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Moving forward in a different direction
She’s played a cat and a nun, a gay mum and a sexpot hairdresser; now Denise Black is reinventing herself as a pop star. Well, why not?
She’s a big believer in trying everything once. She’s just come back from 15 months touring the first stage adaptation of Sister Act.
“I was a terrible snob about musicals before I did this and I loved every minute of it. All the preconceptions I had? Completely wrong!”
This latest plan was hatched several years ago in the green room of Chichester Festival Theatre, when the actress was appearing in a production of Aristo and living on a boat (The Lovely Doreen) moored at East Head in Chichester Harbour.
She and fellow cast member Graeme Taylor were having a lovely time playing bouzouki and singing Greek folk songs when, over a bottle of red wine on the boat one night, she realised she was in the presence of a “rock god”.
The result is The Loose Screw, a four-piece band who have been described to Black’s bemusement as “Victoria Wood meets The Beautiful South”.
Black has some history in this department; although best known as an actress (notably as Ken Barlow’s extra-marital paramour Denise Osbourne in Coronation Street) the 54-year-old has been singing and making music for almost as long as she’s been acting, forming her first jazz group with Comedy Store comedian Josie Lawrence and actress Kate McKenzie back in the 1980s.
Her husband Paul Sand, who she married in 1992 and with whom she lives in Freshfield Road, Brighton, is a composer and vocal coach.
“He was the one who got me into all this really. I met him just as I was heading off on my first world tour with the Actors Touring Company and he turned my life around.
“He was a prolific songwriter and gave me a letter to open for every day I was on tour full of his lyrics and stuff he liked by great playwrights, novelists and poets.”
She had originally hoped to pursue both theatre and music but, as ever, life got in the way and with two young children to support, she decided to plump for the more reliable pay cheque and regular hours of soap acting.
It didn’t quite work out like that. “My son Sam said the other day that I was a great advert for an exciting life but a crap advert for a stable one.” But still, music remained on the sidelines.
Now Sam is 24 and their daughter Dandy is 21. “It’s my time again. I thought, hang on, this is my life and it’s flashing by, what do I love?
“I wanted to work out what I’d say if I didn’t have a script so I started writing poems quite feverishly and the songs grew from that.”
By their own admittance, The Loose Screw are not the most rock ’n’ roll of outfits – “Our rider’s not as expensive as it would have been 30 years ago: ‘What do you want?’ ‘Do you have tea? Great!’”– but it’s obvious Black is having a ball.
Much of their debut album was recorded while she was touring with Sister Act, when she would squeeze in time to Skype with her bandmates and different tracks would be pinged back and forth on email.
“The internet’s a wonderful thing isn’t it? I’m a complete technology junkie. But if I think how much it’s all changed in my lifetime I feel like my great-grandmother who made it to 106.”
Black loves being part of a band – she thinks all actors are drawn to the profession though, feeling like misfits “elsewhere on the planet”, and she adored Coronation Street for the camaraderie amongst the cast.
“It becomes a way of life. It’s incredibly intense. I used to have to learn 14 pages a day which would be filmed in four hours. You can’t overestimate how tricky that job is.”
But she did get to star with Bill Roache, aka Ken Barlow, one of the soap’s most enduring characters.
“I never thought when I was a little girl in Portsmouth, I’d one day end up having Ken Barlow’s love child!” she guffaws.
Roache, by his own making, enjoys a reputation as a ladies’ man and Black is quick to back that up.
“Look at him! He’s a heart-slayer! He’s a very kind man too, he was unbelievably nice to me. He really concentrated and upped his game and I felt a genuine chemistry working with him.”
Although Ken inevitably returned to Deirdre – “They’re soap royalty; they’re the Charles and Camilla of TV! They were always going to get back together.” – Black has said she would love to return to Corrie someday.
It’s the thing she’s still most recognised for. “Well, either that or people thinking I’m Stephanie Beecham, which is terribly flattering.”
But she’s most proud of her role as gay mum Hazel in Russell T Davies’ groundbreaking Channel 4 mini-series Queer As Folk, which followed the lives and loves of a group of gay men in Manchester.
She’d known Davies when he was a script editor on Coronation Street and he eventually wrote the part around her.
“Some of her lines were things he’d overheard me saying. I have my flaky side too!”
While originally from Portsmouth, Black and her family were based in the North for many years but eventually made the decision to move back down South, where her children had been born.
“I’ve led a very gypsy life. I don’t really have any roots but I won’t be leaving Brighton. Whenever I get off the train I feel so lucky to live here and up in Freshfield Road it’s all light and height.”
It’s a bit of a nightmare walking home from town with the shopping though, I say.
“Sweetheart, I’ve got a fold-up bike! It’s great in the morning, you set off down the hill and you don’t even have to touch the pedal until you get to the bottom. Coming back though? That’s out of the question!”
The Freewheelin’ Denise Black? We’ll just have to wait and see.
- Denise Black’s Loose Screw is at the Latest Music Bar on November 15. For tickets, visit www.thelatest.co.uk