109 Invisible Circus: The Loco Klub

The Loco Klub in full swing!


Location: BRISTOL


Doug Francisco in all his glory!

Working at Bristol Old Vic as an Usher, I get to watch a lot of the shows, and I was totally blown away by Under The Dark Moon, a production by The Invisible Circus. It was during the run of this show that I met Doug Francisco.

Doug grew up in the funfairs and arcades on the Isle Of Man where his dad worked. “I had a motorbike accident when I was about 9 and got a bang on the head, which seemed to start my creative drive and I struggled with academic life ever after. Since then I have always lived for my art in one form or another. I moved to England after visiting Stonehenge free festival when I was 15 and I realised there was a big world out there, and lots of other people like me.” He moved to London, where he played in bands and put on independent events until he was 25.”We started Artspace Lifespace in London in 1991/92 in an old shoe shop on Portobello Road. We converted it into a gallery and this led us to getting our first big licensed (through the local housing trust) premise called Bridge House. It was a big site squeezed between the westway motorway, Metropolitan tube line and towers blocks of Latimer Road. We were at this site for the spring and summer of 1993 and came up with the name and concept of Invisible Circus as a decor theme for parties and events.”

Sitting on one of the bars at The Loco Klub

Doug intended to go away to Portugal for 3 weeks, but he didn’t return for 3 years. “Invisible Circus became a live thing when I started performing on the streets in Portugal in 1993/94.” It was during the next few years in Portugal that the idea developed. “In 1996 I met my co-director Wim Penhaull juggling in the campo and asked him if he wanted to start a circus. We would travel a lot, busking at festivals and on the street. We put shows together with other artists and performers we met, whilst also working in squatted projects, creation spaces, and festivals. We would always split any funds raised between all the artists involved and this ethos stayed with us as we became more established in the UK.” The team continued to grow as Doug met Michelle Savage, the designer at Womad Festival, New Zealand in 2004, and Sarah Fielding, the show director, in London 2005 whilst working with the Mutoid Waste co and Trash City. 

A ring master on one of the stages within the vaults of the Loco Klub

There have been a lot of inspirations for Doug over the years. “Bill Hicks, in terms of telling it like it is and challenging authority was a big inspiration. Arkaos were a mind blowing inspiration when I saw them way back doing Big Metal Clown at Battersea Power Station. That changed my world, seeing punk rock circus live for the first time, the anarcho punk movement of the early/mid 80’s was also something that shaped me with its DIY ethos and approach. More recently I have been inspired by things like the Occupy movement and all the activists and alternative technology drives to do something about climate change.”

Some of the oddities you can find whilst exploring the Loco Klub

For Doug and his team there have been a lot of great moments over the years, “Once we arrived in Thailand at the volunteer clean up site on Phi Phi island, we were able to use our skills to really rally the troops and pick up their spirits. They had already been there for weeks and it was gruelling heavy hard work, all by hand, clearing the devastation. The jobs list call out each night was really heavy and depressed atmospherically, so I took the job over and turned it into a bit of a show to lift the spirits. What we achieved there made me immensely proud and will stay with me forever.” 

The long vaulted tunnels of the Loco Klub provide excellent performance spaces

“Society teaches us to be competitive, ruthless in the quest to win and be ‘the best’. This culture of gain and greed has bred many negative side effects and overcoming this programming is a tough game. Even as a so called ‘free-thinking artist’, I was amazed at how many barriers I still had, and probably have, but travelling and performing around the world really helped me overcome them. New places and cultures can trigger fears and insecurities, as well as inspirations, and it’s often people you have been taught not to trust that can help you the most. People often ask me how I can get on stage and talk to huge crowds, but in some ways its easier than one on one. Acting, performing, and clowning, all help you to be yourself, whilst pretending to be some one else! The State uses it’s own theatre and art to beguile and distract us, but the big juxtaposition is this: we, as entertainers, are not only here to distract you, but we are here to show you things as well, to transform people through the arts.”

The Loco Klub is the latest Bristol venue for the team. It’s an amazingly atmospheric venue under the passenger shed next to Bristol Temple Meads. “It comprises a series of vaulted arches which were the old ash pits of the original station, and a cabaret room and saloon bars upstairs, which were the former railway workers social club.” The last Invisible Circus gig before the summer happened there on Friday 5th of May and they had a fundraiser for Serbia Refugee camps with Circus To Borders a couple of days later. “We are working in Weston at The Tropicana and should have some activities and events there towards the later half of summer. We will also be smashing it out for Boomtown festival again this year so come and see us there!” The Loco Klub will be back with more dates towards the latter half of the year once the festival season draws to a close. 

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