Woodhouse lad Chris Green met a fascinating old lady who changed his life in the British Library.
Chris discovered his alter ego, Ida Barr, when he was researching music hall acts in the library archives. He decided to bring her back to life in his show Ida Barr’s Mash-Ups, which he is performing next week in Sheffield as part of the Festival of the Mind.
He said: “I always really loved music hall and had an idea I wanted to do something. I came across Ida Barr and thought she was amazing.
“Instead of inventing a character I thought I will research her. I just imagined she hadn’t died in 1968 and what it would be like for her to be moderately successful, internationally known and still be living in multicultural London.
“It’s a basic comic conceit, old lady does rap. I really love R&B and rap music. I knew that an old lady doing it would be funny in itself.”
The real Ida came from London and was a successful music hall performer. Chris discovered that she went to the US and bought the rights to two songs and reinvented herself as The Original Ragtime Girl.
Her hits, Oh You Beautiful Doll and Everybody’s Doing It, are still familiar today.
Chris decided that Ida should become a rapper and she mashes up songs of today with her own inimitable observations on everyday life from the point of view of an old lady.
He said: “I properly mean it when I think rappers should talk about Poundstretcher and Gaviscon!
“Most people can relate to the queue at the post office and how anyone hates to get a red card saying their parcel couldn’t be delivered. They should be writing raps about that kind of thing.” He added: “Ida also does DJing which I absolutely love. I never really appreciated the joys of being a DJ. I thought it was a cop-out of a creative enterprise playing other people’s work, but it is creative and incredibly good fun.
“When you really connect with the crowd and do what they want and build the mood it’s great fun. I sing too much, though! Sometimes I have to have the mic turned off.” He said that he “fell into the rock and roll world of telly” by accident in the 1980s when he landed a job as music researcher on the legendary music show The Word.
He said that working in the chaos of “trash telly” taught him that he could just make stuff up and entertain people, learning as he went along, rather than following a well-thought-out plan from the start.
It’s worked really well for Ida, who has performed to big audiences around the world.
Chris is looking forward to performing in the city where his family still live. He grew up partly in Woodhouse and partly in Darley Dale in the Peak District. He said: “Sheffield is a huge part of who I am. None of my characters are from Sheffield which is quite strange but my two grandmas are a huge influence on Ida.
“One used to say ‘I don’t know if I’m on this Earth or Fuller’s’. She was in the carpet department at Cole Brothers and said ‘I’ve got the sword of Damacles hanging over my head’ because she couldn’t decide which carpet she preferred.
“Ida says the same things in a different accent.”
He has met members of Ida’s family, including the entertainer Anita Harris, and was pleased to hear they approved of his show.
Chris has been involved in Festival of the Mind since it started in 2012 and is looking forward to performing there for the first time.
He says the show will be a good old-fashioned sing-song session. Ada will mash up old songs like If You Were the Only Girl in the World with Rihanna’s Only Girl in the World, for example, so everyone of all ages can join in.
The festival, run in conjunction with the University of Sheffield, offers 11 days of mostly free events showcasing cutting-edge academic research in a fun, accessible and interactive way.
It runs from next Thursday to Sunday, September 28 and many events take place in the glittering circus-style Spiegeltent that will be set up in Barkers Pool.
Ida Barr’s Mash-Up is on Sunday 21 September in the Spiegeltent from 2-4pm and 4-6pm, when Ida will be joined by Professor Brendan Stone from the university School of English.
For full festival details, go to http://festivalofthemind.group.shef.ac.uk/