It is with apprehension I interview a man who is very much a role model for aspiring journalists, he always has the knack of asking questions most would never think of, he gets interviews with stars most regional journalists would kill for and aside from his writing talents he is a talented photographer, a sought after travel writer and more latterly a pretty good stand up comedian too.
Sadly after he agreed to be interviewed I couldn’t arrange a face to face meeting for various reasons beyond our control but knowing David Dunn as well as I do I knew his written answers would be just as good if not better than his spoken revelations.
I say I know him well, as it turns out there is much more to the man that I could have imagined. He is always a modest guy yet there is much he could brag about and though he doesn’t suffer fools he is always approachable and his work in support of local music is legendary. Latterly he has become the king of pun headlines, a cracker I can recall was ‘who says grime doesn’t pay ?’ when referring to Wiley, but enough of the build up lets see what the man himself has to say.
What are your origins, I was going to say you’re obviously not a Yorkie but heard a whisper you are?
I grew up in Kent – in a village not far from Canterbury and then a small seaside town called Whitstable. I left partly because back then it was as dull as but now the London set have discovered it and it has some nice bars, a decent comedy venue and the likes of Harry Hill, Suggs and Janet Street-Porter have bought homes there. Typical.
Although my parents originated from south London I was born in Saltburn, North Yorkshire, while my dad had a job near there as chief architect on a new housing estate. They moved back down south when I was three, hence the southern accent.
Bizarrely, about 10 years ago I discovered during an interview with Whitesnake and former Deep Purple singer David Coverdale that we shared not only the same birth town but were delivered in the same maternity clinic. Apart from that and the same first name, I don’t think we share any other characteristics, especially the mansion in Lake Tahoe, California.
What steered you towards a career in journalism ?
Unlike some hacks I never had a burning desire to be reporting news, but I did have a thing about the English language from an early age.
In fact, at school it was about the only thing I was interested in other than clocking up a record number of detentions and trying to be the class laugh.
Gary Glitter used to give good interview. He’d answer the phone: “Leader speaking”.
I had a couple of brilliant English teachers who nurtured the former and one bloke in particular planted the idea that journalism might be the way forward for me, other than a life of crime. It was during one lunchtime detention that he told me about his Fleet Street past and some of the antics he and other journos used to get up to in the name of news.
From that moment on I had a direction for writing and having fun at the same time; the perfect combination. Sadly this teacher, Jon Adams, is no longer with us and actually became the subject of his own headline when he was killed by a suicide bomber in Oman while teaching drama to ex-pats, having quit UK education. I remain forever grateful for his inspiration.
How did you end up in Sheffield rather than somewhere more local to your home town?
Before I headed north I served my apprenticeship on various local rags around Kent.
With my A levels heading for choppy waters and there being no degree course available in journalism at that time I applied for a couple of trainee reporter jobs and got one in the same town as my school, a fairly drab market town called Sittingbourne.
I did five years there, gaining my diploma as well as learning to sub and plan pages and left as news editor of a couple of weekly titles, but not before I’d gone for a drink with the then deputy editor of the Daily Mail. He also told me some old school Fleet Street tales but revealed how he had spent some of his formative years up north, notably on the daily in Lincoln.
I did a week of shifts at the Mail and felt out of my depth, so began applying to dailies in the north to gain experience and landed a job at The Star as a general news reporter.
We’re you never tempted to try and break into the national newspapers?
Like many journo I had the urge to give London ‘a go’ and I used my holiday and lieu days to work on a few titles.
By then I’d already begun handling some of The Star’s music content and was picking up stories to sell to the nationals which landed me shifts on The Sun’s showbiz section, with Piers Morgan. We got on really well, not least as I chalked up an exclusive page lead, and he invited me back with a view to a full-time job.
Alas, by the time I could get a full week off again he had moved on and Andy Coulson had taken over the section. Oddly, even though we never clicked, he offered me a contract which I never took up. I decided I’d rather continue working somewhere I enjoyed and try to be my own boss where possible rather than slave away in a thankless role for someone I couldn’t stand. Bar a few shifts with Sunday Sport (I’m proud to say I have two of my oddest stories in the Joy Of Sport book) and the Daily Sport, in Manchester, I concentrated on developing The Star’s music, theatre and arts offering until I left my Entertainments Editor post in October.
Your track record in features / interviews is legendary but who were your:
Favourite to interview?
David Bowie and Angus Young have to rank as the highlights as my ambition was to get them if I ever went into ents journalism. In spite of my initial nerves they were both real pros and thoroughly nice people. Still a bit old school, but Tina Turner was great (not least as they flew me to Zurich to do it after soundcheck at the national stadium) as was Lord Of The Dance guru Michael Flatley (as he paid for us to do the chat at his Beverly Hills mansion). Sorry, I’m easily bought.
Noel Gallagher earlier this year was great, David Byrne as he was serious but charismatic and made me work for my answers, and Little Richard who was slightly bonkers. A controversial character now, to say the least, but Gary Glitter used to give good interview. He’d answer the phone: “Leader speaking”.
Hardest to get an interview with?
You’d think it would be Bowie, but that was offered to me because I didn’t hassle the PR for one. All about the mind games, you see. Simon Moran who runs promoters SJM and learned his craft at Sheffield Uni took more chasing than any muso. I nagged him like mad largely because he was so reluctant and I wanted to run a spread on him for our old monthly pull-out Oi!
Worst / most awkward to interview?
Oddly, The Pogues (can’t remember which one of them it was but not Shane), Ant & Dec when they were releasing records (very over protective of each other), and the political comedian Mark Thomas. Some people you just don’t click with. Most of the others were artists who came to nothing: egos out-weighing talent.
The one that got away ?
TOUGH one to answer, but most recently, Jarvis Cocker. Although I’d chatted to Jarvis Cocker a few times, I wanted to interview him for my final Star spread, but he couldn’t be arsed because he said he didn’t have “anything to say”. As if…
Which artist did you think was destined for greatness and never made it?
There was a band called White Belt Yellow Tag a couple of years ago, comprising former members of Yourcodenameis: milo and The Cooper Temple Clause. They made an epic album called Methods, but it didn’t do a thing. There have been a few others but they spring to mind immediately, along with Morning Runner, although at least one of their tunes was used in the theme to The Inbetweeners.
Many strings to your bow eg travel writer, photographer and latterly pretty good stand up comedian are there any other talents/ambitions we should know about ?
It’s funny how these other things come along.
Always been a keen snapper so used to do pics of bands now and again – including a very young Arctic Monkeys and Phil Oakey for an ‘at home’ piece – and then images for my travel pieces, simply because I knew what I wanted to accompany my words. Not that much of a control freak, really.
The stand-up was a result of a long-held ambition, a little dare to myself and encouragement from the likes of Bill Bailey, Chris Addison and Rhod Gilbert during interviews. I did five gigs, including The Lescar’s Last Laugh, and hope to do some more on my returns to Sheffield.
Now I’ve left The Star my ambition is to complete and try to publish a novel I began writing 15 year ago (life gets in the way) and to launch my own travel website, whilst adding to the 60-odd countries I’ve visited and written about. I like to think there’s still some fuel left in the tank.
If you could host a dream gig of people you’re interviewed who would you get to play ?
Good question. I’d like to assemble a band rather than a line-up that would feature Angus Young playing blues and skiffle alongside Sheffield’s own Frank White (surely someone who should have become a major star), Bryan Ferry fighting it out for vocals alongside Adam Ant, Mark Richardson on drums (Skunk Anansie) and Geddy Lee of Rush on bass. That might not sound too ‘cool’ and gawd knows what they would play, but they’d make an interesting noise.
A few days after the original answers were sent David had a change of mind.
I think I ought to change the bassist in my dream gig band to Gene Simmons.
KISS have way more kudos than Rush and he gave way more memorable interviews.
At the last one in London he told me to feel his thigh when I asked how old he was and then said: “Tell me that doesn’t feel like the thigh of a 60-year-old man.” I dutifully felt his thigh but did inform him I didn’t really have much of a reference point as I hadn’t felt that many 60-year-old’s thighs.
Famed for asking questions others would never have thought of, what would you ask David Dunn ?
Would you rather be taller or wealthier?
Obviously a big wrench leaving your adopted home of 23 years and all your friends including those at work though there will be frequent trips home hopefully, what will you miss most?
Having relocated to Abu Dhabi, that’s easy to answer.
Am going to miss nipping to a gig on a whim in any one of several venues, any night of the week; catching just about any comic worth laughing at and decent beer.
Will also miss cycling to work – simply too dangerous on the roads here. Mrs won’t even let me get another motorbike.
He may be diminutive in physical stature but Dunny leaves big shoes to fill at Sheffield Newspapers. We’ve been lucky to have a top writer bigging up South Yorkshire music and giving us an insight into what our musical heroes are really like.
Recently he has interviewed the likes of Paul Weller and George Michael but still finds time and space to interview young up and coming local acts like pop punksters A Season Of Secrets and more mature but very gifted Unsung National Heroes.
Sad to see David leave but a new door has opened for him in Ab Dabs (as he calls it), so all the best Mr D.