Neil Oram

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Neil Oram, London Fields, Hackney, Oct 2010. Photo by Sean Pollock

Neil Oram is a British musician, poet, artist and playwright, best known as the author of The Warp, a 10 play cycle, directed by Ken Campbell.

Family[edit]

Oram is a Celt born in Torquay in 1938. His father, Bob Oram, was a sportsman and musician, a champion cyclist who played the fiddle and mandolin. He was also a witty cartoonist and an accomplished conjurer. In the Second World War Bob Oram worked with Frank Whittle on creating the first jet engine. He was an expert gardener and later worked managing a large flower shop. Above all Oram’s father was a warm-hearted and spiritual teacher. By contrast, Oram’s mother was nasty and cruel, a tyrant who freely handed out demonic curses to anyone who in any way displeased her. "Cursed was the day that you were born!" was one of her favourites. His upbringing led Oram to learn to find spiritual strength in himself and to find pleasure in solitude.

Early Life & Influences[edit]

Oram was ‘educated’ at Torquay Boys' Grammar School where the Headmaster - ‘Soapy Joe’ Harmer - pronounced that Oram was the worst behaved boy in the whole history of the school. This was after Oram had organized a couple of mass rebellions and refused to be caned. In his second year a fellow 'rebel' pupil, Paul Eva, introduced Oram to modern jazz. Oram has recounted how the moment Eva played him Gerry Mulligan's ‘Walking Shoes’, instantly his life was changed. Soon, via a primitive record player and earphones in his father's shed, Oram discovered the art of Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz and Charlie Mingus. New very sharp modern clothes were tailored and worn at the modern jazz gigs held in the Torquay Town Hall where combos like The Tony Kinsey Trio and The Don Rendell Sextet played.

Soho, Jazz, Art & Poetry[edit]

In 1957 Oram traveled to Africa where he met musician Mike Gibbs in Salisbury, (now Harare). He played double bass in the Mike Gibbs Quintet with Gibbs on piano, vibes and trombone. A post-concert epiphany where a voice repeatedly told him "Je suis un poet!" led him to take up writing.[1] Oram returned to Britain in 1958 where he ran a jazz café called The House of Sam Widges at 9 D'Arblay Street in Soho, London.[2] The café was known for its jukebox which only had modern jazz records. It attracted many of the top London musicians. Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes, Graham Bond, Dave Tomlin and Bobby Wellins were frequent customers, occasionally enjoying a bowl of spaghetti bolognese crafted by Oram. Downstairs was a club/performance space called 'The Pad'.

Oram was now writing poetry, giving readings and painting large abstract jazz inspired paintings. In 1960 he opened The Mingus art gallery in Marshall Street, Soho where abstract paintings by O. G. Bradbury, George Popperwell, Jaime Manzano, Tony Shiels and William Morris the American beat poet/action painter could be seen. Morris's huge, jazz paintings were executed in The Pad to the vibrant sounds of the Graham Bond Quartet, then carried round the corner and hung up wet in The Mingus.[3]

Spring Again (2006)- Neil Oram

Oram’s published poems can be found in ‘Children of Albion’ (Penguin 1968), ‘Words-re-arranged’, (privately printed 1970), ‘Past The Antique Pain’ (Zum Zum 1974), ‘Beauty’s Shit’ (Zum Zum 1976), ‘The Golden Forgotten’ (Great Works 1977), ‘Yes To The Fresh’ (Zum Zum 1995).

Oram contributed to the Poetry Review,[4] edited by Eric Mottram, a mainstay of the modernist-inspired British Poetry Revival of the 1960s and 1970s.

Oram's poems & other writings can be found in underground magazines from the late 50's onwards, like Night Scene published by Lee Harwood, and International Times (IT)[5]

Oram has over a long period painted abstracts, mostly not shown in public. The paintings include a series of twenty geometric images, the Diamond Series, painted over two decades.

Spiritual Life[edit]

After Oram closed The Mingus he lived in Paris where in 1965 he attended talks given by Krishnamurti. Later that same year Oram met Krishnamurti personally in London. At this meeting Krishnamurti asked Oram to organise a small discussion group to meet with him. Oram complied, leading to a number of further meetings with the spiritual teacher.

In 1963 Oram became a member of The Study Society founded by Peter Ouspensky where he was introduced to Sufi and Advaita teachings, Dervish Turning, Transcendental Meditation and The Movements designed by George Gurdjieff.

In 1965 Oram moved with his wife and baby daughter to Haworth - the village where the Bronte sisters lived. While meditating near the Bronte graveyard, in another epiphany, he was instructed to found "a center where a person could give birth to their true Self. A spiritual maternity hospital without dogma."

Oram settled on 100 acres of abandoned land overlooking Loch Ness. He has lived there since he arrived in 1968, crofting the land, growing wheat, oats, vegetables, and learning to make natural dyes and weave carpets.

In 1977 Oram had meetings with Rajneesh in Poona which he later recorded in his ten play cycle The Warp,

In 1983/84 Oram stayed in the Ashram of Haidakhan Babaji in India, which is recorded in his play The Friends of Deception written in 2012/13.

The Warp[edit]

The Warp's hero is called Phil Masters named after the blind poet Philip Bourke Marston who lived from 1850 to 1887. The play traces the hero’s many previous lives over a period of thousands of years. The Warp appears in the Guinness Book of Records as being the longest play ever performed.[6][7] Lasting 22 hours when performed in full, the Phil Masters character is required on stage for all but five minutes, making it one of the most demanding acting roles ever created.

The first performance of the Warp (Warp 1, The Storm's Howling through Tiflis) opened at London's ICA on 2 January 1979, the author's birthday. For the first two weeks the performances were of one play per night. Then due to the enthusiasm created there were three full non-stop performances of all 10 plays which were also filmed. Performers included Russell Denton (in the lead), Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Maria Moustaka, Stephen Lorne-Williams, Neil Cunningham, and Pat Donovan. The ICA performance was documented by the BBC in their Arena arts tv series.[8] Five further marathon performances followed at the Roundhouse in London in November 1979 also directed by Campbell. At the 1979 Edinburgh Festival the abandoned, dilapidated Regent Cinema was taken over by The Warp troupe who put on five 24 hour marathon performances.[9] This was followed with one performance at Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. In 1980 Oram was 'the resident playwright' at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool where The Warp ran for ten weeks.

In 1980-82 The Warp was adapted by director Werner Nekes for a film called Uliisses,[10] shot in Germany with the Warp cast. It was screened at the 1982 London Film Festival.[11] In 1984 the film was awarded Best Film at the German Film Critics Association Awards.[12]

The Warp was subsequently turned into a three volume novel by Oram, published by Sphere Books.

The Warp DVD, a video of the full 18 hour 1979 ICA production is available directly from Oram [13]

In the 1990s there were a number of productions of The Warp directed by Ken Campbell's daughter Daisy Campbell.

Authorship confusion[edit]

Obituaries on Ken Campbell in The Telegraph[14] and The Guardian[15] say that Ken "wrote" The Warp or "co-wrote" The Warp with Neil Oram. However other reviews[16] and articles[17] plus all known publicity material acknowledges Neil Oram as being the sole author. It seems clear that Ken Campbell directed, but never wrote a word of the Warp. There is no evidence that he ever claimed that he did. The BBC Arena program states that it was "dictated to Campbell at the breakneck speed of a play every two days". [8]

According to Oram[18] the true story behind the writing of The Warp is as follows: Ken Campbell "inspired" him to write theThe Warp as a play after, at the ICA in 1978, Campbell heard Oram give a one man performance of stories from his life. Campbell suggested dramatization and offered to direct the result. Commissioned by the ICA, and funded by the Arts Council, Oram set to work. A brief attempt at collaboration, with Campbell typing up the script, proved impractical. Oram then wrote the entire ten play cycle, by hand, by himself in Butleigh, Somerset.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Children of Albion (Penguin 1968)
  • Words-re-arranged (privately printed 1970)
  • Past The Antique Pain (Zum Zum 1974)
  • Beauty’s Shit (Zum Zum 1976)
  • The Golden Forgotten (Great Works 1977)
  • Yes To The Fresh (Zum Zum 1995)
  • The Warp 1: The Storm's Howling Through Tiflis (Sphere)
  • The Warp 2: Lemmings On the Edge (Sphere)
  • The Warp 3: The Balustrade Paradox (Sphere 1982).
  • Spy For Love (Oberon 2002)
  • Inside Out (Barncott Press 2013)
  • The Friends of Deception (Barncott Press 2013)

Filmography[edit]

  • Uliisses (1982) (dir. Werner Nekes) (35mm, 94mins)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Warp 1, The Storm's Howling through Tiflis, page 40.
  2. ^ Lee Harwood Not The Whole Story] Photo + interview, Chapter 2, page 32. Shearsman Books, Exeter (2008).
  3. ^ Interview with Neil Oram 2013
  4. ^ Vol. 66/2 (1976). Contributors to the Poetry Review 1972-1977.
  5. ^ The Energetic Eighties, Neil Oram, International Times, 1980 Vol 5 No 5.
  6. ^ Ian Shuttleworth. "THE WARP: Introduction". Compulink.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-08-16. 
  7. ^ "World's longest play. Neil Oram The Warp". Thelongestlistofthelongeststuffatthelongestdomainnameatlonglast.com. Retrieved 2009-08-16. 
  8. ^ a b "The Warp". Arena. BBC. 1979. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  9. ^ 'NO PROBLEM' Arts Council film by Ian Johnson, partly shot in The Regent during rehearsal for The Warp
  10. ^ Neil Oram at the Internet Movie Database
  11. ^ http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/event/2890
  12. ^ http://www.imdb.com/event/ev0000787/1984
  13. ^ http://www.warp-experience.com/warpDVD.html
  14. ^ Ken Campbell obituary, Daily Telegraph, 1 September 1980.
  15. ^ Ken Campbell obituary, The Guardian, 1 September 1980.
  16. ^ The Warp, Michael Coveney, Financial Times, 22 January 1979.
  17. ^ The Man With The Warp Mind, Philip Key, Liverpool Daily Post, 15 November 1980.
  18. ^ Introduction to Spy For Love by Neil Oram (Oberon 2002)

External links[edit]