Thursday 23 August 2012

Hey Bullfrog

At what point do you go from being a Best Kept Secret to a National Treasure? Bernard Wrigley is, you would like to think, currently transmogrifying from the former into the latter.

It's not often you get to see a really outstanding performer three times in two days. But that's precisely what happened at this year's Folk Festival at Saltburn-By-The Sea. Wrigley - musician, actor, raconteur, Bolton Bullfrog, played a totally different set each time, including an intimate 'meet the songwriter session' with Colum Sands and Marie Little.

His CV makes for interesting reading: from folk clubs in the north of England, straight acting including Beckett's Waiting for Godot and numerous Alan Bennett plays, through to lighter telly parts in Dinner Ladies, Emmerdale, Coogans Run and Phoenix Nights and his radio output with Mark and Lard, here is a man who doesn't let the grass grow.

We met after one of his gigs and I asked him if he'd mind doing a quick Q & A for the blog, so here we go:

On your passport, what does it say under 'occupation'?


Who's the better writer – Samuel Beckett or Peter Kay?

A bit like comparing Tchaikovsky with Burt Bacharach. You can't say one is better than the other, you can only say whom you like better.

Your act combines songs (self-penned and covers) and monologues (again, some of yours and some by other writers) – how do you choose a set list/running order before you play? Or do you just wing it?

I decide between what I fancy doing and what I think would be appreciated most by this particular audience. Then it's a matter of pacing the items. Serious ones are best sandwiched between lighter pieces etc.

Describe the folk scene in the 60s and 70s; was it thriving in the North West?

I came to it in the mid 60s. A large town, such as Bolton, could have a different folk club every night. Lots of folk based singers appeared on radio & tv alongside pop performers. Everything was more open then and different genres of music didn't have rigid boundaries. Today, everything's in its own cupboard. Despite the vast amounts of information available to us all through a click or a tap the media is more restricted than ever. Broadcasters are frightened of their own shadow.

Does your TV work help put a few more bums on seats when your tickets go on sale?

It seems to, especially with younger people who could have turned up because they'd seen me on Phoenix Nights, or older people who are great fans of Dinner Ladies.

What is it about the Bolton accent that lends itself to comedy?

It's blunt and rounded at the same time. Blunt in delivery since it doesn't mess about, each comment hitting the nail on the head. It's round because it rolls off the tongue in a friendly way.

Do you go down better in theatres or working men's clubs?

I never do working men's clubs. It's a completely different parallel world to folk music. When Dave and Bernard were 17 and starting to perform, it never occurred to us to perform in that world. We liked the intensity and the walled garden that is the folk club movement. Doing covers of pop songs never appealed.

Do they 'get' you in the south?

It's not the geographics, it's the reason why people have turned out. If they come to see you and listen at a village hall or a folk club then it doesn't matter where it is in the country. All you have to do as a performer is not to speak in your local dialect. It's standard english with a northern delivery.

Which CD and/or book of yours would you recommend as a jumping off point for a Bernard Wrigley virgin?

The 2 books of one verse poems are similar but different. As to CDs, some people go for the early Topic ones which contain more folk songs, and others want a live performance with the audience and a sillier content. I did "Ten Ton Special" & "Albert, Arthur & the Car Park" with both live & studio tacks for people who can't decide.

Apart from your goodself, I was bowled over by The Wilsons, Vin Garbutt, Marie Little, Colum Sands, Chris Sherburn and Denny Bartley. Who did it for you at this year's Saltburn?

As a performer you don't get to see everybody there. I was pleased to meet Colum Sands - lovely performer. Lady Maisrey have a beautiful sound. Missed the great Tom McConville this time. I'm a great fan of Jez Lowe. He's the greatest singer/songwriter we have in Britain. He's always keen to perform, as well, travelling the world. It's all a refreshing change compared to what's shown on mainstream TV. Cowell and that band of money grubbing tasteless pillocks could do to realise there's a world of stuff beyond the shallow shite they turn out.

Thank you for taking the time.

It's a pleasure!

PS. I've just told Jenny, my wife, about this Q&A and she asks if you ever got the gravy in Dinner Ladies?

No - turned out there wasn't any. At least that one line was a week in London!

Bernard Wrigley: The car park we parked at's too far


  1. I've been luck enough to see Bernard play at the local folk club twice and very good he was too.

  2. You missed out his spectacular turn in Rita, Sue and Bob Too.