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It’s a story that traverses generations and hemispheres – and touches senses and emotions on the way.
It’s about an enduring rock star in the United Kingdom, an unshakeable fan 10,000km away here in Bay of Plenty and some classic soft rock melodies – melodies like ‘Sylvia’s Mother’, ‘Sexy Eyes’ and ‘Sharing the Night Together’.
“Hey Barbara, this is Dennis,” says the caller to The Weekend Sun.
Dennis is Dennis Locorriere, the voice of Dr Hook, the hard-liquor-and-two-packs-of-fags-a-day singing voice that doesn’t drink or smoke. He’s calling from Worthing, down on the south coast in England. And he’s giving a shout-out to Barbara, who’ll be at his gig at Tauranga’s Baypark Arena on May 23.
She’s excited to the point of palpitations. “Oooh yes!”
“Hey Barbara,” says Dennis. “Can you believe that this many years later, you are going to be in the same room as me?” No, Barbara cannot believe she’s going to be in the same room as Dr Hook.
Barbara is Barbara Britton, a Dr Hook acolyte going back to the 1970s when the band was Dr Hook and the Medicine Show. She lives in Whakatane, has already bought two tickets to see Dr Hook, one for her and one for husband Jimmy. “I hope you will be having a good time Barbara,” says Dennis. “And I will see you there.”
It’s a love affair that began in the green, green valleys of Wales; the Vale of Glamorgan to be precise.
“We lived in Dinas Powys and Mum would put us in the old brown Ford Escort to take us to Barry,” says Doug Britton, son of Barbara and an eminently likeable colleague of the reporter. “Then out would come the tapes and on would go Dr Hook. We knew all the words.” He still does.
“You make my pants wanna get up and dance, You make my face wanna grin, You make my knees wanna kneel down and say please, Honey won’t you kiss me again.” A mum and son favourite.
Barbara Britton bought the music, played the music and sang the music. She instilled it in her “lovely lad” Doug. And now, on the other side of the world from Dinas Powys, Barbara and Jimmy will get to see and hear the voice itself.
“Wow,” says Dennis, because that’s exactly what he’s been talking about. “When I see my audience, it’s original fans from the 1970s, their children, their children’s children and on a good night their children’s’ children’s’ children.” It helped sustain the Hook thing. “As well as doing a good job recording whatever we were recording I hope.”
Dr Hook recently played a gig in the UK and there was a seven-year-old in the audience. “She was having a birthday treat. Don’t ask me why she liked the music but obviously some of it spoke to her.”
And therein lies a deep personal responsibility for Dennis Locorriere.
“We don’t have to sell our music any more, but we have to respect it and represent it well.” For the faithful that is, for people like Barbara and Jimmy Britton. “We don’t have some Lithuanian dance version, we are true to the classic. True to the original. The way it’s always been.” It’s something Dennis calls “sense memory”.
And the fans are looking forward to having those senses jolted. “I like music with a bit of oomph to it, lively,” says Barbara. “Music that you can get up and dance to.” It worked for her in the 1970s but it wasn’t the music that won her heart.
“The first record Jimmy ever bought me was ‘You Sexy Thing’ by Hot Chocolate. Oooh, yes,” says Barbara with the singsong Welsh accent that’s resisted 23 years of nasal New Zild. And they’ve been married for 40 years so the heated beverage and hot rock worked for them.
Dr Hook music spans several genres – from novelty songs to poignant acoustic ballads and later on disco-influenced soft rock.
“The good thing was no-one was telling us we couldn’t things so we just went ahead and did it. We figured if we could play it and I could sing it then it was valid.”
And the essence of Dr Hook music is communication. “Sheer communication. If we have a tune and some great lyrics or story and we can get it across to people, then the emotions transmit.” And the voice likes those tunes – the lyrically meaty and juicy ones.
“The one’s that let you emote, the ones you have to put yourself into. Whether it be Sylvia’s Mother and you’re the forlorn youth in the phone booth running out of money, or the Ballad of Lucy Jordan where she’s up on the roof.”
Locorriere’s 68 now. “I can’t take any credit for this but I just look like an older version of the same guy.” No hair dye, the voice still charged, delightfully humble, it’s all very reassuring.
And when he heard the story about Barbara and Jimmy he thought it was brilliant.
“The music has lasted all this time and you guys are doing it as a family, then that’s pretty cool. That’s great. I think, jeez, we must have done something right.”
Dennis Locorriere and the Dr Hook tour are at Tauranga’s Baypark Arena on Tuesday May 23.
The Weekend Sun has a double pass to give away to two lucky readers who can tell us where Dennis is playing?
All entries must be received by Wednesday May 10.