Jasper Carrott: ‘It’s great being eyeball to eyeball with the audience’

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Going on tour with his best friend – who happens to be rock star Bev Bevan – has been a career high, veteran comedian Jasper Carrott tells Chris Broom.

Before he found fame as a stand-up comic, in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Jasper Carrott was busy making a name for himself on the UK’s folk circuit.

Portsmouth in particular holds fond memories for him from that era.

And next Wednesday he returns to the city with a show that mixes his passions of music and comedy – Stand Up And Rock, which is at the Kings Theatre. It also allows him to go on the road with his life-long friend Bev Bevan, who found fame himself as a member of The Move and The Electric Light Orchestra.

As Jasper tells The Guide: ‘I’m really looking forward to it because the Portsmouth area is very special to me.

‘There was a wonderful entertainer on the folk circuit called Jon Isherwood, and he was renowned within the town as being a fantastic character.

‘I got to spend a lot of time staying with him down in Portsmouth doing the folk clubs – there were masses of folk clubs down in the Portsmouth area back then, The Railway was one of the main ones, there was a nightclub that did a folk club, ones in Southsea, one just outside of Portsmouth, and there was of course the big naval base, where they had a folk night.

‘I have very fond memories of it – great times. Jon was just loopy though. There was one time he had a few drinks and they found him tightrope walking on the trolley bus wires.

‘He was off his top, absolutely raving bonkers, but such a great entertainer – a top bloke. We had some great times together. Unfortunately he moved to Ireland and passed away. We lost contact for the last few years of his life, sadly.’

Before Jasper gets too misty-eyed though, he’s recalling the last time he came to the Kings.

Jasper Carrott

Jasper Carrott

‘I worked it many years ago, probably around the mid-80s, I did a play called The Nerd, and we did a week at the Kings Theatre. It was a lovely, lovely place.

‘It’s got all the wedding cake stuff around it , hasn’t it? I remember it being an iconic theatre. It’s one of those places where you stand on the stage and think, my God, all the history behind here.

Carrott has been prime-time TV staple since breaking through in the ’70s, whether with his shows mixing sketches and stand-up, poking fun at the world’s weirder TV commercials, or latterly as host of the gameshow Golden Balls.

The popularity of Stand Up And Rock has caught the old friends by surprise, though – but its origins lay in a Birmingham supergroup, of sorts.

‘Bev is my very best mate, we’ve been friends for getting on 60 years now,’ explains Jasper. ‘We go on holidays together and all that stuff.

‘A couple of years ago we realised we’d never toured together – we’d worked together on a few things and in fact we used to have a band together called Belch. It was Bev on drums, myself on lead vocals and guitars, the bass player from Roy Wood’s Wizzard and Tony Iommi (from Black Sabbath). Tony’s a close friend, in fact we’re neighbours – he’s next door but one.’

So did Iommi ever play Jasper’s 1975 novelty hit, Funky Moped?

‘He couldn’t master the chords,’ he jokes, ‘but I have played (Black Sabbath signature song) Paranoid with Tony. Believe it or not I was playing an acoustic guitar. How stupid is that?

‘Bev had received an award in Birmingham, called the Birmingham Walk of Stars, a bit like the Hollywood Walk of Stars, and we got the band together for the night. Tony’s a great guy, he’s up for anything. Well almost anything.’

So the pair thought they’d give touring together a whirl.

‘We decided that we’d tour together and we called it Made in Brum. We got a few mates together, I did the comedy, his band did the music, and I sang a few songs, and it was just stupidly successful. Suddenly it took off and we were having agents calling us from all over the country saying this sounds great, and we just had to sit down and think about it.

‘Made in Brum is quite specific, so we changed the name to Stand Up and Rock and it does what it says on the tin.’

Over two hours you’ll get a show divided between Carrott’s stand-up and the band playing hits from down the decades – with Jasper getting on the microphone on occasion.

‘I am a closet Status Quo fan so I do a couple of their songs,’ he admits.

‘We did about 55 shows last year, and the reaction was fantastic. I’ve never had a response like it in my whole career, standing ovations all over the place.

‘It is a mature audience, and the joke was we would have got 100 per cent standing ovations every night,’ he pauses with expert timing honed from decades of experience: ‘If 100 per cent of the audience could stand.’

Jasper reckons he knows why this tour has proved so popular

‘We realised we had tapped into a vein of the public that isn’t catered for too much. The music is from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and they really are excellent musicians and singers, and the comedy is comedy you can bring your daughter to.

‘I’m not into the effing and blinding stuff, I mean I can be rude, if you like, but it doesn’t offend your senses. It’s done with a knowing tongue-in-cheek, and the audience love that.’

They also laid an important ground rule: ‘We made a rule that we didn’t want to do really big venues, anything of about 800 to 1,500. It’s great, you’re eyeball to eyeball with the audience.

‘You can run anywhere you like on stage, but you can’t hide, and we’ve just had a ball.’

Jasper on...

...The Tricorn Centre

I remember there was that great white elephant of a shopping centre, all horrible grey concrete. Is that still there? The nightclub that was in the Tricorn used to have a folk club – it was quite boisterous.

...his early days on TV

I could do a line like: ‘Blimey, isn’t it difficult to unwrap cheese?’ And the audience would go bananas. But of course, if you did that now, they’d go: ‘Yes, it is. And?’ Then you have to be funny.

...modern stand-up

There’s a couple of people that are challenging, like Stewart Lee, at least he’s being a bit different. I don’t laugh a great deal, but I’m very interested in what he’s doing.

Where & when...

Stand Up And Rock with Jasper Carrott and The Bev Bevan Band is at the Kings Theatre in Southsea on Wednesday at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £25. Go to kingsportsmouth.co.uk or call (023) 9282 8282.