Yo, grapple fans, those furry freaks at Sabotage Times have asked me to tell you about some of my favourite wrestlers, in honour of my new opus 'Nine And A Half Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s And Early '80s' (it's self explanatory, really). So, seconds out, here's a top five in no particular order. Set the controls for the heart of Wolverhampton Civic Hall.
'Exotic' Adrian Street
It all started with Street. Back in 1998, one of my unpopular dance combos – 'Black Box Recorder' – were searching for a cover image for our 'England Made Me' elpee. We'd already presented our record label with the infamous photograph of the England football team, in 1938, giving it a bit of the old David Bowie at Victoria station. Our record label, who at the time were busying themselves with the task of making the already hugely popular Robbie Williams even more popular, had little time for seig heiling footballers, and told us to naff orf, and find a different image. We did. 'Glam rock' wrestler Adrian Street posing in full Bacofoil, lippy, and feather boa regalia in a mine shaft, with his coal miner father looking on, about as impressed as our record label were when we presented them with the photo of Heil Hitlering footballers. There was one small problem, Adrian Street was as Welsh as the valleys and our album was called 'England Made Me.' It's okay, we thought, all smart alec -like, we'll just call the album 'Mine Camp,' That'll show 'em. The photograph of Adrian Street appeared in Simon Garfield's peerless book 'The Wrestling' which at the time I devoured. 'The Wrestling' brought back a world I hadn't thought about since the end of childhood – 'World Of Sport' on Saturday afternoons. It was a world of 'hard poofs' (Street, Bobby Barnes); frightening out-of-condition fat men (Giant Haystacks); crap out-of condition fat men (Big Daddy); freaks (Catweazle); old women (the homicidal ringside grannies) and mystics (Kendo Nagasaki).
Why Doncaster born Gary Cooper chose to don the character of Catweazle - a popular early '70s children's TV wizard - like most things from the golden age of British wrestling (1965 -1979) defies all logic. Catweazle's wrestling style also defied all logic. I saw him 'fight' once at Portsmouth Guildhall (with the exception of Adrian Street and Les Kellett I have seen all the wrestlers mentioned on my album fight at least once) – the 'Weazle spent most of the bout running around the outside of the ring and taunting his opponent, much to the hostility of the demented old bats in the audience. My one disappointment was that on this occasion Catweazle's false teeth stayed firmly in his mouth – there is no greater pleasure for a 10 year old boy than seeing a man having his false teeth knocked out of his mouth. Sadly, Catweazle – Gary Cooper died in 1993. He was one of the forgotten greats. Neither a heel or a blue-eyed boy, Catweazle really was a wizard and a true star.
The pain you would feel if you stepped in the ring with a man like Kendo would not merely be physical, you would be spiritually raped.
'Gorgeous' George Gillette
Gorgeous George was not a wrestler, he was Kendo Nagasaki's manager. Every masked man needs a mouth and what a mouth George had. Gillette was not liked by the wrestling fraternity. Unlike Adrian Street, George's campness was no act. It's probably not much of a leap to say that British wrestling, during the '50s '60s' 70s was not the easiest place to be gay, but George took his revenge on the school bullies by hooking up with the baddest muthafucka on the block: Kendo Nagasaki. There is some great footage knocking around on YouTube of the solemn ceremonial unmasking of Kendo Nagasaki, at Wolverhampton Civic Hall. Watch it and see the glory that is Gorgeous George Gillette in full flow.
An obvious choice perhaps. Nagasaki is the 'Pet Sounds' of British wrestling, the 'London Calling,' 'Revolver,' or if you are the NME in the '70s – 'What's Going On'. My dad and I had front row seats to see Nagasaki (accompanied by Gorgeous George) fight Giant Haystacks. I was nine, I was terrified – and so I think was my dad. Read 'em and weep boys and girls – Kendo Nagasaki, Gorgeous George Gillette, and Giant Haystacks. That, my friends, is a power trio. On my album I have re-imagined Nagasaki as an occultist polymath, writing 'rock operas in the key of existential misery'. It wasn't a great stretch. The pain you would feel if you stepped in the ring with a man like Kendo would not merely be physical, you would be spiritually raped.
There was no more appropriately named wrestler than Salford's Giant Haystacks. Larger than life is not even close. Death is more like it. And boy did Haystacks look close to it as he wheezed around the ring. Sadly Haystacks (6ft 11 and 48 stone) became a victim of his own success, fighting too many fat-men-bump-into-each other bouts with the awful Big Daddy, when he could have been concentrating on his long-running feud with Nagasaki. What the hell, he was one of the greats. I could go on, and mention Les Kellett, Mitzi Mueller, Marc 'Rollerball' Rocco, Mick McManus (not a grey hair on his head), Jim Breaks (Don't touch his ears) – too many to mention. Instead I will point you to Simon Garfield's excellent book The Wrestling, and when you've finished that, dip your fingers into the thousand trip bag and have a listen to 'Nine and a half psychedelic meditations....' Right. On.
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