Big Yin’s early days
New play turns clock back on Billy
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.