In 1978, for a while I was living in Hendon (north London) and one night walking nearby on Edgware Rd, I heard an enthusiastic audience responding to 'live' music coming through the door of a small pub I was passing. Intrigued, I went in, bought myself a drink and sat down to watch the popular girl singer on stage performing with her band. Her name was Polly Perkins and she was terrific belting out the songs with a strong voice and a great audience rapport, I felt I was watching a real pro at work (in 1992 she eventually found some mainstream success as a lead character actress in the short lived BBC TV soap 'Eldorado').
As the pub customers slowly dispersed at the end of the night, , I hesitatingly approached Polly and told her I was a budding singer/songwriter. After chatting for a while, to my amazement she actually offered me a singing 'guest' spot at her next gig......I said "what me", looking for some kind of reassurance but she was adamant and thus my invitation to perform at the pub was sealed (even though she didn't remotely know if I could pitch a single note, let alone perform a whole song).
Anyway the next week (I think it was on a Sunday night) I arrived nervously and when called up on stage, duly did my 'turn'......I don't remember exactly what song I did but it was probably something like 'I've got the music in me'-Kiki Dee , however, what I DO remember is, at the end of the night Polly introduced me to one of her best friends, another female performer and singer Iris Chapple.
Iris had an electric personality, which worked very well of course when she was dazzling her own audiences in the West End stage hit musical 'Kismet' (which she was starring in at the time) . We hit it off immediately, she sort of took me under her wing and we became really great friends. She introduced me to her friend Valerie an opera singer who gave me singing lessons for a few months. Iris is also one of the reasons I became a vegetarian......one night I went to dinner at her flat and thoroughly enjoyed the meal which she then proudly pointed out had contained NO meat, fish or chicken. I was quite puzzled !! I looked at my plate and thought for a while before bombarding her with a thousand questions about the whole vegetarian subject then went home and slept on it......the next day I rang her and announced 'I'm becoming a vegetarian too' (which I still am today), I think she was delighted, she had converted me. It's weird but I literally woke up that morning and became a vegetarian.
More significant than diet though, Iris introduced me to her theatrical agent Barry Stacey who agreed to represent the inexperienced, budding vocalist Chris Hamill (I think Iris must have used her fabulous, persuasive powers again). Low and behold, a few weeks later I got a call from Barry to audition for a chorus part in the Pantomime'Aladdin' at the Grand Theatre, Swansea, Wales (which was the second longest Panto in the UK at that time - 3 months). Anyway I must have done a reasonable audition because the part was soon offered to me by director John Chilvers and in so it was, in December that year I signed my first professional contract as a singer, yes I was actually being paid to sing !!
It was strange cause I'd never been to a theatre in my whole life, let alone seen a Panto, my home town Wigan didn't even have a proper theatre and besides, I'd never known anyone who'd been to a theatre, it was almost like an alien word to me and yet here I was, suddenly faced with the prospect of working in one. I did recognise though it was an enormous opportunity to sing every day and work with other performers......surely I was gonna pick up some good tips.
Unbeknown to me, Panto was (and still is) a huge theatre tradition in UK theatre and every Christmas audiences flock to see them. 'Aladdin' played to packed houses everyday and for a few weeks we even performed 3 shows a day which was exhausting really. I had no life outside the theatre, I woke up and went straight to the theatre then went home from the theatre and just slept......but what a great learning curve it was, the discipline was fantastic, foundation building stuff. I also had a great time in Swansea and made some good friends with my fellow cast members.
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