Review: The Life And Times Of Adrian Street, Southbank Centre, March 30th 2012

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from this show, billed as “a multimedia extravaganza” and helmed by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller.

Now, mostly this is because visual art makes me very uneasy. This is because I don’t really understand it, admittedly. But regardless, sitting in the Southbank Centre trying to pretend an interest in Art (with a capital A) instilled me with a huge sense of fear.

I needn’t have worried. Jeremy Deller has made what seems to be a fabulous film about Adrian Street, the lavishly dressed, sexually ambiguous star of 60s and 70s British wrestling (we saw the first four minutes of it), and the evening was a celebration of Street’s life and work.

Simon Garfield, author of The Wrestling, narrated much of the event, providing historical context and reading snippets from his (excellent and highly recommended) book.

And musician Luke Haines serenaded us with excerpts from what seems to be one of the maddest but most inspired concept albums in history, 9 ½ Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and Early ’80s.

But most people were there for the second half of the evening, when Deller Skyped through to Street and his wife and valet Linda, speaking to us from their home in Florida.

As you’d expect, Street then held forth on various topics.

He used to run a wrestling training school but wasn’t a very good teacher because he got cross with his students complaining about it hurting.

He didn’t like Big Daddy, or “Big Fat Daddy” as he called him. “If they’d hanged him for being a wrestler, he’d have died an innocent man,” he said.

He thinks American professional wrestling has ruined the field. That’s not to say the wrestlers themselves are terrible – he thinks that if they were taught how to wrestle “properly” they’d be great – but what we have now is “too theatrical”.

He thinks even less of the British scene. Admittedly he’s not been in the country since 1993, but he’s comparing it to its heyday, when one promotion ran 700 shows in a year.

He took a break from wrestling to do a variety of art-related things, including carousel art, but he didn’t particularly like it when he was asked to paint clowns, because he doesn’t like clowns. “That’s probably why I didn’t like Les Kellett,” he concluded.

He’s just finished the first draft of his autobiography, which had the working title “My Pink Gas Mask” but is now possibly going to be called “I Only Laugh When It Hurts”.

If he could be anyone in history, he would be Alexander The Great. “Except he died at 33, and I’m going to live forever.”

I wouldn’t put it past him, either.

Jeremy Deller’s exhibition is currently at the Hayward Gallery, London, and (if I heard correctly) will be heading to Philadelphia later this year.


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