Thursday, 29 September 2016

INTERVIEW Neville Staple

IN the 70s and 80s The Specials were one of the country’s most respected and popular bands. Formed in Coventry in 1977 they were synonymous with the whole 2 Tone movement and although they were only together for a relatively short time, they produced some of the most recognisable and successful songs of that era.
The energy for the band came mainly from Jamaican-born Neville Staple, a natural born entertainer, who made a name for himself as the one who would jump about on stage, leap off the speakers and generally bounce around.
And while he admits he may not have the incredible energy that he once had thanks to a near fatal car accident, problems with his knees and a stroke, he does have the charisma and passion for the music he’s always had to give a spectacular show.
Which is good news for his army of loyal fans as the Original Rude Boy has continued to write, play, produce and tour his music since The Specials disbanded.
The 61 year old is just putting the finishing touches to his new double album Return Of Judge Roughneck (and Dub Specials), and to complement its release later this autumn is back on the road with a UK tour.
Among the many dates will be a night at the Brixton Jamm on Saturday, October 8 in which he will be on stage with his wife and band.
“I can’t wait to go back down there,” he tells me in his Coventrian lilt. “I’ve not been there for a while but I do like the venue as it gets a good crowd who are totally into the music. 
“I love playing in London - there is always a good vibe and Brixton is a great place - it’s changed a lot of course but it still has that atmosphere and energy which I love.
“When I’m in front of a crowd, especially in London, I always give a party as I want everyone to enjoy themselves. That’s what it’s always been about for me - and nothing has changed.
“I’ve always loved being on stage and being the life and soul, smiling all the time, and now with this new band I’m happy and when they play they get into it all so well.
“So anyone who comes along will have a great time.”
On the line up will be music from his 2014 album Ska Crazy, a collection of songs and covers of ska classics such as Johnny Too Bad and Time Longer That Rope that has been done in his own inimitable style.
There will also be a set from his wife, Christine “Sugary” Staple - who he credits with keeping him going - of her new EP Rude Girl Sounds which he produced and provided backing vocals for.
And for Specials fans there will of course be a selection of the old favourites such as Ghost Town, Message To You Rudy and Too Much Too Young, though done Neville’s way.
Sadly what there won’t be are any of his new work from his forthcoming album Return Of Judge Roughneck (and Dub Specials).
“I’m still working on it,” he chuckles when I ask why. “I’ve been doing loads of festivals and DJing and stuff like that this year which has taken up my time so I’m still working on it. 
“I’m in the studio most days as I want it to be right and it’s nearly finished. 
“But you won’t be disappointed. It’s a really good mix of covers, songs that I grew up with, and some new stuff I’ve written - always done in my own style.”
Throughout our chat Neville comes across as relaxed and content. Indeed since leaving The Specials after their reunion a few years ago, Neville says he’s happier and more content than he’s ever been.
Relaxed and down to earth he’s more concerned about the music and making sure his fans have a good time at his gigs.
However, it’s clear there is no love lost and he rules out any future reunion with his former band mates.
“We don’t talk to each other anymore but that’s fine,” he says. “I’ve been doing this a long time but to be honest I’m happier now. I’ve got Christine, my band and I’m still making music - so what’s not to love.
“What I love most is going out on stage and seeing everyone there and then listening to them singing the songs back at me. They are always word perfect too. Sometimes I just give the audience the mic and they do the rest and if they want more, I give them more - some songs go on for ages!
“Brixton will be great because it’s such a fantastic atmosphere and they really get into the groove.
“I’ve got my wife Christine with me and the band is incredibly supportive too - it’s all much friendlier and we all have lots of fun. 
“The only thing I can’t do is jump about as much as I used to!”

Neville Staple and his band are playing at Brixton Jamm, Brixton Road on Saturday, October 8. Tickets cost £15. Call the box office on 0207 274 5537.

INTERVIEW: Chris Jarvis and Funharmonics at the Royal Festival Hall

MENTION the name Chris Jarvis and most parents and their offspring will know exactly who you mean.
With his infectious smile, wit and exuberance, the actor, entertainer and presenter has been a regular fixture on our TV screens for more than 20 years. Most recently he has hosted the BBC’s extremely popular daytime CBeebies programme Show Me Show Me alongside Pui Fan Lee, as well as its spin off live show which has toured to theatres across the country.
But what you may not know is that Chris is also passionate about music. So much so that he was asked to present an hour long concert designed to introduce classical music, musicians and their instruments to children and their families.
That was about 17 years ago and it was such a success that Chris has become the regular presenter of the show, Funharmonics, which is performed about three times a year at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall.
It is back again on Sunday October 9 with Chris once again at the helm as master of ceremonies in which he will introduce Funharmonics: Tales From The North.
The show will take the audience on a musical family adventure through the weird and wonderful world of Nordic folktales following the footsteps of Norwegian folk hero Peer Gynt as he travels through Norway, Finland and beyond.
During the show audiences will see and hear a wonderful sunset, meet a beautiful princess, have a scary encounter with a Mountain King as well as bump into composer Sibelius and find out how the Finnish landscape, fairy stories and mighty storms inspired him and his music.
With narration by Chris, it will be performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
As I chat to him about his involvement in Funharmonics and what it means to him to be part of it, Chris’s passion for music is evident.
And I can confirm that he is brilliant company and just as cheerful, warm and friendly in real life as he comes across on screen and stage.
“I absolutely love being part of Funharmonics and so it’s lovely to be back at the Royal Festival Hall,” he says warmly. 
“Music is life enriching and this is such a brilliant idea, to enable children and their parents to see and hear a live orchestra, the musicians and their instruments and introduce them to this magical world of storytelling through music - and those who composed the pieces.
“It’s designed to be fairly simple and as accessible as possible and it works really well as it is interactive in a gentle way and which is absorbing and captivating for young people.
“I’ve been doing it about 17 years now and every time I look out into the audience and see the wonder and amazement on their faces it’s terrific.
“And just being in this incredibly magical concert hall is fantastic. I love coming back here.”
This year’s show features some of his favourite music and a story which Chris says will appeal to all ages.
“It follows Peer Gynt and his travels through Norway, Finland and Denmark,” says Chris. “It’s been very cleverly written by our educational consultant with him travelling through these countries with the music sculptured around him and the journey he makes.
“A lot of work goes into it though, as with each of the concerts there is always light and shade, dramatic pieces as well as elements of comedy which gives variety. 
“It’s about taking key moments and phrases to demonstrate the musical storytelling and which instruments do what so it’s a subtle learning experience as well as entertainment.
“I hope what we do with these concerts is to show children, and their parents, that classical music isn’t stuffy or something to shy away from or be scared of - and that the musicians and the conductors are friendly, warm and fun!
“In some ways I feel a fraud because I’m surrounded by the most incredible hard working, gifted and talented people who spend hours perfecting their craft,” he adds. 
“Rehearsals are always intense because of their astonishing attention to detail and the ability to start right in the middle of the piece note perfect.
“It’s awesome and of course I’m there to work but it doesn’t feel like work. It’s just an incredible privilege to be part of it.”
And as well as the concert, throughout the morning there are free musical activities around the building offering a fun and interactive way into the concert, plus opportunities for children to 'have a go' at different orchestral instruments under expert instruction, something that Chris says is “brilliant”.
“Giving youngsters a chance to try out some of the instruments they have seen being played in front of them is a fantastic and brilliant idea,” he says.
“It means that if they’ve seen an instrument that inspires them in the concert they can go and see what it’s like and keep that momentum and interest going.
“After the show I often go into the foyer and see what’s going on and there are always lots of children picking up instruments that they would perhaps not do otherwise and seeing what they are like to play and the sound they make - it’s great!”
Chris’s own passion for music was there from a young age thanks he says to his parents who took him to see concerts and shows and where music was played in the house all the time.
It has he said, given him an appreciation of all genres - from pop to jazz, classical to opera.
“My parents’ taste in music was eclectic so I was exposed to a lot of different stuff,” he says. “I grew up in Essex but had grandparents in Portsmouth and I remember there were long car journeys to see them where we listened to all sorts of things on the radio.
“I realised that my friends had a much more blinkered view of music as they tended to be into one particular variety, whether it was indie or rock, whereas I liked pretty much all of it!
“Even now music is still a major part of my life and I listen to stuff all the time. My favourites are the Russians such as Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky - dramatic music - but I also love fun stuff by people such as Gershwin and Leroy Anderson as well as musicals such as Les Miserables and Sunset Boulevard. And like most people I like a lot of stuff but don’t know the composer or writer.
“But as a child I just tended to lap it up although I do wish I had studied harder when I learned to play the piano.
“I only got to Grade 6 so I’m a bit of a frustrated musician and wish I’d carried on,” he adds modestly. 
“I bought a piano a few years ago and there is nothing better than inviting friends over - especially musical ones - who then take a seat at the piano and start playing. It’s just amazing and I’m constantly in awe of anyone who can play an instrument well.
“I keep thinking I should take up lessons again, but work tends to get in the way what with recording programmes like Show Me Show Me, doing the live show and then at this time of year gearing up for panto.”
And it is Sleeping Beauty in Richmond which he will soon be turning his attention to.
“We have the most brilliant cast including Maureen Lipman who is amazing,” he says. “She’s such a star and a great musician and a joy to work with. It’s going to be a fantastic production - a real proper show for all the family.
“The biggest thing you get from panto is the warmth and that’s what’s great about the Funharmonics too. Everyone has a good time - it’s utterly magical.”

Funharmonics: Tales From The North is on at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday, October 9. Tickets from £5. Visit or call the box office on 020 7960 4200 for full listings.

Monday, 26 September 2016

INTERVIEW - Michael Williams

THERE have been few people in the world who have been so revered and loved as Nelson Rohlihlahla Mandela.
The South African, who emerged triumphant from prison in 1990 after being incarcerated for 27 years was an anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist. He was also South Africa’s first black president and started the process of dismantling the legacy of apartheid when he became president.
Although throughout his life he was a controversial character both at home and abroad, when he died in 1999 it seemed the whole world mourned his passing.
Now an epic operatic tribute to this iconic man is to be performed by Cape Town Opera in association with Wales Millennium Centre at the Royal Festival Hall.
It is part of Southbank Centre’s Africa Utopia, a season devoted to celebrating the arts and culture of one of the world’s most dynamic and fast changing continents.
Mandela Trilogy, one of the undoubted highlights of the festival, is a large-scale musical celebration of his long life and promises to be a spectacular portrait of a man who touched the hearts and minds of people around the world. 
It reflects both a life of extraordinary contrasts, and an overarching theme of unflinching courage in the face of adversity.
With music by Peter Louis van Dijk and Mike Campbell, it is presented in three parts by a cast of more than 60 South African performers, including three different incarnations of Mandela and with different styles of music to represent the contrasting phases of his life. 
It follows him from tribal initiation rites on the banks of the Mbashe River and heady and rebellious jazz-fuelled days in Sophiatown, to incarceration and reflection on Robben Island and finally freedom, liberation and becoming President.
The upbeat jazz- and swing-influenced songs of Sophiatown in the central section of the piece are framed on either side by more familiar contemporary opera forms. Authentic Xhosa folk music grounds the production in the sounds and culture of South Africa.
The piece has been created by writer Michael Williams, the show’s director and librettist and managing director of Cape Town Opera.
In a chat ahead of the performance, which will also tour selected venues across the country as well as the Royal Festival Hall, Michael tells me it has been a fascinating if somewhat nerve-wracking job to bring it to the stage but something that he is incredibly proud of.
“Cape Town Opera has been putting on new pieces since its inception to fill an operatic repertoire with characters and stories of where we are as a country,” he says.
“This particular piece came about when the 2010 rugby World Cup came to South Africa.
“I had written a lot of pieces about South Africa and was asked to write this one. We decided we should do a piece on Nelson Mandela, the father of our nation, to show where we have come as a country.
“I took on the commission and regretted it immediately!” he laughs. 
“It was a massive piece. Where do you start? It would be like doing something on Winston Churchill - it was huge and to say it was nerve-wracking is to put it mildly!
“Who and what do you leave out as there was so much in his life and it spans a huge period - he lived for almost a century and it was an eventful 100 years in our history with the First and Second World Wars which he lived through not to mention being in prison for 27 years and coming out into the modern world.
“So you can imagine I was enormously intimidated by it all.”
Despite the herculean task Michael took on the challenge and put on the piece in 2010. But he says it wasn’t right and was more of a “history lesson” which he says wasn’t what he or audiences really wanted.
So a period of “extensive change” to the piece took place before Michael says he was happy with it.
In fact it took Michael about 18 months to write followed by an extra year with all the revisions.
To create it he decided it should focus on the great conflicts in Mandela’s life - those with his wife, with his party, his own life, with peace and with violence.
“Any work of art that has conflict at its core has success written all over it,” he says. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it can be a good thing.
“I decided to look at the major moments of conflict in this life particularly those that were turning points for him. 
“For example the first act revolves around the fact as a young man he was told by the village chief that he would always be a slave to the system - something he was furious about and which made a huge impression on him. He realised it was sowing a political seed in him.
“The second was about his charisma, his affairs and his turning against violence. He started the military wing of the ANC but eventually he knew that if people stood up against the apartheid government of the time at his behest he would effectively be killing a lot of them. So he had to go back to them and tell them not to.
“The third moment was his imprisonment. 
“In the end I realised it had become a work of threes - the three women in his life, his three major speeches, three prisons, three letters and so I looked at producing three soundtracks to his life.
“I had to do quite a bit of research and had files open throughout rehearsals once I’d written it so that the cast could get some context. For many of them, they only saw him and knew of him in the later stages of his life so they didn’t know much about him. Being able to refer to the files was invaluable to give them some context.
“For the audience they will see three hot spots in his life dramatised with three different musical influences and three different men playing him. It’s turned into quite a thing!”
Although Michael never met Mandela he says he did see him give one of his speeches in Cape Town and one of Mandela’s daughters saw the production and heaped praise upon it.
“It was very nerve-wracking because you never know how these things are going to be received,” he says.
“But she was very gracious. She said her father had told her about his life growing up and when she saw the piece she said she caught a glimpse of what his life was like. That was very special for me.
“It was a fine line to tread because I didn’t want to make him out to be something that he wasn’t. However, we live in a democratic society now and there was no pressure to soft edge anything but he was such an iconic figure and I wanted to do justice to him and his life. 
“As well as be entertained and see something amazing and spectacular from an incredibly talented and huge cast, I hope people coming to see this may also learn something about Mandela that they didn’t know before. Perhaps that he wasn’t a saint - he always said he was more a sinner than sinned. 
“It’s hugely exciting to be bringing it to the Southbank Centre and I hope audiences will be similarly touched by the story of an ordinary man who had an extraordinary life, an icon who became father of our nation.”

Mandela Trilogy is on at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre between August 31 and September 3. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7960 4200 for full listings.

INTERVIEW Kathryn Hunter

POLITICS, absolute power, leadership and corruption are some of the themes that form the backdrop to the world premiere of Colin Teevan’s play The Emperor about the regime of Ethiopian dictator Haile Selassie.
Based on the book by legendary journalist Ryszard Kapuściński it provides a fascinating insight in to what it might have been like to live under Selassie’s rule.
But rather than focus on the man himself, this extraordinary tale of corruption, avarice and the collapse of absolute power is told from the point of view of his servants - how they felt, what they thought and how they witnessed the brink of their autocratic ruler’s downfall. 
The production has just opened at the Young Vic and alongside live music performed by Temesgen Zeleke, the cast of characters, numbering about 12 in all, are all brought to life by Kathryn Hunter.
The actress is making a welcome return to the Waterloo-based theatre, having last been seen there in the critically acclaimed production, Valley of Astonishment.
In a break from rehearsals she tells me she’s delighted to be back and being part of an “important” story and at a theatre she clearly loves
“The Young Vic is great,” she enthuses in her distinctive throaty voice. “It’s my favourite theatre in London - I think the ethos that [artistic director] David Lan has created is brilliant. 
“He’s astute and passionate and it’s trickled out to everyone who works there - they are all really engaged, producing amazing work with passion and commitment.
“Also, the audiences they attract make it very special.”
But back to the matter in hand, and this colourful and diverse range of characters that Kathryn has to inhabit to tell the story.
I ask what it’s like to be faced with such a proposition and she admits that it’s all consuming - although for audiences lucky enough to go and see it, it will be a chance for her to show off her versatility and extraordinary talent as an actress.
“There is a gallery of servants in the palace that we have created and I play all of them so yes, it’s quite a challenge,” she says warmly. 
“In the novel there are about 30 but we have cut them down to about 12 and have chosen to find the life of them and their emotions.
“That’s still quite a few and of course they are all very different so changing characters quite quickly in terms of voices and gestures can be tricky but it’s been a joy to do.
“Normally of course when you prepare for a show you focus on one person but I have to be careful to tend to all of them otherwise they lose strength. It’s like having children, you have to make sure you put in quality time with all of them!
“Also I’m not completely on my own as I’m working with the wonderful Temesgen Zeleke who will be playing live and beautifully, so the texture of the piece and the pulse of Ethiopia is evident throughout.
“There is a lot of humour and fun but during the course of the piece we see the regime begin to collapse and it’s quite dramatic. And as well as the wonderful music it’s a very visual experience.”
As she tells me about it all Kathryn appears to be quite laid back about the prospect of playing so many characters but then she is used to challenging herself in the roles she takes on. 
During her extensive career following her training at RADA, she has had stints at the The Globe, RSC, Shared Experience and ground-breaking theatre company Complicite which was co-founded by her husband, theatre maker Marcello Magni, among many others.
She has also worked with legendary director Peter Brook, won an Olivier Award in 1991 and has switched sides to direct a series of successful productions including Othello. 
Not only that she has also made a name for herself playing some of the male roles including Richard III, Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a male chimp in Kafka's Monkey, being the first British woman King Lear in 1997 and most recently, Cyrano De Bergerac at the Southwark Playhouse.
Kathryn says she doesn’t actively go out of her way to choose challenging roles, but she admits, chuckling, that they often find her.
And to her credit she doesn’t shy away from them either. Indeed she positively embraces them.
“I find these roles tend to find me and I do like to see what I can do with them,” she says.
“I suppose I do like to challenge myself but the strange thing is I don’t have a master plan, it just happens.
“In terms of the male roles I have been more attracted to them because they have more to do and women are often sidelined in plays.”
The Emperor appealed Kathryn says because the story is told by the servants but rather than be an accurate and totally true account of what happened, it mixes both journalism and fiction to create what she describes as a “parable about power”.
“Ryszard Kapuściński said that for him if you write a play as a journalistic history lesson it will wash over people’s heads, but if it’s a fable people will remember the themes and that is the best kind of story telling,” she says. “So it will be educational but in a fun, engaging and dramatic way.
“What we are hoping to achieve is to show that there are many parallels to what is going in our world today and bring out the relevant themes.
“It’s not Julius Casear though - we are seeing it through the centurions’ eyes and that makes it a much more interesting take. What do they think, are they totally devoted and loyal and how much are they living in fear and repression?”
She says audiences will relate to not just the politics but also perhaps situations in their own lives with business, their employers or work colleagues.
“It’s all masters and servants, those who rule and those who serve,” she says. “That perspective is very interesting.
“The audience will get to question the questions of loyalty and power and what is good governance.
“Haile Selassie was an oppressor and tyrant but the regime that came afterwards makes him look the most sainted leader. It was horrendously bloody and even now in Ethiopia there have been riots on some issues of inequality, the necessity of land reform and unfair taxation and things that concern us all.
“Then we have what’s going on in America with the rise in popularity of Donald Trump and what a win for him could mean for the rest of the world. There are those who critique Obama but he looks like a class act in comparison.
“So around the world there is an issue of what is good leadership. Here, the Labour Party is in crisis at the moment. The question there is, is it possible to maintain principles in a modern world.
“For me it makes this play so fascinating because of the parallels that can be found in our lives today,” she adds. 
“The notion of absolute power, what it means and how it’s perceived. I think audiences will connect with ordinary people, the servants of the Emperor as they suffer the consequences of his actions and decisions. It’s going to be fascinating to see their reactions.”

The Emperor is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo between September 3 and 24. Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7922 2922. 
Following its premiere at the Young Vic, The Emperor will run at HOME in Manchester between Wednesday September 28 September and Saturday October 8 and at Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg between Wednesday October 12 and Friday October 14.

INTERVIEW - Jimmy Osmond and his Tribute to Andy Williams

IT may be 7.30am Utah time when I call Jimmy Osmond but he sounds as fresh as a daisy when he answers the phone.
The 53-year-old who, alongside his older siblings, has wowed the world with a string of catchy pop songs over many decades tells me his days always start early so he can see his kids off to school.
And indeed during our chat he waves his brood off whilst checking they have the necessary school kit with them.
It is typical Jimmy, a family man above all else who tells me he tries to provide a “normal” upbringing for his four kids yet who himself had an anything but normal childhood thanks to the phenomenon that was and still is The Osmonds.
In fact this year is a special one for Jimmy because it marks his 50th in the business as he was just three years old when he made his performance debut on America’s Andy Williams Show.
His older siblings were already fixtures on the show, after having been spotted in the 1960s singing barbershop music as children. But Jimmy’s inclusion into the group assured the Osmond’s success and their elevation to teen music idols thanks to a mass of hit tunes across the world including the infamous Puppy Love and Long Haired Lover From Liverpool.
But as Jimmy tells me, their worldwide fame and success was all down to Andy Williams - who not only booked them to appear on his show where they were regulars for most of the 1960s but also enabled them to meet and work with some of the great names in the business - Elvis Presley and Frank and Nancy Sinatra to name but three.
Although Jimmy admits he was at first in awe of and a bit frightened of Andy - not surprising given his young age - he formed a bond with him that has seen Jimmy dedicate a live show to the great man which he has been performing and producing for a number of years.
And to celebrate his long standing relationship with Andy and his own 50 years in the business, Jimmy is bringing a new incarnation of the show - A Tribute to Andy Williams – Moon River and Me - to the UK.  
Packed with award-winning music, nostalgic footage and Jimmy’s own personal memories of Andy Williams, the 27 date nationwide tour begins this week and runs through until October 30.   
It features stops at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley on Monday, October 17 and then at the New Wimbledon Theatre a day later on Tuesday, October 18. And Jimmy tells me he can’t wait.
“I love Britain and I’m so excited to be back,” he says warmly. “I’ve never performed at Wimbledon before although I do know the area well - just don’t get me to play any tennis!
“I’m looking forward to it and entertaining the wonderful audiences there. It will be a nostalgic show,  a tapestry of experiences, something for all the family which is really important to me. 
“And of course it will be full of wonderful music and a tribute to Andy who became a really good friend.”
Jimmy, who will be joined on stage by The Moon River Band and special guest stars Charlie Green and Emily Penny, promises a set list complete with some of the chart-topping hits that made him and his brothers famous.
These will include songs such as I’ll sing Music To Watch Girls By, Happy Heart, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Almost There, May Each Day, Days of Wine and Roses and of course Moon River.
“I still love singing these amazing songs and what’s great is that there is still an appetite from audiences to hear them,” he says warmly.
“I love looking out and seeing generations of families out in the audience and hearing them sing along. We get a real cross section of people - Grandma and her grandkids - who are all wrapped up in the music.
“It’s a lot of fun and I get to show footage of working with Andy and all these iconic people and tell the stories of what happened. There will also be footage of Andy singing and I’ll accompany him. It feels like it was only yesterday that it was all happening.
“What’s really wild is how much this music means to people. I get so many people come up afterwards to say how much it has meant to them to hear those songs. It’s very special and I get emotional thinking about it.”
It’s clear as we chat that Jimmy is not only warm and friendly but incredibly modest and says he still can’t quite believe he’s celebrating 50 years in the spotlight.
“I never really thought about it and never took it that seriously,” he says. “My brothers were already regulars on the Andy Williams Show when I joined the ranks. But I’ve always loved music, performing and entertaining - there is nothing better than bringing joy to people in that way and allowing them to forget their troubles and have some fun.
“I love that the music can take people back and touch people in this way - for me that’s the biggest reward.
“But it was just normal for us when I was growing up to be doing all these shows and meeting all these people. It went on and I’ve been incredibly lucky but our legacy grew out of Andy. 
“Andy was very special - although to begin with I was scared to death of him! My dad made us rehearse for hours just so we could stay on the TV but all of us respected Andy.
“Then 27 years ago he asked me to build a theatre which I did, enabling us to connect on a business level as well. Then after he died I was asked to take over the operations of his Moon River Theatre in Branson Missouri. I’m now responsible for producing and booking shows and do hundreds each year. It’s a huge honour.
“I wanted to do it so I can keep his legacy alive but this show has blind sided me! Initially it was a pet project of his for the theatre and I wasn’t in it but I produced it. Then people said I should host it so next thing I know, here we are!” he laughs.
“I do a lot of the singing but it’s wonderful to step back and hear people like Charlie and Emily perform some of the songs in their own way and see how it connects with the younger generations.
“It’s really cool and I feel like I’m fulfilling a commitment to an old buddy which I’m thrilled about.”
Despite his obvious enthusiasm and passion for the show, he admits there is a “huge responsibility” to not only honour Andy’s legacy but put on a good gig for the fans, of which there are many. It’s down to his hard work ethic, instilled in him since he was a child, that helps to make it the success it is.
“People pay hard earned money and so it better be worth it in my opinion,” he says cheerfully. “What’s great is the show is attracting new audiences, not necessarily Osmond audiences, so there is more pressure to make sure I deliver.
“It’s got big production elements as well as the band and special guests so it’s visually spectacular as well as musically so.
“I don’t think what I do is hard though because for me it’s just fun but I do feel really blessed that I am still doing what I love.”
Jimmy is clear that it is all down to Andy that he and his brothers had the success they did and that it lasted. And indeed after the Osmond siblings went their separate ways, brothers Jimmy and Donny in particular enjoyed solo success on stage as well as screen.
For Jimmy it included spending time producing the Andy Williams Show alongside various television specials as well as writing and illustrating the award-winning children’s book Awesome Possum Family Band in which Jimmy used his cartooning skills to create the characters himself.
He has also spent a great deal of time on and off in the UK thanks to performances in several West End shows such as Grease, appearing in panto, on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity…. Get Me Out of Here, All Star Family Fortunes and of course cooking up a storm in the BBC TV show Celebrity Masterchef in which he made it all the way to the finals.
“In the UK, the other things I’ve done and opportunities I’ve been offered such as the jungle and the cooking, they have been such great experiences and have made me not afraid of tackling anything that comes along,” he says. 
“With Celebrity Masterchef it got really emotional because it went way beyond what I had expected - I mean come on! It was such a cool experience although it now means my family wants me to cook!
“But these experiences have also allowed me to take away friendships that have really lasted and I feel when I go out on stage now it’s to see my audiences who I consider friends.
“They all care so much and I care about them so it’s a lovely experience and I’m so looking forward to getting out there and seeing them again with this tour. It will be awesome.”

Jimmy Osmond’s A Tribute To Andy Williams - Moon River and Me is on at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley on Monday, October 17 and at New Wimbledon Theatre on Tuesday, October 18. Visit or call the box office on 0203 285 6000 or visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646 for full listings.

INTERVIEW - Asher Senator

Stepping into Asher Senator’s music studio in Stockwell there is a real sense of calm. Tucked away in the Springfield Estate in Union Road, Code 7 is one of the several units in the Springfield Community Centre and is a safe haven for young people to come along and record their music.
Although it’s about 10am there is hardly anyone there. But Asher assures me it will soon be a hive of activity as he welcomes youngsters, many of whom have been in trouble with the police, kicked out of school or been in gangs but who have a passion for rapping, DJing and creating music.
Asher has run the studio, with almost no public subsidy, for 20 years and during that time has been responsible for changing the lives of hundreds of young people. 
In fact he has won praise from both the police and Lambeth council for the work he has done to keep kids off the streets, out of trouble and channel their energies and passion into music.
And this passion is something Asher can identify with. Indeed anyone growing up in the 80s and who was obsessed with music will be familiar with his name thanks to his partnership with one of the most recognisable reggae artists of that decade - Smiley Culture.
The pair were practically inseparable during those years famous for their fast chat style of DJing, and producing two of the most critically acclaimed reggae singles of the decade - Cockney Translator and Police Officer.
Smiley died aged just 48 in March 2011 during a police raid on his home and it’s clear that Asher is still devastated by the loss of his close friend.
But in an effort to remember the good times and introduce Smiley the man to another generation, Asher has written and published a book about his friend.
Smiley And Me is a heartfelt and honest look at the man, his music and how his legacy lives on amongst his friends and fans. Spanning three decades it tells the story of how they grafted their way to the forefront of the British reggae scene and recalls events and incidents that happened to both of them during that time.
“It has been an amazing journey writing this book,” says Asher. “Smiley was such a cool guy. Funny, warm, mad and so passionate about music. He was also brave and courageous - although he hated mice and spiders!
“He was always into something, a project or money making deal but he was always loyal and very generous.
“He had such amazing charisma and presence and the more time goes on the more I miss him.
“So I wanted to write about me and Smiley, about our lives and the people in them. It took me all in all about two years to write with my friend Ricardo helping me structure it. 
“Now here it is and I’ve already sold several hundred copies. His spirit is in this book and I’m very proud of it.”
And so he should be as it’s a great read - heartfelt and funny featuring anecdotes, lyrics and pictures and immerses the reader in their lives totally, to the point you almost feel you were there with them. 
There are plenty of references to the places in South London where they lived, worked and socialised not to mention the musicians and artists who they met and worked with during their hey day.
As well as painting a vivid picture of what their lives were like back then and being a terrific read - and not just for music lovers - I tell Asher it would be great as an audio book. 
His eyes light up and he beams. “Yes, it would! I have been told that by a few people so I may consider that - it would be my longest record! 
“We were just two DJs from Brixton and I just wanted it to be something that would tell our story, truthfully and faithfully and be fun to read at the same time.
“It was an amazing time back then and being with Smiley - we had such a good bond and we were so close, always together, writing, recording, touring and just hanging out. We met so many amazing people, got on Top Of The Pops, the music scene was buzzing and there was so much going on. Looking back I just think ‘wow’. I know he’s looking down on me now.”
Although they were always close, towards the end, they began to do different things.
“Smiley wanted to go on some money making expedition and wanted me to go with him but I wanted to focus on my music company,” says Asher.
“Although he loved Code 7 he kept asking me to go with him but I knew I didn’t want to do it - I had people relying me. I tried to dissuade him but that was the thing about Smiley, he always was off doing something and being a money maker!”
Asher continued with his studio after Smiley died and although the youngsters who come through its doors probably don’t know or appreciate his not inconsiderable part in the history of reggae music in this country, he commands a level of respect that most would find hard to replicate.
But it has taken a lot of work, sweat and a fair few tears to not only get the kids involved but keep Code 7 going.
As well as allowing them the time and space to express themselves through music, they are also mentored by Asher and his small team of volunteers, enabling them to learn other skills such as production, writing business plans, letters and reports, song writing and marketing.
They come to Asher via word of mouth and he says there is no shortage of young people who want to see what’s going on.
And despite working on next to no budget, Asher has scored remarkable success, something he puts down to his positive energy, passion and commitment.
“When I set up my music company I didn’t know anything so I learned what to do and how to do it,” he explains. “Code 7 was born in 1996 and came about as a result of that but has always been about development, mentoring and training.
“There is a lot of talent out there and my job is to try and channel that in a positive way. I also try and instil positive lyrical content in the raps or songs rather than the hard stuff they have done on the streets.
“They start off by coming in and talking about guns, who’s looking in their zone and stuff like that but after a while of being here, and listening to me, they start talking about other more positive stuff.
“However, although no one who comes through the doors has to pay to use the studio I do insist on punctuality and respect.”
Friendly, chatty, yet quietly spoken and with a warm smile, it is hard to imagine Asher getting angry or how he deals with the sometimes difficult attitudes of these young people.
However, he shrugs and insists he “takes no shit”. “If they don’t turn up on time or are not respectful to me or the volunteers who work here they don’t get to use the studio,” he says. “It’s as simple as that.
“The real problem is the funding and trying to make sure we have enough to stay in business. I have to fundraise and then deliver and it’s hard work - most people don’t realise how hard it is. We try not to get political though.
“But saying that we have been here a long time, seen the industry change from it being records to CDs and now it’s all instant on the internet.  
“We’ve had our ups and downs and then you look at their faces, the change in the young person is just beautiful and it makes it all worthwhile.”
But he admits there have been a few hairy moments along the way - times when he has narrowly averted a fight in the centre’s foyer, or the time he realised one of the young men he was mentoring was about to get ambushed by a gang the moment he left the building and so had to get him out secretly via the back door.
But he insists it’s worth it and says he plans to stay as long as he can.
“If you had told me back in the 80s that I would be here now, writing business plans, keeping kids off the streets, making them do something positive and writing a book about Smiley and me, I would have laughed,” he chuckles.
“But here I am - and it’s good.”

Smiley And Me by Asher Senator is out now and costs £15. Visit to buy a copy.

INTERVIEW - The Man Who Would Be King

The recent and current conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East have provided inspiration for an adaptation of a novella by Rudyard Kipling.
Written in 1888, The Man Who Would Be King tells the story of Peachy Carnelian and Daniel Dravot, two British adventurers in British India who decide to befriend and then enslave the natives and become kings of Kafiristan, a remote part of Afghanistan.
It is directed by Dan Coleman, who alongside actors Christopher Birks and Dan Nicholson who play the two men, adapted it from Kipling’s story for the stage.
In doing so they have updated it from the late 19th century to something much more contemporary.
And following an acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Festival in 2014 they have reworked it slightly for a two-month tour which takes in 14 venues across the country and which started at Greenwich Theatre this week and includes Clapham Omnibus in November.
Dan’s version sees Peachy and Daniel as soldiers for hire in the shifting borders of the Middle East. Tired of the mercenary life, they have come up with a plan, head to Northern Afghanistan, enslave the natives, and install themselves as kings.
However, things don’t go according to plan, not least when the natives revolt.
“The original story was set in the British Raj at the turn of the 19th century and is a bit of a boy’s own story,” Dan tells me. “It’s about two men bringing civility to these savages as they see them - so it’s about vaulted ambition and the sense of entitlement that embodied British colonialism at that time.
“I came across the book in 2013 and was immediately taken with it. I had been looking to do something that was timeless in its appeal as well as a story that asked questions that I felt were vital to the here and now. I felt Kipling’s story fitted the bill perfectly.
“What was interesting to me when I read it was that there are so many parallels to the current situation in the Middle East. 
“I adapted it in 2014 as British troops were pulling out of combat roles in Afghanistan and there were questions about the legacy that was being left behind. 
“One comparison between the current state of affairs and Kipling’s story is the way western adventurism creates chaos in its wake. 
“Over the last few decades the West has felt it is their duty and right to go and install their own versions of democracy in these countries. They have trained militias all over the region but now they find the people they have been training up are turning against them - first as Al Qaeda and now IS.
“The characters in Kipling’s story train Afghans to help keep themselves in power only to have that army turn on them when circumstances change.
“The story also touches on a particularly British sense of entitlement. The soldiers in The Man Who Would Be King feel that the world owes them something - so they go out and take it. It’s the same attitude early Imperialists had – and it’s related to the idea of countries such as Britain and America who feel they can act as the world’s police today. We still believe we have the right to impose regime change through invasion.
“So it felt like a modern parable that had echoes of the past and what is happening now.
“But of course it was also a really exciting story - there is something hugely thrilling and exciting about journeying through the mountains and difficult terrain in the middle of a country that is so different culturally and in other ways on an epic adventure.
“In our version it starts in modern day Pakistan. The two men have stayed in the area but have gone off the map. They are now mercenaries and go off on their own adventure and try and bring civility to the locals who eventually turn on them - they get what’s coming to them.”
After Dan read the book he began looking at ways to bring it to the stage and over the course of a year worked with Dan and Christopher to do so. Much of the work stemmed from researching and reading news reports of what was going on in the area now and there were a lot of Google searches about SAS operations in the area.
“I am sure I am on some Government watch list because of all the searches I’ve done,” Dan laughs. “Looking for information on Pakistan, Afghanistan, failed military operations in the area and so on must have set off lots of alarm bells!
“However, it was important to do the research because I wanted it to fit in a contemporary setting and so it had to be right. Many of the references from the original book needed updating - not least that Pakistan as a country didn’t exist in Kipling’s time - it was just part of Northern India. 
“Then there were the distances that were covered - when it was written it would have taken days of walking but now of course we have motorised transport. So there were many things to consider.”
In August 2014 they took it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it received critical acclaim.
They have now reworked it for the tour, adding an extra 30 minutes to the piece but keeping it to just the two actors who take on multiple roles to tell the story.
Dan admits that it was initially a challenge to bring it to the stage in terms of the set but they have worked around this by asking the audience to use their imaginations.
“First and foremost I want the audience to see it as a story that unfolds before them, something that is thrilling and exciting even if you have no interest in the contemporary reference.” says Dan.
“However I really like the idea of those who come to see it being asked to come with us on the journey so they have a part to play.
“Theatre for me works best when it harnesses audiences’ imaginations and they play a part in bringing the story to life. And if you can do that and get them to buy into the characters and connect with them, you can take them anywhere, which is very liberating.
“The story is dark and angry with a lot of dialogue and minimal set - it would have been difficult to recreate the huge mountainous region talked of in the book so we had to work out a way to bring that world to life and in doing so, we nudge the audience to fill in the gaps with their imagination.”
The play is currently at Greenwich Theatre until Saturday before heading off around the country. It will be at the Clapham Omnibus on November 1 and 2.
“I love Greenwich Theatre so it’s great to be back here,” says Dan. “James [Haddrell, artistic director] had seen one of our other shows in Edinburgh and was keen for us to come here which was great. And it will be exciting to come to Clapham later in the run. Both theatres are quite different but we like the fact they are small and intimate. They suit this particular play and it will be interesting to see what audiences make of it.
“I hope they will enjoy and be entertained by the story, but as it asks some interesting and challenging questions, such as what our role is in the world, I hope those who come to see it will take that on board too.”

The Man Who Would Be King is on at Greenwich Theatre until Saturday, September 24. Visit  or call the box office on 020 8858 7755 for listings. It is on at The Clapham Omnibus on November 1 and 2. Visit or call the box office on

020 7498 4699 for listings.