Acclaimed UK comedian, actor, writer, TV presenter, radio host and all-round Renaissance man Lenny Henry returns to his roots with a funky, funny and personal one man show, Cradle to Rave, about the thing he loves most: music.
Cradle to Rave is Henry's most personal show yet, offering a hilarious and touching insight into a man to whom music matters a little too much. From growing up thinking Elvis was a relative as there were so many pictures of him in the house, to missing a cue during his theatrical debut as Othello because he was listening to hip hop, Cradle to Rave sets Henry's family, first loves and fame against a musical backdrop -- a comic cabaret voyage through his life told via its eclectic soundtrack.
Directed by the critically acclaimed UK theatre director Sam Buntrock, Cradle to Rave is Henry's musical journey from fan boy to the greatest singer the UK never had.
"A charismatic comic at his best" The Guardian
Suitable for ages 12 and up
Phil Brown spoke to Lenny Henry. Read the full interview with Lenny Henry in the Brisbane News on 6 June.[PDF 304KB]
Cradle to Rave sets Henry's family, first loves and fame against a musical backdrop - a comic cabaret voyage through his life told via its eclectic soundtrack. 3008Docklands spoke to Lenny about his upcoming Australian tour.
What can Australian audiences expect in your upcoming show Cradle To Rave?
The show is basically the story of my life told through music. I have had a parallel life in the past 30 plus years as the first thing I ever did on stage was not tell jokes or do impressions but actually doing an impersonation of Elvis Presley. I sang Jail House Rock for some surprised kids at a disco and that has lived with me my whole life. I started with jokes and impressions rather than doing Elvis and I realised that I loved music as a burning core in my soul and it has just always been that way, every time I do a comedy show I always include an impersonation of a singer and take the piss out of pop music, soul music or rock music because I just love it.
I think what the audience will get out of the show is my love of music, hopefully they will go home and buy some more records and maybe they'll say that Lenny also knows how to give us a good time out doing something that isn't his usual comedy show. This show is personal, it's about me, It's about music and the audience will be clapping their hands and having a great time while hearing about my life story through music. My show is about R&B, pop and rock and I am really proud of it.
You have been so successful in your career across a wide scope of creative disciplines as a comedian, radio host, TV presenter, writer, Shakespearian actor, as well as an activist, and yet your one true love is music. What held you back from pursuing music as your career?
There was a period in the 1980's where people kept saying that I had a great singing voice and I should make a record and at the time I was doing demos for people like Simon Cowell at BMG and Chris Blackwell at Island Records and hanging out with all these musicians - which for some reason comedians always seem to do, and then came a moment where I had to make a decision about whether I wanted to be a musician or a comedian.
I went to see Trevor Horn who produced Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Seal and people like that and he listened to my demo and said 'look, you have a pretty decent voice but if you are going to do this you are going to have to give up everything else, you will have to devote your life to music and do you really want to do that?" I had to make a hard decision because comedy had been my bread and butter; it had paid for my Mum's house! So I thought I better stick to the comedy and that was it, it was a big moment in my life and a little sad, but actually I have had such a wonderful career and I have been able to impersonate just about every black pop star and take the piss out of them, so I guess I have had the musical involvement in my career anyway.
This show has obviously been a 'work in progress' throughout your life, why did you decide to embark on doing the show now?
I think because this is the most personal show I have ever done, comedians that do confessional material where they lay themselves bare I really admire, but I have never been that type of comedian. I have always talked about my family and friends on stage but not to the extent that I was revealing secrets or real truths about them or my life but with this show I felt ready to let go.
I think as teenagers we all choose our music tribe whether we like rock music, classical or pop etc, but my tribe was quite eclectic growing up made up of many tribes. I was a black kid who grew up in a predominantly white society and my mother told me at one point that I had to integrate if I wanted to fit in, otherwise I would always be a black kid that just stayed within black circles.
I made friends with white kids and they were listening to groups like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and the Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, Simon & Garfunkel and Dylan and so on, so I had quite a varied musical input from an early age, so I hope that audiences will also see that I have quite an interesting life and upbringing from the beginning.
Is it true you grew up thinking Elvis was a relative due to all the pictures in your parent's home?
It's true, I thought he was a distant cousin; he was in pictures everywhere! Elvis was like a God in our house.
I believe you missed your cue during your theatrical debut as Othello listening to hip hop, what type of music soothes Lenny Henry's Soul?
It could really be anything, but there is one particular album from Bootsy Collins called Ahh...The Name is Bootsy, Baby! he has a funky side on that album and also a meditative side and that album seems to have been a constant backing track to my life. The other album I love is Brian Eno's Discreet Music and everything in between from The Beatles to the Stones, Reggae, Simon & Garfunkel, dance music, Quincy Jones, Prince, Michael Jackson but as I get older and I am now learning the piano, there is a lot classical music creeping in there too.
As a one man show presenting a personal backdrop of your life, obviously with almost 40 years in the industry you are a seasoned professional but I assume this takes a fair bit of physical and mental stamina, how do you condition yourself to perform night after night?
I go to the gym every day, I do Alexander Technique classes, yoga and meditation and I practice my material. A lot of rehearsal goes into every single show. I practice the piano for two hours each day and I write out the show all the time. I am very diligent, I have been doing this for 36 years and I have a method that I follow.
Lenny, is Cradle to Rave secretly the lead up to your Greatest Hits album release?
(Laughs) No, I think everything I have done from the singing, standup comedy, acting and the wanting to be Elvis Presley has all led me to be doing this show. In show business you use everything you've got and this show is going to Rock!!