Some people have rhythm. Some people, like me, don’t. Sit me behind a drum kit, and the result will be far from a toe-tappin’-foot-stampin’ rhythm. I would look more like Animal, the loveable maniac from Sesame Street, than anything else. I have enough trouble keeping rhythm with myself, let alone trying to keep in rhythm with others. That’s why, when I caught up with the cast of Stomp, I was very impressed.
Stomp have made a name for themselves for finding anything they can, banging it in rhythm and turning it into a series of sell-out routines. Fraser Morrison, of Stomp, was on hand to tell nouse how it all came to be.
Firstly, Fraser tells me, the members of Stomp have had the passion for as long as they can remember. Fraser had his first pair of drumsticks by the age of four, and seemed to have driven most of his native Glasgow mad as hammered away on pots, pans and the kitchen sink. There is defiantly an acoustic curiosity about Fraser, as he recounts his childhood interest in the way things sounded, and how the sound changed depending on what you hit, what you hit it with and how you hit it.
The group have there origins in Brighton, and still regard it as their spiritual home today. Although they are engaged in touring the world, their roots are still dug deep in Brighton. It seems to be the ideal home for Stomp, a cultural and forward-thinking town, with a handful of insanity thrown in for good measure.
Stomp is the brainchild of Steve McNicholas and Luke Cresswell, who met in the street busking group, ‘Pookiesnackenburger’. They have been there from the very beginnings in the 1980s, collecting a circle or like-minded friends. Things really did begin on the street, turning into instruments anything that they could beg, borrow or find. If it made a noise when banged, smacked or dropped, then that was a start. Things, Fraser told me, snowballed from there.
The group first emerged under the name ‘Stomp’ in 1991 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The immediate press reviews were exceptional, and the troupe rocketed to international fame in such a way which took both themselves and the public by surprise. The group have since toured all over the world, and put on sell-out performances wherever they go. One of their more notable performances was at the Oscars ceremony in 1997. Fraser reflects favourably upon that night as the only Oscars ceremony which had some decent live music! Another notable performance was when they teamed up with the BBC Philharmonic and the soprano Lesley Garret, and added to the rhythmic kick of Mars, from the Planets Suite by Gustav Holst. Those who admit to ever having watched Blue Peter might remember when the Stomp team descended on the studio and added their own unique twist to the Blue Peter theme tune.
The team has grown immensely since its early days and, as a result, the cast changes from night to night. The shows lacks a consistency because of this, but Fraser sees this only as an advantage. No two shows are ever the same. This is part of the reason why there are no set programs, the cast just see where it goes. It is all about going with the flow, and so there are always a few surprises for both the cast and the audience.
I asked Fraser about the kind of people who go to watch the performances. The performances are incredibly accessible, answers Fraser, and so there is the whole range of people turning up. Part of the beauty of the show is that not one word is spoken, so it is very unlikely that anyone will be offended. The show is free of opinions, politics and ideology. The show, instead, is just about making music and entertaining people. Fraser can only remember one time when the show had to be altered, and that was in Japan. Without giving too much away, one of the casts acts involves draining kitchen sinks, and if they had done it as originally planned, then they would have shocked and offended the oriental audiences. Despite the minor adjustments, the show remains a universal and appealing performance.
The cast remain well aware that it is easy to be stereotypical, and that people can be narrow minded and run a mile at the very thought of ‘young peoples music’. If people refuse to go to the show on a stereotypical premise, there is nothing that the cast can do about that. Is all they ask is that if you go to see the show, that you go with an open mind. Once they get started, you find yourself hopelessly hooked. If everyone else wasn’t stamping there feet along, too, then you would probably feel a little self-conscious. It is an open and accommodating show, where anyone is welcome to come and sample a culture which is otherwise unavailable.
Most people seem to expect a message as part of a theatrical production, a nugget of wisdom which they can take away with them. The directors seem reluctant to say that any particular message comes as part of the Stomp experience. However, if pressed to say what is the underlying idea behind Stomp, it is that anything can be made from next to nothing. For some people, it is a challenge to social attitudes. By taking household and industrial junk, the team can create a popular production; it is a challenge to a society which bases itself on clearly defined ideas of what is and is not valuable. Luke summed up what he wanted Stomp audiences to leave feeling, “I think what it leaves an audience with is the sense of a simple idea that works so well, "I had an idea I've never done, I'm going to go and try it", and it doesn't necessarily mean a rhythmic idea, it could be any idea. Well, I hope it is a positive injection of "go and do it. Get up, get off your bum and do it"”. Steve holds much the same opinion, “We want to amuse, uplift and inspire. We feel we've succeeded when the audience leaves trying to play every object in their path as they leave the theatre”.
Stomp have take the arts world by storm, shocking critics and suprising audiences whereever they go. We will, no doubt, be hearing much more from