IT’S fair to say Ivor Hillman has had a colourful career...
The clubland veteran and long-time singer with Cats Eyes and Echo Beach popped up on national TV again just before Christmas and is still criss-crossing the country more than 40 years after starting out.
And he’s the first to admit it’s not been plain sailing, with punters often blunt in their criticism.
“There are nights we get a great reception but others you might not get a clap,” says Ivor, of Rawmarsh, who performs with long-time singing partner Kirsty Stuttard (below).
“Once I was at the urinals and casually asked the bloke next to me what he thought of the turn and he said: ‘Tha’ s***, thee’.
“A barmaid once told me: ‘I’m a big Meat Loaf fan and you’ve just destroyed that song’ — we never did it again!”
Taking the rough with the smooth has always been par for the course if you want to stick around in “clubland”.
Ivor has had to add other strings to his bow to get by but he’s proud of having made a living as an entertainer, while his wife Julie has a “proper job”.
He adds: “I reckon I’ve done about 7,500 gigs over the years.
“Last month, we sold out a gig in Ayr at a restaurant and we did another in Dunfermline at a golf club which went really well.
“We’re doing a lot more of these shows. There’s one in Scotland we do for people who have booked an overnight dinner and show deal and that always sells out.”
Ivor doesn’t perform much in Rotherham after falling out with many of the booking agents but he puts on regular shows for charity, most notably in recent times a star-studded night headlined by X Factor winner Sam Bailey at The Trades for entertainer Jimmy Carol and a successful gig earlier this year for the family of murdered Rotherham United fan Danny Dix.
His latest TV appearance was earlier this month on Channel 5’s Can You Afford to Retire?, fronted by Michael Buerk.
Ivor was filmed before and during Echo Beach’s gig at a club in the West Midlands.
“They told us to choose somewhere we always go down well,” he says.
“All the men had come in jackets and the ladies were in sparkly dresses.
“The camera crew had never been to a working men’s club before and said they didn’t realise people dressed up for it.
“I said they only had because the cameras were there.”
The filming took six hours but only amounted to four minutes in the show.
And to cut a long story short, Ivor’s assessment was that without a pension — like an estimated 50 per cent of self-employed people — he’ll have to go on performing “until we’re getting booed off every night or I drop dead on stage”.
Such sober reflection is a far cry from the upbeat Ivor we’ve seen on various game shows and daytime fare, which led to one magazine hailing him as the “king of the daytime shows”.
In recent years, Ivor’s scooped £5,000 on ITV’s Name Your Price (below), featured on Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me and turned up as a member of The Question Jury.
“The abuse I got on Twitter for Come Dine With Me was brilliant,” he laughs.
“Someone called me a ‘f****** Northern monkey’ and I got called a ‘thick b******’ because I thought a banana was an exotic fruit.
“I even had someone saying I must have an avocado bath suite — it was amazing.”
Can You Afford to Retire? was more serious stuff and Ivor said he thought the producers had been aiming going for a sombre tone, with one man’s story cut out because he was “too jolly”.
One couple featured got his back up, he says: “They were moaning if they retired they wouldn’t have £14,000 to spend on holidays every year!”
Ivor admits he would think again before going into showbiz, having fronted early 80s New Romantic band Mr Pierrot Dolls early in his long career.
“I’d like to have a normal proper job with a pension and to be able to go to Rotherham matches,” he says.
“But this (performing) was what I had — they asked me at school what I wanted to be and I said ‘a pop star’.
“What else am I going to do?”
Ivor was strutting his stuff again just before Christmas as Echo Beach played Rawmarsh pub Something Brew Inn in a gig that sold out within a day.
Now a granddad of three, it’s hard to see him ever settling for a nine-to-five job.
“My wife Julie calls me an attention-seeking b******,” he laughs.
“I might be in the jungle next time, you never know!”