Whistle and I’ll come to you...

Mark Ellen
Mark Ellen
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From playing guitar in a band with Tony Blair to hosting the iconic Whistle Test, editing irreverent pop mag Smash Hits to being served champagne by Rihanna, Mark Ellen – who appears at Clitheroe Grand Theatre in October – has surfed the rock and roll wave.

From the mud and thunder of early festivals to Live Aid and Lady Ga Ga, the rock writer who started out reviewing gigs for the NME in the 70s was usually in the right place at the right time.

Tony agreed to talk about music and I went up to the presidential suite at this huge hotel in Birmingham where he was staying

Mark Ellen

Ellen was in the studio when Band Aid recorded Do They Know It’s Christmas? and has even been rambling in the Lake District with rock god Jimmy Page.

He also interviewed his old university mate Tony Blair when he was PM in 2005 and recalled: “Tony agreed to talk about music and I went up to the presidential suite at this huge hotel in Birmingham where he was staying.

“I’d brought the guitar he used in the band Ugly Rumours.

“A waitress appeared at the door, probably expecting him to be hunched over top secret documents, surrounded by strategists, but instead she looked in astonishment at him playing guitar, trying to remember the chords to a song called Wishing Well by Free.”

However, when you are Mark Ellen, mad-cap encounters with household names are all in a day’s work. He will talk about his colourful career in the one-off Clitheroe show.

Only two publications were given access to the recording of the Band Aid smash-hit and Smash Hits – with Ellen at the helm – was one of them.

He also went on to present the Live Aid concert for the BBC the following summer.

He said: “The most exciting moments were when things went wrong. There was meant to be a live link to Ian Botham at Trent Bridge, but the screen went blank. I thought ‘what chance have we of seeing Bob Dylan in LA when we can’t get through to Nottingham?

“David Bowie’s set was amazing, though. He came off stage, went into a Portakabin and cried at the film of the starving children.”

Ellen added: “At the time it was a monstrous embarrassment to own a Queen record but they stole the show.”

The show will also feature tales from the courts of Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger and Morrissey, of who Ellen says: “The world is a better place to have people like that around.”

But a brush with Rihanna left Mark disenchanted. He said: “It’s Rihanna who created the world of Rihanna, through her Tweets and blogs. No journalist is allowed anywhere near her to paint any sort of picture.

“It’s a shame in a way.”

An Evening with Mark Ellen is at Clitheroe Grand Theatre, on October 14. Tickets £8.50, see www.thegrandvenue.co.uk/ or call 01200 421599.

Tony Dewhurst