Early years and the 'turning on' of the Expanded Cinema Lightshow.
Where it all began 92 Hikirk Street, Ardwick, Manchester 12
Early Days in Ardwick, Manchester
I was born and brought up in the Ancoats/Ardwick districts of Manchester in the 1950s. Like many working class kids of the post Second World War era passing the 11 plus and the resultant scholarship to Grammar school gave access to a minority (including myself) to a different world of knowledge and culture.
For me, it was a dislocating experience which was ameliorated by the discovery of art which quickly became my favourite subject at Xaverian College, under the watchful eyes of the art teacher Mr. Brooker and a couple of trainee art teachers who completed their teaching experience in the Art department.
Away to Wythenshawe
Ardwick and Ancoats were being knocked down in the mid Sixties so the Council offered our family a house in Woodhouse Park, Wythenshawe, where we moved to in 1966. At about this time I became friends at school with Martin Sheridan who lived in Newall Green, also in Wythenshawe. It was great to have someone to call in on, as we didn't know anyone else who lived on the vast estate, and neither of my parents were particularly gregarious.
The Sheridan Clan
It turned out to be a small world as Martin's dad was the art teacher who taught my brother Michael at St. Greg's in Ardwick Green. The Sheridans was always a lively house. Martin's mum Marie could talk for England and it was a gift she'd handed down to Tom and Bernard, Martin's two elder brothers. There was also a younger sister Rita and and an older sibling Mary, the oldest of the clan, who by this time was living away from home.
Perhaps with so many words filling the air Martin tended to be more introspective but when he did speak he displayed a terrific sense of humour and a biting, often caustic, wit. Martin was a real cool character even at the age of fifteen.
At night he was tuning into and tape-recording music from DJ John Peel's Perfumed Garden show on Radio London who in 1966-7 was playing the Misunderstood, Frank Zappa, Love, Captain Beefheart, the Grateful Dead and all sorts of weird and wonderful psychedelic bands. Vinyl by these same performers was tracked down in obscure Manchester record shops and on the Sheridans hi-fi there was always something new being played.
Martin had to grow up quickly as his father died when he was in his mid-teens and he left school after taking his 'O' levels. He'd learnt to drive and was working as a roofer with his cousin(?) Dave Backhouse, who when not running his brother Tom over to Huddersfield who was working as one of many on the construction of the M62 over the Pennies.
Through a transit van window darkly, Martin Sheridan
It all seemed very speedy, hectic and too much like hard work for the budding artist that I felt I was becoming. Meanwhile I'd stayed on at Xav's sixth form and was spending time with Steve Hopkins, yet another relative of the Sheridan's, God everybody seemed related to everyone else like the fruits of some strange Hillbilly family tree.
The Magic Village
At weekends we'd hang out at The Magic Village, Manchester's very own psychedelic dungeon under the proprietary gaze of the club's owner Roger Eagle. The club became a honey-pot for the North West's proto-hippie community. Its damp and cave-like atmosphere was lit and lightened by a lightshow supplied by Dave Backhouse and Martin Sheridan.
A Lightshow is Turned On
A series of converted 35mm slide Rank Aldiss projectors, were precariously perched on a make-do scaffolding gantry (doubtless supplied from their roofing day job) and this Heath Robinson structure provided the platform for the wonderment to begin. Two or more circles of glass, stuck together along the edges with Araldite glue were then flled with oils, washing up liquid and bubbles and a 1000 watt light passed through them to create the characteristic multi-coloured, psycedelic effects so evcative of the late sixties. These 'mind-expanding' colours and shapes danced on the top of performances by Jethro Tull, the Third Ear and Edgar Broughton Bands, to name but three of the regular acts.
One week during the early morning dead hours of an all-nighter Martin asked me to help out. He'd acquired an 8 mm cine-projector from somewhere and wanted me to lace up the films. Some B&W Fifties B movies had been hired, short extracts from 'The Thing', 'Godzilla', 'The Creature from The Black Lagoon' amongst them.
These films took on a whole new meaning when viewed under the 'mind expanding' herbal and/or chemical influence that most of the audience were experiencing. Incidentally it was the technique that was later used on the BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test who showed old cartoons to accompany unrelated rock tracks to create a new juxtaposition and synchronicity.
Whether or not Bob Harris was on something remains a mystery to this day. Anyway all these things got me thinking about small-scale film ideas. So I borrowed an 8 mm editor and film splicer and cut together my first effort. It used clips from a striptease film, a Hollywood western and a Woody Woodpecker cartoon, inter-cut for comedy effect.
I was encouraged by the laughs it got when it was screened one night at the Magic Village. Soon after I helped my brother Mike shoot an 8mm short by the banks of the local canal featuring his girlfriend of the time, Pauline, drifting through the industrial landscape in a flowing Hippy outfit.
Following the Yellow Brick Road (Don's not Elton's)
Things changed in autumn 1969 when at the age of nearly 18, I set off down the A6 headed for Nottingham College of Art. It was my first time away from home and I had no idea what to expect. This was okay because the foundation year was exactly what the name implied - a foundation or introduction to a variety of artistic disciplines, graphics, ceramics, life drawing, sculpture and painting, that by doing projects in each subject, students would find their own voice and the most appropriate means of expression.
Well before ET, Martin's original telegram to 'phone home'
Martin kept in touch and would contact me when a big enough lightshow gig was happening in Manchester and I'd take the coach back home with a suitcase full of hired 8mm and 16mm films. Performing mainly at Manchester University Union we created one off lightshows for such visiting groups as the Velvet Underground, Wishbone Ash, Screamin' Lord Sutch (below) Canned Heat, Lindisfarne and Fanny.
At college my films were getting cranked out at a fairly prodigious rate. If they were visually interesting then all the better as they could have a second life as part of what had become the Expanded Cinema Lightshow's projected repertoire.
An East Midlands Branch of ECLS Opens!
Incidentally the name came from Gene Youngblood's influential book 'Expanded Cinema' which introduced the work of experimental U.S. filmmakers like Jordan Belson and the Whitney Brothers who were pioneering early computer graphics within their work to question traditional film narrative and explore the visually 'spectacular'.
In Nottingham I'd teamed up with a fellow student Simon Rae who had some equipment, a phone and a Renault 4 van and consequently became a partner with me in ECLS, Nottingham branch. We got gigs at Trent Poly as regulars and at surrounding colleges as we did a bit of marketing Have lightshow will travel, visions for hire on the publicity, when the word vision still had some meaning to it.
Throughout 1971-73 the Lightshow was working pretty constantly. We 'illuminated' the Pink Fairies, Procul Harum, Wild Angels, Dr. Feelgood, Kiki Dee Band, Camel, Savoy Brown, Suzie Quatro and Screamin' Lord Sutch (God rest his soul), Focus, Osibisa, Gentle Giant, Nazereth, U.F.O. amongst others.
We used NASA footage of the Apollo take-offs, moon landings, car and plane crashes, fairground rides, firework displays and anything visual exciting that would hopefully astound the audience.
Back Home - The Lights Flicker Then Go Out
I returned to Manchester in 1973 but by then the parade had pretty much gone by. The projectors came out as part of Wally's Place, (a Wythenshawe youth and community project that alongside the Sheridan clan and others I was heavily involved in at the time.
We organised discos in various pubs on the estate and sometimes further afield like Hebden Bridge and Todmorden. We always tried to keep the show fresh and fun and no two shows were ever that much alike.
Clubs were still using lighting effects but it had all become automated and for the club managers it was cheaper to buy fixed spotlights and projectors and just have the same rotating slide in all night.
The human element was forced out and by the mid Seventies punk made 'heady imagery' passe. The gear came out less and less over the next decade only occasionally being dusted down for private parties and the like.
I hung onto the films and gave the slide projectors away to Wayne 'Worm' Sedgeman who helped out and had alwys 'lusted' after them..
Doubtless he sold them to buy drugs at some later stage.
I must ask him next time I see him.