Well Geoff Whitehorn may have been seen on stage with Procol Harum in a tee-shirt proclaiming 'success means never having to wear a suit', but visitors to 125th Street, the new musical from Rob Bettinson and Alan James, creators of the fantastically-successful Buddy, will have the opportunity to see him in tuxedo and dicky-bow, as leader of the onstage seven-piece band – from September 2002.
'Great fun,' he told BtP in a recent phone-call, 'I stand there doing my Steve Cropper licks, no showing off, fabulous music.' When asked if he were actually acting, Geoff said that the role required a bit of "responding" to what's going on on stage, but no lines as such. 'I just keep the rest of the guys in the band in order, wave me headstock about, that sort of thing.'
125th Street is playing at London's Shaftesbury Theatre, and the show depicts one night in 1969 at Harlem's legendary Apollo Theatre; the 'book' is set against a background of racial and political unrest, which means that the expected stars can't get to the gig, and the show is put on by Geoff's house band, and sung by the wannabes helped out by the theatre staff. This device neatly validates our hearing a whole lot of great repertoire from the likes of James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Aretha, Dionne Warwicke and so on, without requiring that those stars be directly impersonated. And of course the Apollo really did play host to such 'amateur nights' which is how some of the great stars of the era got their breaks into the business.
Geoff got involved in this show by invitation from the musical supervisor, Dave Mackay, the Australian record producer for whom he has been playing sessions on and off for some 27 years (Aufwiedersehen Pet was one of them). Dave produced Darling for Frankie Miller and is perhaps best known for having produced It's a Heartache, the first big hit for Bonnie Tyler.
'When he asked me to do it my first thought was 'No Way',' said Geoff, 'but the more I thought about it, it turned into 'Why Not?'. It'll be a laugh. And it is.' Geoff recruited drummer Sam Kelly, whom he'd worked with in the Chapman band, and the present onstage outfit grew from that. The show has been flexible enough to allow Geoff to work in one or two personal favourites from the era ... songs which, as he puts it, 'everyone was listening to if they weren't listening to Procol'. There's enough of this class Stax-type material, he tells us, to avoid major overlap with similarly-themed shows such as Blues Brothers and The Commitments.
The show plays at 7.30 pm Mondays to Thursdays, and 5 pm and 8 pm on Fridays, and 4pm and 7.30 pm on Saturdays. For Box Office and 24 Hour Credit Card Bookings, telephone 0870 906 3798 or use Ticketmaster (0870 5344 4444) or First Call (020 7420 0225).
The show has its own extensive website with video clips of work in progress and so forth. There's a page about the band and Geoff's own page is here.
However if you're going to the show to see Maestro Whitehorn in his suit, do contact the box office first, because he assures us that if there's any Procol activity meanwhile he will be 'depping out' the West End gig to another guitarist. Watch BtP for any details!
Geoff Whitehorn's page at BtP