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From East End Girl to West End Girl

An intimate interview with Carol Harrison, Actress, writer and producer by Andy Hill August 2019

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Our newest contributor to the Suit Yourself stable is none other than Chills and Fever head Honcho, top DJ and all round nice fella ANDY HILL. Andy will be interviewing a host of stars over the next few months exclusively for the Suit Yourself website. In this, his debut interview he kicks off with an interview with the legendary actress and producer Carol Harrison, yes that’s right, the Carol Harrison from the Small Faces inspired All Or Nothing musical.

Since the musical ended in 2018, the company have been inundated with requests to bring the production back! As a consequence, Carol, conceived the All Or Nothing Experience happening in Brighton on Friday 23rd August, which gives a flavour of the original stage show while being a concert version. The incredibly talented cast of Actor/Musician’s tell the story of the Small Faces with humour and timeless songs. Does it matter if you don’t know the Small Faces? Not a bit, the evergreen qualities of performance evoke, even demand, audience participation, dancing, singing, and having a great night out and a feel-good smile on your face!

So with no further ado we hand you over to Andy and Carol for this fantastic interview and some very exciting breaking news……..

Hi Carol, Andy here, what part of London’s East End did you grow up?

Hi Andy, I grew up in Upton Park, London E13. Not far from West Ham Football ground. But later in life, I moved to Victoria Park, Hackney and this is where my son Alfie was born.

Where did you shop for clothes?

In the 60s I shopped for clothes in C&A, Martin Ford, Chelsea Girl and shoes were Anello & David. Being poor meant I couldn’t afford very much, so we had to be inventive. In the 70s when I got a bit more money, I would buy Biba and Ossie Clarke and Terry De Havilland shoes.

Where did you get your hair cut?

I got my hair cut at the local hairdresser where I did my Saturday job, it was short, a cross between Mia Farrow and Julie Driscoll.

How fast was fashion and music changing? What inspired you into the Modernist movement and why?

Fashion and music were always changing every week, luckily my mum was tailoress and could make me my clothes, I would cut out pictures of Twiggy in an outfit and she would make it. She also crocheted me a dress and fabulous suit from the Twiggy pattern, I searched the internet to find the exact same one for the Jenny character in All or Nothing, every time I watched that scene, the memories came flooding back. Anything big like a winter coat had to be bought on ‘tic’. The Provident Cheque man would come around every week to collect his money, the problem was the shops I liked the clothes did not take ‘provie cheques’ so I was usually disappointed!

Every Saturday, I would run to the record shop to buy the latest releases, and sometimes you’d have to wait six weeks for an American RnB imports. The music, the style and the making a statement of being working class, and creating our very own culture. Being a mod made you feel special, part of a crowd but with your own identity. Getting lost in your own world, dancing to Soul and Ska made you feel free, even though it was very far from the reality.

What can you remember about the clubs, the people, the dancing, music, smells etc?

In the 60s? I was a bit young to get into some of the iconic clubs like the Scene and Flamingo, I also had an incredibly strict mother. We went more to dance halls, pubs and youth clubs. Like the Ruskins Arms, Plough n Harrow in Leytonstone, Tottenham Royal, Surrey Rooms and Roundhouse. I did get to the Marquee and the UFO in the psychedelic days. I made up for lost time it in the 70s, and got to go to most of the haunts including the Bag O Nails.

My most remembered smell, was the food stalls in Queens Road market Upton Park, it was so vibrant and multi-cultural. The East End has always been a melting pot with all us locals being immigrants of some kind, Irish, Jewish, Caribbean and later Asian. All’s creeds and colours together.

Where did you learn to dance? What bands can you remember seeing and where? Who did you hang out with?

Like any young girl, in my bedroom in front of the mirror. I’d learn stuff from watching Ready. Steady, Go and take it to the dance floor at the youth club. I saw the Stones in the Park in 1979. My biggest regret was not seeing Otis Reading when he played the Uppercut Club in Forest Gate. Even though I’ve met and seen the rest of the Beatles, sadly never got to see or meet my biggest idol, John Lennon.

Come 1970, I hitched to the Isle of Wight Festival and saw Jimi Hendrix just weeks before he died. Through the 70s I saw countless bands The Who, Joe Cockers, Van Morrison, Humble Pie, The Faces, Rod Stewart.

I used to hang out with my best friend Susan, but then she started going out with a guy from school who was two years above us called David. Not long after that I started going steady with his friend Ronnie, then we were a foursome.

Did you have a scooter? What was your first car? What was the first record you bought?

I had a blue Hillman Minx at 16, then a little red Mini. My first record was My Boy Lollipop by Millie.

Tell us about the Go Go dancing……

Ha ha, I’d love to tell you I am another Sandy (Sargent) but sadly not! There was club in Ilford called the El Grotto that had go-go dances in cages above the dance floor. I thought it was so glamourous. I took myself to audition (my mum would’ve murdered me if she had found out) and I got offered a job,

even though I was well underage. I was really proud of myself but my boyfriend Ronnie wasn’t impressed and in reality there was no way I could’ve done it, as I wouldn’t have been able to stay out till 12am when the club closed late. There goes my go-go dancing career, killed stone dead!

What was your first break in show business? Was it easy and how did you feel?

I went to youth theatre from 12 years old and got a place at The Guild Hall School of Music and Drama, when I was 16. However, I left home instead, I was lucky enough to get my first break in show business at 18, when I was offered a job with a progressive socialist theatre company. We wrote and performed our own scripts and took new plays to audiences rather than expecting them to come to the theatre. I worked really hard and was paid £10 a week and I loved it.

Any advise for young people setting out today on a route on show business?

Follow your dreams, work hard and always be professional. You must be really passionate about wanting to act, as its no easy ride.

Can you tell us about your achievements since those early day? What inspired you to do the All Or Nothing musical?

My achievements, getting through the difficult times in my life and coming out the other side and making a living for over 45 years doing the job I love. The biggest achievement of all for me, is having my wonderful son Alfie.

I started to think about writing a play that conjured up some of the feeling of that special era, the 60’s. The excitement, the fashion, the radical ideas, the music and of course the style. The Small Faces epitomised much of this for me - they were an iconic Mod band and one of the most influential yet underrated bands of the 60’s - they were also east enders like me and brought some of the colourful Cockney language into their music, which we also celebrate in All Or Nothing.

Can you tell us a bit about The Grand Mod Experience at The Grand Hotel - Brighton

2013 saw the first inclination for All Or Nothing, performed on Brighton Beach, six years later it is time to reflect on how far we have come – from the beach to the Grand. That’s a long way! The Grand Mod Experience is a celebration of all things Mod and a wonderful opportunity to give something back to Brighton by helping raise money for our marvellous charity The Martletts Hospice.

What new projects do you have lined up? Is life better now or then?

Well, I am also absolutely thrilled and delighted to be playing the part of Chrissie Martin in a brilliant new play ‘Thunder Girls’ written by the fantastically talented Melanie Blake which opens at the Lowry Theatre on September 24th 2019. It is going to be fabulous!!, Of course in many way’s life is better now, in the sense that its easier, yet I am been so grateful to being born when I was as I got to experience the 60s. We had great optimism then we wanted to changed the world and in many respects we did.

How has Modernism had an effect on your life?

It’s given me a true sense of identity and confidence in my own style. It’s given me the most wonderful, joyful of times and the most amazing music. Now in my 60’s, I am still living the Mod dream, dancing the night away to music of my youth. After all .... once a Mod ... always a Mod!!!

So, what does the future hold for All Or Nothing?, Andy lifts the lid on some very special exclusive news…….

Carol will be working with the renowned documentary makers Studios Scott Millaney and Brian Grant of MGMM. On a documentary for SKY tv covering the All or Nothing story of the Small Faces and the decade that defined the generation.

The other exciting news which we can reveal, is that All Or Nothing has been commissioned as a feature film for which Carol is currently writing the screenplay. So, fingers crossed, All Or Nothing the Movie will be showing in your local cinema before very long....


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