Brookside to Brassed Off

John McArdle in rehearsals for  Brassed Off
John McArdle in rehearsals for Brassed Off

For John McArdle playing the conductor of the band in Brassed Off meant picking up some new skills including learning to count.

“I am not the most musical bloke in the world,” he admits.

“You have to start them off and while you don’t have to worry too much about keeping them in time in the middle because they know more than you, you have to bring them to the ending.”

Brassed Off is the story of a fictional Barnsley colliery band in 1992 struggling in the face of the closure of the pit.

Adapted by Sheffield writer and broadcaster Paul Allen from the hit 1996 movie it was premiered at the Crucible in 1998 and is now touring to mark the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike of 1984.

“The strike happened just before I joined Brookside and I remember it well,” says McArdle. “It affected the whole nation, especially if you had sympathy for the miners losing their jobs.

“I was always a trade unionist. I was a scaffolder before going into acting and was a shop steward when I was younger and more fiery.”

His character, the conductor of Grimley Colliery Band has little time for the union battle. “Danny is only interested in the band and getting to the national finals at the Albert Hall and he knows he is dying from emphysema and his band is his life. He has seen it all before and knows that all that is going to be left of the community is the band. When he makes the final speech you know he cared all along.”

The Liverpudlian actor had to get to grips with the local accent which entailed listening to miners’ voices to capture the way they spoke.

It is very different from his previous appearance in Sheffield in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. “Except it wasn’t an American accent because these were early settlers so we spoke in a kind of Norfolk dialect,” he points out.

His first appearance at the Crucible was in the early 80s in Bob Eaton’s musical, Lennon. “Mark McGann was John Lennon and a blond Graham Fellows a was McCartney and I played 28 other people and it was a joy in only my second professional job.

“Surprisingly I haven’t got to play that many Scousers in my career. The last time was at the Empire Theatre in One Night in Istanbul about when we won the Champions League.”

The “we” betrays his footballing allegances to the red side of the city despite the impression television viewers might have gained from a certain cops series in the early Noughties. “The producer on Merseybeat made me an Evertonian. He knew I was a Red and got my character to slag off Liverpool,” he laughs.

Brassed Off is at the Lyceum Theatre from Wednesday to Saturday.