Performances could happen in almost any location - by the sea, in city precincts, at dock sides etc.
1976, the year Concorde, Apple and The Damned were all formed, saw Forkbeard manically busy and creative, devising at least 4 new shows, working with various other performers and artists and continuing with subversive indoor and outdoor events.
The Rubber God Show (1976)
"This touring theatre show ran to a taped narrative and music by Lol Coxhill, played from a Revox Tape-recorder positioned at the stage-front and featured no live speech. It told of Blankman in his self-contained module falling for the parasitic attentions of a nomadic Rubber God. Our first ever Guardian review called it “Sheer delight”. We also took the characters and their gadgets to numerous outdoor events. It was important in these days for us to be endlessly adaptable and take on whatever work was offered and so gain maximum exposure as well as experience in performing."
In 1974, the year of the Miner's strike, the Three Day Week and the Watergate Affair, brothers Tim and Chris Britton decided to try their hands at forming an experimental theatre company. Chris, having studied drama at ??? had been heavily influenced by new theatrical forms such as those of Grotowski, Tadeusz Kantor and the Living Theatre which in their own way traced a path back to the happenings and events of the Dada and Surrealist movements. Tim's interest in animation and film making, inspired by his father, and his love of the Absurd such as Lewis Carrol and ???? provided plenty of ammunition to aim at proscenium arch theatre and it's sacred fourth wall. What Forkbeard and many of its peers did in the 1970s was to gradually infiltrate mainstream theatre and change it forever. What Forkbeard added to the pot was outlandish, new and often controversial.
The brothers very first shows were, however, hardly unsettling for the theatrical cognoscenti. They originally took place in local village halls and fairs in East Anglia and provided a useful training ground for their anarchic brand of theatrics.
The Cranium Show (1976)
"This was a highly disturbing wildlife documentary concerning a day in the life of a half-arachnid half-humanoid Cranius Kithchenetus, male, female and zookeeper, played on different occasions by Lol Coxhill, Simon Britton and Tom Powell. The crane-operator male, and his dangeous though legless trolley-borne female were separated from the audience by wire mesh caging, providing delightful parallels with matrimonial bliss. This show saw us gain our first foreign touring to the Lantaren Rotterdam’s Unrequited Love Festival. From this time we were invited on many further tours to Holland over the next 10 year.""
1977, the year Elvis died and "Never Mind the Bollocks" by the Sex Pistols was released, saw Forkbeard concentrating more (although by no means exclusively) on indoor performances and venues.
Roddy and The LImpet - An Underwater Drama (1977)
Forkbeard Collaborators (Number 1): SIMON BRITTON
Perhaps of all the collaborators Forkbeard has worked with over the decades the most significant is Tim and Chris's elder brother Simon. Having also been to art college, Simon's artistic inspiration and obsession was born out of the mechanics of movement and the movement of mechanics. Accordingly his work invariably involved mechanical contraptions, either as stand-alone kinetic artworks or as part of an interactive performance.
A comparatively early example of Simon's work was "Shoe Walk" (Soul Aim Machine).
"Walkwork" - a riff on "Shoewalk" which involved four performers attached to each other by 'foot traps'. This later became the overture to "The Great British Square Dance".
Forkbeard Perennials no. 1: THE GREAT BRITISH SQUARE DANCE (est. 1976)
Again created by Simon Britton this was mostly an outdoor show, although it was often performed in indoor spaces where the noise of the planks stamping could be exhilaratingly deafening. It was a very funny City Gents’ institution piece about English pecking-orders and rampant competitiveness. Originally made in the year of the Queen’s Jubilee it was without doubt at that time performed more times, in more places, at home and abroad, to more people than any other Forkbeard Show. See it on our YouTube site. It also appeared on numerous TV shows over the years from Magpie to The Max Headroom Show.
Forkbeard Collaborators (Number 3): IAN HINCHLIFFE
Ian Hinchliffe was a performer who could bring a sense of menace, unpredictability and a surreal/absurd humour into any creative arena. He refused to be drawn into creative self-analysis and defining of a new art form (i.e. 'Performance Art' or' Live Art)'. In the early 1970s he founded Matchbox Purveyors which demonstrated his love of Music Hall, Northern comedy and traditional jazz.
The Single Grey Hair Salami Show
Between '75 and '78 Forkbeard did several pieces with Ian HIinchliffe, Matchbox Purveyors. Apart from the Oval House, Rotherhithe Warehouse, and the Birmingham Arts Lab, this show was taken mostly to Village Halls. Other shows with Ian Hinchliffe included ‘Aargh’, ‘The Blenkinsop Pearls’ and ‘Blenkinsop 2’
The Road Show (1976)
"Numerous shows, one-offs, events and gallery pieces took place during this time. The Road Show was on-going daytime gallery installation performance which appeared at Southampton Art Gallery, a place that warmly welcomed many performance art shows and installations at that time, despite the national media fury of the time fired at all things experimental funded by The Arts Council. Among those who attracted the most apoplectic rage, in the tabloid press, were Genesis P Orridge’s C.O.U.M, and D-DART, and anything with a weird name like Forkbeard Fantasy or The John Bull Puncture Repair Kit…."
Created by Simon Britton this ongoing process, often lasting many hours, involved the repeated changing from Red to Blue to Yellow suits. It was performed in many foyer spaces, outdoors, but mostly in shop windows
Forkbeard Collabotators (Number 4): CRYSTAL THEATRE OF THE SAINTS
Crystal Theatre of the Saint playfully engaged with a cross-disciplinary approach towards performance that saw the use of light-technologies and live music among other disciplines. Crystal Theatre was committed to experimentation and a fresh, multimedia approach to drama. Performances were staged both indoor and outdoor, and the productions were often adapted to incorporate original elements of the venue.
Forkbeard with Crystal Theatre of the Saint at Cafe Schaan, Rotterdam.
Forkbeard Collaborators (Number 2): LOL COXHILL
Lol Coxhill was one of the great characters of British music. He had long been a stalwart of the European jazz and improvised music scene, but he reached all kinds through his collaborations with a wide range of music – Afro-Cuban, R&B, soul, progressive, punk, minimalist, electronic and beyond.
Lol was frequently a 5th, sax-playing centre piece to the "Great British Square Dance" and provided soundtracks to many of the early shows.
Catch the Turkey (1977)
With Simon Britton once again
Men Only (1977)
Two wayward sons compete for their mother's attentions with School photos, end of term reports and tales of the trials & tribulations of adolescence. Again, the three brothers performed, Simon as the ever-spinning mother who refreshed her sons after their exuberant bouts of competitiveness, from her orange and lemon squeezer breasts - one for the bitter, one for the sweet.
The Government Warning Show (1977)
"This media antagonism towards some of the performance art & experimental theatre was rife - as it is whenever news is short. Inspired by this, the show was set in a huge confiscation depot for inventions and artefacts deemed unsuitable or too controversial for the public eye; all labelled High, Middle or Low Art Content. Health Warnings on cigarettes had just come out. This show featured brother Simon and his fantastic rat-trap fired WALKWORK, a piece he also exhibited widely at that time."
From the Guardian 2012 - only 40 years too late
Weird Woman (1977)
The Drinking Machine
1978, the year of the first mobile phone (a.k.a. the 'brick') and Space Invaders game. Also the year for Forkbeard of several anarchic 'revue' type acts such as 'Desmond and Dorothy' which later became staples of the company's performing catalogue.
The Grid Reference Show (1978)
From "San Francisco" magazine
Other shows such as "The Grid Reference Show" started as one-offs or single workshop/performances and were then developed into small scale touring shows.
Other shows, such as "The Splitting Headache Show" proved (prophetically) financially disastrous.
"On an Uncertain Insect" (1978)
Two estranged entomologist brothers hunt the same rare Lepidoptera, a species whose baffling elusiveness has been the death of along line of ancestors before them. The mechanisms and entanglements separately devised to encounter this maddening night creature become increasingly fantastic.
Excerpt from "Art and Artists" magazine 1978 by Hugh Adams. For full article click here
Forkbeard Perennials No. 2: DESMOND FAIRYBREATH and DOROTHY
Originally conceived in 1978 this married couple of noble poets have been orating their epic odes in cabarets, theatres, fairs and street corners ever since
A rare photo of the Fairybreath sisters.
This particular element of the show later developed into "The Human Mousewheel" and became a regular event at fairs and festivals.
The Clone Show (1979)
A show about Genetic Engineering, set in a Cloning Factory. This was the show that brought us to the delighted attention of Penny Saunders who ran away from Covent Garden Community Theatre and joined the Forkbeards. A whole new range of making skills and a true kindred spirit and imagination leapt us into new found lands. The Clone Show saw our first use of 16mm film in the form of a cartoon Tim made and interacted with called ‘Could a Whale Fly?’
Funding Arts bodies were beginning to tip their toes into the muddy waters of theatrical 'happenings', site specific events and what had become to be known as "Performance Art". Grants, no matter how small, were a positive fillip for emerging companies such as John Bull Puncture Repair Kit, Matchbox Purveyors, Cameron and Miller and, of course, Forkbeard.
So in 1975, the year of the founding of Microsoft, the end of the Vietnam war and the election of Margaret Thatcher as Conservative P.M., small financial offers (allbeit barely enough to pay the bar bill) saw Tim and Chris at various venues including Southampton Arts Festival, Warwick University and even the Edinburgh Fringe. "At the invitation of Jeremy Shine we constructed (at Warwick University) a ramshackle painted cardboard structure in which we based ourselves, making forays into the crowds, doing what we then called ‘infiltrations’, moving about among the punters in the bars and audiences for bands like Kilburn & The Highroads and Hatfield and The North. At this event we met performance artist Roland Miller. Liking what he saw, Roland encouraged us to apply for our very first grant of £200 from The Arts Council’s Performance Art Panel".
A Forkbeard Fantasy (1974)
"This was the very first ‘officially booked’ live performance, with just Chris and Tim performing. We didn’t have a company name at this point, it was later we adopted the Forkbeard Fantasy. The show, “A Forkbeard Fantasy”, was originally written as a story about a time-travelling Viking Invader, but we never gave ourselves time to learn the lines let alone rehearse. It ended up instead as a kind of dada happening with a large box, a transistor radio and a tool-kit. It was performed as a lunchtime show at the Edinburgh Fringe Club to a bemused and probably quite unimpressed smattering of lunchtime feeders".
A Potted History of Theatre (1974)
"This was performed to 500 enthusiastically screaming teenagers at The Southampton Nuffield Theatre, at the invitation of then Artistic Director Rob English. This wild and unfettered comic crash through the evolution of theatre from Caveman to Beckett, helped us get our next paid work at the 1975 Southampton Performance Festival, organized by Hugh Adams."
Southampton Performance Festival (1975)
"Mostly we performed in parks, streets and the St Mary’s Market and one show in the Southampton Art Gallery, with Mine Kaylan. Here we saw and met up with numerous artists like Bruce Lacey, Lumiere & Son, Bath Arts Workshop, Rob Con, Ian Hinchliffe, Reindeer Work, Hesitate and Demonstrate, Dave & Clare and many more; new openings, new contacts, less isolation."
"Our 1974 ‘happening’ at the Fringe Club had drawn us to the attention of one Birkenhead Dada with whom we hired a space for the following year’s Edinburgh Fringe 1975. Along with saxophonist Lol Coxhill , brother Simon Britton, Mine Kaylan and Ian Hinchliffe, this week-long stint of evening ‘shows’ earned us the dubious notoriety of getting banned from the Edinburgh Festival… We didn’t return until 1997."
The Excretia Show (1975)
Forkbeard's first touring show. "Many of our early shows had versions and permutations for all the different places we were asked to perform at and in. These could be pubs, clubs, streets, shopping precincts, the emerging alternative fairs and festivals, galleries and art centres. The picture shows us at the only just opened and then completely empty St Edmunds Church, now Salisbury. This piece, continuing our interest in insect life-forms and mechanisms, was about a loud & persistent mess-making Life Form and his drab Council Cleaner companion evolved entirely to tidy up behind him."