Jon's son...MARK DEREK
MARK DEREK is probably best known for his keen and active involvement in Country Music and…as a professional cabaret singer – a career that for many years took him to various parts of the UK where he played to a wide range of audiences at a number of different venues and occasions.
With almost 700 shows under his belt, where did it all begin?
Mark recalls, “I was literally born into music…it was all around me…PA equipment in the hallway, stacks of records in the lounge, my dad’s home studio and his band members coming and going. I was impressed by what I saw, amazed by what I heard…the bright lights, the venues, the sound of live music and my father’s popularity. It was inevitable that one day the world of entertainment would play a major role in my life. I guess my first career highlight came though when I was just six years - I accompanied my dad on a 2-week promotional trip to Malta following the success of his two No.1 singles on this popular Mediterranean island in the late 1970’s. Dad was booked as a residency cabaret act and I remember singing a couple of songs with him each night and needing to be propped up on a barstool just so that I could reach the microphone!”
Throughout his earlier years, Mark continued to involve himself in his father’s career accompanying him to various clubs and festivals whenever the opportunities arose including, those memorable ‘International Festivals of Country Music’ held each Easter weekend at Wembley Arena where his father would either be appearing in his own right or, working with a number of the top American artistes billed to appear.
Mark showed many signs of potentially, one day, following in his father’s musical footsteps but it wasn’t until the age of 15 that he first experienced what life was really like ‘on the road’! Mark says, “I took every available opportunity to travel with my dad and his band ‘Country Fever’ to their shows. I was given the chance to demonstrate my vocal talents and gain some invaluable experience of singing in front of a different audience each night. I would be brought on as a guest artiste to sing two or three songs. I remember being very well received by a series of encouraging audiences.” These appearances presented Mark with appreciative reviews in the music press with many journalists referring to him as a ‘chip off the old block’! Furthermore, during the next few years, Mark spent countless days in the recording studios where he recorded a number of demonstration tracks - he experimented with different styles and techniques and gained hands-on experience in the art of recording and producing.
In 1991, Mark’s father announced that he would be semi-retiring from live performing following his appearance at the last ever ‘International Festival of Country Music’. Mark recalls, “It was great to see dad on the Wembley stage one last time. I was there with my mother and we enjoyed spending time in the wings of the stage. I remember being just feet away from great names such as TAMMY WYNETTE and CRYSTAL GAYLE. I was very fortunate to actually meet JOHNNY CASH and his wife JUNE CARTER just before they went on stage and SLIM WHITMAN who invited us into his dressing room. We also bumped into (Elvis Presley’s vocal backing group) THE JORDANAIRES who stopped for a chat!"
Now into semi-retirement, Mark’s father was now only making rare appearances backed by well-established bands. More experienced and comfortable on stage, Mark would often join him and it wasn’t unusual to see him fronting the band too and playing guitar, whilst his dad took a break!
In the summer of 1995, Mark spent a few days in Switzerland co-writing with an aspiring British songwriter who resided in Geneva. Mark had previously made a brief visit there two years earlier for meetings, but it was on this occasion that they wrote a song together entitled ‘Everybody Knows Me (Like The Mirror On The Wall)’. Mark returned to London to record the song as part of a promotional CD single and acquired an array of very talented and well-respected musicians for the project who between them had an endless list of credits to their names. Mark says, “I never forget the day pedal steel guitarist Melvin Duffy came into the studio to do a session for me. He was really in demand back then and was charging around about £400 a day but because he knew of my dad, I managed to get him at a steal…just £100 and...literally the next day, he was back working with Jimmy Nail and filming Top Of The Pops!”
A budding feature writer, Mark was also reviewing Country & Irish shows/festivals including the annual 'UK Country Music Awards' and was a regular contributor to the journal ‘Southern Country Magazine’. Mark’s natural flair for interviewing and building a good rapport with showbiz personalities was also often demonstrated. He secured a personal interview with the legendary US Country artiste RICKY SKAGGS prior to a performance at the now no-longer ‘London Arena’ but, it came at a cost, as Mark recalls, “I turned down an interview with BRAD PAISLEY who was on the same show. We were stood together in the press room with a few other journalists but I was more interested in meeting my idol Ricky. Brad Paisley went on to become the next biggest thing in international country music!” Highly acclaimed Irish entertainer DOMINIC KIRWAN took time out of a current tour to provide Mark with an extensive interview and, furthermore, Mark also covered ‘The DANIEL O’DONNELL Show’ at London’s prestigious ‘Royal Albert Hall’ four years running.
Another medium that Mark has always shown a keen interest in is ‘Radio’. A career highlight was registered in 2001 when he was invited to the London station ‘Ritz 1035’ and interviewed live on air by the legendary former BBC Radio personality, DAVID ALLAN. Mark’s fine speaking voice and smooth dulcet tones were also heard on a more regular basis when he went on to present weekly shows for a local ‘Hospital Radio’ station.
Never one to pass by an opportunity to demonstrate his vocal talents, Mark was invited to perform at a long-standing annual open-air charity event held in north London in 2002. Carefully selecting a number of songs that in his opinion suited his style and voice, he used backing tracks for the first time, as opposed to performing with a band. The enthusiastic audience loved his performance and his choice of songs!’
A series of very promising and well-received ‘private function’ performances followed which fuelled Mark’s decision to advertise that he was now available as a self-contained solo act. An agent soon enlisted him and Mark found himself suddenly working the club circuit. Predominantly recognised as a ‘Country’ vocalist Mark, had by this time, introduced to his repertoire a number of songs from the 50s, 60s & 70s to make himself more widely appealing.
In 2003, Mark was delighted to be ‘Southern Country Magazine’s’ front-page feature artiste for the month of February…the journal he used to write for. To coincide with this, Mark was a guest at ‘UK Country Radio Awards’ show sponsored by the magazine and held the same month at 'Lakeside', Frimley Green.
Towards the end of that year and, due to public demand, Mark decided it was time to record his first professional CD album. He chose a studio in Norfolk where he carefully compiled an album to demonstrate the style of songs you had come to associate him with. The CD was completed in the early part of 2004…entitled ‘The Stage Is My World’ - tracks taken from it became regular plays on a number of local BBC Radio stations.
Mark was now on the books of several agents and the work was pouring in. Mark recalls, “It wasn’t unusual to have four shows a weekend in those early days. A typical weekend would consist of a Friday night, a Saturday night, a Sunday lunchtime and a Sunday Evening. It was a killer - mentally and physically exhausting what with all the travelling too but, financially very rewarding!”
In addition to playing the club circuit, Mark was presented with new and exciting career opportunities. His popularity was also bringing him to the attention of many local promoters and bookers. Subsequently, a string of notable supports soon followed to a number of well-established names in ‘entertainment’ including 60’s bands HERMAN’S HERMITS, THE FOURMOST and VANITY FARE, legendary comedian JIMMY CRICKET and Irish entertainers SUSAN McCANN, BRENDAN SHINE, PHILOMENA BEGLEY, HELEN McCABE and THE INDIANS SHOWBAND.
In May 2006, Mark was a Saturday morning guest on BBC Radio Norfolk. Interviewed live on air by stalwart presenter ROY WALLER at the studios in Norwich, they talked about Mark’s involvement, past and present in entertainment and combined this by playing a selection of songs by artistes who had influenced Mark’s career over the years.
Following the sad passing of his mother in August of that year, Mark turned to his profession as a way of overcoming his loss. Mark says, ‘My mum was my No.1 fan and critic. She had encouraged and supported me so much over the years and I knew she would continue to be beside me 100% of the way.’
Mark went on to fast establish himself as one of his region’s finest and most requested entertainers of his kind and was totally overwhelmed by the supportive and enthusiastic fan base that soon developed. Carefully crafted, compiled and presented with panache and polish, Mark’s live show comprised a popular blend of Country, 50s, 60s & 70s, predominantly appealing to the more mature audience. His impressive vocal sound, versatility and warm stage persona were consistently admired in addition to his professionalism and experience. 2007 saw Mark notch up 90 shows in his first full year as a professional entertainer and saw him travel to 34 different towns and cities spread across 12 English counties. 2008 proved even better…topping 100 shows!
But sadly, it wouldn’t last forever. As a result of the smoking ban in public places which came into force in 2007 and, the economic recession which hit the country the following year, the entertainment industry went into decline. Many pubs and clubs were closing by the week and those which did survive either had to cut back on their entertainment or do away with it altogether. Mark says, “The scene was really changing – nothing remained the same anymore. The atmosphere had gone and there were often sparse audiences. Sometimes I found myself playing to less than 10 people some nights. It was soul destroying and extremely hard work. People just couldn't afford to come out, opting to stay in on Friday and Saturday nights and have a few drinks at home instead. The gigs were drastically drying up and what work did remain, artistes would fight for, many undercutting fellow entertainers just to secure it. Then cancellations would come in last minute and some weeks I would be left with no work whatsoever. I persevered with it under these conditions for the next couple of years or so but I was not enjoying it anymore. In fact, apart from a few cabaret spots for Warner Leisure Hotels, I only did one more prestigious show and that was in 2009 when I was asked to perform at the ‘National Feast of Lanterns’ – a weekend festival held in the grounds of Blenheim Palace. I appeared on the main stage as well as being solely booked to appear at the pre-festival dinner/dance. The latter was actually more fun as the main event was hit by the disappointing summer weather!
By mid-2011, Mark had become very disillusioned with the whole scene and knew it was just a matter of time before he called it a day on his professional singing career. Mark’s father had also been diagnosed with lung cancer around about the same time. Following an operation to remove a tumour, he subsequently ended up in hospital for some weeks. Mark recalls, “It really was a tough time and what didn’t help was I ended up with flu symptoms and laryngitis. I remember having to do a show in Luton one night and thinking I just wasn't in any fit state to do it. I was in fact so bad that I was unable to even make it through the first set! I felt very embarrassed and just wanted to get my equipment out of the venue as soon as I could. Sat in my car just about to drive home, I decided there and then to quit. Dad passed away just a week or so later. All in all, it was like an anti-climax to a musical era.”
Mark wrote a tribute to his father's career which became a 3-page feature in the UK’s foremost Country publication ‘Country Music People’ in December 2011. Jon Derek was the first British artiste the magazine had featured in years. The feature was so well received that subsequently this edition sold out! In 2012, Jon Derek was posthumously inducted into the British Country Music Hall of Fame - Mark went to London to collect the award on his behalf. He now looks after his father’s musical affairs and embraces the sudden resurgence in his career following his passing.
Mark vows to never entirely turn his back on his musical career and says that the door is always open for a possible return to live performing one day in some shape or form. In the meantime, he doesn’t intend giving up the day job!