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Carl Leighton Pope on his new musical Carnaby Street

A new musical promises to swing the sixties back into life. Sam Wonfor talks to its writer - and paid up Mod - Carl Leighton Pope

Carl Leighton Pope
Carl Leighton Pope

When you've had the kind of life and career enjoyed by Carl Leighton Pope, you get used to being asked the same question time and time again: 'So when are you going to write your book?'

“I can’t tell you how many times that has come up over the years, but my intention was never to write one,” says the 67-year-old, who started with a part-time job in London’s iconic Marquee Club when he was a jobbing young actor in the sixties, and has gone on to work with some of music’s biggest names in the five decades since.

Instead, the music agent and tour manager, who has the likes of Bryan Adams and Michael Bublé on his books, has penned the story for what you might call a memoir musical.

It’s called Carnaby Street (pictured below in its 60s element), and it’s rocking up to Sunderland Empire tonight and setting up camp until Saturday.

“My years in the music business have given me many road stories, all of which, told with a drink are entertaining,” says Carl.

“But this musical is my document, it is mildly autobiographical in that all that the characters were real people that I met during that time.

“I was a mod. I rode a scooter and fought on the beaches,” he continues. “We didn’t have a care in the world. We were all out there. We looked good, we felt good, and the whole world was available to us. I don’t think I woke up one morning without a smile on my face.

“I worked five nights a week in the now iconic venue - The Marquee Club - the hottest club in London for new bands. The Who, The Yardbirds, Rod Stewart, Moody Blues and many more started their careers there in 1964.

“In the musical I wrote: ‘my father looked like my grandfather, but he never looked like me’ and that was true. My dad used to look at me as though there was something wrong with me - just like I did with my son when he was a Clash fan,” he laughs.

Having first got the idea for the musical 16 years ago, I wondered what took so long to bring the story of Jude - a working class boy from Liverpool who arrives in London armed with nothing but his guitar and his dreams of fame and fortune - to the stage.

“We first got the idea in the nineties. We saw the logo and met a guy called James Hall who had written about 40 songs and a story which was so awful that it was never going to work,” Carl says.

“The problem with the story was that it was too much in the business. The thing with our business is that if you’re in it, then it’s funny. But if you’re not, then it’s not.

“His story was too druggy, it was too disastrous. Everybody died in the end and it wasn’t an opera,” he adds with a laugh.

“In the end, I bought it all off him because I wanted to do it myself. It took a long time to make that deal. Once it was made, I threw away the story, but kept some of the characters and the rough idea.

“Then I wrote it, and wrote it, and wrote it. Then 10 years ago of course we found Michael Bublé... so it was one of those where you put it on the shelf and get back into it now and again.” It was during a period of being ‘back into it’ when Carl met theatre director Bob Tomson who had successful West End productions of Blood Brothers and Dreamboats and Petticoats on his CV.

“I told him I was writing this new musical, so he came up to my offices to read the script. After about half an hour, he said: ‘I’m on page 36 and I was just wondering who Jude was talking to?’ I said ‘well he’s talking to Jane,’ to which he replied, ‘well that’s a bit difficult because Jane left the stage about half an hour ago’.

“Then you realise that you’re not a writer and you can’t write a script because you haven’t got a clue what you’re going on about,” Carl laughs. “You need someone who can do all those things... so from then on, me and Bob did it together, up to an including last night when we were working on some lines.”

Having already enjoyed a London run, and now out on tour, the production stars former EastEnders actor, Aaron Sidwell and features more than 30 hits including; Shout, My Generation, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Sweets For My Sweet, Roll Over Beethoven, Go Now, Keep On Running, Do Wah Diddy Diddy, Twist And Shout, 54321, We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place and Do You Love Me?

“The thing about sixties songs is that we kind of never gave up on them,” says Carl. “When Dirty Dancing came out and I was singing all the songs, my kids thought I was amazing to have learned the words so quickly.

“The songs are classic 60’s hits and the fashion and the colour gave me my story. I didn’t want it to be a song-led concert style musical, so the book, together with the music is the story I wanted to tell. It was a real labour of love.”

:: Carnaby Street plays Sunderland Empire until Saturday. Call 0844 871 3022 or visit www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland to book.


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