Tweedy is a very modern traditional clown. He doesn’t wear a lot of make-up and he doesn’t wear big boots but he does have very baggy trousers and a quiff of luminous red hair, dazzling enough to brighten anyone’s day. Some of his routines are very traditional, some are very modern. Pathos is often very much to the fore. ‘I kind of see myself a bit like an old music hall, vaudeville type comic because, although I do circus, I don’t do traditional clown type routines. I see myself more as theatre, or at least, variety. Having said that, one of my big influences was an old time clown called Grock who started in the circus but moved to music hall and became the highest paid artist of his time. That’s the sort of clown I see myself as. There was always a big cross-over. Max Miller dressed almost like a clown with his outrageous suits and cut off trousers and Max Wall’s act was almost pure clowning’.
I first met Tweedy three or four years ago as he was about to cross the Atlantic to take up a two year contract with the famous Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus. We met up again a couple of months ago and I started by asking how he’d got on in America. ‘America went very well; it was an incredible experience, ninety cities in two years. One of the best bits was that you live in and travel by train. Some of the long journeys were three days. Everything is on this train, lions, tigers, elephants, everything. It’s over a mile long, all the sides are painted and everyone gets very excited when it passes through. We went up though the Rockies, along the coast, into the desert and to Las Vegas. All that was amazing but I didn’t really like the show, it was just too big. You just get this vast performing space which is the arena floor. Some of the venues were ten or 15,000 seaters, it’s very different to Giffords. Of course I had a mic but it was very difficult to reach the people on the back row – I mean difficult to connect with them, to have any rapport. I had to big everything up, it just wasn’t for me really. I was very glad to get back to Giffords and play small again and be able to look everyone in the eye.’
I asked him if he’d always wanted to be a clown. ‘At one point I was wanted to go to art school to learn animation. I always had this thing that I wanted to create a character. Then in a flash it came to me that I could be the character and then I decided I wanted to be a clown. After the Aberdeen pantomime I got a job at Butlin’s and, while I was there, I was saving my money to go to the circus school in Bristol but it went bust that year. So I sent out a questionnaire to lots of clowns asking for advice. I got a reply from Zippo’s circus saying the best way to learn was to join the circus and did I want a job. So I joined them, aged 19, doing publicity, going round the schools and all that. During my first week the main clown got stuck in traffic and I went on for him and that was it, they kept me on.’
Text and photos © Michael Hasted 2013. All rights reserved. No reproduction in part or whole without express prior agreement.