Lanning at Large… with a swinging swagman
Dave Lanning meets Frank Ifield in 1967
Cabaret time approaching fast in swinging London and Frank Ifield serves iced beer in his hot, hot dressing room.
Here, at the fashionable Talk of the Town, we’re both perspiring slightly. But Frank looks equal to the occasion. Loose fitting, towelled dressing gown. Comfortable jeans. Moccasin boots.
Doesn’t seem to have a care in the world. Just grins and explains: “Well, Dave, so much of my time is spent in dressing rooms. Now I make the most of it. And I like to talk to people like you in them.”
I’m here at Frank’s invitation. Subject is the new series of The Frank Ifield Show, which starts this week. Now I was thinking of dropping in on him and young wife Gillian, formerly a Palladium dancer, at their new home, on the outskirts of London.
Frank says “no.” Not that he’s unsociable. Just the opposite. But he hasn’t finished decorating. And he likes to keep his private life … well, private.
And there’s an awful lot of interesting aspects about Frank this side of his front door …
His handshake, for a start. Talk about a grip. Has the sort of power you’d expect only from Popeye! Frank has large, strong hands. Brawny arms. He’s built like a stockman and just doesn’t look right employed exclusively applying stage makeup to his nose right now.
“Always do my own ‘slap,’” he remarks, slipping casually into friendly, slangy tones. “Feel such a Charlie letting anyone else do it.”
Incredible how he dedicates himself to the business. Doesn’t eat a morsel for six hours before any performance. “Must give food time to digest properly,” he says. Doesn’t drink, either. Not that he’s much of a drinker in any circumstances. Just imported Australian beer, as a “swill-down” with a meal.
Smokes a bit; only filters. And cuts right down on these when doing anything athletic in his act. Like sword-fighting, or dancing.
Been in the big time for years and years now. But still gets butterflies in the stomach … and admits it cheerfully now as he starts changing into his blue evening suit. Still likes to sing the old numbers he did back in Australia.
And still prefers to sing in bare feet. “Was always happier wandering about without shoes as a kid,” he says. “And that’s stuck, too. Although I only ever kick off my shoes during recording sessions.”
Sssh. Loudspeaker is crackling. “Fifteen minutes, Mr. Ifield, please.” Still bags of time. But Frank is ready to go now. Looks immaculate. Dozens of artists would start pacing the floor. Not Frank. He’s too much of a professional to let his butterflies show.
Singer-wise, he’s come a long, long way from the nipper singing “Ten Green Bottles” with his brothers in an air raid shelter in Coventry. Done the lot. really. And there’s still a whole lot of his adopted country, Australia, in the Frank underneath.
The slang. It flits unobtrusively and musically into his conversation. I don’t suppose he’s ever said “fair dinkum, sport” or anything as corny as that. But to Frank, carefully going over guitar chords, beer is grog, sixpence is a zack, his suit is his whistle, sausages are snags, and anything he finds remotely agreeable is beauty.
He’s on in five minutes. We stroll to the wings. Out front, a packed, sophisticated audience. We’re still chatting about the series.
“There’s Ted Rogers. Great comedian. Looking forward to working with him,” he says.
Drums roll. Frank strides confidently away. His last words: “See you, Dave. I’ll give you a call next time I land up in a hot dressing room …”