Daisy Eris Campbell is a true force of nature. A stage visionary and crucial countercultural connector, she’s continually challenged audiences by pushing the boundaries of theatre to the outer fringes, and in the process has helped forge a self-perpetuating network of underground creatives across the UK.
Inheriting a wealth of knowledge, insight, mythology and lunacy from her illuminating and outlandish father Ken, she was handed the task of carrying on the illustrious Campbellian tradition when he left this world for the great vortex in the sky.
Ten years on, following her seismic ‘Cosmic Trigger’ play and a formidable contribution to Drummond and Cauty’s ‘Welcome To The Dark Ages’, Daisy is now shouldering her father’s legacy – finally taking his story to the end of the line in her one-woman show ‘Pigspurt’s Daughter’.
She’s bringing the show to the Hope Street Theatre in Liverpool on 23rd August, co-promoted by Bido Lito! and ourselves. The Arts Lab’s Josh interviewed her for a feature in the latest issue of Bido. Here’s the full conversation for anyone who wants to dig a bit further…
Can you recall your first memory of Ken?
Oh, my first memories of Ken? He was a very, very lovely, attentive dad. Childhood memories of things like going fishing in the River Lea, but with a magnet rather than a fishing line. He’d discovered an old magnet strong enough to pick up cars. We never got a car but we got a few motorbikes, loads of shopping trolleys. It was brilliant because everyone would get involved. If you had a good catch on the end, you’d have half the gongoozlers of the local area getting involved – people would be backing up trucks to tie the rope to.
We were so good at all the lochs, cause there’s loads of lochs along the River Lea. So we’d quite often just turn up and fish out millions of loch keys and leave them on the side for people who didn’t have one.
Another one was: I went off to boarding school and I’d obviously left in my room, loads of disgusting old cups and plates of crap and whatever. And when I returned weeks later, rather than either just leaving it for me; or leaving an arsey note, he cleared off a whole shelf in my room and carefully lined up all of these things and then printed off little labels that said “Experiment #1 … 3.50”, “Experiment #2 The Maggoty Tea Cup” – all this stuff I’d left festering.
His creative genius never switched off, even at home. If there was a way to do things that were unexpected, joyous, mad and funny, he’d find it. Later on in life, I came to find that he’d been decorating the local dog shit. It wound him up that no one in Essex seemed to pick up their dog shit, so rather than doing what a normal person would do – petitioning the council or something – he got himself a miner’s lamp and a whole special pack of goggly-eyes and little food painting squirty things, and clothes-pegs for his nose, so he didn’t have to smell the shit. Then he’d go out at night, after dark and turn the turds into little sheep and snakes – all sorts of things.
He was never ‘off’. Like when I came into a bit of money, and I’d been on and on at him, “you should get the internet dad, you’d love the internet – it’d be so good for your brain, it works just like your brain. Look why don’t you go off to Scotland Court Road, get yourself a computer – you’ll love it!” Then he came back and he said, “Well it turns out for just a bit more money you can get yourself a parrot!” He’d come back with an African Grey parrot that he started to train to tell her life story. “I was in a pet shop, then Ken bought me. All fluffy at first, then the feathers…” and on it went, this whole story!
And the parrot still lives on?
Yes. And one the things he taught it was, “I’m up here, you’re down there!” As if he’s leering in from the afterlife. And the parrot also learned the general chaotic noises of its household – how to do a perfect impersonation of his dogs barking as he returned, with him going “Shut up! Shut up!” It’s ridiculous and wonderful.
Life at home was never dull, there was never a dull moment. There wasn’t a showman side and then an ‘at home’, quiet side.
Do you think at some point in his life, he kind of stepped into himself as a character and never left it?
Yeah, that’s right. I found a brilliant note to himself – he loved Curb Your Enthusiasm: “God yes, it’s inspired me to be much ruder!” He was absolutely thrilled…
Yeah I think he really did, I think he stepped into this character that he discovered. It’s been interesting for me doing this show, because of course, yes it’s me telling my stories and a few bits are made up to make the story work, but it’s also a character; it’s a kind of version of me; a projection of myself.
Then afterwards, you realise that’s what people want. That’s what they want you to be. That’s okay, but that’s also a performance that needs to be kept up. So I start to see the implications of working in that way; of making your own life very much your art, I guess.
Do you think the ‘Bald Trilogy’ was the point where he started to blur the lines between personal and acting life?
Well… Yes I think with the one man shows, because he was in a position whereby you can’t give away your secrets, you don’t want to blow the magic, so you’ve got to keep the character and the mythology alive and growing. Then less and less people around you can quite know the distinction. I don’t think he was lying when he said, “I’ve sort of lost track of what’s true and what isn’t.”
If his experience is anything like mine, the few things that aren’t true in my show, have become true since! Which is really weird…
Create the myth and the truth follows.
Yeah! It seems so. I think I’ve stumbled upon some fantastic magical truths here. I’m sure it’s been discovered before but it feels like “What the FUUK?”
Life imitates art. I think that’s what he discovered and he was a person prepared to make the sacrifice fully – of really becoming the character that he created. All the way through, like Brighton rock.
There’s also stories from his cousins: aged three, he’d appear dragged up and start singing on the stairs, entertaining them all with ridiculous stories. There was a showman in him, from very early on, without a doubt.
The sacrifice is real. For the last maybe 20 years of his life, he wasn’t really liveable with. That’s why he’d end up with three dogs and a parrot. I mean, there were lots of friends and things happening; people coming round; all this activity. If he put the call out, then the people would come and they’d indulge his latest obsession, which might be like, “Let’s watch Jackie Chan for 24 hours straight!” “No, no, no! ‘Anne Of Green Gables’ is the thing now!”
I remember coming down into his basement cinema and finding all these middle aged men weeping uncontrollably to ‘Anne Of Green Gables’, because they’d all come round at Ken’s behest to indulge in an ‘Anne Of Green Gables’ epic.
He decided they were the ultimate redemptive vignettes and there was some whole conspiratorial backstory: apparently it was how they rehabilitated the Japanese after WWII. They taught them ‘Anne Of Green Gables’ and made them all nicer people, according to dad anyway… Haha!
His enthusiasm was legendary. The excitement was infectious! He lived to communicate his enthusiasm – that was the real driving force in everything. “I’ve got to get this stuff across, it’ll either happen in a pub after 6 pints or even I could turn it into proper one man shows.”
Then when he stumbled on key and story structure and everything, then it was all about how fiendishly extraordinarily mad can we make the story structures for these one man shows.
And he’d test you on it as well, wouldn’t he?
Oh yeah, I was thoroughly tested. I was taken along to the Robert McKee story structure course at eleven. And we chatted in story structure terms constantly. Journeys with him in the car were never easy, suddenly we’d get tested on Latin, or he’d quiz me on my times tables, but he only did 7×8 because he knows that’s the most fiendish. So I always know 7×8 is 56. I don’t know any of my other times tables…
So he kept you on your toes.
Yeah he kept me on my toes. And he became more and more overpowering and it was hard when I got older to figure out what I was supposed to be doing in the midst of this. Because whatever he was up to was totally where it was at! Then he’d move on.
I was directing ‘The Warp’ and he was kind of assistant directing me, he got to just fart about with the actors, while I sort of tried to make sense of an overview this 24-hour play. So when we did the revival ‘Warp’, that’s how it worked. I was 18 when we did that, and that kind of rolled on until I was about 21.
Then we moved into ‘Pidgin Macbeth’, and I was co-translator and co-director of that, and was in it. From there we went into the early improv stuff he was starting to get into, ‘School Of Night’. And that was where I was beginning to pull out. A) improvisation is just not my thing, but it was also just like… From what am I pulling away? There’s nothing more exciting than what he’s getting up to. So there was always this lure of, “What’s dad up to?”
At one point, I remember him saying, “It’s almost as if you don’t do what I’ve suggested, just because I’ve suggested it!” And I said, “Yes, exactly that! That’s exactly what I’m doing – I’m trying to find something separate from you.” He didn’t really get that…
It was hard to find my place within such a huge personality orbit. Then of course, he died just before I turned 30 so then there’s the part that thinks, “Oh blimey! You could have held on for another 6 years of Ken’s fun.” That could have been fun. I’d have stuck around for the whole ride.
I was in deep from the age of 16. I gave up school at 16, kind of with his encouragement, and joined the Tilly Mathews Academy Of Bizarre and Adventurous Education, of which he was the only teacher and I was the only pupil.
That was a whole ridiculous jam! We had NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) courses, Punch & Judy workshops and clown workshops. “Read this book list, watch these films” – this kind of thing. As you can imagine, the first few months were brilliantly joyous and then it was like, “Dad, I haven’t got any friends. They all think I’m being weird.”
Before you directed ‘The Warp’, you performed the lead part and that brought Ken to tears. He seems to have been prepping you all your life – do you think that’s when he realised, “She has it! She can follow in my footsteps”?
Well… When I was about ten, we went to this film set and there was a blind Czech director, who was literally directing through a kind of telescope. He called us both over and was chatting briefly to me, and he said, “Ah… Your daughter will go farther than her father!”
He loved that, all the time he’d be like …. “Otakar Votoček, the blind Czech director told us that “Daisy would go farther than her father!” He’d be saying this constantly… “No! Stop it! Don’t say that! Fuck! What? No I can’t possibly…”
Then for a long time as well, any idea I’d come up with – anything… “I’ve got this brilliant idea, I’m going to do a travelling theatre, it’s going to be a troupe of travelling actors.” “You mean like the ‘Ken Campbell Roadshow’?” “Ah fuck! Yes…” All sorts of ideas I’d have… Fuck! He’s written the same idea.
Yeah, I mean he was really prolific! And I don’t think people realise how much he wrote. He wasn’t just directing these huge epics and doing the one-man shows, which would have been pretty amazing in itself.
All those Road Show sketches are brilliant and then for a while he was ‘Henry Pilke’. He went off to Canada after the Road Show kind of collapsed here and came across this great troupe of actors but the theatre they were working at only allowed for Canadian playwrights. So he then turned up with all these manuscripts of weird, surreal sketches, supposedly got from this weird Canadian madman, Henry Pilkes, who he managed to get the sole right to, from the madhouse when he met them. And he’d only pass them to Ken, so it was alright! He could put on Henry Pilkes because he was a Canadian playwright… A load of made up bollocks!
Then there’s the kid’s plays! ‘Skungpoomery’ is one of the best kid’s plays ever written, I think. It’s just anarchic and brilliant and all about the power of the imagination to make your life infinitely more exciting and mad and fun.
That’s what I got from ‘Bald Trilogy’ too. Turning the mundane into the fantastical – a train station becoming this whole different world, through his lens.
One of his later shows was called ‘Hyphenator’ because he started to think of himself more and more as a hyphenator. That came from Charles Fort, the style he writes ‘Bald Trilogy’ in, with hyphens. That was pinched from Charles Fort, which is where of course the Fortean Times comes from. Charles Fort had said that “A full stop is a lie, or maybe it’s a hyphen coming right at you!
So this idea that you can link anything with anything, this ability to see things as other things – one of his favourite things to do with my kids for example, was to go into Epping Forest and look for faces in the trees. They’d spent hours looking for faces.
That ability to penetrate and see things that nobody else could quite see, or make links that no one else could quite make. Was such a key part of why his brain was just so lovely.
And why people would drop everything and come and watch 24 hours of Jackie Chan with him! He knows why even if it doesn’t make sense on the surface.
There’d been a whole backstory: so he’d gone to a spiritualist in Hackney and she’d managed to bring through the spirit of the late Laurence Olivier. So he was able to ask, “Who sir, is the greatest living actor?” And without hesitation the spiritualist, who was channelling Sir Laurence Olivier said, “That’ll be Jackie Chan.”
Which came first? Did that happen? He did definitely go to that spiritualist. I believe there might even be somebody who can corroborate that story. Or was it the Jackie Chan obsession that somehow led him to give it a greater meaning.
He was a storyteller all the way through; and a clown; and also a pan-like presence that could disrupt people’s humdrum lives and suddenly introduce them to an element of anarchy and a feeling of being able to accomplish the impossible – because why not?
Almost to a mystical level, his one man shows often build to some kind of showdown with the gods. His shows have got this kind of mystical, gnostic quality to them, and yet he’s so funny with! That kind of comic/mystic combo is quite an interesting archetypal thing, it’s not unusual.
Have you heard of Mullah Nasrudin? The wise fool. It feels a bit like that.
Yeah that’s right.
You’ve obviously been digging a lot into his work for ‘Pigspurt’s Daughter’, have you come across any sides of him you were previously unaware of? Or seen him in a new perspective?
Well, I haven’t dug as deep as you might think. Because a lot of the stories of his I tell in ‘Pigspurt’s Daughter’ are ones that have always stuck with me. Part of my curse, is that I’ve grown up listening to these brilliant, hilarious stories and I’ve got a brain full of them – almost anything that anyone says, I could roll out one of dad’s stories that would fit with it. And I have to really button my lip a lot and not just go around telling all his stories. So for me it’s been a joy. At last! I can finally tell these stories and do these routines.
In the digging I’ve come across a lot of letters and notebooks. And what I really want to do is go in a lot deeper and actually write his posthumous autobiography. He’s written enough about his own life, but often it’s embedded in the surreal tellings of this or that. Just extract the actual stories of his life as he tells them, and put them together in a chronological telling, I think would just be a really lovely thing to do.
What did the entity, Pigspurt represent to Ken?
Right, so that show, ‘Pigspurt’ the original one, was really, in a way, his exploration of his rather goading side that did have this demonic quality. I mean, if he was directing he didn’t give a fuck about anyone’s feelings. People would come and work with him at their own peril. It was part of his reputation and he knew that, he played up to it.
Equally, he had this thing that people couldn’t get it like it was in his head. “No! Not that!” But often he didn’t quite know what he wanted, so it was like, “Amaze me!” “Astound me!” “Show me your genius!” That was what he wanted, it wasn’t that they had to be puppets to help realise his vision. It was that they had to be geniuses that had to realise their vision before his eyes. That was really what he was up to I think, and what he was seeking through the directing side of his life. Obviously, he’d gained this reputation as a rather, demonic, goading figure. So with ‘Pigspurt’ – in a way it’s very psychomagical – he realises in the telling of the story that he’s got completely out of balance.
“Enantiodromia” is another word that he learned from Phillip K Dick’s ‘Exegesis’ book.Enantiodromia is the phenomenon of a quick and sudden change into a completely opposing character. So he started doing enantiodromia workshops, where people would put a mirror down the middle of their face and have pictures taken of each sort of character of the two different facets. Then the rest of the group would name who they were.
That was something I wanted to ask you actually… Have you done it?
Yeah. I think I had a ‘fey prince’ and a ‘cheeky pixie’. I wonder if I still have the same – I might have Pigspurt and Elsie now for all I know… So he had Pigspurt, the spanking squire and Elsie, the inept housewife, who became Sophie in Pigspurt because that linked with Sophia, the Goddess of Knowledge and there was a whole other thing…
Pigspurt and Elsie were the two sides of his personality. And that was pretty accurate you know. So in ‘Pigspurt’ he has to go and balance out these two characters. It’s so interesting because it’s an early transvestite piece in some ways, because off he goes to the TV shop and gets himself fully togged up and starts to go through life as a woman, a bit – to balance out the Pigspurt side of himself.
And he did all that, I only recently got rid of his breasts because they were rotting, these disgusting rotten silicone breasts. The sad thing was, it was too expensive for him to get the kind of breasts a lady of his build might actually have, so he had these perky teenage breasts that didn’t really do much because he couldn’t afford bigger breasts.
This is the thing. If he hadn’t lived a bit of story that he needed to live, he’d obviously go off and live it. Make them a bit taller, and they’d probably happen later anyway. Or at least that’s my experience.
Could you draw any parallels between Pigspurt and Horkos?
Interesting… Well you know of course, because of my psychological damage, Horkos does sound and look rather a lot like my dad in my head. But I wouldn’t necessarily want to impose that on anyone else.
I mean Pigspurt, The Phillip K Dick definition is a completely, autonomous, malevolent aspect of the self. So no, I wouldn’t particularly want to draw that connection.
In ‘Pigspurt’s Daughter’, I’ve made it so that entity or that force is the thing that makes us want to take every story all the way to apocalypse essentially. There’s a lot of Pigspurt’s active in our current story. “Let’s go all the way! Fuck it!”
Definitely. Would you say Pigspurt was in that boathouse in Jura with Drummond and Cauty?
Yeah I think so. I mean, like with all Gods, he’s got his pluses. I don’t think that was a wholly destructive act, although many would say that it was. Pigspurt wants to go all the way, and he won’t ever stop. “Are we at the redemption bit yet?” “No keep going!” You never get to the part where you learn something and are allowed to move on.
That’s just my version, I wouldn’t necessarily say his was the same. Although it was Pigspurt who seemed to be on the quest to find the woman’s arse that matches his nose. You can pull him in at your peril, but he might not be as easy to get rid of as you’d have hoped. That’s the thing with Pigspurt.
In terms of taking things to the end of the line, one of the places Ken saw as being great at getting stuff done was Liverpool. What is it about the city that attracts epic happenings like ‘Illuminatus!’ and ‘Welcome To The Dark Ages’?
Well, all I know is that my dad always said to me from a very young age, “look, if you really want to get anything done, on any kind of scale, go to Liverpool – that’s where everyone will say yes, they love it!” He said, “You’ll have a shelf-life, they won’t say yes to you forever, but for a while everyone will say yes, as long as it’s fun.” He was always really clear about that. He’d always send people to Liverpool, to get up to things – he loved it!
Also, you know, his dad grew up outside of Liverpool in Crosby. So he’s definitely got Liverpool roots.
He also inspired the creation of two cultural hubs in Liverpool in the ‘00s, Mello Mello and The Kazimier, didn’t he?
Yeah, Greg Scott-Gurner was one of those people who Ken sent up to Liverpool. He’s the kind of person who’s up for opening up derelict spaces and making them work and that’s how the Kazimier and Mello Mello were born. That’s right, absolutely.
I’ve not really spoken to you properly about the last time you were in Liverpool for ‘Welcome To The Dark Ages’. What was your experience like inside the belly of the beast?
It was intense! It was very intense… I mean there were moments, I definitely experienced my own personal dark ages on the opening night. But I felt like at some point during day two, there was a collective “shit!” and then everyone just went “Okay, we make this – we’ll make it whatever we want it to be.”
Then suddenly everybody stepped up, or at least enough people stepped up to the plate; to make it amazing and go with it; surrender to it in a way. Surrender to the insanity, instead of wait to be entertained, as they’d arrived initially, “What are you gonna do for us?” Then it became, “Ask not what The KLF can do for you, ask what you can do for The KLF!”
There was shift moment anyway, and from then on it was purest joy. I mean I know I was on people’s backs, going around goading, a shouty hat lady that marched everybody about.
Somebody had to…
Exactly! It was intense. I mean for three days, I was more-or-less the only person who had any inkling about what was going to happen next. That was quite a full on thing to experience. I felt like I had been on the front line of some kind of ‘Art War’.
I just remember that poignant moment at the end when Oliver Senton broke from character and stripped off in front of the fire.
Well that was very much from his thinking, “I’ve been holding this archetype of the officiator, the one that counterbalances the chaos, as it were and that must be stripped away, and there’s a point in time when that needs to be stripped away. That was his own innate understanding of story and character and archetype. We’ve got this brilliant moment where this falls apart after he’s seen it through, as it were.
But yeah, that was great, wasn’t it? I mean what we wanted it to be like was that he just ran to the Mersey and dived in and swam away. No… That’s not gonna happen. Instead, Bill went off to go and catch the perch! Hahaha….
A lot of new mythologies were born and resolved. You need those kind of events if you’re gonna try and live in alternative myths; and create them; and weave them; and bring them alive, which seems to be the game afoot – then events like that are just vital. Because everyone will bring to it the meaning they need to bring to it. And it can get woven into everyone’s personal mythologies in all manner of ways. And that seems to be exactly what’s happened. So that’s really exciting.
Initially I was like, “You know we’ve got to go to Jura, surely” I already knew there was a pilgrimage to Jura happening, but they were both like, “that’s very, very far away and there’s nothing there.” They weren’t really convinced of the enthusiasm for them, because they as plugged in as I was at that time, to that resurgence of interest in all this particular current.
I mean I think people would have bought tickets if it was on Jura, personally as well! But it was absolutely right, if it wasn’t Jura it had to be Liverpool. So we’ll see if Toxteth wants a pyramid of people. It remains to be seen, we hope so.
One thing I’ve been noticing since is that there’s a lot of new ideas being thrown in the mix, especially with ‘Pigspurt’s Daughter’, not a move away from chaos, but an exploration of other ideas. I mean, at Catch 23, it wasn’t just Eris, all kinds of deities were being evoked. Do you think our shared mycelium counterculture is finding new directions at the moment?
I think so because, it’s like in some ways, I know Eris and Discordianism was a new thing to lots of people joining it for various different reasons. So then you’ve got that whole flush of excitement in discovering this bonkers, alternative non-belief system. It’s great, it’s rich, it’s fab and it’s fun – all the good things. It shakes things up and breaks things apart, and let’s you feel like chaos is alright. We can cope with a bit of chaos.
I think as I’ve shared before now: when I was in my 20s Eris was very much the one who created the chaos and came through the golden apple and introduced chaos to the equation, and then as I got older, Eris became more the one you evoke in the midst of chaos – the one who can actually stand in the eye of the storm and be okay with it. And that’s been a great Goddess to have alongside you amidst everything that’s going on in the world right now.
I do think that Discordians are better equipped for what we’re coping with than most, particularly those who’ve actually read Bob Wilson and the rest of it, and understand multi-model agnosticism and the fact that it’s just competing reality tunnels. It’s okay, don’t worry, the turbulence will pass.
It’s expanding, and so it should, because actually, if Eris asks anything, it’s to discover your own personal mythology. John Higgs put it brilliantly at one point, “What is a Cosmic Trigger? You pull a Cosmic Trigger and what you release is a tsunami of personal meaning that you’ve then got to make sense of.
For Robert Anton Wilson it was the Illuminati; and the eye in the triangle; and the white rabbit; and Joyce – his obsessions. All the things that became unbelievably meaningful for him when he pulled his Cosmic Trigger. But that doesn’t mean that’s what we’ll release when we pull our own, we’ll release our own ephemera and release our own connections and our own mythologies. That’s exactly what’s happening.
The danger with Choice 5, which is the idea of bringing a narrative alive, is that it becomes a bit up its own arsehole, because it becomes such an in-joke that only a few people fully understand how the hell we got here. “How did this story arrive at this point?” “Well, hmm.”
The truth is that I do think all roads lead to Bob. That’s the most common denominator that we can all trace back to, beyond Ken; beyond Jung Mathew Street and Liverpool, essentially all roads do lead back to Bob.
I think it shows that it’s a healthy, growing, living thing. Because it’s not just all Erisian old school Discordianism, the Principia Discordia variety, but equally I think it’s a great initiatory process for people, because what better than to throw out everything you already know, and challenge all your own beliefs.
True, but by bringing in new ideas, you create new in-roads for other people, and they could perhaps keep it grounded, instead of the story becoming a parody of itself.
If it’s all ‘Hail Eris!’ and #23, it just starts to feel old, doesn’t it? But it’s not, it’s a living thing, which is what gives me a lot of excitement about what people will come up with. I think a lot of people have pulled their cosmic triggers and are getting on with their shit! This virtuous circle of everyone inspiring everyone else has just been really exciting.
Another thing I’m really into Hakim Bey’s ‘immediatism’ and the idea that it isn’t necessarily for bottling up and selling to the masses, any of this shit. It’s really about the building of a culture, and that’s an authentic process. So we do it for each other, and we gather and some more people join because they can sniff out the authenticity of it
There’s something genuine happening here. If you try and bottle it and sell it, you know, very quickly you risk killing the culture or overwhelming it with people who aren’t sufficiently woven in to keep it going. It’s subtle thing, it’s a storytelling game that we’re all playing. And it’s fun!
Yeah, it’s a lot of fun!
I don’t want to give too much away, but what can people expect on August 23rd in Liverpool.
It’s an initiation into the Campbellian mindscape, I think. You don’t need to know about Ken to enjoy it. I know there are lots of people who’ve now seen it and didn’t know who Ken was at all. There’s enough universal stuff going on.
The most controlling idea of the show is that, if you take the reigns of your storyteller and feed it set-up and don’t really know why you’re doing what you’re doing but you’re doing it anyway, you can be pretty guaranteed that weird shit is going to happen! That’s the takeaway message if there is one.
I hope that it packs plenty of new ideas, and it’s funny and mind-expanding in all the nice ways. Seems to do good things to people’s brains, I’m enjoying the post-show chat immensely. I think Liverpool will get it to the core, so I’m really looking forward to that gig!
Hope Street Theatre
22 Hope Street
Thursdsay 23rd August