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Friday 2 May 2014

Remembering Extreme World Warfare Part VI

We were on our way back from our little adventure in Southsea and Stu’s outburst went something like this “It’s 1999 and look how far we’ve all come over the past two decades: Abba in the charts and Star Wars on the fucking cinema!” It was a fair point. Nostalgia was a drug we all smoked socially, but the turn of century was showing serious signs of innovation-stifling addiction. It wasn’t just coming from the past either. Despite a new generation of British wrestlers arriving on the scene, many were using slogans and gestures stolen wholesale from their US heroes. I cringed every time we worked on a show and some dickhead worker started x-chopping. This wasn’t the New British Wrestling scene we wanted to promote. We weren’t denying our inspiration, but we certainly weren’t shackled to it either. Looking back I am sure Stu and I had certain fundamental differences in the way we wanted to the wrestling scene to go, but I think a key thing we did agree on was the desire to forge something unique.

With this in mind, “Storm Rising” remains the most peculiar show we created together. We really cut lose on ideas this time around and tried many things that had never been seen in a wrestling show, and probably will never be seen again! The whole dynamic was strange, starting with a very odd opening and finishing with a match that unintentionally pushed the boundaries of the British extreme professional wrestling.

My first worry was I no longer had a routine. The whole point of me getting mixed up in professional in the first place was to promote my Gothic martial arts act. The “Dead Souls” performance had gone down well again at “The Declaration”, this time containing the full trio I had envisioned from my days before I had even considered showcasing the act on a wrestling show. However, as good as both Debbie the dancer and Wayne the martial artist were, this was clearly not their scene. I recall hearing that Debbie’s boyfriend was not too keen on her being involved in the act. This is an issue I have sadly come across too often, and I heard on the grapevine she wouldn’t be continuing. I still saw Wayne when I trained at the wu shu club in Bristol, but the whole Gothic showbusiness thing was all a bit too way out for his tastes. This was a real shame as he had phenomenal talent. However, I have often discovered that martial artists have clearly defined comfort zones and it often takes a lot to convince them to try another flavour. I guess that is why I haven’t really bonded to any martial arts club since I was teenager. Few people in the martial arts world really got what I was trying to achieve in performance and it has taken years for many to understand where I was going with my practical cross training ideas. Mind you, few people in the professional wrestling world – Lee Edwards being an obvious exception - really followed the different directions Stu, Josh and I were trying to take our shows. However, one person understood better than most: Malcolm Martin.

Malcolm, or Malc as he was mainly known, was the feature writer for “Combat” magazine and the man responsible for putting us on its cover in 1998. He loved what we were trying to do and readily agreed to be a part of the show. Now a well-known television commentator, Malc offered to take my Uncle Mike’s place as the show’s master of ceremonies. My uncle had been a really good sport on the first show in helping us, but I couldn’t put him through the taunts and heckling that are part and parcel of the job. Malc was eager to be a part of the story and so we actively involved him. He would be the “EWW Representative”. This is what we needed, a figurehead to represent the “face” element of the story. What good was there having the Spirit of Instinct bawling about how badly he had been treated by EWW when there was no-one represent the promotion?

Chris O’Regan rejoined us as the only referee for the whole show and would remain a permanent fixture. Chris was so keen to be a part of the physical side of the action that he was quickly named by LJ “Mr Hardcore”. LJ continued to be a double-edged sword. We let him lead us on the media side of things, which wasn’t a good idea. We continued to do “worked” interviews on his local Welsh radio show. This resulted in virtually nil effect. Not only was the show way too localized to really convince Cardiff citizens to travel across the country on a regular basis to Oxfordshire, but the presenters were not impressed with our efforts to run our angles through their show. Even with Malc on board putting in a good performance the presenters were not convinced. LJ told me to send in a Dead Souls poster addressed to the show’s presenter and he convinced Lee to go into the studio dressed in full Fighting Spirit costume. This was all for nought. The presenters were just annoyed with LJ and they were not best pleased by us, especially when one interview exploded into a load of expletives on air. Getting a mother worried that we were running some sort of Dead Souls cult was perhaps the highlight of the whole sorry episode. However, the experiences convinced me that the days of trying to fool the general public into believing that pro wrestling wasn’t physical theatre were long gone.

After their guest appearances in “The Declaration”, ex-Hammerlock wrestlers Alex Shane, Jonny Storm and Guy Thunder all made lengthier appearances this time around. Both Alex and Jonny wrestled on the card, Jonny appearing in the main event as a reluctant Dead Souls convert. Many of the wrestlers were working for different independent promotions that seemed to be springing up all over the place since the previous year. We were never pleased by the idea, wanting to have a loyal band of workers that would help us create a successful run of shows. There was nothing worse than to see the same people we had put on, work a similar match, risking their health, for a smaller return. However, sometimes it was understandable. UCW (Universal Championship Wrestling) was the next incarnation of UWA (Ultimate Wrestling Alliance) and was seen by many workers as the major New British Wrestling promotion. At that time it was a battle to see was going to get a TV deal and with the rise of independent cable channels, this seemed within most of our reach. However, at the time, UCW looked like they were ahead of everyone else. They got a deal with the ill-fated Live TV. This channel went down in history as one of media’s most embarrassing failures with its shameless attempts to grab attention – the wrestling went on just before the topless darts!

This time around we began the show with the “Dead Souls” routine I named “Psycho-Relic”. Stu and Niki had a female friend who we named Strychnine. She wasn’t a trained dancer, but had impressed them both with her confidence when dancing socially. We weren’t having another martial artist this time to work in the performance, so between us we put on an act that just consisted of her dancing and me performing a musical form, using my Chinese broad sword. It was executed in a very bizarre fashion. Just as the wrestling show was about to begin, Strychnine entered dressed in dungarees, her hair in bunches and carrying a doll. Cradle of Filth’s “Red Roses for the Devil’s Whore” was the chosen track for this scene. It starts with a classic Gothic opening complete with creepy violins and then starts to build with typical horror sound effects – wolf howling and a creaking door. Having done a circuit of the audience holding her doll, Strychnine entered the wrestling ring. The track then switched to Marilyn Manson’s “Coma White”, as Strychnine then ripped off her dungarees to reveal the typical gothic Dead Souls attire. It was the Goddess of Original Innocence Lost costume that had already been worn by my old girlfriend, as well as the professional dancer of the original “Dead Souls” full-length piece and previously by Debbie. That costume had done the rounds! Her routine, which was very sexually orientated, would climax with Strychnine tearing the head off the doll and covering her face with Kensington gore – an idea I got from Alice Cooper’s stage shows.

The whole Strychnine element was my comment on the rave and acid house movement, but I don’t think anyone really got that. Coincidentally around that time the poison strychnine was found in Ecstasy tablets. I think I was still exorcizing a few demons from my previous relationship that seem shelve the whole Dead Souls concept before meeting Stu. Little did I realize I was about to enter into an even more tumultuous one.

We practised our routine upstairs in a pub that Strychnine frequented. The space wasn’t ideal, but we put together a solid little number that probably verged on pretentious performance art, but I hoped would be entertaining enough for the lay audience that would watch the show. Strychnine was a helpful EWW member, as would be proven on the morning of the show. I drove a hired high-top van containing all the crash barrier fencing and various additional props. I met Stu in his car, full of wrestlers, en route. We stopped on a forecourt for a quick update on what was going on. Just as I left I heard and felt an almighty crash. In extended Norman Wisdom style I had hit an overhead barrier. I remember thinking how bizarre it was to have this barrier in a forecourt that could be accessed from both sides by lorries and vans. As the owner of the forecourt came out to assess his damaged barrier I was reassured by Strychnine that her father, who was a professional steelworker, could fix it for me.

With Fighting Spirit now the current champion he was to be the main focus of the Dead Souls’ physical vendetta. However, we had established a comradeship with Jody “The Street Devil” Fleische from the previous show and wanted to continue that in this one. They would form a tag team. The Dominator would then force cocky heel, Jonny Storm to join him on his side – this was decided with The Dominator spraying Kensington gore in his face declaring “It’s not the wrestling in my blood it’s the blood in my wrestling”. There would be other twists that would serve to make this match-up quite unique and memorable.

Israel was back as Adonis despite his rather uneven performance as a pro wrestler. We let him decide what he wanted to do in a match that was completely unrelated to the main Dead Souls angle. He set up a worked kickboxing match with one of his students playing a heel. I had seen an attempt to do this in WCW (World Championship Wrestling) and there was also the Japanese short-lived Bushido, which many martial artists believed was genuine despite being derisive of the pro wrestling’s theatrics.

In a total break from the general oddness that was EWW we brought in “Tiger” McGuigan and Phil Powers. Their straight old school style probably made the whole show seem even stranger by way of contrast. We heard from a second hand source that Powers found the whole EWW outfit and its ideas to be “Very weird”. “Tiger” McGuigan faced Alex Shane who was going under something of a gimmick crisis. He was calling himself Alex Blade for the show due to something he had planned with UCW. Phil Powers worked his match with Stu’s old fellow dirt sheet writer, Steve Pendal. Pendal, who went under the wrestling name Stevie Knight, was another very charismatic heel. He worked as a bingo caller and had some excellent microphone work skills.   

The numbers on the card were pretty low and we were struggling with our budget. We decided to showcase The Dominator’s bodyguard, Pain, in a squash match and rebuild him after the damage done when he debuted on “The Declaration”. Strychnine’s sister’s boyfriend was apparently a professional wrestling fan and had some martial arts background. We arranged a brief bout between these two and trained them over at Hawks Gymansium in Bristol, where I was regularly training in Chinese martial arts.

The whole point of “Storm Rising” was to kick-start a series of shows at various venues we wanted to run under the banner “The Armageddon Tour”. It was intended to work off the supposed Nostradamus prediction that the world was scheduled be consumed by chaos and destruction by the summer of ’99. After this particular show all EWW appearances were to be part of this tour. This would include a guest appearance on Malc’s kickboxing show in Wiltshire, a hybrid pro wrestling/kickboxing show in Chippenham, another show at Exeter Hall Kidlington and then a heavily themed event, “Roman Games” up north in Chris O’Regan’s home town in Stafford.

As the stress of sorting the show began, I sought some timeout on a blind date. It had been over six months since this 22 year old had had any kind of intimacy with a woman. These had taken the form of ruining two good platonic relationships with one night stands on the rebound from a long term relationship and the whole experience had left me feeling a bit empty. Time had moved on, but if I thought finding a new girlfriend would help me forget about my worries I was to think again. The girl I dated was trouble from the start, but you try telling that to a hot-blooded young physical performer who has gone without for more than half a year!

We’ll call her Kadamba, as that was the name Stu came up with when we decided to bring her into the show for a brief period as a character. Kadamba was the same age as me. However, that is where the similarities stopped. She pretty much epitomized a lot of things I loathed about my fame-hungry generation. We were on the eve of the reality TV craze that would dominate our media for the next decade and beyond, providing cheap employees and making the manufactured pop bands of the ‘80s look like paragons of heartfelt artistic perfection. Kadamba wanted to be famous. She didn’t care how, although she had a rather silly pipedream about being a singer. I never dismiss ambition, passion or dreaming so long as you are willing to work hard and be realistic. However, Kadamba didn’t put time or effort into this idea. No, her work to achieve this end pretty much centred on being as loud as possible and prioritizing her “look”. I tend to have an issue with fashion slaves. It goes against my militant individualism. In fact, the only thing I loathe more than the concept of a fashion victim; is an anti-fashion victim. Kadamba insisted on “being in” and using the word “trendy” with less self-awareness than American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman.

However, these things I was to discover in the future. Before the show occurred our relationship didn’t go further than a growing flirtation and we went out as friends. My priority, as always, was on the show. Once again, EWW struggled to get the local media interested. Our budget restricted us in the production of good quality leaflets and flyers, having to rely on Josh’s home printer and whatever photocopies Stu could wangle at work. We were back to the hateful trudge of going around all the local shops and pubs begging for them to display our posters, and handing out leaflets to the locality. This time around we opted for a more traditional pro wrestling poster design, simply displaying the tag team main event.

Again, we had ambitious plans with our lighting and various stage effects. Although the larger shows realized that in order to help emulate the Americans and win over their fans they needed to have high production values, I don’t think anyone at the time was being particularly creative. My Dead Souls routine had always used a tight LFX/SFX script and the rest of the show shared the same attention to detail. We went to great pains to ensure that every entrance was unique and that other theatrical stunts occurred within the bouts. These extra effects often consumed the lion’s share of the show’s budget and were probably the reason why the early EWW shows never broke even.

If we had really sat back and done the maths we would have realized the folly of presenting shows at Exeter Hall in this fashion. The little 250-seater was a desperate last resort for us when we first picked a local venue. It was situated outside the major city of Oxford in a tiny town and, as my circus friends told me, the public rarely go from the city to visit the town. Secondly the place was just not suitable to deal with our ambitions. It was a little hall used to hosting brass bands. We did get some fantastic photos that proved some of the pyrotechnics worked a treat, but other ideas like letting the fireworks off the ring posts at the beginning of “Storm Rising” were a disappointment.

The rehearsals didn’t exactly go great either when Malcolm upset Jay and Niki after ranting at them when they made their appearance after my act. Stu called me to one side explaining his fury over the matter and how he was going to demand an apology. I calmed him, Niki and Jay down. None of them had read my scripting for that particular scene. Such moments make me reflect on the whole fantasy side of wrestling and its unique blending of the real with the staged. Is it any wonder that punters have become confused over what they think is genuine and what they think is fake when often those working in the shows do not.

In the end the audience attendance was reasonable. We didn’t get many of the long distance visitors that had come to “The Declaration”, but we were beginning to attract a following that was fairly unique to our burgeoning brand. EWW seemed to attract not only wrestling fans, but also people who didn’t even like wrestling. This idea really excited me. I saw the potential of really breaking away from the ghost of old British wrestling for good and even making a strong distinction from the American scene.

My costumier and wonderfully supportive friend, Ronnie Dorsey had advised me to get a stage manager in when she had worked with me on “The Declaration”. I brought in my old friend, Tom Wilson. Tom and I had known each other since we were six and have maintained a very true friendship, periodically not seeing each other for years, and then catching up from wherever we left off. As children we played a lot together and acted out our ideas for films, which we recorded and kept in a folder. Tom would take this love of performance to a full-time career as a teacher and writer through drama at school, eventually gaining a first at university. With versatility in his heart, he has a wide knowledge of contemporary dance and acting. He has appeared in a number of professional productions and produced many actors and performers. Like me, Tom shared a loved for a variety of experiences. We both trained in martial arts together as teenagers, but as I continued my studies in various combat forms, Tom went on to explore vaulting on horseback, wrote a book on his experiences living in an incredibly primitive shack at the Rollright Stones and saw a good amount of the world. Despite being drawn to the lucid and unusual, he had a very organized mind and was perfect as stage manager.

Dad had heavily criticised me for beginning the show five minutes late. It is a sin in the circus world. This time it started dead on time. Some of my friends from circus and my kickboxing club in Luton came to see this production, and I never did hear what the really thought about this oddest entry in the EWW canon. It was nice seeing them not long before curtain call. Kadamba also made her presence known and wished me good luck.   

“Psycho-Relic” did receive a respectable enough reception from what I recall and from an audience that certainly weren’t expecting that type of performance, but any chance of a long-lasting applause was cut dead by the arrival of Malcolm’s character. This made the whole act seem even more gauche and ill-fitting. The Dead Souls routine was unique in the respect that it was a blatant act, a show within a show. It was performed as a separate from the wrestling and yet involved protagonists that made up the heel faction. We used it as a type of ritual. Although Dead Souls were the villains of the show, albeit ambiguous ones, their routine was designed to entertain. So not only did the show begin with something that completely threw a wrestling audience, but it was then treated with scorn by the leader of the voice for good.

Nevertheless, Malc and I got our first verbal confrontation. This included what would become a common theme with us. Malcolm would appeal to the goodness in Instinct. Instinct would appear to be won over and then turn on him with savagery. In this instance I would spit in his face, yet another EWW trademark. It was rare to see something connected to EWW during those days without someone spitting something. We really took that punk comparison and ran with it. The face-off between our two characters concluded with me introducing “Wildchild” Castano, having been converted to the Dead Souls following his ambush by The Dominator in “The Declaration”. He would face the gun-for-hire wrestler, Scotty Rock, in a chain match. Technically a heel versus heel encounter, we often broke the rules of psychology. However, Scotty didn’t like playing the face and it was a little early for the ambiguity of the Dead Souls to emerge. Nevertheless, it was a good physical event and restored a degree of normalcy for the wrestling audience and also acted a strong contrast to our more extreme and unusual work.

The kickboxing match, of course, threw things way off again. Israel had always been a polished performer and he choreographed a good performance with Saadak, even bringing in their own angle where Adonis’s manager turned on him. I am not sure how well it went down with the audience, but I guess it all added to the experimental feel of the show.

Stu and Jonny’s interview that established their prickly relationship as tag team partners worked a treat. It was funny without taking any of the menace away from The Dominator character. Stu and Nikki both experimented with looks they never tried again. Stu wore white clown make-up, and dyed his hair red. Later on in the show Stu would wear a "Cyclone" Stu Storm costume to give The Dominator and even more unexpected look. This was definitely our art project! 

Alex Blade promptly told us, as he was announced that he was no longer Alex Blade but Alex Shane again. This totally confusing and superfluous piece of information was corrected on the microphone. Another regular factor about New British Wrestling was our desire to force ongoing storylines onto the general public. We wanted the continuity that television provided with American wrestling and we wanted clearly established characters. However, it was hard without having fans follow everyone around to different venues and read the dirt-sheets. The match was a little awkward. Looking at the footage after the show Stu and I cringed at the very fake looking chair shots used by McGuigan who was clearly not used to the hardcore style despite being a good old school pro wrestler.

After the interval Dead Souls launched Pain onto Tai Pan. The entrance for Pain worked to perfection. The lights went down and two huge gerb pyrotechnics blasted off as his music began. I leapt between them and beckoned the lumbering monster in a gimp mask forward. He had a collar and chain on, and was being restrained by a leather cat-suited pleasure. Once again, we had set standards for announcing a character. Unfortunately the squash match was a disappointment. We just weren’t big enough and didn’t have television to justify these really short build-up matches. Besides, both Jay and his opponent were woefully under-trained. It was a shame as both were keen, but we didn’t invest enough time in their match.

Stevie Knight kept the tone where we wanted it with his microphone work. Mad Eli was enjoying his regular heckling only to be told, “Sit down, you cunt!” Future shows would carry warnings about our bad language content, which often would be met with as bigger pop from the crowd from the triumph of the best faces.   

After a very straight but entertaining bout we set the stage for the main event. Malcolm Martin was suddenly wrong-footed by the arrival of a handcuffed Mr Hardcore escorted by Strychnine. With his mouth taped, the captured referee had a note attached to his shirt. Malcolm revealed that the note – which actually had a private joke Stu had written Malcom –stated that the referee had been replaced by a special guest. My entrance music came over the speakers and my perverse alter-ego made his appearance to ensure matters weren’t going to go smoothly for the two baby faces. I had a board wrapped in barbed wire attached the corner post. The barbed wire element had arrived in a British promotion for the first time. This was reinforced by the arrival of The Dominator who brandished a baseball bat wrapped in wire. Not to be outdone by Stevie Knight’s earlier language towards our favourite heckler, Stu sneered aggressively at Eli calling him an “Old paedophile!”

The tag team match was a blend of special effects and extreme stunts. It featured many inventive spots. One of these was the dimming of the lights on my signal as Stu threw a fireball at Jody only to singe Jonny Storm’s famous eyebrows. Another stunt involved Lee reversing an Irish whip on Stu, sending him backwards into me, which sent me into the post for the UK’s first barbed wire “Bump”. Stu gorilla pressed Jody over the ropes onto our carefully place trestle table. These tables did not break like others, but provided very useful pieces of wood that could to be used as weapons.

Having a solid mixture of high flying, technical moves and power moves meant for a very varied and exciting match  The extreme stunts and theatrical effects were just the icing on the cake, and watching these four work in that environment was one of a great showcase of New British Wrestling. The bout ended with a well-timed sequence of events. Jody was slammed into the centre of the ring by The Dominator and Jonny frog-splashed him. Fighting Spirit tried to come to his aid, but was hit with the Spirit of Instinct’s corkscrew dropkick – a technique I called “The Whirlpool of Despair” and based on the 360 degree butterfly kick. Lee did an excellent job of catching and selling the move, and the whole sequence came across very well.

However, it was what happened after the event that had fans really questioning how far we were willing to go with our stunts. Malcolm decided to call the match null and void due to the Spirit of Instinct’s involvement as a referee. This was a genuine decision Malc made to our plot, which we backed. He didn’t want to see the show finish on a downer. The Dominator, full of anger, threw a plank that had been ripped off the broken table at the ring. The wood sailed over the ropes and hit Fighting Spirit in the side of the head who promptly hit the deck. As Stu and I made our way to the back doors, Stu whispered through his teeth to me, “Is he okay?” I replied, back through mine “I don’t know”. Later I would receive a letter from a fan saying that we really were the most extreme promotion going after pulling a stunt like that.

The act had been a genuine accident “I am a terrible thrower” Stu later told me. Of all the times I really needed to miss I hit miss I hit the target dead on”. Back the ring the faces rushed to Fighting Spirit’s aid with real concern. Lee, who had sold the fall, looked up from the canvas and asked Malc, “Who the fuck threw that?”

“Mrs Allen? Mrs Allen?” came the little Essex accented voice. The show was over and damages were being assessed. Stu’s mother, Peggy, was in her First Aid role administering ointment to all the naughty EWW workers and artistes who had expressed themselves beyond the call of duty, and were now nursing their wounds. I had barbed wire puncture wounds near my kidneys. There is a good reason why barbed wire boards are not used in professional wrestling matches and I guess it would take a non-professional wrestler to find out the hard way. “Mrs Allen? Mrs Allen?” Again the persistent little voice, as Peggy checked us all over like an unimpressed school matron. “Yes Jonny?” She eventually replied. Jonny Storm, the cocky heel and all-round bad guy that had team up with The Dominator in the UK’s most extreme match to date wanted some attention for his fireball-singed eyebrows.    

Exeter Hall was in its usual chaos after an event. Many friends were gaggling around us all as we made it to the bar for drinks. I loaded up the props and barriers into the van and prized my drunk cousin off Kadamba, and I drove home. As I dropped her off we kissed for the first time. It was all so teenager-like and naïve. I guess living a life of celibacy back in the middle of nowhere had made me very cautious about the beginning stages of relationships, especially since the one that had almost ended my career before it had begun. From what I found out about Kadamba, she probably was very puzzled and bit amused by the novelty of my adolescent-like caution. However, for now it was a nice end to the night. I was still on a high and felt like I could take on the world. We had finished another show and pulled off some stunts that would be remembered for a long time. They certainly remembered by us for the next week. The next day Lee explained that it hurt when he did this: he was lying down on his bed, motionless.   

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