Its the ‘close season’ and all is quiet in the performance department, some have flown off to warmer climes and the rest of us are hard at work writing applications and proposals. The doodling department as usual are all dreaming and well doodling.
Mike Lister and I made our first show as a duo in 1987 and proudly declared that ‘having pulled ourselves out of the gutter our future lay on the pavement’. We had worked together for the previous five years touring outdoor shows to play schemes and had even made it to Glastonbury. But it was in ‘87 that Avanti Display became just the two of us. We worked as The Crayfish Twins, The Shedmen and Percy and Stubbsy in the Rickshaw, in the nineties we had a flirtation with stand up comedy and even opened a comedy club. The Steamy was in Manchester in the damp cellar of The Old Steam Brewery pub just off Oxford Road and there we hosted many acts from the burgeoning stand up comedy circuit with us as comperes filling in the gaps between performers with surreal routines. It was always quite a last minute struggle to write new material each week, I will never forget the humane killer when we performed an unrehearsed ‘swords-through-the-box’ routine with Mike dressed as a pantomime cow!
In 1993 we began touring internationally when we made our first trip to Spain with The Fountain Machine, but it took off spectacularly from 1995 after success in France at Challon dans la Rue with The Spurting Man. I had designed this show to fly on the personnel baggage allowance for two people and so we were really on the road, the one to Manchester airport. It was exciting to be so in demand, I suppose like a band that has a hit single, we were off. In 2000 we made the first of several versions of Hydromania at The National Theatre it was a logical development of The Spurting Man and this led Mike into creating his own large scale works, Albatross and Stormbringer. My ambitions led me in a different direction and we made separate work from then on, coming together whenever there was a Hydromania project.
This year Mike made the decision to leave Avanti Display and the outdoor arts world behind and open a café, it may seem an unusual move but its one Mike has talked about for years, once being outbid by Mick Hucknall, the well known ginger pop star, when one of the railway arches in the Castlefield Basin came up for sale. It subsequently became a swanky bar rather than the rustic tavern, offering earthenware jugs of Spanish wine, which Mike had envisaged. So now there is The Cherry Orchard in Chorlton where Mike can be found, generous as ever, dispensing coffee, specialty teas and if you are in luck his Borscht soup. Just at the moment there is a photographic exhibition of early Avanti shows black and white images of us learning the trade. I wish him the best of luck. At least he’s made it off the pavement after 27 years.