The Side/Show was one of the most exciting, innovative and courageously creative TV shows I ever been associated with. The crew (who were a mangy lot) looked forward as much as the performers to the event. There was an atmosphere of undeniable energy and exhuberance in the studio. The Green Room, where performers, crew and friends gathered after the show was the finest Green Room since the abolition of drugs and good times from Green Rooms that occurred sometime in the mid 90s.
On one night, still held in high regard by anyone lucky enough to be there, the SPACE COWBOY entertained the rabble for hours with pyschic mind reading, feats of amazing physical strangeness and gasp-inducing sword-swallowing.
Sword swallowing, or neon-tube swallowing in this instance, is one of the lost arts of theatre. Many forms of theatre became unattractive as unskilled performers flourished in the post war period. Cabaret particulary became a simpering, sad travety of its former self. Unless you like a sequined, bowtied, big bowl of sugar with your sick. Nauseatingly emotive torchsongs were wailed by stick thin boys (or pleasantly plump older dudes) with a bit too much care in their eyes and dance shoes on their feet, as their female equivalents sat across pianos. Cabaret, as a word, and an art form, was to any open mind - dead. Circus too, despite having many fine traditions, fell on hard times. The horror of animal circuses escaped the secrecy of the tent and profoundly influenced the view of the general public (circuses of old are essentially a travelling party of half-people constantly shovelling tonnes of exotic shit). And these two words (circus/cabaret) were enough to scare festival goers away. Combining them could make any self-respecting comedian of the mid-80s violently aggressive. Other words that had a similar effect: vaudeville, burlesque, juggling, magic, tap-dancing, balloon-animals, body augmentation, body art, mind reading, escapology... The list is amost as endless as the procession of hopefuls who dedicated their lives to eeking out a paypacket with these tricks.
All of these 'talents' were clumped under the banner 'The Lost Arts'. And for many years they remained lost, unwanted and pretty sad to watch if you stumbled across them.
The Side/Show discovered that the lost arts were alive and well. The practioners still travelling as carny folk have always done, snugly tucked away in the pockets of others, stealing bread crumbs and drinking heavily. Despite the hardship of this existence, they developed and perfected their craft. By the mid-90s after years of exile there was a new breed of performer, and you could sit down and watch them without needing to poke out your eyes with a swizzle stick.
This type of performer, and this type of performance, was once again thrilling audiences in tents, on the street corners and occasionally, when populatity permitted, in rain-proofed venues all over the world.
Strange abstract comedy, true cabaret, wild burlesque and contemporary circus continue to enthrall and engage audiences of all ages. Sadly there is no longer a way of seeing these extraordinary performers on TV in this country.
The one avenue that was open to them is gone.
That great hulking behemoth of a show, which was fashioned for those very performers, met its end in a snowdrift high atop the 6th floor.
The Side/Show was felled by a cruel blow to the back of the head as it slept after gorging itself one autumn night on Showgirls.
Thankfully despite pulling the plug the A.B.C continue to air this juggernaut of wonder at curious times and the uninitiated stumble into a world of dizzying colour and wonderful and rare performances from a small sample of the world's true alternative artists.
Taken before its time.
We all loved it. R.I.P.
(OK, for those who know me, I still have a bit of problem with juggling)