IN the corner of Hot Gossip café, among all the other vintage paraphernalia, is a vinyl album cover of the Springfields with the faces of a very young Dusty, her brother Tom and guitarist Mike Hurst beaming out.
“That’s the guitar,” says Hurst. “The very same one. It’s a Gibson Country and Western, and I bought it from Selmer’s on Charing Cross Road for £128 in 1962. That would be thousands now.”
At the time, the Springfields had just crashed into the top 10 in America, and were about to embark on their first tour there, which is why he splashed out on the guitar. Of all the instruments he has bought since, it’s still his favourite.
“It’s like a violinist with a Stradivarius,” he says. “Musicians always say that it’s the quality of the tone that matters. That guitar is handmade with wood, rather than the composite they use nowadays, and the tone has got better and better.”
Hurst has been playing an annual gig at the Kenton for the past 15 years, but this year for the first time he will be on stage without a band, all alone with his voice and the Gibson. At a time in his life when fellow musicians are dying or retiring all around him, the guitar is proving to be one of his oldest and most trusty friends.
“Normally I do a rock ‘n’ roll show with a band and it’s fun, but I thought it would be very personal to have someone with just a guitar who sings songs the audience will remember,” he said. “There are a lot of songs from the Fifties that nobody plays on the radio these days, but people will know them.
“It’s a very personal thing, just one man and a guitar, you are exposed. A band can cover a multitude of sins, but just one man and a guitar is up-close-and-personal, which I love.”
The show, Mike Hurst — A Living Jukebox, will consist of two 45-minute sets, although he suspects the night may go on longer than scheduled. He will begin by playing some of his favourite songs from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies before opening the floor to requests. Among the songs already on his playlist are Some Day, a tribute to Buddy Holly, I’m A Believer made famous by the Monkees, and 16 Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford, another “huge hit from the Fifties you never hear any more”.
Last February he played at the Kenton with his band, the All Stars, but the band is no longer. Drummer Clem Cattini — a legend in his day — retired last year aged 75, and guitarist Ray Fenwick has also stepped down because of long-term illness.
“I’ve lost my drummer and guitarist,” says 71-year-old Hurst. “That makes me feel sad. It was a great rock ‘n’ roll band. People have said, ‘Why don’t you just get another one together?’ but I can’t do that because of the personnel. I wouldn’t know them as well as my guys and I don’t think we would create the same sound and the same feeling. It’s pointless. ”
However Hurst, who went on to have a successful career as a record producer discovering stars such as Cat Stevens, shows no signs of slowing down. He is planning a tour with the new Springfields line-up and Donovan and he is also writing his first novel, A Killer Song, based on his experiences in the record industry.
“So many of my contemporaries have gone at my age or before, but I can’t imagine giving up,” he said. “Energy is a fantastic thing. It’s what drives all of us. My energy levels haven’t really changed. When I’m playing or doing a show I feel the way I did 20 years ago.
“Our band played together for 25 years and the most fun thing we ever did was the ball for the veteran Masters tennis tournament at the Royal Albert Hall. They asked us to play. We had John McEnroe come up on stage and he played guitar. He was really good. Then Max Wilander, the Swedish player, came up. He was singing Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. The only trouble was he wouldn’t stop. He was singing for at least 10 minutes. I tried telling him to stop but he just kept saying, ‘No, now I carry on.’”
Mike promised there would be lots more anecdotes sprinkled throughout his show at the Kenton.
• Mike Hurst — A Living Jukebox! is at the Kenton Theatre on Saturday, February 15 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £22 adults, £20 concessions. Contact (01491) 575698 or go to www.kentontheatre.co.uk