Monday, 22 October 2018

Review: An Evening with Pete Waterman - The Hit Maker (The Brindley, Runcorn - Wednesday 17 October 2018)

Until last Wednesday night, I'd had two close-but-not-quite encounters with Pete Waterman. The first was in 1989 when my friend and I attended a Radio City Hitman Roadshow hosted by Pete on the Royal Iris Mersey Ferry; a heady mix of Pete, headline act Sonia, and a couple of hundred kids - travelling up and down the River Mersey for two hours. My friend and I wanted to go up and speak to Pete, but we were a bit nervous and didn't quite know what to say -- so after about 90 minutes, we picked up the courage to go over, and my friend asked him when the next Hitman Roadshow was. Of all the things we could have asked (and, as a SAW fan of a few years standing by that point, I had a good few questions), he asked the most pointless question ever. At least he asked, I was too shy to speak! Indeed, our disappointment at blowing the opportunity was only tempered by our amusement when, during Sonia's performance below deck, the ferry lurched in choppy waters and the audience inadvertently rushed forwards -- leading Sonia's Pat-Sharp-lookalike bodyguard (thinking his charge was about to be mobbed) to leap in and protect the singing starlet with a dramatic sweep of his arm.

My second near-miss took place a good 20 or so years later, when I found myself in London's Euston Station waiting for a train to take me home to Liverpool after a day at a very dull conference. I was leaning against the side of the Tie Rack shop when I did a double-take as I saw Pete Waterman, striding purposefully past, carrying two big laundry bags, off to catch a train. I had that split second of "should I go up and say hello?", conjuring up names like Michael Prince and Jeb Million to drop into said quick hello so he knew I was a Real Fan. But then I realised how uncool that would be, and how Pete deserved his privacy like anyone else, and also how a load of Londoners -- used to seeing famous people -- would roll their eyes as I broke the unspoken etiquette of the capital city.

So, as I sat in The Brindley in Runcorn on Wednesday night as part of the audience for An Evening with Pete Waterman - The Hit Maker, I hoped it would be third time lucky.

Pete has been touring venues across the UK in his one-man-show, talking about his life with the main focus on his career in the record industry, and so he took to the stage in Runcorn in Cheshire for the latest instalment in his tour -- calling it a home gig as he lives "just round the corner". The intimate venue of The Brindley was actually a real benefit to proceedings as there was a real sense of familiarity between performer and audience, which also put Pete at ease.

The first half of the show focused on Pete's life and career up to the late 1970s; he told us that he was thought to have died shortly after birth but was brought back to life by a neighbour with a spoonful of brandy and a "whack on the arse"! He showed that his entrepreneurial spirit started early when he "managed" a church choir, earning a pretty penny from arranging performances at funerals, and even picking the hymns! He took us through his early days as a DJ, and talked about how he encountered The Beatles when they played at the Matrix Ballroom in Coventry (where he DJ'd at) -- he said this was the pivotal moment of his life; the moment he knew that he wanted a career in music. He outlined how he picked up Hurts So Good by Susan Cadogan, and issued it on his own label before it was picked up by a major, giving him his first hit. He rounded off the first half with an hilarious story about how John Travolta, by way of thanks for Pete's work on A&R'ing the Grease soundtrack, ordered Pete to buy a car and he'd pick up the bill -- Pete's choice was not to Travolta's liking...!

The second half took Pete through the 1980s; time constraints meant that the early 80s work with Peter Collins for Musical Youth, Tracey Ullman and Nik Kershaw was skated over, but Pete did this so he could cover the Stock Aitken Waterman years in more detail. He referred to Mike Stock and Matt Aitken as "geniuses", which was nice to hear given there have been some disagreements between the parties over the years, and talked about how amazing it was to work with Paul McCartney on the Hillsborough record, all those years after meeting him at the Matrix Ballroom in 1962.

The final part of the show saw Pete open up the stage for a Q&A. Some interesting details emerged here: apparently the Reynolds Girls are now landladies in Ireland; Rick Astley was actually the drummer of the band (FBI) he was in before Pete signed him, and was actually standing in for the lead singer the night Pete went to see the band; Karl Twigg and Mark Topham were determined to produce Steps' 5-6-7-8 in such a way so that Pete wouldn't like it and would drop the whole idea -- and were devastated when he in fact loved it!

He also discussed something I hadn't heard before; many readers have heard Pete discuss that the Bananarama album Please Yourself had originally been designed as an Abba tribute called Abba Banana, but Pete explained that, at one stage, there was a plan for Stock & Waterman to do 6 tracks... with the other 6 tracks to be written & produced by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulveaus!

I got a question in, asking Pete which of the lesser-successful SAW singles in his opinion was "the one that got away"; he seemed stumped initially then commented he'd never been asked that question before! He thought about it some more then said there wasn't one; by which I took to mean that "if it wasn't a hit, it wasn't meant to be a hit".

I felt this Q&A section was possibly the best part of the show; not that there was anything wrong with the earlier sections, more that there was a real sense of community in the room and the show became a conversation. There seemed to be a real warmth towards Pete from the audience, and vice versa -- so it was a shame when Pete said time was up -- I genuinely could have listened to him all night. He's such a good storyteller, but the problem is he has more stories than Hans Christian Anderson  - two and a half hours ain't enough!

The winners of the Twitter competition (with the new PWL enamel pin badges as prizes) were announced at this point; Pete jumped off the stage to present the badges (pretty agile for 71 years old -- we all applauded) and I was first up! So I got my badge, shook Pete's hand and said thanks -- already an improvement on the previous two near-misses. But I wasn't done yet.

So, once out of the auditorium, I waited patiently as Pete had his photo taken with other audience members -- then I took my chance. No need to mention Michael Prince or Jeb Million this time, I just introduced myself, said how much of a fan I was and mentioned this blog. Just a quick chat as there were other people waiting... and to be honest I was worried that if I outstayed my welcome, then Sonia's Pat-Sharp-lookalike bodyguard might leap in and protect Pete with a dramatic sweep of his arm.

But I felt I'd had a proper meeting this time, and all was well with the world as I drove home across the brand spanking new Mersey Gateway bridge. Well worth going out on a school night for, and I'd urge any of you to go along if Pete brings the show to a theatre near you.


Just a quick message to readers to say that the blog has been on enforced hiatus due to my hectic work schedule and personal commitments over the past few months -- but things are starting to clear and new articles are on the way! Thanks for your patience :-)

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