In John Waters own words.............
Quite a few people, including the boys at The Tilbury had severe reservations. About the title. Don’t understand. Through the Looking Glass ….what!!!?? It’s the SONG guys. Don’t you get it?
‘I told you ‘bout Strawberry Fields
You know the place where nothing is real…
Well here’s another clue for you all
‘The Walrus’ was Paul…
LOOKING THROUGH A GLASS ONION……’
I had to assume things. I had to work on the premise that other people knew the Lennon life and songs like I did, even though only a certain percentage would. That was the only way the monologue part would not be preachy. It had to be Lennon talking to a person or people who were living it with him. Then and only then would all those people who DON’T know the life and songs in quite the detail they think they do feel involved. Close to the action, as it were. Hence the title.
It was early 1992. All I said to Stuart D’Arrietta was – It’s us playing. Me alternately singing and talking. We need some backing tracks. And we need to pick the songs that we like and that tell the story best. I only have the title and the first three pages. We open in six weeks. And he said – OK.
The Tilbury Hotel had a stage the size of a postage stamp. We got onto it via the audience. Via their feet, laps, glasses of beer and tablecloths. But it was intense. And it went off. Quentin Dempster did a ‘live’ cross on ABC TV and five weeks were played to people hanging from the rafters.
I had thought it would be an experimental fill-in for a ‘quiet time’. It turned out to be something more. And ever since those days of climbing from tablecloth to stage, it has continued to change and snowball into the next incarnation, while somehow remaining, in its essence, the same.
Tours of the two man travelling version took Stewie and myself from Lithgow bar to Coffs Harbour ‘Love Boat’. Venues rich and varied and whatever we could get at short notice. Always the result was close to hysteria. It was time to get serious and legit. We played the Universal Theatre in Fitzroy, Melbourne, and that is where I believe the show became the entity it is today. Except for one thing - The Band.
There was a hiatus in the ‘Onion’ story while I spent three months terrorising John Farnham. The Jesus Christ Superstar concert spectacular continued on without me eventually for the time had come to return to Melbourne – this time the Athenaeum Theatre – with the show as I had always in my dreams envisaged it: Stewie on one side with his piano and warehouse full of keyboards; guitar, drums and bass on a riser behind; and me in a pin spot out front. No backing tapes. Just sound cues and effects. The simplest and starkest of lighting. The fullest and fattest live music. A confronting, organic show. Me and the boys and an audience. Channelling Lennon and creating something more – something different.
Success in the new format was strangely slow. Hobart picked up and Perth and Adelaide climbed – Adelaide in particular. But by this time we had invited West End entrepreneur Michael White to see the show and come in with us on a season in New York. That never happened; instead we went to London, and in October 1993 opened at the Criterion Theatre, under Cupids wings at Piccadilly Circus.
I was born and brought up in London. But I went to work wearing a sheepskin lined leather-flying helmet with ear flaps! And that was just for the -5° scuttle from cab to stage door. The coldest winter in twenty odd years didn’t help us new boys on the block in establishing an audience, but broadsheet critics gave us a great rap, and those who came gathered outside the stage door, breath condensing and feet stamping. I thought then that we really rode on Lennon more than any other time, but it was not a guilty thought – it was a sense of wonderment at the man’s power. Never did I feel we had abused that, and I was perfectly happy to play second fiddle to Dr Winston O’Boogie.
Early ’94 saw us on a second national tour of Australia. If this were a sequence form a 1950’s movie, it would consist of date slips being pulled off a calendar; dissolves from one city’s name to another and montages of crowds of cheering people and ‘house full’ signs. This was Glass Onion’s zenith. A joy to all. It seemed like a time to close on a high. The final gig in Adelaide in mid 94 was all ticker tape and tears. We had been on a roller coaster ride, and our heads were giddy. Mine especially was more than a little punchy.
So it was that Glass Onion went to bed for seven years. Maybe there really is a seven-year itch? Whatever, demands grow.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Any other clichés you can come up with? In February 2001 Prince Charming kissed the sleeping show and she yawned, stretched, and said – “Where’s the first gig?”
Sydney’s Theatre Royal as it happened. But something was different. It was weird, but we knew that the show had mutated just one more time. It grew a string quartet. Yes, it was a decision we made but it really did feel like it made itself. Those strings were coming all along! They were just waiting for a new century to begin.
And so, in ’01 and ’02, Glass Onion toured again in the form it still has today. Nine people on stage. For me, as the guy out front, it is like being wrapped in velvet. I have a wall of support, and I know that the audience with whom I commune nightly is bathed in more than just what I give them. We play rooms both big and small with equal ease, and the feed-back is instant.
Welcome, then, to ‘Glass Onion ‘04’. As I write, we are booking gigs ahead, so maybe it will turn into ’05 as well. This show has a habit of meandering on its own way and simply taking me along with it – so why should today be any different?
As they say in tedious ‘award’ speeches, I have so many people to thank…etc etc. Most of all though, thanks to you who keep wanting Glass Onion to go on. I’ll be there. That’s a rock and roll lyric. That’s what it’s all about.