Frank Skinner on coming home to the Midlands

He’s coming home, he’s coming home, he’s coming, Frank is coming home. Native Monster talks to Frank Skinner.

Frank Skinner on coming home to the Midlands

Frank Skinner on stage

Frank Skinner goes all serious.

He’s been happily chatting and laughing away for the past 20 minutes, but this question definitely changes the mood.

“I just don’t know how I feel about that,” he says, pensively. “How would I cope . . . on a moral level . . . having an Arsenal fan for a son?

“But that’s the stage we’re getting to now: Buzz is nearly two and I seriously need to think about this. In the past, I’ve been very vocal about the fact that people should support their hometown team, which would make him an Arsenal fan, but I think I’m going to say ‘You support Albion or no one at all’. I think I would prefer that.

“When my girlfriend was pregnant, I did suggest her having him at Sandwell General but that’s a bit of a long drive from London, ‘Hi there, my girlfriend’s in labour, we’ll see you in two-and-a-half hours’.”

When it comes to Frank and football, nothing, it seems, has changed.

However the rest of his life is markedly different.

He’s no longer the flat-sharing, filthy-minded, Football’s-Coming-Home-chanting lad of the 90s, he’s all grown up and happily settled down with girlfriend, Cath and young son, Buzz, who he couldn’t be more in love with.

“He’s talking now and the other day he did an impression of me doing an impression of Louis Armstrong – I’ve literally never been so proud.

“He’s two in May and the best piece of advice anyone gave us was ‘appreciate everything because the time will fly by’ and it really has so we try to savour everything.

“This tour will have more breaks in it now that I’m a dad, which will be a first for me as I’ve always been quite puritanical about it. My view was: if you’re on the road, you’re on the road.

“The tour’s still three months but I’ll get to go back home more this time. I’m basically doing four days on, three days off so I can have some child-time. And the thing is, I’ll be coming back, not because my girlfriend has ordered it, but simply because I’ll miss him. I realised this the other day when I had an hour-long train journey and just spent the entire time looking at pictures of him on my iPhone. I’ll just miss him in a very old-fashioned way.”

But that’s not to say Frank’s not looking forward to getting back out on the road for the first time in seven years. His Man In A Suit tour will come to Wolverhampton Civic Hall on April 16 and 17 and Birmingham Symphony Hall from April 22-24 following a sold-out run in London.

“I really like touring. I should do it more often,” chuckles the 57-year-old. “I like all the bits that go with touring: the service stations, the hotel rooms, the dressing rooms. I think the comedians who only like the shows should quit touring. For me, it all adds to the showbiz element. I like that feeling when you first open a hotel room and you think ‘Will it be posh? Will it have flowers?’. I know I’ve been in showbiz for a long time but I Iike to be reminded of it.”

Spoken like a true Oldbury man.

Will Frank’s son share his passion for the Baggies?
Will Frank’s son share his passion for the Baggies?

“But I won’t be talking about being a dad on stage,” he adds. “I know a lot of comedians do that but I remember, back when I didn’t have a kid, feeling very alienated when a stand-up would start talking about nappies and the like. I don’t want to fall into that trap. I don’t want to drive people barmy.

“But I’m hoping to bring Buzz up for the Civic and Symphony Hall gigs. Cath will hopefully come to – she’s been to the Albion a few times and she loves the rag market in Birmingham.”

But how is Frank – born Chris Collins and a former Moat Farm, St Hubert’s Catholic and Oldbury Technical student – feeling about coming to Wolverhampton. After all, the Civic is hardly the most welcoming of places for a dyed-in-the-wool Albion fan.

“It’s always a good time. It’s always a bit p***-takey. I get football heckles wherever I go but never with quiet the same malice as when I’m in Wolverhampton,” he laughs. “But we have a good time and put a lot of that on the backburner for the shows.

“At least it’s proper Black Country though and everyone knows what they’re on about – as you know, anyone outside of the Midlands thinks West Brom is in Birmingham.

“Although when I saw the Civic on the list this time around I did think ‘I hope it’s all right this time’ because the last time I was there was for Steve Evans funeral.”

Frank and magician, comedian and Wolverhampton City Council worker Steve were old pals. They met when the former was teaching a comedy night class in Halesowen in the late 1980s. Steve, a husband and father, passed away in January after a battle with cancer. He was 52 and his humour and grace in the face of death touched thousands of people around the country. His funeral, at which Frank was a speaker, took place at the Civic on February 3.

“It all hit me the other day when I went to my son’s little singing group,” explains Frank. “The kids started singing Bring Me Sunshine, which was the song they played at Steve’s funeral and then the next thing I know, I’m crying in this kids’ singing group.

“But Steve wanted it to be happy and full of jokes and I tried to honour that with my speech. It kind of felt like a gig, there were magicians and comedians there. I remember his wife saying ‘Steve was keen for you all to feel all right so feel free to laugh and applaud’. I might have to steal that line for the gig at the Civic, ‘Hi Wolverhampton, please feel free to laugh and applaud’. But yes, it will feel different being on that stage again following the last time I was there.”

It won’t be the only thing that’s different: Frank has, literally, cleaned up his act.

Man In A Suit (the name came about due to the fact he gets a free suit for every TV show he presents) is not, to use his owns words, “endless filth” like his previous stuff.

“The material at the moment is going nicely. Is it cleaner? Well it’s not a sex-free zone but I’m not thinking about women in the constant way I was 20 years ago so it’s not what it once was. There’s more different bits – I should put that on the poster shouldn’t I? ‘Frank Skinner: Man In A Suit, now with more different bits’.”

But does he still get people turning up expecting to hear all about drink, drugs, women and football?

“Well, I’ve never actually drank while I’ve been a comedian. People think I did but it was back in 1985 that I quit drinking. In many ways, I still think I’m that bloke but people do change and stand-up is all about talking about things you find interesting at the time and people can spot a phony a mile off – especially in places like Wolverhampton. You have to be yourself. I could turn up as the old me and do all this laddy stuff but people would know if it was real or not. And, don’t forget, the audience have grown up too. I don’t want there to be a massive gap between the person on stage and the real me, I don’t want to get further and further away from that.

“During my last tour, I did the NIA, with the big screens and everything, and to be honest I didn’t have the best time. It lacked intimacy I think, It was too big so I’m looking forward to this so I can be closer to people.”

Serious stuff, then. Does he worry all this self-evaluation and talk of intimacy and introspection will lead people to think Frank’s “gone all London”?

“I do ponder that,” he says. “But then isn’t that just a stereotype? That you can’t have this accent and talk about clever things?

A league of their own – with fellow comedian David Baddiel
A league of their own – with fellow comedian David Baddiel

“I used to do interviews and I’d talk about going to uni and more in-depth stuff and they would always cut that out. I’ve always been fighting against that – the stuff that didn’t fit in with the ‘laddy’ image. But basically I rub their noses in it now. If I’m in a situation where they’re clearly judging me on my accent, I show off, I go over-clever!

“But it is getting better. Twenty years ago, everyone thought Birmingham was a s***hole and the people were idiots and that has changed. Although, you still get some laying it on a bit thick. Like that ‘Anything for yow, cupcake’ advert. I don’t think they chose him because he sounds like a genius.

“But, on the whole, people aren’t anti-Birmingham. And when I say Birmingham, I mean Black Country too because no one – especially in London – knows the difference.”

So Frank’s conquered touring, telly, radio, writing and even the music charts and managed to maintain a successful career in the public eye for more than two decades. Quite simply, how has he done it?

“It’s all down to being a natural show-off.

“I’ve always been a show-off: at school, at home, everywhere. I used to turn the telly off and stand there with my little plastic guitar singing songs. There are regular stories in my family about that.

“So a lot of it is about showing off but I also like opening up. You know it wasn’t always like this. As a lad growing up in Oldbury in the 70s, there wasn’t people I could talk to about my life, my emotions, my fears and doubts. It would have been like that for a lot of people back then.

“But then I met a comedian from LA who did therapy and he was so honest I found it it very exciting. So I started to open up too. My dad always said ‘You’re as deep as the ocean you are’ but I don’t really think that’s the case, I just hate small-talk and would rather have a big conversation and challenge someone than talk about the weather.

“Mainly though, I’m just a clown showing off.”

By Elizabeth Joyce

Frank Skinner, Man In A Suit comes to Wolverhampton Civic on April 16 and 17 and Birmingham Symphony Hall on April 22, 23, 24. Visit www.frankskinnerlive.com for tickets.

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