Chris Needs – As It Is

Our perception of time often takes us by surprise.  If I say the General Election is only just over the half way mark in a 4 week campaign you might be forgiven for thinking its dragged on for an eternity already.  But for other events in your life, when you look back you can hardly believe how quickly the time has flown.

On Thursday evening I went along to the Swansea Little Theatre down in Swansea Marina to attend the Premiere of ‘Chris Needs – Like it is…’.  The theatre, which is celebrating it’s Centenary, is hosting a one man show showcasing the words and music of the much loved broadcaster, musician and entertainer.

It was only when I checked the programme that I realised it’s almost 4 years since I lost my dear friend.

Backstage at the Grand Theatre.

I say dear friend because that’s what Chris had become over the years.  I had known about the outrageous, musician and broadcaster form Cwmafan most of my life but it was probably over the last decade that I got to know the real Chris Needs. 

During the years when I wasn’t broadcasting regularly I returned to being a travelling musician. My life on the road meant late night post gig journeys, usually along the M4.  After a long day the prospect of long empty stretches of Motorway ahead of you meant you really needed something to look forward to that would help keep you awake.

The Chris Needs Late Night radio show soon became regular listening for me and lots of other late night entertainers.  At first you thought the show must have had the funniest team of scriptwriters and a wonderful cast of actors who brought the script to life in such a natural way.  It was so funny with perfect timing. It was only once you became a regular listener and got to know the show and its unique set of contributors you realised that the show was for real. The guests were for real and the host and ringmaster Chris Needs was also for real.

The show was as anarchic as any Goons Show.   The music varied from European disco to heavy rock to Classical music. Whereas most radio stations had chats that were limited to 5 minutes so that they could get to the next pre-selected track from the Playlist, sometimes Chris would be chatting for 15, 20 maybe even 30 minutes and it was riveting. 

Sometimes the guests would share the funniest stories that would literally have you laughing aloud as you drove down the highway.  Sometimes they would share stories so sad that you would find yourselves in tears with them, and with Chris.

As so often happens in broadcasting after some years out in the cold I found myself once again broadcasting regularly for the BBC. What had started as a long distance admiration soon became a firm friendship with Chris.  With a shared love for music we would often talk for hours in the corridors about artists and favourite records and sharing funny stories form the road.

Mal with Gabe Cameron.

At that time Chris was the most popular broadcaster on the station.  His ‘Friendly Garden’ membership ran into the tens of thousands and he was rightfully very protective of his audience.  I felt honoured when Chris asked me if I would sit in for him as he wanted to take some time off to holiday in Spain with his partner Gabe. The ‘Garden’ welcomed me with open arms and over the years I found myself looking after the show if Chris needed some time off. 

A BBC Wales Eurovision special.

We also started doing some shows together, like Eurovision, and then doing some live theatre shows.  If Chris ever came to one of my concerts as a ‘civilian’ it never took much to persuade him to join me on stage for ‘Simply the Best’. One of my favourite memories of Chris is when we appeared on the Mike Doyle Lyrics Game TV show.  Our team was Chris, me and Leo Sayer. All night long Leo kept singing’ When Chris Needs You.’

So many people thought they knew Chris Needs, but it was only when we became friends that I really started to understand the depth of the man. He spoke numerous languages; he had played in bands all over Europe, including being part of Bonnie Tyler’s backing group for a while.  He had raised enormous amounts of money for charity and he had more pairs of shows than Imelda Marcos.

Four years ago the world was very different.  We were in the middle of the COVID lockdowns.  Chris knew that for musician friends like me life was going to get pretty difficult, pretty quickly.  I had just returned from Prague having recorded a new album and was making plans for a theatre tour.  As the lockdown started to bite theatres shut down, concerts were cancelled, and the money started to dry up. 

Support for Lloyd Davies and Chris Needs form some Showbiz legends.

Every week I would get a call from Chris checking in to see how I was.  It would always end with the same question…how are you doing for money?  He would say this isn’t a loan, it’s a gift and every week I would say thank you, but we are ok for the time being.

With the world of radio starting to broadcast from home I actually found myself sitting in for Chris on a number of occasions.  Chris hadn’t been feeling well and reluctantly started taking the odd day off. I still remember that Sunday afternoon when he called for the last time.  Chris sounded tired but still wanted to make sure I was doing ok. I never just called him Chris; I always used his full name. The last thing I said was ‘love you Chris Needs’.

Anthony Stuart Lloyd came from Newport.

When I got a call later that night from Chris’ producer I wasn’t surprised as I thought Chris might need some time off.  I couldn’t quite believe it when she told me Chris had suddenly passed away.  I have had some difficult jobs in my time but none more so that presenting a tribute to Chris the following evening on Radio Wales.

Lloyd Davies stars as Chris Needs.

The show ‘Chris Needs- Like it is’ currently running at the Swansea Little Theatre features Chris’s own words to tell his story. In fact it is a show Chris had been working on prior to his death.

Lloyd Davies was a friend of Chris Needs and without trying to impersonate Chris captures the essence of the man. 

Chris Needs was a gay man growing up in a small village in Wales in the 1960’s.  He says he was different to the other kids and that led to bullying and misunderstanding.  I think many people from the outside recognised that fight.  What they didn’t know until his latter years was that Chris had been physically and sexually abused by a ‘family friend’ from the age of 5 to 15.

The show deals sensitively with this horrible ‘secret’ but pulls no punches.  In Chris’s words there is even an appeal to the audience to make sure if that had happened to them that go seek help to deal with their secret.

Just like Chris’s radio shows ‘Like it is’ will make you laugh and cry and singalong as well.  The show is a must for Chris Needs fans but will also leave you feeling uplifted even if you never knew this very special man.

1 thought on “Chris Needs – As It Is”

  1. Lovely Words Malypops ,.8 m off to see play this afternoon…can’t believe Chris is no longer here…I loved him .x

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *