Roger McGough is normally 74 going on 42 on a good day.
Face it, 42 is, according to Deep Thought in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the answer to the great question. Of life, the universe and everything.
McGough is feeling his years weighing with infinite majesty. The poet is post-dentist and those distinctive tones have turned a tad Brando. Scouse Brando, admittedly.
The mumbling’s from a filling. He could do with a restorative cuppa but that would mean dribbling.
I wish I’d looked after my teeth? Sorry, wrong poet. And we know it.
Being 74 still catches him by surprise. “When did THAT happen?” he muses.
“You know how these rumours start. I joked with a journalist about 20 or so years ago that I was 50 not 30 – and it’s stuck.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
This is the man who worked with Macca. The other Macca. Mike McCartney who went under the surname McGear in the old Scaffold band days in order to be judged on his own merits – and not his brother Paul’s. The third member was John Gorman.
Scaffold has cult status today. The original vinyl copies are much sought after. Who could forget (and I’ve tried) Lily the Pink and Thank You Very Much (for the Aintree Iron). Or the Liver Birds theme.
They even provided the catchy theme tunes for the old pre-Decimal campaign.
McGough is arguably the best Poet Laureate we’ve never had. Yet. He’s certainly one of the most accessible poets in Britain today.
So just what brings the elder statesman of poetry to Blackpool’s Grand Theatre on Sunday?
It’s hard to make out his reply. Imagine Brando playing Yozzer and you get my drift.
“It will be all right on the night,” he assures me.
McGough’s The Voice of the Book in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the live version of the original radio show by Douglas Adams.
Intergalactic guides asked him to hitch his star to their production just as he’d finishing punctuating his manuscript for a new poetry book out in August – to be published by Penguin who published the original Mersey Sound (McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten) back in the 60s.
In the brief hiatus, between projects he jumped at the challenge.
He’s more highbrow rather than Scouse brow – having finished the latest in his “McGoughiere” series of Molière plays at the Liverpool Playhouse.
That’s 17th century French drama, intelligent farce rather than slapstick panto, with a McGough twist. It started with Tartuffe. And just continued.
So having made Moliere his metier and metre – how will he cope with Adams’ meteors?
“Hitchhiker is even more nerve-racking than the Moliere was,” McGough admits.
“That’s because so many people know it word for word.
“I mean – you look in the audience and see people with two heads. Or worse.
“But it’s fun, and I’d just completed the manuscript, and finished at the Playhouse and was thinking, God, what do I do now?
“It was panic, panic. Then this. And I thought can I do this, and then, why not?”
McGough is delighted to be back in Blackpool as The Voice – who punctuated action by reading out Hitchhiker’s Guide Entries in a quizzical way. It suits the self-deprecating McGough down to the ground.
“I think I was asked because I’ve got a recognisable voice,” he admits. “I’m not a comic actor.”
Blackpool is home from home, having come here as a kid for the Lights. “The rite of passage visit for all Liverpudlians.” He’s not been here for some time and hopes to check out the Comedy Carpet and other highlights.
The new president of the Poetry Society, and presenter of Radio Four’s Poetry Please is described by Carol Ann Duffy, who IS the Laureate, as “the patron saints of poets.” He may not consider himself a “natural performer” but has been one of the definitive voices of poetry since the 60s. That was when critics thought poetry north of Watford Gap ended with the Lakeland poets of Wordsworth’s day. The Mersey poets proved that was tunnel vision – opening eyes and ears to a uniquely Liverpool sound.
McGough’s gift extends to poetry with pathos as well as comic verse – and he can bring words alive in the reading rather than leave audiences fidgeting. “I much prefer Richard Burton reading Under Milk Wood to Dylan Thomas,” he admits. “I do, however, have lots of very, very long words to learn for Hitchhiker’s.”
It sounds like a gentle hint from a gentle man. As the late Douglas Adams once said: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
n Sunday’s show starts at 7.30pm, tickets from £19, box office 01253 290190.
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