Rosie Swarbrick speaks with a Lancashire lad aiming to bring back the spirit of the Blitz, ukelele sensation Andy Eastwood
“It is sink or swim, there is no course or book to teach you how to become a variety entertainer – you learn on the stage and luckily I’m still booked up.”
Variety sensation Andy Eastwood’s road to stardom was fuelled by his grandfather’s passion for music, nurtured by pearls of wisdom from one of or national treasures and ignited by a risky piece in his final act of an infamously traditional classical music degree at one of England’s oldest institutions, Oxford University.
Andy said: “I started playing the violin and piano as well as the ukulele – I have a classical background at Oxford.
“But I played the ukulele in my degree and it was the first time some one had performed with that instrument – and I don’t think anyone has done it since.
“It is quite a traditional musical course at Oxford and it was a risk to play the ukulele but my performance went down very well and then my career blew up from there.”
Variety entertainer Andy has an ever expanding array of strings to his bow, from tributes to the famous ukulele maestro George Formby to regular performances alongside the King of Knotty Ash himself Ken Dodd.
The talented Lancashire lad’s feet have barely touched the ground in 2014 and now he is bringing the musical war-time spectacular ‘Bless ‘em All’ back to Lancashire on May 27.
He said: “I have been called the busiest man in show-business and I’m happy with that tag.
“I’m grateful to be working, it is a notoriously tough industry and I’m glad to be run off my feet.
“Ken is brilliant, he gave me a lot of advice about my act and I still work with him now, in fact I’m performing at Bolton with him at the end of the month at the Albert Hall in the Ken Dodd Happiness Show.
“He is brilliant, he doesn’t really need to work any more but he is still selling out stages; he has given me so much advice
“I’ve studied music at college but there is no course out there to train you to become a variety act.
“You’ve got to learn on the job and Ken has passed over some valuable tips – he’s had a big impact.”
The 34-year-old was born in Blackburn and the musician’s heart still lies in the North.
He said: “My ability to play the ukulele came from my grandfather.
“I used to watch him play one when I was a little kid, so he got me into that quite early.
“He bought me my first ukulele just before he died when I was six years old
“That is where the music comes form, my family.
“My mum was a singer and I have grown up around music.
“As a Lancashire lad it is nice to come back up north, I look forward to coming back and I haven’t been to Preston in a while.”
Andy’s show Bless ‘Em All is a revamped version of the 1940s’ tribute show We’ll Meet Again.
But this time in honour of the 100th anniversary of the First World War the act will feature songs from an earlier war time era too.
Andy said: “The show we are doing is based on songs from war time.
“That was the most awful time and the entertainers had to work over time to lift people’s spirits and so a lot of the songs are so uplifting.
“People like my hero George Formby and Vera Lynn went over to entertain the troops.
“It really made a big difference to people’s spirits.”
George Formby was the original all-round entertainer and multi-act man, he could sing, act, play instruments.
The variety entertainer from Wigan was huge in the 1930s and 40s and his trademark was his ukulele performance played in a style that would later be dubbed the “Formby Style”.
George – who died in Preston in 1961 – was a huge influence on Andy’s work and the entertainer is pleased to bring his act back to the place at the heart of Formby’s performances, Lancashire.
He said: “I do a variety of acts and I do pantomime but I mainly do a lot of theatre across the globe.
“There have been a few hair raising times when the instruments have got lost on cruise ships or at airports and that is why I like travelling around Britain.
“It reduces the risk and it is quite a worry when you travel the world because I normally carry about six or seven instruments.
“At the moment I have many opportunities to come back to the North, I will be at the George Formby convention in Blackpool in the summer.
“George is a big inspiration, it is an honour to play him and recreate his act.
“People still remember all these songs very well and I’ve always had a good response.
“We are both northern lads and the county, especially Blackpool, love the ukulele variety act that George made famous.”
Andy is accompanied in the show by his girlfriend Lucia Matisse and Mervyn Francis.
“My girlfriend is in the show and she plays all of the war time heartthrobs like Vera Lynn and Gracie Fields.
“We spend so much time working together that it is all a blur. We are still singing at home – it is hard to separate the two.
“We are always travelling and are both pretty busy, but we always travel with each other and support each other’s shows.
“I’ve had 10 years of together with Mervyn, we are the only ones from that first show that are still in it and since then we must have done 1000’s of shows.”
Andy hopes the songs spurned from the war live on and hails an unusual source that is helping the music live on – the rise of vintage.
He said: “The rise of vintage has helped. Our audience used to all be pensioners but we are getting more interest from younger people interested in the 1940s.
“They enjoy the fashion, the spirit and and people like the music and everything to do with that era.
“It is essential this music lives on, it is part of our history. We want everyone, those who grew up listening to the songs or those who just like what they hear to come along.”
Bless ‘Em All is today’s best re-creation of traditional variety.
Charter Theatre Preston, Tuesday, May 27 at 2.30pm
Tickets £12.50, Concessions £2 OFF,
Groups of 10 or more get the 11th FREE
BOX OFFICE 0844 844 7714 www.prestonguildhall.com