Interview by Jenny Itzcovitz
Singer songwriter, Dean Friedman will shortly be embarking on a UK tour. We caught up with him to find out about the early days of his career, his musical influences, his SongFest tour with Chris Difford from Squeeze, and his adorable dog Lola.
Can you tell us about yourself, where you come from and how old you were when you first started singing and writing songs?
“I grew up one of four kids in Paramus, New Jersey, a relatively peaceful suburb, not far from New York City. My mom was a singer and actress who’d appeared on Broadway and in Film and so I grew up in a house filled with music.
“I got a guitar when I turned nine and once I learned a few chords, I wrote my very first song titled, ‘I’d Love to Take a Swim With You in the Summertime’. I’ve been playing and writing ever since.”
When did you get your first guitar? How did you learn the piano? And what made you realise that you wanted a career in music?
“I started piano lessons when I was five, then guitar lessons when I was nine. I used to play my guitar sitting on the basement steps because of the good acoustics. Once I got paid $15 bucks for a little coffeehouse gig, I figured, hey, getting cash for something I love doing, anyway – sounds good to me!”
What was it like in the early days of your career in the 1970s? Was it a good time to make music?
“Kicking off my career in the late ‘70’s was simultaneously exhilarating and devastating: the music and performing was a joy, but the business aspect of it was pretty demoralising.”
I love your album ‘Well Well Said the Rocking Chair’, I still have it on vinyl. It was a great favourite in our home, with plenty of catchy tunes, heartfelt lyrics and strong tracks. Can you tell us how you recorded it, and why you think it struck a chord with so many people?
“I wrote most of “Well, Well,” Said the Rocking Chair after moving into my first New York City apartment on W72nd Street. It was a ground floor flat that was what you might describe as ‘sparsely’ furnished – actually, there was no furniture.
“But I did have a beautiful grand piano in the middle of the room and a mattress on the floor to sleep on. And for a young musician starting out, I was pretty content – I didn’t really require much more. I conjured up furniture in my imagination (and, curiously, it started talking) and the rest of the album, somehow, evolved from there.
“Mostly I was telling stories about my life at the time, with a little poetic license thrown in. I think folks related to the songs, because even though they occurred in a specific time and place, across the pond, so to speak, in New York City, they spoke of feelings and experiences that are familiar to almost everybody – despair, delight, jealousy, love, anger, confusion, joy.
“Even a line like, ‘You can thank your Lucky Stars that we’re not as smart as we’d like to think we are’ contains a kernel of familiar, if slightly corny, truth – that ofttimes our hearts are smarter than our intellect.”
The cover of the album has always fascinated me with its ‘Plasticine’ caricature of you beside a rocking chair. Can you tell us about it and how it was designed?
“I was introduced to a terrific NY illustrator, Bob Grossman, who did wonderful clay animations.
“I drew a sketch of my idea for the cover to illustrate the lyric from Rocking Chair that goes, ‘you’re reflected in all the things you own’, and Bob created a wonderful clay sculpture, which became the album cover. I still smile every time I see it.”
Your work includes memorable songs such as Ariel, Lydia, Lucky Stars, Rocking Chair and the Deli Song – many about the people you have met and their life stories. Can you tell us how you tend to write your songs and paint such strong images in your words and music?
“Growing up, I always had an affinity for singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Randy Newman; folks who, as you say, painted pictures with their words and music. Their songs had almost a cinematic quality to them, inviting the listener inside the song, allowing them to become participants and collaborators, in a way.
“I’ve always aspired to do just that with my own songwriting – and approach each song with that same goal, still to this day. Sometimes, if I’m doing it right, I succeed.”
You will be touring in the UK in the spring, can you tell us about the format of the shows and what audiences can look forward to?
“I’m planning on doing a ‘deep dive’ into some of my overlooked material from my eight studio albums but, of course, I’ll also include my chart hits and fan favourites like Ariel, Lydia, Lucky Stars and McDonald’s Girl.
“So, audiences can expect to hear over 90 minutes of songs – some familiar, some obscure – but all telling a musical short story about the ordinary and extraordinary lives we share.”
I understand that you will be performing with Chris Difford from Squeeze. What do you enjoy most about working with Chris? And what songs will you be singing together?
“This year, I’m curating and hosting an event called SongFest – it’s a micro-music-festival celebrating really good songs and the folks who write ‘em. Chris Difford is one of my favourite songwriters of all time, and fits that definition to a ‘T’ with his lyrics to Up the Junction, Pulling Muscles From a Shell, and Cool for Cats.
“All of his songs are chock-full-of rich, narrative lyrics, telling complex, sometimes fantastical tales, yet based on familiar, real-life truths. I’m thrilled that he’s agreed to join the line-up for both SongFest weekends (south & north).
“For more information visit www.SongFest.live”
Who else will be joining you? And what will they bring to the shows?
“Other artists in the SongFest line-up include the great Richard Digance, who I first met when he interviewed me on Capitol Radio several eons ago. Richard eats rhyming dictionaries for breakfast and thesauruses for lunch, topped off with a healthy portion of wry humour and astute observation.
“Like Chris Difford, he’s a living ‘master-class’ in songwriting. In fact, he’s offering a ‘songwriting masterclass’ at SongFest, as am I, along with two other outstanding songwriters, Kal Lavelle and Fiona Bevan. Kal and Fiona are simply superb songwriters/performers who have written songs with folks like Ed Sheeran and the Backstreet Boys, and go out of their way to share their craft with up-and-coming songwriters.
“Together, they’ll be conducting a ‘Songwriting Masterclass for Girls and Women’ at both SongFests. Other artists include the great, Boothby Graffoe, renown singer/songwriter Boo Hewerdine, and the sublime Tracey Curtis.
“Each one of these songwriters is uniquely talented and fiercely original and I’m truly honoured that they’ve agreed to be part of the line-up at SongFest (south in Wareham on Saturday and Sunday 20th and 21st July; and north in Crewe on Saturday and Sunday 27th and 28th July).”
Will there be much audience participation? And how much do you enjoy making them feel a part of the entertainment?
“Well, I always like to invite the entire audience to sing along on my song, ‘Lucky Stars’. As it’s a duet, I ask the audience to sing the girl’s part and they always do a terrific job. We have a great time. And I know the other songwriters enjoy involving the audience, as well.
“The SongFest team is also planning a Beatles sing-along, after-hours, if we can convince the venue to shift our curfew a little bit later. It’s gonna be a blast!”
What music do you enjoy listening to in your leisure time? Who are your musical influences?
“I listen to everything, every musical genre, idiom, era… My musical tastes run the gamut from Leonard Bernstein, to Sting, to Weather Report, to Lily Allen, to Debussy.
“My mom was a singer and actress and performed on Broadway and Film, so there was always some Broadway show tune on the piano. Then I got a transistor radio and started listening to the Top 40 – the Beatles, Dylan, Stevie Wonder, etc…
“As I’ve mentioned, I’ve always had a special affinity for singer-songwriters, especially those that told story-songs, like Joni Mitchell and Randy Newman, but those influences were then merged with artists from all kinds of genres and musical idioms, including: classical, rock, jazz-fusion, country, bluegrass, folk… you name it!”
What hobbies and interests do you have when you are not recording or performing? And how do you relax?
“My dad was an illustrator and animator and I’ve always enjoyed drawing and working with Photoshop. I’m seriously addicted to Saturday morning cartoons and I love comics and graphic novels.
“To relax I’ll read sci-fi or an airport thriller. My son, Sam, is now writing scripts for a video game app company, so I’m currently working my way through Charm King.”
Can you tell us about dog, Lola? Does she travel around with you? And has she ever got you in any scrapes or unusual adventures?
“Lola is five years old and weighs all of 3.8 pounds. She’s called a Prague Ratter and comes from the Czech Republic. Her breed used to live in the castles of Bohemian royalty and were bred to chase rats off of the banquet tables.
“She’s got a sweet soul, loves to play, and because she’s so surprisingly small and adorable, she evokes smiles and spreads joy where ever she goes. She even has her very own Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LittleLolaPragueRatter/
“She’s a seasoned traveller and has joined my wife, Alison, and I on tour, to places as far afield as Hollywood, the south of France, Ireland – including the Giant’s Causeway – and all over the UK, including our annual visit to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (where she wears her special tartan coat). Her only occasional scrapes are with the red-tailed hawk that frequents our back-yard and is always eye-balling her as a potential snack.
“We’re extremely vigilant about not letting her outside unattended and I have a compulsive routine that involves an air-horn in one hand and a Frisbee in the other, while constantly monitoring the sky to avoid any unpleasant dive-bombing incidences. So far, so good.”
Have you picked up any interesting souvenirs as part of your travels as a singer?
“On my first tour of the UK, I guested on Noel Edmonds’ ‘Swap Shop’ TV show, and I mentioned a fondness for Fluffernutter sandwiches – peanut butter and marshmallow fluff between two slices of bread.
“For months after that, folks would come up to me after gigs offering jars of Marshmallow Fluff! Be careful what you say on national TV.”
Do you have a favourite guitar or personal item that you like to bring with you on tour?
“I used to tour with my Martin D-35 acoustic guitar, that I bought while still in college. It served me well for many years, on recordings and on tour; but after decades knocking around on the road, I had to finally retire it.
“These days, I’ve been playing a lovely sounding Freshman electro-acoustic guitar, made by a company based in Scotland, right outside of Glasgow. They’re excellent guitars that are reasonably priced, yet every bit as good – if not better – than guitars costing two or three times as much.”
What keeps you happy and inspired when you are touring?
“If the venue’s sound-system is in working order, and the sound-operator knows what they’re doing, and the piano is in tune, that’s really half the battle; if I’m actually able to hear myself on stage, it makes performing so much more enjoyable.
“Then, I can settle down, relax and do my job – which is singing each song as if I was singing it for the very first time. And if I’m doing my job right, the audience can tell, and always lets me know. That’s inspiring, along with the thought that, as I travel around the world, performing in venerable theatres and halls, I’m treading in the footsteps of so many of my musical idols, meandering the same hallways, relaxing in the same dressing rooms.
“Every now and then, I’m reminded that I’m part of a musical continuum that requires an unusual drive and particular skillset, which is in many ways its own reward, and is never ending.”
Do you have a special message for readers of Sixtyplusurfers?
“I’ve abided by this useful advice, ever since I was a toddler, and have found it to be especially valuable whenever I tour in the UK. It’s this: always look both ways before crossing the road!
“Also, come join me on the road; it’s gonna be a blast!”
Get a taster of the tour with our video of Dean Friedman at Kulak’s Woodshed
Click on white arrow to watch
The Dean Friedman tour starts from April-August 2019 Songfest: July 20/21 – Wareham. July 27/28 – Crewe.
Visit www.deanfriedman.com for further information.
Win A Place to Call Home: Series Six
Sixtyplusurfers has teamed up with Acorn Media International to offer three lucky readers the chance to win A Place to Call Home: Series Six on DVD, following its final airing on BBC One.
The hugely popular, multi-award-winning Australian drama is set in 1950s rural Australia, and follows the lives of Nurse Sarah Adams (Marta Dusseldorp) and the Blighs, a wealthy and complicated Pastoralist family living in Inverness, New South Wales where love, death and secrets are never far below the surface.
In the final chapter of the Bligh saga, the resilient Sarah returns, finally marrying wealthy landowner George Bligh and taking her place as the Lady of Ash Park… but it’s not quite home yet.
As the family journey back to each other, they face tragedies, betrayals, and new beginnings that will challenge their relationships and change the course of their lives forever.
Will each member of Australia’s first family finally find happiness and a place to call home?
A Place to Call Home: Series Six and The Complete Collection boxset is available now on DVD.
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One Man Stage Show
Michael Palin Live
on Stage 2019
Michael Palin, Photograph by
To celebrate the paperback publication of Erebus: The Story of A Ship, Monty Python star and much-loved television globe-trotter Michael Palin announces a brand new one-man stage show. It will take him to 12 venues around the UK, beginning in Bournemouth on 7th June and ending in Bath on 7th July.
In the first part of the show, Palin brings to life the thrilling story of HMS Erebus, the tough little ship that took on the Antarctic and the Arctic in the 1840s, and which was the subject of his latest bestselling book. His richly illustrated talk conveys the triumph and tragedy of the ship’s short and doomed life, and what it was about it that made him so keen to tell its story.
In the second half, Michael tells his own life story, including how his three favourite subjects at school (Geography, History and Comedy) have shaped his life, from ‘Monty Python’ to ‘Ripping Yarns’ and the many television travel series that have taken him all around the world, from the North Pole to North Korea.
With previously unseen footage and previously untold stories, Michael shows how comedy and adventure have been natural bedfellows during a rich and diverse career.
The tour will be supported by local bookshops and signed copies of his books will be available to buy. Erebus: the Story of a Ship will be published by Arrow in paperback on 30th May, price: £8.99.
UK Tour Dates
7 June, Bournemouth: Pavilion
8 June, Basingstoke: Anvil
9 June, Cambridge: Corn Exchange
20 June, Chesterfield: Winding Wheel
21 June, Milton Keynes: Theatre
22 June, London: Cadogan Hall
27 June, Bradford: Alhambra
28 June, Salford: Lowry – Lyric
4 July, Salisbury: City Hall
5 July, Reading: Hexagon
6 July, Portsmouth: Southsea Kings
7 July, Bath: Theatre Royal
About Michael Palin
Michael Palin has written and starred in numerous TV programmes and films, from Monty Python and Ripping Yarns to The Missionary and The Death of Stalin. He has also made several much-acclaimed travel documentaries taking him to the North and South Poles, the Sahara Desert, the Himalayas, Eastern Europe and Brazil.
His books include accounts of his journeys, novels (Hemingway’s Chair and The Truth) and several volumes of diaries. From 2009 to 2012 he was president of the Royal Geographical Society, and in 2013 he was made a BAFTA fellow.
Michael was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in the 2019 New Year Honours’ List. He lives in North London with his wife Helen.
For more information visit the website at www.themichaelpalin.com
Beatrix Potter Stories
Where is Peter Rabbit?
Griff Rhys Jones
Hop onto your seats and immerse yourself in the magical world of Beatrix Potter. Watch with delight as your favourite stories and most beloved characters are brought to life on the stage in this theatrical spectacular, with beautifully handcrafted puppets, enchanting original songs and a sprinkle of magic.
Look out for the ferocious Mr. McGregor, reach heady heights with Jemima Puddle-Duck, do the laundry with Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and of course, fall in love with the mischievous Peter Rabbit.
Opening at the Theatre Royal Haymarket on 3 April, the London season of Where is Peter Rabbit™? follows the hugely popular runs at the Old Laundry Theatre in Bowness-On-Windermere which premiered in June 2016 and has enthralled audiences and garnered rave reviews ever since.
Prick up your ears to the delectable voices of Olivier Award-winning actor and comedian Griff Rhys Jones and BAFTA Award-winning actor and national treasure Miriam Margolyes. Marvel at the delightful dancing and entrancing set and shake your tail to the 14 joyful songs, with lyrics by one of Britain’s most beloved playwrights, Sir Alan Ayckbourn and music by Steven Edis.
Handed down from generation to generation, these classic stories hold a special place in our hearts, so whether a warm hug of nostalgia, or the perfect introduction to Beatrix Potter’s Tales, this is a truly charming production for the whole family to cherish and enjoy together.
Devised by Roger Glossop, and directed and choreographed by Sheila Carter, this innovative show combines live performance, projection and recording in a thoroughly interactive brand-new magical musical, entirely based on the original Tales by Beatrix Potter.
Griff Rhys Jones says, “The characters and the strange life of animals are so well observed by Beatrix Potter and not just in her beautiful illustrations. I don’t think we cherish things quite as much as we do children’s books, handed down like golden gems; and it’s remarkable to think that these stories are still so loved.”
Miriam Margolyes says, “The characters leap into your heart. There is a directness and a freshness that comes through the text and they will live for all time. It’s a window back into childhood.”
Thomas Merrington, Creative Consultant on behalf of Frederick Warne & Co said “We are so thrilled that this production of Where is Peter Rabbit? will be making it’s West End debut this Easter. Fans of all ages will fall in love with this beautiful production – it really brings the characters to life in the most charming way”.
Theatre Royal Haymarket London
Opening Performance: 3 April 2019, 11:00am
Press Performance: 9 April 2019, 1:00pm
Tickets: From £15
Box Office: 020 7930 8800
To book tickets for the show please visit www.peterrabbitlive.com
Photographs by Steve Finn.