Heaven and Hell: Songwriter Terence Blacker

Norfolk songwriter Terence Blacker. His most recent album was one of the Sunday Times' top picks of 2020

Norfolk songwriter Terence Blacker. His most recent album was one of the Sunday Times' top picks of 2020 - Credit: Rob Howarth

Terence Blacker is a fascinating man. His latest CD, Playing For Time, was selected by the Sunday Times as one of its Top 100 Albums of 2020.

Born in Suffolk, he has been a successful professional writer since the 1980s and over the past 15 years has been writing and performing his songs of funny, subversive songs of modern life at theatres, festivals and folk clubs in the UK and internationally.

He is the author of five novels, many books for children and was for many years a weekly columnist for the Independent.

He lives near Diss with his partner Angela Sykes and their dog Ruby.

Here he talks to Gina Long.

What’s been the impact of Covid-19 and how have you adapted?
I’ve been luckier than many people.

I’m surrounded by the beautiful Norfolk countryside and, as a freelance, I’m used to solitude and to working from home.

Over the past year, I’ve been doing a weekly show which is live-streamed on social media called Monday Escape.

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I take a theme – like protest, or laziness, or childhood, or town vs. country – and sing my own songs and covers around them, with the odd reading.

I’m now so used to performing to a little camera that playing to real, live people in a real, live venue is going to feel scary.

What is your connection to East Anglia?
I was born in a little village called Shelley, near Hadleigh.

After a few years away from East Anglia, I saw the error of my ways about 25 years ago and returned to live near Diss.

What is your East Anglian Heaven?
Heaven is walking by the River Waveney when the swallows are skimming over the water in the late spring.

I love the East Anglian countryside.

What is your East Anglian Hell?
Watching actors on TV or film who think that can get away with playing characters from this part of the world by speaking with a west country accent.

What’s your favourite East Anglian restaurant?
The Happy Palace in Diss, a great Chinese restaurant.

What’s your favourite way to spend an East Anglian evening?
Going to the Diss Corn Hall with my partner Angela to hear some brilliant music –- preferably performed by someone like Sam Carter or Daoiri Farrell – and then tottering across the road to the Happy Palace. (She’s driving).

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?
Manningtree Station. When I’m on the train from London, I know that, as we pull into Manningtree, I’m reaching civilisation.

What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?
The sound of turtle doves cooing across the field from our house when they arrive in the summer.

What’s your specialist Mastermind subject?
The songs of Tin Pan Alley, 1928 -1929.

What is always in your fridge?
A half-eaten bone belonging to Ruby the dog.

Songwriter Terence Blacker and Ruby the dog

Songwriter Terence Blacker and Ruby the dog - Credit: Rob Howarth

What’s your simple philosophy of life?
Don’t look back.

What’s your favourite film?
Some Like It Hot.

What was your first job?
Working on a chicken farm. It was grim.

What is your most treasured possession?
My new Elysian guitar, made by the fantastic luthier Matthew Carter.

Who do you admire most?
Young professional musicians and actors who have managed to keep going throughout the pandemic.

What is your biggest indulgence?
Earning a living for many years by writing and singing.

How I’ve got away with not doing a proper, grown-up job I’ll never know.

What do you like about yourself most?
When I’m writing, my imagination, and the characters I’m thinking about, can sometimes take me in unpredictable directions.

I find that interesting and sometimes really exciting.

What’s your worst character trait?
It’s been said that just occasionally I can be a little bit moody. Personally, I can’t see it.

Where is your favourite holiday destination? 
Cilento in southern Italy, where I recorded my last CD.

Best day of your life?
March 11 1983, the last day I worked in an office.

Terence Blacker with his partner Angela and Ruby the dog

Terence Blacker, partner Angela and Ruby the dog - Credit: Rob Howarth

What’s your favourite breakfast?
Granola. Don’t get me started on the different types of granola.

What’s your favourite tipple?
An elderflower cocktail on crushed ice (and with a kick in it).

What’s your hidden talent?
Salad dressing.

When were you most embarrassed?
When my children’s novel Boy2Girl was published, the publishers sent it out to journalists with a pair of underpants and the message ‘In case you wet yourself laughing’.

No one was amused by this marketing stunt – and my reputation has never really recovered.

What’s your earliest memory?
Sitting on a pony.

What song would you like played at your funeral?
A song of mine that would reduce the congregation to such quivering wrecks that it would go viral and become a huge posthumous hit.

Tell us something people don’t know about you?
I was a high-jumper and once jumped two inches higher than my height.

What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?
When I was gigging in a London restaurant in the 1980s, someone once asked me to play the The Sound of Silence – then paid me £50 to do just that and be quiet.

I later discovered he was doing a drugs deal and couldn’t hear himself speak – but it still hurt.

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else.
I love the East Anglian spirit – the way we’re ever so slightly out of step with the rest of the country and proud of it.

What do you want to tell our readers about most?
I’m really pleased with my latest album Playing For Time, which was released last year with perfect bad timing three days before the first lockdown.

Recorded in southern Italy with Italian and German musicians and completed at The Recording Booth in Suffolk, it has had some great reviews but, because of the pandemic, I haven’t performed many of the songs to a live audience.

That all changes this summer. I’ll be in London at the Crazy Coqs in Piccadilly on June 8 and, more locally, I’ll be doing a show for the first time with the great bluesman Dave Thomas at the Diss Corn Hall on June 18.

Terence’s CDs are available at terenceblacker.com. Tickets for his show with Dave Thomas can be bought at thecornhall.co.uk

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