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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 July, 2004, 06:09 GMT 07:09 UK
Is fame finally beckoning for Earl?
By Emma Griffiths
BBC News Online, London

Earl Okin
Dapper Earl is no slave to fashion

He might live with his mother in west London's Ladbroke Grove and wear the glasses he bought 36 years ago, but after four decades in showbusiness, music producers believe Earl Okin's moment in the limelight has finally arrived.

Back in 1967, when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were changing the face of popular culture, another young musician was teetering on the brink of stardom.

With a single made at Abbey Road Studios and work writing songs for Beatles publisher Dick James, it seemed only a matter of time before Mr Okin made it big.

But fate was not to be kind to the young undergraduate.

As Mr Okin studied for his finals, Mr James looked around for another songwriter to help him launch his record company and found Reg Dwight, the future Elton John.

"He launched his record label and it was his first LP, he had a hit with that and everything else stemmed from it," remembers the 57-year-old.

"By the time I got out of university, it was too late, I missed the bus. Instead of fame and fortune, I got a degree in philosophy."

Earl on tour with Paul McCartney and Wings
Earl (top left) on tour with Wings
It was not to be the last time Mr Okin found himself on the fringes of a key moment in entertainment.

In the 70s he worked as a teacher in Notting Hill during the day, but spent his evenings developing his comedy on the folk club circuit alongside the likes of Billy Connolly and Jasper Carrot.

His mix of music and comedy went down well with Van Morrison and Paul McCartney's band Wings, with whom he toured in 1979.

But fame continued to elude him and by the 1980s he found himself on London's emerging alternative comedy scene, alongside the original Comic Strip comedians.

Somehow Mr Okin, with his 1960s spectacles, blazer, waistcoat and spats did not quite fit the media mould for superstardom.

"I've never followed fashion. These glasses are the ones I had when I was 21 - the same lenses and everything.

He looked hysterical, he sounded wonderful.
Adam Sieff, head of Sony Jazz
"I was really a Variety act, but never really what they [TV producers] wanted. So I slipped through the net."

As his contemporaries went on to become household names, Mr Okin clocked up 501 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival between 1983 and 2000.

But recently his blend of comedy and jazz has won him spots alongside largely twenty-something performers at some of London's live music clubs.

Eighteen months ago he was at the Kashmir Klub in Baker Street when his mellow approach was noticed.

Adam Sieff, head of Sony Jazz, was at the club to see his niece perform, but recognised Mr Okin's unusual style.

Brian Johnston and Earl in 1959 on All Your Own
Earl's first television appearance in 1959 on BBC TV's All Your Own
"He looked hysterical, he sounded wonderful. It was just so damn funny, it was just like a huge breath of fresh air. I went up to him afterwards and started talking," said Mr Sieff.

"It reminds me of records from the 60s, everyone from Alan Sherman to Bob Newhart, the classic days of comedy records.

"It's just as funny and just as good musically. As far as we were concerned, it really worked."

So while his contemporaries might be thinking ahead to retirement, Mr Okin has been signed up to produce his album, Musical Genius and Sex Symbol.

Sony hopes the jazz, blues and bossa nova approach the 57-year-old brings to "Teenage Dirtbag" by Wheatus and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" will catch on with students.

There are plans for him to perform in gentlemen's clubs nationwide and to tour universities and colleges before the end of the year.

But after a career on the fringes of popular culture Mr Okin says he will keep going until he is in his 90s, whether or not his album is a hit.

"Fame just hasn't quite struck yet, maybe next month," he said.


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