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Wednesday 16 April 2014

Remembering Extreme World Warfare Part IV

Lee Edwards had become a very enthusiastic part of our new venture. He was thrilled and flattered with being selected to become our first champion. There were probably only a handful of wrestlers who really got the whole idea that Stu, Josh and I were pursuing in the early days of our promotion. We were trying to re-define professional wrestling and create a uniquely British art-form. Lee completely understood what we were trying to do. In addition to designing our logo and posters he was eager with ideas to push "Extreme World Warfare: The Declaration".

A friend of Lee's organised a radio interview with us to promote our upcoming show. It seemed like a good idea to our then naïve minds. Unfortunately there were a number of problems with this interview and those that followed on this particular station. First of all, the station was broadcast in Wales. In hindsight, this was not the best idea, considering our little show was situated in a small town on the outskirts of Oxford. Nevertheless, I believe Lee's friend encouraged at least one group people on this particular occasion to attend. Although I am not sure if that came off from the radio station interviews, the word on the dirt-sheets (wrestling fanzines) or the website he set up for us on the back of his own.

Secondly, it was organised so that we took part in the interview in character. This can work fine if the interviewer plays along. Unfortunately for us this DJ neither seemed to like or understand professional wrestling nor did he buy our acting. He was even less impressed with Lee's friend trying to convince him that all the drama was real. On the plus side Lee, Stu and I all got some good interview and character practice. Turning these experiences to our advantage we salvaged sound-bites from our radio conversations and put them into a montage to sell the main event at our second show.

Whilst we worked on getting the word around, Josh progressed with the technical side of things in his own unique fashion. Stu and I would sit for long hours in Josh's improvised studio putting the various tracks together and creating the sound and light script when suddenly everything would be thrown into chaos. Our sessions would be interrupted by various tangents Josh insisted upon, which would inevitably lead to things slowing down or the computer crashing.

Josh is a complete natural at most things, but (I'm sure he wouldn't mind me saying this) he always seemed to lack discipline. I'm the other way around - a bit of an obsessive when it comes to discipline, once I am onto a project - and Stu is somewhere in-between. This means that on a good day we were a fantastic team, but on off-day things could get very maddening. We were children back then. Meetings would often degenerate into cruel pranks. Once this involved Josh being sent flailing haplessly down his stairs and on another occasion he was put into a grappling whilst his frustrated dog suddenly decided to take advantage of his grimacing face.

Matters weren’t always so light-hearted though. Showbusiness places a lot of pressure on individuals regardless of the level. The amount of time and effort put into creating a product can never really be justified in cold earnings. Coming from a travelling circus lifestyle I knew that the glamour was only a very small proportion of the work involved. Sleepless nights are spent organizing things whilst the days are often spent treading the streets putting around flyers and putting up bill posters. You are met with scorn and derision from all sides, as well as your own sense of doubt. As the date for our first show approached we were each feeling like we'd taken on an unfair amount of work whilst the other two were being lazy. Once the show was over and we appraised everything, much of the unseen work each of us was doing became apparent and tempers were defused.

Stu was fielding a lot of calls from people on the British wrestling scene. He was best suited to deal with the wrestling world directly, as he was the only actual wrestler in our trio and had far more experience in this particular business. With news of our new promotion hot around the internet and on the dirt-sheet news line other "workers" wanted to find out about us. Alex Spilling was one of the first and he arranged for an invasion angle featuring his tag team partner along with a high flyer called Johnathan Whitcombe. The three, who went under the stage names of Alex Shane, Guy Thunder and Johnny Storm, would become regulars on our shows and prominent stars on the New British Wrestling scene.

However, in hindsight the angle was not a good idea. Stu and I only allowed it because we wanted to build bridges. It wasn't that the storyline was bad, only that it upset the overall plan we'd made for the show. This type of last minute changing has always been the most frustrating side of independent professional wrestling for me and isn't something I miss. Any show requires a single and clear vision that is fully supported by a collaborative team. Unfortunately, most independent wrestlers took each show as an opportunity to showcase their gimmicks and/or repertoire, and it was often very difficult to pull everyone into line especially when you had little money to offer them. The show should always be the star. This is often very hard for a struggling independent wrestler to grasp, as they flirted with the different promotions in a bid to get recognition and the elusive full-time contract.

Whilst this was going on I was organising my latest Dead Souls routine. The first one hadn't shown the dance side of the production and I was eager to give the audience more of the whole original concept. Stu's mother - who had very kindly organised our accounting through her regular job - knew a formally trained ballerina called Debbie, who said she would be interested in being part of the routine. She would be my new Goddess of Original Innocence Lost, a character that had only been seen on my closed-set video production of Dead Souls and had never been featured publically outside our promotional video. I chose a very talented martial artist called Wayne, from Neil Genge’s Wu Shu School to replace Israel as "The Gatekeeper." He had a crisp technique and legs that seemed to defy gravity. Neither him nor Debbie were really much into the concept behind Dead Souls, but there was no denying their technical ability.

All the figures were shrouded in our trademark hooded cloaks and they were removed from us as if they were waxworks that came alive. This would be the most regimented version of the act and, looking back, a good deal of the music represented that fact. The new soundtrack started with a slow moving industrial piece by my favourite band, Curve, for Debbie's solo dance. Her routine was a mixture of snake style Chinese martial arts and ballet. The snake movements were in line with the serpentine Garden of Eden references that are part of the Dead Souls imagery. This was followed by the dramatic “Dies Irae” opening for Verdi’s “Requiem” for the ritual duel between Instinct and The Gatekeeper, where we pitted Chinese broad swords against each other another and then flowed into a wu shu style unarmed acrobatic fight. The routine was finished with an edited version of “O Fortuna” for the finale, where all three Dead Souls members split off to perform different solo routines at the same time. The script was organised to have different coloured gels and strobe lighting effects climaxing with a pyrotechnic firework.

We had two referees for the night. One was a friend of Stu's from the gym the other was perhaps one of EWW's most loyal and enthusiastic members, Chris O' Regan. Chris had some microphone experience and originally contacted me for a job as an MC. He was only 18 years old and, although very capable, Stu and I decided we wanted someone more mature for the role. We chose my uncle, Mike, who had been a circus ringmaster. Mike was like a father to me and the thought of having him on board, with his rich voice and perfect Received Pronunciation that revealed his aristocratic heritage, was a lovely prospect for me.   

The day of the show arrived and the problems came in hard and fast. First off, another wrestler let us down. This was Jorge "Wildchild" Castano's brother, who was scheduled to face off against his sibling as part of a family feud angle. The story was that he had joined Jody and left Castano’s gang, making "Wildchild" even more vengeful. Another storyline bit the dust and we hoped Johnny Storm would fill in, but he had just been tattooed and wouldn't do anything more than the run-in with Alex and Guy. Great! I thought. This has us off to a fine start. We have an angle we don't want and just lost one that we do. None of the "invading" wrestlers were willing to fill in for "The Hustler" either. This character was to be a masked man dressed up in Stu's old CCW gimmick and be destroyed in The Dominator's debut match. It had begun as an in-joke, but turned out to be a profound symbolic gesture as Stu and I bid goodbye to our CCW ghosts. The ever-helpful Jody ended up doubling as the condemned Hustler.

On the night of the show there was chaos at Exeter Hall with some of the workers just making it in time and the technical set-up being delayed almost to the last moment. Half the hired equipment for the sound and lighting was late in arriving and it wasn't long before we discovered some parts were faulty. The strobe effect for Dead Souls was abandoned due to it almost electrocuting one of Josh's brothers, who were acting as assistants.

It wasn't long before show time was upon us and we no longer had the privilege of worrying. Unforgiveable from my circus parents’ point of view it started five minutes late. We would never make that mistake again and we would stick rigidly to that rule. Since those days I have waited over an hour for a live performer to appear at a concert and it seems few live shows start on time. Chris O'Regan was sent out to introduce my uncle. Mike had considerable experience presenting circuses and had even hosted one season reading an entire programme in Dutch. However, the wrestling world was a very different place. He wasn't used to the insults being hurled by either the heel wrestlers or some of our more eccentric spectators. "Sit down and shut up you fat git!" Johnny barked as he made his entrance, uttering perhaps the most inappropriate offence I'd ever heard. Mike was a sinewy 10 stone on a heavy day. Nevertheless he didn't take kindly to the remark. His backstage words will stay with me forever and as one of his classic lines: "If that hooked nose little shit insults me again, I'll step on his long girly hair and rip his eyebrows out".

Mad Eli, who ran the Trowbridge promotion, often got stuck into the banter and enjoyed arguing with the heels. However, none of us were expecting my Uncle Mike's retorts. No more than 20 minutes into the wrestling business and he blew the sacred oath of kayfabe apart in one sentence by saying in exasperation to his audience: "Some of us don't realise that this all just entertainment". I could have disappeared into the floor at that very moment. However, such incidents were isolated and Mike did very well to get through our rag-tag show. Stu and I were both very grateful for his work that night and I think he had a good time. Looking back on this never-to-be forgotten remark, he was ahead of our rebellion in being very frank about the staged side of wrestling. Nine months later EWW were put in the totally original position in wrestling history of trying to convince the press and the police what they were doing was physical theatre, despite public reports of our unbridled barbarity.

Our show had no runners or stage manager, so everything was done according to the scripts we held backstage, in a glorified broom closet we called a changing room, and Josh had behind his control panel. Things didn't seem to be going well at the beginning when Jody followed Scotty Rock out to the same music. However, our spirits were raised again when we heard the reaction the match received. It was every bit the success Jody had promised and we had hoped. The audience were very impressed with the high flying display and it set the tone well for the following matches. 


Adonis made his entrance next, allied by his valet, Aphrodite, who held a mirror up to encourage the character's narcissistic image. Much to my dismay the match between him and Lee didn't gel. Israel was an excellent martial artist who was my part-time teacher for a year. He was great in the Dead Souls routine and had a lot charisma reminiscent of the cockiest of real-life fighters. However, he had not received nearly enough wrestling training or practice for the match. Stu and I didn't think it would matter as Israel had a good performing background and Lee carries people well, but the tempo was wrong. Martial art choreography has to be carefully adapted for wrestling and pro wrestling is a stage art unto itself. Despite these problems, Israel put on a brave display and his attention to character detail was apparent at the end of the match when he examined his face in Aphrodite's mirror after "losing." I knew I had to do better for him next time.

With the audience now beginning to calm to this awkward match, Wildchild's no-show opponent began to cause some annoyance. Jorge grabbed the microphone, but it was difficult for anyone to understand his villainous rant because of his accent, prompting further derision for the wrong reasons. The moment would be forever remembered in our history, largely thanks to Jonny’s impersonation, as the “Shat up!” promo due to Jorge mainly shouting this phrase in his Coloumbian accent.

The show seemed to be making a fast descent after the good work Jody and Scotty had put into their performance. Things weren't to get any better just yet either. Jody arrived in the guise of The Hustler for his "Squash" match. This did not fool the hardcore fans, who recognised him straight away, and some of the casual watchers likened him to Spider-man as he crouched in Stu's baggy ill-fitting costume. My entrance confused the audience and, looking back, was pretty pig-headed. It was confusing because the audience were expecting the arrival of another wrestler and it didn't go down well. I wanted to present my character with a regency style shirt drinking a goblet of blood, an idea I wanted to use long before "Gangrel" had appeared as "The Vampire Warrior" on World Championship Wrestling, but my pathetic protest found small support. Instead I got catcalls of "Gangrel!" as I entered the ring, since the later incarnation was becoming well known in the WWF. The Spirit of Instinct's harangue about how badly EWW had treated him and the intended revenge of EWW was hardly noticed, as the audience were now bored with the speeches and build-ups that appeared to amount to nothing.

John Carpenter’s eerie instrumental theme to "Halloween" announced the first public appearance of The Dominator. Stu wore a Jason Voorhees hockey mask over his make-up and in hindsight this wasn't a great idea either. We had ended up promoting him with a slasher- villain gimmick when we wanted him to be seen as an original character and, worse still, the music was for the wrong movie character. However, this gimmick would be shed very quickly, almost as quickly as The Hustler's defeat.

The idea of The Dominator squashing all the opposition in no time wasn't a bad device. In fact, it was harking back to the days when pay-per-view wrestling events hadn't reached overkill. Stu explained to me that monster heels would be built up over weeks, destroying all opposition while their nemesis would also be winning valiant matches until the two would meet and after a few minor tussles would challenge each other to a match at the upcoming pay-per-view. Likewise, we wanted The Dominator to appear indestructible whilst Fighting Spirit was coming through the matches as a mortal, a determined and courageous mortal maybe but vulnerable nevertheless.

As if fate was purposely making things difficult for us, The Dominator's all-important exit was made inglorious by him slipping on the Kensington Gore I had spat out at the end of my interview. However, the ignobility of this accident was swiftly neutralised when he up-seated a taunting spectator. This would be another trademark of EWW. Audience participation took on an entirely different dimension on the punk-like anarchy that was at the very essence of our promotion.
The show was being videoed by the same person who had recorded CCW’s “Animal Instincts”. However, we had insisted that Mad Eli did not provide the colour commentary. What did end up on the commentary were the disgruntled words of MEGA’s MC remarking that this was possibly the worst show he had ever seen. These words were uttered after Stu’s first match, which had brought the first part of the tournament to a conclusion and we had decided was a good place to have our first interval. Never again, would we schedule two intervals in a show.

Lee's match with Jody brought the show back up to a good tempo, but having Jody jumped by Alex, Guy and Johnny earlier on had pushed the audience's sympathies a little too far in Jody's direction. Having the two wrestlers shake hands before locking up was a nice touch. We wanted them to have a fair match, where they would win each other's respect. It did go that way, but Jody affecting a limp didn't go down well, as he was also visibly younger and lighter than Lee. However, the bout was technically excellent, displaying a nice contrast in styles from two very talented workers and ended by re-establishing the respect Jody and Fighting Spirit's characters would have for one another. Alex, Guy and Johnny jumped the ring once again to get to Jody, but this time they were met by Fighting Spirit wielding a chair. It made the whole imported angle work within the context and to the benefit of our storyline.

The Dominator destroyed Wildchild in a very original squash match. Sadly Jorge didn't get the opportunity to display any of his excellent technical and highflying wrestling skills in this show, but his defeat was fairly spectacular. He arrived in the ring with a masked bodyguard behind him and jeered for the Dead Souls champion to face him. As he ranted the bodyguard revealed to the audience that he was, in fact, The Dominator and as Wildchild turned around was hit with a fireball and choke-slammed. He was finished with Stu's trademark finishing move "The Blessing Claw" and then removed from the ring by a cloaked figure. Two other cloaked figures then replaced the contestants for the beginning of The Dead Souls routine. I entered dressed in a different costume adorned with two gigantic Burmese pythons adopting The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Zero” as my entrance theme.

The routine was very clean save two slip-ups. The first actually helped the drama and was testament to Wayne's professionalism. On the last choreographed clash of our swords my steel blade cut through his cast aluminium one. The end of the sword bounced over the top of the ropes and almost ended up in the audience. Having gone into a roll after making the slash, I hadn't realised what had happened and upon hearing the clang outside the ring, I assumed Wayne had thrown his sword away ready for our empty handed fight. I promptly threw my sword aside and to my surprise saw him do the same. It was a surreal moment for me, but we continued without missing a beat. The second fault happened when Josh let off a pyro by accident during the end routine. It was a pity not to have it on the final beat, but the audience liked it all the same. I was overjoyed at the time: my act was a hit again.

During the interval the cage was put up for the last match. The use of the steel cage was another feature we hoped would make our promotion stand out. It would be only the second time a steel cage had been used in Britain and the first time one would be used at a tournament's conclusion. Because of the wild animal training my parents do for film work, getting the cage and a crew to put it up around the ring was easy. The cage was also a legitimate steel cage and not some makeshift fencing that other promotions would use.

The Dominator's entrance for the main event was spectacular despite our modest production budget and the limitations placed by the little village hall. All the Dead Souls lined up, including my long-suffering candle-bearers Alix, my cousin, and Sandrine, my father's apprentice wild animal trainer. The Halloween music was played again and was mixed with the opening sequence of Marilyn Manson's "Antichrist Superstar." Josh manually operated some overhead lights in time to the beats and set the pyros off as the song broke into its powerful dirge. It was perfect.

What wasn't perfect was the Spirit of Instinct struggling to get a table over the top of the cage. It seemed like an eternity as I shoved the wooden trestle again and again until it eventually made it into the ring. There are certain moments in life when, despite being surrounded by many people, you feel very alone in world.  This was one of those moments. However, once the table was in the ring, the match got even better. Lee bladed and his head soon streamed with blood. Stu slammed him through the table, which smashed into many pieces rather than the very obvious fake clean break too often seen in "hardcore" matches. Lee improvised and used the splintered planks as weapons. He made his victorious leap from the cage, but was attacked by the Dead Souls.

Pain was supposed to shock everyone with a dramatic surprise entrance. Sadly the effect was spoiled. Part of the reason was we hadn't set the mood right with the lighting and he shuffled in with no procession. Pain also came in with his head bowed, wearing a pair of shorts. It was our fault. As with Israel, we hadn't rehearsed Jay enough or prepared him for the role of a professional wrestling character. However, he made up for it with the precise action that he had been instructed to do. Fighting Spirit aroused the sympathy from the audience when the Dead Souls attacked him a like a group of jackals, forcing him back into the cage, where Pain and The Dominator double choke-slammed him into the remains of the wooden table. Next Pain grabbed him ready for his evil master to decapitate him with his sword whilst the Spirit of Instinct encouraged him. Later we would be told by others that the violence of this match had seemed so real that many feared for a moment we were actually going to severe Lee's head from his shoulders.

Jody "The Street Devil" Fleisch came to Fighting Spirit's aid with a spectacular leap from the top of the cage. The Dead Souls cleared out quickly for the heroes to celebrate, cursing as they went. All that is save for the unfortunate Pain who had his five minute indestructible reputation ruined by falling over and getting a good kicking by the slightly built and “injured” Fleisch.

Fighting Spirit was photographed holding aloft our makeshift belt, as his entrance music played. The picture was perfect to represent what we were about. Lee was not only bloody, but had picked up a swollen eye too and was being held up by Jody in his moment of victory. Our show may have had its rough and ready weak spots during the first level of the tournament, but we'd proven that we were the technical force behind CCW. We'd also shown that we had a lot more to offer the wrestling world by being a genuinely extreme promotion with original ideas. Extreme World Warfare had begun.

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