John Shuttleworth: Out Of Our Sheds

The Argus: John Shuttleworth John Shuttleworth

What sets John Shuttleworth aside from other versatile singer-songwriters is the fact he cares about his appearance even when he is just doing a phone interview.

Indeed he misses The Guide’s first phone call ahead of his opening show in Lincoln’s Broadbent Theatre (owned by Jim’s parents) because he is busy wiping white toothpaste residue from the side of his mouth.

It is this attention to detail, this examination of the minutiae of life, which has made Shuttleworth such a cult success across the country, even reaching the dizzy heights of number 96 on the charts in 2007 with his single Can’t Go Back To Savory Now.

This latest tour sees him unveil a whole raft of new songs, while at the same time wrestling with the knotty problem of seeing if his neighbour and sole agent Ken Worthington will sell him a new workspace.

“My wife Mary wants me to be in the shed to play my organ but I don’t like it – I want to be back in the lounge,” he explains. “A good compromise might be to have Ken’s posh Hansel and Gretel chalet because it’s got proper glazing, and a little rug in it. It would be lovely.”

Among the new songs are a paen to Vince Hill, who had a number two hit with Edelweiss in the mid-1960s, a day in the life of Alfie Boe, “You know that lad who sings opera – his voice is too high, I don’t like it, but I do like his beard, it’s quite luxurious”, and a celebration of midweek.

“People go on about the weekend – here comes the weekend it’s fantastic, you know – and I disagree,” he says.

“I think the weekend is miserable. I look forward to midweek. The song covers all the exciting things you can do – you can renew your books at the library, it’s two meals for one at the carvery. There’s a lot going on midweek.”

For many retired people midweek is their weekend – does Shuttleworth worry about getting old or is he maturing like a fine wine?

“I don’t know fine wines but I love Blue Nun,” he says. “I prefer not wine, but something like a mature, perhaps out of date, jar of Horlicks. Sometimes it can be caked over but if you break that crusty exterior sometimes the powder underneath is lovely. It still makes a fine drink with extra creaminess.

“I’m barely 60 and no spring chicken – time’s running out for me – but I don’t care. You know Macca’s 70.”

Shuttleworth probably couldn’t manage the intensive tours, radio shows and occasional film projects without the support of an impressive team behind him – and central to that organisation is Ken Worthington, who he first met back in the early-1980s.

“It started badly,” says Shuttleworth after struggling manfully with the word ignominiously. “When he moved in I recognised him from off New Faces, but that’s by-the-by. “He wanted to borrow some Polyfilla and I presumed it was an interior job, because that’s all we had in those days, interior Polyfilla.

“Imagine my surprise when I saw him outside near his gates where the bin used to be filling a big hole with the Polyfilla. I could have stormed out in a rage saying, ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ Because he’s misusing the product.

“But I didn’t, I kept calm and said ‘Excuse me, what do you think you’re doing?’ with no expletives, and we haven’t looked back since.”

Another important part of the team is John’s wife Mary, as immortalised in several of his songs.

“Mary is fine – thank you for asking – but I won’t pass on your good wishes as she might wonder who the hell you are,” says Shuttleworth. “Not being funny but we don’t need to know strangers.

“Mary’s a lot of fun though. When the Olympic torch came to Sheffield, Mary had an orange afro and was punching the air a little bit, and Joan Chitty had a purple afro and was punching the air a lot.

“I was supposed to go as well with a green afro but inadvertently I forgot and went to the local tip with my trailer. I forgot about the green afro, but I remembered the green waste.

“I had a lovely time because nobody was there – everybody was looking at the torch. I was all on my own talking to the man.

“I saw a bit of copper wiring on the floor that had fallen out and said, ‘Can I have that?’ He said, ‘Well I’m not supposed to, but I’m turning a blind eye’. I put that in me car coat, so who’s laughing now?”

He admits he wouldn’t want to leave Sheffield – it’s too close to the Peak District, home to the Blue John Caverns in Castleton.

And as for bohemian Brighton...

“I don’t like that word bohemian, it makes me a little nervous,” he says. “It’s to do with drugs isn’t it, and I don’t partake.

“I did once write a song called Voodoo Lady, which had a drug inspired lyric. Despite working with disadvantaged youngsters I don’t have access to drugs. On Ken’s advice I bought some Hofmeister lager, and had three, and gave him one. It gave me a heightened awareness, so I was able to write the song with no risk of dirty needles or HIV.

“I wouldn’t live in Brighton because on the pier you have that wooden flooring, and if you look down you can see the sea and foaming waves. It gives me vertigo and puts me off my fish and chips.”

  • Theatre Royal Brighton, New Road, Tuesday, November 20. Starts 7.30pm, tickets £17. Call 0844 8717650

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