THE BIG INTERVIEW: Still rocking at 71 . . . the local music legend who just wants to perform

Rocker Frank Halliwell is still rolling on after a music career spanning seven decades.
Feeling cooped up: Frank Halliwell can't wait to get back on stage.Feeling cooped up: Frank Halliwell can't wait to get back on stage.
Feeling cooped up: Frank Halliwell can't wait to get back on stage.

Now one of rock’s 70-something club, he still regards himself as a junior member compared to such greats as Jagger, Richards, Wyman, Clapton, Townshend and Daltrey.

And, like his more famous pensioner peers, the 71-year-old lead singer of Preston’s cult band Dennis Delight still gets that buzz when he picks up his guitar and walks out on stage.

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“There’s nothing like it,” he says, cooped up at his Walton-le-Dale home waiting for the coronavirus crisis to subside and normality to return.

“I don’t spend all day playing music or sitting writing lyrics for new songs. I’m keeping busy doing a bit of gardening or a few jobs around the house.

"I know it’s not very rock and roll, but I’ve always been like that.

“But when I put that guitar strap around my neck it’s like a switch being turned on. I just go out and give it everything I’ve got.”

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Those moments have been few and far between of late, with the band not having gigged for almost 12 months for a variety of reasons. Frank isn’t saying what all those reasons are, although that old chestnut ‘musical differences,’ which afflicts most groups at some time, clearly figures somewhere in there.

At the moment all three band members - Frank, drummer Paul Swindells and bass player Clarke Taylor - are kicking their heels (and not each other) waiting for the all clear to sound and for the music to resume.

“I’ve never fallen out with anyone in the band,” he tells me with a smile. “It’s always been going on behind me.

“Having said that, though, me and Mick McGreevey (ex-drummer) had more arguments than a married couple. But they were always constructive arguments. It was always about music, not other things.

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“As a band we’ve had our ups and downs - who wouldn’t over 53 years? But Dennis Delight still exists and, who knows, we might be back rehearsing once all this is over. I certainly hope so.”

Those “ups and down” have included the time in 2018 when Paul was almost killed trying to stop a thief stealing his works van in Bolton.

And then there was Frank’s own brush with death in 1985 in a motorcycling accident which left doctors doubting he would ever walk again, never mind bounce around on stage.

Thankfully both recovered and were able to return to music - albeit Frank having to be propped up on stage for a while on a special stool which he admits did such a good job hardly anyone could tell he wasn’t standing up.

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Ask a rock musician to recall the sixties and you’re likely to get a glazed look. All those stories, some apocryphal, of ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’ took their toll on many, some of whom still have an empty drawer in their memory bank from that crazy period. Not so Frank.

“I’ve got an elephant’s memory,” he says. “It’s all still as clear as a bell. Dennis Delight was formed from a band called Barbed Wire Soup which I joined as a favour after being asked to replace a guy called John Worsley - he’s dead now, God bless him. Then Barbed Wire Soup ended and Dennis Delight began. That was 1967.”

Frank, who admits to writing “thousands” of songs over the lifetime of the band, picked up his first guitar at the age of eight while he spent a full year in hospital with osteomyelitis, a painful bone infection.

“It was only a little guitar, but I started making tunes on it and I enjoyed it. So I taught myself how to play, just as I did later with the piano.

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“When I was about 11 or 12 my older brother was friends with some of the lads in a group called Pete and the Ventones and used to go everywhere with them. I’d written a song called Goodbye Little Girl, they liked it and ended up performing it.”

After Barbed Wire Soup, Frank formed Dennis Delight with Mick McGreevey, guitarist Dave Gregson and bass player Ollie Tromp. They spent years on the road touring - Frank didn’t even get to see his first child until she was three days old because the band was on the road.

Band members have changed over the years, but Frank has remained the one constant. Mick lasted until around nine years ago when the physical toll of being a rock drummer finally forced him to hang up his sticks.

Other well known band members over the years have included Stan Mansfield, Greg Slater and Kenny Jones.

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Frank is fulsome in his praise for all of them, although his fellow founder member Mick McGreevy is singled out for extra credit.

“Mick was in it from the start - he was in Barbed Wire Soup before I was. Mick and me were the backbone of Dennis Delight for a long number of years.

"And what a drummer he was. I was shocked how he could drum like he did, when you consider in the dressing room he looked the most unfit of all of us.

"I said when Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham died that I knew a guy who could replace him. He was that good.”

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There have been times when Dennis Delight have taken breaks , most notably when Mick decided he needed a rest. For two or three years Frank and Clarke gigged together as Plum Crazy, playing their own material, which has always been the ethos for Dennis Delight.

“Rock drumming is tough work and after 45 minutes Mick was knackered. When we had two-hour gigs on Fridays and Saturdays it was too much.

"Then Paul, whose father-in-law had been our lighting engineer, got involved. He was always at rehearsals and gigs and he knew the songs better than we did, so he was a great fit - and also a great musician.”

At their peak Dennis Delight were lured to London and signed for Chapel Music. “It was a song writing contract and we used to record demos,” says Frank.

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“But it didn’t work out because they just wanted me. They said I was the main man and they wanted to build a band around me.

"I didn’t want that. I’m a Lancashire lad and I wanted to go back to Lancashire where people are real.

“I’m a lot wiser now than I was then. But I could still see they were just looking for talent they could exploit to make money - but they found they couldn’t exploit me.

"Everyone wanted to be on Top of the Pops, on any TV show. But it was all false to me.”

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Frank looks at the multi-millionaire super stars from that era, like the Rolling Stones who are still rocking in their late seventies, but he has no regrets.

“Sometimes I watch those documentaries on TV about different bands and think ‘there but for the grace of God.’ That could possibly have been me. But I look at my wife, and my three kids and my eight grandkids and I could possibly have missed out on all this, the most important things in my life.

“You can’t cry over spilt milk. Life is life. I’m a local lad who is proud of the fact he doesn’t have a bank account and hasn’t ever been outside the UK.

"I only applied for my first passport two years ago to go to Ireland because my brother was dying, but he died the day the passport came.

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"I’ve been happily married to Jacqueline since 1968 and I’ve lived in this house for 40 years. I’m that sort of bloke. People still pomp their horns at me in the street and wave.

“Back in the day, when we were gigging almost every night, it took over your life. Now I look at Jagger or film of Freddie Mercury prancing around the stage and I don’t like it.

“My prancing days are over. I’ve done my bit and now I just move to the music, nothing flash.

"There are rockers who are older than me still doing it, so why shouldn’t I carry on?

"If I didn’t still have the power in my voice, if I was struggling to sing, then maybe it would be time to call it a day. But I’m not there yet.”

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