Kid Carpet: Building castles on the Fringe
By Caro Moses | Published on Thursday 28 July 2016
Kid Carpet hasn’t been to the Fringe before, but we have been fans of his for years, having tracked his work as a musician and entertainer outside of this here Edinburgh bubble.
So as soon as we heard he was headed to Summerhall this summer, we knew we had to set aside the time to see his show, a theatrical collaboration with fellow creative Vic Llewellyn.
It’s a really interesting-sounding project, so we also decided to set aside the time for a chat to get to the bottom of what ‘The Castle Builder’ is all about.
CM: So let’s start at the start, what is the show all about?
KC: ‘The Castle Builder’ tells the story of a castle that Vic saw, on the clifftops outside Kristiansand in Norway, while he was on a boat trip. The performance then develops with stories of various outsider artists around the world who, for different reasons, have decided to make massive, monstrous and beautiful structures, usually – but not always – on land that they own, and generally without much previous building experience. The show is part documentary lecture, part theatrical drama and part rock gig.
CM: So it was that castle that inspired the piece?
KC: Yes, or more specifically, the wonderfully strange truth and fiction of the stories Vic was told about that castle on the cliffs near Kristiansand. That was the initial starting point, a signpost, if you like, for what we might make a show about.
CM: Who is ‘The Castle Builder’?
KC: Well, the castle in our story was either built by Haakor The Bad, a Viking warlord, or by an inmate at a local psychiatric institution. They were originally going to be our Castle Builders. But then we discovered Jim Bishop. Jim actually calls himself The Castle Builder and has built Bishop Castle in Colorado all by himself. Finding inspiration in him, our research led us to many more maverick personalities, incredible makers and artists. In our show we refer to all of these people who decide to create the bizarre and unique as ‘Castle Builders’, as a kind of collective term for outsider artists who make large-scale work.
CM: So the show is basically celebrating all these Castle Builders?
KC: Yes. The show talks about the urge to create, finding inspiration and enlightenment through making something. It’s about what drives people to dedicate their whole lives to making enormous monuments. The show is both joyful and quite moving in its portrayal of some of the artists we’ve discovered.
CM: How did the collaboration with Vic come about?
KC: Vic and I worked together on a children’s show called ‘The Lost Present’ three or four years ago. We found ourselves discussing the possibility of making another a show together. Vic then told me that he was writing a book about this castle in Norway, and told me the vague story behind it. As I hadn’t come up with any good ideas of my own, I managed to persuade Vic that we could make his castle story into a show.
CM: What do you each bring to the projects you have created together and how does your process work?
KC: We both have a fairly casual performance manner, but Vic’s a far better actor than me and has written an amazing script, which jumps about all over the place. I had some songs already written that were a great fit for the show, but also created some brand new music specifically for it.
We kicked ideas around together in short bursts over a long time and performed at about five work-in-progress events. About half way through the project’s development stage we were booked to perform in Bristol at a scratch night, but we had no time to rehearse together. We decided that for this show we’d take it in turns, I’d perform a song and then Vic would do a talky bit, song, talky bit, song, talky bit and thus we’d be able to concentrate on presenting something that didn’t seem too under-rehearsed.
The format worked surprisingly well that night and we’ve sort of stuck to it, with a bit of overlapping, performing and talking together as things progress.
CM: Is the music you have made for this typical of your output or is it a departure?
KC: This project has been a bit of a departure in that I’m writing songs based on other people’s stories, which are drawn from an emotional response to those people and their work. I’ve been using a similar musical set up and writing style as I would for any other of my own songs – perhaps a little less digital – but there are some great songs in there that I’m proud of. I’ve found the whole thing really inspiring.
CM: You’re known for your playful style of electronic music and use of unusual instruments – what set you on this path? Did you play ‘normal’ instruments to begin with?
KC: I’ve always played musical instruments at home and in school from a young age but never stuck at anything for long enough to get really good. I got into playing drums and then singing in bands and have been involved in loads of projects over the years. I started getting into sampling and sequencing, and found a sound when a love of cheesy keyboards and plastic sound toys developed into Kid Carpet gigs.
CM: You have supported lots of high profile acts on tour, haven’t you? Any highlights?
KC: I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy some definite highlights, and in equal measure the misfortune to suffer some grim experiences through my career so far.
Ashton Court festival in Bristol in 2005 was a big show for me, maybe my biggest ever. It was just after my first album came out, and I was getting written about in the national press. As if from nowhere a huge crowd appeared as my set began. Somebody had made a banner which said ‘you’re special’ on it especially for me. I was blown away. I got shipped out to Fuji Rocks festival in Japan that year too, which was one of the most interesting experiences of my life.
I’ve been out to Iceland for shows a couple of times and of course hung out at Blue Lagoon, the sulphurous bubbly pools that you have to visit if you’re doing the tourist bit. I got lent a Ford Fiesta and we had adventures driving around in the countryside, swimming in lakes and looking into volcanoes.
At a show in a pub called Sirkus where I was playing, the upstairs room was booked out for a birthday party for someone from Sigur Ros. Plenty of Iceland’s music superstars were there. As I was playing ‘Make It Look Good’, Bjork boogied through the dance floor, bottle of champers in hand. I looked into her eyes as she was dancing to my song! I felt like I could retire or die happy right there and that would be quite an achievement. Then later that evening one of her friends, an artist who was showing stuff at the Venice Biennial, couldn’t resist telling me to take my Manchester shit and fuck off home!
Bez from the Mondays came to a show at Bestival once, in a small bar in one of the campsites. He told me that I had “the fookin’ words man, the fookin’ words”. A couple of years later I was DJing at Turnmills in London, it was a weird booking. I was playing records and doing some bonkers Karaoke as a band was sound-checking in front of me. Turns out the band were mates of Noel Gallagher, whose entourage were happy to encourage me to leave quickly so their mates could do their gig. It was a weird thing.
Then later in a bar upstairs I found myself sitting next to Noel. “Hi, I’m the shit DJ from downstairs”, I said. “Yeah, you were shit” said Noel, a phrase which has echoed around my head and heart a few times since. “Bez was banging on about you”, he continued. Bless that funky maraca wielding free spirit!
I’ve had a lot of memorable experiences but some you wouldn’t wish on your enemies.
CM: You’ve just released your eighth album, haven’t you?
KC: Yes, it’s called ‘Dogmeat’. It’s more of an EP or mini album and features three songs from ‘The Castle Builder’ along with songs from ‘Noisy Neighbours’, one of my family shows. BBC6 Music have supported and played out ‘Fire Breathing Dragon’ about twelve times as well as ‘Kids Make Some Noise’ and ‘Turn It Up’ from ‘Neighbours’. I was careful not to let on that the songs were from theatre shows and tried to treat it as a regular music release, as I think the music press get confused with crossover art-forms.
CM: You’ve mentioned the children’s shows you’ve done in the past. How do those shows compare to your gigs and other projects?
KC: I fell into making work for children and families by accident. Since our first child was born we’ve always shared childcare. After a year or so I was having the “where is your career going?” conversation with myself and discovered that I had about two hundred little ditty phone recordings made while looking after our son.
I thought maybe I should make an album for kids. Then I saw a call-out for theatre ideas, which offered support in developing those ideas into fully developed pieces. I applied with Kid Carpet & The Noisy Animals and eventually my first theatre show was made; it’s now toured three times.
My theatre shows are very similar in approach to my live music gigs, just as casual in performance style with the addition of a bit of story and a designed set. It’s amazing to collaborate with other people on those shows and to allow others to use their expertise to help me make something special.
The drive to continue making work for children has partly come from being outraged by the dross that is often served up as media for kids. The music, telly and theatre that I’ve witnessed has compelled me to make punk rock to help fight the twee and bright pink horrors from the shops.
CM: This is your first Fringe, right? What do you expect from it?
KC: That’s right, I’ve never been to the Edinburgh Fringe before. At the moment I see it as an expensive gamble and a month away from my family while the kids are on their summer holidays. People tell us we’re at one of the cool venues, Summerhall, and that there’s often a vibrant scene around the place. With any luck it can be the springboard for successful touring over the next couple of years. We really believe in this show and want to perform it as much as we can both in the UK and internationally. Hopefully I’ll get to see some great work by others and be inspired to make exciting new shows in the future.
CM: What’s next for you and the show?
KC: In the week before Edinburgh kicks off, I’m performing some new theatre and music experiments at Bristol Old Vic. Twenty minutes or so of sound and music performed on toys, lights and gadgets. I’ve been wanting to revisit toy music again and perform something with more ‘live’ elements than I usually do. It’ll be an interesting event and the first of a few developmental stages before I discover what this project is actually about. I’m interested in what an audience and theatre/music professionals make of it.
‘The Castle Builder’ is hoping to tour in short concentrated bursts over the next two years and if Vic and I get back from Edinburgh still friends then we’ll look into developing another show.
‘The Castle Builder’ was performed at Summerhall at Edinburgh Festival 2016.