01 Some folks may remember you from the golden daze of the Paisley Wheelchair Experience?
Yes, they were quite heady times and it could be a nightmare running a band that sometimes consisted of 15 people! Least of all getting them all in one place or indeed finding a venue that had a stage big enough to house us. We played a LOT of gigs in diverse and strange places including music venues, comedy clubs, art deco theatres and between the mediums at a psychic fayre! It was a fun time and thankfully the jovial events outweighed the stressful ones.
02 Tell us how PWE happened and why you were not detained in suitable secure units at the time?
It was a strange project that grew from humble beginnings. I had tried to get various bands together before that but in the area I lived it seemed that every local musician was into heavy metal, stuff like Metallica, and I’ve never been into that. I did try and put together some bands with these people and force music hall and psychedelic sensibilities upon them but they seemed to think every song should have that stuttured DUH-DA-DUM riff that those kind of groups are so fond of. I even tried to get them to do a version of Seasons In The Sun which just sounded like some godawful death metal dirge but with decent lyrics so I decided to do it all myself and recorded some songs on my home 4-track with a friend of mine called Garrie Baker. They generally contained a lot of in-jokes as we used to attend a spiritualist church and met some eccentric characters and we would put their quotes into song form. For some weird reason a few people liked it and we were offered a gig. We had never played live before but I met a chap called David Mitchell whose band was due to perform at a local music festival but they had left him high and dry so we were offered the slot. As I got on with him I asked him to join us and do a few of his songs too which worked well so we started writing and recording together. Garrie left and we got in a chap called Bart who couldn’t play a note but was funny. He was our ‘keyboard player’. Basically I used to program the songs into the keyboard before the gig and he pressed the appropriate button to start it. We got a reputation for songs like ‘Touched By The Hand of David Icke’ and “Knobby The Tramp” (about a local and much-loved vagrant) and headlined at venues such as the legendary Old Trout in Windsor and flogged quite a few C90 cassettes of home recorded nonsense of varying musical quality. We also caused two mini riots and are banned from a pub in Aylesbury for life! The band developed and became a six piece after we found a manager who seemed to think we might play by the rules and we organised two local music festivals which managed to raise enough money to buy a couple of minibuses for a local centre for disabled people. We also released a 7″ EP called “Sex, Drugs and Frank Bough” which has appeared on eBay and sold for more money than we made off the original release!
After traipsing around the music venues of te south, the band kind of fell apart, so I rebuilt it with a solid plan in place. Around the indie friendly Old Trout, I received a lot of ridicule for openly being into The Carpenters, Mrs Mills, Max Bygraves and 70s easy listening music. This was an era where the done thing was to be into stuff like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and aspire to be a new age traveller. Being into the yodelling exotica of Frank Ifield was sorely frowned upon. The new Paisleys got bigger and bigger until we had percussionists, a brass section, backing singers and the whole shebang. It was around this time that our song “The Return of Jason King”, came to the attention of the Peter Wyngarde Appreciation Society and of Peter himself. It was released as a limited edition CD through the society with every copied numbered and signed by the man himself. Peter himself owns number 001 and again, it has turned up eBay but I feel the silly amount it went for is more for the autograph of the man who was Jason King rather than the funsome tunes themselves. We latter added an adult size Bubbles the Chimp to the show played by my good friend Barry Maher. More of him later! The band exploded in 2004 and after years of being a parent figure resolving dramas, dealing with tantrums and reassuring people I’d had enough.
03 Before PWE what were you doing and why?
I had a Casio Anarchist band called The Pantwashers and also satantic surrealists called The Neighbourhood Threat. Neither did any gigs and were essentially recording projects we would give to our friends on cassette to see if they were as amused as us.
04 Rolling along to 1996 you develop some of your first Entertainment projects describe that period and process please?
We wanted to put on our own show and I was very much inspired by the music hall and 1970s variety shows. I wanted to put on something that had that element of surprise which was sorely lacking. I found the 90s to be a boring decade where everything became generic, band night, comedy night etc, whole evenings of the same thing. I wanted novelty acts like breakdancing chimps.
05 You developed Cabaret 2000, then The Pina Colada Variety Club which saw us stumble into the 21st Century?
They were both fun shows to do. The band played the part of the “house” act and we would introduce an array of turns who would often join us for a song or two at the end. There’s some footage of these shows somewhere. My favourite guests were the incredibly superb Lenny Beige, one of the best entertainers ever. Steve Furst who plays Lenny is one of the nicest chaps in showbiz and wildly talented. The other act I adored working with was Frank Sidebottom who is a legend. I’d known Chris since the 80s when he was in a band called The Freshies and I called him when we did our first show in Charing Cross Road and asked if he’d like to perform. He was very keen and I was over the moon. He was a joy to work with and incredibly disorganised in and endearing way. He missed his coach on the day and rang me asking if we could pay his train fare down. Of course we did, it’s Frank Sidebottom! On arrival his keyboard wasn’t working so our trombone player, Duncan, popped over the road and got his some batteries and it just about worked. During his set, whilst performing a version of ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ in his inimitable style, the keyboard conked out so he threw it across the stage and booted Little Frank’s head into the audience as if it were a football and carried on regardless. He delivers an amazing show and duetted with me and the band with a version of The Candy Man. One of the best moments of my life! Our roadie, Jerry, has the Little Frank head from this show!
06 You then reveal the The Freddie Valentine Variety Show which had a nice warm run?
We ran this show at the Battersea Barge and then a venue called The Inn On The Green in Ladbroke Grove. We had more structure to this show and had slots for comedians, burlesque acts, magicians etc just like you would see in a 70s tv variety show. This was the time that I was performing the outrageous musical comedy act with Barry Maher and much of the content in these shows derived from that. For the Inn On The Green shows we had The Silhouettes and The Adventures of Parsley as our house/backing band. We partially did our own shows because we were outcasts on the traditional comedy circuit. Much of that scene is derivative with many acts being interchangeable. We used to shock and offend a lot of people with our Benny Hill/Stanley Baxter antics which was a world away from the Bill Hicks wannabes and wry tales about themselves. On our own show we could do what we want, which is a dangerous thing when it’s given to people like myself and Barry Maher who liked to see what we could get away with. I remember a burlesque promoter saying to me that there wasn’t many male burlesque acts and would I consider doing one for a laugh. Now, my “for a laugh” is a lot different to most people’s and we devised a burlesque act which was designed to see what reaction it would get. Barry would perform it in our show with his wife, Pauline – great friend of ours, singing ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’. Barry provided some funky moves with a beard, Afro and Ill-fitting 1970s suit as ‘Peter Sutcliffe – The Yorkshire Stripper’ which managed to achieve the 50/50 ratio of laughter and revulsion. Job done!
07 What types themes do you embrace within your music, art, comedy and performance?
What I do is non-political and I never try and make any social point. Silliness and surrealism are lacking these days and I often do things to amuse myself or produce the sort I things I would enjoy watching or listening to. If other people like it then it’s a bonus but I could never do anything just for the money or if my heart isn’t it. I remember going to a lot of cabaret shows in the 70s and they always left you with a glowing feeling of escapism and upliftment. That’s what I’m aiming for.
08 There is a healthy interest in the darker side of life?
I’ve always been interested in things like ghosts and witchcraft. I co present a podcast called The Mystic Menagerie which focuses on some spooky subjects. On one show, we had occult author S Rob conduct a live summoning of shadow people which I think is a first and we’ve had supernatural chats with guests such as Reece Shearsmith and Right Said Fred. Doing this along with the cabaret keeps my ying and yang in check.
09 You are a keen Tarot Reader and arrange ghost walks and even Seances, isn’t that rather dangerous?
We take precautions and everything is done safely though people can become very scared so we warn they attend at their own risk! We have had some hair raising things happen on these nights including a daylight apparition on the ghost walk! I also exhibit a museum of oddities including a shrunken head and a Victorian vampire hunting kit which has been featured on Japanese TV and in Fate & Fortune magazine (Take A Break’s paranormal spin off).
10 Tell us out here in bland-land all about The Karnival of Kitsch and why we should all be there in support?
The Karnival of Kitsch is show Holly and I run a few times a year at the Vauxhall Tavern. It’s like the Donny & Marie show with yodelling. We book acts that we personally like and try it make it as escapist as possible. It’s a spangly, retro night out which is completely without irony. Someone described it as being like Butlins ballroom in 1976. Though I’d say it’s a bit Pontins in its heyday! We’ve had some great acts on – Lenny Beige, Lorraine Bowen, Phillip Jeays – and love doing it. We also put on shows at the RVT’s fringe. The first was a musical chat show and we interviewed Jonathan Kydd from Pipkins abs the lovely Francoise Pascal from Mind Your Language. We’ve also put on Disney and Bacharach & David themed shows but inexplicably our James Bond cabaret night – From Vauxhall With Love – was the most successful!
11 How does Holly re-act to your traditional Yodelling skills? Does she partake also?
Holly is a very fine jazz singer and doesn’t share my passion for alpine expression. My nan was friends with the legendary 1960s singer, Frank Ifield, and her spare room had a plaque on the wall saying “Frank Ifield stayed here”. Which he did! When he came to the uk she put him up. That’s where I think the yodelling obsession stemmed from.
12 Tell us about your LP from 2004, can folks still but a copy?
It was called “An Intimate Evening With” and was the catalyst for my most outrageous shows so far. The band split in 2004 with a lot of drama going on but I was still very friendly with the sax player, Henry Crud who a multi instrumentalist. He asked me if I wanted to do an album with him and I came up with some lyrical ideas and he wrote music to match. They were cheesy, poppy songs with offensive lyrics. We recorded loads around that time, much of which never saw the light of day including a five volume project of comedy characters talking over odd music called ‘Jazz Juice’. Barry Chester, who you may recall played Bubbles the Chimp in the PWE, loved the album and said we should do it live with him playing the characters in the songs so Henry prepared backing tracks and off we went to comedy clubs to shock and repulse politically correct folk on a night out.
Two songs that caused the strongest reaction (both with laughter and shock) were Sheila and our tribute to Gilbert & George. Sheila was a love song about a young man who is in love with an octogenarian and we tried to find as many things that rhymed with Sheila such as ‘she was no wheeler dealer/ looked better than Christine Keeler/She stole my potato peeler/ but that’s fine’. For the live version, Barry played a randy old lady that was reminiscent of Les Dawson and Monty Python’s drag characters and as the song started, Sheila would walk through the back of the audience and start dusting tables as if she was a cleaner and would subtly flirt with men seated there and get raunchier until it was a personal space invading lap dance. As we liked to throw in the unexpected, Sheila had a few trump cards. Pauline had a fake… ahem… lady’s part, the type that is used by transvestites and looks incredibly realistic. The audience were astonished when Sheila removed her knickers as this was not they expected. For the finale, Sheila had finally made it to the stage and pretends to fellate me whilst I’m singing. Barry would conceal one of those small sachets of mayonnaise that you get in chip shops, in his hand and smear it over his face. The song ended with him turning to face to the audience which got quite a reaction!
Gilbert & George are amongst my favourite artists and they’re known for using bodily fluids (and solids) in their work and the song was about going to visit them at home and, despite them being in the middle of one of their more extreme pieces of art, serve up a nice cup of tea. The live version actually made a man vomit. Barry would play an amalgamation of both Gilbert and George and the stage would be set up with an easel and Pauline posing on a stool as a nude model. Barry would then produce a fake phallus from his trousers filled with Apple Tango (it looks the most like urine) and pretend to pee in a tea cup which he offered to the audience who always refused so he drank it himself. By now, you’re getting the drift that this is American style “gross out” humour mixed with good old British lavatorial japes. Barry would then pull down his trousers and pants and pretend to defecate into a babies potty which was filled with chocolate angel delight. He’d try a bit, nod in approval and then again offer it to the audience. This is all happening whilst I’m singing a three minute song. Barry would then get a brush and do a “poo painting” which was handed to a lucky audience member at the songs conclusion.
One gig was a party at an art gallery and there was no stage as such so we used a bucket rather than a potty which was filled with the ever faithful Apple tango and some Picnic bars which, after extensive research, turned out to be the most realistic when trying to portray freshly produced human excitement. When Barry showed an audience member the bucket, after eating one of the Picnic bars, this chap too one look into, went pale and vomited and then screamed ‘these weirdos are using real shit!!!’.
13 You have found a spiritual cave in the Vauxhall Tavern somewhat? What other Venues do you love and hate?
The RVT is a wonderful place. Very rarely do you find somewhere that is focused on the arts rather than selling drinks. The people that run it and work there are very helpful and lovely people and it has a vibe unlike anywhere else. I used to enjoy playing at Madame Jojos when it was still active. I have played some awful places which is usually the fault of those running it rather than the building itself.
14 What are your thoughts on the modern Comedy circuit and Industry?
I find it incredibly dull and little interests me these days. Rather than it being a hotbed or creativity, it’s become a standard career option filled with people who have been on comedy courses and have the same delivery. There are no Mavericks as people don’t want to offend, want to make some kind of point or political statement and see it all as a career move. It’s all become very cliched and there’s little room for lunatics. Not many are prepared to make a fool of themselves and think they’re rock stars.
15 Who are your heroes and zeroes?
Music: my taste is very diverse and I tend to like most stuff but a few heroes are Frank Zappa, Adam Ant, Frank Ifield, Mrs Mills, Brian Wilson, Sparks, Bowie, Queen, The Cheeky Girls, Scott Walker. I also love yodelling music, pop reggae and 1970s library music. And a lot more besides. My zeroes are the insipid people producing music with no imagination or artistry of whom there are too many to mention these days.
Actors: my favourite actor of all time is Charles Hawtrey. I can’t stand the modern Hollywood ‘mumbling or shouting’ types.
Comedy: my comedic heroes are Benny Hill, Stanley Baxter, Kenneth Williams and the Two Ronnies. I detest Noel Fielding,Mrs Brown’s Boys, Russell Brand and studenty types who harp on about politics.
16 What have you got planned for 2016 and beyond?
I’m planning more Karnival of Kitsch shows, podcasts and paranormal events and there is something planned for 2017 which i can’t reveal too much about at the moment but will be amazing if we can get the funding!
17 What have been the challenges and triumps over the years of tireless creativity and craft?
It’s hard being a square peg in a round hole and if you do something completely different it’s hard to get people to understand it at first. Not the audience, people in the industry. You have to decide – shall I do something bland and unmemorable and treat it as a job or something true to myself and struggle?
18 Who do you rate in the current Entertainment world?
A few great entertainers of today: Bob Downe, Simon Day, Citizen Khan, Reece Shearsmith. Lenny Beige, Steve Coogan, and The Lovely Eggs.
19 Who would you most like to work with?
I’d love to write a progressive-surf opera with Brian Wilson.
20 With your Retro influences, do ‘generation text’ sorta get it?
They don’t get some of the references but find the look and my dance moves funny. It think they’re used to overly serious comedy and having been exposed to silliness or someone who’s prepared to make a complete buffoon of themselves. When I was younger I used to win disco dancing competitions. I learnt all my moves from an LP which had a fold out floor mat showing you where to put your feet. It was called something like ‘Dance Like John Travolta’. I later went to disco dancing lessons and the teacher was a medallion man much like the Kirk St Moritz character from the sitcom ‘Dear John’. His sage like advice was ‘if you want the ladies to look at you, you can move your arms as much as you like but you MUST keep them below your shoulders. If your hands go above your shoulders then you’re suddenly Marc Almond.’ It’s advice that’s served me well.