Interview: A Good Old Fashioned Knees Up
A Good Old Fashioned Knees Up started from drunken sing-a-longs in a bar at a vintage music festival. The creator and main performer of A Good Old Fashioned Knees Up has worked extensively across the UK as a keyboard player and music director. He has both performed with and appeared as musical director for a variety of well loved West End shows such as Les Miserables, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and many more.
Hi there, how are you today?
I’m very well, thank you. Just finished a great weekend of gigs: two private functions (a wedding and a wartime themed birthday party) and my debut at Cahoots, a wartime themed bar in London.
To those not familiar with you, how would you describe yourself?
Describing myself: An art-deco loving, moustachioed gent living a vintage life, with a fascination for the popular songs from the first half of the 20th century, singlehandily trying to keep them alive.
Describing my act: A good old fashioned knees up in the grand Cockney tradition.
How did the act form? What inspired its formation?
Although not a “proper” Cockney (I was born and raised in Coventry) I’ve been singing this material for years and leading sing-a-longs ever since I could play the piano. “A Good Old Fashioned Knees Up” itself was born out of the late night, impromptu sing-a-longs in the Nags Head pub at the Twinwood Vintage Music and Dance Festival which I’ve lead for the last three years. The atmosphere at the sing-a-long in 2014 made me wonder if I could put together a sing-a-long act and create that atmosphere elsewhere. Luckily I was booked for a session in the bar at Wilton’s Music Hall in London and the rest, as they say, is history. Since October 2015 the act has gone from strength to strength now playing to sell out crowds in the main auditorium at Wilton’s, as well as monthly dates in Tunbridge Wells, Brighton and vintage events up and down the country.
What is it the cockney/ pre-wartime sound that you admire?
They just don’t write songs like they used too! This is timeless material which we all seem to know (even if we don’t realise it). These songs (especially the famous choruses) aren’t only meant to be listened to - they’re meant to be sung.
What artists from the scene do you admire? Why?
On the cockney scene I obviously admire Chas and Dave (who wouldn’t?) and the handful of “old boys” who keep the art of the pub pianist in London going. It’s a dying art, and I hope with my act that I’m breathing new life into the format and bringing it to a wider, and often younger, audience. My piano playing style is heavily influenced by Mrs Mills and her party albums of the 1970s. They really capture a special, old time, atmosphere which I try to recreate at my gigs.
Is there a song you enjoy playing the most and why?
For getting the audience going then it’s got to be “The Beer Barrel Polka” (aka “Roll Out The Barrel”) which normally forms the end of the first set. It’s a great sing-a-long classic and always has people up on their feet dancing away.
For a poignant lyric then you can’t beat “These Are The Times” by Ralph Reader. It’s not well known, but was a song I learnt as a kid performing in Scout Gang Shows in Coventry. It’s got a great tune, is easy to pick up, and the lyrics are beautiful and perfectly apt to what I do with the act. It’s become a sort of anthem of A Good Old Fashioned Knees Up.
What can you tell us about your upcoming album?
I’m very excited about this. My debut album “Live at the Bull & Gate” was recorded in September at the Bull & Gate in Kentish Town, a venue with a long history of live music. It features an hour of my sing-a-long material, recorded with a live audience and really captures the atmosphere of one of my knees ups. It’ll be great that audiences will be able to walk away with a reminder of their evening after a gig. The album is currently being manufactured and I’m hoping for an album launch in January, with the CD being available at gigs, through my website and on all the major digital download platforms.
Do you use or have any special instruments or pieces of costume for your performances?
My costume is very much routed in Victorian / Edwardian music hall - I normally wear a crisp white shirt with detachable starched collar, morning dress trousers, patent leather shoes with spats, waistcoat and a Charlie Chaplin-esque suit jacket (aka a Stroller Suit). A real dapper look!
As for special instruments, for walkabout entertainment I usually play Evie, my Eavestaff mini-piano, which I bought earlier this year and fits in the back of my (rather more modern) Vauxhall Meriva. I strap her to a heavy duty dolly and she’s pretty portable. She also provides a useful place to store a vast amount of Union Jack bunting which is deployed during my Wartime Medley.
What do you hope to bring to your audience? How do you want them to remember you?
My audiences always leave on a high. There’s nothing better than the feeling you get when you sing in a group. As long as there’s a critical mass of people, you can loose yourself in the sound and the crowd becomes one voice. Even for someone who says they can’t sing, or is self-conscious, when everyone in the room is singing it’s easy to get lost in the sound and loose those inhibitions.
My act brings back so many memories for people: of family parties or grandparents singing them songs and children. A lot of it’s about that warm feeling of nostalgia which comes from singing these songs.
I hope that the audiences leave having been uplifted by the music and that by singing these songs we’re keeping them alive, and hopefully passing them onto a younger generation.
What has been the most memorable venue / performance so far?
Most definitely the first time I performed in the main auditorium at Wilton’s Music Hall. It’s such a special place and you really feel the presence of all of the stars of the Music Hall who’ve performed on that stage. It’s great that I’m now regularly playing to sell out crowds there and raising the roof in exactly the same way that the Victorians would’ve done at the turn of the 20th century.
Do you have any information regarding any upcoming shows that you’d like to share?
My next date at Wilton’s next week is already sold out, but I’ll be returning to Cahoots on the 20th December for a Christmas sing-a-long, along with my regular appearances in Tunbridge Wells and Brighton. There are plans for more Wilton’s dates in the New Year, and I’m already getting booked up for the Summer festival season.
If you'd like to add a dash of Cockney vigor to your next event enquire today and check out A Good Old Fashioned Knees Up artist page!