By Jeremy Miles
ONE time teen-idol turned actor and musical theatre star Jess Conrad brings his Yesterday Once More show to the Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne on Saturday.
A first generation rock ‘n’ roller, Jess originally trained as a repertory actor in the late 1950s but found fame when legendary producer Jack Good spotted him, decided he “looked like a pop star” and launched his music career.
Fast-tracked into the original Oh Boy Tv shows, Conrad was soon fighting off the teenage girls and turning out a string of hits on the Decca label including Mystery Girl, Cherry Pie, Pretty Jenny, and This Pullover, a track that years later would enjoy a second 15 minutes of fame as comedian Kenny Everett’s favourite worst record.
At the time though Jess Conrad was THE business. He was even voted Most popular Singer in the 1961 NME Poll.
It wasn’t to last though. Four young men from Liverpool were about to sign a recording contract that would change the face of popular music. The Beatles and the Mersey beat boom swept away Conrad’s pop career even faster than it had arrived.
“It was amazing,” he remembers. “People like me, Joe Brown and Marty Wilde had been doing really well. Suddenly the Tv an d radio dried up and the record companies wanted a different sound. One minute everybody wanted us and the next we couldn’t get arrested!”
With his penchant for sharp Italian style suits and rock ‘n’ roll haircuts he admits the arrival of The Beatles came as a bit of shock. “We couldn’t believe what they looked like with their bum freezer jackets and monk’s haircuts. We all thought they looked more like the The Three Stooges or something than a pop band. But their sound was incredible, we certainly knew there was something special going on there.”
Conrad who had recorded with the great Joe Meek and appeared with American rock ‘n’ roll stars like Gene Vincent - “he wore blackleather and I wore white” - suddenly discovered that the only place he could find work was on the northern club circuit.
Within a few years he was making the transition from pop star to musical star playing Jesus in Godspell for which he received rave reviews. Perhaps most famously, Jess originated the role of Joseph in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He has starred in dozens of films including 1960s romp Kanga, in which he is kidnapped, King Kong style, by a giant chimpanzee and held captive up Big Ben.
There’s been loads of TV too and Soap fans will recognise Conrad as Philip Bailey from Crossroads and Mr Walpole of the Sports Department in Are You Being Served? He has also starred in shows with Jim Davidson, Des O’Connor and even in a Miss Marple.
He headlined a national tour of the Rick Wakeman musical The Gospels, in which oner again he played Jesus and has also had over 20 star roles in pantomime under his belt.
At Wimborne on Saturday he headlines a bill that also includes the band The Telstars and Norman Wisdom tribute act Glenn Ford.