Ken McCluskey

In 1980s Dublin, on the north side, Jimmy Rabbitte aspires to manage the world’s greatest band, with only one music in mind: soul. Disgusted with bands in Ireland, and beginning with his friends Outspan and Derek, he assembles a band in the tradition of 1960s black American recording artists like Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. By advertising for applicants in a newspaper and asking around to promising acquaintances, Jimmy holds auditions at his parents’ home and assembles a band together. Unlike his idols, Jimmy’s band is white.

This is the plot of Roddy Doyle’s 1987 novel “The Commitments”.  In 1991 Alan Parker directed the film of the same name with one Ken McCluskey playing the part of Derek “Meatman” Scully.  Ken stars in the touring show “The Stars From The Commitments” which will be the show that re-opens the Spa Pavilion in Felixstowe this weekend.  Grapevine’s Tony Bell caught up with fellow Dubliner for a chat ahead of Saturday’s Gala re-opening.

the-commitmentsLets talk about the film… you played Derek “Meatman” Scully, how much of Derek is Ken McCluskey?

That’s a very good question… I suppose there was a physical similarity with the character in the book, my size, my stature, my look.  But I suppose personality wise, it probably wouldn’t have been a million miles away to be honest.  But I wouldn’t put my hand up and say I’m a Robert de Nero method actor!  But there are probably more similarities than one would realise.

So what were you doing before The Commitments landed on your doorstep?

I played in a band, we had a few records in the Irish charts, early twenties, trying to make it … the The Commitments came to town and I suppose it all changed then.

Were you a soul fan before The Commitments?

I liked soul music but I have to be honest I found it a little bit different.  The Beatles recorded their first album called Please Please Me, and on that they did – I don’t know maybe six or eight covers which were soul tunes… You Really Got A Hold on Me and Please Please Mr Postman… They were kinda soul or R and B and that was how I found them.  I remember hearing that album and thinking wow they are great songs, I was only a kid at the time, I didn’t know anything about who wrote them or where they originated.  Then when I got a bit older I realised who the original guys were and I started to look into that a bit more.

Was there a soul scene in Dublin back in 1991?

I honestly don’t recall much of a soul scene!  I think it was, yeah, a Roddy Doyle invention.   But the idea behind the band, one the music was fantastic but the other thing was that, with a soul band, it was a big band there was nine people and you could put girls in there.  So you had the whole rapore between the guys and the girls and all that stuff as opposed to being a rock’n’roll combo with just four guys.   The dynamic with the soul band was a much much better dynamic to write about and to create.

In the movie you play a bass player, but you are not just a bass player are you?

No, I’d say I was a guitar player.  When I was a kid the first instrument I got was a bass when I was about twelve and I played in some little local bands, we had a little shed in the back garden and I played bass for a few years and then I want onto the guitar and stuck with that.

And I still cannot believe that you had The Corrs in that movie!

Well, of course they weren’t The Corrs as in the band but it was still the family!  One of the girls was Jimmy Rabbitte’s sister.

Now, about the show, The Stars From The Commitments, you’ve had this show on the road for how many years now?

More than twenty years, since ’93 or so.

You must be fairly well used to it by now.

Well, yes, used to it but still excited by it and enjoy it.  It is a live show, no backing tracks, its not pre-recorded and its not exactly carved in stone.  Every so often we will change the set around, find an old classic and put it in for a while.  The show still has an edge to it, an adrenaline associated with it.

You must get to play in some interesting venues

Yeah – I remember touring American, one night you are in a big casino then two days later you are in a bar in the Bronx or something, you know, down in the basement where all the bottles are thrown.

Over the years band members will have changed, how do you go about recruiting new members?

Sometimes they come by word of mouth, somebody might leave the band  because there is something that they want to go and do but they know somebody.  Sometime we put an ad in the paper – just like Jimmy did in the movie!

Do audiences react differently in different countries?

Yeah – they do.  In the UK the audiences are fantastic and the venues are brilliant.  The great thing about touring the UK is that every town has a theatre, it is geared for live music and live shows.  And obviously with the language there is a good bit of interaction with the audience so you can be a lot more free with what you say.  Where in France or Germany the language makes it a bit more limited but they are still great audiences and the music, I think, transcends the language.

Tell us about the show and current line up.

There are nine people – two girls and seven guys, at the Spa there will be myself and a man called Michael Herne, he was the piano player in the film and the rest of the band are just a fantastic group of musicians from Ireland who have been with us for years.

The show is a collection of great soul music, it is timeless its got brass, keys, drums and girls.  During the course of the show everyone gets to feature – trumpet, sax, organ solos.  It is well crafted, great music – there is something in it for everyone who likes music.

Do you have a favorite song from the show?

I think “Try A Little Tenderness” – it was, I think, written in 1910, a Vaudaville number and it is timeles.  The number of versions that have been done of that song is amazing – it is just a fantastic song.

Do audiences at the show expect the swearing that the film is famous for?

We don’t do swearing.  I don’t think its needed for what we are doing, our music and our dialogue is how we communicate.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to GrapevineLIVE Ken, we are looking forward to you show at the Spa Pavilion.

14 November 2015 (Sat) – The Spa Pavilion, Felixstowe
Tel: 01394 284962

17 December 2015 (Thu) – The City Hall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Box Office: 0191 2778030

18 December 2015 (Fri) – Worthing Pavilion, Worthing
Box Office: 01903 206 206

19 December 2015 (Sat) – William Aston Hall, Glyndwr University, Mold Road, Wrexham
Box Office: 01978 293293

20 December 2015 (Sun) – Cymru Theatre, Llandudno, Wales
Box Office: 01492 872000

The show will be touring in 2016 – check out the full list of dates here: