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Interview: Ezekial Bone

29 October 04 interview: Kevin Harvey

"Sword fighting and killing was great fun at the time, but I wanted to do something more enlightened."

Comedian Jerry Sadowitz once claimed that names somehow reflect their owners' character and personality. For instance, people called Fred are `slightly overweight', while people called Linda are `usually female', and, more controversially, people called David are `boring bastards'.

But what about Ezekial? And what about Bone? Who would title himself with such a curious nomenclature. `Ezekial Bone' is no mere fanciful sobriquet, a thundering nom de guerre, but the alter-ego of Ade Andrews, the Nottingham artist and actor, most noted locally for his animated city centre `Guts and Gore Tour'. 

The tour took Andrews four months to research and design and entertainingly unearths Nottingham's interred-in-time bloody history (of which there is plenty).

It delves in and around the Lace Market and reconstructs forgotten charnel incidents. The spirited telling of these tales helped change the way this reporter looks at and experiences his local cityscape - made him, as it were, see the skull - or skulls - beneath the city's skin

But as well as his Guts and Gore Tour, Andrews is also the originator of the Nottingham-based `Bone Corporation', an organisation which groups together and offers similarly colourful performance events. These include, among others, the Gypsy Circus Side-Show, Acid Circus and the Audio Ritual Theatre.

What, however, perhaps best describes the work of Andrews and his Bone Corporation is energy and diversity. These are the tools with which he is currently aiming to promote Nottingham and Nottingham culture. 

He has optimistic plans for his adopted city, the firmly realised Guts and Gore Tour being but one of them. Some achievement for a man who, possessing little more than a sword and the long hair of an outlaw, left London in order to seek his fortune in the big, bright city of Robin Hood.

What's with 'Ezekial Bone'? Why the name?

"There are two parts. I remember when I was a lad there was a programme about a seventeenth century ghost with Albert Finney in it, and the ghost was called Ezekial Oliphant, which struck me as being an unusual name. As time went on I found out that he was a biblical character, a prophet in the scriptures and he cast bones into the ground which took form, took shape. He was also supposedly the first person to have seen flying saucers." 

"Bone' comes from shamanism. I'm interested in primitive religions and psychology and so forth. In shamanism you have the roots of show business and a central feature is the skeleton, a dismembering and remembering process. Obviously the bone is a single unit of a skeleton, so you've got the juxtaposition of a biblical name and an essentially pagan word: Ezekial Bone. It's got a nice sort of feel to it."

I understand he's your alter-ego? What sort of alter-ego?

"As a general rule ghost walks and ghost walk guides, you know with a top hat and tails, are all a bit cheesy, essentially someone from this day and age telling a few ghost stories."

"With the Guts and Gore Tour is everything based on historical fact, all the events and people really existed. So we have a skeleton of historical fact which has been fleshed out by a story teller, but the story teller is a character."

"His story is that he's a ghost from Victorian times paying penance for sins in his past life. Now this is a guessing game; a sub-plot developing beneath the true stories that you hear as to the nature of this man: Why is he here now paying penance as a ghost? So throughout the stories I tell them from slightly different angles, dropping clues in each story as to the nature of the man that I was. That's something I leave in the audience's mind as they go away."

The Guts and Gore Tour was four months in the making. How did you go about preparing and researching it?

"I'm a history graduate and Nottingham's full of history. I was pretty certain that if I went digging for buried treasure, it'd be worth it. I went digging in the Lace Market area and I came up trumps. You've got the galleries, with the executions. You've got St Mary's Church, this beautiful old building. I was like a detective following leads." 

"The first thing I did was go around on foot into places, seeing what information I could locate. There are loads of notice boards in these areas and if you keep your eyes open it's amazing what you can find. Then I went into the library and followed it all up on the Internet." 
 
You take time to explain the often grisly origin of everyday sayings and phrases during the tour. `Hangers on' is a particularly gruesome but fascinating etymological insight. Did you intend for the tour to be educational as well as entertaining? 

"Yeah without a doubt. It's all about educating people as well as entertaining them. It's amazing how many phrases that we use in everyday life and people just aren't aware of where they come from and these are all pertinent to the actual tour, so they're all relevant."

"I go into detail about the `hangers on' because could you imagine doing that to a friend or a family member? To a loved one? You know they're dying anyhow, in extreme pain on the end of a rope and you're trying to help them by ending them quickly. That must be an amazing thing to go through."

Along with your fondness for idioms, using puns seems to be part of your routine. Believe it or not, there's an actual term for people who use puns obsessively, `Forster's Syndrome'. Does Ezekial Bone suffer from it?

"That's a very interesting concept but I wouldn't go that far. An important part of good story-telling is to take the audience through a range of emotions and since you're dealing with gory details you've got to alleviate that by having jokes in there. Also puns are a very good way to wrap up a story, which is part of the art of story-telling."

The Gore Tour focuses very much on the factual and physical as opposed to the spiritual and supernatural. Was that something that you deliberately intended - steering away from ghosts?

"I've got a bit of a problem with ghosts because they're not real. I'd love to a see ghost but I want proof. As far as I'm concerned the truth is stranger than fiction. I could turn my hand towards more ghostly stuff but I've got my feet on the ground. My head might be in the clouds but my feet are on the ground."

You also perform under the name of another character - Fakir Bone. How is he positioned vis-à-vis Ezekial?

"Ezekial Bone was born before Fakir Bone. Ezekial Bone is my alter-ego. Fakir Bone is a stage name I took on a few years ago to protect myself from the crimes against reality that I was perpetuating under the banner of Acid Circus. Because of the Human Pincushion and other mind-over-matter feats I was doing, which come from Eastern Religions, Fakir was the appropriate term to use here."

You recently appeared on the Trisha television programme. What happened?

"The show was looking for a nutter who endangered their life for a living and I was a prime candidate. They had a stunt man on as well. It was meant to be a tense courtroom drama in which they got a loved one to decry their job and say "You've got to give this up otherwise I'll leave you!"

"Basically it was me and my friend Jonny having a laugh. My girlfriend fully supported what I did so Jonny acted like he didn't and said he wasn't going to be my friend if I didn't stop doing it! So we went on the show and took the piss."

Did anyone know what was happening?

"No not at all. As a general rule the fodder that you get on that programme is dire to say the least. So what you had was some intelligent people who were running circles around everyone and Trisha didn't know what to do and the audience didn't know what to make of it but they were grandly entertained. Basically it serves them right for having such a dire programme."

Does Ezekial Bone have any future plans?

"Ah well, Ezekial Bone lives! He's going to be presenting the character-guided tour of the Theatre Royal, the flagship of Nottingham. I've got other ideas for him, a radio programme and I'll probably manifest him in medieval times as one of Robin Hood's cronies. He used to know Lord Byron as well. Hopefully Ezekial will manifest himself in many ways as time goes on: TV, film, who knows?"

Now the biographical bit. You're not a local lad, are you?

"I was born in Glasgow and moved down to Buckinghamshire. I spent most of my formative years in Chester and then lived in London for five years where I was at university."

"After work dried up in London I came to Nottingham because I'd been there a couple of times, following bands on tour, Robin Hood was from there, I had long hair and a sword and I thought I might be able to get work doing Medieval banquets and I eventually did. It took me a couple of years to break into the circuit because it's very closed and cliquey." 

You've made Nottingham your adopted city then?

"Without a doubt. Nottingham's a great place, a cool city. It's got everything that someone like me needs: history and entertainment and culture, stuff that I can get my teeth into. It's a cracking place and I see myself as doing things other people should be doing. The council should be taking more pride in the place you know. There should be more street entertainment etc around the castle and so on. There isn't, so I'll come up with something."

That brings me to my next question about the city. As an outlet for, and promoter of, culture, tourism and entertainment, how do you think Nottingham fares against other cities? Does it hold its own?

"Not really. It doesn't seem to have the pride in itself that is necessary, say for example as with a city such as York. Go to York and history is all around you. You don't tend to get that in Nottingham."

"The bottom line is that we've got one of the world's greatest folklore heroes based in Nottingham. I was in Russia a few years ago and couldn't speak the language in the place I was working, but I said Nottingham and they said Robin Hood. Everybody around the world knows about Robin Hood and Nottingham, so why aren't we promoting that more? I speak to a lot of tourists in the course of my work and they're always disappointed by the lack of Robin Hood."

"But I mean there's a great music scene, there's plenty of culture: you've got Byron, DH Lawrence and so forth. It's pretty good for sports and also the way the city's being developed at the moment - they're doing quite a good job of it with the Cornerhouse, the development down by Sneinton Market, the new London road set up with Radio Nottingham. So in a few years, especially if they get rid of Maid Marian Way, turn it into a promenade, there's no reason why Nottingham shouldn't be one of the main European cities, and personally I'm just doing my bit for the city."

I recently visited York and was struck by its energetic self-promotion. It even has official signs and fingerposts advertising ghost walks. I'm not sure we have that kind of enthusiasm here...

"Not at all. Obviously the most important thing is to do the performance and entertainment, but the sideline is raising people's awareness about Nottingham and what could be done with it. Hopefully we can rally Nottingham folk to use them to get the council, the powers that be, to pull their finger out."

But, unfortunately, the `Guts and Gore Tour' is not something that I'd expect the council to frank officially on a city centre signpost.

"Yeah I agree. Maybe they've got to be educated. Nottingham's got to pull its finger out and sort its attitude out. Basically you're not going to change things by stagnating and staying in a little contained world. You've got to take the bull by the horns and push things and there's no other Gore Tour in Britain (apart from real life character specific ones like Jack the Ripper) as far as I'm aware, so maybe it's time Nottingham should pull its finger out and take a risk on it and have something unique and individual and as colourful as this."

Nottingham also has a reputation for its drinking culture (so many bars etc all within minimal distances etc of each other etc) a reputation that, with all its selectively shot scenes of bacchanalia and disorder, the recent Panorama television programme helped to reinforce. 

"Yeah it's a crying shame. There's more to life than drinking, I mean drinking is good fun but the drinking culture's got it's hold on Nottingham and is in danger of undermining this great city of ours, isn't it."

There are some great bars, this place for instance...

"Yeah, The Old Angel is a cool pub, salt of the earth: good food, good prices, good entertainment, you get bands - yeah it's the last of its kind in Nottingham; there's not  many pubs like this.

You played Fagin in the recent production of Oliver at the Theatre Royal. Yours was a crotchety and sinister Fagin, but I suppose that anyone playing the part is always likely to have Ron Moody's interpretation in the back of their minds.

"Yeah, but essentially they would be wrong with that. Oliver, the musical, is the popular misconception of the truth of Oliver Twist and obviously Ron Moody as Fagin was a likeable, colourful rogue and he looked after his kids and they looked after him, I don't think he got nasty towards them. But the truth of the matter is that in the novel Fagin was portrayed as the devil. He was a bad man. The kids were his puppets and he was making them go out and endanger their lives with a threat of having a noose around their neck. He didn't really care: he was just using them for what he could get out of them."

"Preparation for the character, Ezekial Bone showed me the way to find Fagin and then afterwards it was just a case of letting my psyche do the work. It was quite remarkable actually, because a couple of weeks before the performance I had a dream, a premonition of the whole thing and in it I made a transition from being an actor to being Fagin. In that dream the whole thing came alive and that was a good omen which helped me to realise Fagin. Barmy, I know, but there we go."

What was it like performing at the Theatre Royal?

"Well what can you say? What an honour for a local person who's into performance and acting. You've got one of the finest Victorian theatres in Britain. You've got one of the best Dickensian plays. You had a brilliant cast of characters, brilliant director and great musicians - the spell was cast and it was a magical experience. Yeah I was very honoured. Particularly I remember one point where I was standing on the stage delivering some lines about corruption: "Corruption finds its own time, my dear. Once let him feel that he is one of us, once fill his mind with the idea that he has been a thief, and he is ours, ours for life!"

"I was standing in the centre of the stage, looking out into the distance, thousand yard stare, a thousand people staring back, in this beautiful Victorian theatre. It was brilliant."

As well as Ezekial Bone, you also have other characters and performance interests. How do you manage to keep them all going? How do you maintain this dynamism?

"Through being a performance artist, actor or whatever you want to call it, you need to diversify. I cut my teeth on the festival circuit doing a Mad Max type show, with chainsaw fighting and sword fighting, guns and motorbikes."

"One year we even brought a tank to Glastonbury with `Kiss My Axe'. I worked with the `Circus of Horrors', did some murder mysteries, got into medieval banquets and got bits of film extra work. Every time you work with someone you pick up ideas and grow and develop."

"But with `Kiss My Axe' it was macho, regressive and negative. Sword fighting and killing was great fun at the time, but it's very limited and I wanted to do something more progressive and more enlightened. So I thought I'd cut my own furrow and I ended up doing many things, juggling all these different shows and such."

One of the shows that stands out is the Gypsy Circus, the show with its watchword "Education through Fascination".

"The skills I had were the Fakir stuff with the bed of nails and the broken glass, but that isn't really ideal family entertainment so the trick was making it suitable for families and the Gypsy Circus Side Show tied in each performance to the relevant part of the world: the bed of nails from India and so on to make it a bit more educational almost."

"Now kids loved it because it was pretty gratuitous but you could tell that a small handful of parents weren't too happy with it because obviously they didn't want their kids going home and hammering a six inch nail into their head."

Tell me about the Audio Ritual Theatre.

"I found that previous things I'd done weren't the right vehicle for the concepts I was trying to convey to the audience with the Human Pincushion. That was due to several reasons. At festivals, people are in a hedonistic state of mind. We had DJs playing great Trance and Techno music but most of the audience at a festival don't want to listen to someone delivering intelligent mind-altering patter on top. So I reworked Acid Circus, taking the main part that people wanted to see, the Human Pincushion. I had a soundtrack written for it and wrote interactive psychoactive patter for it and The Devil's Advocate was born."

"The music is based on film soundtracks and on dance music which is very shamanic, with the repetitive beats. Because of the intense visuals and technical lighting and what's going on stage, the show is intended to break the bounds of this reality. The idea is to externalize the internal trip which the Preacher goes on and to engage the audience in a higher level of consciousness whilst delivering a positive message in that state."

It appears that throughout all your performance work there is, no matter how loose and subtle, an underlying philosophy.

"Yes what I do comes from within and it's very pure and it's got my best intentions at heart, making people realise what they can do with their lives if they tap into themselves, because you are your own god. If you can realise that point each individual would be a better person and the world would be a better place. I don't want to sound like I'm preaching but I'm just trying to point people in the right direction and that's come through a lot of trial and rigours of life. I believe it's the way forward for mankind."

"Art is a very empowering thing and if people were educated to appreciate it more, no matter what form it was, the world would be a better place. People should open their eyes and look around them instead of playing bloody computer games or watching TV or drinking. There's more to life than these essentially negative things and art is the way forward. Art is the answer."

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