I was surprised and delighted to be invited to take part in the eight
Wednesday evening shows at Clacton-on-Sea’s West Cliff Theatre
in the Summer of 2004. It seemed like the fulfilment of a long-held
ambition, and although it meant a lot of driving with a round trip in
excess of 250 miles each week, it was something I really wanted to do
and could look forward to. Joan Regan had star billing, followed by
trumpeter Joan Hinde, the Don Shearman Trio, and comedian Ken Joy
(who replaced the indisposed Steve Barclay) and myself..
Mike: “What particular attributes had made Russ such an effective
accompanist for a singer” ?
Joan: “When Russ played for me he was Trevor Stanford.
He hadn’t become Russ Conway. He was working at that time for the music
publishers and I needed an accompanist. I went in and met him and saw this
very, very handsome young fellow, and I thought, my gosh - all this,
and he can play.! He just sat at the piano and he played, and I sang something.
A lot of his playing at that time was (based on) feel. He didn’t read the music
so much as felt the music”.
“When somebody feels music, they can give it something extra that they have, and that’s how
I feel about him. Somehow, he and I completely gelled musically. He took all my music away and then we came back
and rehearsed. And it was fantastic. It all seemed like different music, because suddenly he’s anticipating what I’m
doing and he’s there whenever I need him. This is the art of a great accompanist, you know - they feel for you.
We travelled a lot, got to know each other very well, and we gelled as two people”.
Joan went on to say that when she and Russ were working on new songs, suddenly he would anticipate exactly what she
wanted to do with them. “We just were so right together. However, there was a time when he was getting despondent
and thinking of going back in the merchant navy”. Joan told him “You’re crazy, because it’s just gonna have to happen
to you.” Joan pointed out, he looked so great, he had so much talent, and he had that shy quality. When he played for
Joan, he had actually wanted to stay in the pit and play there. “I said, you can’t with my act, you know. You have to
come on the stage with the piano.” But Russ insisted that he couldn’t go on the stage with the piano, that he’d prefer to
play in the pit, and in any case, he didn’t have a dress suit “Well, that can easily be remedied.” replied Joan.
“So he did come on the stage in the end” .
Joan referred again to “that lovely shy quality”. When they worked together, having got to know each other so well.
Russ laughed a lot, and it made him much more comfortable being on the stage as long as Joan was there to have a bit of
fun with. He’d played a lot on the ship, but suddenly, being one of two people up there on the stage was a different
matter. However, it stood him in good stead.
“ He was very instrumental in me getting back to singing. At one time I didn’t remember who Russ Conway was when
I was recovering, but he was always in touch with what happened. When I did come back, he actually billed me in
Eastbourne on his last summer show as a surprise guest and he asked me how I thought about it.” He told Joan that he
hadn’t put her name up on the bill because if she were to feel threatened, he could always get somebody else in.
“But then when he told the audience it was me - I’d had a lot of publicity because of the injury - the audience actually
stood up when he announced me. When I looked in the wings at Russ, the tears were streaming down his face. And that
really says it all. With that I went on and did the show. And of course in no time at all we were doing shows together.”
Mike: “Finally Joan, do you have any message for fans and the members of The Russ Conway Appreciation Society ?”
Joan: “ Russ has always been a great friend of mine apart from being an artiste, a personality and talented. So, because
we’d worked together before he was ever Russ Conway we were good friends. He always said to me that I was the
Sister he never had, and that’s been our relationship all through”. He said, “ I would love to have had a sister, but I tell
you something Joan, if I had one I’d like one just like you. With that in view, thats how I sing the love song he wrote
“Love Like Ours” and that rather says it all really. He was a wonderful man: good fun, very funny sometimes, he was
quite witty and equally very sensitive - very very sensitive - and he had that lovely shy quality which all the mums and
everybody loved. He just had to smile and that was it. He was a natural reallly. He made it look so easy, but he worked
hard for it. I’m delighted that when I mention Russ Conway on stage, you get the round of applause, because these
people are all Russ Fans”.
© Mike Thomson 2004