Interview: John Shuttleworth
Graham Fellows is the creator of John Shuttleworth – a versatile singer-songwriter from Sheffield, just in case you didn’t know – and despite being more than happy to play sheltered accommodation and entertain in the residents’ lounge, a grand City Hall date beckons on his latest tour. Mark Perkins had a chat with the man behind the Yamaha keyboard and was shocked to hear that John will be hanging up his polo-neck sweater.
The forthcoming City Hall gig will be something a bit special I believe.
The big news is that I’m announcing my retirement as John Shuttleworth. After this tour ends, there won’t be any more tours with a story and a theme and a title, although I do think this one’s my finest title yet! My Last Will and Tasty Mint. The theme of the show is all about rock deaths. John comes out saying: ‘It’s too risky to be in show-business, last year they were dropping like flies. Already this year Peter Starsted’s gone … ah, but where’s he gone to?’ As you might expect from a man living on borrowed time, John will be considering life’s major issues: the rise in popularity of hi-viz protective wear, the suitability of the plastic lid on takeaway coffee cups and the excitement John felt when sucking his first mint.
What influenced the decision to say goodbye to John?
It doesn’t mean I’m killing the character off, but it’s been a treadmill – a nice treadmill I might add – but it’s been a repeated cycle of a radio series followed by a tour. There’s not been time to do other things and I would like to find out what I want to do creatively. I feel I’ve tapped John’s seam pretty thoroughly.
So this homecoming show will be quite unique, and I believe there’s a very special guest?
The City Hall gig is the last date on the tour and it’s the only gig with a support act – Jilted John, no less! For anyone who doesn’t know, that was me back in 1978! The fact that he and John Shuttleworth he have the same first name is just coincidence.
Is this the first time you’ve revived Jilted John?
No, I did him for the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool last year. That prompted me to get a band together with Steve Halliwell (currently with Roger McGough’s band), Andy Hobson on bass (from the Pretenders) and Martin Barker drums. We have a sort of ‘replacement Gordon’ with a special appearance by Gordon Giltrap.
You’ve been playing John Shuttleworth for over three decades now. What does it feel like to know you’re playing him for the last time?
I’m finding out on this tour how loved the character is. As word gets round that this is the last tour, people are saying very nice things and I’m meeting some lovely people after the shows. I’m touched by how many fans have stayed with the character for over 30 years. It’s a ridiculously long time to spend on a silly joke. Or is it?
Tell us a bit about John’s third hits compilation, The A1111.
The new album is in the shops, but most particularly in Record Collector, as Barry is a friend of mine. He stocks all the John Shuttleworth and Jilted John stuff. The A1111 … And Other One! is named after the road that takes you to Sutton-on-Sea, which of course is where John’s agent, Ken Worthington, has his chalet. It’s a bit like ‘Y-Reg’ in that it’s a sing-a-long.
Having fun fun fun fun
On the A One One One One
It’s like the A One, but four times as good
The A One One One One
I’ve released two previous collections of John’s finest songs, ‘The Yamaha Years’, and ‘The Dolby Decades’ so this completes the trilogy. Newer songs such as ‘How’s Your Nan?’, ‘Smells like White Spirit’, ‘The Toaster Song’, ‘Mingling with Mourners’ are all on there. Every night I change the medley. The other night a young girl complained that I’d not done ‘Betty Turpin’, so now I put that in.
So what can we expect to see from you over the next few years?
We’re gearing up to do a Jilted John anniversary tour as 2018 will be 40 years since his hit. Maybe 20 dates or so, and of course it’s got to include Sheffield. I’m also hoping to do a memorial celebration at the Lantern Theatre for Sheffield photographer Shaun Bloodworth, who tragically died last year. In fact, I’m now the patron of the theatre, which is a great honour and something I take very seriously. I’ve always loved it; it’s a fantastic and unique place, which we’re very lucky to have in Sheffield.
I suppose I’ve inevitably caught John Shuttleworth up. I started playing him in my late 20s and I’m 57 now. I don’t want to say he won’t come back – I quite like the idea of a Frank Sinatra-style comeback, but there won’t be any more tours. Maybe kids’ TV beckons. I want to be on Sooty and Sweep again. I liked that, playing Officer Shuttleworth.
Graham will be performing as John Shuttleworth and Jilted John at Sheffield City Hall on March 29th. Tickets and more info available at www.sheffieldcityhall.co.uk.