Lyn Paul on Her Final Blood Brothers Tour

As Lyn Paul embarks on her last tour of Blood Brothers playing Mrs Johnstone she reflects on a career that has included pop and West End stardom.

Lyn Paul

Lyn Paul is an English pop singer and actress. She first came to public attention along with Eve Graham as one of the two female singers in the New Seekers an international chart-topping pop group in the early 1970s.  She is better known today as a musical theatre actress who has made the role of Mrs Johnstone in Willy Russells musical Blood Brothers her own.

The New Seekers

During the early 1970’s one British pop group, the New Seekers, took the world by storm with” I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing,” a hit single around the world with sales of over 20 million, that had been adapted from an advertising jingle for Coca-Cola, it remains one of the best selling UK singles of all time.

The group enjoyed a string of hit singles and represented the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1972, coming second, with “Beg Steal or Borrow”, on which Lyn Paul was the featured vocalist.

Lyn Paul was also the lead vocalist on the 1974 No.1 hit “You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me” and the No.5 single, “I Get A Little Sentimental Over You”.

Amongst the New Seekers’ other hits were a version of Harry Chapin’s “Circles”; a medley of Pete Townshend’s “Pinball Wizard”/”See Me, Feel Me” from The Who’s rock opera Tommy,; and Delaney and Bonnie’s “Never Ending Song of Love”.

The group also headlined at the London Palladium and the Royal Albert Hall, and performed at the inauguration ball for US President Richard Nixon.

Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers was written by Willy Russell, who was also responsible for the hit play and film Educating  Rita.

The musical which was first performed at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1983 tells a captivating story of twin brothers who are separated at birth, grow up in opposite sides of the track, but are reunited as adults with tragic consequences .

Blood Brothers quickly transferred from Liverpool to London’s West End and then around the world.

The role of the twins’ mother Mrs Johnstone has been played by many famous women including:

  • Kiki Dee,
  • Angela Richards,
  • Barbara Dickson,
  • Stephanie Lawrence,
  • Lyn Paul
  • Clodagh Rodgers, 
  • Siobhan McCarthy,
  • four of the Nolan sisters (Linda, Bernie, Denise and Maureen),
  • Melanie Chisholm, also known as Spice Girl Mel C who made her West End debut in the role.

The Bill Kenwright long-running production of Blood Brothers is one of only three musicals to run for more than 10,000 performances in London’s West End.

The musical is popular with both audiences and critics. Blood Brothers has been called the “Standing Ovation Musical” because with songs like Bright New Day, Marilyn Monroe and the emotional big hitter Tell Me It’s Not True audiences are regularly brought to their feet.

Lyn Paul starts her final Blood Brothers tour

Lyn Paul has returned to the latest touring version of Blood Brothers which on the cusp of entering her eighth decade she has announced will be her last in the role.

She explains that starting rehearsals for the role of Mrs Johnstone was both like meeting an old friend and at the same time terrifying. The other night she explains she was lying in bed thinking about the opening song, but reached one part and for the life of her she could remember the next part. It was quite frustrating so at 4AM she had to go downstairs and find the script!

Play that tune again

Lyn Paul has played the role of Mrs Johnstone more than once. From 1997 right up until 2000, then revived it in 2008 and then again in 2012 for the final two weeks of its West End run. There is obviously something that appeals both to producers and Lyn  about this particular combination of role and actress.

It is something that Lyn recognises, but also acknowledges that although she obviously knows the role, and she has lots of direction notes from previous productions, once rehearsals start everyone regardless of their experience with their role treat every production as if they are part of a new show with a new cast.

Written like people speak

The role of Mrs Johnstone is one that Lyn Paul describes as being just me!

Everything that Mrs J goes through in the musical is says Lyn something that she feels, in the way Willy Russel wrote the script. That makes it very easy to communicate with the audience.

Willy Russell writes as people would speak.

Sometimes, when as an actress you look at a script, you think, “well, that’s not how I would say it”. But Blood Brothers is so perfectly written and so easy, it just flows, and I just feel that Mrs J is me, so it makes it very easy to play.

If you want a role, ask for it

Lyn decided that she wanted to play the role of Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers and so decided to write to the producer Bill Kenwright and ask for it.

Mr Kenwright wrote back by return post and within three weeks Lyn was ending her cabaret engagement and standing on the stage at the Pheonix Theatre in London’s West End about to start rehearsals for the role.

It was a bit of a leap of faith, Lyn admits that she had never acted before and she doubted the wisdom of writing that letter, but Bill Kenwright showed so much faith in her that it felt she says like all he has to do is click his fingers and you think no problem!

Taking a chance changed life

Taking a chance on writing and sending that letter was a leap of faith that paid off.

As Lyn explained that although she knew Carl Wayne, who was the Narrator at that point, she did not know Bill Kenwright.

Carl had seen her in a cabaret show she was in down the road from the Phoenix Theatre and had suggested that she took a look at Blood Brothers and the role of  Mrs Johnstone.

Lyn still needed the nod of approval from her mother, like any major decision you want to talk it over with your Mom. 

Mom knows best as they say. 

Lyn’s Mom was sure, although she had never met Bill Kenwright, she had seen him on the TV and was sure that he was a very nice man, and convinced Lyn to write that letter.

The letter asked if Lyn could be considered for the role of Mrs Johnstone. She explained that she wasn’t a Liverpudlian but that she was sure that she could get into the accent.

Two days after the letter was posted Lyn received a reply telling her not to worry about the Liverpudlian accent, because that could be sorted and that Bill would love to see her.

That was it, from that moment Lyn has excelled in the role and been become good friends with Bill Kenwright.

Another letter

Lyn has also been part of the successful tour of Cabaret, that was produced by Bill Kenwright.

That all started in a similar way to her involvement with Blood Brothers, although instead of a letter from her to Bill it was an email from Bill to Lyn that got the ball rolling.

The producer sent Lyn an email asking her if she would like to talk about playing Fräulein Schneider. Lyn was as prompt with her reply as Bill had been with his many years earlier.

Pop star to musical natural

Like Cabaret co-star Will Young, Lyn made the transition from pop music to musical theatre. It’s not admits Lyn an easy transition to make. As a pop singer you are essentially being yourself on stage, in musical theatre you have to be someone else and that means you have to develop acting skills.

Although she was never that comfortable as herself talking to audiences when she is on stage in a musical, playing a character it just seems to happen for her, especially in the role of Mrs Johnstone.

The synergy between herself and the role is probably because Mrs Johnstone and Lyn are both Northern mothers, who have both faced a lot of struggles in their life’s. Lyn says that she can relate to her to a great extent, so I feel that it just comes, it just happens.

Thrilled to be back

Lyn is thrilled to be back playing Mrs Johnstone for the final time. It is she says an iconic role and one that has been an honour for me to play.

Tour details

Full details of the current tour of Bill Kenwright’s production of Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers starring Lyn Paul are available at this link.