In the summer of 2006, I discovered the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall, one of the world's oldest and best-preserved music halls, handily situated on Glasgow's Trongate. Between 2007 and 2011 I was a regular performer at their monthly "Music Hall Memories" shows and assorted special events.
As it happens, one side of my mother's family (originally from Ireland) were music hall entertainers and my father's family (from the east end of London) were steeped in the tradition. I therefore grew up with the comic songs of yesteryear as part of my cultural baggage.
When I first joined the Britannia Panopticon company, there were various singers already on the bill, giving me the perfect excuse to do something a bit different: ventriloquism (which you can read more about here). Long before Britain's Got Talent, the music hall provided regular amateur nights (one of which, at the Panopticon, launched the career of Stan Laurel) featuring bizarre novelty acts of varying quality. In this spirit, seizing the opportunity to be original, and because authentic-looking ventriloquist's dolls are rather expensive, I de-squeaked a squeaky bird puppet, designed and built a prosthetic arm, cut an arm hole in the elbow of an old jacket, and constructed a routine based on the premiss that I have wangled my way onto the bill with an animal act: "Fernando the Amazing Talking Parrot" -- only the parrot turns out to be less than obedient...
Over time, Fernando showed his true colours, exerting his dominance as a showman and making forays into music and magic. He was particularly popular when demonstrating his psychic abilities as a spirit medium.
Alongside the ventriloquism, I became increasingly in demand for comic songs. I started off emulating Harry Champion (singing "I'm Henery the Eighth I am" and "Any Old Iron"), moved to being Little Billy Williams (singing "When Father Papered the Parlour") and then constructed the persona of "Dan Lilo" to interpret Dan Leno's stand-up-infused song "The Swimming Instructor".