the Road from Amsterdam to England to Ireland -- A
Personal Reminiscence by Mark Nelson
George Kugler, a.k.a. Georg-o Peugot, touched a lot of
people during his too brief run on this planet. George was everything
a fool should be: gentle, talented, fun to be around, mischievous,
smart, funny, a great entertainer, a loving soul
when he wasn't being a jerk like the rest of us. Most of all he
had the rare gift of kindness when he performed -- not always EZ
in the world we traveled in back then. For
a few months in 1975, I had the great pleasure of working and traveling
with him following the temporary breakup of the Great Salt Lake
I thought maybe some of his friends and fans might like to know
a little about this chapter of his life.
Story so Far: I'd been running a coffee house at the University
of Utah when the Salt Lake City Mime Troupe asked me to come onboard
as, ahem, General Manager, just prior to their previously-booked California
tour. I think this was in 1973 or 74. Things got suddenly interesting
when I drove to San Diego just before the first gig and discovered
it was the only gig -- everything else had fallen through. You can
read the rest of that story elsewhere.
Mark Nelson and (Right) George Kugler in 1975
Although I'd been
a musician all my life, I'd never considered performing with the Mime
But for some reason I decided to take my banjo and Swedish hummel
-- a large fretted dulcimer -- on that first trip to Europe and the
Festival of Fools. As it turns out, it was a good thing.
George and I began working together in Amsterdam for the very
simple reason that the Mime Troupe gigs were not bringing in enough
to keep us fed. The group decided to split into smaller units and
work the streets -- they were used to raising money that way from
our long California trip, but it was all new to me.
I guess George thought that I'd be suitable musical accompaniment
for his juggling.
I was frankly pretty happy to do something -- since most of the gigs
had already been booked,
I was getting the feeling that I wasn't carrying my own weight.
I'd not worked in make-up before, but Michael helped me with that.
George leant me a top hat and we headed out.
There was one problem -- it was illegal to perform on the street without
a license. Through the usual invisible arcane process surrounding
any business connected with our Dutch hosts, we finally received official
permission. Of course, said license expressly prohibited soliciting
a prohibition we all ignored, naturally.
(Click at the left to see a larger image -- Editor)
Naturally, George & I were quickly rounded up for doing just that.
The Mime Troupe decided to split up in after our gigs at the Festival
of Fools -- though, in typical Mime Troupe fashion, they left it open.
We were all to meet up again in Scotland, where there may -- or may
not -- be a booking at the Edinburgh Theater Festival.
George asked if I wanted to travel with him, and where'd you like
to go? I dabbled in Irish music, so my answer was obvious: Ireland.
Of course, to get there we'd have to go through England, so we hitched
a ride with Abrakadabra Fool's Theatre, the wonderful Barbara Hannah
(now Txi Whizz), her partner Ruevan and son Adad.
After a few days in London George and I hitched out to meet Foots
Barn in Cornwall. I pasted a sign on my case reading "Give a
clown a lift," we put on our most friendly smiles and stuck out
I should mention at this point, that for reasons that must have made
sense at the time, we had decided never to break character. Which
means that we hit the road in full clown costume and white face.
I'm sure we scared the bejeezus out of morning commuters.
I'll spare you the adventures -- apologies to the aged Cornish farmer
who discovered two nude clowns sunbathing in his field -- and we eventually
made it to the Foots Barn Farm and settled in.
Foots Barn incorporated us into their "Legends" show, gave
us pointers where to busk, and generally made us feel at home. They
even leant us dazzling costumes -- though wisely they didn't let us
leave town with them. (See the costumes HERE
Mark and George
in Cornwall, England
By now our street
act was pretty good. While I played some twangy banjo tune, George
lined people up to form a ring-essentially creating a performing
space. Of course, that would draw more people -- just like when
you stand still and stare up into the sky and suddenly there's a
crowd craning their necks.
George's juggling had come a long way. It wasn't so much his dexterity
as his presentation. Lots of jugglers do the eat-an-apple routine
-- but George made it new each time. My main contribution was to
add music and patter. We'd do maybe 10 minutes, ending with George
spitting and catching ping-pong balls out of his mouth. Then
I'd zip into a jig and George would dare the audience to throw money
into the hat. As the coins started to fly, George would move the
hat farther and farther away
Sure, anyone can throw
a coin this far -- but it takes real skill to throw paper money!
Yep, nothing like keen competition to stimulate generosity.
Before we left
Cornwall we attended a huge outdoor party, notable for vast quantities
of roast lamb and Taunton cider. Bernie Skews, one of the Traveling
People, sang Robin Hood ballads, one after the other. The drunker
Bernie got, the more salacious the ballad. I love folk music.
George had scored a cabin in the Wicklow Mountains south of
Dublin, a beautiful spot high above the Vale of Avoca. Getting there
involved more adventures -- suffice it to say I learned that drinking
with an Irish darts team is not a good idea.
For the next couple of weeks we alternated between hanging at the
cabin or hitching to Dublin to busk. One day George returned from
a solo trip and announced he'd secured not one, but two paying gigs.
One was promoting a Dublin store -- the Mime Troupe had done something
similar once. The other was a children's play at the Project Arts
Center, a respected theater and gallery.
There was just one problem, we didn't actually have a suitable show;
our street act wasn't nearly long enough.
OK," said George; "I told them you would write one. We
start rehearsals next weekend."
I mention I'd never written a play before?
A couple days later, we arrived at the store -- a high-class kiddie
boutique -- for our first day's work. George introduced me to the
owner, who asked why I was carrying a banjo & dulcimer.
"I didn't hire a musician, he said, I hired two mimes."
Before I could reply, George said, "Oh, he's a mime, too."
I suppose this is a good place to say that my entire mime experience
consisted of watching someone else do it. Yep, working with George
was a never-ending source of wonder. After one day of enduring my
pathetic attempts at mime, the proprietor took pity and rented me
a gorilla costume. Just the inspiration I needed to pull off the
Project Arts Center gig.
|I stitched together
a story about a lost clown, a travelling minstrel, and a gorilla;
adding some nonsense about Faeries and Midsummer's Eve to give it
a Celtic tinge. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
We took turns playing the "Albert the Ape," chasing each
other around the stage, yelling, Has anybody seen a clown?
It all ended happily; I sang a few songs, Georg-o did his juggling
bit and then we looned about with the kids.
OK, Hamlet it ain't, but the kids laughed in all the right places
& we got good reviews. (Click HERE
to read one -- Editor)
at least until I fell off a twenty-foot ladder while hanging
is just below Pumpkinhead's.
we'd show up at nightclubs to busk while the bands took breaks. That's
how we met Pumpkinhead,
a group of expat Americans who were one of the hottest bands in Ireland
at the time.
They were exceptional musicians with strong original songs and a great
blend of contemporary and traditional folk music.
Pumpkinhead invited us to visit them in Sligo.
George went first -- I had the slight matter of a potentially fatal
accident to recover from.
(George was never one for empathy, though he did wait until the doctors
decided I might survive before he abandoned me to my fate.)
I followed when I was strong enough to travel.
in Sligo, image by Kathy Moore
We stayed with Thom and Kathy Moore and their family in a tiny thatched
cottage on the shores of Ballisodare Bay.
Rick and Sandy (Miller) Epping, the other two members of Pumpkinhead,
It was an idyllic a setting, and as close to a musician's heaven as
I'll ever see.
The finest traditional musicians in Ireland stopped by almost every
night, and there were wonderful sessions in Sligo town with legendary
fiddler Joe O'Dowd.
We didn't have much opportunity for street performing, but George
and I did a few shows with the band. I'm not sure what the rural pub
audiences thought of us; Western Ireland was still pretty traditional
back then, but George always won their hearts.
where the story ends. It was time to meet the rest of the Mime Troupe
in Edinburgh -- or wherever they were.
I thought about going, but in truth, I'd had enough.
If I rejoined the Troupe, I'd be back to the impossible job of managing
the un-manageable. Michael has alluded to the interpersonal tensions,
and dramas, and contentious meetings -- suffice it to say I had had
enough of that, too.
So I stayed
where I could be a musician and not a bad clown, and George left.
After a while, I came back to Utah.
He stayed in Europe and kept up that magical, foolish stuff he did
until one sad day when he couldn't any more.
Georg-o. It was quite a trip.