Dave Berry, an English singer and musician, chats with Kevin Cooper about touring with Dusty Springfield, performing at the Dungeon Club, getting locked out of The Boat Club and his forthcoming tour with The Solid Silver 60s Show.

Dave Berry is an English singer, musician and former teen idol of the 1960s, who played a mixture of R & B and pop ballads with his backing band, The Cruisers. Whilst not achieving commercial success in America, he was very popular in Europe, especially in Belgium and The Netherlands.

His best remembered hits are Memphis Tennessee, The Crying Game released in 1964 and his 1965 hit Little Things. This Strange Effect written by Ray Davies of The Kinks in 1965 became a number one hit for Berry in Belgium for which he received an award from Radio Veronica, in The Netherlands for their best selling pop single of all time. Other notable recordings were Mama in 1966, and Don’t Gimme No Lip Child which was released in 1964 and was covered by The Sex Pistols.

His stage act, which drew on the work of Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent, provided an inspiration for the late Alvin Stardust, but his stage presence could be quite frightening as he often hid behind the upturned collar of his leather jacket, or wrapped himself around, and effectively behind, the microphone lead.

It was the Geoff Stephens penned song, The Crying Game which brought Berry’s voice to his biggest international audience in 1992, when it was used as the theme song for the film of the same name. Recorded by Brenda Lee in 1965, the song has also been covered by The Associates, Chris Connor, Kylie Minogue, Percy Sledge and Barbara Dickson. Also featured in the film was Boy George’s version of the song which was produced by the Pet Shop Boys.

Whilst busy preparing for a thirty date tour with The Solid Silver 60s Show, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Good afternoon Dave how are you?

I’m excellent thank you Kevin, how are you, are you okay?

I’m very well thanks and before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s my pleasure, that’s what I do. We are all in the same business aren’t we (laughter).

And just how is life treating you?

I have to say that life has been very good actually. I really have enjoyed my career. I’m not like one or two other artists who you meet on your travels who have gotten fed-up with it, or didn’t enjoy the travel or didn’t enjoy the hotels; I have always stayed loyal to being a true musician. I have enjoyed everything about the life, and I personally cannot think of a downside to what I have now been doing for over fifty years.

You are genuinely one of the last remaining true troubadours.

Thank you for saying that. I really do appreciate it and I do like to think so.

Well we should talk about The Solid Silver 60’s Show, which will once again be playing thirty dates throughout March and April. Are you looking forward to being back out on tour?

Yes I am, in fact I always look forward to these tours. On this particular tour I will be working with Brian Poole of The Tremeloes, and Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits, and for me it’s even better than working in an office (laughter). It is very rare that you will work in an office and know your work colleagues for over fifty years but I have known Peter since 1964 and Brian even before that. So it really is a getting together of old colleagues and friends really.

Do you all still managed to get along with one another?

We do, yes we do. However, there are one or two people who I can’t mention who simply think that they are above us all. But I suppose that in many professions you are going to get one or two like that wherever you are so I really don’t think that is any different from any other profession really in that respect (laughter). Having said all of that, in general we all tend to get on quite well together. We are in and out of each other’s dressing rooms in the evening having a glass of wine together, telling jokes and simply not taking ourselves too seriously which to me is the most important thing. What a way to continue with your life; out on the road, touring the country, playing to audiences who have come out to listen to the music, and staying in nice hotels. It’s a young working class man from Sheffield’s dream.

I think that I could mention one of the people who you can’t mention but I won’t mention him (laughter).

(Laughter) are you thinking of a certain gentleman from Liverpool?

I couldn’t possibly comment (laughter).

He’s not very tall and he wears lifts in his shoes (laughter).

As you know I usually come along to photograph and review the shows here in Nottingham and as you are aware there is a meet and greet during the interval. A couple of years ago now the gentleman in question came out, had a look around, and because there was no chair or table for him to separate himself from members of the audience, he simply turned on his heels and went back to his dressing room.

I know exactly who you are talking about. The rest of us simply can’t understand it. He is supposed to be enjoying these shows but he has his own idea of what enjoyment entails. Once we were all staying in a hotel in Great Yarmouth and after the show we were all having a drink in the bar when suddenly he disappeared. There was no one else in the lounge bar, just us artists and a couple of the road crew. One of his roadies had to take him up to his hotel room (laughter). Anyway, after a short while his roadie came back down and sat with us saying that there had been too many people in the bar. There was nobody else in the hotel (laughter). I personally think that he has got an identity crisis (laughter).

Are the tours as much fun for you guys onstage as they are for the audiences?

Yes they are, they really are fun but let’s face it, that is just how they are supposed to be. We play tricks on each other and I have even been known to do strange things on stage without telling anyone what to expect (laughter). The fun is trying to entertain ourselves without letting onto the audience that we are actually messing around. Obviously we would never let our antics disrupt the show, but there are little things that happen. You know when they have because you will see the members of the band smiling (laughter).

After over fifty years in the business, do you guys still have to get together and rehearse?

Let me give you an example, the band who will be backing us on this tour will be Vanity Fair. They back me, Chris Farlowe, and people like that on different shows, so in order for them to back me on my nine song set, I will go through all of the songs with them. Other than that I might rehearse because I want to do another song. But in general we might get together a couple of weeks before the tour starts and I would just inform the band of the songs that I am going to sing and just generally run through those songs with them.

I have just been looking at the tour schedule and I see that you are doing it old school, you are performing for five days, having a day off and then back out for another five days.

Yes we are. This tour is going to be like the original tours of old where we just used to stay out on the road. There is one section of the forthcoming tour when I will be away from home for thirteen days, with three days off in the middle but it’s not worth me going home. We tend to stay out and away from home for those few extra nights. To be honest I don’t find it to be a problem at all. Who could moan at staying in a nice hotel for a couple of days (laughter).

The man from Liverpool perhaps?

(Laughter) yes you are totally right, he really could moan for England (laughter).

Has touring changed since you first started spending time out on the road back in the day?

Oh yes, touring has changed dramatically, so much so that what the youngsters of today do not realise is that there are now so many nice hotels all around the country together with such nice places where you can eat and drink. Whereas when I first started touring in 1963 with The Rolling Stones, The Hollies and The Ronettes, they were the tours of the time but I have to say that they really were awful (laughter). We had to stay in the Railway Hotels because we weren’t welcome at any of the other hotels because at that time, most considered the bands to be working class, and working class people didn’t stay in hotels; it was only business people.

So we really were very much looked down upon when we were out on the road and that lasted right the way through the 70s. We really were not welcome at any of the hotels but now all hotels, whether they are The Hiltons, Holiday Inns, Premier Lodges, we can stay in the whole range of hotels now so we do generally enjoy ourselves in the hotels and we are always made to feel very welcome in whichever hotel we are staying in.

Whenever I speak to people who have been in the business as long as you have they always mention three things to me; a battered Ford Transit van, constantly travelling up and down the M1 and meeting up at The Blue Boar for breakfast.

(Hysterical laughter) that’s it, the famous Blue Boar and if you remember the old story about Jimi Hendrix who said that The Blue Boar was mentioned so much between artists that he thought it was a club (laughter). When Jimi first came over here to tour the UK people would always be telling him “you need to get out and meet people at The Blue Boar” and poor old Jimi thought it was a nightclub (laughter). I can remember being in there at three o’clock in the morning with Thin Lizzy. I had never met them before and then suddenly there I was rubbing shoulders with Phil Lynott eating the terrible food of the time. I have to tell you that one of the things that I did when I first started was to get out of the van. I was out of the Transit van as soon as possible. As soon as I had earnt a little bit of money I travelled by car.

Is there any rivalry between the artists to put on the best set of the night?

Oh yes, of course. I think that would happen with a band now. At a festival or any other place where you see two or three bands on, everyone wants to play a really good set and try to steal the show. That is what I would call a normal rivalry but it doesn’t affect us personally. If someone plays a particularly good set then it helps the rest of us to lift our game. It is a competitive rivalry but a healthy rivalry if that makes sense. That is unless there is one person involved who shall remain nameless (laughter). I once did a tour and the late Dave Dee of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich fame, who was a really good friend of mine and a truly lovely man, would always sing the old Roy Orbison song In Dreams. He sang it absolutely beautifully, he had a wonderful natural falsetto in his voice.

This person who shall remain nameless told the tour promoter that he wanted Dave Dee to drop that particular song because he didn’t think that it was suitable for the show despite it going down so well on each and every night. But he didn’t like it so Dave Dee had to drop it from his set. That gives you an example of just what people are like. I would say to Dave Dee “that is a fantastic way in which you sing that song, you sound just like Roy Orbison”, he really could hit those notes whereas I can’t hit a note anyway (laughter).

What was it that Eric Morecombe once said to André Previn “I am playing all of the right notes but not necessarily in the right order” (laughter).

(Laughter) that’s right, yes he did. There are things that happen on stage that I don’t think the audiences pick up on. Most artists, if they are truthful, will tell you that they will be singing a song that they have sung for years and years and if something distracts you because you are on automatic pilot; the words are in your head and you don’t have to think about them, they come naturally. However, if something throws you then you can forget the words. Whenever that happens to me I just make them up as I go along (laughter). The majority of the audiences don’t know what has happened but I will stop the song and tell the audience what has gone wrong (laughter).

They then realise that you have been working hard in an effort to get around it. We all like to see someone working and it’s great when the guy doesn’t panic or walk off stage, and he just gets on with the job and does it. In fact I quite like it when things go wrong to be honest, it all adds to the spontaneity of the show, and the audience can clearly see that you are working.

What do you think makes these tours so popular?

I think that if you take a close look at these 60s shows they are bringing back memories for the audiences and that they are, to some extent, helping them to relive their youth. They all remember the songs from back in the day when they were young. I personally think that will never change. In twenty years’ time people will be listening to the current chart or at least the select few songs that are remembered, as there are always a small few from every era which will fall by the wayside. So in my opinion in twenty years it won’t be any different and I feel that in twenty years’ time someone will be asking that very same question.

The tour gets to Nottingham on Thursday 18th April when you will be playing the Royal Concert Hall. You have personally played here in Nottingham many times over many years. Do you enjoy playing here?

Yes I do, I feel that Nottingham really does have a special vibe to it. I can always remember performing at the Dungeon Club over there in Nottingham. I think that was quite possibly my first ever visit to Nottingham. That was during the same era that the late Peter Stringfellow opened his rock venues in Sheffield and The Dungeon Club in Nottingham was part of that circuit. What you have to remember is that myself and The Cruisers were never a Workingmen’s Club band. We never did play that circuit. We always tended to be playing The Dungeon Club, together with clubs up in Doncaster, Manchester and Liverpool and they were all rock venues.

From memory I would have to say that all of the clubs that we did play all tended to be extensions of coffee bars as many of them didn’t have a licence to sell alcohol. The good thing about that was that we were playing to our own age group. So Nottingham to me, because of The Dungeon Club being one of my favourite rock venues, has always been very special.

Didn’t you have a small problem when you were playing here in Nottingham at The Boat Club?

I had forgotten about The Boat Club. That really was a well-established club and all of the bands played at The Boat Club. It really was quite unique. Back in the day I would try to make unusual entrances onto the stage if I could, and at The Boat Club there was a fire escape at the back of the club which came out at the side of the stage. So I told the roadies to put my microphone through the fire exit door and then I would start my act singing outside and then make my way to the stage via the fire exit door. It was my intention to surprise the audience by just appearing on the stage. However, for reasons I have never been able to work out, the fire door had locked itself so I couldn’t get into the club (laughter).

I can remember hearing people inside the club shouting “turn that bloody racket down” and I was still standing outside on the fire exit. I was out there for almost ten minutes until the roadies realised that my non entrance onto the stage had gone on a little too long (laughter). Eventually they managed to open the fire door for me so that I could get myself onto the stage.

In 2010 you published your autobiography, Dave Berry – All There is to Know: Stories from My Rock and Roll Scrapbook. Was that something that you felt that you needed to do?

To be honest with you, it wasn’t entirely down to me. A journalist friend of mine, Mike Firth, used to come over to my house and I would naturally tell him stories about things that had happened whilst I was out on the road and all about my career and he was the one who said “have you ever thought about doing a book” and I thought I was never the biggest star here in the UK; I did okay but I was never at the top of the pile. So I said to him “I don’t really think that anyone would be that bothered to read about my career and what I had been up to” to which he replied “well I think that they would”. So it was all down to Mike; he was the instigator of the autobiography.

I gave him all of my press cuttings, and I thought that was a lovely idea to include them instead of having page after page after page of dialogue. There are lots of photographs in there, in fact there are photographs on every page recalling every step of my career which I thought was a lovely touch.

I was recently talking to Ian Page the lead singer with the band Secret Affair and he said that if I ever got the chance to speak to you that I should tell you that he learnt his stagecraft by watching you from behind the sofa. He said that you used to frighten the life out of him.

Did he really say that, well that is something that I sometimes bring up at my shows and I have to tell you that I have lost count of the amount of people who tell me that I used to frighten them when I was performing on TV (laughter). I used to work on creating a spooky image when I was onstage. It was originally supposed to be tongue in cheek really, something that wasn’t to be taken too seriously, but apparently a lot of the younger people were frightened to death by it all (laughter).

I have recently been watching some old footage of you performing The Crying Game and I have to say that some of the things that you did back then with your polo neck jumper even frightened me (laughter).

I have to say that I don’t really know where it all came from; I just seemed to develop it over a period of time (laughter). It’s strange and I really don’t have a story to tell you as to where it came from, it just developed.

It is all a part of you, who you were and what you were all about.

Yes it is and I have to accept that but for me, I just wanted to be entertaining. There was one TV show where I started my act standing behind a screen and I actually thought that it would be wonderful if I didn’t actually appear. However, the floor manager was yelling for me to come from behind the screen and get myself onto the set. I thought that would have been really entertaining, a real one-off, the only way that anyone would have known that I was there was the fact that they could hear my voice and they would perhaps be able to see my fingers appearing from behind the screen, or something like that. But alas the floor manager was having none of it (laughter).

I can remember once seeing Gilbert Bécaud performing at the L’Olympia Bruno Coquatrix in Paris and for his encore, and I really must do this one day, what he did was he left the stage at the end of the show, they then lifted all of the back curtains to show just what the stage is like in the middle of the afternoon, all of the bare walls, ladders propped up, tins of paint everywhere, just the general bare stage, and then Gilbert Bécaud walked back onto the stage as they were playing one of his tracks over the sound system, and he just stood in various spots around the stage smoking a cigarette. He then leant on the piano and looked into middle distance, flipped his cigarette ash into an ashtray that was on the piano and that was his encore.

For me that was fantastic and I really will do that one day. Over the years I have seen many visual things in rock music because I firmly believe that there has got to be an element of performance art within rock music. As someone once asked the late George Harrison about art within the legacy of The Beatles, George looked them up and down and said “art, it’s just a laugh” (laughter).

Of course if you do it Dave they will fine you sixty pounds (laughter).

(Laughter) yes they will, that’s right. Bugger, I had forgotten about that. I wouldn’t have the cigarette lit because I haven’t smoked now for over twenty years but yes, I do know what you mean (laughter). But I do like the idea of simply wandering about the stage.

You recorded and released The Crying Game in July 1964 when it reached number five in the UK Singles Chart. Twenty eight years later Boy George recorded his version of the song, and it reached number twenty two in the UK Singles Chart. What did you make of his version of the song?

I was very pleased that Boy George had recorded the song as I was well aware that the film of the same name was being released and that George was in fact recording his version for the movie soundtrack. I thought that it was a great idea. A short time later I was informed that my original recording was also going to be in the movie as well as George’s version. So first of all I thought that his was a great version. I loved the 80s era, The Human League, ABC, Culture Club, Heaven 17 and the Pet Shop Boys were all my favourite bands. So I was actually quite honoured to think that the Pet Shop Boys recorded The Crying Game whilst backing Boy George. I loved it, I really did.

Has Boy George ever spoken to you about the song?

No he hasn’t, he never has. I actually got to work with Boy George at the Royal Albert Hall in London about eight years ago now on a Dusty Springfield Memorial concert. Some of the artists there were Mica Paris, Boy George, Sandie Shaw, and we all performed a Dusty Springfield song. So I did meet him there backstage but it was just ‘how are you, what are you up to’, the usual sort of thing. So we never really get around to talking about the record. I have to tell you that my favourite version of The Crying Game is by Kylie Minogue which she recorded live at the Imex Arena; that was a fantastic version.

I am a huge fan of Dusty so I have to ask you, which song did you perform?

I sang Goin’ Back but I did it stripped down. I just had my guitar player with me onstage and he was playing acoustic guitar and harmonica. They had a thirty piece orchestra on stage but I wanted to do something different with the song so we just performed the song as a stripped down version.

I personally always thought that Dusty had one of the most soulful voices to ever come out of the UK.

Yes she did, I totally agree with you on that. Most of the first tours that I ever did were in fact with Dusty. What most people don’t know is that the very first tour that I did was with Dusty Springfield, and it was her very first tour as a solo artist at the end of 1962. Also with us were The Searchers, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, and I have to say that Dusty was fabulous, and it was my band The Cruisers that backed her (laughter). I have looked back on it many times now and thought that it truly was bizarre. We were only a young band from Sheffield and we had never backed anyone else except me and then suddenly we were on this huge tour.

The promoter wrote to us saying “the band, The Cruisers will be supporting Susan Singer who just happened to be Helen Shapiro’s sister” (laughter). However, my band actually finished up backing everyone on the tour. I don’t know what they must have thought because every song was a big arrangement, songs like I Only Want To Be With You and Dusty would never augment it with keyboards or anything. The Cruisers were just a small four piece band, two guitars, a bass and drums (laughter). So I really do not know how they managed to hold it together for the entire tour.

I was fortunate to speak to Burt Bacharach and he said that whilst Dusty could be a bit prickly to work with, in his opinion, she should have been bigger than Dionne Warwick.

That’s right, Dusty was never recognised or acknowledged as the brilliant singer that she was.

Not until she passed away which does annoy you.

Dusty disappeared back in the 60s and she was only really known by the average person. I mean even the Dusty In Memphis album whilst being critically acclaimed wasn’t one of her better recordings. But I totally agree that she should have been much bigger than what she was. When I went to see her she was playing at the Batley Variety Club which was a natural progression really from the 60s. Once the concert tours had finished and when your hit records had slipped out of the charts, then the natural progression was to perform in the old Baileys clubs which I have to say were great. I loved them, a week in Brighton, a week in Carlisle, a week in Dundee, it really was great fun.

Once Dusty died everyone came out of the woodwork saying just how good she was. If she really was that good then why not tell her when she was alive?

Yes, indeed. I had this very same conversation about my late dear friend Joe Cocker. Whenever Joe would come back to the Sheffield area to perform a few concerts at the City Hall and the Arena the places would be absolutely packed. I would always say to them “where were you when he needed you, you were never there when I would be hanging out with Joe”. When Joe hit upon hard times he would be playing in pubs and clubs that were a third full at best, perhaps there would be twenty-five people in there. Where were all of these people when Joe was first starting out, they certainly weren’t at any of the venues.

They all now like to be associated ‘oh I remember seeing Dusty’ or ‘I remember seeing Joe at such and such a place’ but they weren’t there because I was there especially with Joe right from the very beginning; right from the early days in 1960.

They are all looking for fame by association.

Yes they are. I can remember when a guy called Dean wrote Joes biography, and at the time Joe was performing at the Sheffield City Hall. Dean later told me that Joe had mentioned the fact that I wasn’t at the gig and I said to Dean that the last time that I came to see Joe performing there were literally dozens and dozens of people all milling around trying to get into the dressing room to see him. I asked Dean the very same question “where were all of these people at the beginning of Joes career or before he played at Woodstock”. I know the answer; they simply were not there.

It always reminds me of the story about when Bob Marley And The Wailers first came over to the UK and played at Hammersmith Odeon back in 1976. They say that if everybody was there who claimed to be there then there would have been well over a million people in there (laughter).

(Laughter) you have to laugh at these things don’t you.

Looking back, do you have any regrets?

I have to be honest with you and say that I really don’t have any regrets whatsoever. It’s not a regret it’s just that because my roots are in American Blues, R&B and Jazz I would like to have cracked it over there in America. But sadly it just wasn’t to be. However, because of that I did have the advantage over cracking Europe. I remember talking to Peter Noone back in the early days when Herman’s Hermits were trudging all over America playing sixty or seventy shows for Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. They were sitting on a Greyhound bus, eating crap food, and drinking Coca Cola whereas at the same time I was eating and drinking in Antwerp, Brussels, Paris, and Amsterdam, all of the great cultural cities in Europe. And for me that far outweighed sitting on a Greyhound bus for sixty nights travelling through the night.

With the state of the music business as it currently is, if you were starting out today, would you bother?

I have to say that I think I would because despite of everything that is happening within the music business, the grass roots are still there. I really do think that the grass roots of music are still out there. The one thing that really does disappoint me and I think that Noel Gallagher touched on this a few years ago, is where are the working class bands. They now all seem to be George Ezra, Ed Sheeran, and Sam Smith, all of whom have come out of one of the many showbiz colleges. It’s not my type of stuff at all. I do go out to see a lot of these younger bands and let me tell you, there are a lot of them out there, but the fear is that they will never get that opportunity to break through. So in answer to your question yes I would, I would most definitely go into the music business.

I know that you didn’t play them but one of the current problems is that there are no Workingmen’s Clubs left where these bands can learn their trade.

No you are quite right, there aren’t and it is not possible for these bands to promote their own gigs. We were always promoting our own gigs and we were playing four or five nights every week. Don’t get me wrong they were only in function rooms in hotels or church halls which we used to rent as did Peter Stringfellow in his early days. We were playing all those sorts of venues.

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

One particular highlight I think would have to be when I was invited to do a programme called Grand Gala du Disc over in Amsterdam. On that show that was the time that I realised that it was going to be a wonderful career for me. With me on that show were The Everly Brothers, Diana Ross And The Supremes, The Crickets, Cilla Black and I did my usual act and I absolutely stormed it, even though I say it myself. There is no point in me being shy about it, artists always know when you have given a great performance. That I think is the main highlight and I have continued to work over in Europe ever since.

What can you remember about your very first appearance on Top Of The Pops?

To be honest with you I can’t really remember that much about it (laughter). Thinking about it I can’t even remember what it was that I was promoting (laughter). What I can remember is that it was being broadcast from The Church Hall in Didsbury near Manchester before it moved to London.

On that note Dave let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great. You take care and I will see you here in Nottingham and we won’t mention the guy who we are not supposed to mention (laughter).

Let’s just say that he might get some further use out of the band’s name sometime soon as I understand that the other two are retiring. Apparently it was all down to Frank, so it came as a shock to John. I really can’t understand it but they must know best. Thanks for that Kevin, and I will see you in Nottingham. Bye for now.