Dave Swift: Horror Film Confessions of TV Bassist

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Dave Swift has played bass for Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra band for 22 years, performing with great artists, such as George Benson, Chaka Khan, Eric Clapton, Smokey Robinson, BB King, the lists goes on. But Dave a secret – he loves classic movie monsters!

Sarah Karloff and Dave Swift

Interview with Dave Swift

SPOOKY ISLES: Dave, how long have you been interested in horror and why?

DAVE SWIFT: I’ve been interested in all things relating to horror, monsters, Sci Fi and fantasy for as long as I can remember.
One of my earliest memories was seeing “The Munsters” on TV as a very young child. I was transfixed by these bizarre, quirky characters, and all the spooky goings on.

I have two older brothers and i shared a bedroom with my middle brother. I remember him having several of the Aurora monster model kits. In particular, Frankenstein, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and i think perhaps the Mummy.
Again, I was fascinated with these ghoulish characters, and I liked them as they were so different to other toys and models I had seen previously, such as Airfix.

As a kid I played with all the usual toys, but I was always more interested in ‘character-based ones, such as models and action figures.
I also think we all love a good scare, even as kids, so my interest in horror provided plenty of opportunities for that and I think made for a very fertile imagination!

Can you still remember watching your first horror film?

I have to be honest and say I don’t have the best memory, so i’m always very impressed when I hear people recollecting the first movie they saw, or the first record they bought. I am, however, willing to make a bold guess and say that the Universal film Son of Frankenstein was one of the first I remember watching. I definitely saw this before I saw Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein

You collect a lot of horror film memorabilia, in particular, monster toys. What is it is about memorabilia that hooks you and what is your favourite piece?

Most of the monster toys from my childhood are long gone, only a couple of things survived, but over the years I have managed to acquire a great deal of what I had from toy fairs and ebay. I started to collect again back in the mid 1990s, and the reason for this was two traumatic events that happened quite close together.

In 1993, my dad died very suddenly, which was a great shock to me and my family, then the following year I became very ill and spent several months in hospital. When I was well enough, I went to visit my mum who was living (and still does) in the same house I grew up in. 

I discovered in an old wardrobe a lot of my old monster comics and magazines, along with  a few monster and Planet of the Apes figures and posters. I was almost in tears, because all these things bought back so many happy memories of my childhood, when everything seemed simpler and more innocent, and my dad was still alive, and I was happy and healthy without all the worries and anxieties that come with being a grown up!

Picking a favourite piece is tricky because i have so many – but at a push, I would have to say it’s a Frankenstein ventriloquist doll form the 1970s. My original one was a Christmas present from my parents and although it wasn’t an accurate depiction of the monster from the movies, it still had the generic features such as the flat head, neck bolts, scars, boots, black suit, green hands and face etc… It even had its own box in the shape of a coffin!

Huge classic horror fan Dave Swift was excited to meet Sara Karloff in London last year.
Huge classic horror fan Dave Swift was excited to meet Sara Karloff in London last year.

My original is long gone sadly, but i managed to find a “mint in box” (MIB) one from a toy dealer about 15 years ago. I had to pay a lot of money for it, but it was worth having my “old friend” back.

Tell us some of your memories about buying monster toys when you were younger.

Most of my monster toys were bought for me by my mum & dad. I think my favourite Christmas had to be when when I was 9 or 10, and I woke up to see a huge poster of Lon Chaney Jr as the Wolf Man in my bed, then the Frankenstein ventriloquist doll in its coffin box on the floor, and next to it was a latex rubber full over the head Frankenstein mask with hair. There were other things as well, but they were the “big three” – Best Christmas ever!

I also have very fond memories of going into Woolworths in Wolverhampton town centre and seeing all the Aurora monster kits stacked on the shelves. At one point I had all of them with perhaps the exception of Godzilla, which was my least favourite.

I wasn’t very confident with the paint jobs, so I would often only glue the models together and leave them unpainted.

I do remember when I was very young and I think my eldest brother had helped me build and paint the Aurora Frankenstein model. I was so impatient that I put it in front of the gas fire so the paint would dry quickly! I then looked on in dismay as his jacket started to “curl up” at the bottom from the heat! 

I was so upset about this, but my eldest brother calmed me down by saying “don’t worry, it looks like his jacket is just “blowing in the wind” I have to say, this did actually make me feel better…

I was particularly into “masks” when I was a kid. I really did want to be a horror make up man, and I was always trying to turn myself into all manner of creatures. I even tried to make my own werewolf hands by gluing brown wool onto a pair of my mum’s washing up gloves!

What did you prefer, Universal Horror or Hammer Horror?

I am a fan of Hammer films, but for me it all started with Universal, and I’m still amazed at the incredible makeup that Lon Chaney Sr and Jack Pierce came up with. I’m endlessly fascinated with the Frankenstein monster makeup, in particular. In  many ways that makeup with the flat head and neck bolts should look ridiculous, especially by today’s standards. But actually, I think it still looks amazing and bizarrely believable, and will always remain iconic.

What is your favourite horror film?

This is such a difficult question to answer. I have over 40 bass guitars, and I still can’t work out which is my favourite, but i’ll have a go with the films…

Growing up in the 1970s, I think my favourite films were mostly made by Amicus Productions. I was absolutely thrilled (and chilled) by their series of portmanteau horror anthologies including;

I still love all of these films, but I guess if i had to pick a favourite I’d go with Dead of Night made by Ealing studios in 1945. Now there’s a chilling film!

Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff or Vincent Price?

I think Peter Cushing was one of the most superb actors this country has ever produced, but sadly,  he is often overlooked. Whenever he is on the screen, I simply can’t take my eyes off him, and he usually steals every scene!

Christopher Lee, of course, is fabulous and i’m so pleased he is still with us. Vincent Price was wonderful, I love all his films, but if I had to pick a favourite, it would have to be “Dear Boris”.

He portrayed my favourite monster of all time, he was born only a few miles from where I live in London, and I am now good friends with his daughter Sara. So yes, Boris Karloff all the way!

Werewolves, vampires or zombies?

Probably vampires. The females tend to be more attractive!

You’re originally from Wolverhampton in the West Midlands – you’ve told me previously about your passion for a huge statue called Brummie Kong – can you tell our readers about that?

Growing up in Wolverhampton, a trip to Birmingham with my dad was a big day out. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, a rather large statue of King Kong appeared in the town centre in the 1970s. This was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen, and I made sure we visited the statue each and every visit.

I remember asking my dad if it ever came up for sale if he would buy it for me to put in our back garden. I don’t think he was too taken with the idea!

I was so sad to see it disappear, but absolutely thrilled when I discovered it hadn’t been destroyed and that it still exists, lying on its back in a car park in Cumbria.

There is a campaign called Bring Home Brummie Kong on Facebook which I urge all the readers to check out.
It would be the most amazing thing if the statue could be brought back and placed where he was all those years ago for a whole new generation to enjoy.

Do you have any favourite moments from your life as a horror fan?

I do have a fond memory of seeing the actor Peter Wyngarde play the lead in “Dracula” at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton when I was very young. This was quite an occasion for me as neither myself or my parents were what you would call “theatregoers” (unless it was panto season, of course).

But probably the best moment was when I got to meet Sara Karloff, daughter of Boris, in London last year when she came over to sign copies of the Stephen Jacobs book “Boris Karloff: More Than A Monster
I really didn’t know what to expect, but I found her absolutely charming and delightful and we have since become good friends. She is also hoping to come to one of our Jools Holland gigs later in the year, which will be a huge honour for me.

I often get asked which International artist I have most enjoyed meeting or working with in my professional career, and there have been many, but no matter which of my musical heroes I’ve worked with, nothing has compared to the time I got to meet the wonderful Sara Karloff!

What was the last horror film you watched – what did you think of it?

It was Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. I have to admit, I had not seen this film until recently, which is amazing really considering I had the poster of this from issue 3 of “Monster Mag” on my wall as a boy, and i’ve seen many stills in various horror books in my collection.
It’s not the best of films that’s for sure!

Dave Prowse as the creature is no Karloff, and the acting abilities of Madeline Smith were certainly not overtaxed! However, Peter Cushing is infinitely watchable and has to be one of the most intensive actors I’ve ever seen. I think Peter is probably my favourite actor of all time, and i’m so pleased that he doesn’t get killed in this film. It has a relatively happy ending for a Hammer Frankenstein film!

What are you future plans to indulge your passion for horror films?

My immediate plans are to upgrade my TV and DVD player. I won’t tell you how old my TV, it’s far too embarrassing! I am looking to get a large flat screen TV and a Blu-Ray player. There are many holes in my horror DVD collection as I’ve been deliberately been putting off buying DVDs until I upgrade my system.

I’m hoping to meet up with my friend Sara Karloff later in the year when she comes to the UK. She is due to come to one of our gigs on the winter tour which i’m particularly excited about!

I attend various music trade shows around the world, but i really want to attend one of the horror/monster conventions in the US. Thing is, they regularly coincide with my work, so it’s difficult to plan such a trip. I have been to a “Chiller Theatre” convention once which I thoroughly enjoyed, so I’d like to get to more of these events if and when I can.

Learn more about Dave Swift’s music on his webpage here.


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