Circus of Horrors
Touring rock'n'roll freak show the Circus of Horrors returns to Swansea in January fresh from its brush with Britain's got talent. Its ringleader Dr Haze speaks to Mark Rees about that experience and the shows close connections with Swansea.
"Swansea's got a lot to answer for," exclaims Dr Haze, the ringleader and founder of the touring rock'n'roll freak show that is the Circus of Horrors, which will make its latest annual pilgrimage to Swansea in January 2012.
Having both amazed and terrified audiences in equal measures for over a decade with 'the greatest, most bizarre & beautiful circus act on earth', Haze's showbiz journey began a lot closer to home than most people may realise – here in South Wales.
"It all started with my first band, called Flash Harry, formed in Llandeilo," explains Haze. "As Swansea was the nearest big city, we used to go there a lot, for gigs and nights out and things. I can remember one night in particular, when we saw Adam and the Ants in a club called Circles. And I'm still friends with most of the band to this day."
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Haze was, quite literally, born into the circus lifestyle – to a father who performed as a fire-eater. As such, he had a transient childhood moving around a lot but he spent time in West Wales during some of his formative teenage years. It was his early exposure to the circus, combined with a love of glam and punk rock, which set him on the path he has remained on since.
"I was huge fan of T Rex, and Marc Bolan really inspired me. But I was too young to start a band or anything then. By the time I did, it was the punk era, which was perfect for me, as music was much more accessible then. I still listen to a lot of the old stuff now – bands like Sweet are brilliant, but I'm also inspired by newer stuff. I love Rob Zombie, for example."
Despite a relentless touring schedule, Haze, who still looks on Swansea with fondness, and tries to spend as much time here as he can.
"Swansea's a great rock'n'roll city, and it's a place that's very close to my heart. Some of my mates live there so I visit them, and I love going to the Mumbles. And I love playing at the Grand, too, it's a beautiful old venue with lots of atmosphere, and you're able to get right on top of the people there.
"Plus, it's great to see the Swans in the Premier League as well. They really deserve it."
But Haze isn't the only member of the Circus of Horrors with a fondness for our city, as he explains: "Our guitarist, D A Angelo, is from Swansea. He was 16 when he joined us, and he was awesome. Really awesome. Too good, in fact! He's going to go far.
"But just playing guitar isn't good enough in the Circus of Horrors, so we strapped him to a wheel so he could play while spinning upside down. And now we've gone and strapped him to some stilts as well!"
In January, the Circus of Horrors returns to the Grand Theatre, with their new show, The Ventriloquist.
So what can audiences expect from the latest incarnation of a show that has, in the past, boasted such bizarre acts as flying vampires, pickled women (yes, pickled women), and a demon dwarf with a very novel way of using a vacuum cleaner?
"It's a completely new show," says Haze. "Of course, there will still be some of the classics included. It's a bit like going to see a band. If they didn't play the hits, you'd be a bit ****ed off! But there's loads of new stuff in the show, and some new acts as well."
The Circus of Horrors reinvents itself for each new tour by focusing on a different era and moment in time. The Ventriloquist is no different.
"It's set in 1927 Berlin," says Haze. "It's very decadent, the roaring 20s, with cabaret and everything. And we've got a fantastic new set, with the Brandenburg Gate in the background. The Ventriloquist is one of the stars, who begins as a nice character, but soon becomes much more evil than we thought."
Many people might have come across the Circus of Horrors thanks to their appearance on Ant and Dec's prime-time TV show, Britain's Got Talent in the spring of 2011. The show they performed was a toned down version of their live show with no swearing or nudity, but otherwise true to their normal act with "no safety nets, no harnesses, no compromise," as Haze puts it.
The Circus of Horrors got to the semi-final stage of Britain's Got Talent but Haze says their brush with mainstream TV and millions of additional viewers has had little impact on the popularity of their live shows. "It was quite weird. In terms of bums on seats, it has made little difference but because we've got a loyal following, the shows sell well anyway."
The appearance of an act like the Circus of Horrors, with their blend of horror, slapstick and punk, on a family TV show might seem strange to some. But Dr Haze says interest from TV had been there for some time leading up to that.
"It actually started seven years ago. After I'd been on Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, and Davina McCall's Don't Try This at Home, a friend of mine asked me if I'd do this new talent show, which was to be hosted by Paul O'Grady. I didn't hear anything for two years, and nothing really happened until Simon Cowell got involved. And then every year, for five years, I received an email asking me if I wanted to appear on Britain's Got Talent – and each time I said 'no'!"
Then, a well-timed, and well-disguised email, proved to be a turning point.
"It was December 2010. I and I had an email from a different email address, and it wasn't until they phoned that I realised who it was – a woman from Britain's Got Talent! I explained to her my three objections to the show: they don't pay; they humiliate people; they only show 'real' people, which meant I would have to go on as John from Preston!
"She said that she couldn't do anything about the first point, she didn't agree with the second point, but she did compromise on the third point, and said 'why don't you do it as Dr Haze and the Circus of Horrors?'
"I spoke to the rest of the team, we agreed to do it – and we stormed it! It went really well and we were the bookies' favourite to win until show five. Then, something happened. Our odds just fell for no reason."
There was a lot of speculation, as well as a few conspiracy theories, at the time as to as to why this was. But Haze doesn't think anything malicious was going on.
"Some people think we were too controversial to go all the way, or that we were stitched up, but I don't think that was the case. In the end, I think it was all down to bad editing. It didn't do us justice, but it wasn't intentional. We'd have been better off with Sky Sports filming us, because they're used to fast action filming!"
Since then, the show has continued its relentless touring of the UK. It is not a glamorous lifestyle and, despite leading the troupe, Haze isn't averse to rolling up his sleeves behind the scenes. He is the main driver of the touring bus and has even found the time to write an autobiography among the chaos.
"I've just driven through the night, non-stop. We were in Perth last night, and we had to get to Huddersfield this morning. I don't really like the driving, but I do love staying in hotels when I arrive. I like having other people doing my washing up for me!"
And as for the book?
"It's called Mud, Blood & Glitter and it's selling really well. For a day it was on the top of Amazon's best-sellers list as well, but there weren't enough copies to meet the demand."
The Circus of Horrors will be appearing in the Grand Theatre on January 19. Mud, Blood & Glitter, by Dr Haze, is available now from all good book shops.