How We Met: Paul Bradley & Stephen Warbeck

Laurence Phelan
Sunday 21 March 1999 00:02

Born in Nuneaton, Paul Bradley, 43, has lived most of his life in London. Best known for his role as Nigel in EastEnders, he is also lead singer and guitarist in Stephen's band the hKippers (the `h' is silent). Paul has been involved with Comic Relief's Rwanda campaign and is organising a benefit concert to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the genocide

Stephen Warbeck, 46, was born in Southampton. He acted and composed music for several student and rep productions before he began composing for stage and screen. He formed the hKippers in 1989. Tonight he will be in LA to find out if he has won an Oscar for his Shakespeare in Love score. He lives in London and is Head of Music at the RSC

PAUL BRADLEY: Stephen and I were at Manchester

University and in the same rep theatre company in the early Eighties. We did several plays together and worked well with each other - I think it was because neither of us saw acting as just a job, but as our life. I remember thinking he was very cool - he's a few years older than me and he had a car and smoked roll-ups. And he was a great actor as well. It was a really good time and we would often be working very closely together and then spending evenings in bars where we would play music and sing. Stephen's usual trick was breaking pianos - we'd group round the piano and he wouldn't stop until his fingers were bleeding.

When I settled in Dalston, I wasn't thinking about how close I would be to Stephen in Stoke Newington but I think you gravitate towards like- minded people. We are alike politically - we were both anti-Thatcher - and there's also common ground in our musical tastes, although mine are broader, in a mainstream sense. He was doing music for a film recently and asked if I knew "that they're listening to a lot of Seventies music in discos these days". I told him they had been for about five years. I can't imagine him watching Top of the Pops but his musical breadth is immense and he feels that if you're making music, of any kind, then that's good, full stop. He encourages people; he gave me the confidence to be able to play guitar on stage.

I think Stephen's more conscious than me of being an artist. Being a soap actor, where they write towards your qualities, it's very hard to see yourself as creating anything, but Stephen's incredibly artistic. He's creative naturally, but never in a precious way. It is right that he's where he is today. He's worked so hard for the last 20 years and I think the Oscar nomination is no less than he deserves.

With the hKippers, this band we're in, while I love it, it's not music I could ever have seen myself playing. It's Stephen's vehicle, it shows his generosity. He writes the songs, then lets go. He doesn't say "play it like this", he says "that's yours now". Often people ask what sort of music is it, and I call it Stupid World Music. A lot of rock music looks towards America but Stephen looks completely the other way. It's like Eastern European cabaret - a bit weird for English people in London to be playing. The closest I ever got to a definition from Stephen was him saying, "We'll play at each other's funerals," and I thought, oh, right, that's what it's about.

Stephen's a great listener. I was asked by Comic Relief to go to Rwanda, where I met widows of the genocide. When I came back I had to talk about it an awful lot. It's very difficult for people to understand it and a lot of the stories are so appalling that you simply have to switch off, so it was important having friends who were prepared to listen, and Stephen was one of them.

We now move in different circles in our working lives but, although we don't talk about work, we're sympathetic towards what each other is doing. He would never ask how EastEnders was going when I was there; we don't have that conversation, our friendship is something removed from that. It's based on permanent things like our views and senses of humour, so we'll always be there for each other. I imagine he'll be playing a solo accordion for the last of us at the age of 93.

STEPHEN WARBECK: Paul and I were at Manchester together, and in the same rep company, where he was an actor and I was an actor and musical director. He was difficult to rehearse with because he kept putting his fingers up his nose and pulling it back during the most serious parts. The rehearsals would grind to a halt because we were all laughing so much. After rehearsals we would go to a bar where I'd play the piano and he'd play his guitar. It was a very enjoyable, all-consuming time.

I love Paul for his warmth, generosity and openness. He has two children and I have three, and kids adore him. It's uncanny how immediately they respond to him. Of course, he's a tremendously witty person and often finds unusual ways of making people laugh. I once went round to his flat in Manchester and he served up a huge plate of mashed potato with about 10 sausages stuck in it vertically, without making any comment on how humorous it looked.

While he can be spontaneously funny, sometimes he also works at it. Often you'll meet and find that he's prepared something quite elaborate. We have an Annual General Meeting with the hKippers and he's turned up on occasion with a projector and slides of the band members and their families, and an accompanying speech that he's obviously worked quite hard at.

I think a lot of our friendship is based on laughing and fooling around. If we go out for a drink and I have something serious I want to talk about we always end up seeing the funny side of things. Having said that, he would be one of the first people I'd phone if I had any important news, or if I needed help. His part in the Rwanda campaign shows his warm and humane side: he has a great love and sympathy for people.

I wondered whether Paul would like to front the hKippers soon after I formed it with some friends. At one of the first gigs, in the middle of a song, he brought out a saw and a piece of 8 by 4 plywood. We counted in and then all you could hear was the roar of this saw, with Paul standing on the front of the stage cutting a fish out of the plywood.

Paul has made the hKippers into something it could never have been without him. And having worked together so intensely in Manchester, it's nice that we have this new project together. Now the band functions as a way of ensuring that we see each other without having to make special arrangements. I have a dream that we will do outdoor summer festivals in Europe one day, playing in little French towns, popping into cafes. I think that's a dream we share.

The new hKippers album is called `Filleted'. The Comic Relief Rwanda benefit concert will take place at the Hackney Empire on 7 April

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