‘You’ll do for me, cocker!’
Sometimes in life, you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and be part of something very special and Rock On: The Variety Show was just that moment.
For the 3,000 people who packed out The Opera House, Blackpool, on Friday night it was a night they will never forget as stars and friends of the late, great, Bobby Ball gathered together to mark his life in song, in comedy and with love.
Staged to raise money for the Bobby Ball foundation one year after the man himself died, the night was a rollercoaster of tears and laughter from start to finish as he was remembered for the prodigious talent and genuinely nice man he was.
There was certainly no lifetime where we would have foreseen Steve Norman from Spandau Ballet rocking a stage with comedian Jason Manford on vocals alongside Heather (Cheryl Fergison) from Eastenders after a spot of audience participation with Russell Watson and show tunes from Sheridan Smith – but it happened due to the uniting force of Bobby’s personality and legacy.
Produced and directed by Peter Taylor of Cuffe and Taylor, this was no ordinary variety show, with a clearly emotional Tommy Cannon and Bobby’s wife Yvonne and two sons and daughter present, it was a chance to share the remarkable story of Cannon and Ball who met as welders and tried their chance as an act in the working men’s clubs of the north. 15 years later, as Tommy recounted, they experienced ‘overnight’ success and the rest is legend.
In a tear-jerking segment, actress Sally Lindsay (who starred with Bobby on Mount Pleasant as his TV daughter) interviewed Tommy on stage, recollecting the highs, low and comedy moments of the comedy duo’s enduring friendship and double act. A highlight reel of Bobby’s bloopers on the TV show, was also shown for the first time and actress Sherrie Hewson also talked of lifelong friend ‘Bobs’, and how proud she was to take part in the variety show.
Jason Manford said: “Great night catching up with old friends and giving Bobby Ball the best send off possible! There was so magic in Blackpool tonight. What an honour.” Pic credit – Dave and Darren Nelson
The familiar names (too many to mention all) kept coming – glued together by stellar performances from the Heart of England Philharmonic Orchestra, the NHS NW ambulance choir and some energetic dancers.
Jason Manford deserves a special word in all this; he stunned the audience to silence with his singing voice, gave several comedy open-mic style performances and was even – as he explained with half a day’s notice – pulled in to sing True and Gold alongside Steve Norman, becoming Tony Hadley for the night.
And comedian Phil Walker, a Blackpool lad and good friends with Bobby, had everyone almost crying with laughter with his oh so-close to the knuckle performance.
Bobby’s wife Yvonne takes to the stage at Blackpool Opera House last night (Friday, November 12). Pic credit – Dave and Darren Nelson
Sheridan Smith brought her warmth, force of personality and remarkable vocals while Britain’s ‘third best person’ as he put it, the super-talented Steve Royle, had everyone crying with laughter with antics involving a mask, ‘Manky Monkey’ and an unfortunate sound man fixing his mic.
The Harper Brothers, Bobby’s entertainer sons Rob and Darren, brought a personal touch with their joyful performances, proving the apple doesn’t fall far from the physical-comedy tree.
The show ended with Tommy and an empty chair, for his pal Bobby, and there was not a dry eye in the house.
Sheridan Smith was among the showbiz stars taking part in a very special evening of entertainment to raise vital funds for the Bobby Ball Foundation. Pic credit – Dave and Darren Nelson
As Tommy told Sally Lindsay on stage: “He’s here right now, sitting between us.”
He certainly was.
*The Bobby Ball Foundation raises money toward Bobby’s charitable patronages the Blue Skies Hospital Fund (Blackpool Teaching Hospitals) and The Lowther Pavilion plus the Bobby Ball statue fund. All the artists donated their time and talent for the charity.
Sherrie Hewson spoke of her long friendship with Bobby Ball and how proud she was to take part in the variety show in his honour in Blackpool last night (Friday, November 12). Pic credit – Dave and Darren Nelson