A biography, a discography and an Interview
I've been a professional performer since the age of 10. I've always loved music. My Mother said I was singing before I could talk. Aged 8, and without any training, I started winning money in local talent contests and winning my family free holidays by singing and we realised 'there was gold in them thar hills'!
I'd just turned 10 when I auditioned at the world famous London Palladium Theatre for the title role in their lavish annual pantomime 'Babes In The Wood' (poster right). I'd never even acted on a stage before, never auditioned before for anything and was up against trained professionals decked out in beautiful dresses. I was in an old simple frock I'd grown out of and couldn't even bend down or I'd flash my knickers I'd outgrown it so! We just went along for the chance to see backstage of such a theatre but...I actually got the role! So twice a day I played out my part in front of over 2,000 people. My stage brother and I were kidnapped by 2 robbers (played by Derek Nimmo and Bill Maynard) hired by our guardian 'The Sheriff of Nottingham' to be taken into the woods and killed for him to inherit our fortune. But we would be rescued by Robin Hood (played by Edward Woodward) and everyone lived happily ever after... I've written about my experience at the definitive pantomime website It's-behind-you.com. It was a wonderful time, I learned so much on the job, met famous people such as Princess Grace of Monaco (the former Hollywood actress Grace Kelly) and was, basically, set up for a life in the business.
A good friend I made at the Palladium was the actor Dino Shafeek who was just about to make it big in 2 TV comedies. He played the Char Wallah (see pic left) in BBC's long -running 'It Ain't Half Hot Mum' penned by Jimmy Perry and David Croft. He was also the guy that sang those crazy Indian versions of British songs of the era that linked the scene changes. In the ITV comedy series 'Mind Your Language' he was the popular character Ali. Dino set up a weekly night in London at varying nightclubs where acts could go and perform, try out, learn. I went there every week for years, doing my schoolwork by candlelight at a nightclub table. My friend Dino died, way too young, in 1984.
There were strict rules and regulations as to how many days a year kids could work and, as I kept using them all up, it restricted how much I could work until I turned 16. However I did do 'Babes In the Wood' for 2 more seasons. Once with the really popular comedy duo of the time Mike & Bernie Winters (above) at The Ashcroft theatre, Fairfield Halls and once with the old-style variety fall-about act Sally Barnes (see poster left) who came out of retirement to join us. She was a lovely lady, part of Variety's history, but has often been overlooked since so I am happy to remember her here.
Crime Doesn't Pay - with The Little Criminals
Maybe We're Singing It Wrong - with The Little Criminals
Berwick - The Album - various artists singing songs about Berwick-upon-Tweed
Swan Summer - a musical in which Hazel plays a duck!
Hello Hazel, a few questions for you.
Q. How and why did you start singing/playing and at what point in your career did you meet Ron Milner?
A. Apparantly I was singing before I could talk! Pre-school I never learned nursery rhymes but went straight to singing 'grown-up' songs when very small. Just LOVED music from as far back as I can remember. Aged 8 I started winning my family free holidays in talent competitions. I turned professional aged 10 when, with no training, I got the lead role in The London Palladium's pantomime 'Babes In The Wood' - I learned a lot by doing the job! I continued professionally singing/acting/performing from then on.
Aged 15 I placed an advert in the annual trade publication 'Showcall' used by agents and venues, etc. Ron had his entertainment agency in Kent, saw me advertised and contacted me about doing gigs in his area. I was trying to make the difficult transition from being a child performer to working in clubs I wasn't even old enough to be in as a member of the audience! Ron's help was very useful at this time helping me through easier venues while I tried to find my feet.
Q. The single that you recorded for Eron was with Keith Pearson. How did the two of you get on and what were the reasons for choosing the two tracks?
A. Ron was very busy and enthusiastic with Eron Records then. It had started as a folk music label but he was branching out a lot at this time. As we were working so closely together it was a natural progression that, at his suggestion, I should record a single for the company. I can't remember whose idea it was for me to work with Keith Pearson, I think I'd met Keith once before at a showcase gig Ron had orgnised. I DO remember that Ron gave me copies of the different Eron artiste recordings and my all-out favourite was 'Keith Pearson's Right Hand Band' one. I particularly liked his version of 'Carrickfergus' on there. (this was actually not on this album, but was recorded by the Telham Tinkers twice on Eron)
Keith and myself met up at Ron's home to discuss what to record. I'd picked out a couple of previously recorded-by-other-people songs that had not been hits. Keith wisely pointed out that if they'd not been a success for people with weighty recording companies behind them we weren't going to do any better. Oops! Keith had some of his own demos to hand and Ron had some songs by writers under his wing to choose from. No contest: Keith's 2 tracks were my favourites! We set the keys and format and arranged a recording date.
We recorded at a studio Ron regularly used in glamorous Herne Bay, Kent! Crazy to think now it was only an 8 track studio - you can do so much more now at home with a computer. You could use more tracks but would have to make unchangeable choices and 'bounce down' the recorded tracks. I was 17 and excruciatingly shy and lacking in confidence at that time. I'm sure I sat there like a lump during the process as I was too scared to contribute my thoughts. Keith was (or seemed!) a lot older, he was very experienced and took over production and really helped me through it all. I gave a very poor performance during the ballad 'One More Day' and he had to hold my hand. I was more of an up-tempo singer in those days so 'Rock and Roll on a Saturday Night' was an easy, quick process.
Q. Why didn't you carry on recording for Eron?
A. Soon after I arranged and performed some backing vocals on an album released by Eron of original material and a few covers by 'Angus Aberdeen' which was released but, thus far, is lost in the mists of time. I started travelling far and wide across the country singing and, as Ron worked pretty much just around Kent, I worked less and less for him; though we would still meet up in London and talk business and life. Aged 19 I started working exclusively abroad, finding a very lucrative niche for my singing and piano playing, and the Eron days were over.
Biography © Hazel Quinn
Interview © eronrecords.co.uk