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Home / Latest News / Never too old to rock ‘n’ roll

Never too old to rock ‘n’ roll

There can’t be many 77-year-olds who will have heard of the ’80s German heavy metallers Accept, let alone the infamous assertion of their diminutive singer Udo Dirkschneider that: “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.”

Then again Barry Cryer – writer, entertainer and bona fide national treasure – is no ordinary septuagenarian, as you might deduce from his musical comedy stage show, previously described – jokingly, one assumes – as “speed metal garage thrash meets George Formby, via Valerie Singleton.

“Yes, I’ve heard of Accept, and no, it’s not too loud and we’re not too old,” laughs the Yorkshire gagmeister who’ll be performing in Cardiff next week with long-term collaborator and guitar virtuoso Ronnie Golden.

“We take the show to the Edinburgh Fringe every year and it always goes down a storm.

“Me and Ronnie, who’s quite brilliant, come up with a topic – be it mobile phone frustrations, Stannah Stairlifts or John Prescott – and write a song around, all in the style of blues, gospel or rock and roll.

“It’s a real shame you don’t see comedy records in the charts anymore, don’t you think?” sighs Cryer, who became a legend in the industry through working with everyone from the Monty Python team to Morecambe and Wise and The Two Ronnies.

“Peter Sellers, Benny Hill – even a band like The Scaffold with their single Lily The Pink – I wish there was more light-hearted stuff like that doing the rounds now.”

He adds: “One musician I’d love to have worked with is Ian Dury because he was such a wordsmith and venerated all the old great comedians, men like Max Wall.

“He’d have Max come onstage before he did and would get really angry when the young audiences didn’t get it – he’d shout at them, ‘Don’t you know you’re looking at a genius?’

“That’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, the kinship between music and comedy. Always get the band you’re sharing a bill with on your side, because they love to see you riffing verbally, doing the same as they do with instruments.”

And has he ever found himself in such a position?

“Actually yes, because I used to be the warm-up man for Tom Jones’ TV show in the ‘70s and I’ve got some really fond memories of that time,” smiles Cryer.

“Above all, I remember him being this really courteous guy who’d sit in the wings chomping on a cigar and watching my act.

“He could have come out at any time and the place would’ve just erupted, but he’d always make sure I was done before coming out.”

The Voice Of The Valleys’ sense of humour never failed to tickle Cryer either.

“One time we had the blind American guitarist José Feliciano on the programme and Tom walked up to him singing, ‘José can’t you see, by the dawn’s early light’.

“And José just laughed, ‘No Tom, I can’t see anything’.”

Another famous Welshman also looms large in Cryer’s mind.

“Tommy Cooper – now there was a real one-off,” he says, recalling his stint writing for the famous fez-wearer from Caerphilly.

“Hated reading the scripts I’d help devise for him though, he was far happier doing his own thing and would wander off the page constantly.

“He was a sweetie though and once said to me, ‘Barry, there’s a 100 brilliant magicians in this country and I’m the idiot’.

“You see, he knew it was his job to play the fool and that’s why the audience loved him.”

There were glimpses of his dark side though, the crippling stage fright and the huge amounts of alcohol he imbibed to combat it.

“An interviewer once told Tom that all he had to do was walk on stage and people would crack up, to which he replied, ‘Perhaps, but you don’t know how much it takes for me just to walk on’.

“It was the only time I saw his mask slip and the seriousness of the man come out,” adds Cryer.

Did he ever suffer from nerves before performing himself, particularly back in the ’50s when he was starting out around the nightclubs of Soho?

“Yes, but I don’t call it that, I prefer the term ‘creative apprehension’,” Cryer laughs.

“The audiences could be just as unforgiving back in those days too and you’d have to learn to die with dignity each night.

“I remember one occasion when I was on and a voice coming from the darkness saying, ‘I suppose you call this satire?’

“To which I replied, ‘No, it’s nightclub filth, you really must get out more’, which got a big laugh.

“But, afterwards, someone took me to one side and said, ‘Don’t you know who that was? It was John Lennon’,” he says.

It wasn’t until years later that Cryer found himself once again in the former Beatle’s company.

“We were appearing on the same TV show together and he asked me, ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’, so I told him.

“He then added, ‘Was I a pig to you?’ before going on to apologise about having been out of his mind on all sorts of substances back then.”

And, even though he’s still going strong after more than half a century in showbiz, Cryer still has no illusions as to how fickle the spotlight can sometimes be.

“I met Bruce Forsyth for the first time in 1957 and he told me his career had gone as far as it could and that he was planning on opening a little tobacconist’s shop instead,” he says.

“A year later I bumped into the new compere on Sunday Night At The Palladium who had an audience of millions.

“So I asked him about what was happening with the tobacconists, ‘He replied, ‘Postponed’.”

Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden play Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, on Wednesday. The show is sold out but call the box office on 029 2030 4400 for returns


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