Rocking On In Lytham
Returning to the adopted town of his late double act partner, Bobby Ball, Tommy Cannon will be performing at the Lowther Pavilion Theatre in October in Rock On Tommy: An Evening with Tommy Cannon featuring clips, incredible stories, tons of laughter, audience Q&As and more. Alma Stewart chats with Tommy about his fascinating career and life after the loss of his comedy partner and best pal
Those of a certain age will remember the great Saturday night prime time TV shows watched and enjoyed by all the family. One of the best was the Cannon and Ball Show which, at its height, reached 20 million viewers. For more than a decade, the programme provided every glorious type of entertaining magnetism: comedy, music, special guests, and for many the show was the highlight of the week. Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball rose to dizzy heights in their 50+ year showbiz career embracing TV, film, summer seasons, jokes, songs and acting – not bad for a couple of welders from Oldham.
Sadly in 2020, Bobby, who lived in Lytham with wife Yvonne for many years, died of Covid in Blackpool Victoria, a hospital where he was the charity patron. It was a loss that resonated with the whole nation with a host of notable tributes pouring in from the great and good of the entertainment world along with the host of fans and local friends Bob had made over his 76 years.
After such a long career as one half of a double act, Tommy has had to adjust to performing solo. He said: “Sometimes I’m OK with it, sometimes I’m not. I do get teary at times and look round for him, but I just plough on.”
This is not the first time that Tommy has performed without Bobby. He joined forces with Bobby’s sons, The Harper Brothers, in Rock On! The Variety Show in honour of Bobby and appeared in one man shows across the country. He has also just completed a tour in Legends of Variety with Anita Harris, Bernie Clifton, Freddie Davies, The Grumbleweeds and Paul Zenon. But it’s not just live performances he is involved with. In September, he released a Sinatra-style song ‘I Don’t Need To Be Hip’, impressively, written by Robbie Williams’ song writers. Tommy said: “As a singer, I’m really grateful that my voice is still the same as it was in my twenties. Frank Sinatra is one of my all-time favourite singers so how could I turn down Robbie’s offer of this song? Robbie and I have met at different times and periods over the years and we have kept in touch. I’ll be telling the full story of how the song came about in my show at the Lowther.”
And that won’t be the only story told at the show. Tommy has decades of anecdotes to share. He continued: “Everything we achieved was a highlight for us. I never thought I was destined for decades in show business. There were many times Bob and I had to pinch ourselves. I was honoured to meet Frankie Laine and Bob was overawed at meeting Little Richard, but there were so many fantastic people we encountered along the way – we did everything!”
With a dedicated number of stalwart fans, Tommy and the Cannon and Ball legacy still continues. Tommy explained: “It’s still a surprise when people come up to me and describe their favourite sketch. Sometimes I have to look up something on YouTube because there is so much to remember! I was speaking to a young chap recently, describing our act – he’d never heard of us. I suggested he have a look on YouTube, which he did and said, ‘My god that was funny’. And that was the thing about Bob. He was naturally funny, a comic, not a comedian. He was the modern-day Charlie Chaplin.”
Following Bobby’s passing, the Bobby Ball Foundation was created to support some local charities. Fundraising efforts allowed the commission of a nine-foot statue of Bobby, created by sculptor Ben Twiston-Davies and unveiled in August 2022, which stands proudly in the Lowther Gardens. “That is Bob in a nutshell,” said Tommy, “the only thing missing is the red of his braces.” Visitors to the statue will note that on closer inspection, Bobby is standing on a plinth that is actually the end of a cannon. Tommy was a proud guest at the unveiling ceremony along with Yvonne and Bobby’s children, friends, fans and special guests including actresses Sally Lindsay and Sherrie Hewson and comedian Lee Mack.
Of course, Tommy is no stranger to the Fylde Coast. For many years, Cannon and Ball performed at most of Blackpool’s theatres and venues and the town in which the pair made their last performance. Tommy has visited Lytham many times over the years and has previously performed at the Lowther Theatre: “Lytham is a lovely place,” he said, “it’s a really idyllic seaside town and the audiences have always been welcoming and engaging. I’m looking forward to performing here again.” He will also return over the next few months to attend the next ‘Bobby Ball’ a fundraising dinner held to raise funds for the Bobby Ball Foundation. Raising money for charity has been an important for both Cannon and Ball with Tommy an ambassador for York’s Snappy Trust, supporting children with disabilities and patron of Stockport’s NK Theatre Arts.
In recent years, Tommy has featured in some top TV shows including I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Emmerdale, Celebrity MasterChef, Not Going Out and Last Laugh in Vegas no mean feat from Cannon and Ball’s TV debut on Opportunity Knocks in 1968. The duo also performed in two Royal Variety Shows and even met the late Queen Elizabeth II. And so, following full and successful show business career, what comes next for the 85 year-old? “There’s not much I haven’t done,” he said, “but I’m open to suggestion.”
The show being held at the Lowther Pavilion Theatre on Sunday 15th October promises to be an evening full of fun and variety and will include dance and song. Tommy’s memories and stories will no doubt have the audience in stitches. Tommy added: “It’s been a slow process getting used to not having Bob there anymore, but I know he’ll be there in spirit as well as in my memories of him which I will share as part of the show.”
Let’s hope the audience gets the opportunity to join in with Cannon and Ball’s iconic song, Together We’ll Be OK, because together, they always were.
Tickets available online at: lowtherpavilion.co.uk