Rambling On Day 1 30th May
It’s a funny old world.
Last night I found myself in the back of a car driven by a bloke called David who alongside Hans Blix works for the United Nations as a nuclear inspector. He was there when they didn’t find anything. I was sat in the back of his motor eating pasta off a china plate with some lovely olive bread that I had been given at the close of our show.
David (One of our audience members) very kindly drove us to St Bees where we were to spend the night. Along the way we we discussed wether or not the wind turbine viewed from the right hand window was a blot on the landscape or not.
Curiously if I looked out of the left window we were in the shadow of Sellafield Nuclear reprocessing plant.
It remained unmentioned.
We had just performed our premier at a beautiful and intimate theatre called The Florence Mine near Egremont. This ex iron ore mine now boasts a thriving community of artists all gathered in various workshop spaces.
They have a gallery, a coffee shop, a bar and theatre space. Our audience gathered around small tables cabaret style, or relaxed at the back of the orchestra stalls on comfortable sofas near the bar.
Congratulations to Peter the manager and all his team who have created a vibrant Phoenix from the red dust and residue of a now lost industry.
And so to our first night.
As a showman I am at my happiest performing to audiences when offering something new.
There is a glorious mix of excitement and fear involved in premiering a new show. Audiences and artist all to soon gauge the measure of each other and both swiftly realise what kind of evening we are each heading for.
A new show can go either way.
We hope that each routine will entertain in its own right but also that our collection of stories knit together seamlessly into one long tapestry of tails.
We hope our audience are in the right mood. We hope our audience feature the perfect balance of ages and characters.
We have a lot of hope.
As time passes and our shows evolve us story tellers naturally alter the pace of our delivery and we will constantly tweak and fiddle with a show from our opening night until our final curtain.
Hopefully to its benefit.
And that first night when you stand in front of an expectant paying audience you can only hope your show is good. You never actually know this to be the truth until your on stage.
Thankfully at our premier in the Florence mine both Maxim, myself and audience were quickly able to relax. Surely enough a quarter of a way into our first show I enjoyed that familiar tingle that tells me it’s OK and our audience are engaged. Thankfully each routine worked as we had hoped and our palate of songs, stories and routines worked well together as one whole.
Later at the bar our audience shared with us there favourite bits and thankfully again most of our routines earned a mention.
Earlier we had our first shunt.
Five miles of glorious Cumbrian scenery. Up hills, along pretty avenues with lush green canopies then up hills again. We had lunch at the side of the pretty church in Haile which was opposite a large hill entirely washed with blue bells and wild flowers.
We passed babbling rivers atop ancient stone bridges.
Cumbria is indeed a beautiful and hilly part of the world. Our first push covered five miles in glorious sunshine.
Along the way Maxim enjoyed his share of puffing and panting up the big hills as much as the gentle strolling along the flat lush lanes. After a few miles we had done away with the politeness of asking whether each would care for a break from shoving and had sunk into just knowing when to stop or handover.
The secret to pushing a heavy load a long way is stop and rest before you need to. An easy enough job when you are lucky enough to tramp through glorious Cumbria, always encouraged by what delights might await our viewing at the top.
Finally down hill and into the mine complex itself, a well earned coffee, meat pie and first fit up.
Inside we met with local artists Jenni and Marie who specialise in making paints both oil and pastel from ore cut in the mine. This delivers a wonderful sandstone red hue and exhibits of work using these bespoke materials were hung proudly in the venue by myriads of artists both local and national.
During one of our routines I use pastels to illustrate one of Maxim’s stories. I know proudly use a pot of Egremont Red hematite to colour and shade with great effect.
So a grand long walk, glorious weather, beautiful landscape and a successful premier. Interesting and kind people plus a few pints of Buttcombe and the promise of a fry up in the morning.
All in all a perfect start.
We are truly on the road.
Beckermet reading rooms tonight. We have five more miles to shunt and the weather is again lovely.
All I need to do now is return the plate.
Our dress rehearsal is done, dusted and after many weeks of plotting, writing, researching, rehearsing, ripping it up and re-doing at last our humble Vagabond show is finally ready for viewing.
I will leave our Director Jim Woodland to cover the overall philosophy of our show via his blog below.
Suffice to say we have had a wild time creating the show and I have enjoyed the creative process very much.
Our test audience seemed to enjoy our show and many offered advice on where it might be tweaked.
Thank you to the good people of Bowes for offering themselves as guinea pigs. There is no better way to gauge and massage your show than reciving honesty from your last audience.
That said thanks to our friend and director Jim, who has guided and encouraged us over the last few weeks. Each round of applause that we lucky enough to collect along the way we share with you. That and any vegetables, half house bricks or paving slabs we might encourage.
Over to Jim.
Well we spent recent weeks getting the long awaited new travelling show on its feet. It’s been a year in the preparation, from original mapping sessions to final script. Several new songs by Gary Bridgens’ and a collection of stories and sketches either written or collected by the company which in this case is Mike Bettison.
An interesting brief this one. The Story Of Stories! My job as director was to help make this eclectic array of tales into a coherent show of some kind. I mean it has the word story twice in the title which is a bit of a giveaway as to what was needed which is best summed up as a beginning a middle and an end.
The material available did some of the job for us covering the period from prehistoric cave paintings to the Internet and social networking. At least it was in the right order chronologically, but it also needed to work as a story in its own right. And it emerged during rehearsals that the best story to act as a vehicle for all the other stories, would be a potted history of performance itself. Interestingly the nearest we got to literature was the cave paintings and from that point on we stayed with the oral tradition, having fun with Inuit songs (No really!), Viking sagas, Music Hall, Radio and Rap.
Gary and Mike needed no encouragement to get going on this one. In fact much of my job was to stop them from getting going and constantly adding new bits. The stories themselves came together with a little bit of kindness and an immense amount of cruelty, but it was the links between them that often got us giggling. Two blokes on the stage telling a story? We looked for inspiration and quickly found ourselves in the company of the likes of Morecambe and Wise, Laurel and Hardy, the Two Ronnies, Smith and Jones, and Captain Mannering plus whoever you want to put him with.
So there you are. If you want an idea of what the show is like, it’s a mixture of street, music hall and rap. I suspect that if you had walked into the rehearsal room unannounced at any point during the rehearsals you would either have been extremely impressed by the range of talent on display or you would have been extremely irritated by the amount of irreverent and noisy banter from three blokes of a certain age (Gary is younger than the other two to be fair!) spending much of the day rolling around on the floor in helpless merriment.
Well, pop three seasoned anarchists in a room and ask them to tell you a story and what do you get? The Story of Stories. Dress rehearsal tomorrow. I can’t wait to see it how it all ends….
It has been two years since Headzup delivered our first peripatetic story telling adventure.
In fact I write this blog on the second anniversary of our performance in Sparkbridge an idilic village in South Cumbria.
That night we were to perform on a beautiful lush patch of grass by the gently flowing river. However the weather had taken a turn for the worst and as a result we were invited to take shelter and perform in The Royal Oak as guests of the landlady. The show went very well indeed despite the shallow ceiling, so shallow in fact that we had to drop our marionette routine from the set.
A shame really because after the show a man approached us who had been in the audience and asked if we would like to view his collection of puppets. He then brought in a car load of antique marionettes that had been built and operated by a double act performed by his dearly departed Aunts.
The puppets were quite amazing. The attention to detail was stunning. There were characters from all over the world clad in elaborate hand stitched costumes. There were exotic animals, lions, bears and more familiar creatures cows, sheep and birds. Human figures too. Kings, Queens, soldiers and children. Young old, rich and poor. So many characters that his ancestors would surely have been able to perform any story imaginable.
Perhaps being local they might have performed in that very pub in some distant past.
The puppets were each individually bagged and catalogued and after a lengthy inspection the inheritor asked if I would like them. Anybody who has witnessed my marionette manipulation skills will be relieved to learn that I thanked him politely and suggested that he would be best finding a true scholar of historic puppetry and have them displayed in a museum.
Still this was an amazing offer.
Also that night we were gifted a meal and copious amounts of beer from our landlady. We enjoyed whisky courtesy of our audience and a full hat of coins from our collection. At last orders we were even given the keys to the village hall on account of the bad weather and we were free to bed down for the night and shower in the morning.
And make tea.
This reminds me of the incredible generosity and sense of value we received everywhere as myself Lord Gregg and Dolly tramped and performed during that first walking project.
Our show Vagabonding lasted for three weeks and in that time we covered over 120 miles largely on foot performing in a myriad of locations. We delivered our show on village greens, in pubs, on railway stations, in pubs, in village halls, schools and well … pubs.
It was a rather wet that particular May.
Our show was commissioned by Lakes Alive the company famous for delivering an outstanding three year project of outdoor work in Cumbira as part of the cultural Olympiad.
The show featured a collection of Cumbrian stories.
We explored the history of Piel Island, how it was invaded by Lambert Simnal and his army during the 1600’s. We told how the town of Dalton was ravaged by a wicked medicine pedlar by the name of Doc Lancaster, a man who sold poison to the locals claiming that it was in fact a cure for the plague.
Another Dalton story talked of Commando the pigeon who was awarded the coveted Dikin medal for assisting british secret agents by flying home with warnings of nazi military tactics.
From our home town in Barrow we told of two lovers who would meet for lunch on the very tips of two cranes that they operated in the shipyard during in the second world war and how they eventually married and grew old together.
Two years later we are to embark on a second journey.
Dolly and myself will this time be joined by Mike Betson of Blaize a theatre company based in North Yorkshire.
Blaize deliver all manner of projects working in both rural and urban locations. They make films, burn spectacular bonfires and tour village halls with finely crafted plays telling stories in the most remote venues.
We are directed by the celebrated playwright and songwriter Jim Woodland.
Mike and Jim were two members of The Fabulous Salami Brothers, probably the finest street theatre and festival act of their generation.
I remember being so excited watching their shows that when my school careers officer asked “What do you want to to be when you leave school” I replied “Sir I want to be a Fabulous Salami Brother”
I recon this is as close as ill get.
Ill talk more about the content of this show as it develops. We are entering our last week of devising and rehearsing and this new collection of songs, stories will soon be ready to show.
Dolly our cart is oiled and ready to be shoved and shunted into whatever kindness or catastrophe awaits us on this next Vagabond adventure.
The new Headzup website has been designed by the visionary web wizard and sound artist Shaun Blezard. He and the ever excellent co director of Headzup Janice Benson will be steering us and keeping a watchful eye from the Dalton command centre.
The first leg of our journey takes place in venus promoted by Arts Out West in Cumbria. Later we will tour Yorkshire for the Holmfirth Festival and then Lancashire for Spot On.
The dates and venues for Cumbria are below.
Please come along, pass it on or just follow the blogs as we Ramble On.
Hopefully no hospitals this time.
Venues and dates Cumbria
Thu 30/05/2013 7.30 The Florence Mine, Egremont CA22 1NR
Fri 31/05/2013 7.30 Beckermet Reading Rooms CA21 2XN
Sat 01/06/2013 7.30 Calder Bridge Village Hall CA20 1DH
Sun 02/06/2013 6.30 Muncaster Parish Hall, Ravenglass CA18 1SF