Big Yin’s early days

New play turns clock back on Billy

Rutherglen Reformer - - News - Jonathan Ged­des

Billy Con­nolly is ar­guably Scot­land’s great­est co­me­dian - and a new play com­ing to Ruther­glen Town Hall will turn the clock back to his early days.

Con­nolly, tak­ing place at the Town Hall on Fri­day night (March 18), is the work of Ruther­glen writer Lawrence Craw­ford.

And Lawrence, who’s pre­vi­ously writ­ten shows like McGinn and The In­cred­i­ble Brechin Bee­tle Bug, has been ea­ger to look at Con­nolly’s early mu­si­cal ca­reer for some time.

“It’s some­thing I’ve been work­ing on for a long time, so it’s good to be able to share it,” says Lawrence, who stays on Lan­de­mer Drive.

“The pur­pose is to make peo­ple aware what a bril­liant mu­si­cian he was as well as a co­me­dian, and to doc­u­ment his up­bring­ing, which made him the star he is.

“It was amaz­ing what he man­aged to do af­ter his up­bring­ing - he was aban­doned by his mother, and we do talk about the abuse he suf­fered grow­ing up.

“The show had to look at that, be­cause it’s im­por­tant and made him the man that he is.

“It ends just be­fore the Parkin­son in­ter­view (widely re­garded as set­ting Con­nolly on his way to in­ter­na­tional fame) so this looks more at the Hum­ble­bums and the work he did with them.

“We’ve got a live band for the show and they’ll be per­form­ing stuff like the Welly Boot Song.”

A long- time fan of the comic, Lawrence found him­self dis­cov­er­ing a few un­ex­pected con­nec­tions when writ­ing the play, too.

“I found out that my grand­fa­ther worked with him at the same time at Stevens ship­yard in Lind­house,” he adds.

“They prob­a­bly would have known each other, so it was strange the links that came about.

“One of the things that I found writ­ing this was that ev­ery­one has a Billy Con­nolly story, whether it was from just meet­ing him down the pub, or stand­ing along­side him at a Celtic game or some­thing like that, and they were all pos­i­tive about how Con­nolly acted to­wards other peo­ple.

“The show’s quite timely - when I first thought about do­ing it his ill­ness (with Parkin­son’s Dis­ease) wasn’t in the spot­light, and now he can’t play the banjo - hope­fully this helps re­mind peo­ple what a great mu­si­cian he was.”

The pro­ject is some­thing that’s been on Lawrence’s mind for a while.

How­ever per­sonal cir­cum­stances meant he had to de­lay the pro­ject.

“I was go­ing to do it last year but then my father took ill,” he says.

“I needed to be in a bet­ter place to write it, and then it be­came quite de­press­ing be­cause his own life was so ter­ri­ble early on.

“It took a while to work out how to present it with­out the whole show be­ing so de­press­ing.

“The key was through his standup, where he found com­edy from some­thing trau­matic, and that’s how I tried to bring the light­ness into the story, from the ship­yards and school to the things that he told on­stage about them.”

Whether as an ac­tor, co­me­dian or mu­si­cian, Con­nolly’s pop­u­lar­ity has al­ways re­mained high in Scot­land.

Given the time Lawrence has spent re­search­ing Con­nolly, why does he think his pop­u­lar­ity has al­ways been so strong?

“He con­stantly evolved,” ex­plains the writer.

“He could have been seen, at var­i­ous times in his ca­reer, as a relic from the past, but he al­ways avoided that. So he was never just a folk mu­si­cian, and when com­edy started chang­ing in the 1980s and was be­com­ing more al­ter­na­tive then he was able to change too.

“So you have some­one who co­me­di­ans like Ed­die Iz­zard will cite as a hero, but his own roots go back to Chic Mur­ray and peo­ple like that, who maybe never got the recog­ni­tion that they de­served.”

Lawrence is known for writ­ing plenty of light- hearted shows, in­clud­ing some Christ­mas themed theatre at the Town Hall.

But his next pro­ject moves him into even darker ter­ri­tory.

“I’m work­ing on my first film, which is to raise aware­ness for young peo­ple who care for par­ents with al­co­hol ad­dic­tion.

“It’ll be screened at some film fes­ti­vals and also used as a re­source tool.

“It’s been about get­ting the sto­ries out of the girls in­volved - al­though th­ese girls have so­cial work look­ing af­ter them now, the sys­tem has failed them a bit.”

Tick­ets for Con­nolly are priced at £8.

The show starts at 7.30pm.

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