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. Irisis 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.
When the panto run was over I returned to London and picked up where I left off with my singing and piano lessons whilst songwriting anywhere and everywhere I could……I used to carry a portable tape around with me and record any ounce of an idea (I still do), I scribbled notes about lyrics and listened to a lot of different music.
Around this time I also entered a few ‘talent contests’ in various pubs/clubs for the experience and fun, plus there was always the chance somebody important might be out there in the audience. One night after a north London pub contest, I met two budding songwriters who invited me to record some of their stuff. It was really interesting recording other people’s songs, collaborating, working things out together in the studio, it’s a process which really satisfies creatively and at the end of this recording session, we’d completed 2 more good demos. One of them, ‘Good Night’s Sleep’ eventually became the B Side to ‘Angel’ which was one of the first Chris Hamill releases on a small, independent record label.
Later that Summer I auditioned and got the part of Benjamin in ‘Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ which was going on a UK tour. Again it was another chance to learn and grow but unlike Panto this really was a singers show…..after this tour I said for many years that my time performing in ‘Joseph’ really was the best singing lesson I ever had……singing everyday and sometimes twice a day, the brothers actually sing more than the lead part most of the time, it’s vocally very demanding.
The stage part of Benjamin in ‘Joseph’ was offered to me again later that year in Plymouth (south west of UK) at the Hoe Theatre who were putting on the production instead of a Panto for the Christmas season. Whilst in Plymouth I traveled to a town nearby Torquay where there was a small studio to record some more demos. It was during the Plymouth run that fellow actor/singer Tim Bentinck offered me one of his own compositions ‘Who shall I be today’ which we recorded a few months later in London. This demo turned out to be one of my strongest which was important then because I really needed to play some demos back and feel vaguely satisfied….. at such an early stage I was full of doubt……I was constantly wondering if my voice would appeal to anyone, was it good enough, etc, little did I know that a good recording depended on many other factors and not JUST the voice.
After Plymouth I returned to London and joined a band whose advert I saw in the Melody Maker magazine and we named ourselves
‘Crossword’, but after a few songwriting sessions and gigs it sort of fell apart.
I can’t remember exactly why, I think the drummer got his girlfriend pregnant or something…..
That 1980 summer I auditioned and got the part in another theatre musical ‘Godspell’ at the Palace Theatre, Westcliffe On Sea, which unlike ‘Joseph’gave every actor in the cast, a solo song to perform……this was exciting !! During rehearsals too I noticed that all the male actors had exactly the same dark brown hair colour (whereas the girls had a blonde, a brunette, a red head) so I approached the director and suggested that perhaps a male ‘blonde’ cast member might enhance the overall look of the show……he agreed and thus began my first step toward the hair style that would later help personify the Limahl image.
Many years later Ross Davidson, one of my fellow actors in ‘Godspell’ joined the cast of the very successful ‘Eastenders’ BBC TV soap in quite a big part. Spookily too, my character in ‘Godspell’ was a disciple called Lemar……but this played no part influencing the eventual stage name Limahl which was purely an anagram of my real surname Hamill (switch the L from the end and read it backwards).
‘Godspell’ was only a month long but was if it was short, it was definitely sweet……it was summer, I was newly blonde and Diana Ross was high in the chart with one of my favourite songs ‘Upside Down’ and boy did we dance to it at the local Westcliffe discos. The director Chris Dunham was so happy with the success of ‘Godspell’ he asked most of the actors to stay on for the next production, Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder at the vicarage’ which saw me take on my first acting role as murder suspect Dennis, it was a small part but I did enjoy my first foray into the world of acting.
I moved back to London with some happy memories from Westcliffe and whilst recording more demos, I placed that now infamous advert in music magazine Melody Maker which culminated in meeting the group who’s name would soon be uttered in every corner of the globe, Kajagoogoo.
A little trivia……somewhere during those three theatre years, I also appeared in a non speaking part of a ‘Clarks Shoes’ TV Commercial (oddly enough as a guitarist), and later as an ‘extra’ in the pop video for Adam And The Ants’ song ‘Stand and Deliver’.
My story continues on the Kajagoogoo page……