Interview: Richard Digance

Richard Digance

Richard Digance - Credit: Archant

Big name comics have cited him as an influence, but don't expect see Richard Digance back on TV anytime soon. He tells WAYNE SAVAGE about the trouble with TV talent shows and why he'd turn down earning millions at the O2.

One of the great folk entertainers of the 1970s and 80s, Richard Digance is currently on yet another multi-date tour — it's his 40th year on the road — and he will be back in the county for two dates this month.

He laughs his evergreen career is down to him being resilient rather than brilliant.

'Nobody's snapped at my heels and been there to go 'well I'm better than Digance so I'm going to steal his thunder'.'

The comedian, singer and poet may not be at the cutting edge of comedy — and he's not been a regular on TV for decades — but his influence on today's stand-up is greater than you'd think.

Big name comics like Ross Noble have said they were inspired by watching him on telly while growing up. Something he takes as a huge compliment.

He doesn't miss the cameras though; growing sick and tired of showbusiness many years ago he just wants to be himself.

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'I wanted to walk between the music business and showbusiness, nobody had really done that. I thought 'well, I won't get the telly obviously' but I'm not too bothered about that because I'm not a big fan of modern telly.'

He's certainly no fan of Britain's Got Talent, but we'll get to that.

'I thought I'll be me and anyone who wants to come and see me will and I've never really come unstuck. I don't really have the divine right to have been around as long as I have.

'The point you made, which is a good point, is that I've never really been in fashion. If you're not in fashion you're never going to fall out of it.'

He's very aware he's been around a long time and with age, he says, comes a need to test yourself. 'I don't want people thinking they're coming to see the same old show with cobwebs on. I'm very aware of the image of older performers and I don't want that image so I thought well get out there, get on the road with a whole new show and see how it goes.'

Digance's appeal is his honesty on stage, sharing his true stories with audiences.

One of his new songs — the title track of his last album Old School Photograph — is about the pecking order of a school photograph; how kids are put in certain places in order of their ugliness, size or degree of grubbiness.

It's an observation everybody from 10 to 110 gets.

'I love that sort of storytelling; it's what I am and I have no desires to be anything else.

'When people say 'you don't do telly anymore'…my stories are fairly deep and long. I can't possibly go on Loose Women and give myself a trimmed three minute appearance on a show I don't particularly rate anyway.

'If I can't tell it how I want to I'd rather not do it.'

It's a stand that once cost him a spot on a Royal Variety Performance Show; but he has no regrets about that or giving his financially rewarding but creatively destroying stint working on cruise ships the heave ho.

'I want to be in a zone where I'm proud of myself. I've got some person in the middle of nowhere asking me what I do and [am I] that chap on Countdown.'

To quote Jessie J, it's not about the price tag. 'One of the 15 comedians who hold our television screens at the moment, because it is a bit of a closed shop, earned £2 million in one night at the O2. I can't relate to that, I'm a working act, a performer.

'If somebody rang me up and said do you want to do a gig for £2 million they'd wake me up in hospital. I don't see it, I don't understand it. Comedy can't be best performed in an arena; I don't care what anybody says.

'It's all about connection and it's very difficult to connect to 20,000 people night in night out. That is a money making project as far as I'm concerned.'

Digance believes they wouldn't be there if it wasn't for the over exposure of TV. He hates Britain's Got Talent with a vengeance.

'I don't believe performance is a competition, I believe it's from the heart. It's all very well these panellists being superstars and stealing the show. I was once watching and Simon Cowell was judging while eating a Satsuma and a bar of chocolate; I thought how arrogant is that?

'I never picked up a guitar to earn £2 million in one night, to say to people 'I'm better than you let's see how we get on in a competition'. I picked up the guitar because I thought I'd stand more chance of getting girlfriends if I played Bob Dylan songs.'

Did it work? 'Sort of,' he laughs.

Digance doesn't agree that BGT, X Factor and so on are the modern day successors to Opportunity Knocks and New Faces. The difference is people who appeared on those shows were acts already serving their apprenticeship working the club circuit.

'I think that's very different to what's being offered now, where its brutalising kids who aren't any good which is unforgivable in my book.'

He wants no part of it, preferring to put a fresh set of strings on his guitar, hit the motorway and spend two or so hours in front of an audience. 'I don't think I'll ever sell out the Royal Albert Hall again, maybe I don't have aspirations to do so. I'm perfectly happy and I'm enjoying some more offbeat venues.'

t Richard Digance is at the Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich, on April 4, £15, 01603 620917, He will also be at Pavilion Theatre, Cromer Pier, on April 28, £16.50 (£16 cons), 01263 512495,