Rising to the occasion

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SHEFFIELD’S endearing vocalist and virtuoso of the Yamaha keyboard, John Shuttleworth, is on the road again with a show called A Man With No More Rolls which will be arriving at the City Hall on Wednesday.

His tours always have surreal titles and the explanation this time, according to the publicity, is a piece of mistyping by manager Ken Worthington which means that instead of instructing the nation in moral matters he assesses the invasion of exotic breads into British bakeries.

It has prompted a new ballad, How’s Your Nan?, to add to his many food-themed ditties such as 2 Margarines, Eggs and Gammon and I Can’t Go Back To Savoury Now which will no doubt feature.

The tour began in December and runs until late March but a study of the schedule reveals a two-week hiatus which seemed a good opportunity to catch up with John’s creator, Graham Fellows, but it turned out he was on travels of his own.

“We’re on the outskirts of Aberdeen on our way from Orkney to Lincolnshire,” he announces from his mobile.

Orkney is the final destination of the tour but Fellows has other reasons to be there. “I’m converting an old church on the island of Rousay into a recording studio and artists’ refuge,” he explains.

He’s been talking about this for years but says the project is now under way. “The extension has started and we’ve put down the floor base and I was talking today to the wind turbine man and the solar heating installer who’s the same person, actually.

“I plan to use it myself but also rent it out to other artists. It’s a business venture.

It’s somewhere people can retreat to. My girlfriend saw it for the first time and thinks there are yoga possiblities, so there’s a hippy quality to the whole venture.”

It also sounds very green and Fellows reports that he is making an ecological film about an electric car. “I have a G-Wiz and I’m going to take it up to Orkney.

“It’s 800 miles from London and the battery only does 30 miles before it needs recharging. So I’m rather hoping it will break down and then I would have to find some other ecological way of getting it up there. It would probably be a good thing for the film.”

Is this to be a John Shuttleworth film like It’s Nice Up North and Southern Softies? “Not yet, my dad’s in it, though. He’s still living in Broomhill but he likes it up in Orkney.”

It will be a similar style of filming, though, with a minimum crew. He admits it has taken him two years to make each film but then Fellows doesn’t have producers and distributors to worry about. “We take the film and show it ourselves – we did that in Sheffield and we’ve got a couple more dates in Scotland in March.

“I am lucky that John Shuttleworth is a vehicle to get it shown. He has a certain following and so the previous films got picked up by Sky Arts,” he says, and for that reason the champion of the Austin Ambassador will no doubt feature in the film about the electric car.

But otherwise he may disappear from view for a bit. ”After this tour I plan to give John a break and go and work on my studio and finish the film,” says Fellows.

A trained actor, Graham Fellows still keeps his hand in and was recently seen playing Eric Sykes in the BBC4 drama, Hattie, about the comic actress Hattie Jacques. “I studied tapes to see how he spoke. I hadn’t been aware that he was deaf but it was clear that determined the way he talked,” says the actor.

“I was also in an episode of the Johnny Vegas series on BBC3, Ideals, playing Dr Persil, a creepy doctor dealing in illegal body parts. I’d like to do more of that sort of thing.

“I wouldn’t mind doing a theatre play again but I’m worried that I might forget the words. It sometimes happens when I’m doing John but I can make that part of the act. If I forget a lyric I just ask the audience and they will prompt me.

“In any case the show is all about spontaneity and is just like a person talking, so nobody worries if it changes as it goes along as long as I have the basic idea.

“John’s an easy character in that respect but they are not all like that. If you are in a play with five other actors you have to be bang on. I was an actor for about 10 years and never thought about it but it happened once when I was doing Dave Tordoff. Hypnotherapy has helped me not to worry about it.”

He says that as usual John Shuttleworth’s Sheffield appearance will be special. “We’re already outselling what we did before which was John’s first time at the City Hall. We used to do the Crucible but when that was closed I thought I would take a chance on the City Hall, although it’s a big place to fill. We managed 1,200 last time and we are already past that.”