Breakfast with – Dave Berry
Recipe for success – handcrafted
In the words of the old song: ‘Take a pinch of white man’, add a mixture of Johnny Cash, a track or two of Gene Vincent, stir with a gloved hand and a sample of black clothes, tip in a spot of Rhythm & Blues music – and what have you got?
The man known as the glove also has a touch of Bo Diddley and Stan Laurel in his act, he tells me. These were the influences that make up the Dave Berry we all know and love today – well, most of us, anyway.
“I look forward to all the tours and shows. Travelling and hotels are my lifeblood. Even when I’m not on the road, and have a few days off, I visit antique auctions and centres all over the country. I also go walking and cycling on canal and rail routes. But if I am offered a gig, and it suits me, I do it.
“The hardest thing in this business is to say no when asked to appear. I have done that on a couple of occasions.”
He admitted that one of them was when he turned down an invitation to appear on a TV quiz show where he would have been in a line-up, not performing, and the panel were to guess who he was.
“I remember The Tremeloes and The Merseybeats having the mickey taken out of them on the show, and they were dressed up in abysmal clothes.”
He thought the so-called joke was degrading for the artists.
Dave has appeared with his own band The Cruisers, changing personnel over the years, but he has also been backed by well-known bands and appeared with other famous names of the sixties – and more recent.
“My love is Rhythm & Blues and Blues, and I particularly enjoy guest appearances with The Norman Beaker Band and Chris Farlowe. I’ve also appeared as special guest with The Manfreds, but I started out playing with different bands and I feel comfortable with most groups I’ve worked with. My motto is ‘be true to the music’, no matter where you are playing, whether to 200 in a Blues club, or 14,000 in Antwerp Sports Palace, where I recently appeared.
“The great thing about tours is that we are all friends – well, nearly all – and the camaraderie in the dressing rooms and among the fans is warm and rewarding. I like meeting people and responding to their appreciation of the performances.
“Although I would not claim to be a songwriter, I tried in the early days writing a few B-sides, and it was then I realised I was an interpreter of songs. Many established artists were not songwriters and it’s best to stick with what you know and do best.
“Among my most favourite songs are ‘Hurt’ written by Trent Reznor and sung by Johnny Cash with the band ‘Nine Inch Nails’. Of all the artists, he was my main influence. I went to nearly all of his concerts when he was on tour in the UK.”
Dave said he won’t slow down or retire. He repeated something Keith Richards was reported as saying: ‘“I liked the living legend, that was all right” – referring to an award he received in 1989 – “but immortal is even better.”
“I will continue to play while I am fit and well,” Dave said. “I did not come into the business as a passing fancy. I wanted to be in it because of my love of all types music.”
He also loves performing, and that’s obvious to audiences wherever he is playing. His spotlight routine adds to his sloth-like stage movements. His love of theatre led him to use lighting effects and develop the well-known stage presence which delights audiences.
Sometimes he is asked to get up and sing when he is taking a night off, or on holiday and perhaps visiting a jazz club. Recently, in Malta, the pianist in such a club invited him to sing.
Dave says show business is a life-long learning curve.
“You can learn a lot from older artists and, for instance, I had the privilege of meeting and chatting to Dave Brubeck. He was a dignified, polite 83-year-old and he welcomed me and my wife Marthy and I asked him questions that I am asked by my fans.”
Dave has written his biography, but over the 50 years – and more – that he has been on the road in show business, he has always shied away from involving his family in any publicity.
I can reveal that Dave and Marthy are caring grandparents to their daughter’s young child, and they are a close-knit family.
What has added to Dave’s success and kept him at the top of his profession?
“I like to take risks, and if something doesn’t work, I can say that, at least, I’ve tried. And I’ve had a go with all sorts of material. Recently, I was at the Royal Albert Hall and could have sung with a 30-piece orchestra but I chose to use an acoustic guitar and harmonica backing me on ‘Going Back’ (one of Dusty Springfield’s hits). It worked brilliantly.”
Dave says he can sing most of the standard tracks of the sixties era, but he has also been known to perform songs from more recent decades.
Looking back, himself, he remembers working in Hamburg and Hanover, among other cities, where he performed on shows with strippers – well, he didn’t actually work with the girls – but it was ‘“all theatre,” he said.[/private]