At the time of the interview, Kevin Kennedy was starring as Pop in We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre.
I chatted with Kevin this week and asked him some questions about his life and career.
You started playing classical guitar at the age of 11, but soon switched to performing pop and rock songs. Was there a particular rock star you wanted to be like?
It wasn’t a question of being like a particular rock star it was more about the lifestyle, including teenage ladies who loved being around rock ‘n’ roll stars! It was also about being part of a music evolution that was happening. My friends who lived on the same estate as me were also heavily into Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Following Manchester Youth Theatre, you joined Manchester Polytechnic of Theatre at the age of 18, what made you want to be on the stage?
I quite liked the lifestyle and being on the stage. I wanted formal training and was fortunate enough to get into one of the leading drama schools in the country, where great actors such as Julie Walters, have graduated. I wasn’t sure that I would even get into the college and no one was more surprised than me when I did. The foundation that I got at the Manchester Youth Theatre prepared me, so I knew what to expect but at a much higher level.
What did your parents’ think about you having a career on the stage?
My mum and dad were always very supportive and basically told me that if I had the talent to get in then they would support me 100%, and they did.
As a teenager you were in a band called Paris Valentinos, which also contained Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke (subsequently formed The Smiths). This must be every teenage boy’s dream – what was it like?
Johnny Marr and I lived on the same estate and we were into the same style of music including Rory Gallagher and Thin Lizzy. We were only fourteen at the time when we formed the band called Paris Valentinos. The first time we performed was on the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.
It was a brilliant time. I saw Johnny Marr develop into the brilliant guitarist that he is, and it was a privilege to be with him and realise how good he was and what a genius on the guitar he was going to be. My thoughts were, well if you have got to be that good then I had better go and do something else. I was involved with the Manchester Youth Theatre at the time and that provided the foundation for what I am doing now.
Your television debut was in Keith Chegwin’s Cheggers Plays Pop. How did it feel being on TV for the first time?
The BBC needed some team helpers and I was aged about 19 and in my second year at drama school when talent scouts came down from the BBC, and I was one of those chosen for the show. I was allocated to the yellow team on the show. It was great as I got to see a lot of the new bands that were around, together with getting my ‘foot in the door’ of the BBC.
I then worked in ‘wardrobes’ for a while, doing mundane things like ironing shirts. I then appeared in an episode of Hinge and Brackett which was my television acting debut, which I can remember involved a scene in a telephone box. I worked for the BBC for about 5-6 years.
Years later I met Hinge and Bracket and asked them if they remembered me, and they were lovely saying “yes of course we remember you and we have been watching what has been happening with your career with much interest”.
In 1982 you appeared in Ducking Out at the Greenwich Theatre (and subsequently transferring to the Duke of York’s Theatre) alongside Warren Mitchell. What was it like being on stage with such an iconic figure of that time?
Working with Warren Mitchell, he really taught me about stage comedy. He treated me like a son and we became friends. He was very generous with his time and would always make time to explain how to do something. He would be in my personal Hall of Fame. He was a Spurs football fan and me being a Manchester City fan we used to talk about football quite a bit. He taught me how to be funny on stage without saying anything. Essentially he taught me stage craft, things that you couldn’t learn at stage school. The lovely Diana Ball and Kevin Lloyd were also in that cast and some other brilliant actors. It was like a Masterclass in acting.
Warren Mitchell was a typical example of how lucky I have been with the people that I have worked with, you are never too old to learn and I have learnt from the best.
It was a great time at Greenwich before transferring to the West End which wasn’t, in fact, my debut in the West End as I had performed previously while at drama school at the Shaw Theatre in Idle Hand when I was seventeen.
Twenty years of your working life as Curly Watts on Coronation Street, the world’s longest-running TV soap opera. How would you describe this part of your life?
At the beginning, it was like a job at home. I had been working in London for a year and a half, worked on Keep on Running (BBC) in Cardiff, working with my friends from drama school. I would now be at home where I could pay rent and my mum would do my washing and look after me again! I originally only signed up for four episodes and I did not think that my time on the show would reach twenty years. It was really just a brilliant time.
Did your personality manage to influence the character of Curly over the years or did the story writers entirely control the character?
I was very lucky as they liked what I did. Essentially when you start as a character the producers then watch what you do and if they like it they will then work with it. I was very fortunate as they wrote some really fantastic storylines for me. It was a very interesting time and I thoroughly enjoyed it. They also let me go off to do things while I was in Coronation Street. For example, they let me go off to the Sheffield Crucible to play Hamlet, which was just brilliant. Tracie Bennett helped me to get the part of Hamlet, with Clare Venables being the Artistic Director of the Crucible.
I was also allowed time-out to go and play in the first National Tour of No Sex Please We’re British, which cemented my love of farce.
Do you miss being part of a soap-opera family of actors?
I miss it very much as I practically grew up there. It wasn’t just the cast of course, but also the crew and directors, I am still on great terms with everyone there and hopefully one day Curly will return.
If you could choose a character from another soap opera to star as, who would it be?
It would probably be a Dingle from Emmerdale, they are ‘rough and ready’ and also have a licence to get away with things as a character.
You returned to the West End as Amos Hart in Chicago at the Adelphi Theatre in 2004. What was it like performing in such a sexy show?
It was a very exciting time, especially as my daughter Katie-May was born on a Monday morning in mid-January and I started rehearsals for Chicago on the Monday afternoon, it was all a bit kind of ‘wild’. It was great to appear on the show, although at first, I was ‘absolutely terrified’ as I had not performed this type of show before. I love the show and still do, and went to see it recently and it is a great piece of work.
You starred in Michael Cooney’s comedy “Cash On Delivery” at Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park Theatre in 2007 as Norman Bassett alongside Melvyn Hayes as Uncle George and Barry Howard as Mr Forbright. What was it like playing alongside such brilliant comedians?
I loved playing in the show and it was a lovely time. Again, I was a very lucky man as it was a Masterclass in Comedy. I felt humble in the presence of such great comedy actors. It was a fast and furious show. I am a great lover of farce and pantomime, and because we do it well in this country people seem to slag it off. These are two of the oldest forms of stage entertainment in our country, and we should be happy that we do them so well.
What is it like being in We Will Rock You? And what is it like playing the character Pop?
I was in London and went to see the show and can remember thinking ‘I could really get my teeth into that part’. Then, when the part came up I went along to the audition with Ben Elton, Brian May and Roger Taylor. I told them I would like to do something different and having showed them, they liked it.
I then did the We Will Rock You Tour for nine months and loved it. After the tour I was asked to take the role in the West End, which you don’t really turn down! So here I am. I am here until October when my current contract ends and we will have to see what happens then. There are several things that I could do but we will have to wait and see.
What is your favourite song in We Will Rock You?
It has to be I Want To Break Free. It is a perfect catchy pop song.
How would you describe the rock band Queen that has inspired the musical We Will Rock You?
To be honest I wasn’t that much of a Queen fan as when they first hit the scene I was more into Thin Lizzy, Rory Gallagher and Celtic Rock. I didn’t really appreciate the music until the first time that I went to see the show when I thought the music and songs were great. You get to know the songs almost by osmosis as they have been played so often everywhere. Now I have a really big appreciation for the music of Queen, especially working with Brian May and the current band in the show who are just tremendous.
Queen band members Brian May and John Deacon rank highly in the top 100 of lead and bass guitarists respectively. Who would be your all time great bass and lead guitarists?
I think Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy is the finest Bass player the world has ever seen and was a real rock star. He was simply brilliant.
There are a few lead guitarists, but I would have to include Rory Gallagher and Johnny Marr among the top ones. There are also some fantastic rhythm guitarists and I think that Bruce Springstein is one of the finest.
If you could be a guitarist in any rock band in history who would it be?
If I could be the rhythm guitarist in Thin Lizzy that would be fantastic.
Tell me about the single named Bulldog Nation (album titled Present Kennedy) and the band Kevin Kennedy and The Bunch of Thieves in 2000.
I went to America and liked the type of music that I heard and came back and formed the band, which was a really hard-rocking Celtic band. It was a great rock and roll band, we didn’t record much but concentrated on playing live, such as at The Reading Festival and The O2.
After that I went on my own and a friend had written a song called Bulldog Nation and asked me what I thought of it, and I liked it. We recorded the song and sent it off to Simon Cowell (before he became mega famous) under a pseudonym and he loved it and signed it. I then got signed by Warner Brothers.
I went on tour to New Zealand, Australia, USA and Ireland. The album eventually went Gold (sold more than 500,000 copies) in New Zealand. This was all happening while I was in Coronation Street, which made it all very weird, wonderful and great fun! They were such memorable times. This all came to an end when my part in Coronation Street finished as I couldn’t just be a full-time musician.
Any thoughts of a new single or album?
Not at the moment, but having found myself in a musical you never know. I had never considered myself to be a musical star but absolutely love it.
Is there an actor or actress that you would like to work alongside?
I love to watch people if they are brilliant at what they do, no matter what their profession, whether it is an actor, a potterer, a plasterer or a plumber it doesn’t matter. If I get to work alongside some fabulous people, which I have, then I am happy with that.
Are there any long-term ambitions that you have either on the stage or off it?
I would like to do more farce as it is fun and I really enjoy it.
You have a beautiful family, what do you like to do with them to chill out?
We went to Disneyland in America which was probably the best holiday we have ever had. We like to go to the cinema, the theatre, panto and recently went to see Shrek and also The Wizard of Oz which Clare my wife and daughters Grace and Katie-May loved.
And anything else you might like to add?
Only that I am enjoying my career having played many varied parts across the board and long may it continue.
Many thanks Kevin for taking time out from your busy schedule to have a chat about your career, and best wishes for We Will Rock You and the future!
Follow Kevin Kennedy on Twitter at @mrkevkennedy
Editor Neil Cheesman – Twitter @LondonTheatre1
Kevin has enjoyed a successful career on the stage with his West End appearances including; Idle Hands (Debut at Shaw Theatre), Ducking Out (Duke of York’s), Amos in Chicago (Adelphi Theatre) and now Pop in We Will Rock You (Dominion Theatre).
His other theatre work includes: Cash On Delivery at (Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park Theatre), Just Between Ourselves (Theatre Royal Windsor), Hamlet (Sheffield Crucible); and UK Tours No Sex Please We’re British; The Rocky Horror Show and a long stint as the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Kevin also played the part of Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the Singapore tour, becoming the first actor to have played both Caractacus Potts and the Child Catcher.
Music credits include a hit single called Bulldog Nation, an album called Bulldog Nation (2000) and Present Kennedy (2002). He performed solo and with his band called Kevin Kennedy and The Bunch of Thieves. He also toured in various countries, together with being signed by Simon Cowell and Warner Brothers.
Kevin’s television appearances are extensive and include The Last Company Car (for Stephen Frears), Keep on Running (BBC), Blue Murder with Caroline Quentin, and as Mick Carter in Doctors. Kevin also filmed two series of Kevin’s Spanish Capers, which he wrote and presented. He is however, probably most famous for his role as Curly Watts in Coronation Street (ITV), which he played for 20 years.
10th June 2011