Lionel Vinyl loves………Blackpool. So does Norry (Sunday name Norman) Ascroft.
Check them out online and Lionel is an Afro haired, dayglo suited entertainer and disc jockey whereas Norry is an Independent Professional Training and Coaching Professional.
They are, of course, the same person. By day boosting confidences and self-esteem. By night pumping out retro music and bringing on back the good times.
It’s a dual personality worthy of Clark Kent and Superman except Norry hails from Glasgow not Krypton and Lionel was created right in the heart of Blackpool not some galaxy far, far away.
Norry’s family moved here when he was seven – he’s 44 now –and bought a guest house.
He fancied himself as a footballer until his body outgrew his knees in his teens, had a dabble on the drums care of friend and neighbour Jim Sweeney and ended up with a plumbing apprenticeship.
Everyone who comes to Blackpool should get an experience they remember
But even then he had a double life. By 14 he was glass collecting at the Trades Club, meeting a cross section of customers and mixing with clubland entertainers.
His first spell behind the turntables was when working behind the bar at the Red Lion (now Yates South Shore) when he and the DJ swapped roles for 10 minutes.
“He couldn’t pour pints and I couldn’t work the equipment but I carried it off and his boss was impressed enough to give me some training,” says Norry.
His first proper DJ jobs were through an agency as a mobile.
“But everyone wanted to be in bars and clubs because that’s where the recognition was,” he says. “If you had a residency somewhere the perception was that you were a proper DJ rather than ‘just’ a mobile DJ doing parties and functions.
“I don’t know who came up with that – it was just an ego thing, there wasn’t that much difference in money, it just sounded great and like everyone else, I wanted to be seen.”
When one of the managers from Apple Annie’s in the Winter Gardens moved to O’Malley’s (now the Che Bar) in the former Clifton Hotel Norry decided to take destiny into his own hands,
“They just had a juke box whereas everywhere nearby had a DJ,” he says. “I’d started reading Personal Development books and thought I’d just go in and see him. I said why not put me in, I made a DJ box myself, took my own turntables and speakers and that’s how I started. It was raw, fun, I had a lot of learning to do, but in those days you had four to five brilliant nights every week and even the two quiet nights were actually OK by today’s standards.
“But people socialised more, they had more nights out then. There was a fear you’d miss out on something. It was human nature. It was how you connected with people, how you met who you’d met last week.
“Today everybody knows exactly where you are through Facebook and social media. There’s no unknown any more.
“There’s still things like Monday Madness but that fear of not being let in because somewhere was full or you were too late has gone.”
So when and how did Lionel Vinyl raise his Afroed head?
One of Norry’s residencies was at First Leisure’s flagship nightclub The Palace (now Sands Venue).
“It was every DJ’s goal to work there and there was a big 1970s revival on. I’d done a Dr Feelgood and a Father Norry Sunday priest – all tongue in cheek, I enjoyed being a character, it gives you a licence to push things a bit further without it being personal
“We had some dancers and entertainers from Manchester and ourselves. I was just going to be a cheesy DJ and because it rhymed with Vinyl we used Lionel, a good 70s name but a background character at the time, with a high pitched voice.”
He admits the original Lionel wasn’t original (“everything is copies”) but he was a work in progress. The deeper voice came after a hungover spoof call to a Rock FM presenter while working on the station’sThundertruck – pretending to be calling from New York.
“I got called in to see the boss and the next I knew I was on Red Rose with the instruction that listeners had to believe the character was real. It worked until I began to get phone calls from people who had lived in New York asking where I’d lived.”
He wasn’t thrilled about the con but loved the character and the music. So did his growing fan base, especially when Lionel surfaced at Yates’ in Blackpool.
“I saw the response – especially from the guys. They weren’t thinking, ‘who’s that idiot?’, they were joining in the catch-phrases. I thought ‘I’ve got something here, I might get a season out of it.’”
That was 18 years ago.
Wanting to inject more fun into Lionel he jumped ship to Radio Wave having already mentored several of its presenters on the live scene.
“Radio Wave wanted to do it the fun way because as a station it knew more about what Blackpool is associated with,” he says. “It’s never been about the money, it’s about what I could do with the character.”
But has it always been about success?
“Yes. I’ve always been interested in success, always liked success, I was always curious as a teenager – I used to ask people how they got things like big cars and they’d tell me: work hard. There’s only 24 hours a day but it’s the value you put on them. I knew as a glass collector I could earn so much money an hour and as a plumber I could have earned so much more an hour.
“I had an option to become a doorman which sounded cool because girls like them, but now and again there’s fighting involved which didn’t appeal. I’m not a toughie. Then I noticed DJs, they got even more money, they got more girls and they didn’t have to fight. That looked a better option but in terms of market value who is more important? No glass collectors means no one gets served.”
As for the personal development side of his interests in his early 20s he had a book recommended.
“A business guy said he’d lend me it or I could buy it. I said I didn’t read books. He said just try 15 minutes a day, and he’d be back in a couple of weeks - but don’t read chapter three.”
Needless to say it was the first one he did read.
“It was all to do with confidence and stuff. Then I read the whole book, I couldn’t put it down, I’ve still got a copy of it. It was me, until then I’d thought everyone else had themselves together except me.”
It gave him the confidence to ask about O’Malleys.
“It taught me to understand if I didn’t ask I wouldn’t get, but I’d be no worse off, it’s not personal.”
It’s something he brings to his motivational visits to schools.
“I show them the con of bullying, it’s a human behaviour weakness and it’s much easier to educate children than to fix grown adults,” he says. “Most of our problems have been developed over a period of time, it comes down to self-esteem. There’s a lack of that in high schools and in Blackpool it’s quite bad because of it being such a transient town. It’s bringing in people who’ve got problems elsewhere and think that Blackpool is going to fix them.
“When I go into the high schools I see a lot of positives, the majority have got it together, but none of them are reaching their true potential and what’s holding them back is themselves. When children come up from junior school their self-esteem drops dramatically, more in boys than girls. There’s a lot of cocky lads but underneath you know they’re protecting themselves from low self-esteem.”
He doesn’t charge for his school visits – “Lionel subsidises them” – and would like to do more if time allowed but with adult clients, two identities and family commitments there isn’t the chance.
His passion for boosting young self-esteem came after being moved to tears by reading about teenage suicides.
“It hit a chord with me. I like helping adults but wondered why more people weren’t doing it with youngsters.
“I’m the most positive person you will meet but I’m also realistic. Bullying is a human behaviour weakness and even if I share my information with everyone in Blackpool – which is my goal – and get them to repeat it like the times table you will still get people who will be bullies because it’s easy, you don’t need any qualifications, you don’t have to work at it, it requires no growth, or self-esteem, it’s a weakness.”
Back to Lionel.
“He’s just a character. I talk about him in the third person. If someone books him for a gig it’s great, if they don’t I don’t take it personally.”
Does he ever get his two selves confused?
“No. I interviewed myself on radio once, there was no confusion. It’s an act, Lionel isn’t real. The ego goes with him not Norry.”
And insults about Blackpoool?
“I don’t take them personally either. So much of my work has been away from here and when people ask where I’m from I’m proud to say Blackpool. I love Blackpool because I grew up here, I enjoyed it in its heyday, running cases from Lonsdale coach station, the people were great, bustling bars and night clubs it was brilliant. And it still has so much to offer.
“Yes it’s got its bad side but so has everywhere else. Every place I’ve travelled to has a bad side but it’s what you look at that’s important. You don’t look at the sewers in Venice you look at the architecture and canals. It should be like that in Blackpool.
“Programmes like 999 Emergency are a con. They’re entertainment not documentaries. They get more viewers with negative stories. It’s human behaviour again – people think by comparison their life’s not that bad after all.
“Some people love it and come back year after year, others have their own opinion based on their model of the world. I live in Blackpool, I’ve had a great time here - but if they don’t like the place I’m not going to get upset by it, I’m not going to waste time trying to convince them because, guess what, they will become defensive and stick with their view to the hilt.
“Blackpool’s history has been amazing - everyone came on holiday here and it was cool, then they started going to Spain, conferences came and it was cool, but then cities became cooler, it was perception again like mobile and club DJs.
“So do we go out and try and convince other parts of the UK that Blackpool is cool, or do we go with our strengths and look at the positives we’ve got and build on that? There are a lot of great people who love Blackpool and they are its greatest strength. A lot who knock it only look at the negative side but whatever you focus on then that’s what you attract . You are not going to get everything right but it starts with us. Create that ‘are we missing something’ feeling, make it seem cool again.”
Bring back the buzz then?
“Yes. It was electric – unique. It was big town but everyone connected. At the balls and charity events everyone still knows everyone, but there aren’t as many characters as there used to be in the clubs and pubs, there used to be a lot more face to face networking but as a town it should still be proud of the fund raising and charity work that goes on.
“The Lionel character wouldn’t have grown as much as it did anywhere other than Blackpool. People who saw Lionel at work spread the word. I’ve so much to be grateful to the town for.”
And the future?
“Lionel is 18 now – I’ll maybe get him to 20. I need him to fund me to help the kids. He’s essential at the moment but when I don’t need him I’ll retire him off.”
So how does he want to be remembered – Norry, Lionel or personal developer?
“A sharer. Some people will remember the Lionel Vinyl character which would be nice because he’s done some amazing events and made a difference to some peoples’ life. But it’s about sharing – helping others to help themselves is my mission statement.
“I’m not a guru or an expert, I’m a sharer of information that I’ve taken from others and added my own style to. I’m sharing to help other people. They don’t have to take it.”
And would he like to see Blackpool have more self-esteem?
“Everyone who comes should get an experience they remember. We perceive Disney and Universal to be one thing because of their style yet count the rides and the waiting time – the Pleasure Beach has more.
“Stand back a bit and look at Blackpool Tower, the shows, the piers – everything is there but it’s clouded by negatives.
“We take too much for granted – our clubs, DJs, entertainers are brilliant. If people don’t like Blackpool that’s their problem, not ours.”
What does Blackpool mean to you?
The Gazette has launched a new weekly series championing and celebrating the people that make Blackpool the incomparable place it is. The Gazette is Blackpool’s biggest supporter and will continue to be so, every day we feature your achievements and success stories. We’re giving Sandgrown’uns and the town’s army of supporters a platform to tell us why you think Blackpool is great, why you fell in love with the place, what challenges you think it faces and why we should stand up and show the ill-informed critics a more realistic picture. We want you to get involved - tell us who you think we should feature. Who embodies the spirit of Blackpool? Who is the every day person who can inspire others to focus on celebrating the town rather than castigate? This is your town, your paper, your voice.
We look forward to hearing from you.
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