Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Lyn Paul - Blood Brothers, The New Seekers and How Bill Kenwright Changed Her Life

Lyn Paul never expected to be appearing in Blood Brothers again. Then again, the now sixty-six year old actress and singer never expected to represent the UK as part of pre-Abba boy-girl band The New Seekers at the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest, held at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh.

While Eurovision is now just a memory, almost two decades after she first played back street matriarch Mrs Johnstone in Willy Russell's street-wise musical, Paul can be seen in Edinburgh this week on the latest Blood Brothers tour.

“We thought it was the end,” Paul says. “I went back for it's final dates in the West End in 2012, and we thought that was it, but now here we are.”

If things had worked out differently, Paul might not be here at all. Having formed her own girl group aged thirteen, Paul graduated from Manchester's working men's club circuit to international pop stardom with The New Seekers. She only considered a move into musical theatre in 1997 while playing the Cockney Cabaret club on London's Tottenham Court Road.

“Carl Wayne came to see me,” Paul remembers, “and he was the one who suggested I should try out for Blood Brothers.”

Wayne was the former singer with The Move, who went on to sing You're A Star!, the theme song for 1970s TV talent show, New Faces. He'd also done six years in Blood Brothers playing the Narrator.

“I don't know what I was expecting when I went to see it,” says Paul, “but when I came out, I knew I wanted to do it.”

Not knowing how to go about it, Paul took advice from her mother.

“She told me to write to Bill Kenwright,” she says of her first approach to one of the biggest producers in the business, who still looks after Blood Brothers. “I said to her I can't do that, and she said, why not, I've seen him on the telly, and he seems like a very nice man.”

Paul received a letter from Kenwright by return, went to meet him, and was cast as the woman she affectionately calls Mrs J, following in the footsteps of Barbara Dickson, Kiki Dee and Petula Clark.

“It was frightening,” Paul says of her experience onstage at the Phoenix Theatre three weeks later waiting for rehearsals to begin. “I'd never acted before, and Bill Kenwright had taken an enormous gamble on me. I just stood there thinking, what have I done?”

The answer came in the fact that she has returned to the role of Mrs J several times, both in the West End and on tour. This includes being asked back for the show's final West End dates in 2012, having been voted the definitive Mrs J. Doors were also opened for Paul to explore an acting career which has seen her appear in Boy George musical, Taboo, do a tour of Cabaret and appear as a regular character in TV soap, Emmerdale. All of which has seen her inhabit Mrs J with increasing confidence each time she revisits her.

“I'm a northern girl,” Paul says, “so I can relate to her. Perhaps there's a new depth to Mrs J that maybe wasn't there before, I don't know, but I've had lots of highs and many lows in my life, so I just thought I was her.”

Born Lynda Belcher in Wythenshawe, Paul was dancing from the age of three, and by the time she was thirteen, had formed her own girl group, The Crys-Do-Lyns.

“I read in the paper that there were no girl trios,” Paul remembers. “It said America had The Supremes, but where were our girl groups? I went off to dance class and said why don't we form one?”

Paul's dad drove the girls, not just around the local club circuit, but around Europe, where The Crys-Do-Lyns entertained the troops in Germany. When she was seventeen, Paul joined The Nocturnes, who initially featured the Perth-born Eve Graham in a line-up that would tour the Mecca circuit. The value of such spit and sawdust exposure was invaluable.

“It kept you grounded,” she says. “That's where a lot of people on the talent shows miss out these days. They don't have the experience of what to do if someone's ordering a round of drinks or eating fish and chips in front of you when you're in the middle of a song.”

With Graham having already made the move to The New Seekers, Paul joined her a year later. Within a year, the group, now made up of three men and two women, would go on to sell twenty-eight million copies of I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing, a song first heard on a global village embracing TV ad for Coca Cola.

“It was the biggest song in the world,” says Paul.

With such a profile, The New Seekers were the obvious choice for Eurovision '72, and showcased a new song each week on Cliff Richard's Saturday night TV show. Beg, Steal or Borrow was selected following a public vote.

“We didn't realise how big it was,” says Paul. “We were doing thirteen-hour days on Cliff Richard's programme before the show went out, and at that time, which was before Abba, having boys and girls in a band was quite a novelty, so we were getting all this attention.

“By the time we got to Edinburgh it was mad. Kids were screaming, trying to rip our clothes off, and they broke down the door of our hotel.”

With Paul featured vocalist, Beg, Steal or Borrow came second, losing out to Luxembourg's entry, Apres Toi, an epic ballad shot through with package-tour mariachi horns. As sung by Vicky Leandros, the English language version, Come What May, reached number two in the UK charts, the same position as Beg, Steal or Borrow.

Following The New Seekers release of an incongruous version of The Who's Pinball Wizard, Paul sang lead on 1973 single, You Won't Find Another Fool Like Me. The record went to number one before that incarnation of the group fell apart.

“I was just getting to do the oohs and ahs,” Paul says, “but we had a marvelous time. If I could remember any of it,” she adds. “I enjoyed it, but not as much as I should have. I was a home bird, and was always on the phone to my mum and dad.”

Paul embarked on a solo career that saw her work with the likes of Jack Jones and Liza Minnelli. She even tried out for Eurovision again in 1977, as did Carl Wayne, with both losing out to Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran's song, Rock Bottom.

While Paul still enjoys watching Eurovision every year, “it's different now,” she says, “and I think it's a shame it can't go back to how it used to be, getting someone already established to do different songs in the way that we did.”

Today, with Paul recognised more as an actress than a singer, her working life might have worked out very different if she hadn't taken her mum's advice.

“The New Seekers gave me a wonderful platform,” she says, “but writing to Bill Kenwright changed my life again. He took a big chance on me, and gave me a brand new career aged forty-seven, and it's a career I'm still enjoying aged sixty-six. So if Bill Kenwright tells me to jump on that shovel, I'll be jumping on that shovel like a shot.”

Blood Brothers runs at Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday, and tours the UK until November.
www.atgtickets.com

The Herald, February 10th 2016

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