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Bill Bailey’s Back!

Yay! Bill Bailey’s back downunder. Prior to Black Books – a fantastically silly Britcom – and cameos in Spaced – another fantastic Britcom – Bailey actually made it to Australia as part of the 1998 Sydney Comedy Festival. The following piece was written for that. I apologise for the silliness of its narrative structure  At the time, I had a creative editor who encouraged experimentation. So every Sydney Comedy Festival 1998 article I wrote – apart from the review of the gala (therefore, it’d be more accurate to say ‘both of the Sydney Comedy Festival 1998 articles I wrote…) – was part of a continuing film noir saga loosely based on Chandler’s The Big Sleep. The first piece was called The Big Laugh, but I don’t recall if I was that clever with a title for the Bill Bailey piece. Truth be told, the only Chandler I’ve ever read is The Big Sleep, so my parody is clearly superficial . Also built into it is a psychodrama parodying some of my perceived journalistic peers at the time. There really was a guy from another free weekly advertising compedium-cum-entertainment rag hogging the talent, who blamed the talent-hogger before him, and who saw me smuggle Bailey into the pub across the road. There really was an allotted three quarters of an hour per interview. Them were the days – before you had to join the queue of interviewers, each filing into the room for an allotted seven minutes in which to hopefully trigger the star’s ‘key anecdotes’ without boring them rigid with the same old questions.

But what, you may be wondering, ever happened to the Sydney Comedy Festivals? Well, they've continued, more or less, in a slightly different incarnation, centred around the Parramatta Riverside Theatre. Funnily enough, they are now known as The Big Laugh Comedy Festivals (!) and have no spiritual or corporate relationship to those initial festivals of the late 90s. None of this has anything to do with Bill Bailey’s current visit, however. Nor does the interview that follows, but read and enjoy nonetheless.

“I shoulda known it’d be you hoggin’ the comic” I say as Bernie, my long-time rival from another publication, throws open the doors of the conference room of the inner city hotel in which visiting English comic Bill Bailey is subjecting himself to interviews. I’ve been waiting in the lobby for over half hour, meaning that the forty five minutes I was allotted for the interview will be up in about ten.

“Me?” Bernie says, making some pretence to an excuse that amounts to blaming the guy before him. We eye each other, each awaiting the other to make the first move, not sure if this round will remain a verbal bout or escalate to a physical one. I know which I’m in favour of as I put my briefcase down and start rolling up my sleeves. Bernie tries to do the same but he’s wearing a t-shirt. Schmuck!

“I take it you’re here to interview me,” a voice brings me back to earth.

“Oh shit, sorry. You must be Bill Bailey. How are you?” As Bernie takes the opportunity to skulk off, I proffer an open hand to a tall, solid man with long hair, dressed in black jeans and a black t-shirt. He looks as though he has just stepped out of a heavy metal band, and from the accent - which pronounces the word ‘exactly’ as ‘za’-ly’ - my guess would be Spinal Tap. “Nice shirt,” I say, admiring the logo emblazoned on the chest. It is a send-up of the Warner Brothers crest but instead of ‘WB’ it bears the initials ‘BB’. For ‘Bill Bailey’, no doubt.

“This actually stands for a comic-strip in a music magazine, called Bastard Bunny,” Bill explains, “a cute, lovable rabbit: he’s an underground dj with a speed problem. When I met the guy who does the comic strip he seemed quite cool about me wearing the shirt because it’s free advertising for him.”

“You’re not selling them after gigs or anything are you?” I politely enquire, a prelude to, “may I have one?”

But Bailey claims that he’s not into the “big merchandise scene, man”.

“I’m not into bread,” he says. “In fact, I accidentally left them at Heathrow. Actually, I had fifty t-shirts but I sold them in Nottingham before I came.”

This, obviously, is going to be fun. But I’m going to have to think fast. We’re likely to be interrupted in no time at all.

“Do you mind if we adjourn to a more conducive venue, do this over a beer maybe?” I offer. I’d noticed a pub across the road while I was awaiting my turn with the comic.

As we cross the road I notice Bernie getting into his car. I give him a facetious little wave.

We grab a couple of pints and I ask Bill Bailey how he got into comedy. “It’s lost in the mists of time,” he says, taking a pensive sip. “I was  in a band, in the West Country , in Bath. And it was going nowhere. They were taking themselves very seriously and I just thought, ‘I can’t handle this; too serious’.”

Bailey, whose stage routine has included Richard Claydermanesque renditions of ‘Three Blind Mice’,  a Eurotrash jazz version of the Doctor Who theme and musings on the life of  a professional xylophone player, began his own career playing keyboards in a prog rock band Behind Closed Doors.

“Behind Closed Doors is where we should have been,” he says, “and that’s the way we remained to this day.” Bailey admits to having been in a few other pop bands, all of them consisting of “pretty low-grade pop”. From there, Bailey and a buddy took to comparing gigs for other local groups, eventually developing into an act known as The Rubber Bishops.

“We just started expanding the comparings themselves, beyond the usual ‘and next is… whoever’. We started shoving in the odd gags and managed to create a bit of a titter. The basic tone of the act was to get people away from the bar so it wasn’t that subtle. It was quite crude. We fashioned the act into a blunt instrument. We would beat the audience over the head with it until they came around to our way of thinking. Obviously, over time, it’s become refined”

Bailey claims the process of developing into a full-time comic was gradual: “You just did it because you loved doing it. And you’d think, ‘people are going to pay then? Wa-hey, they’re going to pay me for doing this. That’s great.’ Normally I’d be doing three or four different things: I would do a gig every two weeks, then I’d do another job, then I might have an acting job, then I’d do something else. Suddenly I realised that the whole week was filled doing comedy. And that was it: I’m a comedian now.” For Bailey, the realisation that his gags had “some sort of currency somewhere else, not just in front of a few mates,” gave him the encouragement to continue. “When you realise that it makes you laugh, and your mates laugh, and other people laugh as well, then you’re on your way.”

Prior to full time comedy, Bailey’s acting jobs consisted mostly of touring in musicals with small-scale companies. “I did a lot of comedy acting before I got into stand-up, and I’d like to do more of that,” Bill says. He has written a musical called Insect Nation, about insects taking over the world. “It’s got a green theme to it,” Bailey says. “The destruction of the planet is imminent so the insects take over and rule the earth. But then they’re just as corrupt as the humans.” Bailey will no doubt play the hero, “either a dancing ant or a human who falls in love with a female ant but whose love could never be fulfilled because of the difference between the ant and human cultures”. That, according to Bailey, basically sums up Insect Nation. “It’s a farce,” he says.

Time for more beer.

I come back to find Bill writing furiously. A gag has revealed itself to him and he is committing it to paper while it is fresh. “I write down little odd things as they occur to me. I try to keep it working all the time, develop and chuck new stuff in all the time otherwise it gets boring.” Although Bailey has been an international-calibre comic for quite a few years now, he claims that coming up with locally-inspired gags is “quite a new thing” for him.

“When I started out I’d write the act down at home, like a school essay, and then memorise it: ‘this is my act, right, there it is, thank you, good night.’ But as I got a bit  more confidence and more control over the performance I’d absorb a bit more and roll a bit more with what was happening.”

Influenced by Bailey’s earlier career, his comedy is full of musical jokes and observations. “I pick out lots of bits of music that we hear in daily life, stuff that you hear but are not aware of.” He gives the example of ‘hold’ music, which is almost always classical, in order to give the impression that the firm that has put you on hold is an high class establishment. “If you really want to be ‘out there’, Bill offers, “it should be John Cage’s two minutes of silence. People’d go, ‘there’s nobody here!’ and you’d come back on and go, ‘did you enjoy that? That’s John Cage. I’m sure you’re aware of that.’”

More importantly, Bailey needs to put the boot into the people he really hates, like Chris De Burgh. “I reserve a special sort of loathing for people like Chris De Burgh. Any sort of pompous musical style that takes itself too seriously.”

“Well then,” I offer, “how about Peter Gabriel?” He ought to be fair game, being based in Bath and having pretentious prog rock origins as a founder member of Genesis.

“Yeah,” Bill takes the baton. “He left Genesis and obviously thought, ‘that’s it, Genesis is nothing without me’. And suddenly the drummer’s singing now. Suddenly the drummer is a massive star. If Peter Gabriel hadn’t left Genesis, Phil Collins would still be the drummer. He’d know his place. None of this ‘my wife’s left me’. ‘Oh really, who cares, Phil? Nobody’s interested about your tawdry private life. Or your acting career for that matter. You’re a drummer, that’s it’. No offence to drummers.”

I ask Bill to take me through the aesthetics of English beer, which he begins to explain from basics: ‘lager’ is a light colour, imbibed cold. ‘Bitter’ is a darker beer, usually served from a pump. “But ale,” he says, “real ale, has got a cache amongst connoisseurs.” Ales, according to Bailey, are strong and usually served straight from the barrel. “They normally keep these barrels in the cellar so that they stay cool but  it does not go through a chiller or a pump. There are no additives. It’s usually a sort of opaque, aromatic, strong liquid.” With the twigs still in, we both joke.

In order to finish his explanation, Bill wants to know how we designate alcoholic strength in this country, “by percentage or by gravity?” Which cracks me up, because I’ve had a few by now, so I want to know how you measure strength of a beer by gravity. “Is it a measure of how fast you hit the ground?” I ask. Like, if you have a six pack and hit the ground, it can’t be as strong as if you have one and hit the ground.

But before I can find out, a voice says, “so here you are!” It’s Bill’s minder. She says, “you’re keeping Tony Squires waiting,” but I refrain from saying “stiff shit, I was kept waiting” ’cause I like Tony - or at least, I might want to interview him some day. As Bill disappears he calls over his shoulder, “ale is something that you have with a ploughman’s lunch, which consists of pickles, cheese and bigotry. With the twigs still in.”

But I’m not listening because I’m trying to work out how on earth they found us here. And then I realise: Bernie!

Bizarrely, this interview kind of continues, ten years later


Show Us Your Roots

Me and the so-called ‘wog humour’ don’t see eye-to-eye, for reasons I’m still coming to terms with. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy the television show Acropolis Now, but I see it as a kind of Aussie Happy Days, and I like the idea of that ground-breaking live stage show Wogs Out Of Work but it seems to me that it just keeps recurring – in only slightly varied forms – far too frequently (like Greeks on the Roof, the Aussie adaptation of The Kumars At No. 42 that replaced the Indian comics with Greek ones – although it also saw fit to include a non-Greek actor doing a cheesy ‘wog’ accent with the evergreen [and purple] ‘Effie’ character).

This inability to deal with wog comedy means that I continue to neglect talented individuals – like Joe Avati and Nick Giannopoulos – who don’t quite fit into the unified field theory of comedy I’ve pretty much been working on since day one. The problem is that they are either preaching to the converted – doing gags that can only appeal to a limited audience – or selling themselves short – deliberately fudging the facts in a patronising and self-deprecating way, in order to appeal to the largest possible audience. Or maybe both those things are close to what I’m doing by avoiding wog comedy.

So then a bunch of comics – some with that Wogs Out of Work ‘wog’ background – take part in a show whose angle is that everyone in it is a foreignor of some sort (cue the Monty Python song ‘Never Be Rude To An Arab’) although the inclusion of an American and the Irishman seem to be the escape clause – the hedged bet for the bits of the audience that can’t or won’t embrace the less Anglo of the ethnic humour. (Ie people like me.)

However, I discover the show is hilarious, and the comedians, possibly even more interesting to talk to in this ‘wog comedy’ context as they would be under any other circumstance. And the presence of the American and the Irishman adds to the insight and the enjoyment, by allowing contrast. They enable me to put the ‘wog’ thing into context, and hence develop that unified field theory. Maybe I will even get around to giving Joe Avati the attention he deserves. But I still draw the line at Nick Giannopoulos!

Having said all of that, the transcript of the interview that used to live on this page was removed, to add to the Radio Ha Ha website, the sound file likewise removed since it appeared in Episode 4 of the Radio Ha Ha. I have yet to restore the transcript, but here is the sound file.


Missy Higgins


MissyHiggins


Much as I could take the opportunity to bang on about why Missy Higgins is such an interesting and talented individual, I’m happy to let her talk for herself. If you can download the MP3 version of this interview, do so – you’ll get to hear snippets of her songs. Of course, you should have heard some of her work already – the Triple J Unearthed winner of some years back has been touring quite extensively, and her last release, The Scar EP, debuted at number one in the singles chart. So even if you wanted to, just try and avoid her.

I was initially going to sit on this interview until Missy’s album, The Sound of White, was released September 6, about a month after the interview was conducted, but after Scar leapt to number one, I had to run it – or at least a truncated version of it with a few less questions and song snippets, as part of the chart listing at the tail end of that week’s music news. But now I’m banging on. If she sounds interesting to you, buy her album – Missy Higgins really is a talented individual.


Soundbite: ‘Scar’ by Missy Higgins, from The Scar EP.

Demetrius Romeo: Missy, you describe yourself as a songwriter, musician and singer in that order. Is that how you see yourself, as a songwriter first?

MISSY HIGGINS: Yeah, definitely. That’s how I want to see myself, anyway. I’d much rather be writing songs and not singing, than singing and not writing songs. It’s my passion.

Demetrius Romeo: How long have you been writing songs for?

MISSY HIGGINS: I think I started when I was about fourteen.

Demetrius Romeo: How old were you when you sent your demo away to Triple J Unearthed?

MISSY HIGGINS: I was seventeen. I was in Year 12. My sister actually sent it away because I was at boarding school at the time.

Demetrius Romeo: Had you written a lot of songs by then?

MISSY HIGGINS: No. I pretty much only had that one song. That was pretty much the first song that I was proud to say was my song. And I forgot about it. It was, like, two months later, and I got a phone call saying that I’d won.

Demetrius Romeo: Wow!

MISSY HIGGINS: Yeah.

Demetrius Romeo: How’d you feel?

MISSY HIGGINS: Well, the lady goes to me, “Hi Missy. So, are you sitting down?” And I thought, it must be a pretty big deal if she’s asking me if I’m sitting down. I didn’t quite know that it was a big deal until afterwards, really, when people started going, “Wow, that’s really great!” And I got my song on the radio, which is pretty cool.

Soundbite: ‘All For Believing’ by Missy Higgins, from her Unearthed session at Triple J (although a very similar version exists on The Missy Higgins EP).

Demetrius Romeo: You seem very comfortable with different genres insofar as some of your songs are majestic piano ballads, others have bluesy horns, some of them are just straight out syncopated, scat-singing jazz numbers.

MISSY HIGGINS: Yep.

Demetrius Romeo: What influences you musically? Where do you come from as a musician?

MISSY HIGGINS: Well, I guess I’ve always listened to a broad variety of music. I’ve always really loved jazz, I studied jazz through high school and I sang in my brother’s jazz band growing up, and listened to a lot of old jazz singers. But I listen to all different types of music and I think, as a songwriter, that’s the best thing that you can do: if you want to come up with an original sound, then you have to listen to heaps of different kinds of music so that you can make your own combination.

Soundbite: ‘The Cactus That Found The Beat’ by Missy Higgins, from The Scar EP

Demetrius Romeo: The other thing I find interesting is that you were discovered through Triple J Unearthed. Within three years, you’re touring with people like Bic Runga, The Waifs, The John Butler Trio, Pete Murray. It’s all quite whirlwind. Did you have any idea that you’d be here three years later?

MISSY HIGGINS: No, not at all. I’ve always kept my expectations very low so that I’ll never be disappointed. I was just really excited by the possibility of actually having a full-time career in music, because I knew that I loved singing and I loved performing, but I always thought that it was something that I was going to do on the side. I’m just ecstatic that it’s something that I can do with all my time these days.

Soundbite: ‘Casualty’ by Missy Higgins, from The Scar EP

Demetrius Romeo: How do you manage to write songs that sound quite mature in their lyrical approach and also their musical approach?

MISSY HIGGINS: I guess I’ve always been someone that feels very strongly and deeply about things. I’ve always been a fairly introverted person and have always thought very deeply about everything that happens to me. I’m quite emotional, I guess, so something that might seem trivial to one person, I feel like it’s the end of the world, that it’s something very important that is happening to me. I guess that’s how I get the depth in my songs. And I guess I have been through quite a lot – obviously not as much as people that are maybe six years older than me, but I feel like I have been through a lot.

Soundbite: ‘The Special Two’ by Missy Higgins, from The Missy Higgins EP.

Demetrius Romeo: You must have imagined at some stage in your childhood, because you loved music so much, that you would make a career of it somehow.

MISSY HIGGINS: I always knew that I wanted to play music and perform music but I never thought that I could do it full time. I thought I would do music on the side, as something I loved but couldn’t necessarily do full time.

Demetrius Romeo: So you didn’t even fantasise that one day you would be on the cover of…

MISSY HIGGINS: Oh sure, I used to fantasise all the time about singing in front of thousands and thousands of people. I used to dream about that. I loved holding a microphone so much, and having my voice amplified and performing. Yeah, I just used to dream that one day I’d be playing at a concert.

Demetrius Romeo: So is it going the way you imagined it, so far?

MISSY HIGGINS: Yeah, definitely!

Demetrius Romeo: So what’s the next stage of the plan? How did you imagine it goes from here?

MISSY HIGGINS: I didn’t. The only thing I ever imagined was playing in front of a sea of people. I’m yet to play in front of a sea of people, but I’m getting there.

Demetrius Romeo: Fantastic! Missy Higgins, thank you very much.

MISSY HIGGINS: Thanks for having me.

Soundbite: ‘Scar’ by Missy Higgins, from The Scar EP.


If you enjoyed this interview, Robbie Buck had a great chat with Missy Higgins on his Triple J show Home & Hosed. There is an MP3 file of it on this page.


Fred the Echidna


bazzie_freddie


I wound up babysitting my nephew Sebastian for a a couple of hours yesterday. He had made an echidna a little while ago, and I thought it would be cute to get him to describe how you go about making one.

However, in order to occupy him for the longest possible time, I started by explaining what an ‘interview’ was, taking the opportunity to play him my interview with Julie Dawn Cole, since this would be the one that he’d most appreciate. However, this led to emotionally rocky terrain; for him to understand that Julie Dawn Cole was the actress who played “the naughty girl, Veruca Salt, who wanted everything”, I had to also try to explain that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was just a movie: people pretending.

”What about the little boy, Charlie?” he wanted to know. “Was he real?”

Not in the movie. In the movie, a boy was pretending to be Charlie.

“What about Willy Wonka?”

This is where I had to tell him the brutal truth: “Well, of course, there was a man who owned a chocolate factory, and a little boy went to see what it was like in there, and he wrote the book that the movie is about. But in the movie, everyone is pretending.”

“So there really is a Willy Wonka.”

“Of course there is.” Let him worry about why Willy Wonka is an alcoholic cowboy in Blazing Saddles or a mad scientist in Young Frankenstein later on in life.

The transcript of the interview follows below, but if you want to hear it with all the inflection that makes carrying a serious conversation with a little kid so much fun, here is an MP3 file of it.

Now the only problem is that Sebastian has become a bit star-struck – he’s already trying to hustle more interviews, telling me about his ‘nine-a-pus’, an octapus with an extra leg. (He wasn’t impressed when I pointed out that he could turn the ‘nine-a-pus’ into a cat if he removed all of its legs). So expect to meet more members of Sebastian’s menagerie in the near future.


Uncle Dom: Sebastian, you have a special thing that you made. I want you to tell me about it: what is it that you made?

SEBASTIAN: An echidna!

Uncle Dom: How did you make it?

SEBASTIAN: First you do the body…

Uncle Dom: And how do you make the body?

SEBASTIAN: You use… um… you scrunch up three papers of newspaper and then put it in a sock.

Uncle Dom: And where do you get the sock from?

SEBASTIAN: If you have a brown sock… You have to get a big, brown sock, and if you have a big brown sock, you just put it in that one.

Uncle Dom: Did you ask Mummy for the sock?

SEBASTIAN: No, Nonna already had it.

Uncle Dom: So she had a sock ready for you.

SEBASTIAN: Yes.

Uncle Dom: And what about the newspaper, where did the newspaper come from?

SEBASTIAN: Nonna.

Uncle Dom: So she had an old newspaper for you to scrunch up?

SEBASTIAN: Yep.

Uncle Dom: How do you scrunch it up? What do you do?

SEBASTIAN: You, um, get it and you go scr scr [makes ‘scrunching up’ sounds]. You just scrunch it up with your hands. You scrunch it up with your hands and then you scrunch three ones and then you have to try and put it in the sock and then fold the sock up so that the newspaper can’t fall out.

Uncle Dom: Okay, that’s the echidna’s body. Now how do you make its head?

SEBASTIAN: You use a funnel, and then…

Uncle Dom: A funnel? Tell me what a funnel is?

SEBASTIAN: A funnel’s a round thing with a stick stuck to it.

Uncle Dom: A round thing with a stick stuck to it?

SEBASTIAN: Yeah.

Uncle Dom: What do you use a funnel for when you’re not making an echidna with it? What’s it used for?

SEBASTIAN: Um, it’s if you want to put some water in a cup, put it in the cup and you put some water through the big hole and then it will go through the little stick.

Uncle Dom: So when you use if for the echidna’s head, do you put the stick into the sock or what? How do you do it?

SEBASTIAN: You put the big end onto the sock, and then put some sticky tape on to stick it on, and then you use some stickers for the eyes, and stick it on the funnel at the front one, and that’s all.

Uncle Dom: And so what does the funnel do? The tube at the end – the bit that you call the ‘stick’ – what does that become on the echidna?

SEBASTIAN: That’s its mouth to suck up ants.

Uncle Dom: Oh, okay, I can picture that. Now what about its feet? How do you make its feet?

SEBASTIAN: You have some forks. You put them in x’s so it can stick out on each side.

Uncle Dom: So you cross the forks over…

SEBASTIAN: Yeah.

Uncle Dom: …and you stick them underneath the sock.

SEBASTIAN: Yep.

Uncle Dom: So the pointy bits of the fork – what do they become?

SEBASTIAN JAMES GORDON: They become its toes.

Uncle Dom: Okay. So how many forks do you need?

SEBASTIAN JAMES GORDON: Four!

Uncle Dom: Why four?

SEBASTIAN: Because… because an echidna has four feet.

Uncle Dom: Oh, of course. Now, what else do you do? You need something else for it to be an echidna, don’t you.

SEBASTIAN: Yep, because then you use some pegs for the spines.

Uncle Dom: How do you make the pegs into spines?

SEBASTIAN: You um pinch a bit of um the sock and put it on. And then um and then you have to put um ninety-nine on.

Uncle Dom: Ninety-nine pegs?

SEBASTIAN: Yep.

Uncle Dom: Will ninety-nine pegs fit on the echidna?

SEBASTIAN: Yep.

Uncle Dom: Okay, so you need lots and lots of pegs.

SEBASTIAN: Yep.

Uncle Dom: Where did you learn to make an echidna?

SEBASTIAN: Aaaah… I just saw it on Play School.

Uncle Dom: And what’s your echidna called?

SEBASTIAN: Um… Fred.

Uncle Dom: Fred the Echidna!

SEBASTIAN: Yep.

Uncle Dom: Sebastian, thank you very much.

SEBASTIAN: That’s all right.


freddie



Gerry ’Cross the Mersey

Gerry Marsden, of ‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’ fame may not mean much to you, but he and his band recorded a handful of singles – ‘How Do You Do It’ (the single the Beatles rejected, with which the Pacemakers made their recording debut, and with which, had their first number one single), ‘I Like It’, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, ‘Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying’ and of course, ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’ – that are universally known and loved. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, from Marsden’s favourite musical, Carousel, was adopted as the anthem of the Liverpool Football Club. Marsden is currently in Australia with PJ Proby, as they undertake their ‘60s Gold – Fortieth Anniversary’ tour.

I know very little about Proby – except that he used to perform a stage manouvre that would see the seams of his jumpsuit split, that would have women decorating their cookies throughout the audience. As for Gerry, I was always a bit of a fan of that early 60s pop. Managed by Brian Epstein and produced by George Martin, the Pacemakers may appear to have been another besuited wannabe Beatles as far as latecomers are concerned. But they were the Beatles’ contemporaries. Indeed, there was an occasion in which pre-fame Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Beatles performed together, as the Beatmakers. However, whereas the Fab Four were always breaking new ground, exploring and exploiting sonic territory, the Pacemakers never really changed. So when the Beatles discovered psychedelia, the Pacemakers broke up so that Marsden could pursue a career in musicals.

Forty years on, he seems to have a pretty good life on the nostalgia circuit. A pleasant, happy, chatty interview subject, I can only hope I’m having half as much fun, still being paid for doing what I love to do, by the time I get to his age! (Although, let’s face it – what’s this ‘still’ business? I hope I get the opportunity to get paid to do what I love to do just once by the time I get to his age!)

A truncated version of this was edited into last week’s Music News and broadcast on ABC NewsRadio. I may even get around to posting a transcript of that broadcast. You can listen to the broadcast version – bookended by Music News banter – here. The transcript of the full, original interview follows.


GERRY MARSDEN: The last time I was here was a year ago. This is my twenty-third trip to Australia. I’m really a national.

Demetrius Romeo: So you must like it here!

GERRY MARSDEN: I love Australia. It’s great. I have lots of friends in Australia. I enjoy working in Australia, and I love the weather in Australia. So it’s great to be back!

Demetrius Romeo: If I didn’t have any scruples, I’d follow that quote with a snippet from your song ‘I Like It’!

Now, Gerry, when you started out, you broke a record by having three number one singles as your first three singles. Did you have any idea that you’d be that successful when you first picked up a guitar?

GERRY MARSDEN: No, not at all. Music was fun to me, and it still is today. When we had our first number one with ‘How Do You Do It?’, we thought, ‘bloody hell!’, you know, ‘we’re stars!’ Next thing was, we got ‘I Like It’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ as our first three number ones and there was a great surprise and a great pleasure to have them. We just loved them. That was what started my career in show biz and it’s still tremendous; I love it.

Demetrius Romeo: When you recorded ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, which was a song from a musical – apparently it was one of your favourite songs from your favourite musicals. How did you actually come to record the song?

GERRY MARSDEN: I saw the musical… the song itself is a lovely song. I love the lyrics. When we had ‘I Like It’ and ‘How Do You Do It?’, George Martin and Brian Epstein, our manager. I said I wanted to do ‘… Walk Alone’ as our third record and they said, ‘oh, it’s too slow, it’s wrong; it should be poppy!’ I said, ‘no, let me do it’. I won the fight, and when it got to number one, I rang them back and went, ‘nah nah ner-nah nah’. It’s just a song I loved and I still love singing it today. So God bless ‘…Walk Alone’.

Demetrius Romeo: It’s become an anthem; it’s still sung by hordes of people at the football in Liverpool.

GERRY MARSDEN: Yeah, it’s great. I go to the match when I’m at home, and my hair stands up and I get goose pimples when they sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. I stand with them and I’m singing it with them. It’s wonderful. It’s become the anthem of our football team. Wonderful!

Demetrius Romeo: Another anthemic song that you wrote was ‘Ferry Cross The Mersey’ which again sums up so much, and always brings a tear to the eye of people who can look back nostalgically on where they’ve come from and where they’re going. How did that song come about?

GERRY MARSDEN: ‘Ferry…’ was from a film. We made a film called Ferry Cross The Mersey because in the early days, we didn’t have videos, so we couldn’t actually send videos around the world for kids, and the Beatles did A Hard Day’s Night and Help! and Brian said we should do one. A guy called Tony Warren, who wrote Coronation Street originally, wrote Ferry Cross The Mersey the film, and asked me, could I do the songs for the film. I said yes, and he said, ‘well, we need a good theme song’. So I wrote ‘Ferry Cross The Mersey’. I wrote it about Liverpool people and why a ferry should cross the Mersey to get to Liverpool, and it worked and it’s became a great standard for me. All over the world, wherever I go, people say, “please sing ‘Ferry Cross The Mersey’!”

Demetrius Romeo: How do you feel that you had these massive hits at the front end of your career? Does it effect you as you go on as a musician?

GERRY MARSDEN: Not at all. You can’t continue having hit records. But the thing those records gave us – ‘Ferry’, ‘Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying’, things like that – they gave us a longer life in the business, because people liked the songs, they liked the lyrics, they like to come and see the shows. So it doesn’t matter now, not having hit records, truthfully. It would be nice to have one, of course, but it doesn’t matter not having one because people still love to listen to the records of those days. I’m just glad that they still do, and I can still work and enjoy myself. And travel the world. And come to Australia every year. Yeah, yeah, bloody great!

Demetrius Romeo: One of the problems for the music industry at the moment is that people are downloading songs illegally. If what you are, primarily, is a live performer, does that affect tour career as a musician?

GERRY MARSDEN: It doesn’t affect my career as a musician… Downloading is a thing they do that’s just life. It might affect me if I’m making millions and millions of pounds out of records, but I’m not; I’m making millions out of singing and entertaining, and they can’t download me – ha ha ha! I wish they could – ha ha ha. So no, it doesn’t matter to me, really.

Demetrius Romeo: What sort of audience do you draw in Australia?

GERRY MARSDEN: The nice thing is, we get kids of sixteen to kids of ninety-three coming into the show, because you get the parents, you get the grandparents who know the songs, and you get the young kids who like the sixties music and they want to see the artists who actually recorded the songs. So it’s massive. The audience is a vast array of ages, and it’s great, because the kids love the music. What you get is another bonus for us: they’re grateful and they know the words and it’s easy to sing ’em.

Demetrius Romeo: Do the kids sing along with you?

GERRY MARSDEN: Of course they do. The kids and the old kids all sing along. It’s like a party. I could go out on stage, start my first song and leave until the end because they sing every song with me.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you find, as you play different territories, that different songs are the ones that get the crowd rolling for you?

GERRY MARSDEN: Maybe so. Yeah, like, in Australia, a song called ‘Girl On A Swing’ is very popular, which isn’t really popular in England. And in the States, ‘Girl On A Swing’ and ‘I’ll Be There’, songs like that which aren’t massive in England, are big in Australia, so you find that you do have to change the act slightly. And half the time, I’ve forgotten the words to the songs, so I’ve got to relearn them. But never mind: it’s worth doing!

Demetrius Romeo: What’s your favourite part of coming to Australia?

GERRY MARSDEN: I don’t know my one favourite thing… Maybe the beaches – I love the beaches. I’m a sun worshipper, so I love the beaches. And I love the people because I just think Australians are great; they’re mad, and I’m mad, and I think it’s great fun to be back in Aussie.

Demetrius Romeo: The Pacemakers broke up in the mid 60s. How did you progress after that? Did you think it was the end, for a little while?

GERRY MARSDEN: What we did, we decided to split in 1967 – the original band – because I was going into the West End, into theatre, to do a show called Charlie Girl and I loved it. I did that for nearly three years, and the show actually came out to Australia but I couldn’t sign the contract for twelve months because I wanted to be home; I couldn’t be away for that long. And a great guy called Johnny Farnham did my part in Australia; Johnny’s a great artist, a great singer and a great guy. So I did that and then I did another show – a West End show called Pull Both Ends. Then, in about 1975, I said ‘right, I want to tour’ because I would get letters from the States and Australia saying “What are you doing? Where are ya?” So I thought ‘right!’ and I re-formed me band, just to re-tour again. And since that day, I’ve been touring and I’ve had about three thousand Pacemakers in my band since the early days.

Demetrius Romeo: Freddy, your brother, was an original Pacemaker. Is he still in the band with you?

GERRY MARSDEN: No, Fred finished with the other boys in ’67, and all he’s done since then is play golf. He’s a great golfer and enjoys playing golf, so, no, Fred isn’t in the band, but I still see him a hell of a lot of course because he’s mah bruddah. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother!

Demetrius Romeo: Gerry, thank you very much.

GERRY MARSDEN: The pleasure has been all mine. You take care and look after yourself. God bless you.