Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Brian Hibbard (1946-2012)

Crosswhatfields? reports the death yesterday of actor and singer Brian Hibbard, who was based in Deptford in the early 1980s:  'Brian used to live in Evelyn Street in a house known to friends as The Yellow Duck, which he shared with other actors and performers who were involved with The Albany, as it made its transition from its old building on Creek Road to where it is now on Douglas Way'.

It was at this time that Brian and other formed The Flying Pickets, and as mentioned here before, he wore a Today Deptford, Tomorrow the World t-shirt on Top of the Pops in December 1983. The Flying Pickets had a Christmas number one single that year with their cover of Only You.

Album cover for The Flying Pickets -  Live at the Albany Empire! (1982)

Photo of Brian in a sharp suit, taken in the garden of the Duke in Deptford during that period by Colin Bodiam (from his excellent collection Music in and around Deptford - think he designed the Flying Pickets album cover reproduced above too).

In a 2009 interview with Wales on Sunday, Hibbard recalled the early days of The Flying Pickets and their role in supporting the 1984/5 Miners Strike:

'It didn’t matter that he was lead singer of a group which just happened to be the hottest thing around at that time on television, radio and on tour. He used this new-found fame and the six-strong band’s political beliefs to thrust the colliers’ cause to the fore. It was a move which echoed their past, future and fortune. Brian and company picked the name The Flying Pickets because they had been political activists during previous miners’ strikes.

They met in the late 1970s when actor Brian was offered a job with a theatre company called ‘7’84’ which stood for 7% of the population control 84% of the wealth. “We did a show called One Big Blow... It was a play about a miners’ brass band. They couldn’t find actors who could play brass instruments so they got actors who could sing a bit. We were two tenors, two baritones and two basses who would sing the brass band parts. The contract was initially for three months but it was so successful it ended up touring for two years. We’d spend a lot of time sitting in a Transit van and would sing for our own amusement. I remember one night we were in the West Country and we sang Dream by the Everly Brothers in a bar – alcohol had a lot to do with it – and the whole pub went quiet. We would harmonise our vocals and do numbers we knew would work with our voices. I had a friend in Deptford who knew we were doing it and asked if we would sing at a benefits event. So we had to find a name for ourselves and the bald one Stripe said: ‘I know, we’ll call ourselves The Flying Pickets, as we’d been involved in the 1972 and 1974 miners’ strike action’. I thought we would were going to die on our a**** but people loved it. The response was phenomenal.”

After the show Brian says they all intended to go back to their day jobs as stage actors. But when that tour was suddenly cancelled The Flying Pickets decided to take their band on the road, doing the cabaret circuit with the likes of Alexei Sayle, Ben Elton and Rik Mayall. In 1982 they launched themselves at the Edinburgh Festival and went on to play at festivals worldwide... At their height and having brought out the album The Lost Boys, the country was thrown into chaos when on March 1, 1984, the National Coal Board announced it was to close 20 pits with the loss of 20,000 jobs. When the miners revolted the year-long strike that followed changed the political, economic and social face of Britain forever.

Brian said: “I immediately phoned the NUM headquarters and said: ‘What can we do to support the miners?’ We were at the top of our career, tops of the charts and thought we could help. The Miners’ Strike didn’t need its profile raised but we thought we could maybe use our notoriety, I hesitate to use the word fame as the word celebrity is very over-used. So three of us went up on the picket line at Drax Power Station in Yorkshire and joined the pickets up there.The record company said we couldn’t do it. But I don’t think they knew what they were getting when they signed us. They signed six political animals. We just said, ‘What are you going to do then? Have a picket line at King’s Cross Station to stop us jumping on the train to Yorkshire?’

We did miners’ benefit gigs all over the country, including one at the Parc and Dare in Treorchy where they were hanging from the rafters. We did countless events and mainly had support as did the miners. But there were jibes from some. I remember going on breakfast television and some right-wing supporters having a pop at us saying, ‘Why are you supporting the miners?’ One major store even refused to sell our album because they associated us with thuggery. During our gigs at some point we’d say: ‘Thank you, we are The Flying Pickets – proud to be associated with the National Union of Mineworkers’. There would always be some reaction to it. There’d be some booing from some. It wasn’t a national divide but a class thing. We saw ourselves as the cultural flying pickets that were going to places that weren’t our places of work. When we weren’t picketing a pit we would picket coke plants and power stations. I suppose career wise it was probably detrimental. But that wasn’t the point, we were political animals and we had to go the way we did.”

See also: BBC Wales obituary


Anonymous said...

Soundtrack to resistance to the Tories in the early 1980's

Flying Pickets Gave us hope in dark times

If only new singers realsied how important they are to giving hope to communities

Thanks for posting this and Brian thanks for some great memories

Victory to the Miners !

Smash the Tories !


Deptford Pudding said...

He always made everybody laugh, sometimes nervously, at his gigs. Wasn't he in Rubber Johnny at one point? I remeber large tubs of Brylcreem being extravangantly swooshed onto his hair as he leant over the front row and leered. Bit of a cliche but it was a uplifting to be around someone so talented.