How do you follow an act like Ken Campbell? A master raconteur who could weave the most intricate and hilariously surreal narratives, he was also a cosmically-charged director who constantly smashed the boundaries of theatre. He embodied a Pan-like presence who’d thrust people towards realising their true genius (albeit, often traumatically), and, most importantly, he possessed an imagination so powerful it could turn myth into truth.
When Ken left this mortal coil 10 years ago, his daughter DAISY ERIS CAMPBELL was faced with this very question. How on earth was she meant to take up the reins of the Campbellian tradition? How could she come up with an idea that his prolific mind hadn’t already conjured up? How could she go “farther than her father”?
Exploding onto the scene with his Ken Campbell Roadshow in the early 70s, the formidable character directed the fantastically insane Illuminatus! – first shown at the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool ahead of the National Theatre – before going on to stage 22-hour endurance production The Warp, explore the outer edges of improv and break his way onto TV screens on numerous occasions. Ken wrote prolifically; from anarchic children’s plays to fictitious Canadian manuscripts, above all else he was constantly weaving his own personal myth, fully realised in a series of late-80s and early-90s one-man shows: Furtive Nudist, Pigspurt and Jamais Vu.
Some pretty hefty footsteps to follow in… But luckily, Daisy had been sufficiently prepared: “I was in deep from the age of 16. I gave up school, kind of with his encouragement, and joined the Tilly Matthews Academy Of Bizarre and Adventurous Education, of which he was the only teacher and I was the only pupil.”
The Academy left her with everything she needed to direct the revived behemoth, The Warp, at 18, keeping it alive for another three years before co-creating a pidgin adaptation of Macbeth alongside her father. Eventually she tried to find her own path in life, but always found herself gravitating back. “Whatever he was up to was totally where it was at!”
“His creative genius never switched off, even at home,” Daisy continues. “If there was a way to do things that were unexpected, joyous, mad and funny, he’d find it.” Ken was no different on stage than he was at home and it was almost as if he’d stepped into a role that he never left. “Life imitates art. I think that’s what he discovered, and he was a person prepared to make the sacrifice fully; of really becoming the character that he created. All the way through – like Brighton Rock.”
Daisy laments the time she could have spent with him, had she known he’d have left this planet so soon, but at the same time she needed to blaze her own trail. “It was hard to find my place within such a huge personality orbit,” she admits – but she’d find herself back in the midst of the Campbellian narrative soon enough though, and this would of course lead her to Liverpool.
Ken had found Scousers to be highly adept in actualising his visions during the 1976 Illuminatus! production and he was constantly telling people, “Look, if you really want to get anything done, on any kind of scale, go to Liverpool. That’s where everyone will say yes – they love it!” Greg Scott-Gurner would be one of those to take heed and would consequently start up MelloMello and The Kazimier in disused buildings.
It would be in The Kazimier that Daisy became firmly re-entangled in her father’s web, using it to host a fundraiser for her 2014 Cosmic Trigger production, having been nudged towards her father’s footsteps in adapting a work of Robert Anton Wilson.
The former Playboy editor had co-authored the mind-fuck epic Illuminatus!, which has the potential to unravel the most comprehensive belief systems with its perilous mix of paranoid conspiracy, guerrilla ontology and hyper-complex in-jokes that revolve around the veneration of the Greek goddess of Chaos, Eris.
It became apparent to Wilson that he’d pulled a ‘cosmic trigger’ with that book and in doing so unleashed unpredictable forces on the world. Author John Higgs has most succinctly defined its effects: “You pull a cosmic trigger and what you release is a tsunami of personal meaning that you’ve then got to make sense of.”
Wilson attempted to make sense of all this newfound meaning in his 1977 book, Cosmic Trigger I: The Final Secret Of The Illuminati, and this is what Daisy manifested in a mind-expanding weekend at Camp and Furnace with a production that would live on in London. It connected previously disparate groups, creating a new underground culture that John Higgs’ multi-dimensional book The KLF: Chaos, Magic And The Band Who Burned A Million Pounds has become a ‘gateway drug’ for.
One half of The KLF, Bill Drummond had built sets for Ken on Illuminatus! and imbued all of his later work with the same maverick thinking as his early mentor, forging his own mythos alongside Jimmy Cauty when they rejected their mainstream pop music acclaim and set their remaining profits alight in a disused Jura boathouse.
When it was time for them to return last year after a 23-year moratorium, they of course gravitated towards Liverpool, and as these mythologies have a tendency to overlap, it was no surprise to see Daisy had been whipped up into their plans for The JAMS’ Welcome To The Dark Ages. “It was intense. I mean, for three days I was more-or-less the only person who had any inkling about what was going to happen next. That was quite a full-on thing to experience. I felt like I had been on the front line of some kind of art war.”
Trialling and then highly rewarding, one thing that really crystallised for Daisy during that experience was her already developing idea of ‘Choice 5’ – a narrative so self-referential and multi-layered that it essentially becomes a three-dimensional entity among a clued-in network of like-minded seekers. “It’s a living thing, which gives me a lot of excitement about what people will come up with! It’s this virtuous circle of everyone inspiring everyone else… I’m really into Hakim Bey’s ‘immediatism’ and the idea that it’s really about the building of a culture. So we do it for each other, and we gather and some more people join, because they can sniff out the authenticity of it.”
With Pigspurt’s Daughter, Daisy is able to throw all kinds of heady new ideas into the pot, drawing from her father’s wide-ranging leftfield influences to help keep the narrative vital and ensure it expands in healthy directions. “There’s something genuine happening here,” states Daisy. “If you try and bottle it and sell it, you know, very quickly you risk killing the culture or overwhelming it with people who aren’t sufficiently woven in to keep it going. It’s a subtle thing, it’s a storytelling game that we’re all playing. And it’s fun!”
Pigspurt’s Daughter takes place at the Hope Street Theatre on 23rd August. Tickets are free in advance – you pay what you decide on the door. Secure your tickets now while you can – here.