05 September 2011

Exclusive Interview: Julian Lloyd Webber on Orient

Celebrities often like to associate themselves with a football club for the perceived glamour. Clearly that's never going to be the case with Leyton Orient, which means that as a supporter, internationally renowned cellist Julian Lloyd Webber is the real deal.

Hailed as one of the most gifted musicians of his generation, Julian, 60, has long been a passionate supporter of the club and can regularly be seen at Brisbane Road or performing concerts in an Os shirt. He even named his daughter Orienta for Christ's sake!

Here Julian talks about how it all started, the reason his brother Andrew won't buy the club and why Martin Ling pissed him off...

First up, Julian, the question we all ask ourselves: Why Orient?
It goes back many years. I was born and lived in Kensington, but my mother had a friend in Leyton who she used to visit on Saturday afternoons. And at a young age, she’d take me with her. But I got bored with the adult company and at the age of 11 I took myself off to Brisbane Road.

On your own?
Yes. I just wandered down the road to see what all that fuss was about round the corner. The first game I saw was in 1962, we lost 4-2 at home to Sheffield Wednesday in the old First Division.

What captured your imagination about Orient?
It was the first football match I’d ever been to, so that was something. The scoreline didn’t mean a lot to me, but I liked the whole atmosphere. I went again many times that season and I saw some amazing things, like the 2-1 win over Liverpool. Sid Bishop - he never scored any goals in his life, but he scored that day.

Where did you sit in those days?
On the wall in front of the East Stand. You could get hit in the face by the ball and throw it back. I used to drag all my friends out to Orient, we all used to get on the Tube. All of them supported Chelsea but I was never really into that.

Which player stood out for you during that season in the First Division?
My hero of that time was Dave Dunmore. Looking back he was a bit of a lazy player, but he had fantastic skill. He could have done whatever he wanted in football. He was a powerful centre forward, he could head goals, he could score from way out. And don’t forget, he had to follow Tommy Johnston, the biggest Orient legend of all time. Not many people could have done that.

After that first season, how often did you get down to Brisbane Road?
I used to go all the time. I became a real passionate Orient supporter. Those were the days I was probably going the most.

So you can’t get to games as often these days?
I try to go when I can but I don’t go as much as I used to. I often have concerts on Saturday which is a problem.

How many games a season, on average?
It could slightly depend on how we’re doing! For example, I couldn’t go to the Arsenal match last season as I was on tour in Ireland. I watched the game in an awful pub in Limerick as it was the only place showing ESPN. There were a few Arsenal supporters in there, but when we scored I just had to jump up. That was absolutely brilliant, I would have done anything to have been at Brisbane Road that day.

What are you like as a fan?
I can be very, very vocal. Hysterically vocal.

Where do you sit these days?
In the gallery.

Do people recognise you?
Usually, yes. I like to go to the Supporters’ Bar too. Why not?

Who do you go with?
I used to go a lot with my son David until quite recently. He’s at university, so he doesn’t go so much now. So I go with my wife Jia Xen.

Is she an Orient fan?
Does she have a choice?

I understand you took her to Brisbane Road when you were first dating?
Well I did take her to a game. I know that we lost. But it was ok, she quite likes her football.

And, of course, you recently named your daughter Jasmine Orienta…
Well she is part oriental, so it’s the two things combined. It’s better than being called Arsenalla isn‘t it? That sounds like you’ve got some bacteria up your bum.

Is it true that your brother Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote your 1978 album Variations after losing a bet on an Orient game?
Yes. He’d always said he wanted to write me a cello piece, but it wasn’t happening. At the end of the 1976/77 season we needed a draw in our last game against Hull City to avoid relegation. Andrew thought we couldn’t get it, so I said, I bet you we at least get a draw if not a win. So he said fine, if that happens I’ll write you a piece. And we got the draw.

How much of a fan is Andrew?
He used to go to Orient a lot with me and he still makes the odd game. The last game we saw together was away at Southampton last season.

Any chance he might buy the club?
People keep asking this. Andrew and I have had discussions about it. He always tells the story of a time just after he’d done Jesus Christ Superstar, when Bernie Delfont [theatre impresario and Leyton Orient director from 1961-67] put his arm around him and said, "Let me tell you something, my boy. Never waste your money on a football club." And he’s never forgotten that. Andrew’s got a soft spot for Leyton Orient, no question about that. But he’s a theatre man. He’s never going to buy a football club because he’d rather buy a theatre. That’s the way he is.

Are you not tempted to buy Orient yourself?
First of all, can I say I could not possibly afford to do that. People think I could, but I couldn‘t. I’m a classical musician and a lot of money needs to be put into a football club. Unless you're right at the very top of the tree, it’s a losers' game. I don’t have the cash to put into it. If I did I probably would be silly enough to do that. Because I do love the club and it has been a massive part of my life. I would hate to see anything terrible happen to it.

What are your greatest Orient memories?
My greatest Orient memory of all was the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea in 1978. I was standing on the terrace with the Chelsea supporters with a mate from school. I could hear idiotic comments like, "Losing at home to Orient, how bad can it get?" And when Peter Kitchen got the second I jumped in the air - and then pretended it never happened. It could be a bit tasty on the terraces in those days - I got out of there pretty quick after that.

And, aside from Dave Dunmore, who have been your favourite players over the years?
I like players who I feel are real Orient people. They really play for that team, and it’s their team. I like Jabo Ibehre. We wouldn’t mind having him up there now. Some sort of mobility maybe. I also liked the much-maligned Tommy Taylor, who everyone hates apparently. But as a player he was very good, whatever shortcomings he may have had as a manager. I felt he really loved the club.

And which players have stood out as the most talented?
One of the best players I ever saw - before he broke his leg - was John Chiedozie. Everyone goes on about Laurie Cunningham, and he was good, but Chiedozie before he broke his leg was amazing. He was never quite the same after that. Lost his pace.

Who do you think has been the best Orient manager over the years?
The best Orient manager I ever knew was Jimmy Bloomfield. He got some flair into the team on a very small budget. And that was a brilliant team, a really nice team to watch. A mix of experience and a bit of flair and also some really talented players like Dennis Rofe and Tommy Taylor, with Mark Lazarus on the right and Peter Brabrook on the left. He stormed that Third Division and then he got us to the semis of the cup.

And what’s been your low point as an Orient supporter?
I was at the ‘pass the bucket’ meeting in 1966, when the club nearly folded. That’s the sort of thing you never forget - the club was going to be wound up. I suppose you look at now and think at least the club is solvent.

Do you worry that the Olympic Stadium could put Orient in similar jeopardy?
Yes, I think it’s wrong to just plonk the stadium there and not give a shit about whatever club is nearby. I feel uncomfortable about the whole thing. The best thing that Barry Hearn could do at the moment is to make sure that we’re in the same division as West Ham when that situation occurs, because I can’t see how they can give the stadium to a team in the same division and knock Orient out of business. That seems to make sense to me - instead of spending £1million on solicitors’ bills spend it on getting us into the same division. But he may not see it that way. I’m a football supporter, he’s a businessman.

What are your feelings about Barry Hearn?
Barry could have made himself the hero of east London by taking Orient further than he has. I have mixed feelings about it all. He’s done alright with all the flats and everything, but he’s the one putting the money down. He’s kept the club alive, and we should be grateful for that. Other people haven’t done that. But where’s it going to go now?

Where do you think it’s going to go?
Barry’s created is a club that’s solvent - at the moment - but no one wants to buy it because it has no ground capacity. So if we go up to the Championship, we’d be turning people away for many games.

But when we were top of League One in the 2007/08 season, attendances didn’t really go up…
I’ve heard this story before and, I’m sorry, I completely disagree with this analysis. London is the biggest catchment area of the lot and if you start getting results you’re going to get the crowds. I’ve always believed that. But the trouble is we’ve never done it with any consistency. Martin Ling really pissed me off when we were top of the league, because he was in the gallery saying, "Don’t get carried away. We may be top of the league, but we are little Leyton Orient." What message is that giving to the players? And the supporters? At that point we really had a chance to go up and we didn’t take it. We never sustained it. Why didn’t people come? Because they thought, well, we’re top now but we won’t be next week.

So do you think Orient could be a big club again?
We can be a Championship club. But there’d have to be a lot of changes for it to go further than that, anyone could see that. But you know, other clubs have done it. What the hell are Wigan doing in the Premier League? I’ve seen Brisbane Road with 34,000 people in there. I’ve said to Barry that I see Orient as a big club. In my childish vision Orient is a big club. Barry said to me, ‘Get real mate’, which is probably true. But I’m a romantic.

You don’t traditionally associate classical music and football - are you able to talk to any of your peers about football?
Most classical musicians I know are massive football supporters. From Nigel Kennedy onwards. I recently did a concert in Cork and a lady in the audience had an Orient shirt on. I often get questioned about Orient.

And you do seem remarkably adept at getting mentions of Orient into interviews…
Yes! Or it could be that people keep asking me about it.

Did you ever play football yourself?
I used to like it but I was always a bit worried about my hands. It’s one of the namby pamby things classical musicians have to think about.

As a music man, what’s your feeling about Orient's theme tune, Tijuana Taxi?
I love it. I think it’s genius. First of all I quite like all that Herp Albert bossa nova stuff, but also because any team that runs out there will think they’re playing a bunch of maniacs. I love it. It’s great.

And if you could replace it?
Don’t tempt me! No, I think it’s brilliant, it should not be replaced. It’s the Os theme tune and that’s it.

Which one piece of classical music do you think sums up Orient?
It’s got to be some picture of hope. Some rousing Russian piece - Tchaikovsky or something. Something more bombastic. But I’m happy with Tijanua Taxi.

And finally, if you had to give up either the cello or Leyton Orient, which would you choose?
Oh come on! Ok, you can give up the cello, how can you give up your football team? There’s your answer. You can never give up your football team.
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