Tony Lidington AKA Uncle Tacko! writes:
I formed ‘The Pierrotters’ in the Summer of 1983, having recently bought a second-hand G-banjo for £40 with my birthday money and then managed to teach myself 8 chords.
The troupe was born out of a 3-piece concert party ‘Winker Watson and the Barnstormers’ (affectionately known as ‘The Winkers’), whose creation had been inspired by me witnessing the success of ‘Pookiesnackenburger’ in Brighton Square in 1981 and the affection with which ‘The Pavilion Lawns Trio’ were received on sunny afternoons in Brighton’s ‘Pavilion Gardens’. I created ‘The Winkers’ for the 1982 summer season and we performed only for one summer in Brighton, Chichester and as a street fringe to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on ‘The Mound’. The troupe comprised myself, Alice Arnold (my girlfriend at the time) and Simon Pascoe.
I had just graduated from the University of Sussex, where I studied English in the School of Cultural and Community Studies: as part of research into vernacular popular entertainment forms, I had read Bill Pertwee’s book ‘Promenades and Pierrots’, which was published in 1979. This revealed a history of seaside pierrot troupes and concert parties, of which there appeared to be no discernible cultural legacy.
I have always believed that performance should be a process of action research which could then inform academic study, so I bought thirty yards of bridal satin for the costumes, black cotton for the pom-poms and headscarves and stitched the costumes as best I could. We used thick, sticky, white Leichner make-up, which we always called ‘la merde blanc’ and applied black eyeliner with cocktail sticks.
Originally, both Alice Arnold and Simon Pascoe from ‘The Winkers’ were to be members of the new 6-piece pierrot troupe, along with another good friend from university – Claire Summerskill (keyboard), Bobby Neufeld whom I had known since secondary school (clarinet) and ‘Joe’ (I cannot remember his surname or connection); however, ‘Joe’ dropped-out, Bobby became busy with other plans and Alice and Claire began a relationship which rather affected our planned working relationships.
As a result, I persuaded three other friends from university to join-in with the project – Peter Dunn (drum), Harry Puckering (guitar) and Dave Martin (keyboard). After a short period of rehearsals, Dave also dropped-out because paid work intervened and Malcolm Boyle was recruited. This was the final line-up for our first season.
My intention had been to play a regular slot on The Pavilion Lawns, a bit like the Pavilions Trio, but costumed and more upbeat. However, we could not get any formal permission, which meant that organising a stage in the Pavilion Gardens was not an option and subsequently, during a cold, wet walk along the promenade, Simon suggested: “Why don’t we do it as a promenade? We could walk along the beach!” So, in a spirit of do-it-yourself punk (which rather echoed the early evolution of both blackface minstrelsy and pierrot troupes of the seasides in the Nineteenth Century), we decided to become an itinerant, roving troupe, capable of playing whilst moving and maintain an energy and directness that a more formally staged presentation would have made far harder. I used to say that if we played a number to someone on the beach and they decided to move away, we should be able to follow them without breaking the rhythm of the tune or our harmonies…we did this on many occasions!
Ideologically, I regarded working the streets as a break with the ‘tyranny of the box office’ and an opportunity to encounter ordinary people in ordinary places and potentially do extraordinary things. We were broke and on the dole – so we needed to earn money and the new street entertainment scene was a means to earn cash, as ‘The Pookies’ had proven. We also thought it might be a good way to meet members of the opposite sex!
Or first show was in the basement of 17 Camelford Street at Chris and ‘Ma’ Green’s house… just 3 doors away from where Harry Sergeant (Max Miller) was born and brought -up: our audience was Chris and his mother (both dressed in Edwardian costumes), Alice Goorney and 50 faces drawn onto paper plates and perched on the bookshelves and mantelpiece.
The first season’s set consisted of just six numbers, some of which remained in the repertoire for 27 years! We went out onto the seafront immediately after the basement gig and performed for audiences wherever we found them, or where we simply felt like it might be fun. We made £3.50 on our first day and spent it all on beer. For the next 3 seasons we only performed in Brighton, Hove, with occasional forays into the hinterland of Sussex.
Tony Lidington a.k.a. Uncle Tacko!
1st August 2020