Big Interview: Dave Spikey is ready to hit the road again
Lancashire funnyman tells Joe Riley about his love of comedy and why he can't wait to get back on stage again
One of Dave Spikey’s favourite phrases is “back in the day.” It peppers his conversation as if by entitlement for someone on the cusp of notching up three score years plus 10, born on the very day Stalin announced that the Soviet Union had the atom bomb.
Even Phoenix Nights, the now fabled northern club- based TV comedy, in which he played an oft-harassed manager pit against Peter Kay’s conniving owner, and which brought him the very best of fame, is now back in the day.
It came to a much lamented halt almost two decades ago – without the bonus farewell Christmas special part-writer and creator Dave so hankered for.
Alas, and for the record, Dave last encountered and worked with Peter Kay during a run of Comic Relief shows at Manchester Arena in 2015. Meanwhile, he still occasionally sees the other Phoenix writer Neil Fitzmaurice.
But life moves on, and Farnworth’s finest comic son is about to go back to the future with a nostalgia driven stand-up tour.
A Funny Thing Happened, or to give it its full title A Funny Thing Happened: I shot Derek Rigby, opens on August 26 in Leeds and runs through to January.
What’s more, Derek Rigby will be in the audience on more than one occasion. “He’s one of my best mates. He used to drive me to gigs. But I’ve known him since primary school, where he was the class clown.
“Yet he was also a literalist. He didn’t understand jokes or what made him so funny. “Anyway, I did actually end up shooting him. To find out why, you’ll have to see the show.”
That involves Dave returning to his roots as a solo act nurtured in the 90s and at first spliced with what became a separate 32 year medical career, culminating as chief blood analyst at Bolton Hospital.
He turned to comedy full time in 2000: “Just me and an audience. That’s what I still like most. You are in control of the material you have created, whereas with television, a lot of what happens is out of your hands.
“The really great thing with stand-up is that you can think up a line on the way to a show and actually deliver it fresh half an hour later.”
And, in Dave’s case, all usually within a two or three hour car journey from home.
“I like my own bed. So yes, you could say I’m very parochial in that sense,” the Chorley comic says. But there is still some television: “Next week, for instance, I play a bit part in a BBC2 comedy called, Alma’s Not Normal, as what’s described in the character notes as an overweight, tired middle-aged man.
“Was I insulted? Not at all. I was flattered to be cast as a middle-aged man.” And – hopefully – there could be more of Dave on the small screen. “I’ve always got ideas. Like a comedy about a Sunday football team set on and off the pitch. Then there’s a series called Glitter Ball about ballroom dancing, which I wrote with Neil Fitzmaurice three years ago.
“I’ve also been working for months on a period drama, set in the Second World War. But no takers yet.”
Dave’s greatest early influence was his father: “He was a painter and decorator by trade. His proudest job was painting the hands on Bolton Town Hall clock. We lived in a two-up two-down with an outside loo. But my dad, although not in any way an academic, educated himself. He had many what could be called intellectual interests. He loved classical music and reading, and my mother wrote children’s stories.”
That interest in bettering and learning rubbed off on their son, who would regularly write out his exam revision on rolls of his father’s discarded wallpaper. Young Dave got his 11-plus and went to grammar school.
“I did Latin to third year and also learned German and French. But in the end, I found myself drawn more to maths and the sciences.”
A verdict confirmed during lockdown when Dave – deliberately setting himself tasks to offset any threat of boredom or inertia –tried his hand at Spanish: “No particular success to report. I just ended up sounding like the bloke on the cassette.
“I’ve also been testing out what I call my DIY skills to fill in time, and of-course, polishing up for the tour, which itself has been a long time in the making, having been postponed no fewer than three times over the past 18 months.
“What you need more than ever right now is stuff that will bring a smile to people’s faces in what has been a very dark time.”
A welcome testbed for new material is Dave’s wife Kath: “Even an ‘Mmm’ can mean quite good.”
And he adds: “Newspapers are great for producing ideas. Particularly those vox pops where random people give their views on all sorts of subjects. There was one the other day about graffiti when a woman said perfectly seriously that she thought offenders should have their hands chopped off.”
And he insists that his all-time favourite headline was from the Post: “A llama had escaped into a kids’ playground and the story was headed: Llama Drama Ding-Dong.
But in an age when most televised British comedy is still middle-class orientated, it is in the working men’s clubs “or should that now be working persons’ clubs?” that the heartbeat of comedy remains, insists Dave.
“That’s what Phoenix Nights picked up on, and why there’s not anything about on telly at the moment which grips me. The clubs are where people who had worked hard all week, then got dressed up and went out to enjoy themselves. They were communities in their own right. People supported each other.”
And so, as Covid restrictions ease, Dave hopes that will become the situation once more.
It’s been a long and very winding road since once spikey-haired Dave teamed up with a pal called Rick Sykes for an intended one-off support act to a musical duo (hence the name Spikey and Sykey, and the name that remains on Dave’s Equity card).
But somehow your man – born David Gordon Bramwell on October 6, 1951 – caught the showbiz bug and began a steady climb via talent shows.
One of the first was judged by Larry Grayson who loved Dave’s sketch about juggling on a motorbike.
There followed a growing collection of awards, until gradually Dave gained full personal recognition in his own right..
Today, as he bestrides the entertainment business as comedian, actor, writer, director and producer, like many other fellow travellers he has lent his undoubted celebrity status to various charities and causes. Not least to the Campaign Against Cruel Sports which he supported with a short film.
“In all this, and looking back, I can honestly say that I have never planned anything. Things have just happened in my life. That said, I’ve been very fortunate, but at the same time one mustn’t be greedy. And just remember, I don’t tell jokes. I tell stories.”
Dave Spikey is at Lancaster’s Grand Theatre on August 27; The Atkinson, in Southport, on October 29; King George’s Hall, Blackburn, on December 10; Burnley Mechanics on January 27, 2022 and Fleetwood Marine Hall on February 25, 2022.