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Monday, November 26, 2012
Lee Vasey is famous for a lot of things in the Norwich area, but having Roy Chubby Brown as a brother is not, to my knowledge, one of them.
The entertainer has been playing with his band and as a solo artist in the Norwich area for about 30 years and he celebrated playing 25 years at the Eaton Cottage pub last Thursday.
While I have never seen him play live, I’ve heard his name and seen it on posters and adverts for gigs countless times.
But it was a surprise to me when he nonchalantly mentioned, about half way through our chat, that his brother was Roy Vasey, also known as Roy Chubby Brown, the famous comedian.
In fact, Roy was the first drummer in the band that Lee was setting up. “I still keep in touch when he plays at Yarmouth and in the area,” he said, matter of factly.
While it’s obvious Lee is not one to namecheck excessively, his deadpan way of saying his brother was Chubby Brown was something else. Maybe he thought that I knew already.
Anyway, Lee has been “bonkers” about music and playing the guitar since he was a kid back in the North-East of England.
In some black and white photographs he showed me he’s only about five and there’s a guitar in his hand, trying to look like Elvis, who was the big thing at the time.
“I’m exactly the same now. I’m still bonkers about music and playing live. And fans in Norwich have always been great to me,” he said.
But his might not have been such a success story had he changed his name to Roy Sadler, as he planned to do for some reason, several decades ago. “Everyone was either called Roy or Tony then,” he added.
He grew up in Grangetown, Middlesbrough and after leaving school spent several years moving around the country. He worked at a club in Hull and met several acts playing there including Mud, who were big at the time.
“I also met Tommy Cooper and Norman Wisdom who were performing there. Tommy Cooper sticks in my mind because he had his own bar in his star dressing room, with a member of staff behind it.
“He invited all of us to it every night, but only the drummer and me took him up on it. What a lovely bloke he was. He was a gem.
“I also remember some of the stars like Showaddywaddy used to be crazy. Henry Cooper, the boxer, was also a diamond. Geoff Boycott was great as well and Brian Clough was such a lovely guy.
“They were refreshing because most of the stars that played there were not that friendly.”
He moved to Norwich in 1981 after answering an advertisement in the Melody Maker for a guitarist at the former Samson and Hercules nightclub in Tombland, Norwich.
“The gig in Norwich was four nights a week for a guitarist, and I stayed there three years, and then remained in the city.
“The Lee Vasey Band was originally a 3-piece band. I lived in Upper St Giles Street and we played Sunday lunch-times in a car park.
“The music we play now has not changed that much over the years and the set still includes songs such as Mustang Sally, I Will Survive, Sweet Caroline and Alright now.
“I thought that if you are doing something that works, why change it.”
His band plays most nights of the week at various functions and parties and he has performed so many times in Norwich that he’s lost count.
On one occasion he played four gigs in just a day.
“It must have been about five years ago. I started at 12.30pm and finished at 2.30am, about 14 hours later. I cannot remember which venues I played on that day.
“I regularly do three gigs on a Sunday. Every Sunday lunchtime I play at the Brickmakers in Sprowston Road.
“I used to do the Salhouse Lodge, the Broads Hotel in Wroxham and the Green Man in Rackheath. I now do the Eagle in Newmarket Road and The Cottage in Silver Road on Mondays, when we do a jazz jam, and invite people to play with us.”
Live music in Norwich has had its ups and downs over the years, but it now seems to be thriving, with dozens of venues offering gigs to up-and-comers and established acts alike.
And Lee said he will play with anyone.
“Maybe it’s because I’m from the north-east. I have no problems playing jazz, blues, pop, classical; I’ll play with anyone.
“Or it could be that when I was first starting out I was a bit of an oddball. I used to go to folk clubs in the north-east, and my favourite was a banjo player. He was awesome.
“I still play guitar with thumb and finger picks, and I always have done, even when I was younger and we were playing Jimi Hendrix and Cream covers.”
His favourite guitarist is probably American musician George Benson and, you can imagine, he has quite a collections of guitars.
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