Monday 3 June 2013

Recognise Your Age

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 proposition.

'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.


Anonymous said...

Tremendous story, my friend. How I would have loved to have seen Sweet Drama in action.

John Medd said...

Respect; even Steve Priest wouldn't have walked through the streets of Walthamstow dressed as Steve Priest.

Old Pa's Corner said...

Sweet Dreams a made of this...brilliant and great pics to....I like comment by John Medd

C said...

Absolutely brilliant! So great that you still have the pics too. Could you be persuaded to do some ahem, 'reunion' gigs?

The Swede said...

SB. Me too. I can't believe Dad didn't take along his cine camera to at least one of the shows!

John. True dat!

Old Pa. Glad you enjoyed.

C. You know I wrote that whole piece and didn't even click that it's our 40th anniversary this year. Do you think it's too late for me to call the other guys and book the O2 Arena?

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