Dave Woodhall talks to Brummie comedian Malcolm Stent about his new show.
One of the great stories of Birmingham theatre over the years has been the success of Malcolm Stent, local broadcaster, singer, writer, author and all-round man of many parts. Malcolm’s musical based on his younger days Go and Play Up Your Own End opened in 2005 and has toured regularly since then to sell-out audiences. The long-awaited follow-up, Go and Play Further Up Your Own End opens this week.
The reason for the show’s name is, as Malcolm told us, self-explanatory. “I’m not brilliant at dreaming up titles. If you saw the original you’ll recognise the characters because this is set ten years later and it’s about what happened to them. The first one was autobiographical but this is semi-fictional although there are some elements of truth along the way. Some of the things did happen but we don’t tell anyone which bits of the story they are. It tells the tale of the lads who grow up and form a group – I know the current term is a band, but to me a band is old men in dress suits playing weddings. This was a group. I was in a few groups myself, the best known were called the Timoneers in the late sixties and that was when I decided that folk music was for me because the audience wanted to listen whereas with a rock’n’roll band all they wanted to do was dance. That kicked off my career because in those days the folk clubs were more open to people telling stories and becoming comedians, so that’s how I moved towards comedy. I suppose nowadays the comedy clubs have taken over that role, but then you could go to a folk club and try out a ten minutes spot while the audience could be quite generous to you.”
A generation of comedians came from this background, they were the original alternative comedians, as they were the first whose humour was based on observation rather than telling jokes. “That’s right. My generation were people like Billy Connelly, Mike Harding, Jasper Carrott, they all came from the folk clubs and they followed the folk tradition of storytelling because that’s basically what folk songs are, stories put to music. They were, they are, storytellers.”
Malcolm’s shows are heavy on music, and on local talent. “The songs for Go and Play were written by Harvey Andrews, a great local songwriter, and the songs for the new one are by Dave Sealey, who’s in the show. Robert Willis is the musical director and he’s put together a band who are all good, solid professionals, absolutely stunning and also appearing is Ollie Spencer who started out with Jeff Lynne’s band the Idle Race.”
With Made in Brum about to open on a similar theme, is this the start of an overdue attempt to showcase Birmingham’s musical history? “You could say so, although my shows were written some years ago, but yes, it is an extension of that. When we did the first Go and Play, we sold out the Hippodrome for a fortnight, 2,000 seats a night. After one show Lawrie Mansfield, who was the head of International Artists and he’s a Brummie by the way, came into my dressing room and he was raving about the show but he said ‘It won’t travel because it’s about Birmingham.’ I said it’s not about Birmingham, it’s set in Birmingham but it’s about working-class people and their struggles; does anybody ever say Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers doesn’t travel? And he said ‘Yes, but Liverpool’s sexy’.
“But these shows, the audiences come and we get standing ovations, we don’t force them to stand, they feel pride, emotion, I don’t know but they stand and they clap and cheer and it’s wonderful. It’s saying that it’s alright, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about, being a Brummie. The problem is that we don’t think we’re good enough so we try to be like other places, we see other cities and the councillors think we’ve got to be like them and we haven’t. We had some magnificent buildings in Birmingham, some architectural gems and we got rid of them to be like Las Vegas, glass and plastic and that pile of hub caps in the Bull Ring.”
You once said that you were travelling hopefully. Are you still travelling, and do you think you’ll ever arrive? “I’m definitely still travelling. While they still want to see what I do I’ll be doing it. I’m always travelling hopefully. I don’t think I’ll ever arrive; maybe the world will catch up with us Brummies one day but until then we’ll keep travelling.”