So, When Do The Performances Begin, Again?: Hatch at Hazard Festival (Part One)

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

The Hatch journey to Hazard Festival, a one-day ‘random spree of eccentricity’ organised by Word of Warning under the direction of Tamsin Drury in Manchester’s St Ann’s Square, begins in Nottingham at 8am with a vintage red and cream bus parked just along the road from Broadway. Its advertising, probably unchanged since the 1950s,  invites us to try Shipstone’s Ales and Skegness, and if it struggles to get much above 40 mph and betrays that its suspension is every bit as vintage as its advertising with every bump in the road, well, it’s certainly a theatrical spectacle in itself, with cars almost invariably tolerant of of its presence, slowing down to let it through and taking the opportunity to watch it pass by, and pedestrians stopping on the pavements to view it properly. Even the driver getting into his cab might be a sort of costumed performance, as documented by our onboard photographer Julian Hughes in the strip of images above. In short, this is probably the only way for Hatch to travel: slowly, a bit shakily, perhaps, but in style and with an improvised audience of bystanders, onlookers and fellow travellers on the roads of several counties.

Oddly enough, I’d interviewed Hatch themselves – that is, Nathaniel J Miller, Marie Bertram and Michael Pinchbeck – for a piece to be included in their guest-edited Performance and Live Art issue of Nottingham Visual Arts magazine not long before this trip, and while the edited piece had to exclude the section from the print version, at one point during our hour-long conversation, Pinchbeck had described the way that for some companies involved with Hatch performances began long before they arrived at the venues or put themselves in front of what we might have assumed were their primary audiences:

“[Sometimes] you don’t know where the work is, when it begins or ends, or even what it is. For example, when we first performed at Embrace Arts in Leicester, Medium Rare brought various items of found building material to the venue, and the journey on the train with it was a part of the work, the parade to get it to the venue was a part of the work, the construction of a shelter outside Embrace was a part of the work…and then they sat inside the construction for a bit, took it apart, and carried it back to Nottingham again, which was another part of the work. For me, that’s one of the strengths in Hatch: there’s a transience and mobility about it that’s a bit like Simon Starling’s shed-into-boat-into-shed work, where there’s a real slipperiness about what the work is…”

In fact, the question of where exactly a performance began and ended had surfaced several times during that conversation, and Miller had noted – at a slight angle to Pinchbeck’s comment – that the connecting threads between different venues, companies and performers might be at least as crucial to what Hatch wanted to achieve as the venues, companies and performances themselves:

“How things started was with Hatch trying to create places for people to use to show work: existing locations, but not places you’d usually go to see art or theatre or performance. We’d be in a pub, or somewhere like that, and we’d make the space for a night. Now, we still do that, but we also create connections between places and people, audiences, artists and art. That can be two points on a journey within the city, or a network that links things happening here in Nottingham to places outside, so going from Nottingham to Leicester is an example of that, and going from Nottingham to Manchester is another…”

Perhaps there’s a sense in all this that the journey to Hazard in St Ann’s Square should be considered almost as carefully as the performances that took place when we arrived, and the artists were given sign-boards to give a stamp of recognition that what they were doing, between the festival’s starting time of 12 noon and its ending around 5pm that same day, was somehow, officially, ‘the art’, to be seen in isolation from the process of getting it there and back from the location where it had always been scheduled to take place. Might a vintage bus full of performers, on its way to a micro-festival where they will all perform, consist of a performance in its own right? Given the comments of Miller and Pinchbeck on the nature of Hatch, and our somewhat theatrical and leisurely mode of transport, it didn’t seem entirely implausible that this might be the case.

What kind of performance would this be, then? In some respects, given that Hatch performers often play close to their actual personas in front of audiences, it’s one that seems not too far removed – if a little less constructed and formally defined – from those we’ll see later. Simon Raven‘s performance at Hazard is scheduled to be a busking session, with Raven in a Hawaiian shirt playing the likes of Summer Holiday on his acoustic guitar, and he’s prepared a set of song-sheets to practice on the bus, where Cliff Richard’s early hit gets an airing, along with a whole lot of bus-themed tunes, from Magical Mystery Tour and Magic Bus to a version of The Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round that veers whimsically off into some improvised lyrics about satanism, vaguely (if not necessarily deliberately) evocative of Charles Manson’s late sixties demo recordings aimed at the Beach Boys.

In a very different way, The Gramophones occupy the back seats and look and behave for the duration pretty much exactly how they’ll be performing when they begin to piece together the fragmentary extracts from their ongoing End To End performance in Manchester, while Amelia Beavis-Harrison (not officially on the Hatch roster, but hitching a ride to present her new piece The Lion and the Unicorn as part of the Hazard programme) busies herself weaving ribbons to make the prize that will remain ungraspable by the two costumed participants in her performance later. Alice Gale-Feeny and Katherine Fishman sing along with Raven’s strumming and try on bizarre sunglasses (a popular pastime, as the portrait of another experimental shades-wearer here suggests). Meanwhile, Michael Pinchbeck reminisces about past Hatch events with Rachel Parry – a fact that seems pertinent, given that both are performing pieces about memory at Hazard today.

Not all the Hatch performers are on the bus, but those who are seem very much in character (whatever that means in this context) long before we finally pull into St Ann’s Square on the stroke of noon, where the bus is quickly made over to become the performance venue it will be for the duration of Hazard itself. On the lower deck Annette Foster will be performing her one-to-one tarot reading session Messages from the Big Red Bus while the top deck will become the setting for a version of The Gramophones’ End To End. Everyone else is dispersed into the streets under the direction of a variety of Hazard attendants in wasp-coloured T-shirts, ready to begin the afternoon’s performances. Whether the morning on the bus counts towards the day’s official performance-y action is an open question. There have been plenty of moments – as the time began to tighten on our journey’s final push towards Manchester; when the vintage bus found itself at a service station surrounded by onlookers; as the vehicle’s every turn seems to have been documented on someone’s mobile phone camera – when the journey seemed at least as much a performance as anything likely to happen at Hazard when we arrive.

What did happen at Hazard will, of course, be explored in Part Two

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