Clive Jackson, better known as The Doctor from Doctor & The Medics chats with Kevin Cooper about playing at Butlins, his musical inspirations, the 80s revival and appearing at The Flashback Festival on 20th August.

Clive Jackson is the front man for Doctor & The Medics and is better known as The Doctor. An English glam rock band formed in London in 1981, they are best known for their cover of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In The Sky which reached number one in the UK singles chart in 1986. It went on to reach the same heights in no less than eighteen other countries.

Whilst busy getting ready for the festival season, he took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Clive how are you?

Hello Kevin I’m great thanks how are you?

I’m very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s my pleasure as usual.

And just how is life treating you?

To be honest life at this moment in time is treating me very well, very well indeed thank you (laughter).

And correct me if I am wrong but isn’t this year rather special?

(Laughter) yes it is. I was sat here doing my sums and realised that it was thirty five years ago that I formed Doctor & The Medics. That was way back in 1982 which means that this year is our thirty-fifth anniversary.

Will you be doing anything special to commemorate the anniversary?

(Laughter) well at this moment we have nothing planed but I think that we will eventually get round to doing something a little bit special. Knowing us it will most probably be on the day before New Year’s Eve (laughter). Having said that this year is our busiest year for twenty-five years, which is quite remarkable really. It is all down to all of the hard work that the current line-up puts in; they are such an amazing line-up and I am so blessed to have such an amazing group of people around me. I suppose that since 1998 when we couldn’t buy a gig for love nor money we have continually worked our way up and we are now at the point where we are so very busy. Lots of people seem to like us, they are very kind about us, and it is lovely so you could say that I am in a very good position at this moment in time.

You will once again be opening proceedings on Sunday 20th August at the Flashback Festival at The Thoresby Estate here in Nottinghamshire. Are you looking forward to that?

Yes I am, I really am. In fact I was only thinking about this the other day and I worked out that this will be our third year playing the Flashback Festival in Nottingham. I really can’t wait; Flashback Festival is one of my favourite gigs of the year. Everyone has such a good time and I’m not just speaking about the audience. The artists all love playing there. It is just so much fun.

And I understand that you will in fact be the MC for the day once again, is that correct?

Yes I am which is always great fun. To be honest I always get a little nervous whenever I am gigging or working but I get really nervous whenever I am comparing (laughter). When you are singing you can hide behind the song. My dad in his wisdom used to say to me “cabaret acts have got it worked out because if they are telling jokes and they are not going down well they just break into a song and everybody claps” (laughter). That was the old way of the world but these days when I go out onto the stage and it is just me, a microphone and ten thousand people looking at me I can’t just break into a song and dance routine (laughter).

I have to get the audience in the right place; let them know what is going on, get them involved and I really do get nervous. But to be honest I love it. I like that because who would have thought that after thirty-five years I would be finding a new challenge in this business that tests me a little bit. I wouldn’t like it all to be easy.

I have to say that the Sunday line-up is looking pretty good.

I totally agree with you, and have to say that Sunday looks like a hell of a good line-up to me.

Who are you particularly looking forward to seeing perform?

Well for one I really do enjoy watching Heather (Small). She is such a lovely lady. I have played a few festivals with her and when I first met her I very soon realised that she is actually quite shy and very nervous which doesn’t come across on stage at all. There are a few people, probably including me, who are a bit quiet, nervous and shy but as soon as they get out there on stage its wow and it all takes off. Looking at that line-up I really couldn’t say that any one of the artists or bands are my favourites really. I’m not allowed to (laughter). All that I will say is that out of the line-up for Sunday the whole of the 80s phenomena is very well represented.

Why do you think these kind of festivals are so popular and continue to grow in number each year?

That’s an interesting question and it is actually something that I have spoken about to people before. I think that it’s because since the 80s there have not been the kind of acts that can go on stage and simply wow a crowd of twenty thousand people with the songs, the delivery and with the performance because in the 90s it all kind of moved away from that. What I have found is that this 80s phenomena grows and takes its own shape. Most of the performers now are probably, I think it’s fair to say, performing more than they possibly did back in the 80s. Back then you would tour, then you would be back in the studio working, then promotion, television, another tour whereas now we have all of these live gigs coming up enabling the artists to actually get out there on stage and do what they do best. I personally feel that it is fair to say that a lot of the artists who are on these 80s tours are actually better performers now than they were back in the day.

As you get older you learn a bit of what the old Lovies call stage craft darling. I still have no idea as to what stage craft is after thirty-five years in the business (laughter). I will admit however, that you do learn how to perform better and I think that as a result of that people who come along to see all of those acts are most probably seeing them perform better than they would have done at any time of their career, and as for their voices, I think that with some people their voices are stronger, better and they have worked on them more over the years. Back in the day you simply did your thing and then you were out of there whereas a lot of the artists have now learned how to take care of their voice allowing them to sing better and more powerfully. For example, whenever you hear someone like Jimmy Sommerville, I am sure that his voice gets better every time that I hear him and I feel that is true of a lot of people. So there you go, I am being very diplomatic here and am praising everybody in a roundabout way (laughter).

You are recognised almost as much for your flamboyant coats as you are for your music so I will ask you the most important question, are there any new coats on the horizon?

Yes there are. I am currently looking at two new coats to add to the collection and to be honest I am trying to get a third one made in time for this summer’s festivals. I haven’t actually had a coat made now in ages; instead I scour places now for unusual stuff, stuff that looks like the sort of thing that the Doctor would wear (laughter). However, I have come up with an idea but I am not going to spoil the show by telling you just yet, sorry (laughter). Let’s just say that if I do get it then everyone is going to look at me and realise that I do not take myself too seriously (hysterical laughter).

And just how is my favourite coat at the moment. You said last year that your Union Jack coat was now starting to show its age.

Oh god what you have to remember is that my Union Jack coat is now some sixteen years old and unfortunately it is not something that you can get remade. It was actually made for a one-off television show and after the show the production company kindly gave the coat to me and as you know I have kept it going ever since. It is now a little threadbare but fortunately if I wear it late enough at night so that it is in the lights, and I do not stand too close to the front of the stage, then the audience don’t notice the fact that it is now threadbare (laughter). It’s really quite funny because when I am backstage about to go out onto the stage I meet some very well dressed people, some very dapper artists.

They are all there in their wonderful suits, and are so well dressed that they could be attending a wedding. And there’s me stood next to them in this thread bare Union Jack coat looking like I have just walked in off the street (laughter). But when I do get out on stage I think that I manage to get away with it. However, I do realise that at some point it is not going to work and at that point I will most probably sell the coat for charity.

Eighteen years ago you started playing on the Butlins circuit, do you still enjoy that as much as you did back in 1999?

Yes I do, it is always such good fun. When we first started playing Butlins they originally booked us as a 70s band and asked us to play the Glam Rock nights. I said to our agent “this just goes to show just how much we have had to rebrand ourselves on the audience’s” because when we came back even our agent believed that we were a 70s band (laughter). I told him that Spirit In The Sky was released back in 1986 and thank god because there are now far more 80s events at Butlins than there are 70s events. So we eventually found ourselves quite rightly playing on the 80s events. However, when we first started doing it there were a lot of people, who at the time were looking at us and giving it all of the ‘Oh Butlins is it now, Hi Di Hi’ and now they play it. Then around six years later when it started getting really big with the 80s nights and some of the big names started performing there, the same people who had been ridiculing us were now asking ‘who do I have to contact to play at Butlins’. I just turned to them, smiled and said ‘Hi Di Hi’ (laughter).

We have loved every minute of it. Again there are two sides to it, firstly there are the adult party weekends which are fantastic but then during the summer you get the family weekends and occasionally in the past we used to play at the family weekends, which have a totally different dynamic. You are then entertaining families which I love doing especially in this day and age where peoples time away as a family is probably more limited than it has been for decades. We are now all working so hard and can’t afford to go away. So I just think, do you know what, this family are away, they are here tonight, we are on stage, this could well be their only Saturday night all together for months, so let’s make this special. I will then try to get the kids involved, the parents involved, and as I have said that is a totally different dynamic. We do a lot of shows around the country to family audiences and again, it is a different dynamic, you have got to bring everyone in which once again goes back to when I am comparing at the Flashback gigs.

It is all about drawing the audience in, you want to get them feeling like they are involved. For me you have to do that every single gig. I know that I was taking the micky earlier about stage craft but I suppose that is my stage craft that I try to do. I try to get everyone inclusive. It’s not about the singer in the middle of the stage with the lights on him; if it was all about him then I would be Elvis (Presley). But it not about me it’s about the bloke standing at the back, it’s about the blokes who empty the toilets, everybody is involved in this thing and to make it work, it involves such an organisation and every single person plays their part. When I can manage to get everyone involved then that is when I feel the magic.

You must really enjoy being the MC for all of these festivals because I see that you are, once again, MC for the Rock & Blues Custom Bike Show in Derbyshire this year.

Yes I am, I love everything about the festival at Pentrich up there in Derbyshire. In fact I have been doing that now for over thirteen years (laughter). We first played there back in 1987, the year after we had had the hit with Spirit In The Sky and I have been involved with it ever since. Believe you me what you do on stage in front of four thousand bikers is very different to what you do at Flashback (laughter). I will leave it at that (hysterical laughter).

I first went to the Rock & Blues Custom Bike Show way back in the 80s and saw Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts (whatever happened to them), The Nashville Teens and Suzi Quatro.

Well if you went back in the early eighties it would have been a much smaller event than it is now. To be honest the show got very big at one point and they started having the likes of Motorhead and Twisted Sister performing to an audience of twenty thousand people. It then scaled down again to a sort of old school party with five thousand people attending with one large stage inside the arena and one outside. I personally feel that it is the right number of people for the event now. It is just a lovely weekend; once you drive through he gates you leave your worries behind. I always look forward to that weekend.

Who has musically inspired you?

Off the top of my head, Hawkwind, The Doors, a guy called Rocky Ericson who not a lot of other people will have heard of, numerous Glam bands and numerous Punk bands.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

Do you know what, I keep reinventing that every year (laughter). I suppose that people would say that it had to be Spirit In The Sky which at the time I would agree that it was then. However, you do gigs and you keep surprising yourself. Whenever it happens I take snap shots in my head and I say to myself ‘remember this Jackson because you are not going to be doing this forever and this moment is important. The magic is working so remember this moment’. I will take a snap shot in my head and so now, all of my high points are all gigs; they are all performances. They may not be the biggest it is just that sometimes it can be in a certain place where something magic happens, and you just know that everybody has that same feeling. And when that happens that is my next highlight. That way you are going to keep having highlights all the way through.

What was the first record that you bought?

I went into town and I bought two 7” singles on the same day. They were The House Of The Rising Sun by The Animals, and Right To Work by Chelsea.

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

Oh I get confused when asked this but the first proper gig that I can remember and the one which actually meant something to me was the X-Ray Spex at the Marque back in 1977. Every year in aid of Poly Styrene I play the Polyfest in her memory and to help raise money for charity. Every year I give the same speech; I saw this amazing woman who defined herself, she was not in any way conventional, she dressed the way that she wanted to dress, and whenever she went out onto the stage she would scream herself a new set of vocal chords. With her arms flailing she was like nothing that I had ever seen. I just looked at her and thought ‘that’s how you do it’.

She wasn’t David Bowie, she wasn’t Mick Jagger, she was just someone who redefined herself and was just herself on stage. That has stood with me and has inspired me all the way through so if we go back to the question about who has inspired me, then she has.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

(Laughter) do you know what, I cry all the bloody time especially when I am listening to music. For reasons that are beyond me I found myself backstage at George Michael’s very last concert here in London. I only stayed for around thirty minutes but I very soon realised that the man simply had so much class. I said earlier that when I am on stage it is not about me, well let me tell you when George Michael was on stage then it was most definitely all about him. When I heard him sing Father Figure I immediately thought of my daughter and it was a moment that I will always remember. Oh god I’m welling up, I’m going now. I was absolutely blown away and I am sure that will surprise a few people (laughter).

On that note Clive let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been wonderful as usual. You take care and I will see you at Thoresby in August.

Yes you will and please do come over and say hello. It will be great to catch up with you once again. I will see you at Flashback, it is going to be a great weekend, let’s all make sure that we have fun. Thanks Kevin and bye for now.