Dave Woodhall talks to the Greatest Living Brummie.
One of the great things about this job is that you get to see the private side of some very public people.
It’s rare that they’re anything other than courteous but sometimes you can tell they’re only there because they’ve got a film or a show to plug and they can’t wait to get it out of the way. Others, though, are an absolute pleasure to meet.
Jasper Carrott, for example, should have been talking about his new show Made in Brum, interspersed with a few tales of the city’s musical heyday. What transpired was a lengthy chat touching on such diverse yet related subjects as Birmingham’s role in a post-industrial society and the global impact of the Premier League.
A lot of it would be of no interest to anyone else as we talked about mutual acquaintances and areas we know, because as Jasper put it, “There’s a million people in Birmingham but if you put two Brummies together within ten minutes they’ll have somebody in common.” He also told me about the show.
Made in Brum is, in Jasper’s words. “A nostalgic look back at a show that’s being presented during the heyday of Brumbeat.”
Starring amongst others, Jasper’s lifelong friend Bev Bevan of ELO and the Move and former Move guitarist Trevor Burton, it highlights the venues, characters and above all the songs which made the sixties music scene in Birmingham such an influential one.
Of course with Jasper involved it’s not just about music.
“It’s two-thirds music and a third comedy. It’s a great fun show, it will remind people who were around then what the times were like and it’ll also give young people a feeling of the roots of the music they enjoy now. I’ll be going out with mates I’ve never toured with before so it’s a bit self-indulgent but it’s a great show. The audiences will love it on many levels.”
The venues, places such as Solihull Arts Complex and the Lichfield Garrick, are a bit smaller than the huge arenas you’re used to playing, “Yes, they’re much smaller but that means talking to the audience rather than talking at them. I’ll be getting a much more immediate response.”
Taking a show that’s so obviously rooted in Brummie culture around the Midlands. Might that cause a few difficulties in translation?
“We’ll be making a few allowances. For instance, in Buxton there’ll be references to Esme Hand, who was an iconic performer of the sixties and seventies who played the organ there.”
Of course, the scene back then is in marked contrast to the city’s modern musical output. “I’m not a massive music fan but it does appear that there isn’t a great deal of artists coming from Birmingham now. I don’t know why this is – perhaps you could tell me. There doesn’t seem to be many grassroots venues for things to get started or anyone who could bring them together but I don’t know whether they still exist.”
Which leads us onto the underperforming role of the city in general.
“It’s that inferiority complex. Brummies are embarrassed, because comedians will still use the city for a cheap laugh. It’s got the image of still being a grimy, industrial place even though that’s changed now. It’s used as a holiday destination, then you look at the investment that’s coming in from China, something like £120 million compared to a fraction of that amount going elsewhere, but the image still remains. We come across it all the time.
“You try getting a London theatre reviewer to write about a show in Birmingham – it’s God’s own job to get them up here.”
To a Blues supporter such as Jasper, not all Chinese investment has been good for the city.
“Football’s important to the image of a city and Blues need a change of owners. They need people who have the city at heart, then you have Villa, who should be doing better than they are, but unfortunately people think ‘Aston – where’s that?” They had the kernel of a very good side but they lost the likes of Gareth Barry and James Milner because other clubs could offer more money and probably more glamour. Meanwhile Blues have still got the gypsy’s curse…”
While we could talk football for ever, work unfortunately had to make a return. After the local dates, will the show be touring further afield? Will we see the glory days of Brumbeat being portrayed on a national stage?
“It’ll be interesting to see how it goes in Buxton and Mansfield. We’re playing safe; we know we can put on a great show for local people and that’s our first port of call. After that we’ll wait and see, at the end of the tour we’ll have some idea of how we’re going to do.
“We’re rehearsing like crazy. Most of the early shows are sold out but the big one for us is 26th April at the Alex. We’re trying to obtain photos for the backdrop and especially what we’re looking for is cine film of the old TV appearances that bands such as Denny Laine & the Diplomats made for ATV. If anyone’s got any we’d love to hear from them.”
The show will evoke memories of such landmarks as the Cedar Club and Alex’s Pie Stand.
Jasper, naturally, has a story about these halcyon times.
“When I was about 18 or 19 I was one of Birmingham’s first mods and one night I went to Alex’s to meet up with Bev because his band were coming back from a gig. It was a big meeting place for rockers with their great black Vincents and I bowled up a bit naïve on my 150cc Lambretta, they were using my parka hood as an ashtray and stuff like that. One guy insisted on riding it, I couldn’t exactly say no so he took it up Smallbrook Ringway then he gunned it and tried to slide the scooter into Hill Street.
“It had got a bald back tyre and he ended up coming off as it slid up Smallbrook Ringway. He nearly got hit by a bus so I nipped over the wall to pick my scooter up and rode away. God knows what was in those pies.”