TWO days and two nights. 48 hours. That’s how long it would take you to listen to all the music that EastEnders favourite David Essex OBE has written in his 50-year career.
But then, as anyone over the age of 40 will tell you, there’s far more to the 64-year-old than playing Eddie Moon in the BBC soap.
At the Edinburgh Playhouse next week, Essex returns to the Capital to star in his latest musical, All The Fun Of The Fair, a show that features a soundtrack drawn from his 19 top 40 singles.
Inspired by his album of the same name, All The Fun Of The Fair is a heart-warming tale of an East End fairground family headed by the recently widowed Levi Lee, played by Essex. Lee is father of a rebellious teenage son, Jack, and amongst the dodgems and motorbikes, crafty cons and candy floss, fairground horses and fights, their emotional roller coaster of a relationship lies at the heart of the piece.
All is not always fun at the fair, it seems, although that has not stopped the musical playing to standing ovations . . . and tears.
“It seems to move people quite deeply,” says the quietly-spoken star. “It’s fundamentally a story about this father and son relationship, all set in the underbelly world of a travelling fun fair.
“I’ve got three sons, so I can understand that father-son relationship to a certain extent. There’s always that lack of communication through the teenage years; that period when, at about 16, you realise that your dad is just a man and not some kind of super-hero. It takes time to get over that subconsciously. It’s not until you get to 21 that you realise he’s not just a silly old sod, he’s actually right.
“I think that is why the show moves men deeply. There is a tragic end to it and that really does seem to touch men especially. But there’s fun as well, it’s not all doom and gloom, there’s dodgems and carousel horses and the wall of death, so it’s a good show. I’d like to see it myself. It would be nice if I wasn’t in it.”
Essex collaborated with Boogie Nights creator Jon Conway, who wrote the book, on the piece.
“We sat down and sketched out the story. Then we looked at my music and worked out what could be relevant. We put that to one side so that I could rewrite the lyrics. It was important that the songs weren’t just stuck in because they were number one but because they moved the plot along.”
The songs that made the final cut include Winter’s Tale, Hold Me Close, Gonna Make You A Star, Silver Dream Machine and Rock On.
“I tried to make the music as filmic as I could, so it’s a very expansive and textured soundtrack that we use,” says Essex, adding, “Cost a bloody fortune, but there you are, well worth it.”
Sound is important to Essex. He stresses, “I came from music really. I started off in blues bands when I was 14, so the music and the quality is important to me.
“We have this surround-sound system that allows the big dipper to fly past you on the right then there’s a dog barking on the left. We have tried to make the auditorium an extension of the fairground through the soundscape. The plan being that the audience feel as though they are actually there.”
The son of an East End docker father and Irish traveller mother, Essex recorded his first single And The Tears Came Tumblin’ Down in 1963, before forming David Essex And The Mood Indigo.
His acting career followed swiftly as he won roles in Godspell at the age of 23. Two years later, he starred in the movie That’ll Be The Day.
The singles Lamplight, Gonna Make You a Star and Hold Me Close cemented his popularity along with the films Stardust and Silver Dream Racer. Lead roles in the musicals Tommy, Che, Evita and Mutiny! came later.
Today, Essex has garnered a new generation of fans thanks to his stint as Eddie Moon.
“It’s been going great, the old EastEnders,” he says.
“They had been after me for a while and are desperate for me to go back, but it was quite a challenge, quite intimidating to go into, because it’s a different way of working to anything I’ve done. Very fast, very furious.
“There’s no time for rehearsal so you have to be quite secure as an actor, but I was blessed because the group I work with are just fantastic.
“If you do EastEnders and pull it off you can do anything – it’s not a place you want to flounder in front of 11 or 12 million folk every night.
“It does take over your life a bit, that’s for sure. If you’re not learning lines, you’re in the studio. I’m pleased I did it and I’ve left the door open, but hopefully we’ll be making a film of All The Fun Of The Fair next year, so it’ll all depend on timing really.”
It wasn’t the first time Essex had been asked to join the soap. It has been reported that back in 2006 he was offered the role of Jack Edwards, ultimately played by Nicky Henson. So what persuaded him that Eddie Moon was the role for him?
“We had a meeting and talked about the character. A lot of the ideas came from me; the fact that he considered himself an antique dealer but, fundamentally, did house clearances. I just felt he was right. Before, there had been a timing problem and I wasn’t really besotted by the story line of the character.”
Eddie Moon might have disappeared from small screens for the moment, but Essex has just recently finished filming a new movie.
“It was called Tribe, but I think they are about to change the title,” he reveals.
“It’s a powerful British film about a boy who is half gypsy and half non-gypsy. It’s his journey, trying to be accepted by the travelling community. It was filmed on a gypsy site in the West Country and I play the head gypsy.”
It’s a role close to his heart as for years Essex was patron of Britain’s National Gypsy Council. Which begs his opinion on the Dale Farm story, ironically taking place in Essex, where he was born.
“All I would say,” he considers, “is that my mum always said, ‘A land without gypsies is a land without freedom’.”
All The Fun Of The Fair, Edinburgh Playhouse, Greenside Place, Tuesday-Saturday, 7.30pm, (matinees 2.30pm), £17.50-£33.50, 0844-871 3014