The Steele thing
The all-singing, all—dancing Tommy Steele is coming to Edinburgh with a greatest-hits package. Mark Fisher asks him where he gets his energy.
OK, so he may not be Mr Credibility. but meeting him in the flesh. it‘s very difficult not to be enthused by Tommy Steele. What‘s inspiring about the man with the biggest top-teeth grin in showbiz is that even after all these years he‘s still full ofthe wide-eyed energy that must have propelled him into the slightly naff world of British rock ‘n’ roll circa 1956. That‘s probably Steele‘s problem: as a rock ‘n‘ roller he wasn’t Elvis. as a star of the musicals he wasn‘t Gene Kelly. as a celebrity novelist he wasn‘t Jackie Collins and as a celebrity sculptor . . . well. he‘s the only celebrity sculptor. I‘m not saying he was second-rate. [just wonder whether the real action was always somewhere else.
‘They say, “You started in 1963 with Half a Sixpence.” I say, “No, I started in 1956 with ‘Rock with the Caveman’.” ’
If it was, Steele doesn't seem bothered. He has an unforced modesty. proud of his achievements but candid about his failures. ‘If you don’t stand still long enough.‘ he says, ‘they‘re not going to find out you're getting away with murder!‘ So if he does tell
Steele yourself. here's Tommy,
you about the success of his first novel. he doesn't mind mentioning the three subsequently-written and subsequently-rejected follow-ups either. ‘Thankfully a lot of’the stuff I do that is bad doesn‘t get to be dubbed bad because no one gets to see it.‘
This Renaissance-style openness to different anforms probably accounts for Steele‘s apparent contentedness (the ehirpy chappy persona you see on stage is the real thing. he assures me). ()1in in Scandinavia. of all places. does public demand hold Steele in a l950s time-warp. although the Americans are not always too hot on their history. ‘They do not know me as anything other than a musical performer.’ he says. ‘They say. “You started in l963 with Hu/fu .S'ixpenr‘e." l say. “No. I started in 1956
with ‘Rock with the Caveman‘." ’
Otherwise. Steele says he has never found pigeon- holing to be a problem; indeed. fame in one area often spills over to add to his kudos in another. The continual drive to communicate and then to be loved for it. irrespective of the form. is what spurs him on. ‘lf you don’t mind failing. then do it.‘ he says. ‘That's what I’ve been like for my whole career. When failure comes. it hurts. but the hurt that you get is nowhere near the charge you get from suecess.‘
And his preferred art-form? ‘l like all of it when it‘s working.‘ he says. ‘I think sculpting is the most wonderful thing in the world when l'vejust finished something that I‘m rather pleased with. I don‘t like it much when the arms keep falling off. lfl had to choose one artform. l’d choose the theatre. That is the greatest thing in the world because it is live.’
Thus. his latest venture. 0/1 What a Show. a greatest-hits package from a four-decade career. ‘The band don't stop playing. the kids don’t stop dancing and I don't stop chatting.’ he says of this two-and-a- half hour show, complete with hydraulic staircase. and state~of-the-art lighting rig. And no matter how many times he might have bashed out ‘Flash Bang
‘I think sculpting is the most wonderful thing in the world when I’ve just finished something that I’m rather pleased with. I don’t like it much when the arms keep falling off.’
Wallop' and ‘Little White Bull‘. he‘s still itching to get out and do them again. ‘lf you‘ve got something that you want to do. it generates its own energy.‘ he says. ‘lt's pretty much like action man — you come in with hand-grenades. a machine-gun on your back and dynamite to find the audience sitting there as quiet as a lamb and all ofa sudden you go. “Bang! Wow! Bang!“ and you walk on with this pocketful of dreams and tricks and you keep doling them out and just can’t wait to get on to do it.‘
Oh What a Show. [Edinburgh Play/muse. Mmr 4—.S'ut 9 Apr.
Last time you saw him he was working his way through the Seven Deadly Sins, now Bruce Morton is back and he’s wandering one by one through the rooms in your house. Well, maybe not your house, but his house or houses in general. With one TV series, Sin, under his belt, Glasgow’s number one narrative comedian is working towards series two, each of its six episodes finding comedy in a different room - the bathroom’s toilet humour is being saved till last.
The previously prolific stand-up claims to be slowing down a little, but that kind of thing is relative and he’ll have amassed no shortage of material for his forthcoming mini-tour that takes In the Traverse and the Tron. Ile denies, however, that he’s using these
gigs simply to test out his new roomy gags. ‘I don’t like to use that phrase because it sounds like I’ll be using the audience as guinea pigs, and they’ve paid money,’ he says. ‘But it is the material I’ve being doing recently, most of which will end up in the TV show.’
In any case, Morton is always worth catching just because his story-telling style bears up to repeated listenings. Plus, even though Sin made one of the more successful transitions from the live stage to the small-screen, it’s hard to beat the experience at seeing a comedian in the ilesh. ‘You can’t get the atmosphere of a club on television,’ says Morton. ‘They’re just kicking themselves in the eye when they try to. When you’re at the gig there’s no fourth wall, but when you’re watching television there’s a small wall right in front of you and the comedian’s behind it.’
Partly for this reason, he’s planning
Bruce Morton: in the flesh this week Ouzo! Next week Sangria, join us in Spain!’ (Mark Fisher)
Bruce Morton, on tour, Fri I-Frl 15 Apr.
that the next series will be his last to be purely stand-up based. ‘I was going to propose a series called Bruce Morton gets Drunk Around the World -
The List 25 March -7 April l99~1 41