Will Birmingham fan Jasper Carrott be singing the Blues when he plays the Ipswich Regent?
- Credit: Archant
Never has a football game been so important, at least for comedian Jasper Carrott whose beloved Birmingham clash with Ipswich the night before he visits the Regent. He spoke to entertainment writer Wayne Savage
If Ipswich wins, Carrot knows he’ll have a great audience. If not, he might get some of that mesh you find in American country and western clubs put up he laughs.
“Of course, Alf Ramsey was (also) manager at Birmingham and Mick Mills, your longest serving player, was at Birmingham (where) I think he was assistant manager with Trevor Francis. Let’s just say I hope the best team wins.
“I used to be a director of Birmingham City and used to have the time of my life in Ipswich. The Cobbold brothers were wonderful, they were absolutely just about the best hosts in the football league. I always said whenever Birmingham played Ipswich I always remembered arriving - I never remember leaving,” he laughs again.
At attempt at psychological warfare, talking up the Tractor Boys’ pre-season successes, falls flat as he reminds me they only managed to draw with Utrecht. He has, he adds, spies everywhere, saying: “We’ll wait and see what happens.”
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Carrott’s in good form when I caught up with him last month on his way to Hampshire for a few rounds of golf with friends. He’d just finished the first half of his Stand Up and Rock tour, alongside his friend of 60 years Bev Bevan, and is enjoying a couple of well-earned days off before hitting the road again. The show, fusing comedy and music, has been a hit.
“I’ve never had reactions like it... I was reading three reviews on Friday that had been brought to me by the management and I thought ‘blimey I’ve written these myself’. I don’t know what we’re doing but we’re doing something right.”
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Reviews, he says, are like water off a ducks back, assuring me he’s his own worst critic. He always looks at the overall picture. The tour’s selling out, audiences are going bananas, reviews don’t really matter.
“I haven’t really worked live on stage for many years seriously. The last time I toured was 1998 and I did a series of dates in Birmingham in about 2005; that really was the last time I did stand-up. It was just Bev, he said ‘we’ve never been on the road, let’s do some shows together’.”
Carrott was a bit reluctant to “start it all up again” but did 20 dates in and around Birmingham.
“It was delightful, I’m... I don’t know, a born again comedian? I’m just having the time of my life and doing what I used to do as good as, if not better, than I used to do it. One of the reasons is I’m doing two half-hours rather than two-and-a-half hours in one schlepp.”
The show is exactly what it says on the tin. Carrott does half-an-hour of stand-up, then on comes The Bev Bevan Band and guests including Rockin’ Berries lead singer Geoff Turton and Celtic rock band Quill’s lead singer Joy. It’s followed by another 30-minutes of jokes and more music, with the comedian getting involved at the end.
“The music is from the 1960s-1980s, it’s songs everybody knows performed by superb musicians; there have hundreds of years experience between them.”
Bevan has been friends with Carrott since they met on the first day of grammar school aged 11. After school they both worked at The Beehive department store in Birmingham. His rock credentials include The Move through to ELO.
“The Beehive, that’s a book in itself, Are You Being Served must have been based on the Beehive, me and Bev are convinced of it,” laughs Carrot, whose comedy career, spanning five decades, is rooted in music.
“We’ve been round the block 101 times, we’ve all got our feet on the ground. Even Geoff, who has been with the Rockin’ Berries since 1961, says quite genuinely it’s the best time he’s had on the road. We love being on stage together. It’s a fantastic touring crew and we all get on like a house on fire.”
That camaraderie is clear to see. Carrott jokes they enjoy it more than the audience. The formula of good music normally only heard at karaoke nights or tribute gigs and comedy has struck a chord with an audience, he says, that’s not catered for.
“They know they’ll not be offended, I’m not going to be effing and blinding and talking about orifices and what goes in and what comes out. They can bring their daughter or their mum. Comedy is no less funny because you’re not swearing. If anything it’s funnier because I’m not relying on the F word to get the laughs on a very weak joke.
“I’m from a generation offended by four-letter words, probably we shouldn’t be; I don’t know. I do know comedians today shore up weak material with expletives and shock the audience into laughing. I invite my audience to laugh, I don’t make them laugh,” says Carrott, who along with the likes of Billy Connolly and Max Boyce pioneered a shift from comedians in bow ties telling mother-in-law jokes to social commentary and satire.
This show sees him talking about getting old. He laughs there’s no other comic that can talk that, except Ken Dodd. There’s a routine about the 1960s and the influence it had on him and probably a lot of the audience. There are stories about his time at school in Wales and a wonderful curry he had in Newcastle. He’s even toying with reviving his legendary car insurance claims anecdotes.
Nobody, says Carrott, can laugh out loud for two-and-a-half-hours straight; hence him splitting his routine. The secret was always to pace yourself, bringing people up and down with laughter; the latter always far harder than the former.
“Now I don’t have to worry. I can go out, get people laughing their socks off for half-an-hour. I stop and the music takes over. By the time I get back a good hour later with the break they’re ready to laugh again. So I give them another half-an-hour and then we’re into the music. It’s a fantastic formula. We also have two screens at the back of the stage and we show photos of people we’re singing about, videos of ELO, myself... We’re looking for old photos of Ipswich in the 1960s and the 1970s; the clubs, the pubs, the dancing venues.”
There’s a chance audience members might see themselves?
“I never actually thought of that,” he laughs. “Maybe that accounts for one or two of the unpredictable screams we get. You’ve solved a problem there.”
Perhaps they’re from football fans who have just realised they’re facing Birmingham.
Jasper Carrott’s Stand Up and Rock visits the Ipswich Regent on September 19.