I’m on a National Express coach from London to Manchester sat currently just outside Knutsford. I’m surviving on overpriced service station fare and six hours’ sleep after a whirlwind visit to Brighton to see Morning Glory with Dick & Debs by my pals, Tall and Earnest. My head is swimming with ideas (wolf whistles, the Devil’s note, Voir Le Loup, Wolf Solent and more) but the jagerbombs have demolished my work ethic today so I’m updating my blog to let you know that yes, I’m alive and still making work.
Uses Of Enchantment (Working Title) has three dates coming up over the next for weeks, two outings of existing material and one extension of the existing story which I’m exploring every day through reading, writing, singing, playing and imagining. The feedback so far has been uniformly positive and I’m hoping to take it to even more exciting places.
I’m also keeping an eye on the Live Art Development Agency’s forthcoming DIY 10 series; I took part in Dickie Beau’s workshop last year which I found incredibly fruitful and hope to have similarly enjoyable experiences this year (presuming I get a spot).
So yes, still part of the living world, still making work, still ploughing on with lots of optimism.
This gallery contains 7 photos.
This weekend has been spent in the company of one of the most inspiring and enthusiastic men working in theatre, performance and the arts in general that I’ve ever met: Rikki Beadle-Blair, who came and kicked ass in a masterclass arranged and hosted by Blank Media Collective at Blankspace where we were challenged to be (among other things) ‘the bag no one else has got’ after Art With Heart earned some serious bag envy from Jackie Hagan.
I’ve been doodling around with some ideas for the past three months and I’m grateful for the time I’ve spent mulling them over. I was looking for something to kick-start my reintroduction to the performance arena and this couldn’t have been a better choice. For those who’ve not encountered Rikki, he is the creative director of Team Angelica, a multi-faceted company that works in a whole range of artistic mediums, aimed at creating ‘thought-provoking entertainment’ that tells people’s stories and inspire others to tell their own. He’s a prolific and independent creative spirit hailing from Bermondsey in London where at age four, he knew he wanted to be a writer and at age 12, was writing and directing his own plays which he held in whatever space he could find. That resourcefulness has underpinned his entire career to date.
After an illuminating lecture the evening before, me and a group of 10 or so other artists met with Rikki the following morning. I didn’t know what to expect in this session exactly: I thought there might be some practical activity as we’d been asked to dress comfortably but as it turned out we spent most of the time discussing in a group. While my body might have been static, my mind was racing. We shared our aspirations and the obstacles keeping them from us, which Rikki interrogated and challenged with resolute optimism and enthusiasm. I entered the workshop with ideas; I left with much more: belief in what I want to do and a plan on how to do it.
As with the Dickie Beau workshop, I won’t go into too much detail in case I spoil it for any future attendees…but one thing Rikki said which has really stuck with me was about how to get what you want from the world. If you want something, give it back to the world first. So if you want self-confidence, give self-confidence to those around you. If you want a wild romance, you better start getting romantic with the world. There’s no point in waiting around for something to turn up. Go and create it. That’s just what I’m going to do from now on.
Find out more about Blank Media Collective masterclasses.
I went for a walk the other day. The poet Alice Oswald talks about the importance of getting the brain working by moving the feet; William Wordsworth used to compose his poems out-loud as he paced up and down. I’m not planning on writing any poetry but I was searching for a direction to take my thoughts in and after a fruitless circuit of the city centre, I finally hit upon something on Princess Street as I trudged back home. Bipedal brain power!
I’m fascinated by the transformative aspect of costumes: from the fantastical to the mundane, from stage make-up to business suits, I enjoy the access they give to certain modes of behaviour (although I recognise the downsides of thinking about them in this way as well). I once pretended to be a ghost by wearing a swim cap and a bed-sheet. I felt free to move and behave as strangely as I wanted; much more so than if I was wearing my usual t-shirt and jeans combo and I think the extra ingredient is the observance, the spectacle; how people regard you differently in your costume.
The above picture is taken from Charles Fréger’s Wilder Mann series, which depicts the remnants of folkloric culture celebrated in remote parts of Europe and further afield in all its hallucinatory, primal glory. I’m saving up for the book at the end of the month in the hopes it will be a visual feast like the Raqib Shaw book I bought last month, which has been a rich spring of inspiration in its own right as well as for further reading (I’ve recently finished Huysmans’ Au Rebours and am now wading through Lautremont’s Maldoror, which is full of nightmarish episodes of cruelty – fun lunch time reading).
In this blog post about the Wilder Mann photos, one quote stands out for me:
“For a few nights you can behave like a goat, drink a lot and forget about being civilized. You can be a wild animal for three days and then you go back to controlling your wildness.”
Some of the most euphoric moments of the past few twelve months have been in fancy dress at Cheryl parties, once as some kind of monarch and another as a lycra biker (pictured above) and yes, there was a lot of drinking and lack of civility, a definite feeling of leaving the day-to-day me behind, or forgetting him at least. Extending these ‘vacations’ and making them more frequent are on the agenda.
I’ve got a slot performing at First Draft Cabaret Night on April 15th at The Castle Hotel, my first for several months and one where I hope to debut some new material along the themes I’ve been discussing. Time to go howl at the moon!
I don’t think I’ve ever been as inspired by an artist as I have been by Raqib Shaw. Steeped in tradition but perverse; elegant and depraved; massive and delicate; florid and brutal.
It’s a heady mix of contradictions and tensions that he mingles in his paintings and sculptures, much in the same way the enamel paints he uses are dragged into collision with each other by porcupine quills. The exterior (and some of the interior) of Manchester City Art Gallery has been shrouded in greenery that will grow and bloom over the course of Spring until the exhibition comes to an end. It’s a literal embodiment of the cycles of life and death that are found in his paintings.
After my second visit (I intend to go again) I picked up one of two remaining copies of the Paradise Lost book, detailing the paintings of an earlier series that went by the same name. It was more expensive but the reproductions are fantastic, preserving the vibrancy of his creatures and landscapes suspended in savage abandon and decadence for better than the current publication. The detailed essays have also enriched my experience of the artist, and my own creativity. They have got my pursuing authors like Huysmans and Lautremont who occupy a similarly heady fantasy world, and I realise I want to create worlds as accomplished and all-encompassing as this. I’ve glimpsed it through my fiction and I’ve often imagined realities which would have lived in comics and music but haven’t yet knuckled down to make them happen. The dedication Raqib has shown is a big inspiration and has set the bar high for the likes of me.
“A mugger has a woman at knife-point! An inferno threatens to engulf the city orphanage! Planet Earth is about to become the losing opponent in a galactic game of conkers with an asteroid the size of the sun.
There’s a phone-booth nearby. The people nearby turn to look at me, hope pinned flimsily on their faces. Yes, I might look mild-mannered in a resolutely masculine kind of way but I know exactly what to do.
There’s not a second to lose: I dash to the booth and shut the door behind me. In a split-second the coins are in the machine and I’m dialling my parents’ number wanting to tell them I love them and I’m sorry I never said it more while we still had the chance but all I get is a dial-tone. Stabbing at the keypad frenziedly one thought keeps flashing on and off in my head like a knackered neon sign: I wish there was a hero that could save me… “
Superman is just one star in a constellation of ideas I have circling around my head. He’s up there alongside St. Christopher the dog-headed saint, Pinocchio the wooden-boy, and a pack of werewolves. All of which would make for an interesting dinner party should they ever find themselves together (although I’m feeling a bit concerned for Pinocchio; let’s hope he doesn’t become a real boy made of meat anytime soon).
I’m fascinated by transformation narratives. Since I spend much of my week in a working environment which contrasts quite sharply with my other performative activities (yet still includes elements of performance), I feel some identification with them and the drag has probably sped that process along.
A conversation with my friend Matthew Bellwood last December helped to bring some of these initial ideas into sharp relief and they’ve been snowballing slowly ever since in a way not dissimilar from how the ideas behind the Lone Ranger accumulated, so I feel like I’m heading towards a strand of performance that should be quite fruitful (at long, long last).
Who will be the hero that saves me? Place your bets now.