The man who “discovered” Shane Richie
Lynne Mortimer talks to Mr Entertainment, Barry Dye, about his 45 years in showbiz.
Where to begin...
Tina Turner at Portman Road, Status Quo at Carrow Road, Shane Richie in Grease in the West End?
We’ll start at the beginning, in Mellis, near Eye, where a young Barry Dye watched his dad, a wheelwright, make cartwheels at the local smithy. The eight-year-old couldn’t have had any idea that one day he would be schmoozing backstage at the London Palladium in a cramped dressing room with Bob Monkhouse, Jimmy Tarbuck and Bruce Forsyth. At that age, he’d wanted to be a pilot.
In his life in the entertainment industry, however, he has seen as many stars up close as he would have done from the cockpit.
His life changed course when he was made redundant from Ipswich company Crane in 1971 and a friend who ran a pub asked if he could find him some entertainers, Barry ran an ad in the paper and that was the start of it all.
Barry is now celebrating 45 years in showbiz. Based in Ipswich, a lifelong Ipswich Town fan, he arranges events and works as an artists’ manager and entertainment consultant. In the past he has also worked as an agent. He has contact books stuffed with famous names.
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We meet in the Cult Bar, a friendly bar-café on Ipswich waterfront, in order to celebrate this notable landmark in Barry’s career – which by the way, is far from over. It would be fair to say that interviewing Barry is not a matter of getting blood out of a stone... more like trying to stem Niagara Falls. He cheerfully admits to loquaciousness... telling me he recently gave a 45-minute talk and only got half way through his material. He has an awful lot of material, mostly in the form of highly entertaining anecdotes.
Friendly, funny and unflappable, you can understand how Barry is so popular with professional artists. When all around may be losing their heads, he is very much the calm mediator. He is as loyal to his performers as they are to him and over, the years, his natural likeability has brought notable successes... for example, when Bobby Charlton did a series of just six talks, the England and Man U legend let Barry book three of them.
It is impossible to list all the acts Barry has worked with over a span of five decades but a brief taster, in no particular order, has to include Shane Richie, Status Quo, Joe Pasquale, The Nolans, Kenny Ball, Leslie Crowther, Frankie Howerd, Roy Castle, Frank Sinatra (no, not really, just my little joke but Barry did go and see him perform and has a signed photo!). Bob Monkhouse, Suffolk’s Micky Zany, Cannon and Ball, Griff Rhys Jones, Roy Hudd, Frankie Vaughan, Lenny Henry...
What Barry Dye doesn’t know about showbiz management is probably not worth knowing.
His first experience of booking acts was with his own bands, first The Consorts and later, Diss-based The Sonics with whom he worked for 40 years... retiring just a few years back.
Barry has been married to Cindy since 1976 and the couple have a daughter Hayley, an actor who now teaches pilates, who is married to professional cricketer and cricket coach Leigh Parry. Hayley and Leigh have a son Aidan Jake (AJ), born in 2015, who is the apple of grandad Barry’s eye.
The first act Barry signed in December 1975 was illusionists Chris North and Jill, who hail from Norfolk.
Has showbiz been a good career?
“It’s been good for me because I’ve always had that interest in it. It has to be in your blood,” he says.
His older contact books now feature a lot of performers who are no longer with us. “Paul Daniels, Frank Carson... he would ring up the office when I was out and leave a joke on the answerphone.
The late comedian (“it’s the way, I tell ‘em”) was unstoppable.
“Frank did a job for me once at Kesgrave Social Club and he rang me up and to ask if I could pick him up from Ipswich Station. I stood on the platform and I could hear him on the opposite platform, I could hear him coming over the bridge, he got in the car, had tea at my house – he didn’t stop. (After the gig) he was cracking jokes all the way back to the station and, as he went through the barrier, he latched on to a couple of unfortunate fellow passengers...”
But while many older performers are still going, there are new names to watch for: “Three weeks ago I went to Blackpool for an agents’ and bookers’ showcase and saw 72 acts. There was a guy from Great Yarmouth, Graham Noble, goes out as G. He’s an impressionist and could go a long way.”
Does Barry have an eye for talent? “Yes. I can tell within 30 seconds if an act is going to be good or not. It’s like when I saw Shane (Richie, who Barry discovered). How no one else spotted him first, I shall never know.”
“There was only one way Shane was going,” he says and points to the ceiling.
“He walked on with that charisma - he owned the room. Supreme confidence, charisma, talent. When I first saw him in Torremolinos he wanted to get on and asked if I would manage him.”
Barry is immensely proud of the way Shane’s career has progressed. Most famously the actor played Alfie Moon in EastEnders for a number of years. In fact, Barry is proud to have worked with many of his acts but is reluctant to name favourites... they’re all his favourites.
“Cliff Richard is quite a good friend. I’ve always been a Cliff fan,” he says. We recall when Cliff toured with Olivia Newton John. “I chatted up Olivia Newton John once... didn’t get anywhere,” says Barry, adding: “She was going out with Bruce Welch (of The Shadows) at the time.”
When I ask about Barry’s average day, I learn there is no average day. He’ll be up at 8am and sometimes still working at one in the morning.
He says wife Cindy has suggested he might retire: “I say, ‘but what would I do?’ and she says ‘I’d find you plenty to do,’” he gives a rueful smile.
The big concerts at Carrow Road (Shakin’ Stevens and Status Quo) and Portman Road (Tina Turner, 1990) involved a local promotions company which booked the venues and asked Barry to find artists.
“I heard Tina Turner was doing a tour (in the UK) and rang up and asked.”
At first, the venue was queried: “Ipswich?” but Barry launched into a spiel about the whole of East Anglia being able to see the American superstar and the next thing he heard was that Tina was thinking about it.
Barry was expecting to be rung with a yea or nay on the night of the week he always went to the Westerfield Swan, and so he arranged for the call to come through to the pub. It was Barry’s round when he was told Tina Turner had agreed.
The Status Quo concert was planned for Norwich in the summer of 1997. “We always have a press conference to announce the artist and I had a call from the PR guy who asked if it would be okay if Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi came along.
“On that day we did lots of photographs and Rick said ‘I don’t feel too well, can we get a coffee?’. About four, five days later Rick had to have a heart op so the concert had to be cancelled.”
Once Rick had recovered the concert was rearranged but as the football season had started, it was on an away game weekend.
Currently, Barry is planning Thorpefest at Thorpeness in July. Does he get a bit panicky putting together a big programme? “No. I never panic. You get a problem, you solve it. I don’t get stressed.”
The singers, the bands, the impressionists, the comedians, the illusionists – Barry is a one-man Britain’s Got Talent, promoting good acts at a time when variety shows do not have the high profile they once did. Is variety doomed?
“I think variety is alive but it could do with pushing a bit more. There could be more on television. I would like to see (Sunday Night at the Palladium) brought back with the revolving stage,” says Barry as I sing the theme tune. Barry got to see the vast drum revolve mechanism that was under the stage of the theatre until 2002 when it was replaced.
“I’ve seen a lot of good times and though I’m not chasing around so much, these days, I still get a buzz from it.
“I feel very pleased to have helped so many artistes to achieve success in some small way.”
• Barry Dye Entertainments is holding a charity 45 year Anniversary Ball at the Orwell Hotel, Felixstowe, on Saturday, April 1. The charity for the evening is the Stroke Association. Thorpefest is on July 2 2017
• One of the first northern acts Barry brought south was Paul Daniels, who would do six shows in three days for around £60 a show
• The Sonics (for whom Barry was drummer) secured a recording contract and went on to release four albums
• Barry got his first entertainment agency licence on February 4, 1972, from Ipswich Borough Council for £2
• It was at Pontins in Torremolinos in February 1983 that Barry spotted a young bluecoat called Shane Roche who he signed, once his contract with Pontins was up. His name was changed to Shane Richie
• Today, Barry still books acts but he also organises events from security to sound, staging and lighting