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What's on: Tony Thorpe and Friends
IN the Seventies, Tony Thorpe was a regular on Top Of The Pops as a member of The Rubettes.
With their distinctive image and vocal harmonies, the band combined pop and glam rock resutling in nine Top 40 singles including a number one, Sugar Baby Love.
After four years touring the world, guitarist Tony called it a day and left behind the music business to settle in Burnley.
He first became a journalist and then, until last year, a tutor on the access to music course at Blackburn College.
Later this month he’ll be strapping on the guitar once more for a special charity show - something he’s dubbed a one gig tour - at Darwen’s Library Theatre to celebrate his 50 years as a musician.
“One of my former students rang me to say that Darwen was such a lovely, intimate venue and that I should do something there,” said Tony.
“The more I thought of it, the more it appealed to me so I thought I’d celebrate my anniversary in style.
“I’ve got the show more or less worked out. I’ve got together some great musicians including people I’ve played with for years and also some of my former students. They’ll be coming on and off during the night.”
Surprisingly the band won’t be getting together before the event.
“They’re good enough to just turn up and play,” said Tony. “The problem with rehearsals is that people start to think too much.”
A Londoner by birth, Tony got a ukelele aged eight and his first guitar at 10.
“I did what all kids my age did then,” he said. “I got a chord book, learned the basics and then worked out how to play along to records. That’s the best way to learn.”
After playing in various bands Tony was invited to audition for rock and roll legend Wee Willie Harris.
”I was as raw as anything in a room with guys who were my heroes, you either sink or swim in those circumstances,” he said.
Tony was later asked to join the Rubettes in 1974 and the band immediately had a number one single with Sugar Baby Love.
“I was at the heart of the rock and roll business for about four years with the Rubettes and it wasn’t a particularly nice place,” said Tony.
“It is so false.
“As a band we were never given a chance by the press, they hated us. They never saw any further than the suits.
“I remember once doing an interview with an NME journalist. He clearly didn’t wat to be there and he didn’t respect what we were doing.
"He asked me what kind of music I liked and when I told him I loved Miles Davis and Django Reinhardt he didn’t believe me. I remember asking him, ‘what do you think I should like, The Wombles?’"
Tony shared his time in the limelight with his wife Sylvia. They met at a club in Cardiff when Sylvia, who is from Burnley, was singing and Tony was with Wee Willie Harris.
“I think it was love at first sight,” said Sylvia. The couple have now been together for 43 years.
After deciding to leave The Rubettes, Tony returned with Sylvia to her home town.
“Among all the falseness of the music business, we used to come back to Burnley because it was real, the people were so real,” said Tony.
Having travelled the world and had hits all over Europe with The Rubettes, Tony effectively disappeared from the music scene.
“If you’re part of David Bowie’s band or an ex-member of Cream then the offers would pour in, but I had been with the Rubettes,” he laughed.
Tony’s love of jazz has grown over the years. He was a regular at the popular jazz nights at Rawtenstall’s Rhythm Station and he relished the challenge of woring with young aspiring musicians at Blackburn College.
It’s clear that, to him, his time with the Rubettes is only a chapter in his life story.
“It’s a bit like people who’ve been in Coronation Street, the label sticks,” he said.
Currently two versions of the Rubettes tour, both featuring former members of the band but Tony is not tempted.
“Maybe a one-off show every year with all the original members, but that’s never going to happen,” he said.
But his is really excited at the prsopect of his Darwen show which will raise money for the Wirral Autistic Group which has done so much for his son Clayton.
*Tony Thorpe and Friends, Darwen Library Theatre, Thursday, March 15. Details from 01254 706006.