"West of the Fields Long Gone" has been composed of pieces from formerly published writings, including "Ice Spoke of the Spells of Calm", which was first published at the Blogster.com website on the 25th January 2007, and from which "First Night of the Dream" and "The End of the Century Young" were culled. "Like Some New Romantic" was originally part of an early draft of "West of the Fields Long Gone" published at Blogster on August 20th 2006. All sections were subjected to considerable modification before being published in definitive form at the Faithwriters.com website in August '07.
It takes up where the previous story, "Gilded Youth at the Guildhall School" left off, which is to say, my arrival in Bristol in south west England to appear in Richard Cottrell production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the city's Old Vic theatre in the winter of 1980. Moving into '81, it goes into some details about my tenuous links with the New Romantic movement, and ends with my becoming an aging student at the University of London.
First Night of the Dream
My time in the city of Bristol as an actor with the Britol Old Vic theatre company in early 1980 was restless and unsettled, to say the least, that is with regard to my place of residence. Initially, I stayed in an elegant little dwelling in the affluent Clifton area to the west of the city centre, much of which was built from profits from tobacco and the slave trade, but was asked to leave by my landlady because my room was urgently required by a relative or something along those lines. At this point, Kathy, a friend from the Vic who also happened to be the wardrobe assistant, generously asked me if I’d like to stay with her for a while. I said yes, but it wasn't long before I'd relocated to a boarding house, also in leafy Clifton as I recall. There I stayed until it was time for me to return to London.
Appearing alongside me in Richard Cottrell's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the BOV were Daniel Day Lewis, future oscar-winning character actor of fabled perfectionist genius, and Nickolas Grace, best known for his screen portrayals of flamboyant dandies both real and fictional, among them Anthony Blanche in "Brideshead Revisited", the peerless 1981 television version of the novel by Evelyn Waugh directed by Charles Sturridge and Michael Lynsey-Hogg. They both made a considerable impression on me, as did other members of an incredibly gifted generation of actors at the Vic. Talking of which, prior to the Dream's first night, I had been fortunate enough to witness a BOV production of one of my favourite ever musicals, Frank Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls”, with Clive Wood as Sky Masterson, and another future screen legend Pete Postethwaite as Nathan Detroit, and which I can quite honestly say provided me with more unalloyed joy than any other theatre production I have seen.
Cottrell’s “Dream” was lavishly praised, and there was even some talk of its going on to become as renowned as the revolutionary 1971 production by Peter Brook, so much so that it relocated to the London Old Vic in the summer, where it was no less succesful than at Bristol. Towards the end of its Bristol run, I undertook a small role in an obscure play by the German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder entitled “The Freedom of Bremen” together with several other actors who didn’t have overly demanding parts. It was directed in the BOV Studio theatre by Michael Batz, currently the artistic director of Hamburg’s Theater in der Speicherstadt in the city’s historic Warehouse district.
Following my modest triumph in "The Dream", I succesfuly applied for the position of sales assistant in Bentall's china department in Kingston-on-Thames, and remained there until just after Christmas. It was early in the new year if I'm not mistaken when, thanks to the kindness of an actor friend of my father's, Haydn Davies, I found work at the Phoenix Theatre, Charing Cross Road, in “Satyricon”, based on the original by Petronius, and directed by Peter Benedict, initially as an assistant stage manager and percussionist and then as an actor in a non-speaking part. Soon afterwards, I contributed to an audio project of Haydn's known as “The Poetry People” with, in addition to Haydn, John Pine, Kay Clayton, and Maria Perry. Maria, who became a good friend of mine, went on to become a successful historical writer and broadcaster.
Like Some New Romantic
1981 was also the year in which I was most active as an enthusiast of the New Romantic movement which had been originated in the late 1970s largely among discontented ex-punks who were reacting to Punk's increasingly drab uniformity. The New Romantics embraced a hyper-nostalgic devotion to diverse ages past which they interpreted as romantic, whether recent times such as the twenties or forties, after the fashion of such pioneers of the movement as Bryan Ferry, and Ron Mael of Sparks, a startlingly inventive avant-pop outfit of American origin, or more distant historical epochs, which inspired such accessories as ruffs, veils, frills, kilts and so on. Its soundtrack was not guitar rock, but an electronic dance music influenced by German art rock collectives such as Kraftwerk and Can, as well as electro-disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder. To some degree, it set the tone, musically speaking for the entire decade, after having been brought into the pop charts by acts as diverse as Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran and Ultravox. By the end of '81, the movement was no longer cutting edge as I recall it, partly perhaps because of the scarcity of bands clearly identifiable as New Romantic. That said, it went on to exert an immense influence on the development of music and fashion throughout the eighties, not just in London but other cities throughout Britain, Europe, and beyond.
I attended New Romantic club nights at Le Kilt and Le Beat Route among others, and was even snapped at one of these by the legendary London photographer David Bailey, but I was never a true new romantic, so much as a fellow traveller keen to experience first hand the final truly provocative London music and fashion cult before it imploded as all others had done before it.
The End of the Century Young
As '81 progressed, my acting career faltered somewhat, and so a family decision was reached to the effect that I should become a mature student at the age of 25. Accordingly, I passed interviews for both the University of Exeter, and the University of London and specifically, Westfield College, situated on the Finchley Road in Hampstead, north London. Founded in 1882 and going on to serve as the model for the University for Women parodied in Gilbert and Sullivan's comic "Princess Ida", Westfield was an all-woman college for more than 80 years, finally becoming co-educational in 1968. She officially merged with east London's Queen Mary College in 1989 to become Queen Mary and Westfield College, until the turn of the century when she was renamed Queen Mary, University of London, while legally retaining the original title of QMWC.
To cut a long story short, I opted for Westfield, and so in the autumn of that year, I found myself embarking on a Bachelor of Arts degree in French and Drama mainly at Westfield, but also partly at the nearby Central School of Speech and Drama, while resident in a small room on campus. My dissatisfaction with my situation was initially so strong that at one point in an attempt to escape it I auditioned for work as an assistant stage manager, or acting ASM, for my old friend and agent Barrie Stacey. However, I was not succesful. Soon after this fiasco, while ambling at night in what I think was the Swiss Cottage area close by to the Central School, I was ambushed by a group of my fellow drama students, who were clearly thrilled to see me. It felt wonderful to be accepted so unconditionally by them. Perhaps they appeared to my jaded 26 year old eyes to incarnate the sheer carefree rapturous vitality and joy of life of youth.
Before long I settled down at Westfield, in fact came to love my time there, coinciding as it did with the first half of the crazy eighties...last of a triad of decades in the West of unceasing artistic and societal change and experimentation. It was a wonderful time in many ways for those who were among the most privileged members of western society, but at what price one might ask...at what price?
© Copyright 2016 Carl Halling. All rights reserved.
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