Herbie's Got Talent
HERBIE’S GOT TALENT
Hello, it’s just past 11pm on a muggy Sunday night, and as Alfred Hitchcock would say at the start of his television shows, “good evening”. In fact it’s quite appropriate to start with a quote from the Master of Suspense, as I’d like to write about a bloody great shock I got last week when I turned on my television.
I’d had a text that Herbie Armstrong, one of the Mustangs’ great partners in rhythm’n’rhyme over the years was a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent. As soon as I got home I switched on YouTube and sure enough, there he was, beaming white smile, singing ‘Have I Told You Lately That I love You’ (what else!) , in that unmistakable Guinness’n’Glue voice of his.
Now for those of you unfamiliar with Herbie, let me shed a little light….
Back in the day (the 70s, actually), Belfast lad Herbie was briefly the guitarist for Van Morrison, before going on to join Fox, a band that had a couple of minor hits towards the back end of the decade. Despite all his best efforts, Herbie himself never made the big time and went on to run a music bar in Sheffield, before settling in leafy Hampshire, running the Fountain Inn, in Rowland’s Castle.
And this is where the Mustangs enter the story, for it was in that very same pub, on one of its locally famous Friday night jams, that the band was born, ten years ago. Herbie himself would always get up at the end of the night and sing a handful of numbers with the Mustangs, and we must have backed him countless times over the years.
Often, there would follow a lock in, and as the beer flowed the guitars would come out and the stories would get evermore colourful as the sound of acoustic folk and blues wafted from the pub across the village green. They were wonderful times (eulogised by Ben in his song ‘Nights Like These’ on Nothing Stays The Same). Herbie and his gorgeous wife Lisa were central to the fun and warmth of the evenings, and more often that not the night would end with Herbie and I duetting, semi consciously, on Baby It’s You, or Under the Boardwalk. Magical times.
As the Mustangs started playing further afield we drifted from the scene a little, but always made sure we came back for the odd show at our birthplace, and sure enough, Herbie would get up and play and we’d all share a drink and a chat after hours.
But nothing prepared me for the shock I got of seeing Herbie on the nation’s most popular talent show, Britain’s Got Talent. After watching him perform beautifully and be voted through to the next round, I wondered what had made Herbie go on the show – a programme often vilified as being a circus for meagre talents and freak show oddities…
After all, hadn’t Herbie ‘been there, seen it and done it’? Soon after his appearance some of the national papers were even trying to ‘expose’ him as a fraud who had indeed, appeared twice on Top of The Pops been a professional musician, and thus had no place on an amateur talent show.
But, knowing the man, and recalling our many conversations, it didn’t take me long to find a link between Herbie and a show like Britain’s Got Talent.
Herbie himself has been a tremendous advocate of young and new talent from all over Hampshire and West Sussex. With his music nights at the Fountain, he has given literally hundreds of acts their first chance to play live, or a platform for more exposure. He will regale you deep into the night with tales of fabulous singers, songwriters and guitarists that you should look out for, his enthusiasm for music evident to anyone within earshot.
Yes, Herbie briefly had a taste of success as a sideman in a moderately successful band many moons ago, but by no means was he a star, or indeed, a success as an individual performer..that’s why he opened a music bar instead…..and therein lies the clue..a music bar. Then he opened the Fountain and began the music nights. It is music, in all its forms, that has always driven Herbie, whether it be in Belfast, Sheffield or Hampshire, he surrounds himself with it, immerses his soul into song and then radiates it back out for us all to enjoy.
And if he feels it is time to radiate on a bigger stage, then after all he has done for so many people, he deserves it; every ounce of success he gets from Britain’s Got Talent….I’ll be voting for my friend every time and you should too.
Louis Walsh said on the night in his judging comments, "Herbie, you have a Celtic Soul’, and he is right, but Herbie Armstrong's heart is all music.