising, recorded on a laptop, Stephen still bursting with “monstrous lullabies for an unstable world”.
“Writing tunes is just something I can do,” he says. “Mowing the garden, I’ll put off forever, but going upstairs to the ‘fourth room’ to write the lyrics, that’s the hard part.”
He has been known to write in six-hour bursts, but he does not have a set routine. “Sometimes at four in the morning, I’ll have an idea that I’ll put on the phone, but I’ve never been the kind of writer who will be writing every day because that’s what they do. There’ll be days where I get up and don’t want to do it, but when I do it’s a pleasure,” he says.
“Looking back to those early albums [lo-fi Stephen Jones recordings made initially on cassettes in his Sheffield bedsit over six years], I had no intention of releasing them, but people were coming over and stealing them and saying I should release them!”
Now as then, “I always write for myself. I think everyone does. If you write for an audience, you become an automaton,” he says.
One tour preview summed up Stephen Jones’s post-2013 career as one where he will still “persist and meddle”. “I don’t think I would use the word ‘meddle’,” he says. “But I need to keep going financially, so you have to persist, and even if I had another job, I would persist with making music – but I’ve never had to give it up.”
Born in Wellington, Telford (“the same place as the comedian Stewart Lee,” he notes), Stephen was raised in Repton, Derbyshire, and Nottingham, where he studied film; made those notorious bedsit albums in the Steel City; moved to Manchester, and then to London for 15 years.
Home for the Jones family is now Hale in Altrincham, just outside Manchester. “We were living in a really nice place in London, a maisonette, but with no garden and with two kids, we decided to move back north. Nice garden…and my wife’s mother lives up here too. I love being on the verge of the Lake District,” he says.
If one album were still to sum up Babybird, it would be October 1996’s Ugly Beautiful, the one with “songs to annoy, enjoy and employ God with”; the one with the singles Goodnight, Candy Girl, Cornershop and global hit You’re Gorgeous.
“Obviously some songs I write are out-and-out happy and beautiful too, but that album title sums up everything. I like to write about subjects that aren’t necessarily dark but are realistic. When lots of songs have a sheen, if you’re going to write songs like a David Lynch film, there has to be beauty within,” says Stephen.
“I studied film on the creative arts course at Clifton, at Nottingham Polytechnic as it was then. Fassbinder movies; David Lynch; Eraserhead made a big impression on me. That’s my humour. Dark!”
You’re Gorgeous, a number three hit in autumn 1996, will forever be the signature song, with its theme of male exploitation and yet a misleadingly upbeat chorus. “It’s funny what happened,” says Stephen. “Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown, whose humour I don’t like, did a version. The Wurzels have done a version. Pinky And Perky, they did it, without changing the lyrics. The Smurfs wanted to change the words, so we could say ‘No’ to that!” Dame Berwick Kaler once sang it in a York Theatre Royal pantomime too, by the way.
Stephen wrote the song in his lo-fi recording days. “I always thought it might be a hit of course, but I was listening to Stewart Lee talking to Adam Buxton on his podcast about successful acts who wanted to be cults and those who are underground but who wanted to be successful,” he says.
“It’s a hard gap to straddle, but I’ve kind of done both and that’s why ‘Gorgeous’ is good, because although it can define you, I can keep going into the studio because all the airplay keeps the money coming in.”
Stephen has come through a heart attack too in 2017. “It did stop me in my tracks. It was like having an iron cage put over me, but it was coming,” he says, attributing what happened to alcohol. “Does it make you reassess? Well, you do for a while, but then you go back to a glass of wine.
“What I’m doing is the same as an office job. Now I get up every 20 minutes when I’m writing – and I go to the gym too. I was in a ward with four men who looked so much worse than me, but then depression comes, but you come out of that. The doctors say I’m in better health than ever, with a stent in me, and now I’m just having a good time doing these gigs.
“There’s no pressure to promote things, which doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s perfect now. I’m older now. I was inspired by the tail end of punk, seeing The Stranglers, and it’s still that DIY thing of glueing your sleeves together, thinking it’s totally up to you what you do.”
Stephen’s 20-year friendship with Johnny Depp found “lyrical diamond” Stephen attending the Hollywood A-lister’s guest appearance with guitarist Jeff Beck in Manchester last May in the aftermath of Depp’s successful libel trial against ex-partner Amber Heard. “I was meeting him in the dressing room, shortly after the verdict. I fell over and smashed my leg. I now have a huge tear,” he says.
Nothing that will stop him from performing in Leeds on Friday, however, still searching for the meaning of life that he happily acknowledges he may never find.
Babybird, supported by Terrorvision’s Tony Wright, Leeds Brudenell Social Club, May 5, doors 7.30pm. Box office: brudenellsocialclub.co.uk.
Did you know?
STEPHEN Jones has written two novels, The Bad Book in 2000 and Harry And Ida Swap Teeth (also the title of a Babybird B-side) in 2003. He wrote the score for the 2004 film Blessed.
Did you know too?
CHEF, cookery book writer, TV presenter and restaurateur Gordon Ramsay used Babybird’s song The F-Word in one of his TV series.