ARCHIVE INTERVIEW: Olga Ruocco discusses her memories of The Kinks

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Olga Ruocco outside Konk Studios in North London, November 2013. [Photo by me]

My love for the music of The Kinks is well documented at this point, so there’s no reason to talk about me all over again.

Let’s talk for a minute about the fans – and there are many dedicated followers in the U.K., the U.S. and around the world. Like any diverse family, there are squabbles and rivalries, politics and fights. However, in the 20-plus years since I discovered the Kinks fandom online, one thing has remained constant: Everybody loves Olga.

Over the years, Olga Ruocco has proven to be nothing but welcoming and generous to fans old and new. Among her many activities over the years: She has helped people get CDs (both official and unofficial) and books, she has given tours of the Muswell Hill section of north London where Ray and Dave Davies grew up, and she is one of the co-organziers (along with Geoff Lewis and others) of Kinks nights at the Clissold Arms (across the street from the Davies brothers’ childhood home).

I first met her in person for one of those tours in 2000, and later that year she traveled to America. One of the things she did here was an interview with a radio host on the West Coast, which we helped to facilitate remotely. (Remember, this was before the miracle of Skype!)

So naturally, when I finally got my own radio show, I decided to do a birthday show for Ray Davies around June 21, and I got Olga to do an interview with me about her Kinks experiences. In this June 19, 2012, program, we discussed how she became a fan in the mid-1960s and how her love for the group has continued to this day. We also played tunes that Olga hand-picked, including a track from Ray’s 80 Days musical (which really should be revived somewhere).

In 2014 and 2015, Kirk Madsen – who served as Ray Davies’ guitar tech and road manager in the 1990s – has joined me for the birthday show, and he’ll do so again this Wednesday (June 22) at 7 p.m. EDT. We’ll be taking requests, and you can live-stream at whrwfm.org. The show also should be archived for later listening.

(If I have time this week, I will find Kirk’s previous shows and post those as well.)

 

 

 

 

INTERVIEW: ‘Doctor Who’ star Carole Ann Ford at L.I. Who

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The original TARDIS crew: Ian (William Russell), the Doctor (William Hartnell), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Susan (Carole Anne Ford). [BBC photo]

Twice last fall – at RoberCon and L.I. Who – I found myself on fan panels discussing the many companions that Doctor Who has featured since it began in 1963. Both times, I made the argument that the best TARDIS crew may have been the original four: the Doctor (played by William Hartnell), Susan (Carole Ann Ford), Ian (William Russell) and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill).

As schoolteachers, Ian and Barbara were capable adults and equal to the Doctor in many ways, a situation that arguably has not repeated itself since, and Susan blended human and alien qualities (although not as much as Carole Ann Ford would have liked). The humans softened up the Doctor’s approach to other people and to the universe, and together they were an unstoppable team – even against the dreaded Daleks. Because Doctor Who was still finding its footing in the early years, those stories remain fascinating to watch now.

So it was quite a thrill to get to meet Ms. Ford at L.I. Who last year and interview her about her time on the show. She’s had mixed feelings about how the role of Susan affected the rest of her acting career but she’s always seemed kind and considerate to Doctor Who fans.

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Carole Ann Ford vs. the fanboy. [Photo by Adrienne Wise]

In my interview with her, we discussed the chemistry of the original cast, her meeting with current Doctor Peter Capaldi (who has insisted she return to the show at some point) as well as reviving the role of Susan for various Big Finish audio adventures.

[This is the last of my L.I. Who interviews, but look for more from the Signal archive coming up soon.]

INTERVIEW: ‘Doctor Who’ star Paul McGann at L.I. Who

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The gentleman and his Jules Verne time machine. [BBC photo]

As I’ve discussed before on this site, it’s now easy to forget that Doctor Who and its fans survived through the so-called “Wilderness Years” between the cancellation of the original series in 1989 and the wildly successful revival in 2005.

The great fan hope during that time was the 1996 TV movie starring Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor, which was a co-production among the BBC, Fox and Universal and which aired on Fox exactly 20 years ago today as a backdoor pilot for a potential new series. Say what you like about the movie’s flaws, but there was no question that McGann made his mark as the Doctor with less than an hour onscreen in the role.

When the film did not turn into a series, many fans (myself included) were quite disappointed. It seemed like Doctor Who was finally dead – and, worse still, we thought we’d never see the potential of the eighth Doctor fulfilled. Then Big Finish Productions got a license from the BBC to produce official Doctor Who audio plays. At first, it didn’t seem like McGann wanted to take part – so when it was announced that he’d return to the role for “Storm Warning” along side new companion Charley Pollard (India Fisher), I was very thrilled with the result.

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The audio release that started the eighth Doctor’s second life. [Big Finish Productions]

No offense to the other Doctors making audios at the time (fifth Doctor Peter Davison, “Old Sixie” Colin Baker and seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy), but because the eighth Doctor’s tenure remained open-ended, the stories felt more like “proper” Doctor Who. It also helped a lot that McGann is a stellar audio actor with an expressive, unforgettable voice that added new dimensions to the Doctor’s character – many of which, I’m sure, were picked up for later Doctors when the series returned in 2005.

McGann has gone from strength to strength thanks to Big Finish, with the launch of the Eighth Doctor Adventures (which mimicked the hour-long format of the revived TV series and also starred Sheridan Smith as Lucie Miller) and later the “Dark Eyes” and “Doom Coalition” series (the latter of which remains ongoing).

The eighth Doctor stories from Big Finish revived my interest in Doctor Who in the early 2000s, and I’m sure they played a big role in his Doctor’s return in the 50th anniversary minisode “Night of the Doctor,” which finally saw a regeneration but not into the Doctor any of us expected.

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“Four minutes? That’s ages. What if I get bored, or need a television, couple of books? Anyone for chess? Bring me knitting.” [BBC photo]

When it comes to conventions or other appearances related to the role, McGann remained a notoriously private man for the first eight years or so after playing the role on TV. When he finally booked his first American convention – the 2004 Gallifrey con in Los Angeles – I arranged on short notice to fly out there for it. Who knew if he’d hate it and never do another one?

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Paul McGann gets friendly with  the Doctor’s oldest enemy at the 2004 Gallifrey One convention in Los Angeles. [Photo by me]

Luckily, that convention only started his love affair with Doctor Who fans, and over the years I’ve seen him at three other conventions: once at the last official I-Con (where I got a quick station ID for WHRW that I use to close every edition of The Signal) and twice at L.I. Who over the past couple of years. (He’ll be returning for his – and my – third year in a row this November.)

At last year’s L.I. Who, I fulfilled a longtime goal and got to interview McGann. Wish I’d had more time but the schedule was running late and others were waiting for interviews behind us. Perhaps I’ll get another shot this year – we shall see.

Time can be a funny thing, but in many ways it hardly seems like 20 years since I first saw Paul McGann’s Doctor on TV – and I’m glad that, two decades later, he’s still roaming time and space with new adventures. Glorious.

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Obligatory nerd photo: Me with the main cast of the Doctor Who movie, Daphne Ashbrook, Paul McGann and Yee Jee Tso at L.I. Who 2. [Photo provided]

INTERVIEW: ‘Doctor Who’ star Dan Starkey at L.I. Who

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The man in the rubber mask: Mr. Dan Starkey

It takes a special kind of sci-fi actor to work under the prosthetics necessary to look like an alien – and even more special if he’s willing to do it more than once.

That’s why I have respect for guys like Dan Starkey, who has appeared in multiple episodes of Doctor Who as various Sontarans, the war-like race lovingly referred to as “potato heads” Here’s a video that shows the two-hour process in the makeup chair just to get the mask together. That doesn’t count the costume, which is tricky in itself.

Meeting Dan at L.I. Who last November was a real treat, because he can turn on the Strax voice whenever he wants – who needs a mask when you can hear a Sontaran call you “alien scum” right to your face?

For the 2014 Christmas special “Last Christmas,” he played Ian the Elf with a minimum of prosthetics, so people finally got a good look at him under the mask.

Dan has worked on audio adventures with Big Finish Productions in the past, but now that the company has a license to create Doctor Who content involving new series characters, it’s opened  up a whole new world – he can be Strax, not just another Sontaran clone. In the interview, he and I discussed the recent Big Finish release Jago & Litefoot & Strax, which sees his Sontaran butler teaming up with Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot, two Victorian era characters first introduced in the classic series story “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” who have gone on to have a successful second life on audio.

He also talked about co-writing the Big Finish story “Terror of the Sontarans” with John Dorney, starring seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy.

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Face to face with a Sontaran at L.I. Who. [Photo by Adrienne Wise]

INTERVIEW TWO-FER: ‘Doctor Who’ star Daphne Ashbrook

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The always-lovely Daphne Ashbrook.

Doctor Who died in 1989. I was there and I remember it.

After a (mostly) remarkable 26-year run, the British sci-fi stalwart was finally canceled. Gone for good. Dead as a dodo. Et cetera and so on.

Except … when the show’s 30th anniversary rolled around in 1993, it became obvious that some kind of revival was afoot. Rumors flew around for the next couple of years:

  • Steven Spielberg was going to be involved. (True, until it wasn’t true.)
  • The series was going to be rebooted from the beginning, finally showing why the Doctor left his home planet of Gallifrey. (Also true for a while.)
  • The TARDIS would no longer look like a British police box, but have somehow have lips in the console room (?) and rap (?!?). (Bizarre.)
  • David Hasselhoff would play the Doctor. (That would make the Germans happy, at least.)

So when the film starring Paul McGann as the Doctor and Daphne Ashbrook as Dr. Grace Holloway finally aired in May 1996, I definitely remember having a sense of relief. Sure, the plot didn’t always add up (which I still blame on a variety of factors), but Doctor Who was back in a form that fans recognized. That it never turned into a series – that Fox chose to continue Sliders instead – seemed like a body blow at the time.

For someone who spent only five week or so filming Doctor Who, Daphne has been very open to meeting fans and talking about her experiences at conventions. That she’s a genuinely nice, funny and chatty person definitely helps.

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Paul McGann as the dashing Doctor and Daphne Ashbrook as the faithful Dr. Grace Holloway in the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie. [BBC Photo]

 I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Daphne twice now: once in early 2015 after we discussed a radio interview at the 2014 L.I. Who; and then at the November 2015 convention. The first time around, I wanted to know more about her albums (Grace Notes and All Good Dreamers) but naturally we ended up talking about Doctor Who, acting, meeting fans and all sorts of topics.

Last November, we mainly talked about her upcoming short film, Once More, With Feeling, which she wrote, produced and stars in. She did an Indiegogo campaign to help fund the movie, and she hopes that it will be going around to film festivals throughout 2016. Can’t wait to see it.

Learn more about Daphne at her website.

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I must have been saying something VERY fascinating. [Photo by Adrienne Wise at 2015’s L.I. Who]

INTERVIEW: The British whimsy of Robyn Hitchcock

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Robyn Hitchcock, the man who invented himself. [Photo provided]

For the past 20 years, one of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters has been Mr. Robyn Hitchcock. He’s been writing neo-psychedelic pop/rock tunes for four decades now, starting with The Soft Boys and later as a solo artist, with the Egyptians and with the Venus 3.

I’m not usually attracted to psychedelic stuff, but Hitchcock wraps weighty questions about the nature of human existence in a dream-like whimsy that invokes anything from trolly-buses and “balloon men” to glass hotels, Buzz Aldrin and three-legged chinchillas. A review I read the other day said he’s like Bob Dylan as filtered through Doctor Who, so maybe that explains why I love it. His between-song banter at concerts can be hilariously bizarre, too.

I interviewed Hitchcock about 10 years ago, around the release of his Olé Tarantula album. This time we got to chat because he was performing in Ithaca, and I recorded it for radio broadcast. (It aired March 16 on WHRW’s The Signal, and you can read the print version here.)

The 63-year-old musician talked from his home in Nashville (where he’s lived since last fall) about songwriting, zebras, David Bowie and what to expect on his next album. It’s a fun, suitably rambling conversation, and it reminded me again why he’s so fun and thoughtful at the same time. My biggest regret is that I had time for only three songs.

The Ithaca show with Emma Swift (March 24 at the Dock) was pretty amazing – lots of my favorites from the 1980s and ’90s, mixed with especially hilarious stories. Someone taped it, and I can’t wait to experience it again soon.

 

INTERVIEW: ‘Doctor Who’ star Ian McNeice at L.I. Who

 

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‘We shall not falter or fail; we shall not weaken or tire …’ Ian McNeice embodying the iconic Winston Churchill in Doctor Who. [BBC photo]

One of the unexpected but fun interviews I did at last November’s L.I. Who convention on Long Island was actor Ian McNeice, best recognized by Doctor Who fans as Winston Churchill in a series of episodes during the Matt Smith era.

 

Apart from Doctor Who, he’s known for his numerous stage roles, TV appearances (Chef, Cadfael, Doc Martin, Jonathan Creek) and movie roles (The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, From Hell, Valkyrie, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls).

Now that Big Finish Productions has a license to make audios based on the new Doctor Who series, a box set called The Churchill Years Vol. 1 was released in January, chronicling Churchill’s other encounters with the Doctor.  I discussed the set with Mr. McNeice and learned what has since been announced officially: A second set will be released next year.

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Churchill meets the Daleks for a sequel story. [Photo: Big Finish]

Mr. McNeice is quite the character, especially when let loose during L.I. Who’s traditional Match Game with the stars (known better to Brits as Blankety Blank – a fact that fellow guest Noel Clarke was happy to find out when I explained it to him). It’s no surprise that he dropped a couple of F-bombs during our chat, edited out for radio. Churchill would be proud.

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Perhaps the only time during the weekend that Ian McNeice took off his cap at last November’s L.I. Who convention. He wanted to prove he really did have hair. [Photo by me]