The Waylon Jennings of the Arctic Circle
Gary of all trades, master of one? Gary Holton reveals his country connections and tells Danny Kelly what’s led him to be the least wanted son-in-law in Scandinavia…
This is a turn up for the book and no mistake.
Ten years ago, when he fronted the protopunk Heavy Metal Kids – maybe the first band to engage its audience in interactive gobbing and the odd rumble – you would’ve given odds on Gary Holton ending up broke, brain damaged or in the clink. Probably all three.
Now look at the sod. New recording deal, cult TV star, hit West End show, highly paid pusher of lager and Scandinavia’s leading country rock singer. Yeah, you heard me: Gazza Holton – star of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and Pump Boys and Dinettes, the face that encouraged a thousand hangovers and your actual gor blimey cockney wideboy – is the Waylon Jennings of the Arctic Cirle!
The Tequila Band, described on a visit to Nashville as “The Sex Pistols of Country”, consists of Holton and former Boys ivory tickler Casino Steel. In Scandinavia their records sell faster than thermal underwear in December, faster than anyone since The Beatles.
Bit of an oddity this, eh Gal? “Well it’s like this,” explains the singing end of The Tequila Band, between bouts of shooting the latest ads for the lager that’s making pisstory, “I’ve always liked Country but I could never get into all that stuff about the Civil War and “My mommy got hit by a freight train and her body was found by a hobo with one eye…” so I updated it with rockier music and the image that me and Casino have.”
“I hawked me Country songs around the record companies in 1979 and ’80 and they told me for fucks sake Gary, pull yourself together and stuff like that. Casino’s Norwegian and he reckoned we could make a decent living over there doing the bars, so we just pissed off. From then on it was just the Rolling Stones syndrome. The press picked up on the fact that we were heavy drinkers and made it a big deal. Y’know, The Band You Love To Hate, and all that. The 14 year old girls were going mad while their parents who’re my age are saying, you don’t wanna go and see them, they’re crazy. There were some ticket riots at our gigs, nothing too serious mind, and suddenly we’re front page news – “The Least Wanted Sons-in-Laws in Scandinavia”. Once we saw that, we knew we’d cracked it.” So it seems, pardners, that Gary Holton is the grandpappy of cowpunk.
Not content with crooning at pubescent Svens and Ingas in an accent more Stockwell than Stockholm, Holton has also carved himself a cosy niche as an actor. Auf Wiedersehen, Pet has put his boney face into our livings rooms and his name at the top of the theatrical Wanted lists.
How did he get the part of the swaggering Wayne?
“I was at a party. Really, really drunk. Ian La Frenais was there and I went up to him and said: Ian, you’ve got to use me in your new show, I’m fucking great! ‘Course, next morning my girlfriend was telling that I’d completely blown it. Come the auditions, Ian remembered me and said, now let’s see if you really are good and laughed. I got the part.”
Pet made more impact than any British series since Boys from the Black Stuff. How does it shape up against the epochal Boys?
“I’d never compare them. Black Stuff was a great series, truly great, and it had a heavy, heavy message. Our show was written to get laughs. Maybe the Ossie and Yosser characters could be compared, but beyond that…”
And Wayne is give or take the odd spot of blue hair dye, Gary Holton?
“Wayne is…put it this way, if I hadn’t been in show business, I’d be just like Wayne.”
This is no surprise. Gary Holton is also Wayne in the Tennant’s lager ads and Wayne in Pump Boys and Dinettes.
“I admit it, I’m typecast. Most actors are terrified of being typecast but not me. I actually know what I’m good at and I’ll gradually learn to do other things. At the moment I’m good at the wideboy and I’ll just use that up.”
So. Mr Actor, who among your fellow thespians takes your fancy?
“As I grew up I liked Michael Caine. I just thought he was a guy who could act with a cockney accent. If he could do it then so could I. Now, like everybody of my age I guess, I like Pacino and Robert De Niro.”
Obviously our hero is a long way off the acting standards of those sorts of bods but at least Pump Boys – a soft hearted, rather touching musical which stars fellow rock peripherals Paul Jones, Carlene Carter, Kiki Dee and Brian Protheroe – he gets his Wayne/Gary bit with an American accent.
Another part won by a drunken assault on the show’s producer?
“Nah, I heard about the show when I was in the States and I was interested in the Country connections. I thought it would be a good way to get some Country music over here. I just rang the agent and put myself forward. I had to learn to play bass pretty pronto, but it’s all worked out all right.”
Despite his commitments to acting and The Tequila Band, plans are also afoot to resurrect Holton’s singing career in this green and sometimes pleasant land. His comeback effort, despite protestations that “it was just a calling card, a way of saying I’m back”, was a disaster. Called “Holiday Romance”, it featured Gary with the Wayne persona on autopilot. Adrift from the visuals, it sounded horribly like Anthony Newley at his condescending worst. Someone Up There must like Gary Holton because the record sunk without trace!
He believes he’ll be able to re-mount pop’s roundabout as easily as he’s infiltrated the footlights – “For starters, I rock’n’roll most of these fucking kids right off the stage” – but I have my doubts. Pop, the way it’s made, the way it sounds, has changed a lot since Gary did his Oliver-meets-Iggy thing with the Kids. Rock and Roll as he knows it has precious little to do with today’s charts.
Also, his acting career and a settled family life – “Sorry to be so boring” – have knocked many of the rough edges off him. What passes for reasonable behaviour in the offices of record companies is simply not acceptable at dinner parties hosted by eminent film director, dahlings. Holton may have to content himself with being a dozen variations on Wayne for some time to come.
In any event, he has a philosophy about his work.
“Be proud of everything that you do, or have a fucking damn good reason for doing something which you’re not proud.”
I hope, Gary my son, that you bear your own words in mind when you come to follow up “Holiday Romance”.