Oh dear, it’s all gone a bit death-y, hasn’t it? Yesterday we got the sad news that both Charlie Gillett (we can forgive the Dire Straits business, because he gave us Ian Dury, Lene Lovich and The Sound of the City, one of the first books that persuaded me that writing about pop music might not be an utter waste of time) and Alex Chilton (am I the only person prepared to admit to preferring the Box Tops to Big Star?) had checked out, and this morning I found that Fess Parker, the man in the coonskin cap, had gone the same way.
Amidst the carnage, I almost missed the fact that Pierrot Bidon had also died. He was the man behind the extraordinary circus collective Archaos; by combining athleticism, nihilism and a smart eye for a bit of publicity, it added a bit of danger to the Edinburgh Fringe in the days before that venerable institution effectively turned into an open audition for people who aspire to be on Mock The Week. With its rough edges sanded down a bit, the Archaos meme was tweaked into the success of Cirque du Soleil, Stomp, the Blue Man Group and those strange people who dangled from ribbons at the Millennium Dome.
I was lucky enough to see Archaos in 1989, which was (I think) their first time in Edinburgh. Buzzes were still created by word of mouth in those days, and all of a sudden the only buzz going was about these stinky French crusties who’d been doing motorcycle stunts during the afternoon rush hour on Princes Street. Unusually for the Fringe, the show itself lived up to the hype, all fire-breathing punks, juggling chainsaws and topless trapeze artists. It was the sort of show where the audience leaves quietly, not because they are underwhelmed, but because there is nothing left to say, not at least until you bump into someone who hasn’t seen it yet.
They showed it on TV that Christmas. It was good, but there was something missing; the smell. For two decades, I’ve been telling people it was “the smell of cordite” but as I came to write this, I realised I wasn’t entirely sure what cordite was, beyond something a bit explosive, not to mention smelly. It turns out that cordite has been obsolete for decades; now I don’t know what smell it was that the TV show lacked, but it was important. And now Pierrot isn’t around to tell me.
PS: Mark Borkowski eulogises Bidon at greater and more informed length, starting here.