George O’Brien


George O’Brien
George O’Brien (on far right), Delta Stopover Plymouth Arts Centre, 1973

Mick Banks writes: ‘My memories of George are from his days as a performer with my old theatre company the John Bull Puncture Repair Kit, which, in the late sixties, was gestating in the gestalt of Jimmy Nichols’ scrap yard in the Ryburn deeps. On first meeting I was struck by two things. First, George had form. Having trained as a dancer, he had gone on to work with Moving Being, an innovative dance company. Al and I were ex-teachers and just finding our performers’ sea legs. George brought a lightness of touch to the mix. Also, he had short hair, which was unusual among artists in the early seventies.

The standard response to most outdoor gigs beyond London in those days was often the double invective “…join the army” and “…get that hair cut.” Useful advice and we followed it to the letter, forming our own army and our own performance art air force, “The Barrowboys,” complete with camouflaged wheelbarrows, formation acrobatics and senior service haircuts. This style of playful caricature appealed to George’s anti-authoritarian preferences and he joined the colours for the full ride. The early seventies were one of John Bull’s most productive periods. We couldn’t get the ideas out fast enough. For most of that time George was there, aiding and abetting.

Eventually we lost him to another art form – illustration.

I have a souvenir from those days. A suitcase from the seventies. The suitcase was to itinerant performers what the Ford Transit was for bands – it facilitated. We had green ones; blue ones; yellow ones; exploding ones. One afternoon in the dressing room at Oval House, George spirited away my second-hand suitcase which I was using as a stage prop for The Black Hole Show (a journey conducted in ultra violet light which begins with each performer making his personal farewells to the audience). When he returned it, the inside lid was covered in the most eccentric and delicate figures inspired by, and suggested in, the stains and random markings which appeared on the cloth lining. That suitcase I still have and it has accompanied me on gigs to many unlikely, outlandish and, frankly, uncivilised places. And I think George would approve that no one saw it and no one knew of it except him and me.’
9th June, 2013.