Ipswich: Regent ready to rock on with David Essex

He’s a music icon with a 40-year career others would die for. And he has Popeye and Soho to thank for it. Entertainment writer WAYNE SAVAGE talks to David Essex OBE

Growing up, David had one goal in life - to be a professional footballer. He even deliberately failed his 11 plus so he could go to a school where it was played. That changed during an adventure in Soho when he was 14.

“I drew Popeye on my maths paper. I was quite bright at school, brighter than I probably let on, and I didn’t want to pass... if you passed you went to a grammar school which played rugby,” he remembers.

“I was playing for West Ham boys at the time, so it was important to me to go to a school that played football. So I made a fateful decision and went to probably the worst school in the whole of East London,” he laughs.

“But I carried on playing football. [Turning professional] was where I thought I was going up till I was about 14 and I went on an adventure to Soho, fell into a blues club and that turned my life around; it was like the star of Bethlehem. It was an all-nighter, I shouldn’t have been out, I was out with a mate of mine from the east end and we just thought wow this music is fantastic; it was all to do with music then.”

It worked out well for the legendary singer, actor and composer whose rock tour comes to the Ipswich Regent on November 12.

The show’s a candid journey through his amazing 40-year career spanning 19 Top 40 UK singles, including two number ones; 16 Top 40 albums, film roles including That’ll Be The Day, Stardust, Silver Dream Racer and on stage in the likes of Godspell, Evita, Mutiny and his own award nominated West End Hit All The Fun of the Fair.

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A couple of weeks ago the children’s charity Variety gave him their highest accolade, the Variety Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding services to the music and entertainment industry.

“Yeah, a lifetime achievement award which is always a bit of a worry because I think they usually give it to people when they’re about to kick it but I’m fine,” he laughs, “I’m alright, it’s a great honour.”

He’s taken a break from recording music for new film Traveller, about the adventures a half-gypsy boy gets into while searching for his identity, to talk to me. David, whose grandfather was a traveller, has a small cameo in it. It’s due out next year.

He’s just started rehearsing with the band, ready for the new tour; their first together for three or so years.

“It’s going to be a little bit unusual because we’ve got a big film screen we’re using behind [us] and it’s going to show parts of my films, photographs and various other things relevant to the music that we’re playing on stage, so hopefully the audience will like that.

“I’ve been touring with All The Fun of the Fair, doing EastEnders [playing Eddie Moon]... so to go back to I suppose where I started when I was about 15 in blues bands is always refreshing. There’s an immediacy and a spontaneity about a rock concert and there’s much less structure.

“When you’re doing theatre you’ve got that fourth wall haven’t you? You’re in the production, you can’t really reach out to an audience. With film there’s nobody around except you and the cameras and TV is kind of the same. I really am looking forward to seeing everybody on the road.”

Fans can expect some new songs too.

“Even if I didn’t want to do the massive, in quotes, classic hits you have a responsibility to do them really because people expect that. So there’ll be lots of those - Rock On, Gonna Make You A Star, Oh What a Circus, all those things but there’ll be a lot of new songs. For my own piece of mind it’s good to move forward, it would be awful just to stand out there and sing songs from the 70s and 80s.”

His mum, Olive, was a self-taught pianist, “mum had a fantastic of playing in one key and singing in another which was extraordinary really,” he laughs, “dad was a decent singer, there was always music in the house.”

David, who still likes roaring around occasionally on his 1976 Triumph Bonneville motorbike, says his school didn’t have music, art or anything at all creative. His first thought after falling into that club was what instrument was he going to play.

“I thought ‘let’s have a think, right, you hit a drum and it answers back’. I just had this insatiable urge for music, anything creative really because I’d been starved from it you know.

“I was quite a shy boy, I still am an introvert strangely enough; so I could hide behind the cymbals. Of course it was problematic because we were living in a council flat, but my dad stood up for my personal freedom.”

He was forced into life as a lead singer aged 15 by the older boys in the band he was.

“I was dragged off the drums, they said ‘come on you, stand up the front’. My best-selling first autobiographer [his second, Over the Moon was number one too] was A Charmed Life and that was it really,” he says of the fortune that’s come his way.

“It couldn’t have been better to be able to work in so many different mediums over such a long period of time and to have people interested in what I’ve been doing generally, it’s very special and I don’t take it for granted.”

The question on a lot of people’s lips is will we see Eddie Moon back on Albert Square?

“If you can do EastEnders with the storylines I had you can do anything. It was fast and furious and I did enjoy it. I mean after that I sort of shut the door, but I haven’t locked it, you never know...”