Mike Harding Interview
It's almost impossible to believe that there’s a generation of Lancashire kids who don’t really know who Mike Harding is. After a 15 year absence from the stage he might have been forgiven for thinking he’d slipped from the public consciousness altogether, but no sooner had he announced his 2011 tour than theatre owners throughout the land had to reacquaint themselves with the ancient art of hanging a “Sold out” sign outside their theatres. In an age when a half full theatre is regarded as a good result, Mike, along with a select few entertainers, such as Ken Dodd, can still pack them to the rafters night after night.
One of the reasons for this is possibly the fact that he appeals to all audiences. Ask 100 people what Mike does and 50 will tell you he’s a comedian and 50 will tell you he’s a musician and he’s worked the mix into show biz gold dust.
Growing up in Lancashire, Mike was everywhere. Our parents played his records, he was on telly and almost every one had a story about how they’d had a pint with him in a pub and then he was, largely, gone... He wasn’t gone in the same way that many entertainers are, haunting their agent’s office night after night, waiting for that call from the BBC to say you’re back in favour. He had bigger fish to fry... Literally.
He fished, he hiked, he wrote books about church architecture... (You wouldn’t want to write his CV for him!) In short, he got on with life and let other people step into the spotlight, but remember, this is the chap that Billy Connolly called “The funniest man in England” and if the big Yin rates you then you know how to raise a chuckle.
Now, fifteen years after giving up touring the folk clubs and festivals, singer and comedian, writer and broadcaster, Mike Harding is back on the road with a vengeance with his “Me, a guitar and some daft stuff”. His 22 date tour will see him venture from coast to coast, and you can see the full line up on http://www.mikeharding.co.uk
If you’d like to catch him in Lancashire he’s at The Platform in Morecambe on Feb 24th, Buxton Opera House on the 26th, The Lowry March 4th and King George’s Hall, Blackburn on March 29th.
First things first, let’s get the big dilemma out of the way so we can relax...
Eccles Cakes or Parkin?
Parkin - always reminds me of bonfire night and the fun we had letting fireworks off and baking potatoes in the hot ashes
When most people stop touring it’s because their career has died on its arse and they can’t get arrested, but it seems you just went off and did other things. Did you worry you wouldn’t be able to fill theatres after a while off and how nice was it to see your fans waiting for you in the thousands?
After fifteen years climbing mountains, writing books and fly tying it has been great to get back on the road. I did worry that not being on TV any more would make it hard to fill theatres and was surprised to find it made no difference. So I've cancelled my audition for the x Factor and am going to do the Yorkshire version instead - the Eeee Factor.
Some of the Inside Lancashire team were having a few beers at the Darwen Music Festival and just before Billy Bragg came on a chorus of Rochdale Cowboy broke out from a bunch of people near the bus stop. Any explanation for that and is “Spontaneous Hardingism” a problem you’ve head of before?
I think they were hoping Billy would sing it - he does a great version with a bones solo in the middle. Spontaneous Hardingism is a medical condition it can be treated but the treatment is horrible. You have to rub yourself down with a wet Tory politician.
You take a pride in Lancashire, from our ability to laugh at death, to our ability to produce outstanding boiled sweets... What is it that makes us a special bunch?
Wit, intelligence, the ability to see through Southern Jessies and an informed anger. Oh and the Pennines which are of course the cosmic navel (lumpy thought they might be) of the Universe. In fact 'as any file no' Pendle is where Noah's Ark landed.
We’re huge walking fans and you’re a former president and lifetime vice president of the Ramblers association. When our readers strap on their boots, where should they head for in Lancashire?
The Bowland Fells are open to all now and are great walking country. Blackstone Edge of course and Saddleworth Moor. Some great walking round Delph and Diggle - South of Diggle of course is the ghost town of Mumps where the tripe mining industry was first established - as immortalised in The Ballad of Cowheel Lou
We, like you, are big fans of the Yorkshire Dales and we were wondering if you could use your influence to annex them for us? We know they’re in the evil empire of Yorkshire, but if you could swing it there’s a half a mild in it for you!
Ah you have forgotten the old ploy of " divide and conquer" which has been used to keep Lancs and Yorks apart for centuries. Ever since the Wars of the Roses which was after all simply a fight over flower selling pitches outside Moston Cemetery they have kept us apart. I am in urgent meeting with the Yorkshire consul with a view to assimilation. Once the two counties come together in the new country of Northland we can secede from the UK, loin the EU properly and retire on the profits from sales of Treacle, Parkin, North Country Flies, Uncle Joes Mint Balls and tourism. Plus we write the best books - e.g. Wuthering Heights and Hobson's Choice. And we have the best poets e.g. Ted Hughes and the bloke who wrote Albert and the Lion - Marriot Edgar
You’re regarded as an authority on all things Lancashire. What are your top 3 pubs and top 3 churches?
Old Boars Head - Middleton / Jolly Angler - Manchester / Smugglers Den Morecambe Churches - Manchester Cathedral- great misericords, St Leonard's Middleton - stained glass commemorating Battle of Flodden / St Michael's Ashton Under Lyne - fine old building with great stained glass and boxed pews
We believe you came through the pubs and clubs of the 60’s & 70’s north west. Were the crowds as polite and refined as we imagine?
They were a great crowd that liked a good pint and a good sing and would listen to Nic Jones or Dave Burland singing beautifully one moment and me or Bernard Wrigley being daft the next. Great training for anybody learning their craft. Shame that much of the humour seems to have gone out of the folk scene today. Gone back into stand-up perhaps?
Imagine money’s no object (go on, try!) what would be your perfect Lancashire day be?
A good walk on a sunny day over the tops followed by a good pub dinner and a pint and a great session in a pub. Or a great day fishing for sea trout on the Lune followed by a night in the Smugglers' Inn with music and fun.
Your BBC Radio 2 show plays the best of folk and acoustic. Is there anyone our listeners should be keeping their lug hole open for?
The Sail Pattern, Mad Dog McCrea and Leatherat - and Pilgrims Way - great new bands that have really impressed me
We’re doing a feature in this issue on the Lancashire Panopticons. Are you a fan of them?
Them high sided vans? Where would we be without them? No - to be serious - if you mean the E Lancs installations like the Atom - I love them
Your last tour went down a storm, so we’re insisting that you don’t wait another 15 years for the next one! Any plans for the future?
Touring this spring then taking the rest of the year off to go fishing and walking and finish me autobiography Part One
While coming up with questions for this interview we decided to reacquaint ourselves with some of your work on Youtube. We saw that it was your music and not your comedy which were getting the most views. Christmas 1914 in No Man’s Land had over 115,000 hits while Bombers Moon is a hair’s breadth away from 40,000. Are you surprised about that or have you always considered yourself 50% comedian and 50% musician?
I've always thought that comedy is the way to people's hearts - once they trust you then they'll listen to other things you have to say with respect. So I've always felt safe stopping a comedy act in its tracks and introducing a serious song like Bombers Moon. Do it with truth and it will work and the stories behind the serious songs are really powerful e.g The Accrington Pals - a terrible truth that needs telling over and again - unfortunately lads from Lancashire are still dying in Afghanistan - it seems we never learn.
Finally… We’re of the opinion that you’re one of the top story tellers of the last century. What’s your all-time favourite Lancashire story?
Yorkshireman "Ah con tell tho one thing: ah've allus kept me yes above water." Lancashire Lad " Aye - wood floats."
Fans of Mike’s who can’t get to one of his tour dates can enjoy his “Me, a guitar and some daft stuff” tour in a two-hour DVD of the show. Filmed in front of a capacity audience at the Theatre Royal, Wakefield. It can be ordered on Mike’s website at http//www.mikeharding.co.uk.
Alternatively, send a cheque for £11.99 (plus £2.50 postage and packing) made out to Beautiful North at Brough Business Centre, Skillings Lane, Brough, East Yorkshire, HU15 1NH, and don’t forget to include your name and address.