When Lenny Henry was growing up, there were so many pictures of Elvis Presley on his walls that he thought The King was actually a relative.
“There was music everywhere,” says Lenny. “I’ve always had a love affair with music. The first thing I ever did on stage was perform Jailhouse Rock.
“In our house, when I was growing up in Dudley, we had this massive gram carved out of solid oak, with a Blaupunkt.
“It was a really heavy bit of furniture, I think our house must have been built around it.
“There was no way the builders could have put it in. It was packed with Elvis and Little Richard and Fats Domino.
“When I started off, I didn’t do funny at first, I wiggled my hips and pretended to be like Elvis. Elvis was a gift.”
So why did Lenny turn to comedy, instead of music?
“The Jailhouse Rock thing didn’t go down well enough. So the next time I was on stage I did impressions and told jokes.
“I did 10 minutes with my dad’s hat and every impression got a standing ovation.
“Years later, I was with Trevor Horn, the music producer, and he’d just signed Seal. He told me you had to live, eat and breathe music if you wanted to make a go of it.
“By then, I loved comedy. Comedy changed my life, it paid for my mom’s house, for people to go through school.
“Comedy helped my family. And anyway, maybe comedy was the right thing to do.
“If I’d been in music, I might have had one hit and then disappeared. I’m still going strong, so I think I made the right choice.”
Lenny combines music and comedy in his new show, Pop Life!, which will visit Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn on Sunday. The show will take his audience on a joyride through his life in music.
“It will transport his fans back to the Queen Mary Disco, in the Midlands, where Northern Soul dancers high-kicked with such ferocity, “in one tune they could maim the entire room”.
He adds: “I think the thing with music is that it identifies you in a tribe. When you’re a kid, you’re part of the soul-boy-reggae-funk tribe.
“But then, when you grow older, you move on and just like music for what it is.
“I take in many more things now, I don’t just like the music that other people think I should like. I listen to doo wop, old school rock’n’roll, Mumfords, classical – I wish my tastes had been like this when I was 24.
“But my love of music is why I’m doing this show. I did a show called Cradle To The Rave, which was more autobiographical. But it had a sadness to it and the new show has lost that because music is joyous.
“When you are sad, it pulls you out of that. Music has been such a big part of my life that I wanted to do a show that was bigger and brighter and more fun than the things that had gone before.”
Lenny will be playing the piano when he takes to the stage. At the age of 54, he’s taken up lessons and reached Grade Four.
“I play some of my pieces and explain why learning the piano is difficult. When you have a teacher, they want you to channel allegro, but as a black person, all you’re thinking is Stevie Wonder.”
Taking piano lessons is typical of Lenny. As he’s grown older, he’s been on a quest for continual improvement.
He completed his BA, then took an MA in screenwriting and is presently tackling a PhD in screen writing.
“I’m focusing on sports films, which feature a world that is very ethnocentric. You rarely see a black person in the lead role and I wanted to explore the reasons for that.
“If you look at the Olympics, basically, the sports that we’re good at are horse riding, sailing, rowing and cycling.
“You don’t get some ghetto kid from Dudley doing things like that. You don’t get kids coming home from school saying ‘mom, I want an ‘orse’.”
Lenny Henry’s Pop Life tour reaches Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn on Sunday and Oakengates Theatre @ The Place, in Telford, on November 22.
By Andy Richardson