If commuters at Aberdeen International Airport boarding a flight to the Shetland Islands find themselves sitting next to a woman wearing a fat suit at some point this weekend, they shouldn’t be alarmed. The curiously-clad passenger is likely to be writer, director and performer Daisy Campbell, and the oddness of her appearance will be a suitably off-kilter means of getting her props aboard a hand-luggage only flight. This is in order to be able to do the last ever performance of her play, Pigspurt’s Daughter, at Lerwick Town Hall on Monday night after touring it intermittently over the last year following a run at Hampstead Theatre.
Pigspurt’s Daughter is an all-consuming homage to Campbell’s father, Ken Campbell, the madcap genius and alternative conscience of British theatre, who died suddenly ten years ago. Monday would have been his 77th birthday. Such coincidences have featured in Campbell’s life ever since she grew up surrounded by the creative chaos of her father’s work.
She was born in the aftermath of Illuminatus!, Ken’s 12-hour staging of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s epic hippy science-fiction conspiracy trilogy, in which her mother Prunella Gee played Eris, the 50-foot goddess of discord. The show was produced by Campbell’s Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool. It opened on November 23 1976 in the Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun, a Mathew Street arts lab a stone’s throw from the car park where the original Cavern club had once stood.
Over the road was Eric’s, a new basement club awash with punky energy. One of the club’s regulars was a guitarist in a band called Big in Japan. An émigré Scot, art school drop-out and former set-builder at the nearby Everyman Theatre, Bill Drummond would go on to design the sets for Illuminatus! before it went on to open the National Theatre’s Cottesloe space on London’s South Bank. The experience on the show would change the lives of those connected with it forever.
Campbell was given Eris as her middle name, and grew up watching her father’s late-period solo shows. These were a wildly discursive set of monologues that began with Recollections of A Furtive Nudist, followed by Jamais Vu, Mystery Bruises and Pigspurt. Later she would work with her father on a new production of 24-hour play, The Warp. On November 23 2014 she opened Cosmic Trigger, a new show taken from Wilson’s sequel of sorts to Illuminatus! All the while, the solo shows stayed with her.
“They were extraordinary stories,” says Campbell. “Pigspurt was the most autobiographical and most psychological of his monologues. It had Pigspurt the spanking squire and Elsie the inept housewife, who were these two sides of him, and and I had this idea that I would imitate them in some way, and try and take this story to the end of the line.”
Campbell’s last comment is referring to a maxim of screen-writing guru Robert McKee that she picked up when her father packed her off on one of his story structure courses aged eleven.
“Pigspurt’s Daughter looks at how trying to live your life in story structure can have some wonderful consequences, but can also undo you,” she says. “Someone said to me when I was 20, how long have you been up your dad’s arse, and this is me trying to get out of this by sticking (+italics)his(- italics) spirit up (+italics)my(-italics) arse. The whole idea of catharsis is explicitly there, and in terms of taking things to the end of the line, I kind of give birth to myself through his arse.”
Campbell is only being half flippant when she says this.
“The set-up of the show is me in Dad’s archive, and coming across bits and pieces that end up invoking his spirit through the ancient art of gastromancy, which is the rectal summoning up of spirits. Doing the show has almost had the feeling of a long ritual, and it’s such a cathartic thing. It feels like a proper Campbell monologue, and is the right way to honour Dad after ten years of him not being around, but at the same time being utterly around. More people are aware of him now than ever. He tended to love a myth, and that’s still happening.”
This may be in part down to Drummond, who took ideas absorbed during his time working on Illuminatus! into the pop and art worlds through his collaborations with Jimmy Cauty. This was done first as the Illuminatus!-referencing Justified Ancients of Mu Mu and The KLF, then as The K Foundation, who, among various provocations, in 1994 filmed themselves burning a million pounds on Jura.
After a 23-year moratorium, Cauty and Drummond reunited as The JAMS in 2017 for Welcome to the Dark Ages, a three-day series of events in Liverpool. This was followed on November 23 this year by Toxteth Day of the Dead. This culminated in setting down the first stones of the People’s Pyramid, built from bricks made from the ashes of the dead. Campbell was at the centre of both events.
“They’re all part of the story,” she says. “A lot of Pigspurt’s Daughter hinges on that quote from Bill about how if they knew why they were doing something then they wouldn’t be doing it, and that becomes a really controlling idea of the show.”
The Lerwick date for Pigspurt’s Daughter came about after Campbell “put a call out to various seekers and spores.” One of these was Jeff Merrifield, whose connections with Ken Campbell date back to his tenure at Bolton Octagon running a touring community company. This later morphed into The Ken Campbell Roadshow, whose ranks included Sylvester McCoy and Bob Hoskins.
Merrifield went on to work with the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool, and is the company’s official chronicler. He also wrote a biography of Ken, called Seeker! Now a long-term resident of Shetland, where he creates artistic capers of his own, Merrifield’s invitation to bring Pigspurt’s Daughter to Lerwick was a no-brainer.
“Me and Dad always wanted to go to Shetland to see Jeff,” says Campbell, “but we never made it. Now we’ve contrived to bring Pigspurt’s Daughter there on his birthday with his best mate. I don’t think I’ll make any money, but it’s being done for magical reasons.”
It’s the sort of magic that made the trip inevitable.
“As a throwaway line in the show I mention Unst,” Campbell says of the third largest Shetland island. “I do that because I like the sound of the word, and an audience member asked me if I knew there was a Castle Mu on Unst.”
The audience member was referring to Muness Castle but it felt like the connection with the JAMMS had been there all along. This idea of synchronicity and meaningful coincidence was firs coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, whose well-documented dream of Liverpool was one of the inspirations behind the Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun, where Illuminatus! was first performed. A bust of Jung by David Wright is set against stone taken from Jung’s house in Basel. Campbell is planning a pilgrimage to CERN, the Geneva-based centre for research into particle physics and the make-up of the universe.
“I feel it’s time to return a gift to Jung,” says Campbell, who is planning a trip with Liverpool Arts Lab, direct inheritors of the spirit of the old Mathew Street centre. “Again, why? We don’t really know, but it feels necessary.”
Pigspurt’s Daughter, Lerwick Town Hall, Shetland, December 10.
The Herald, December 6th 2018