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Entertainer Brian Russell’s story is one not to forget

PUBLISHED: 07:41 06 April 2020 | UPDATED: 07:41 06 April 2020

The time Brian Russell brought the legendary American singer Gene Pitney to The Talk in Norwich of 1974. Photos: Archant.

The time Brian Russell brought the legendary American singer Gene Pitney to The Talk in Norwich of 1974. Photos: Archant.

Archant Library

The musician who brought hundreds of top entertainers to our region has stepped out of the shadows to tell his story…and what a tale it is. Derek James reads up on Brian Russell

The time Brian Russell brought the legendary American singer Gene Pitney to The Talk in Norwich of 1974. Photos: Archant.The time Brian Russell brought the legendary American singer Gene Pitney to The Talk in Norwich of 1974. Photos: Archant.

It is a book which pulls no punches and tells us what really goes on behind the scenes at shows, large and small, in Norfolk, Suffolk and across the country.

And it is written by a man who really does know all there is to know about the business he calls “show” – just ask our own David Clayton, former boss at Radio Norfolk, who spent many years working with Brian.

The man behind the top agency Norwich Artistes, has spent five years writing about his life and times in a fascinating book called In Case I Should Forget.

Why the name?

Edentree performing their Bachelors routine during an audition for Opportunity Knocks. Picture: Brian Russell CollectionEdentree performing their Bachelors routine during an audition for Opportunity Knocks. Picture: Brian Russell Collection

His mother and father died in recent years. They both had dementia had and to be taken into care. They both died on the same day, May 20, four years apart.

“The thought that any one of us could end up with dementia has spurred me into writing this writing this book. People have often said to me that I have led and interesting life.

“These are my memories – this is my story,” says Brian.

There’s no flannel with this man. He tells it how it is, or was, as a member of popular groups travelling all over the place and then running the busy agency booking acts at home and across the world.

COPY PICTURE FROM A CHARITY FUNCTION. L\R BACK; WAYNE KING, BRIAN RUSSELL,KAREN KAYE, DAVID CLAYTON, JENNIE CLAYTON, DICKIE HENDERSON, LYNN RUSSELL, DANNY LA RUE. FRONT; ARTHUR ASKEY, UNKNOWN WOMAN [POSSIBLY MISS NORWICH], AND PEPTER COLLINS.
TO GO WITH DAVID CLAYTON ARTICLE.COPY PICTURE FROM A CHARITY FUNCTION. L\R BACK; WAYNE KING, BRIAN RUSSELL,KAREN KAYE, DAVID CLAYTON, JENNIE CLAYTON, DICKIE HENDERSON, LYNN RUSSELL, DANNY LA RUE. FRONT; ARTHUR ASKEY, UNKNOWN WOMAN [POSSIBLY MISS NORWICH], AND PEPTER COLLINS. TO GO WITH DAVID CLAYTON ARTICLE.

Born Brian Russell Tubby in Norwich during 1947 he changed his name to Brian Russell by deed poll in the swinging 60s when he was a musician.

His dad was a gambler and at weekends young Brian would head off to his grandparents prefab on Heigham Street where he could watch their television.

“That prefab became my haven. It’s small back garden doubled as a football pitch. My greatest find was a ancient wind-up gramophone,” writes Brian.

Records by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bill Haley and Tommy Steele too centre stage and when young Brian started singing along his grandmother got him a guitar…and that was how it all started.In those days we had to take an exam called 11-Plus to decide whether or not we should go to a secondary modern or grammar school. Brian, took little interest in it and went to Lakenham SM.

Wembley bound 1963: (left to right): Ron Davies (Norwich City and Wales), Peter Batch, Barry Futter, David Smith, Brian Storey-Smith, Brian Wigg and Brian Russell. Picture: Brian Russell CollectionWembley bound 1963: (left to right): Ron Davies (Norwich City and Wales), Peter Batch, Barry Futter, David Smith, Brian Storey-Smith, Brian Wigg and Brian Russell. Picture: Brian Russell Collection

He left at 16, got himself a job in the accounts office of an upmarket shoe shop. The money was £4 a week. A handy sum in those daya and on Friday he would pay for fish and chips for all his mates.

Football was a big part of their lives and in 1963 he was part of a team from the great Lads Club in Norwich which played in a national five-a-side competition getting through to the finals at Wembley.

But it was music which took over his life. He and his mate John Wilkes would sing Everly Brothers songs and record themselves…before moving on to trendy Simon and Garfunkel.

Before long he and his mates formed themselves into a group called the Dark Ages…and that was how it all started.

Brian “Mr Showbiz” Russell. Picture: Brian Russell CollectionBrian “Mr Showbiz” Russell. Picture: Brian Russell Collection

They got a booking to support the great Barry Lee & The Planets from Aylsham. Kitted out in black polo neck sweaters and black trousers. Dark Ages were up and running.

A year or so later they changed their name to Influence, thinking it had more of an impact.

Then, in 1966, Brian was having a drink in the famous old Backs in Norwich when a chap asked him if he knew where the Melody Rooms was.

“I turned round to discover a short, stocky man who introduced himself as Phil Beevis, He told me he was in the music business and managed a group from his home town of Long Melford in Suffolk,” said Brian.

He gave Phil a lift to the Oak Street club and the Fisher family who ran it loved him. Phil became the “booker” and moved to Norwich.

Groups he brought to Norfolk included the Who, Cream, Traffic, Jethro Tull, Rod Stewart, Fleetwood Mac, Procol Harum and so many more.

Brian’s story takes through the swinging 60s, stories of sharing the stage with bands who would go on to the some of the biggest in the world. Who else has played football with the Bee Gees in the car park at the Floral Hall in Gorleston?

They worked with some great musicians there was one real class act by the name of Raymond “Boz” Burrell who had been with the Tea Time 4 in Kings Lynn.

Boz played the bass guitar for the first time at a gig on the American air base at Lakenheath and went on to tour the world playing bass with super groups King Crimson and Bad Company.

Brian and Boz worked together before Boz moved on to bigger things. “Our paths never crossed again and I was saddened to learn of the heart attack that caused his death at his Spanish home in 2006,” he writes.

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Other groups came along, The Caste and then the much-loved and talented Edentree who had a big following and toured far and wide.

They travelled thousdands of miles up and down the country.

One popular local gig was at The Club America in Norwich. Remember that place with Pineapple, the Polynesian doorman?

Brian’s story of life on the road is a great read. Opportunity Knocks, record deals, flamboyant and rather crazy characters that showbiz and the music industry attracts…and still does.

He returned to his old Lads Club in Norwich of 1970 when the Radio One Roadshow with the guest DJ, Norfolk’s own Tom Edwards. They also had a captive audience they played for the inmates at Norwich Prison.

The five-piece Edentree were a great band and they had adventures aplenty, often playing with bands who were household names and having some great and weary times before packing it in during 1972.

Then there was the bands Phoenix and The Brian Russell Showcase.

Brian was also the compere and ran the cabaret evenings at the old El Piana club on Timberhill in the city and went on to work with Phil at Norwich Artistes.

Young and up and coming bands booked by Phil included Thin Lizzy, Nazareth and Queen.

John Fisher asked Brian to take over Norwich Artistes when Phil moved on and that was the start of his booking career. He spread his wings across the land and, with a young and long-haired David “Disco Dave” Clayton at his side, signed up the biggest names in showbiz from around the world.

Singers, comedians, magicians, hypnotists, impressionists and the rest. Top TV and theatre names. From a young Lenny Henry to a not so young Arthur Askey…who certainly knew how to enjoy himself!

And from Gene Pitney to Billy Fury, Marty Wilde and so many more.

Dear Billy, a man who loved Norfolk and Suffolk, died soon after a brilliant show at the Norwood Room in Norwich in the 1980s. He wasn’t well but he insisted on coming to sing at a packed Evening News charity gig.

Oh, and then there was Tommy “You Lucky People” Trinder and David Clayton has special reason to remember the visit of Frankie Howerd!

And there are some highly entertaining stories about their acts and their antics. These were the 1970s, the glory days of cabaret at The Talk of East Anglia. Lots of dinners, big hair and famous faces..

Like the time “Princess Anne” had been due to arrive to make some presentations at a posh police federation event…compere Brian kept bowing discreetly each time he was near to where she was supposed to be sitting.

Those police had a finely tuned sense of humour.

Norwich Artistes booked entertainers for private events and occasions far and wide.

Even for Stephen’s Fry’s 50th birthday celebrations at the much-loved Hoste Arms.

“The Talk was considered a special place to be in the mid-70s.

There was not another venue like it for miles and it was always a great feeling tp drive into Oak Street on a night and see a row of parked coaches that had brought audiences in from all over the county and beyond,” writes Brian.

And he adds: “There was a genuine closeness and togetherness among the staff at The Talk and this was mainly down to John and Ronnie Fisher who regarded us all as one happy family,

“Having painted such a rosy picture I have to point out that it wasn’t always sweetness and light. Sometimes things didn’t always go according to plan,” Brian points out.

For example, and you’ll never believe this, sorry we have run out of space. You’ll have to buy the book….it’s quite a story.

Oh by the way…did you hear the one about what happened to Cat Stevens in Dereham? And what was Gene Pitney doing round the back of The Talk?

Brian will explain.

In Case I Should Forget by Brian Russell is published by Grosvenor House Publishing Limited. It costs £10 on Amazon or you can order a copy directly from Brian at brianrussell02@gmail.com


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