When I was five years old I became convinced my best friend’s dad was Frank Zappa. I’m not sure how I came to that conclusion. Their surname wasn’t Zappa, there were no guitars or gold records on the walls of their modest townhouse, and Captain Beefheart never joined us for milk and cookies. But my friend’s dad had a big moustache and long hair just like Frank Zappa, so that was good enough for me.
I made another showbiz pal that summer, when my parents took me camping in Scotland. Leaving aside ethical debates about child neglect and whether Social Services should have been informed, I actually enjoyed spending a week camping in a cold, muddy field. And the reason? Billy Connolly was there!
Every evening, soggy campers would gather in the campsite’s musty clubhouse, order pints of Guinness and settle down for a night of music and comedy. And who was providing the entertainment? Why, a tall Scot in a kilt, with long wild hair and a bushy beard! It must be The Big Yin himself! This was better than playing in Frank Zappa’s back yard.
One night, Billy announced he was to perform a magic trick and needed an assistant. I must have looked like a ginger midget on speed as I pushed my way to the front screaming “Me! Me! Pick me!” He didn’t really have a choice.
“Helloooo! What’s yur name, lassie?”
I was star struck.
“Erm… I… I can’t remember…”
“Hello, I Can’t Remember! That’s a lovely name!”
Billy winked at the giggling audience. My parents looked worried.
“Would ye like to help me perform a wee trick?”
“I don’t know. Is it with fire? I don’t like fire.”
“Well, yees, it does involve me burning a magic pound note… tell ye what, how’s aboot singing a funny song insteed?”
By this point, stage fright had kicked in.
“I don’t know any funny songs…”
Billy was beginning to panic. His assistant was letting him down.
“I know, I’ll sing a song and you can dance! Can ye do that for me, lassie?”
“I… want… Mummy!”
I ran off the stage in tears. I just couldn’t match Billy Connolly’s wit and charm. I’d ruined his show!
Once I stopped sobbing and calmed down, I begged my parents to take a photo of me and Billy, so I could at least brag to the kids at school. They didn’t need to know about my lackluster stage performance. This would leave little Robbie Jones’ photo of him with Cliff Richard in the dust.
My dad couldn’t understand why I was so obsessed with this campsite entertainer.
“He’s Billy Connolly, Daddy! He’s the funny man!”
My dad smiled, grabbed his camera and wisely kept his mouth shut. I’d find out one day.
Just one thought. How did I, at five years old, know so much about foul-mouthed comedian Billy Connolly? It’s a good thing Social Services never found out.