Richard Digance joins the Southdowns Folk Festival
Marking 50 years of performing this year, Richard Digance is on the road with a tour which brings him to the Southdowns Folk Festival at the Regis Centre, Bognor on September 24.
And all from the least auspicious of starts.
“The first date was on a disused double-decker bus on a scrapyard in the east end of London,” Richard recalls. “I got £5, and there wasn’t any VAT. People used to sing downstairs where the driver used to be. No seats, just cushions on the floor. And then everyone went upstairs in the interval to have some oxtail soup!
“I started singing when I was at college in Glasgow. Being a southern softie, I tended to keep my mouth shut in Glasgow. But I found my solace in a local folk club which I liked. It was beer barrels and candles and very dark. And there was a resident singer called Billy Connolly! I remember Billy used to get blokes to buy him pints of beer and the girls used to chat him up. And I thought that’s the reason I went to college. What am I doing studying modern British history!
“And so I started singing in folk clubs. I had not really sung before, and I had to sing unaccompanied because I was not really much of a guitarist. From there on I decided that that’s what I wanted to do. I dropped out of college and came back home. It was one of the 27 times I returned home in my skint days!
“And then I got a VW camper van like any other folkie of the time used to do and I wandered around the country, and that’s how it was until 1973 when I went on tour with Steeleye Span. That was the turning point. My fee by that time had gone up to something like £15. By touring with Steeleye Span it went up to £50. And then after that, through the 1970s, I was basically the support act to have, not because I was good or bad, but because I was simple. I didn’t have a drummer or a bass player. I was just a bloke on the stage with a guitar. I was dead easy to handle. As soon as I finished with Steeleye, I supported people like Jethro Tull and Tom Jones.
“Then I went to America to try my hand there, and I had quite a torrid time. They had people like James Taylor, and poor Richard Digance rather lost his way. But the one plus was working with Steve Martin, the actor and comedian Steve Martin. People don’t realise that he is a phenomenal musician. He is a brilliant banjo player. From him, I learnt the art of stage performance. I don’t think he was conscious he was teaching me, but we used to do the last piece together, with him on banjo and me on guitar.
“And there was a lot of humour. It was then I realised that you didn’t have to be the best singer to be the best performer. This was the era of the folk entertainers. There was Billy Connolly, Jasper Carrott, Mike Harding, Max Boyce… I came up behind them.
“They were the pioneers of the folk entertainers. I just piggy-backed on what they were doing. That’s how I fine-tuned what I was doing and really became what you might call a modern-day troubadour. I was not just a singer-songwriter. I don’t think I would have got on TV if I had not spread my wings a bit and done more anecdotes, but I think it was a natural progression. I am quite a natural bloke.
“And so I got on TV and had my own show and did Countdown for 19 years. But really, in my heart of hearts, I have always been a musician first and foremost. That’s really all I have ever wanted to do…”
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