how to be a Jim Rose groupie

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The Independent Culture
You might imagine that the Jim Rose Circus, the greatest modern freak show since the Osmonds, would attract a copycat following of oddballs. That the circus famous for chainsaw-juggling, vomit-drinking, razorblade-

regurgitating and breeze-block-penis-swinging acts would, while being a passing curiosity to many, be a long-lasting influence on all but a few. But the Jim Rose Circus fan-base is broader and less base than has been rumoured. They're on the road for 48 weeks this year and with very little effort, and no T-shirt purchase necessary, 1995 could be the year you become a Jim Rose Circus groupie.

"Don't call them groupies, they'll hate that," Jim Rose drawls as we go backstage after the Leeds show. The 30 or so aficionados loitering in the corridors and sitting on the main changing-room floor give off a do-not-disturb air of appreciative awe, contemplating their lager cans and spliffs. Given that the tattooed Enigma and the penis-studded Mr Lifto as well as MC Rose are from Seattle, it's not surprising that the look is grunge, with Nirvana T-shirts and goatee beards in ample supply. The majority, all in their teens or 20s, have seen the show at least twice, but here and there can be found a "Jim Rose virgin".

There are two routes the "virgins" might have taken to get backstage. Either they have been rewarded for their participation on stage or their wild antics have got them noticed by the stage crew.

Once backstage the Jim Rose virgin can more easily pass as a serious groupie by playing down the enthusiasm. Deride the squeamish members of the audience who fainted when Enigma ate a bucket of live crickets and slugs. Throw in remarks about past shows. This tour is, as Jim says, "more skill versus danger than gross and disgusting", so you should regret the passing of the vomit-drinking and body-skewering acts (1993), but celebrate the new chainsaws-let- loose-in-the-audience-routine and the Armenian rubber man, whose rare skin disorder enables him to squeeze through an unstringed tennis racket.

You are not expected to imitate the acts, but the odd party piece will not go amiss. Chan-telle, 26, stubs a cigarette out on her tongue. "Doesn't hurt," she says, spitting out the ash. She can also eat glass. "It's not difficult, you crush it with your teeth and swallow. You just need a cast- iron stomach." A man who looks like a bouncer, but in fact works for British Rail, wrinkles up his bald pate to look like a testicle. A tame night, by all accounts. "I've had girls come backstage with an enema bag, give themselves an enema and shoot it across the room," Rose explains.

Amanda Norris, 23, has a more subtle approach. She brings photos she took of the lads in France, which include one of Mr Lifto's extraordinary handling device. "Oh, Lifto come and see," the team cry. Jim Rose looks on wearily. "There are those who are really appreciative of the type of art that we do and then there are those who are appreciative of how big the penises are. When you get 10 or 15 beautiful women coming back stage every night, well you can let your mind do the rest..."

The groupies watch in delight as Enigma and Lifto tussle playfully in the corridor. "A lot of people can relate to misfits," Rose mutters, "we've all felt like misfits at some stage in our lives." He suddenly switches into his performance persona: "When we come to town, like-minded monsters sit up in their crypts." Even if you throw up at this point, you'll still impress the pants off them.

DOMINIC CAVENDISH

Wolverhampton Civic Hall (01902 312030) tonight; Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, W12 (0181-740 7474) Tue

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