Remember It Well: An Interview With Ted Chippington
, November 1st, 2013 03:47
Ted Chippington’s provocatively dry performances on the 80s gig circuit influenced a generation of stand ups but, as he tells Stuart Huggett, he never said he was a comedian
There’s no entry for Ted Chippington on UK comedy guide Chortle. Aside from a 2007 Culture Show profile, he’s barely registered on British television in the last 25 years. For a small but notable group of fans, however, the West Midlands stand up is one of the most influential comedy performers this country has produced.
Chippington began appearing on stage at gigs in the early 80s with groups including long-time champions The Nightingales and The Fall. His repetitive delivery, anti-jokes and ageing teddy boy persona were calculated to wind audiences up but gathered him a cult following. The Nightingales’ Robert Lloyd signed him to his Vindaloo label and began releasing recordings of his stand up routine on vinyl, setting in motion a chain of events that, by 1986, threatened to make Chippington a pop star.
Tiring of the expectations of his growing fanbase, Chippington retired from performing at the end of the decade and disappeared from public view. While one of his most high profile devotees, Stewart Lee (presenter of The Culture Show profile, who picked Chippington’s Man In A Suitcase for his Quietus Baker’s Dozen) became successful, rumours circulated that Chippington had emigrated to become a truck driver in the USA.
Chippington returned to the gig circuit in 2007. Now living in Torquay with his family, he continues to perform live in the company of musicians rather than comedians. When we rang, he was preparing once again to join his old Birmingham friends The Nightingales on tour.
How’s life in Torquay?
Ted Chippington: It’s great. Apart from nothing happens but then that can’t be too bad. Attila The Stockbroker played here about two years ago. I actually had a gig in Glasgow that day but that would’ve been my night out.
Some of your gigs the other year were promoted as farewell shows. Has your comeback carried on longer than you were expecting?
TC: What it is, is I’ve decided that I prefer doing gigs with groups. I don’t like sit-down venues really, so I thought I’d carry on doing stuff with The Nightingales and whoever else offers me anything.
Why is it preferable to play gigs with bands, rather than book your own tours?
TC: It’s just uneconomical. I get offered gigs quite a lot, say they expect me to go to Newcastle for a hundred quid, but I don’t drive or anything so it’s all trains and what have you. I’m not doing it ‘cos I want to make any money out of it, it’s I just can’t do it for minus money. It’s a good thing with the ‘Gales, if you’re doing four or five dates or a couple of weeks, ‘cos it is economical to be able to do that. I mean, there’s no money in it but you can get around.
You say you don’t drive but the story is...
TC: Oh, the old lorry driver!
How much truth is there in that?
TC: None at all. I just put it out one day. I think it was Peel actually said it first so everyone thought it must be true so I thought I’ll pretend it is as well. I did actually go and live in America for a bit so that was me excuse when I wasn’t doing any gigs or anything. I’d gone to America because I did a tour there and it was really my kind of place, strangely enough.
Where did you end up staying?
TC: In Los Angeles, which is probably the wrong place to live if you can’t drive, so I didn’t really do much at all then. Since I got back from America I lived in London but I couldn’t stand it there. My wife was working, then we had a couple of kids and I thought, no way am I bringing the kids up in this... I’d swear then, but I don’t [now]. So I just thought, right, seaside, that’s what you want, so Torquay it was. It’s pretty grim really, apart from the fact that there’s some nice coastal walks and things. I never go into the town. I like to go and have a little sit on a seat – not the beach-y bit, just on a little bit of headland – and just hang about, have a look out at the sea, that sort of thing.
Were you friends with The Nightingales before you began performing?
TC: No, actually. When I first started doing gigs, that was around the Birmingham area with a group called Dangerous Girls. They had a couple of singles out and they never really made it but they did extensive tours of Britain which I used to do. Then one gig in Birmingham, Robert just come up to me and said, “Well I like what you do, do you fancy doing some stuff with us?” And of course I did know who The Nightingales were. They’d only been going a year or something at the time. I’ve vague memories of seeing [pre-Nightingales band] The Prefects once but it was on the verge of when they split up so it was all a bit shambolic, and I saw a few early Nightingales gigs which again were pretty shambolic, but I’ve always been a fan, I suppose.
With those early shows, were you the compere or did you set out to entertain audiences?
TC: Oh, no no no. When I first started it was basically just to - oh god I hate saying the word ‘basically’, sounds like that young comedian bloke who I can’t remember his name – no it was really just to rile people up. I’d behave like a sort of old bloke who was boring and tell anecdotes that he thought was highly interesting and of course they weren’t. It carried on from there really. I ended up doing bigger and bigger gigs with, well, not exactly bigger and bigger bands. Like there was another group, Here And Now, I did stuff with them, so I had quite a cross section of fans in the end. It just begun as a bit of a laugh really and I ended up getting fairly popular, which wasn’t the plan at all.
So much so that Warner Brothers put out some of your singles. How did that come about?
TC: Well that was weird. I had an LP called Man In A Suitcase on Vindaloo and John Peel was playing snippets. I did a version of ‘She Loves You’ on it which he played. Then Steve Wright In The Afternoon picked up on it and he played it every day for weeks. And this bloke who you must have heard of, Bill Drummond, he worked for Warner Brothers at the time, he was the sort of weird character of the label, and they were looking for new acts. I think Bill Drummond heard Steve Wright play it, so they invited me and Robert down to discuss a doing a single which of course we just thought was hilarious. There was no real negotiation it was just, go on, yeah. We were easygoing about it and because of that we ended up doing a Vindaloo Summer Special with ‘Rockin’ With Rita’ with the ‘Gales and Fuzzbox. Of course they picked Fuzzbox and left me and the ‘Gales behind, but that’s the normal tale of big record companies.
‘Rockin’ With Rita’ was a minor hit though.
TC: Well we got onto Razzamatazz which was fantastic, going on kids’ telly. While we were recording it there were two girls ripping the hair out of each other and like a kiddie riot was going on. It was quite surreal really, but I don’t think it got in the Top 40. It might have got to 52 or something. 56 was it? That was a good guess there. But the weird thing is ‘She Loves You’ was when it was a Top 30. The midweek chart was 32 so it was all a bit, blimey, is this for real? Obviously it wasn’t selling millions. I was offered celebrity guest slots on daytime telly if it made the Top 30, and sadly it didn’t, so I missed out. But Pebble Mill, that was a classic [Chippington performed ‘She Loves You’ before submitting to an excruciating interview with host Paul Coia]. I’ve no idea how it came about, it was obviously through Warner Brothers, so whether or not there were any bribes involved [I don't know]. They asked me beforehand, they said, “Oh look, you don’t mind if we make out you’re rubbish?” And I said, no, do what you want, I’m not bothered. Afterwards I was hanging out in the green room and Magnus Magnusson was one of the presenters. He just took me to one side and he said, “Don’t worry about what them lot think, they’re all idiots” or to that extent, which obviously made me day. I’ve seen it since, someone put it on the YouTube or whatever it’s called, and I probably do look a bit nervous. But at the time I honestly thought I didn’t care less. I remember just looking out the window thinking, blimey, I walk past here every day. It was that kind of surreal situation.
When you took your break from performing, is it true you thought you were getting too popular? Or was it no longer fun?
TC: I didn’t really mean it like that. What it was, there was too many people wanting me to do ‘She Loves You’ and all that, and I only did that to wind people up in the first place, to be just some rubbish pub singer type thing. But there’d be hundreds of people singing along and it was a laugh for a bit but it just got really boring. There was no edge, not even a couple of people going, “Oh you, you balding...” It was just too much, I was too liked, so it took the fun out of it for me really.
Are audiences still often hostile at your gigs?
TC: I suppose it depends. If it’s like me and the ‘Gales then generally I think everyone who comes to see us gets the picture of what we’re both doing, but occasionally doing gigs with The Fall, say, you get a load of people who haven’t got a clue who I am. That’s pretty exciting ‘cos you get a lot of abuse off characters and then you get the fans, if you like, sort of arguing, jostling with dissenters, so it does tend to be quite a raucous occasion. Every now and then Mark (E Smith) will invite me to do a couple of gigs. Thinking about it, the last one I did with them was probably the last night at the Hammersmith Palais. There was hundreds, maybe a thousand, there and I remember some bloke throwing a lit cigarette at me and then someone turning around and saying, “Don’t you do that!”, this sort of thing.
There aren’t many comedians who set out to be disliked these days.
TC: Oh no, blimey, these lot today. And they all go to comedy school, don’t they? I mean, I’m not bothered, but it’s just they’re all exactly the same as well. I was gonna say it’s all aimed at kids but when you see these big O2 shows it’s full of all sorts of people. Well I just don’t get it at all. I saw an interview with this one bloke who was a comedian on the telly – I won’t mention his name ‘cos I don’t want to have a go at him – but he ended up being a teacher of these comedy courses. And I thought he was rubbish in the first place, you know, but then for him to think he’s somehow a guru of comedy that all the up and coming characters should go to... I just thought it was a bit of a cheek really.
What would happen should some BBC producer think, “Ah, let’s get Ted Chippington on Live At The Apollo” or something? Would you take the call?
TC: Well it would never happen! But I would do it, just because I know I would definitely irritate 99% of the audience or they wouldn’t have a clue what was going on, and I probably would be even more obtuse than normal. The thing is, I never call myself a comedian in the first place. I was just a bloke talking in a mundane sort of way and for whatever reason people used to bill me as a comedian. I still don’t think I’m a comedian. Obviously I’ve got a couple of old, ancient jokes but most of what I do now is talk about true life stories, things I see or hear, where you can twist it a little bit and claim it happened to you. So it’s more of a storytelling thing than [me being] a comedian. It all depends what mood I’m in on the day, or sometimes when you’re on tour with The Nightingales, what state I’m in on the day.
So it’s not carefully planned in advance?
TC: Nope. Nope. At the moment now I’ve got all me little scraps of paper and bits and bobs and little recordings that I go through. I note down things and then try and remember them but I don’t put them in any order. So every night is always different, which is another reason why I don’t like most – well, all – the comedians who go to a strict written pattern, where it’s all sketched and written out and there’s no deviation at all.
Are there other performers or musicians you’re a fan of?
TC: Well the two main ones are obviously The Nightingales and The Fall because they don’t do the same thing every night either. When you look at other groups they tend to keep the same set-list and I just don’t understand how anyone would want to do that. Even your own group must get bored to tears doing the same thing for 21 days in a row. Other than that I haven’t really seen any other groups. Are you aware of Matt (Wood), the little youngster who used to be in the ‘Gales? About five years ago he was a teenage wonder guitarist but he’s in a group now with a lot of his mates and they’re called Telegram. Well I think they’re fantastic, that’s the only group I’ve heard recently that I can recommend to anyone ‘cos that’s pretty full-on psychedelic, kraut, punk, whatever. I watch, like, Glastonbury and Reading and this sort of thing just to see what’s going on and it’s just terrible. Not even the big groups either, the little groups you get, they’re all, oh dear, little kids with beards. And they all sound exactly the same. One day you think, oh, that’s that group that were on last night. Oh no, it’s not, only three of them have got beards.
Ted Chippington’s Blues Fan EP is out on Respect Vinyl. He headlines Brighton’s West Hill Hall on November 23 with Sealings, Men Oh Pause and Occult Hand