Dr Haze on running away with the circus a quarter of a century on as Circus of Horrors prepares to return to Blackpool

Writer and creator of the Circus of Horrors, John Haze was born to be on the road, a rock and roll star.

Saturday, 17th October 2020, 7:00 am
Creator of Circus of Horrors John Haze, better known as stage act Dr Haze.

Throw in the fire eating, acts of sword swallowing, hair hanging, death defying acrobatics and bizarre human acts and you’re half way to visualising the production he and his talented cast have been wowing global audiences with for a quarter of a century.

While he was just a newborn, his parents, both performers and who at the time were living in Preston, hopped on board the circus train to Scotland with the Winship Circus.

At six-months-old, John’s father, a lion trainer, left the family in pursuit of what he describes as his next adventure.

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John, 60, better known for his stage name Dr Haze, this year celebrated the 25th anniversary of the extraordinary rock and roll and fright filled show which is the Circus of Horrors.

He recalls: “My dad, shall we say, was a jack of all trades, a master of none. We reconnected as a family when I was 12-years-old and my mum and I moved to London to be with him for a more ‘settled life.’

As it happens he had found us work with a new circus as a fire-eating act, I had barely lit a match, let alone swallowed fire but we set out to Ireland, joined the new circus and not long after he left again. That was the last we saw of him.”

For John and his mother, circus was indeed family. They were well looked after by their adopted fellow performers and from within the fold he would find contentment but also a passion for performance which would map out the road to an eclectic career in the arts.

The cast of Circus of Horrors arrive in Blackpool later this month for shows at The Globe Theatre

John, who now lives in Wimbledon, says it was a love which was nourished at a young age, growing up in Preston, where he attended school in Savick and a brief spell at the former Tulketh High School before his move to the capital with mum Ellen.

He says: “I loved theatre and theatrics but also the lights and the eccentricity of Blackpool. My favourite childhood memories of the times my mum and I spent there. Walking along the Golden Mile and then arriving at the Pleasure Beach, it was and still is this magical place for me.

“It couldn’t have been better built for Circus of Horrors - what Amanda Thompson (Blackpool Pleasure Beach managing director) has done with the setting at The Globe is so fitting, even in Covid times. But every time I perform there it takes me back to my young days, the music and the Noah’s Ark ride. I have a real connection with the place.”

At 16-years-old, John, by now heavily influenced by 1970s rock and roll and his idol musician and singer song writer Marc Bolan of T Rex fame, learned to play guitar and started to write music of his own.

John Haze as a baby pictured with his mother in Scotland.

He says, “The 70s were just incredible for the evolution of rock and roll and the arrival of the metal bands. I loved them all Slade, T Rex, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath.

“The sales and appetite for records in that period, I fed off it all. Marc Bolan was my real inspiration, his swagger, his song writing talent - his dream for being a world rock star.

“At the end of the decade you also had this mad mix where the punk scene arrived and in between the rise in horror in the cinema, which I also loved - Don’t Look Now, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Omen.

“I was too young to go but I went to watch them anyway. In 1979, I left the circus, I was ready to try new things. I had formed a band and was living in Wales and touring music clubs all over. I then moved to London.”

Dr Haze

During the 1980s and 90s John performed with his band One Thing and alongside the music, they began to incorporate elements of circus and horror for dramatic effect.

“We would play The Marquee Club in London and the act would have subtitles, one of the titles I came up with was Circus of Horrors.”

It would not be until 1995 that he would return to his circus travelling routes with a new troupe under this new wave of circus production.

Circus at the time was undergoing its own evolution as animal rights protests began to change the face of the business.

It was a tragic twist of fate, the death of his godson in a circus accident at Blackpool Tower Circus, which brought him back to Lancashire in December 1994.

Renowned former circus owner Gerry Cottle was another close friend of the family and it was later the pair came together to discuss ideas for a new brand of circus.

Circus of Horrors was born, with the spectacle debuting at the Glastonbury Festival in the summer of 1995.

The contemporary, glamorous blend of sword-swallowing, voodoo acrobats, face-piercing and other stomach-churning, bizarre human acts — all performed to rock music has since travelled the world, played the London Palladium and even featured on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent.

John says: “We thought we had a shot at 25 shows, we could never imagined it would still be touring 25 years later. The anniversary would have fallen on our scheduled return to Glastonbury for their big milestone this year, we had a slot and the Big Top perfectly set for just after what would have been Paul McCartney’s set just close to the main Pyramid stage.

“It would have been fantastic but obviously due to the pandemic, those shows our theatre productions, Download Festival and many others - our tour programme was completely cancelled.”

Along with the majority of the entertainments industry Circus of Horrors came to a standstill with the performers left out of work for an undetermined period.

The turn in the tide came in the late summer, when after peaceful protests outside Downing Street, outside circus under the Big Top was given the green light to go ahead under strict new Covid measures for performers and audiences.

John says, “Our opening show in Eastbourne ended in a standing ovation, such was the appetite for entertainments. It is very humbling for me to still have that.

“I feel fortunate to be in a job I love everyday, entertaining people, performing, writing music and songs that people have bought and played time and time again. If anything the pandemic has put a spotlight back on the arts and is demonstrating just how important they are.

For all our performers it is a way of life. I’ve really been looking forward to getting back to Blackpool - tickets are selling really well and it’s an hour and 40 minutes where we can entertain, twice daily.”

The horror themed circus spectacular arrives in Blackpool again next week, from October 27 until October 31

The show at The Globe Theatre will come in two guises with a family-friendly addition of the show on selected dates and a strictly adult show ‘SpecDracula’ which promises to ‘delight and disgust’.

Each day at 4pm there will be a matinee performance themed around spooky family favourites the Addams Family.

Show times for the over 16s performances will happen Tuesday to Friday 8pm and Saturday at 7pm and 9.30pm.

The new look show for 2020 will this year also feature Blackpool strongman Titan aka Steven Stephens who will attempt to break a world record bending as many six inch steel nails as possible in 60 seconds using his hands.

Tickets for the shows are available to buy now from ticketmaster.co.uk or blackpoolpleasurebeach.com