The Black Flags very own fire eating journalist Pete Speller met up with the Godfather of the Rock N Roll Circus recently, the one and only Doctor haze, creator and resident Ringmaster extraordinaire of the Circus of Horrors…
Black Flag: So tell me about young Doctor Haze. Were you just an ordinary guy growing up or have you always had an element of deviancy?
Doctor Haze: I was basically born in a circus. My mum and dad joined a circus when I was four months old. I was born around Christmas, so there were more Circuses touring then. They then joint the Circus the next season, which would have been about March. They travelled with the circus and my dad was first of all a clown, then he became publicity manager and things. But he was a former lion trainer and a bear trainer.
DH: Yeah he did lots of different things, Jack of all trades, but certainly a master of none. We went as far as Wick in Scotland, which was as far as we could get and he did a runner. He jumped on his motorbike and left. He left us in a van, not a Caravan; we were living in the back of this old van then. With my mum and a little dog called Shep.
Then the circus people looked after my mum till the end of the season and me of course. Then delivered us back to Preston in Lancashire, which is where I was brought up then. My Grandma lived there. I lived with my mum and Grandma. Then when I was 11 years old, my mum tried to sue my dad for maintenance. The courts in all their wisdom advised them to get back together again and then amazingly she did. She basically got in touch with my Dad, who was in prison at the time, just to make it more complicated. She got in touch with my Dad and decided that when he was released they’d get back together again. She thought that I should have a dad really.
Anyway we went and re-joined my Dad on a platform at Euston station. I didn’t know him at all of course. I hadn’t seen him since I was a baby. So I met him at the station at Euston and then we found a place to live in in London. We lived there for a maximum of 4 or 5 weeks and then he got itchy feet again and decided to take us to a circus in Ireland.
So he got us a job as a fire eater and what we call a Fakir, which is a person who put pins in themselves, jump on broken glass or in my case put a rope round your neck and try to strangle you. But although he successfully got us a job in Ireland but we didn’t have an act. I’d never even lit a match, let alone eat fire. So I had to have a crash course in fire eating. So in one day I learnt to fire eat and then was hoisted off to Ireland with my Dad.
We spent six weeks over there in that circus and then came back over to England and spent two years in traditional circus in the UK. Until, he did a runner again. I haven’t seen him since. I was 14 at that point. So I hadn’t seen my Dad since I was 14. I’d already left school at about 12 and then for the next 8 years I stayed in the traditional Circus.
I only left that when I was 20 or 21 and that was really to try and have a go at rock N Roll. I always had an ambition to be a Rock singer. Marc Bolan was a huge influence and consequently I wanted to emulate that and I couldn’t do it in the circus. So I left the circus, started a band. We did ok but never made any money from it, released a few records. I played with Gary Glitter when he was doing his stadium tours, played with Depeche mode and then eventually the show become more and more theatrical until it turned into the Circus of Horrors. We were performing it at Universities and rock Clubs. Then I met Jerry Coffman who was a Circus Entrepreneur, I told him I wanted to take it one step further and do it in a Circus tent with big Circus acts. We agreed to do it and did it at the Glastonbury Festival in 1995 to massive success. From then on that was history really…
BF: So that leads us to where the Circus of Horrors as we now know it today?
DH: Pretty much yeah. It went through a lot of changes and it still does and that’s the beauty of it. You could have gone and see it last year and the year before and then see it this year and it will be quite different.
BF: I’ve actually seen it seven times now and each times myself and it’s been very different each time and wonderful every time.
DH: Wow. How many times
BF: Seven now
DH: Yeah we try and change it all the time. This year’s show is called the Ventriloquist. We’re waiting for a Ventriloquist doll to arrive from America and then we’ll be posting footage of it on the Internet. Yeah it’s going to be based on a ventriloquist doll and we’re going to get a traditional but very evil looking ventriloquist doll. That will start off sat on a ventriloquist knee but will very shortly assume a life of its own and it will start trying to control proceedings at the Circus of Horrors. But you’ll see it moving with nobody working it and talking on its own.
As a kid I used to watch these evil Ventriloquist films that really used scared me and I thought if that’s the effect they have on me they probably have that effect on other people.
BF: yeah there is something very creepy about them
DH: yeah something very creepy about them and particularly if we get it right so that its sits up on its own, and the head moves and the eyes glow red and stuff like that, that is the plan.
So yeah the great thing about the Circus of Horrors is that it’s been able to evolve. But in its evolution process we can also revert back to certain aspects. Like for example last year we did the Wacken rock festival in Germany and we were performing again in a tent. So we had to do a different show there than the one we did in England. The ones we do in England, what we find is, because we do big tours every year, we have to change it, because people are expecting new things. They don’t want the same thing all the time. But you’ve also got to be very careful. It’s like going to see your favourite band, if they don’t do your favourite songs you’ll be pissed off.
DH: You have to try to find a fine balance of having the favourites in there but also bringing new stuff in all the time. So that is what we try and do. In a lot of parts of the world that isn’t the case, because we don’t go to Germany very often. We went last year, the time before that was about five years ago. So it wasn’t difficult to change the show from what it was five years ago. So we can go to Wacken, do a show in a big top over there, then come to England and do a show over here that is completely different, but we’ve learnt all the different ways of doing it that we’ve adapted it.
BF: OK some random likes and dislikes now. I’ll just rattle them off and you can tell me what you like and dislike about them.
BF: Film and Music
DH: Film and music, what do I like about them? Well I tend to like horror films as you might have guessed. The Exorcist is one of my favourite horror films of all time, The Wicker Man is certainly a classic and not a bad remake either. Film and Music, well I love Rob Zombie. His music’s great and I love his films. I watched the cartoon on Saturday and it was brilliant. Musically top of the tree by far is T-Rex. Marc Bolen was, and still is a massive influence to me, even when I listen to people like Rob Zombie I can hear a bit of T-Rex in there. There are various influences in Rob’s music but basically I can tell he’s really listened to T-Rex in the past. I think a massively under rated British rock star and a big influence. Alice Cooper of course also a big influence.
Film wise I grew up on Carry On films. I do like the Hammer Horror films as well because they’re quite funny, they’re a mixture of Horror and comedy and I think you see that in the Circus of Horrors as well.
BF: Favourite Quote?
DH: There’s a great one by PT Barnum that goes ‘Every Crowd has a Silver Lining’ and I really like that because there’s another quote that goes ‘there’s a sucker born every minute’ and that was a tribute to Barnum, he didn’t actually say it. But he did say ‘Every Crowd has a Silver Lining’. And I think that’s a brilliant quote. PT Barnum is another massive influence, the way he manipulated things. And the times he did it in. And if you think about it he was back in the 1800’s and he was bringing people like Tom Thumb to England to perform in front of Queen Victoria, he brought Jumbo the Elephant from London Zoo and he actually named him Jumbo. He made Jumbo eat popcorn and that emulates from that Elephant that PT Barnum brought from London Zoo and hailed it as the biggest elephant in the world. I’m not sure if he was or if he wasn’t but he said he was, so people at the time believed him. And consequently the word Jumbo is now actually in the dictionary as meaning big but it’s actually a Swahili word for hello. So he was an absolute genius, and I think that’s why it’s one of my favourite quotes.
BF: How do you feel about Art and Artist’s?
DH: Well art is a funny old word isn’t it? When you look at Tracy emin’s art. That doesn’t really do it for me. Salvador Dali does, I think that’s amazing. His mind is brilliant. When you look at his Sculpture’s, or his Paintings. What’s going on in that guys mind is amazing. Not only has he got a great visionary mind, and I don’t know what drugs he’d been taking but whatever it is, he can then turn it into Paintings or Sculpture like nobody else could. So he’s my favourite artist in terms of painted art.
In terms of performance art, that’s something I really struggle with. A lot of people call various things art and I don’t consider it to be art. I’ve been coming round to the idea that the Circus of Horrors may be art. I always thought it was art with a capital F to honest with you.
I never considered it to be art but when I look at it and analyse it and I think well its original music. And I’m very passionate about it and I’m passionate about the way it all works. So consequently it is art. So the Circus of Horrors is my particular art.
DH: Yes he was a very good friend.
BF: He died recently didn’t he? What kind of influence did he have on the Circus?
DH: Well he had a massive influence on the Circus per se really. If you look at Circus when Archaos first started, it was very traditional. A lot of them still had animals. Even Pierrot’s first shows had animals. Just before he came to the UK with Archaos for the first time, the guy I was talking to recently who went over there to see Pirrot, saw Archaos and it had performing Chickens in it and stuff like that. He nearly walked away from it. He basically said no, it’s not right for England. He turned his back and walked away and then he turned around and thought actually, it could work. He persuaded him not to use the Chickens and Pierrot then had this idea.
Because his show originally, the Circus Bidot was a Horse driven Circus. It was going right back to the time when Circuses didn’t use vehicles at all to move from town to town, they used horses and then when they got to those towns, the Horses would perform in the show. So Pierrot had recreated a really old style Circus and then thought well if I’m not going to use animals then why can’t I use the car that pulls my caravan in the show, why can’t I use the Motorbike that I use to get from town to town in my show, Why can’t I use the equipment that puts my tent up as the Elephant. So that’s what he did, he used all these mechanical devices in the show to replace the animals.
So he was visionary. He was in my opinion the first of the contemporary and alternative circuses. He was before Cirque Du Soleil and obvious before the Circus of Horrors. And he must have been a massive influence on Soleil, he definitely was to me. And when we started the Horrors, at that particular time we were at the Glastonbury Festival and I’d put the show together and I said to Jerry after that I really could do with some help directing the show, cause it’s an area that I’m not used to yet and if I’m in it, it’s going to hard to direct it. And he said who do you think and I said what about Pierrot Bidot?
So he knew Pirrot and he went over to France to see Pierrot. And Pierrot loved the idea of the Circus of Horrors, wanted to hear the music, so we sent an album and he loved that as well. So Pierrot came on board. For the first two years he toured with us most of the time as director and then as creative director. And then in the latter years, what we started doing then was if I was putting a new show together, I’d contact Pierrot and say I’m starting a new show would you come and help me put it together and we’d co direct it. I’d direct it with him.
So he would stand there coming up with these wacky ideas, I’d go to his house in France, we’d get a bit drunk and talk about talk about old times. And that’s how we did it. And very sadly he was due to come the year before last to help me put the day of the dead show together and I was due to fly over but the day before I was flying out I got a call from him saying you can’t come now, we need to postpone it. I asked what’s wrong and he said, well you can’t tell anyone this but I’ve got some alien growing inside me. He was referring of course to Cancer.
So I didn’t say anything to anyone and I postponed my visit. And then about a month later I got in touch with him and he said I’m out of the closet now you can tell everybody I have cancer but I’ll be alright. So I told a few people. Then he had his big operation and got I call from him in December and we’d started day of the dead by then and I got this call saying ‘The Alien is dead but the Clown is alive!’ We were all very pleased, even though he did sound a bit rough, but then two months later the cancer returned and very quickly killed him. He died while we were on tour doing the day of the dead show which he should have been directing.
BF: A very sad loss for the world really.
DH: An incredible loss, he was a genius. An absolute genius and an Inspiration! Talking about artists, he was a true artist.
BF: Tell me about the Band. Who are they?
DH: The current band I call ‘The Interceptors from Hell’. It’s got one guy called Andy Higgins that’s been with me now about 20 years. He was playing Bass in my band long before the Circus of Horrors and he’s been there all the way through. We’ve got a drummer called Gregoris James, who’s been with us for six years, a keyboard player, I don’t know what his name is because he changes it every day, Tankus the Henge we’ll call him, Trousers Murphy one day, we’ll call him Tankus the Henge today, a very good contemporary Keyboard player and a brilliant young guitarist who’s only 21 years old. He’s absolutely awesome and we found him by chance. The drummer’s dad was a friend of his and we needed a guitarist so he sent him along and we couldn’t believe how good he was. D A Angelo is his name. And he’s awesome.
So it’s a really good rocking band. They’re very Metally, very Rob Zombie sounding at the moment and I’m really pleased with it.
BF: The band is really important in driving the show forward aren’t they?
DH: yeah that’s the basic thing. When you go to see the Circus of Horrors, the thing that pushes it along all the way through is the fact that you have this thriving rock music pumping behind you all the way through. It’s just keeps the whole thing going, keeps the continuity going. The band is the key to the continuity.
BF: I spoke to you at the O2 after the gig there…
DH: Oh yeah I remember…
BF: You said Gary Stretch wasn’t very well, is he better now?
DH: It’s not that he’s not well; it’s just that he finds the tours too gruelling, so he does come and join us. For example we’re gonna do the Great Dorset Steam Fair again at the end of August, beginning of September and Gary will come along and join us there. Gary was in the show when we did a couple of weeks in Brighton. So if were in a place for a period of time then he’ll come along and join us but to actually do a full tour it’s too much for him really. The medication he has to take for the skin condition (stretchy skin) that he makes his money out of is actually a blood condition. It’s actually where the blood cells don’t mix together properly and consequently that gives him stretchy skin, but it also gives him a very bad back and he has to take various medications because of his back and that really takes a lot out of him. So consequently doing odd gigs is no problem but doing a whole tour no. It’s not so much that he’s ill, it’s just that he’s just not well enough for big tours.
We’re doing eighty eight venues on the next tour. It’s really big. He’ll come to Finland and do that so he’s still very much a part of the team but not in the big British tours.
BF: So where do you see the Circus in fifteen years?
DH: What the Circus of Horrors or the Circus per se?
BF: The Circus of Horrors
DH: Fifteen years? Oh god no idea. It’s a long time isn’t it Fifteen years? We’ve done it sixteen years now, but another fifteen years. I don’t know, I’ve got no idea. Alice Coopers still going at his age. So I don’t know where we’ll be in fifteen years. I don’t know where we’ll be. And I don’t know if it will carry on if I didn’t do it. That’s the whole thing, it does take a lot of energy and we don’t make huge amounts of money, so I don’t know who would take on the mantle knowing that it’s not a particularly big cash cow. A lot of people come in but it costs a lot of money to run the show, so that’s the thing. So I don’t know where it will be. I’d like to think it would still be going but who knows…
BF: I’d like to think so too, I want to take my grandchildren to see it
Interview: Pete Speller
Images: The Circus of Horrors