Back when I was a kid, my Dad worked with a bloke everyone called “Jeff”, even though his name was actually Trevor. Jeff was a funny bloke, was a pretty good darts player (even managing to play on TV against pros). But Jeff liked his folk music, and had a load of records. He also liked his comedy. And on one occasion he lent my Dad a couple of Mike Harding albums. So, at eight years old, I first heard the Rochdale Cowboy. I remember staying up late to watch his shows on BBC2 and being struck by this strange bloke with the loud dungarees and John Lennon glasses. And the albums have stayed with me. I could probably recite huge parts of them, having listened to them so often; the word “wassock” often punctuates my speech.
So when he announced he was doing a comedy tour for the first time in well over a decade, what else could I do but buy a ticket (well, three actually. One for me and one each for my parents, who are still fans). And last night was the night he landed back in the Boro, in the Middlesbrough Theatre. I love the “Little” Theatre: it has a lovely,warm, cosy atmosphere. I’ve seen a few shows there and have always enjoyed being around. The capacity is around 450, and last night it was full. The audience were mostly my folks’ age, but there were a few younger ones there, like me. I make my way over to say hello to BBC Tees‘ Bob Fischer in the foyer before the show, just so he’s aware who the idiot who sends all that rubbish into his show actually is. Bob’s a very nice chap.
The show is billed as Me, a Guitar and Some Daft Stuff. That’s not quite true: there are two guitars and a mouth organ too, but nothing else that you’d call frills. But that doesn’t matter when you have someone who can spin a yarn like Mike. The first thing he does is one of my favourite things of all: My Brother Sylvester, his version of which, to this day (I discover later) isn’t available because he’s being prevented from buying back the copyrights to some of his earliest recordings, Early on, he drops the obligatory local references into his opening stories and the audience laugh in recognition; we’re with him already. There’s a mix of old favourites and crowd pleasers we can all join in with, a mix of familiar stories and newer observations before, all too soon, it’s time for the interval and some very nice Honey and Ginger ice cream (no suicide juice for me, I’m driving).
After the restart the pace continues, but is punctuated by the one serious song of the night, a beautiful version of his own song, Bomber’s Moon. At this point the audience are so quiet, to quote the man himself, you could hear a cockroach fart. And then the fun continues some more. Finally, all too soon, it’s time for the last song, a rousing audience participation number. There are no encores, he explains, because he doesn’t like the pretence of waiting behind the curtains to see if the applause is loud enough. Instead, he’ll spend the time more usefully out front, signing stuff and chatting with fans.
I buy a copy of Flat Dogs and Shaky Pudden to go with the copy of Komic Kutz I brought for signing. The queue is bright and good natured, though we could be there for longer as its so easy to chat with him. Many do, as they swap news of shared friends or memories. After my folks do, I get my CD’s signed and shake his hand to say thanks. And that’s it: off home we go.
It pleases me no end to realise that someone I admired hugely as a kid and who had a major influence on me in a lot of ways turns out to be such a decent and lovely bloke. I’ve heard this from other places of course, but it’s nice to have it confirmed for yourself.