I appeared in a few, inevitably
shambolic, infant school nativity plays when I was very young, but
Christmas 1969 was the real beginning of my
glittering showbiz career. I played the
snowman in the school production of, erm,
The Snowman - no, not that one. This little
play was, I believe, cooked up by one of the
teachers, though it no doubt shared some of
the values and themes of Raymond Briggs'
1978 book and subsequent 1982 film, albeit
minus all the flying and the dulcet tones of
Aled Jones. After this, I went on
to feature in many a future school
play and also joined some pals in the local amateur dramatic society (though we all called it the drama club).
In 1973, the drama teachers were preparing
one the school's occasional variety shows
and were looking for a musical item to slot
between two spoken word pieces. My mates and
I, having not a musical bone between the
four of us, got together and suggested we
mime to a pop hit of the day, the original
choice being '20th Century Boy' by T.Rex,
with yours truly as Marc Bolan. As T.Rex
were something of a one-man-band, performance
wise, we gradually came round to the idea of
The Sweet as an altogether more colourful
'At 13 they were fooling....'
My memory is that the show ran to three
performances. One to the rest of the school,
one for the parents and a third that was open
to the general public. Me and my pals,
dressed up to the nines, myself in the Steve
Priest role wielding a mock bass made in
woodwork, mimed to 'Hell Raiser' and, well,
not to put too finer point on it, we went
down a storm! So successful were we, that
for every show, play and pantomime at school
and the drama club over
the next 2½ years, we were invited to
reprise our little act, which we did, to
often memorable effect.
Between 1973 and 1975, in addition to 'Hell
Raiser' we mimed to 'Blockbuster', 'Ballroom
Blitz', The Six Teens', 'Burn on the Flame'
(when a teacher played the wrong backing
tape!) and 'Turn it Down'. The best of the
lot, though, was 'Teenage Rampage', which we
performed for five consecutive nights as a
musical interlude in a pantomime in 1974,
the audience noise behind the song providing a great fake atmosphere.
(Here I am in full-on dramatic guise in a play written by myself and three friends. In this scene, bitten by something unknown, I had turned into a werewolf and proceeded to kill everyone in grisly fashion, wasting lashings of fake blood in the process. Good, wholesome, family entertainment folks!)
In addition to my ridiculously heavy, solid
wood bass, we also made two microphone
stands (one held together by gaffa tape so
that our 'Brian Connolly' could 'break' it
over his knee, rock vocalist style) and some
fake drums, all of which seemed convincing
to us at the time, but in retrospect looked
exactly as you would expect them to, made by a bunch of 13 year-olds in their woodwork classes!
For each successive show I (with help from Mum) tried to find more and more garish and outlandish clothes to wear, which were invariably complimented on the night by the make-up department going to town on my face with ever increasing relish, with the result that I often looked less Steve Priest and more Alice Cooper. As well as performing these little fake musical excursions, the boys in 'the band' also had roles in all the productions, so they were busy nights for us, after full days at school. On more than one occasion I walked home, exhausted, through the streets of Walthamstow in full Steve Priest costume - what was I thinking?
Are you ready Steve?
'Sweet Drama', as we were imaginatively
christened by one of the teachers, came to
an end in 1975 when my family moved out of
London. Myself and my chums were all getting
into prog by then and would have quite
happily performed as 'ELP Drama' if anyone
had asked, but after one last 'Turn It Down'
we were done, as indeed was my youthful
foray into the dramatic arts. I never
stepped on a stage again.