Dave Berry interview: '˜If you're a true working class person the only way out of it is through music or football'

Dave Berry. Picture: Trevor NealDave Berry. Picture: Trevor Neal
Dave Berry. Picture: Trevor Neal
Anyone seeking a reminder of just how brightly Dave Berry's star shone as a singer in the mid-1960s need only look him up on YouTube. There he is in a black-and-white TV clip performing his first big hit The Crying Game, prompting screams from the audience as he hides faux-mysteriously behind the microphone and his upturned collar - clearly thoroughly enjoying his pop moment.

It was an era when artists like Berry, who grew up in Woodhouse in Sheffield and left school at 16 to become a welder, could properly transcend a working-class background to reach the top 10 '“ with no need for the music courses and development deals available to today's crop of polished chart stars.

"I agree with Noel Gallagher," says Berry, on the phone from his home in Dronfield. "He said about three years ago, 'What happened to the working class bands?' They're all from showbiz colleges and public schools - that's not what rock and roll is. If you're a true working class person the only way out of it is through football or music, pretty much. So I was very proud of my roots and still am."

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Dave Berry in the 1960s.Dave Berry in the 1960s.
Dave Berry in the 1960s.

And the music of the 60s has endured. The Rolling Stones and The Who are still on the road, The Kinks are talking about reforming and Berry will soon be setting off on this year's Solid Silver 60s Show with his contemporaries Peter Noone '“ of Herman's Hermits '“ and Brian Poole, minus the Tremeloes.

It's the 34th such jaunt around the country '“ billed as the 'most successful regular multi-artist tour in history', the figures are impressive. Over the decades there have been over 1,500 shows, shifting more than one million tickets '“ and Berry, 77, has no plans to stop, despite the promoter's warning that this could be the last Solid Silver tour ever.

"I've always felt like a true musician," he says. "The American blues singers like Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters, they continued to tour right the way through until their 80s. And the jazz players, they didn't stop when they got older, so we feel the same way. I enjoy touring. I've just done about 12 shows over in Europe, so I'm very excited. What do you want to retire to? It's a fantastic life. Where else can you be a grown-up teenager?"

Born David Holgate Grundy, he attended Woodhouse County Council School and was introduced to music at a young age '“ his father, a bricklayer, had a sideline as a semi-professional jazz drummer and taught his son to play. In 1959 Dave formed an Everly Brothers-style duo with guitarist Malcolm Green, but shifted to R&B when he took over as singer of The Chuck Fowler Band after their frontman joined the army. Dave Berry and The Cruisers were born; the stage surname 'Berry' came from his love of Chuck Berry's music.

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Dave Berry, by David Wedgbury, 1966. Picture: National Portrait GalleryDave Berry, by David Wedgbury, 1966. Picture: National Portrait Gallery
Dave Berry, by David Wedgbury, 1966. Picture: National Portrait Gallery

"We had a great start in that we were playing to our own age group," he says. "We didn't play working men's clubs, we were running our own gigs all around Sheffield."

In 1963 The Cruisers were spotted by Decca A&R man Mike Smith at a ballroom in Doncaster '“ later in the year the group reached number 19 with a cover of Chuck Berry's Memphis Tennessee, produced by Mickie Most, but session musicians were used on subsequent recordings such as The Crying Game, a mournful ballad which rose to number five and made Dave's name. However, the tune, written by Geoff Stephens, didn't strike Berry as being an obvious hit.

"I didn't really want to be recording ballads - in fact, the B-side is Don't Give Me No Lip Child, which was done by Sid Vicious in the Great Rock '˜n' Roll Swindle. I would have preferred that to have been the A-side."

His session players '“ among them Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, later of Led Zeppelin '“ convinced him to record the track.

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"They hadn't got closed minds. I didn't want to know any other music apart from blues and R&B. I'd been given The Crying Game six or seven months before I recorded it. I kept saying 'It's not really for me', but they were the ones who really talked me round."

The song has had a long afterlife. Boy George covered it for the 1992 film of the same name, and Berry reckons there have been about 25 different versions in total. "One of my favourites was by Billy MacKenzie from The Associates. Kylie Minogue did a fantastic version."

But his was the definitive reading, he insists. "There was no version before mine and I'm very proud of that."

Berry toured with the Stones and Dusty Springfield, and played one-nighters with The Walker Brothers, fronted by the enigmatic Scott Walker, who ditched crooning for a career making challenging, avant-garde music.

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"His later albums have been quite bizarre really, I've always liked that about him," says Berry. "It wouldn't be the way I'd do things, but I think he's handled it wonderfully. A bit like Marianne Faithfull, really: a pop singer in the 60s and then suddenly they've got this strange image."

Berry's other big chart successes were a cover of Bobby Goldsboro's Little Things, and his take on B.J. Thomas's Mama. This Strange Effect, written by The Kinks' Ray Davies, only made number 37 in Britain, but went to number one in Holland.

"I think it's their best-selling single of all time, which is great. I still go over there every year. I'm really proud of my career, I'm not one of those people who dismisses certain years."

Was he flattered to be a teen idol?

"Oh I loved it," he says unhesitatingly. "Come on, let's own up about it. Any young man, when women are chasing you everywhere '“ God, you can't think of anything better. I can't think of a more idyllic lifestyle really."

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He agrees he could be living in London, or abroad, but is happy in Derbyshire.

"I live 10 miles from where I was born, that's as far as I've gone. Today you could manage a band in the UK and live in Hawaii. My friends and family were here '“ that's what people forget sometimes. Even though you're in a band and travelling the world, you've still got mums and dads, and sisters and brothers. I was always close to my family."

He enjoys cycling, and walking, and is an ambassador for the Chesterfield Canal Trust. He met Marthy, his wife of over 50 years, in Amsterdam where she is from '“ at the time he was appearing on a show called the Grand Gala du Disque with the likes of Diana Ross and The Supremes.

"We still enjoy it," he says of his long marriage. "She travels with me. She's very selective about the gigs she goes to. She tends to choose Europe and Amsterdam as opposed to Great Yarmouth."

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The Solid Silver 60s Show is at Sheffield City Hall on April 20. See www.flyingmusic.com/solid-silver-60s-show for tickets.

Berry's risky link to Profumo girl: '˜She was really scared that it would get out'

Dave Berry's career was almost derailed in the 1960s because of his association with Mandy Rice-Davies, a model caught up in the Profumo scandal.

Rice-Davies was friends with Christine Keeler, whose relationship with War Minister John Profumo '“ an affair the politician lied about to the House of Commons '“ is generally regarded to have brought down the Conservative government in 1964.

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Berry met her at a club in Somerset where she was doing a week in cabaret, and discovered that she was involved with 'a very nasty crowd, gangsters, in London who were controlling her career.' 

"She was really scared that it would get out that we were seeing each other. It was really scary for me."

The Sheffield Telegraph '“ then a daily publication '“ ran a piece saying Berry had been seen with Rice-Davies, which failed to gain wider coverage.

"Obviously if the nationals had picked up on it they could have been out to get me. We denied it, all the way along, that we'd been seen at hotels in Birmingham and Newcastle, all around the country. But the national press didn't pick up on it, so I don't think the story got out from Sheffield really, much to my relief."

What does Berry think of Profumo now - was it a storm in a teacup, or something more serious?

"I still think it's pretty scandalous, yeah. For some reason we put politicians above all that.'