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Willy on stage in Edinburgh | photo: Paul Cary

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Willy and Tim at ARVON

singing playwrights | photo: Paul Cary

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Solo Projects


Words On The Run

WORDS ON THE RUNLater, Andy Roberts further encouraged Willy to sing and play during the 'Words On The Run' tour (1995/97). The tour featured Willy and some old friends from the Liverpool Poets and Liverpool Scene, Andy, of course, Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten. Tupperware Girls, one of the tracks from the new album was featured during the performance. "At first I thought I was just going to accompany the poets and I'd written a melody called The Tap Dancing Poets which we were using as an intro. Then we were sitting around one day and I started to play a couple of songs I'd written and both Andy and Adrian were very supportive and enthusiastic. Having the support of a very established acoustic guitarist with me on stage gave me the courage and I ended up doing about five songs in that show."

Both Willy Russell and Andy Roberts continued to perform together. They appeared together at Adrian Henri's Celebration evening at the Royal Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool in 2000 and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2002 to celebrate Roger McGough's 40th year Bash.

Hoovering The Moon

2002 also saw Willy and Andy in the recording studio creating Willy's new album - HOOVERING THE MOON. The new album, co-produced by Andy Roberts and Willy Russell contains 14 self-penned tracks. The CD featured a special portrait by Peter Edwards and a cover designed by Willy's son, Robert.

Hoovering The Moon


As well as the musicianship of Willy Russelll and Andy Roberts this CD features some outstanding contributions from musicians including Herbie Flowers, Rohan Kriwaczek, Louis Borenius, Mark Griffiths, Andy Cutting (Kate Rusby Band), Loretto Murray and Kate Rusby herself.

Barbara Dickson sings alongside Willy Russell and also Iain Mathews (plus the full Plainsong ensemble), Tim Firth (playwright and a hidden singer/songwriter himself) plays piano and keyboards with, Paul Allen (drums), Bernard O'Neill (bass), and great contributions from John McCusker, Dave Holdsworth, Louis Borenius, Betty and Sioda Martin, Avril Crossley and Ann Rusby. And in a posthumous appearance the late Adrian Henri is heard reading an extract from his poem, 'Mrs. Albion You've Got A Lovely Daughter'.

Willy Russell's songwriting prowess and musicianship came out of the shadows and into the limelight with this new album. The recording and mastering of Hoovering The Moon occupied the early part of 2003 with some fine contributions from other musicians both during the recording sessions and the gigs at the 'Walls' and in Ireland as part of the 'Galway Arts Festival'. The release of the CD was greeted with lots of airplays and great reviews. Mike Harding called Willy "One of the Country's great songwriters".




Proving why old cowboys should just fade away
CURLY the cowboy said a wise thing once. He said it on a horse, to Billy Crystal, the city slicker who he’d been terrorising for the previous hour. One thing, he said, raising a hairy cowboy finger; that’s the meaning of life. What’s the thing, asked Billy, still a little scared. It’s different for everybody, said Curly. The point is: if you focus on one thing, you’ll be okay. The trick is to work out what that thing is. For Curly, it was cows.
There are probably better philosophies to base your life on than the script of City Slickers, but Curly works for me. I won’t bore you with the whys and wherefores because this is a pop column so let’s just apply the rule to pop. All our greatest pop stars, I tend to think, are people who you simply cannot imagine doing anything else. This is the point, surely, of being a Pop Star (as opposed to its dull, careerist modern version, the Popstar).
It is why Morrissey - who was telling the NME this week that he doesn’t know what he would have done had he not been a singer since he wasn’t keen on joining the human race, never mind getting a job - remains an icon, despite being a grouchy, middle-aged bore whose idea of integrity is to agree to appear on a cheesy chat show with Jonathan Ross but attempt to rise above it by being rude. It is why David Bowie fans, who can just about forgive his Tin Machine albums, still feel ill watching him attempt to act (apart from The Man Who Fell To Earth, because it’s less a film than the best pop video he ever made).
I grasp on to my Curly philosophy partly out of rebellion in an age when being a pop star is simply a tick on the CV of professional famous people. As in colleges, "multi-skilled" is the current buzz thought of the music industry - ideally, you should be able to sing, dance, act and host chat shows. I often feel that, my childhood having taken place before Pop Idol and Heat ("This week, celebrity sweat patches"), I am of the last generation to have spent any time believing pop stars might be exotic creatures beamed from outer space, capable of singing songs but not of ordinary human communication. I am mainly thinking of Kate Bush here.
This week, though, I am prepared to propose an amendment to the rule. Providing you’re over, say, 30 you can do whatever you like. This is a good rule because it criminalises horrible stage school brats but allows for Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields, who has made a wonderful new pop album but also writes operas and film scores. It also allows the playwright Willy Russell to be a pop star.
Yes, you read that right. The man who wrote Educating Rita, Blood Brothers and Shirley Valentine is currently on tour - no Scottish dates yet, alas - accompanied by a guitar and fellow playwright Tim Firth (Alan Bleasdale was going to come too, but he got stage fright). At 57, Russell is promoting his debut album, Hoovering the Moon, recorded and released with his own money, with Kate Rusby on backing vocals. There’s even a single, China, although only at www.willyrussell.com.
It is a funny, eloquent, often moving thing. China, about socialists growing old and giving up the fight (and a youthful plan to visit Mao), is like late Billy Bragg or Elvis Costello. Genius mourns the wasted talent of a missing in action pop star, "seldom seen and rarely heard since that debut single", who may well be Lee Mavers from The Las. ("The boy’s too tender, the boy’s too rare to take the air they breathe out there.")
Tupperware Girls, meanwhile, is just bonkers: a vision of middle Britain melting down in which the SAS invade the V&A and the Tate gallery cafe is serving tea with cyanide. ("What will poor Mark Lawson do for next week’s Late Review?" asks a concerned Russell.)
Mostly, though, it’s an album about the compromises you make, and the beliefs you adapt and sometimes dilute as you grow older. Hence, I assume, the title Hoovering the Moon. When you’re young you want to fly to the moon; later, when you get there, you realise it’s not a glowing globe in the sky but a dusty rock that needs a tidy. The song Pink Lambrusco puts this best: "I see you in Tesco, in the five-door Polo, tell me what happened to the moon."
So Curly was wrong. He was a ridiculous old man who never left the ranch his whole life. The trick, actually, is to multi-task with dignity - easier when you’re over 30, I feel (but I would say that, being 30).
Perhaps this is the solution to the music industry’s current woes - let playwrights have a go. Personally I’d like to see Scotland’s own David Greig, whose plays always go on about technology, airports and motorways, make an electropop record. If you’re reading this, David, I have a synthesiser I can lend you.


Live on Stage

More recently 2004 saw Willy touring with a band led by Andy Roberts for the IN OTHER WORDS collaboration with Tim Firth, plus a highly praised residency at the Edinburgh Festival with THE SINGING PLAYWRIGHTS.

" 'IN OTHER WORDS' was a performance of music, songs, verse, readings and anecdotes, all woven together and performed by Willy Russell and Tim Firth appearing as soloists, as a duo or as part of a six piece band, led by musical director, Andy Roberts. There were items both from 'HOOVERING THE MOON' and from Tim's forthcoming album, 'HARMLESS FLIRTING' and readings and passages from 'THE WRONG BOY', 'SHIRLEY VALENTINE' etc., along with some passages from 'BLOOD BROTHERS' and some wickedly funny Tim Firth pieces.

Think of a concert, fused with a poetry reading, doused with a dollop of theatre, sprinkled with stand-up and then all kneaded together in a bowl of linguistic pyrex!" WILLY RUSSELL