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Countdown is on for Richard Digance's Bilston show

By Kirsten Rawlins | Entertainment | Published:

He conned David Bowie into booking him a gig, has toured with the likes of Steve Martin and Tom Jones, played alongside Brian May and Status Quo, and drank with Cilla Black.

Countdown is on for Richard Digance's Bilston show

And now, TV and radio comedy star Richard Digance is gearing up to go on the road in celebration of his glistening 50-year career.

During the tour, Richard will stop off at Bilston’s Robin 2 for a show on September 6.

“This is 50 years of writing and performing – I was a writer before then,” says Richard.

“I joined the BBC when I left college and worked with the guy who was the satirical man of the moment called Bernard Braden. My job was to write songs every week for his show. That’s how I started.

“I’ve been going on and getting away with it ever since. It’s not what I expected.”

Richard first realised his dream of doing stand-up when he was a student in Glasgow; having spotted someone who was soon to be one of comedy’s biggest names.

“There was this guy who used to sing at a folk club near where I went to college in Glasgow,” adds Richard.

“He was a bloke called Billy Connolly.

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Billy Connolly

“When he finished, guys would buy him beers and the girls would try and chat him up. I thought ‘that’s what I’m at college for – that’s what I want’.

“I then began doing some work on Radio 2, as well as working some folk clubs. It was all a bit of a slog really, just working pubs and clubs.

“I then went on tour in 1974 with Steeleye Span; and that was my first entry to theatres and the like.

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“I became a very easy support act; a chap on his own with a guitar – I wasn’t going to cause any problems.

“Through the 70s I did the Breakfast In America with Supertramp, I toured with Tom Jones and with Jethro Tull.

“But all along I was only known as a support act which is OK, but I was really just cashing in on other people’s’ audiences.”

Having toured with musical greats and grown tired of being their support acts, Richard joined forces with comedy legend Steve Martin, with whom he toured the US.

Steve Martin

“He used to write for the Johnny Carson show in the US – so he was more or less doing the same as me. We both just thought, ‘we may as well do this ourselves’,” says Richard.

“Before going to see him perform I was warned he was a bit of a nutcase. He used to have the best encore in the world – after the show he’d take the audience out into the street and show them how to steal a car.

“And yet he is the most polite and shy person I have ever worked with. He’s actually quite a reserved guy.

“He was a big inspiration of mine when it came to stagecraft – on stage he’d explode. I’d watch him every night and just think ‘wow’.”

Richard went on to present a blues show on Capital Radio in London through the night – ‘playing to the insomniacs and burglars’, as he put it.

“In the middle of the night I got a phone call from Jim Davidson. He said ‘I’ve been listening to your show – can I come and join you?’”

Jim Davidson

“It turned out he sang one of my songs. I had no idea.

“Jim asked if I would like to go on tour with him, to which I was very surprised. I’ve always been more into music. Just comedy alone isn’t really for me. I was always more of a hippy.

“But I ended up on tour with him for nearly four years.

“TV people would come out and see his shows, and one asked me if I’d like to do a show on TV. So I went straight on TV with my own show. I didn’t expect that at all.

“I did that from 1984 to 1995 and that was where I was able to do what I wanted to, such as playing guitar duets with people such as Brian May and Status Quo.

“I got to know Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi really well. Status Quo were a bunch of comedy nutcases. If ever you saw them on the TV, they were always larking about.

Status Quo

“When asked to join them, I sat with Rick and Francis playing as a trio. We sang Address Book. It was so great to work with people I admired.

“I was mortified last year when I heard of Rick’s death. He was such a nice guy.

“They were (and are) the best guys I’ve ever met. If ever I was doing a charity thing, you could always just call them and they’d have a signed guitar with you that same day. Really fantastic guys.

“Brian May’s the same.

“It was a nice little dabble in the rock world for me.

“Then I went on to Countdown and I did that for 19 years. Although I did it, it wasn’t what I wanted to be.

“I love telling stories and playing guitar – it’s just really fun.”

Having worked with so many greats, it’s hardly surprising that Richard has so many interesting tales to tell – one the best of which is his story of how he conned David Bowie into booking him a gig at his folk club.

David Bowie

“Years ago I went to a club in Beckenham ran by David Bowie called The Three Tuns,” says Richard.

“He was a bit weird. He used to play a blue guitar, the likes of which we’d never seen before.

“Now, Bowie would only book you if you had a club yourself and would book him.

“There was a place called The Denmark Arms in East Ham, which I told Bowie I ran.

“To this day, I have no idea if he ever actually played there.

“But I got to play Bowie’s folk club.”

Richard was also friends with the late Cilla Black, with whom he used to drink before the pair went on TV.

“Cilla was truly great. She was actually always like a bloke to me. We’d often have a drink before the show,” adds Richard.

Cilla Black

“Cilla was completely as you saw her, which is very rare with people on TV.

“She was larger than life and a great person to work with.”

When Richard comes out on tour, he will be joined by Suffolk folk duo The Broadside Boys.

“Matt, the main singer, has a brain tumour. Due to having terminal cancer, he wanted to do a tour as part of his bucket list and asked if they could join me. I said of course you can,” explains Richard.

“They’re amazing to watch actually; to see the power of their adrenaline. He’s not a well chap, but it’s easy to forget when he’s on stage.”

This tour will be Richard’s 62nd – and though he has not played the Robin 2 before, he has plenty of experience of the Midlands.

“I’ve not played The Robin 2 before, but I do remember doing ‘The A5 Tour’ in the big days,” adds Richard.

“It would start at Lichfield and we’d make our way through the area, playing places such as Cannock, Norton Canes and Wolverhampton. That was a great tour to do.

“In those days, the venues would put you up too. I’ve got great memories of the times pre-M6 – that’s how old I am.

“Back then there was a very strong Midland folk scene.”

Kirsten Rawlins

By Kirsten Rawlins
@kirsten_Star

Digital Content Manager for the Shropshire Star and Express & Star. Also reviews concerts and events, as well as writing features and celebrity interviews. E-mail me at kirsten.rawlins@shropshirestar.co.uk, or phone 01952 241440.

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