Star Q&A: Kim Wilde

Liz Nicholls

Interview

Kim Wilde chats to Liz Nicholls about performing at Heritage Live, alongside Boy George, Lulu, Gabrielle & more, including Ardingly on Saturday, 16th July and Englefield House on Saturday, 23rd July.

Q. Hello Kim – where are you chatting from right now? “From home. I’ve got a beautiful garden – it should be after the inordinate time I’ve spent on it! Everything that could be out is out looking amazing. Because of my experience and because of my love of flowers I’ve got lots more flowers to look forward to later in the summer. I don’t have a favourite flower but I have a real soft spot for roses – we called our daughter Rose.”

Q. We’re looking forward to seeing you at Heritage Live. How does it feel to be out on tour again? “Great! I think top of the list of things people really missed over the pandemic was live music; getting together with a crowd of like-minded souls and singing their heart out. Music has a great way of bringing people together in a beautiful way. It does a much better job than most other things in achieving that. I’ve already been doing quite a few gigs and the atmosphere has been noticeably ecstatic. Not just because they’re coming to see me – haha – but we’re all so excited to be back together. These are great days to be a live musician.”

Q. Your dad Marty is on tour right now – do you still enjoy going on stage with him? “Yes! I’ve been hitching a lift in the back of his car, jumping on stage for a few numbers, I just love it! I’ll continue to do that if I’m not working. It’s fantastic being on stage with my dad – his voice is still amazing and his ability to perform is astonishing for his years [83]. I think keeping going, doing what you love keeps you young. He’s no gym bunny, my dad, but he does a lot of golf, a lot of walking, always has done. He doesn’t smoke any more, and he drinks very moderately. I think it’s in the genes.”

Q. Yes – your whole family, including your children, all have musical genes? “It has definitely descended through the generations. Not just in my family but my brother’s family and sister’s family, so it seems to be in the blood.”

Q. Do you have a rider? “I do but I’m very easy to look after before a gig. I don’t really eat much – maybe a few sweeties but I don’t ask anyone to take out different colours for me and I don’t drink alcohol.”

Q. Is it nice to hang out with your old mate Boy George, who is also starring? “It’s great. We’ve done a lot of things together over the years – all kinds of TV and concerts and benefits – we have a real shared history. We recorded a song together which went on my greatest hits album called Shine On. So yeah I can’t wait to see him again. He’s a wonderful person to be around.”

Q. What is it about 1980s music that is so popular – even with younger people now? “It’s very eclectic, you know? Everything was in the 1980s – it wasn’t just sharp haircuts, shoulder pads and synthesisers – there was a lot of prog rock, rock soul, disco, R&B. All kinds of different grooves all happening in parallel. There was something for everybody and it all came under that beautiful umbrella that we call pop.”

Q. What new artists do you like? “I’m listening a lot to Lizzo, really enjoying what she does and how she’s doing it. Thomas Paul, too; I did a bit of work with him over lockdown on his first album Black Country Disco which is awesome! I went to his album launch for Life In Plastic the other night at the Vauxhall Tavern which was fantastic.”

Q. What’s your first memory of music? “I was born in 1960 and the first memories I can trace back are ’67 & ’68 when I was seven and eight. The Beatles – listening to Penny Lane in the back of the car, while my dad was driving us up to Liverpool to see my nan. I remember Cilla Black Anyone Who Had A Heart and Richard Harris MacArthur Park and Gene Pitney 24 Hours from Tulsa. All these beautiful epic songs.”

Q. Thanks Kim we can’t wait to see you. “Thank you! And may I just say that anyone who misses these shows can come to my Pop Won’t Stop Greatest Hits Tour in September when I’ll be up and down the country. There’s a lot of sadness and there are terrible things in the world right now, but there’s a lot of beauty too, so don’t think it’s wrong to focus on that.”

Visit heritagelive.net & kimwilde.com

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Star Q&A: Katherine Jenkins

Liz Nicholls

Interview

Liz Nicholls chats to mezzo soprano Katherine Jenkins OBE ahead of her performance at Henley Festival, 6th-10th July.

Q. Hello Katherine! You’ve performed for popes, presidents and princes as well as that wonderful Jubilee performance for The Queen. Which of these, if any, has made you the most nervous? “I was nervous the very first time I performed for The Queen, at the Festival of Remembrance in Albert Hall, especially because you have the afternoon performance then The Queen comes for the evening performance which made me more and more more nervous! And as I’ve become more of a fan over the years I’ve actually become more nervous. You never get blasé about singing for her. Anyone backstage at these events who says ‘oh I’m not that bothered’ I just don’t believe them! The Queen always makes me want to do my best. Because of the admiration I have for her I think that it makes me want to pull out my best performance because that’s what she deserves.”

Q. You’ve met The Queen several times – how have you found her? “I’ve just always found her to be really warm and really good at knowing what to ask you, very interested in what you’re up to. When you see her at formal events but she’s quite witty and funny. I’m a real fan. I’ve grown up in a household who are real fans of hers. And I think as I get older the more I meet her the more I’m impressed by her and admire her – I think she’s an amazing woman. With the celebration at Windsor the whole audience were so thrilled to see her and be in her presence. It was incredibly emotional in terms of seeing that love for her. I remember once being at Buckingham Palace for an event to help musicians at Christmas, being in a line-up next to Brian May and she said oh yes you’re the one who keeps making all that noise on my roof! She’s very quick – she’s made some very funny comments over the years.”

Q. Are you looking forward to Henley Festival and are there any other acts you want to catch? “I listen to all kinds of music. I very much like Craig David [who stars on 7th July], I think Tom Jones is on on the Friday [8th July]. He’s a friend of mine. The thig is about Henley is I’ve been there as a performer and I’ve been there as an audience member. And it’s so much fun as an event that I don’t think I can allow myself to go prior to me performing, if I want to sing well on the Sunday. I want to be in good voice. I do go every year but this is my third time performing. I went last year for Sophie Ellis Bextor. I’ve seen Tom Odell. Whether you’re in the audience, or a performer, there just isn’t an event like it. It’s such a cool occasion, including the fact that the audience are better dressed than you are – it’s a very quintessential British event and I’m excited. I have friends who live in the area, I love the beautiful countryside around there.”

Q. You are an inspirational charity patron & ambassador – is helping others something that was instilled in you by your parents? “Definitely. One of my early memories at primary school was my mum fundraising for a minibus. She never sat still, whether it was for the school or church, there was always some kind of fundraising. I think when you see that at a young age you do inherit that. I’m so grateful that she did give us that sense of responsibility. If you have any kind of success in any field you should pay the good stuff forward. There’s a lot of different charities that are near to my heart but I try to choose ones I can make a difference in.”

Q. What’s your first memory of music? “My mum teaching me I’m a Little Teapot and standing there singing that for anyone who came into our house, putting on a show. When I think of my childhood, I feel like there’s a soundtrack, a lot of church music, male voice choirs, all those opportunities that come with growing up in south Wales. I look back and wonder: would I be in this position today if I hadn’t had that around me?”

Q. Are there any up-and-coming music stars you love? “I work with quite a lot of singers that are coming out of the Royal Academy of Music. Quite a lot of young singers have reached out to me for advice, about the business, how to get a job, and I’m so happy to help out. It’s a very small industry and. Mum and I didn’t believe it was going to happen for me because we didn’t know anyone in this industry, the entertainment sphere at all. So if I can help with connections and advice than I’m so happy to do that. But I can’t choose one to sing the praises of because that would be too hard!”

Q. What’s your favourite book? All the books I’m reading at the moment are parenting books. I have a daughter who’s nearly seven and I’m constantly reading to get ahead of the next stage.”

Q. If you could make one wish for the world what would it be? “Kindness – that’s the root of everything. That we can be kind to each other, to the planet – remember that we’re custodians of it, pass it on. Let’s be kind to ourselves and each other.”

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David Gray prepares for Nocturne Live

Liz Nicholls

Interview

Twenty years on since his masterpiece White Ladder, Liz Nicholls chats to musician David Gray

Q. Hello David. We’ve been enjoying the deluxe edition of White Ladder, 20 years since the album was released. Does it feel like 20 years?! “It does feel like 20 years – it’s not gone by in the blink of an eye. There’s been a lot going on, a lot to negotiate in these intervening years. It feels good to be at this moment now. I was a bit ambivalent about the idea of a tour when it was first hoisted up the flagpole. But I think years went by and then I thought maybe this is the time to do it because people get sick, things change and then suddenly things aren’t possible in the way they used to be. None of us are getting any younger, so this is the time to give it the full celebration. Then I’ll move on to creative pastures new.”

Q. I’ve been reading that White Ladder came from a dark place… “I think the press use the word ‘dark’ a little too liberally… I mean, let’s face it, I was living in north London. I wasn’t in Bosnia. Or Syria. I was eating croissants from the local patisserie… such was the darkness that was engulfing me! I think things hadn’t worked out [with sales] and that was a hard pill to swallow. I was in a place that, after three albums, I thought ‘is this it?’ When that happens to a musician over a course of many years, it gets worse & harder. A real sense of futility permeates everything you’re doing. Apart from in Ireland, importantly [where David’s music started selling first]. That kept me going; the fact that I had a real connection over there and a fan base kept me believing something could still happen. But I did think, ‘I can’t go on like this, I think I have to change paths’. Then I thought, ‘well, maybe I can make a better record’. You can blame the world, you can blame the journalists, you can blame the record company but I thought: ‘can I make a better record?’ And the answer was yes.”

Q. Did going lo-fi help? “We took the record production in-house with what money was left. We bought a few bits of gear. We got back to making music in my spare room. And that was the best sense of freedom and intimacy. The freedom to explore and discover and get more hands-on with the recording process was the beginning of making this album. A very limited palette of options ended up  one of the strengthening factors in the sonic world we created. We pooled all our creativity. There’s a brightness to the record, even though a sort of melancholy creeps in here and there. It’s the negative charge flipping into positive. It was a ‘do or die’ moment – how do you face the world after it’s shunned you or been indifferent? You open your heart even wider and you go again. That’s the answer. Openness hurts, as Rumi once said. That’s the approach and it’s just incredibly open, melodically unfearful. [White Ladder] is a record that’s happy being exactly what it is. We made the record and we were proud of it when we finished. We’d taken such pains over every tiny bit. It would have been preposterous to imagine the success that was going to come.”

Q. What’s your first memory of music? “Two things. It would be my dad playing records when I went to bed. The smell of fag smoke, cigar smoke, wine, beer and then The Beatles or Elton John’s Yellow Brick Road. Particularly Cat Stevens’ Hard Headed Woman, Wild World. Those songs really take me back. Rod Stewart, Atlantic Crossing. That was the early ’70s soundscape I remember and also all the beautiful TV music. Bagpuss. Hector’s Garden. All those sounds were very entrancing.”

Q. What format do you listen to music on? “Well I’ve succumbed to the algorithmic world of Spotify, and for some things YouTube. I might occasionally play a record… three months later you come back and the turntable’s still going round and round. Sometimes a CD. Some songs don’t exist as streaming music. I’ve got some records you can’t listen to any other way. It’s a bit like DVDs. I’m still watching a lot of films on DVD…”

Q. Any talented up-and-coming singer-songwriters worth your time and a leg-up? “I don’t think they need a leg-up from me but I will mention a couple of people I’m enjoying. One would be Big Thief; a group of musicians from America . And a Bristol collective called This Is The Kit [alias of Kate Stables]. They’ve grabbed my ears in recent years. I could go on but I’ll just meander out into obscurity. Word of mouth is still the most potent means of discovery. If Spotify or Apple recommend I listen to something, 99 times out of 100 I will refuse. That’s the kind of stick-in-the-mud that I am. I’d rather sit on my own at the bus stop with the rain lashing down on my face listening to nothing than listen to their recommendations based on everything I’ve already listened to. One problem with the predictive thing is that if your kids are listening through the same service, it suggests you listen to all the stuff that they listen to, which at the moment is a heavily urban kind of vibe. Not my chosen mood of reflection.”

Q. Mind you, I sometimes discover rare delights from my daughter’s choices before they go mainstream, such as Billie Eilish… “Billie Eilish is one of those rare successes; there’s real talent there. The record production as well. She gets all the plaudits but really her brother [Finneas] is a big talent sculpting the whole thing. It’s really nicely done so hats off to them.”

Q. Do you have a favourite book? “Well, I’ve got lots. Moby Dick by Herman Melville would have to be one of my favourites, an enduring favourite which I’ve read several times. You could do a lot worse.”

Q. What about your favourite film? “You’ve switched tack… you’re not going to ask my favourite colour next, are you?! Well, as it happens I was rather disappointed by Parasite, which got a huge amount of publicity with its bizarre Oscar-winning run. But that’s because I’d enjoyed their previous film Burning more – it’s a really good watch. It’s a dreamlike, based on a Haruki Murakami short story. You never know what’s real or what’s imagined; it’s set on the border with North Korea. I loved that film and it should be the one everyone’s watching. It’s more fully realised and poetic than Parasite managed to be.”

Q. White Ladder means a lot to me and was the soundtrack to a poignant breakup in my life 20 years ago! Have you had any weird fan mail or comments from your fans? “Course I have… but whether I’d want to draw attention to how weird, or how… suggestive, would not be healthy for people to hear! I’ve had some very odd things. Generally the things I get to read or that are sent are very touching, moving. People’s lives, deaths, disaster, triumph, childbirth, illness, madness. It’s all bound into the album & what it meant to people at that certain time in their lives. I came out of a pub earlier this year and this guy was hanging on to a Rottweiler which was dragging him down the street, with his dodgy mate, in the rain. One eye slightly off to one side. The kind of person you step out of the way of. And as I was stepping out of his way he grabbed me and [adopts husky, menacing shout] ‘David Gray mate! Yeah your record saved me; I got off heroin.’ Suddenly I was having this very intense conversation with him about how his friends were dying and as he got into his recovery process he discovered the record. Something about it helped him strengthen his resolve. Well, as he puts it, it made him feel ‘there was something bright out there he could grab hold of’. You hear mad stuff like this and it’s quite hard to process.”

• David Gray will star, as well as Simply Red, Lionel Richie, Simple Minds, UB40 featuring Ali and Astro on the line-up for the popular Nocturne Live concert series, across five nights from Wednesday June 15th to Sunday June 19th. Support acts include Macy Gray, Deacon Blue, Brand New Heavies, Nerina Pallot, Jimmy Cliff, Aswad and James Morrison. Visit www.nocturnelive.com and www.davidgray.co.uk

Star Q&A: James Blunt

Liz Nicholls

Interview

Musician & dad James Blunt, 48, chats to Liz Nicholls ahead of his performances at Cornbury & more festivals this summer…

Q. What’s your first memory of music? “My parents wouldn’t allow music at home. Even nursery rhymes were banned. My sister and I would whisper the melody to American Pie through the bars of our bunk bed.”

Q. Thank you for championing the great British boozer! What’s the recipe for a perfect pub? “A fire burning in the corner, You’re Beautiful playing on the jukebox, and me pulling pints behind the bar. You can find all of this at The Fox & Pheasant in Chelsea.”

Q. We love your acerbic humour on social media. Did the Army sharpen this skill? “I was sent to an all-boys’ boarding school when I was seven and yes, the Army then removed any last bits of emotion.”

Q. How do you feel about the return of get-togethers & festivals this year? “Get-togethers in the Cotswolds never stopped, I’m told… But the return of festivals is very exciting. I’ve missed the energy of lots of people coming together.”

Q. What’s your essential piece of festival kit? “A car battery for the fridge.”

Q. What’s your stand-out festival moment? “I’ve played Glastonbury three times, the Pyramid Stage twice. The second time, I crowdsurfed, and when I returned, discovered the stage was too high for me to climb on to. There was a man I didn’t recognise on stage, so I started shouting at him to help me, then realised he was holding a camera, filming for the BBC, so I was basically shouting ‘HELP ME!’ to the nation. It was this moment I realised I was the least cool person in the music business.”

Q. Who on the summer festival bill are you looking forward to seeing? “The Darkness! I toured with them round Australia and Japan in about 2006, and they are GREAT fun.”

Q. What’s your favourite book, film & piece of music? “Book: The Snail and The Whale. The film Up! – the first seven minutes reduced me to tears. I love Chill Out by The KLF. It’s just a beautiful journey round America told by two Scotsmen using borrowed sound effects.”

Q. How was lockdown for you? “I was very lucky to be able to go home and spend time with my family. I learnt how to use a chainsaw, and defend my house from a gang of thieves who tried to rob me three times.”

Q. Any unsung hero musician who deserves the spotlight? “I think I’m quite underrated.”

Q. What lesson did parenthood teach you? “Go on tour for at least the first nine months.”

Q. If you could make one wish, what would it be? “That humans would make the changes necessary to curb our impact on the planet, because if we don’t, we’re going to be f***ed much faster than we think. I spend time in the mountains, and have seen the glaciers shrink over the years, and I live in the Mediterranean and there are very few fish left in the sea.”

Visit cornbury festival.com & jamesblunt.com

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Star Q&A: Toyah Willcox

Liz Nicholls

Interview

Musician Toyah Willcox, who turns 64 this month, shares her excitement for a summer of festivals, including Let’s Rock where she is set to star…

Hello! Given the past two years, do you think 2022 could be the most joyous ever? “2022 will be joyous – the artists have missed the audience and the audience have missed the artists. It’s going to be one big party. Let’s Rock is very special because not only are there back-to-back acts all day who are brilliant and iconic, but also the atmosphere is so friendly and family-orientated. You can look out over an audience and sometimes see three generations of the same family. They are a joyous community with one thing in common – they all love the 1980s! I love performing with the Let’s Rock band (sensationally good musicians). We also get to see the friends we’ve been performing with for decades… for 40 years.”

Q. Are there any other performers you’re looking forward to seeing? “I always end up on the same plane and same hotel as Chesney Hawkes, all over the world… Somehow fate brings us together and we have a scream. Chesney lives in the States, I live in the UK, but we walk into the same room in the oddest places and say ‘What are you doing here?!”’

Q. Which musician, living or dead, would you most like to see perform? “Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Janis Joplin, Tim Buckley, Robert Plant (with me) and Talk Talk.”

Q. What is your strongest memory of appearing on Top Of The Pops? “Top Of The Pops was an event, every time. It’s a show I used to watch with my family and to be on it was an honour. On my first appearance there was a mini disaster when my costume didn’t arrive and I had to wear a dress I bought as a back-up. Ironically, I think it made me more approachable to the Top Of The Pops audience – less confrontational, image-wise.”

Q. Have you kept any souvenirs from the 1980s? “I have warehouses full of every on-stage costume/every acting costume I’ve ever worn, as well as every photoshoot. They are my life, a life I am immensely proud of.”

Q. What other plans do you have for 2022? “I have three sold-out tours this year, including Toyah & Lene Lovich’s Electric Ladies UK tour in June, followed by the Toyah Anthem Tour in autumn to celebrate of the re-release of my 1981 platinum album Anthem. I will also be making two albums – a reimagining of my 2019 album In The Court Of The Crimson Queen, whilst the second album will be recorded in September and is the follow-up to my 2021 no.1. album, Posh Pop. In the last two years I’ve had four Top 10 albums – Posh Pop out-sold Queen, Metallica and Justin Timberlake in its first week.”

Tickets & more at letsrockthemoor.com

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Star Q&A: Steve Backshall

Liz Nicholls

Interview

Explorer, naturalist, presenter & dad Steve Backshall MBE, 48, talks to Liz Nicholls ahead of his Ocean show at a venue near you.

Hi Steve. Can you tell us a bit about your Ocean show? “Yes! We’re bringing marine scenes to the stage, creating the undersea environment inside a theatre which is quite a challenge! Marine creatures will be brought to life through the use of props, life-size replicas of the largest animal ever known on our planet, footage on the giant screen, and interactivity. It’s going to be a blast.”

Q. Is the shark your favourite animal? “It’s up there. One of the things I find most fascinating is that even the sharks we have here in our seas we know little about. Even recently, people used to think basking sharks hibernated, lying on the sea bed for winter. But now we know about their fascinating mating and parenting lives. To me they are the most majestic prehistoric, but not primeval, predators on the planet. There are fewer than ten people every year killed by sharks, but we have this impression of them as malicious, man-eating monsters out to get us. And that’s simply not true.”

Q. You’ve been bitten by a caiman, crawled on by a redback and have only respect for animals. But has any experience scared you? “With animals it’s rare but one stands out. We were diving with crocodiles in Botswana and a hippo came out of the murk and approached within metres of us. I’d say you could have tossed a coin as to whether we lived or died in that situation.”

Q. Did growing up on a smallholding in Bagshot inspire your love of wildlife? “Yes. I had such a halcyon childhood surrounded by our old asthmatic donkey, psychotic ‘guard dog’ geese, guinea fowl, peacocks… Every one was a rescue animal that had been given a second chance of life with us. They were our friends, our housemates.”

Q. What was your favourite book growing up? “Call Of The Wild by Jack London. I still even now read it and get the hackles going up at the back of my neck. Once I got a little bit older Alfred Russell Wallace’s The Malay Archipelago took over.”

Q. Do you love your local wildlife in Marlow? “Absolutely! I now find my best wildlife encounters are not in the world’s most exotic places, they’re here. I’m seeing these things with fresh eyes through my kids. They’re very lucky with Helen [Glover] as their mum, a double gold-winning Olympic athlete who is amazing at everything, and from me they get a love of nature. About two months ago we saw otter spraint at the bottom of our garden and set a camera trap with the kids. We watched the swans, rats and foxes and when we got our first otter we practically blew the roof off this house. It was epic! It remains one of my fondest wildlife experiences ever. Even though I’ll probably never even see those otters with my own eyes, our world has become that little bit more exciting because we know they’re there.”

OCEAN SHOWS NEARBY

Guildford’s G Live on 7th April
Reading’s Hexagon on 14th April
Basingstoke’s Anvil on 19th April
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre on 29th April
New Theatre Oxford on 4th May

Many more shows available at various locations.

Visit stevebackshall.com for info & to book.

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Star Q&A: Kelly Jones

Round & About

Interview

Liz Nicholls chats to musician & dad Kelly Jones as the Stereophonics release their new album Oochya and hit the road for their UK tour

Hello Kelly! Great to have you playing live again. How does playing these big venues compare to the little clubs where you started out? “Yeah I mean the working men’s clubs, that was kind of our Hamburg I suppose <chuckle>, you know. It’s where we learned our chops, it’s where we lived it’s where we died. It’s where we learnt what was good what didn’t work. Um. I suppose it was the grounding of how we learned to build a set list, a skeleton of how to take people on a journey with different song choices. It’s the same tools you use playing a stadium it’s just people have been following a band and they have their favourites and we have our favourites. We piece together a show where you create a show people can’t forget really. You want them to walk out feeling better than they did when they walked in there. It’s the same mentality in many ways, it’s just on a much grander scale. We do the same thing we just try to make it all a bit… bigger.”

Q. What’s on your rider? Is it, like Keith Richards, a big snooker table and a shepherd’s pie? “Haha, no I think we’ve had the same rider for 20-odd years. It’s usually a couple of cases of beer, some Guinness. There’s usually red wine. Usually a couple of bottles of spirits. Everyone’s welcome really. We’ve got everything covered for anyone that wants in. I think we’ve been pretty lazy not changing that since the ’90s. It’s still all there. It still all gets done at some point or other. We come from where we come from so on our days off we like having a nice drink.”

Q. What’s your first memory of music? “Records in the house. I shared a bedroom with my brother Lee until I was about 14. He’d be playing Bob Seeger records and the eagles and ZZ Top and my other brother Kevin would be playing Bob Dylan and Neil Young. My dad would be playing Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book. I picked up a guitar about 10 or 11. I guess my first memory of performing was at the working men’s club at the end of my street when I was about 12. And there was always music around. Watching my dad playing the working men’s clubs I suppose and I would sit with my mother eating nuts. I’d carry his speakers for a fiver at the end of the night. I got to know his band and listen to other members of the band yabbering in the dressing room. My earliest memories of music were between six and 10 listening to them, they used to drink and smoke and have a good time in bingo halls and working men’s clubs.”

Q. You’ve worked with so many legends, but I have to ask you about Bowie..! “He was wonderful! We were lucky enough to tour with him on our fourth album. And he was on his last ever tour as it turned out which was the Reality album. He was an inspiration to watch every night. He was funny and he was artistic and very very casual because he wasn’t playing a character, he wasn’t playing Ziggy Stardust he wasn’t playing the Thin White Duke, he was playing David Bowie. He’s come and sit in the dressing room and chat, he would watch our sound takes. He’d take requests when we watched his sound checks. He was lovely. We learned a lot from him. We had a give a side football match with him. It’s just surreal when you look back at the pictures and stuff. I can’t quite believe it actually happened. That was an incredible experience. We were on a bit of a roll at that point. We’d just got off the U2 tour, we’d just gone on to the Bowie tour, went on to the Lenny Kravitz tour… it was just nuts. All the people we looked up to we were then getting asked to play with them, it was amazing.”

Q. Your lyrics are so observational. So who were your favourite writers growing up? “In our house there weren’t lots of books. I loved ghost stories and Roald Dahl, the Tales of The Unexpected and all that. I always used to like the way he wrote things with a twist in at the end y’know. And then I loved John Sullivan’s writing on TV, doing Only Fools and Horses, making people laugh always with these twists at the end. When I went to college I started reading Bukowski and Dylan Thomas.”

Q. What are your favourite films? “One of my favourite films is The Deer Hunter which sometimes gets overlooked by the godfather. The thing about the deer Hunter it’s like two or three films in one and the landscape of it reminds me a lot of Cwmaman where I grew up. The guys are drinking in the bar at the beginning and the factories and the wedding. The first part of the film reminds me a lot of the guys around my area where they all joined the army and had coming home parties after the Falklands. So I’ve got quite an affinity to The Deer Hunter. My older brothers were always playing movies I probably shouldn’t have been watching as a kid. I love Jack Nicholson and I love Stanley Kubrick all those kind of classics. Mike Nichols was always a good director as well.”

Q. Any dream collaborators? “I grew up loving ACDC and got quite friendly with Brian Johnson but we never played any shows with AC/DC. They would have been a dream as a kid. Most of the people I grew up with – I love Otis Redding – they’re all passed now. Going forward, I like a lot of people’s records by different producers. I’m probably on that page now, the age I’m at,working with people in the studio collaboration-wise.”

Q. Are you glad you started out when you did, instead of the age our teenage children are now? “It’s different. I’ve got four kids spanning from 17 down to 19 months and they’ve all got a very different experience in their life. I’ve got a 15 & a five-year-old in between and when I watch them and how they use the media and listen to music and watch films or dramas or series or games it’s just a very different culture and, um, the attention span is very different. They’re not sitting and listening to a whole album from begginging to end. And I think the way that people get discovered is different as well. I am glad the way we got found and built our fan base was very I guess traditional in many ways and possibly the last era to do it that way – basically driving round in a van playing pubs and bars, building up a traditional fan base that hopefully sticks to you for a long career. Because I don’t know how people have a long career these days if their stats and their algorithms aren’t working in line with what record companies want which I find a little bit sad. It kind of limits  moving forward and development for artists. I’m sure it might work out in other ways but they might get dropped. This is a bit sad because it takes people time to get to where they’re going to. It’s got amazing advantages as well. But that’s some of the disadvantages.”

Q. What practices help you keep you mentally healthy? “Mental health has become such an open conversation finally in everyone’s lives, everybody goes through different periods of struggles with anxieties and lows and highs, it’s natural I don’t know anyone who hasn’t. For me personally exercise is the best one for me running. And some quiet spaces in between all the hectic stuff that you do. Trying to put the silences between all the noise. I’m trying to pass stuff on to the kids and you’ve got to learn about yourself too. You don’t learn about yourself until you stay hitting some walls. And then you discover a lot about yourself. For me it’s about open space – that’s what gets me back to the ground. I guess that comes back to my roots – I’m from a very open place! But I live in London where it’s all on top of me. I do find the open space calms me down for sure.”

Q. Do you get a lot of hassle/ weird fan mail? “I live in a kind of village area really in London. All my kids go to school, we kind of know everyone in the area. I don’t get bandy fans coming up to me in the street. It’s normally just people being pretty friendly. Maybe 15 years ago we had some weird stuff in a different place where I was living and the police had to come and take care of that stuff. Very odd letters and stuff. But generally where I am everyone’s been great, especially when you have family everyone knows the kids. Everybody’s in the same boat really. I’m not living in the middle of a crazy city – it’s not dissimilar to where I was brought up. Just in a different kind of surrounding, you know.”

Q. You’ve spoken so movingly about your family, including your son Colby’s journey. How is he doing? “Colby’s doing great; in a new sixth form in a new environment with a lot more likeminded people. Thriving in the studies that he’s doing and getting loads of distinctions and feels at home. Which is great because coming from an all-girls school not wanting to be a girl was a very hard environment to be in. He did amazing in his exams and worked really hard and now he’s in a place where he wants to be. He’s been great it’s been a proper journey, for the family, for everybody involved in the family. And now Misty’s going through GCSEs so all the pressures on her now. They all go through different episodes. I like to be pretty hands on with the kids. And Jakki my wife is really brilliant with them all. We have our ups and downs we have our struggles and all want to kill each other at times but most of the time we just try to communicate as well as we can really. It is a brand new world and the kids are going through many different things we never experienced. I think you have to just listen to them. At first you carry a lot of prejudices or opinions and things you never had just from your own upbringing. It’s just trying to keep an open mind, listen to them see where they go try to guide them and steer them best you can really. It’s not easy by any stretch but if you’re in that position you’ve just go with it help them feel safe as they can really.”

Q. What format do you like to listen to music on? “I’ve been enjoying my vinyl again recently. I’ve got a couple of Sonos speakers rigged up to most rooms but my little one Marlie keeps kicking my turntable off, trying to put Peppa Pig on. Vinyl is my go-to and I’m looking forward to seeing the new album record sleeves.”

Q. What kind of music do you listen to? “I listen to mostly older stuff. This morning I was listening to The Cure. The day before that I was listening to Billie Eilish because I love some of the visual stuff she’s been doing in her videos. Misty, my 15 year old, is into that were going to see her in June. I just flick through whatever’s going on really, trying to keep my ear on everyone.”

Q. Have you missed live music? “Yes! It’s been two years, apart from recently a few shows for an anniversary tour. As a band it’s a strange thing not to be performing – I’ve been in a band since I was 12 so it’s where where my body naturally goes to, holding a guitar. Strange not having that outlet or release of the last two years. Been handling everything else that’s been going on but it’s a big part of who I am and what I do has been lacking so to be back on the ride is gonna be a great experience. And everybody in the entertainment industry – the lorry drivers caterers – there a lot of ppl involved.”

Q. How do you take care of your voice? “I do exercises all the time really. The thing I had was called a one-off trauma polyp. It could have been shouting at the football on the TV, it wasn’t really through singing – it could have been anything. But that whole episode taught me a lot really. Recovery and how much the voice means to me. Your voice is always  there and then suddenly it’s taken away from you. You can’t talk for a few weeks until it’s all sorted out, after surgery. I try to come to the studio to do singing every day. It’s just a muscle – you keep it going and do rehearsals with the band every week. I love trying to change it and do different things with it on every record. It’s something I’ve always done. So over the period of lockdown when I didn’t have anywhere to sing there’s a certain amount of adrenaline that’s not getting released really. It’s been good getting out with the boys and doing rehearsals.”

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Star Q&A: Justin Fletcher

Round & About

Interview

TV megastar Justin Fletcher MBE tells us about his influences as he steps out to a venue near you for his all-singing and dancing live show Justin Live – The Big Tour!

Q. Hello! You’ve been a children’s TV star for more than 20 years. Who inspired you? “As a child I used to watch Playschool with Jonny Ball, Derek Griffiths and Floella Benjamin and loved acting out the stories. During my three-year drama course, I was inspired by Philip Schofield and Chris Jarvis in the CBBC Broom Cupboard. I put a show reel together, secured an audition for the Playdays theatre tour and I landed the part of Mr Jolly. That started my career.”

Q. The Big Tour will be full of slapstick. Who are your comedy heroes? “Slapstick comedy has such wide appeal. It’s great when children and their families laugh out loud watching routines by performers like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. It’s a timeless format and you can’t beat the sound of belly laughter from the audience. I was inspired by Laurel and Hardy. I used to watch their slapstick routines over and over. They had such amazing chemistry between them.”

Q. Do you think family entertainment has changed? “The choice on TV is now huge. When I was a child there were very limited programmes. However, having a good strong story-based script and engaging characters is still the key.”

Q. How important do you think live theatre is for children? “Creating many family theatre productions over the last two decades has been incredibly important to me and hugely enjoyable. There is nothing like performing on stage and meeting the families that support you and your TV shows. Children’s theatre is quite often their first live show experience. We are hoping to inspire the next generation of theatre-goers.”

Q. What do you enjoy about touring? “We have an amazing production team who work extremely hard to prepare the show before it goes out on the road. We are like one big family. From the performers to the lighting and sound operators, the catering team, and the back stage crew, we’re all working together. We also support each other out on the road, which is really important when you’re away from home for fairly long periods of time. Touring provides a fantastic opportunity to experience so many different towns and theatres across the country and to meet so many new friends along the way.”

Q. You have written this show. Tell us a little about this process… “It always starts with a storyline. Once you have that in place, I think about the music content. Music is a vital element and I try to write some original songs myself.”

Q. Any favourite songs in the show? “You can’t beat seeing the audience join in with Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, If You’re Happy and You Know It and The Hokey Cokey. Then, in a heartbeat, all singing and signing Twinkle Twinkle.”

Q. It’s likely some parents who saw you on CBeebies now bring their children to see you live. How does that feel? “I feel very proud and flattered. This inspires me to continue entertaining generations to come. It’s been a very long time since we’ve been able to tour. I can’t wait to get on the road and meet all of our friends again.”

To book your tickets, please visit imaginetheatre.co.uk/justin-live-the-big-tour

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Star Q&A: Ray Mears

Round & About

Interview

Local television star & bushcraft expert Ray Mears, 57, tells us more about his new We Are Nature book & theatre show to help us “tune in and turn on” to nature…

Q. Hello Ray. When did you first fall in love with nature? “When I was about seven or eight and I started to learn about edible plants. In those days, there was no internet, so I went to the library. I came across this plant in the woods called wood sorrel. I took ages to study it in books before I plucked up the courage to try it. It tasted of apple peel… And I’ve never looked back.”

Q: Can you tell us about your theatre show? ”This show is all about thinking and feeling the depth of our ability and turning up the volume of the senses that we normally suppress. Effectively ‘tuning in and turning on’ to nature. I will show how we can reconnect with an evolutionary heritage that stretches right back to the earliest of our ancestors. We will look at the extraordinary work that the National Wildlife Crime Unit do to protect our local wildlife. There is a good chance people coming to this show will find their lives forever changed.”

Q: We love your book We Are Nature. You regard animals as teachers, don’t you? “Yes. I try to learn from the animals I meet. So, the crocodile, for example, is the master of stillness. It stays so still that it weaves a psychological spell over any potential prey. Even if you know it’s there, you forget it’s there, and that’s the danger. We can use exactly that stillness to observe wildlife and to protect ourselves.“

Q: What’s the closest shave you’ve had with wildlife? “I’ve had many but one that comes to mind is when I saved a director from putting his hand on a venomous eyelash pit viper. We were on a reconnaissance trip for a programme I was making with Ewan McGregor and had just been dropped by helicopter in the Honduran rainforest. I was showing him how to put up his hammock for the first time and he was just about to wrap his cord around what looked like a vine…”

Q: What can you tell us about “rewilding”? ”There are some very good books written about rewilding but if we’re going to look after the planet and nurture it, we need to rewild ourselves. That means understanding ourselves and our place in nature and feeling a deeper connection. Many different cultures talk about Mother Earth.  I believe in that philosophy.”

Q: Why do you think we’ve lost touch with nature? “Our dependence on electrical goods and gadgetry has accelerated in our lifetime. We spend more time looking at a screen than we do at the natural world. The willingness to employ old-fashioned field-craft is disappearing. I think it’s something we need to bring back.”

Q: Tell us about your cookbook, Wilderness Chef.“My son said, ‘would you write some of your recipes down?’ It’s become popular. Cooking is important outdoors. If you’ve had a bad day, cooking a good meal outdoors pushes the reset button on morale and helps you feel good again.”

Q: Do you have any animals of your own? “Yes. We have a Labrador, and now we have a Labrador puppy, who is causing mayhem! Pets are wonderful. Dogs are the most amazing companions. In times of difficulty, they are a distraction, and are excellent security. They also remind us daily how intelligent other animals are.”

Ray will star in Guildford, Basingstoke, Oxford, High Wycombe & more. Visit www.raymears.com

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Star Q&A: Gok Wan

Round & About

Interview

Television star Gok Wan, 47, talks to us ahead of his dazzling star turn as the Man In The Mirror in Snow White at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre from 4th December to 2nd January

Hi Gok! How did you get involved in pantomime? “I’ve dreamt of being on stage forever. I first began to think about panto some years back. I was fascinated… Then one evening, maybe 2012 or 2013, I was with Lionel Blair and the very naughty Louie Spence. They said I really should give it a try. I spoke with my agent and Channel Four got involved. I first met Snow White then. There have been other pantos since then but it’s really great to be back with Snow White.”

Q. What’s your character The Man In The Mirror like to play? “Man In The Mirror sounds like a piece of furniture! I’m not and it isn’t! The script is amazing. I finished re-reading it again this morning – the tradition has again been tweaked for the 2020s and I’m excited. The mirror has messages. The mirror motivates. The mirror is magic.”

Q. And your costume… do you have a professional opinion about it? “Do I have an opinion? Oh yes I do! I like it. I was encouraged from the start to contribute input, although the designer anticipated so much that my suggestions could be called incidental. There’s a vital aspect, though, and one I insist on. An aspect that’s seen and unseen – the fit! My costume has to fit and over the Christmas period that could mean adjustments… It’s gotta be done.”

Q. Do you have any pre-show dressing room rituals? “Haha! Not only in the dressing room! Yes, I’m superstitious and my rituals – as you call them – go on throughout the performance; I don’t leave them to lurk alone in the dressing room. What can I tell you? Ahh, there’s ‘first on stage.’ Of course there is going to be stage crew but I like to be the first cast member on stage before a performance. What else? This year in Snow White I am required to fly and when I’m up high, without fail, I whisper a hello to my Mum. I love the flying bit. Love it, love it!”

Q. What is the secret to a great pantomime? “Three ‘secrets’: the first is definitely the audience; the second is likely to be the audience and the third, in my experience, is probably the audience. I like to open the show, to greet and welcome everyone and I can predict within 20 seconds
just what sort of evening it will be. People
have probably had tensions at work, frustrations with traffic, delays or hold-ups – it’s important to me that everyone feels wanted.”

Q. We’re enjoying your new TV show Bling… “I believe you can get a lot from the series. Jewellery can mean so much more than ‘an accessory’ – so often there is special significance attached to a piece. The series sparkles with stories, memories and emotion, as well as amazing technical skills and explanations. It is fascinating. I learned a lot.”

Q. Do you know this part of the world well? “Not really. My home’s London so I’ll commute. I like town and city life. The hustle, the bustle, the noise, the rush, the dirt, energy, sweat, the crowds. I am a absolutely a city boy! I was brought up and lived over a restaurant so it’s what I’m used to.”

To book, call 0333 009 6690 or visit atgtickets.com

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