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Wednesday 16 May 2012

Remembering Extreme World Warfare Part II

It was October 1998 and I was stood dressed in a pirate costume complete with a polka-dotted handkerchief wrapped around my head and a live macaw on my shoulder. The business of supplying and training animals for the entertainment industry is a rocky ride with varying highs and lows. Some days you can be enjoying the company of the world's most celebrated stars. My father has been personally summoned to Prince Rainier's palace, John Cleese's London apartment and many other places to receive recognition for his work with the most dangerous and beautiful animals on the planet. Other times you are sitting on the set of a basement level budget production with a box full of moths. That night in October, I and two female employees of my parents had been booked to appear at the 21st birthday party of a millionaire's daughter. Under a huge marquee an elaborate pirate party had been put together. The entrance to the event was off the end of a life-size replica ship, overhead there were fire-breathing entertainers on top of a specially constructed bridge and on the ground level paid actors walked amongst guests dressed as pirates and around tables decorated with "treasure chests." We were the parrot handlers, paid to walk around dressed like seafaring scallywags off a Christmas pantomime.

My mind wandered back to another time. Just two weeks ago my creation, "Dead Souls", the world's first Gothic martial arts act, had debuted in front of a shocked professional wrestling audience. Amid an array of lighting effects and pounding music, I, under the guise of the Spirit of Instinct, had done battle with The Gatekeeper in a routine that looked part ritual part fantasy performance with clashing blades, spinning high kicks and tumbling tricks. Nothing like this production had been presented before to a professional wrestling audience and certainly not a British one. It had become the climax of two exciting months of realising old dreams. My emotionally destructive relationship with my longest running girlfriend at the time had also been given its death stroke. I felt free and ready to explode with ideas and enthusiasm. The excitement of producing a show was over, but I, along with the wrestler, Stuart Allen, knew that there was a fantastic world out there to discover.

Then, just when I felt my soul being transported back to the cheering crowds and coloured lights, a voice broke through the haze. "Fetch me another ashtray." One of the many guests at the birthday party had mistaken me for being an elaborately dressed waiter. Keeping what little dignity I felt at the time I politely explained that I wasn't what she thought I was. At that very moment I was aware of a warm sensation creeping down my shoulder. The parrot had shit on me.

That night I received the last telephone message from my ex-girlfriend. I had done everything I could not to prolong our painful separation. Once she was my original dancer, but after leaving the act she had become a subtle adversary of it, all the time trying to erode my confidence fuelled by her own insecurity issues. A year after I finally shelved the production, Stuart Allen had encouraged me to give it another shot. This had coincided with my relationship's break-up, which she had initiated. The aftermath, however, had seen her use the Gatekeeper's girlfriend as a spy hole on my life along with her own personal attempts of renewing our "friendship." The long-winded message she left that night, using her two year-old son in a form of emotional blackmail, made me decide once and for all to put my heart into Dead Souls and the professional wrestling promotion Stu and I had discussed.

Our first course of action was to rally the troops. Josh Perry, fresh from his success with heading our lighting team at "CCW: Animal Instincts", was back on-board. Just about every wrestler we considered to be any good in our show we contacted and, for the most part, got enthusiastic replies. We hoped they were going to leave CCW and embark on our venture with us. However, with the exception of Lee Edwards and Les Allen, everyone else free-lanced in wrestling. Looking back I can't blame them.

Stu's main area of concern was to get a video copy of the show. Josh had set a camera up from his position heading the technical team from the balcony, but it only provided a static long distance shot. CCW had employed the head of the Trowbridge wrestling association who had hosted CCW's first show to organise the main filming. We needed that copy if we were to have evidence of our work when trying to get venues or sponsors. After a week or so it appeared clear that CCW were not going to send the tape. Stu was still stringing them a line that he intended to appear on their future shows and they had even sent out contracts to get most of the wrestlers permanently on board. I even got a letter from the promoters, complementing me on the Dead Souls routine, something the CCW "management" (for want of a more inglorious title), had secretly been against during the show's pre-production. Stu ended up driving over to Kidderminster, where the two brothers who ran CCW lived, with his own double-decker video recorder and a blank tape to get our copy. Only one wrestler had signed and he was Trowbridge's main man. We hadn't intended to use him to begin with and the appearance of his underpants during his terrified performance against a shoot-fighter in Animal Instincts had put the final reckoning on our decision.

With two video angles of the show and a full card of talent that were willing to appear in our promotion, Stu, Josh and I turned our attention to getting the business, we would call "Exteme Entertainment", running. It was intended to be far more than simply a pro wrestling promotion, but an entertainment company that would produce various attractions. During a brainstorming session held in the old circus wagon I had grown up in when my parents ran their circus, Stu came up with the title for our promotion. We called ourselves "Extreme World Warfare." It summed up our product precisely. Firstly the absence of wrestling from the title made us different from every other promotion, yet the presence of the W's in the obligatory abbreviation made sure we weren't completely discounted from the family of upcoming federations. The extreme aspect pushed the fact that we intended to be a hardcore promotion, succeeding where CCW had chickened out. "World" was perhaps an arrogant assertion over our opposition. CCW had been Commonwealth wrestling, whereas others had "British" in their titles. We didn't want a title that made us appear small or limited, so we went for the big one. "Warfare" made our punk-inspired protest on entertainment. We were declaring war on "Old School" wrestling and entertainment as a whole.

However, our next move was not to promote EWW but to push the Dead Souls act, which I argued could bring us in money without much capital layout. Using the footage of my Dead Souls production, performed a year earlier, along with the act I'd done at Cheltenham, we put together a montage of highlights. I also came up with the idea of dressing the whole advert up with extra footage taken around graveyards and use it to give a surreal origin story for the Spirit of Instinct. The video featured the first appearance of Stu's new character, The Dominator, along with his two sidekicks, Pleasure, played by Stu's then fiancé, Niki, and Pain, played by his bodyguard at CCW's previous two shows, "Big" Jay. Niki wore a PVC catsuit and Jay, a rubber "gimp" mask with a leather waistcoat. Stu put some black face paint on, carried a replica of a Norman sword and wore some suitably gloomy casual wear. I got away with a white shirt and trousers, seeing as the parts we were filming around the church would be about the Spirit of Instinct's life as a mortal. It wasn't exactly a million pound wardrobe, but peculiar enough for the gang to need to improvise covering clothes to appear respectable as we surreptitiously crept from church to church.

The more atmospheric moments were filmed at night. The Minster Lovell ruins near Stu's home in Shipton-under-Wychwood provided an excellent location for the film's opening moments. However, we had to film in the day in order to get the action sequences. Time was very tight. Stu and Niki had previously booked a holiday in Florida the week we were filming so their parts had to be done first. Also I had discovered a live event, that I figured would be perfect to tout our video at, was taking place in London the following week. Therefore we had to get all the filming done and edited in our own crude and cheap fashion within a week.

Using churches for the purpose of adding a backdrop for an unsolicited pseudo-occult promotional video is not exactly the type of activity approved by the local clergy, so various tactics and strategies had to be employed in order for us get into the churches. We would soon be using a technique that would be called upon a lot to further the aspirations of EWW: lying.

Our visits to the churches coincided with a sponsored bike-ride. This meant that the churches would be open, enabling us to film their interiors and a few pieces of action. We were almost caught a few times. One out-take shows me pretending that Josh and I are filming for an architecture project. Not caught on film was the moment Stu, Niki, Jay and I are scurrying over a sty after almost being discovered. Josh is left doing his best bullshitting job to a couple of bike riders with a video camera in one hand and our ceremonial Norman sword shoved down his trouser leg. The cyclist believed him, although I'll never forget their puzzled expressions as he limped off in a fashion that resembled the Gestapo officer, Herr Flick, from the "'Allo 'Allo" comedy series.

The video out-takes are hilarious, but sadly they seem to have gone astray and only received one viewing. Classic moments included our desperate attempts to fit Jay in his "gimp" mask. The back zipper just wouldn't go down and there are hurried cries on tape from the unfortunate "Pain" as he fought for air on several occasions. Once the mask was removed poor Jay's face was often frozen in the position the latex had forced it. However, he was far from being the only one who suffered for art. The story called for my character to be "baptized", which amounted to me being thrown by Pain into a river and then emerging from beneath it and becoming the Spirit of Instinct. It was October and England isn't the warmest of climates to do this sort of thing.

After Stu and Niki left for Florida, Josh and I went through the whole procedure of putting the footage together into a short film called "Dead Souls: Dark Generation." There were many headaches during the process from sound problems to the presence of static due to the primitive copying machinery we used. The whole procedure was very dodgy D.I.Y. from my "ingenious" idea filming the opening credits by pointing a video camera at a computer screen to the portable smoke machine we used to veil the emerging Spirit of Instinct after his baptism. The opening credits were interspersed with a type of live creation of the Dead Souls logo, which consists of a sword, encircled by a snake and thrust through a bloody apple and framed by a triangle. I ended up pouring Kensington gore in a triangle and over the apple whilst we had a live Burmese python from my parents' zoo crawl over the sword. It was like a twisted version of "Art Attack" or "Take Heat" or insert your generation's children's arts and craft show here. Josh, of course, was the technical one and his inventiveness was amazing considering our editing suite was contained in his converted loft and his frenzied editing work was frequently interrupted by attacks from his randy pet dog, Fernando.

The soundtrack for the promo was a mixture of Josh Perry improvising on a synthesizer and two tracks from black metal band "Cradle of Filth". I have never been a fan of that band's main vocals, especially the work of the high-pitched Danny Filth who sounds like what one would imagine a hamster might sound like if were being castrated without anaesthetic on a wet stone. However, the instrumental work fitted exactly the atmosphere I was trying to convey. "Malice Through the Looking Glass" had been used previously on the original production as the theme for The Gatekeeper character. Now it became established as the Dead Souls official anthem. The synthesizer work used throughout the opening credits and over the extra footage we shot made the whole thing feel like a dodgy Euro-horror from the 1970s.

Haunted Shores - Cradle of Filth

Malice through the Looking Glass - Cradle of Filth

I had organised free tickets with my cousin for the vampire party, where we planned on handing the tape to the event organisers. My cousin had contacts at Campden Palace, where the event was being held, and had also agreed to put Josh and me up. Just before we left Josh's house with our promotion videos I let out a sudden shout of exasperation. The headed paper, which accompanied the videos and should have read "Soulless Productions", had a "t" missing. Josh quickly inserted one and we left again.

Sadly the whole episode in London was anti-climatic. We gave our tape to the management at the vampire party and left one with my cousin to give to her contacts who booked acts for clubs. Nothing came back. This would be just the first of many disappointments along the way that would harden us all, as no matter how much work we put in a good comeback was never a guarantee.

Stu returned from America bubbling with ideas and his now famous spiked shoulder pads. We both began firing ideas off each other and came up with our initial plan for EWW. From the beginning we wanted an ongoing storyline that would run through regular shows. We also wanted to keep the standard of production displayed at Animal Instincts.

The title for our first official show, like our promotion's name, took little debate. We always wanted our titles to mean something rather than the common meaningless macho names that are usually attached to such events. Later titles would be more storyline based, pushing the shows more into self-admitted physical theatre than the awkward ambiguity of "sports entertainment." For our first show made a straightforward statement. It was a challenge to the British perception of wrestling and signalled the beginning of our scheduled onslaught: "Extreme World Warfare: The Declaration."

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