Host: We’ve all heard the saying “What goes up, must come down.” Well, there are degrees of coming down. Sometimes something can come down and go splat on the ground. Or if intensively thrown up, it can be caught by a very good juggler and will go up again and again and everyone gets entertained.
But I’ll tell you what, my next guest is the best you’ll see. He’s already conquered Europe to some degree and the next month he’s back to Europe through June and August just to show them how it’s really done. He’s been successful on television, a lot of you will know him, it’s a delight to have him on the program, his mum knows him as James Blaxall, we know him as James Bustar and some of us just call him James.
How are you, James?
James: I’m good, thanks, Graham, how are you doing?
Host: Not too bad, cobber. What got you into throwing things up and catching them and throwing them back up again?
James: Oh, it’s just when I was a kid I had a real passion for circus and performing in general, so when I was a kid I acted in a few movies and things in the UK and then when I moved to Australia it really all kind of started to become what I kind of realized I wanted to do with my life. And so at fourteen I ran away and joined the circus. As everyone does in books and movies but you never really think it has to be realized but it happened to me.
Host: Yeah, that’s the thing, isn’t it? We all read about it, we all dream about it, but you have actually lived the dream, run away and join the circus. Now before we get to that, let’s get back to the very beginning.
So a couple of films in England, did they have spoken parts or was it extra or what?
James: No, it’s just extra so I was in a movie with Kate Winslet and Christopher Eccleston which was called Jude the Obscure where I was a kid looking at a grave, I had two seconds of fame on the screen then.
Host: Hey, two seconds isn’t bad, That’s as bad as dying of half a cold, isn’t it?
James: Exactly, yeah. And that was great. And I also did extra work on a TV show that was called Byker Grove, I was kind of a regular extra. Which I’m not sure if you guys know, Antony Depth, they’ve got their own TV so they run in the UK like that so they used to be the chaps as we used to call them in the Byker Grove TV show.
Host: Yeah, we know that sitting around television and movie sets can be very boring. I was going to say [02:24 dark and chilly?] but can just spend the house just sitting there waiting while I say that word. Is that when to somebody, a juggler you said “hey, teach me how to do that.” or what?
James: No, actually when I lived around the UK there was a theme park up around the corner from where we lived called Chessington World of Adventures and they had a resident circus there. So I pulled my parents’ leg to let me go and watch the circus every weekend and they ended up buying me a yearly pass just so every weekend I could go and watch the circus and watch the clowns.
I think they kind of knew at that point in my life that that’s what I would end up doing. I had no idea at that point, I was just a kid who enjoyed watching clowns and people messing around, really.
Host: Yeah, I can imagine mum and dad saying “We’ll shut the little so and so up, get him a yearly pass and that clears it up. He’ll be right, he’ll get out about here.”
James: Yeah, that’s right and they weren’t seeing me there while I was there actually so they could have just gone to the public…
James: … not sure.
Host: So you went down there and saw the clowns and the jugglers and the acrobats and all of that. At what stage did you think “Well, hang on, this wouldn’t be a bad [inaudible 03:32], instead of just using the yearly pass, I wouldn’t mind living and breathing this for 24 hours a day seven days a week.”
James: You know it was basically when we moved to the UK and my passion for juggling like that really started to…
James: … pick up. And I kind of was practicing all the time. And I mean at the time I was learning how to play the drums as well as learning how to do a whole bunch of other skills but juggling was one of those things that without even realizing I was practicing until midnight and my parents would be yelling from their room because I was dropping balls all over the the floor and the heard it from the room below.
So I mean juggling is not the best thing if you have people in the apartment below you.
Host: Well, I was going to say it’s a bit rough living above or below or beside a drummer most of the time, let alone a juggling drummer.
James: Oh yeah. The drums were locked in the garage, so that’s… at the time we had curfew and everything like that whereas juggling even though there was a gaming curfew I wouldn’t listen. I just kept practicing and practicing. And then I think that’s kind of where I saw the passion in myself, I wanted to keep doing that. And then that’s what made me kind of start researching online and find out that there’s circus schools and things like that. Which I kind of didn’t even know there was at that time, at that age kind of thing.
Host: Hey, we’ve got a very good one here on the street, the Flying Fruit Bats – ehm, Fruit Flies.
James: Yeah, which is where I went. And then yes, when I was fourteen I, like I said earlier ran away and joined the circus and never looked back from there.
Host: Yeah, that’s the part we want to know about, James. You know, was it the romantic thing of mum and dad had gone to bed, you pack your little bag with you know, one pair of knickers and a hanky and put and apple and a banana in and leave by the back door or what?
James: No, it wasn’t that but it was a kind of a fairy tale story in a way in terms of the fact that I had convinced my parents to let me go there for a week. And to get week up school and just go down there and see what it was like. And then I never actually came home. At the end of the week they kind of saw the passion and everything and how dedicated I was to circus as a performing art and they came down and kind of convinced the circus school to let me join because they saw how passionate I was about it. And also because back in the days when I was in private school I got bullied quite a bit for being skinny, tall and English and had a lisp as well.
So then they kind of saw me in an environment that made me extremely happy and I remember sending a text message to my mum saying “I’m in heaven.” I think it was from that point on that they both knew that that was what I wanted to do with my life. And for two corporate people in corporate jobs, I mean it was a hard decision for them. But in the end any parent that wants their kid to do what makes them happy…
Host: Tall, skinny with a lisp. You’ve got every qualification a clown needs.
James: Exactly, I mean it’s the whole funny thing about how well it works. I used to get offended and hated it when people laughed at me. And now it’s my job to make people laugh and I’m now doing my job.
Host: So you, in the very early days of television in Australia there was an American cowboy show called Sugar Foot. Many many years ago when telly first arrived in Australia. And the star of that was Philip – or Will Hutchins who played a Sarsparilla drinking, non-alcoholic, non-alcohol drinking lawyer in an outback cowboy town, but he used to stay six months of the year in Australia as a clown with Ashton Circus.
Host: So you know he was a television star around the world and he’d come down here, put on the makeup, the big boot and go out in the big ring and entertain the boys and girls and the adults because it’s a tough old game being a clown, isn’t it? We talk about clowns always being said but it’s a tough old game.
James: No, it definitely is. I mean the performing industry in general, I mean everybody’s probably seen or heard of Tommy Cooper. And I think he’s one of the biggest examples of like you see him on stage and he’s just the funnies guy you’ve ever seen and he’s the most amazing performer you’ve ever seen. And then you kind of read and see his off-stage life and it’s not that at all. And you do see that a lot within the entertainment industry.
Host: Yeah but you’re talking about Tommy Cooper and then ironically somebody has sent me a big batch of his one-liners which are always very funny. Some of them are a little bit risque, but you see clowns, as you’d be aware, people bowl up to them at a reception or a party and once they find out they’re a clown, they’ll say “tell me a joke.” Whereas people don’t go up to a doctor and say, you know, “show me how you do a CPR or…” don’t go up to a lawyer and say, “show me how you do a conveyancing or whatever,” but clowns are expected to perform 24 hours a day seven days a week. No wonder they become introverted.
James: Oh no, exactly. I mean I totally agree with that. Because unlike you said with all the other industries, they don’t walk up to people and ask them to perform or do their jobs. You never see a doctor at a party and tell him “I need this operation done, can we do it now?”
Host: Yeah. That’s not… scalpel? Gloves? Give me the washing-up gloves, I’m back to open this person up.
James: I mean the first time… Kind of the annoying things that comes in handy a lot as well being able to go to a bar or going anywhere and being able to pick up three bottles and juggle them or three oranges or just something to break up and impress people. It hasn’t really picked up ladies for me yet but one day it will.
Host: I’m impressed already. You can go to a bar and just pick up three bottles, do you know much a bottle of blue labeled Johnny Walkers at the moment?
Host: And you’re getting it in packs of three.
Host: When was the first to get it, Joe? Was it juggling chainsaws or was it juggling balls or bottles or oranges or what?
James: The first thing I ever juggled obviously was balls – no, it was scarves, I kind of liked juggling scarves, nylon scarves.
Host: Scarves?! How did you juggle them because one’s got a flop a little longer than the other, because it all works on gravity, doesn’t it? You need things to be falling at a constant rate.
James: Yeah it does so you’ve just got to have three scarves which are the same way but obviously they fall at different speed, depending on how the movement of the fabric is. I’m sounding very scientific and mathematic…
Host: Oh, I’m loving it because I don’t understand it. Keep going.
James: With scarves you grab them from the top, you throw them from the top. So it’s like an overhand grip to throw them up. Which is actually confusing when people learn how to juggle because everyone’s got a [inaudible 10:43], you’re suddenly putting your hand underneath the object rather then on top of it.
Host: Yeah. But also, when you throw a scarf up, I’m just being a smart Alec here, don’t people expect it to come down as a snake or a lizard or something.
Host: Or is that a pure magic act?
James: Oh, that would be magic.
Host: Right. Okay. Good.
James: The only thing I would say about juggling and magic is that what magicians do is fake and what jugglers do is real. So actually it kind of sums it up.
James: No, I mean if I could find a way for seven balls magically come down into my hands properly then trust me I’d take that easier option.
Well, I mean it’s funny right now because it sounds like we’re actually teaching juggling over the radio.
Host: Oh, we are. I can tell you Mark produces CNR, she is sitting there in a moment and I don’t know where she’s got them from but she is gone somehow probably she’s got a sport show. She’s got a box of tennis balls and a the moment they are all over the office floor.
James: Oh, then you’ve got juggling speaking up.
Host: So she’s following you as much as she can. So, I’ve seen people juggle chainsaws and that would be – you’ve probably done it – who would be dumb enough to throw a chainsaw up?
James: To be honest anyone who’s juggled for a while in terms of an audience whose take on a juggler – I mean I can go on stage and juggle seven balls. And the audience will be “That’s amazing.” Obviously combined with jokes like that which makes it entertaining at the same time.
But as soon as an audience member sees fire or they see knives or they see chainsaws or they see kittens or whatever it becomes danger obviously. And people love watching people maybe hurt themselves. So I mean that’s what it comes down to in terms of that but for me it also extends my virtuoso of things I can do. Because obviously when I’m working in different venues, there’s different heights, there is different things to deal with, so sometimes I juggle on top of a unicycle, sometimes on cars, sometimes I juggle on the floor, sometimes I have to be on my knees because I’m six foot three…
Host: That’s called begging.
James: It all gets very interesting in terms of like danger. I mean I’ve juggled chainsaws, I do fire on a pogo stick, knives, machetes, all things that jugglers are apparently allowed to travel with in their suitcase when they go overseas. I never had any issue with that, I always find that quite interesting.
Host: I can see you through customs and saying you’ve got “a couple of props here mate,” and then say “okay I set fire to that, that chainsaw is part of my act” and…
James: There was one time about eight years ago when I was driving back from Obrie when I lived in Obrie. And I actually got pulled over by the police because they used to do random searches of cars. And they saw the knives in the back of the car. So actually on the side of the road they convinced me to juggle knives for them. So just imagine the drivers driving past going “That’s the [inaudible 14:05] just now.”
Host: I thought that we’d be driving past a [inaudible 14:08] but there are a couple of band coppers out there.
I must admit I was down at Circular Quay a couple of weeks ago killing time waiting for somebody and I was just wondering around Circular Quay and there were to be honest a couple of [inaudible 14:22] players who I wasn’t impressed watching and then there was a juggler and I thought I’ll give it sixty seconds. I’ve finished up standing there, I think he performed for about twenty-five minutes and I was just spellbound. Absolutely spellbound. He was brilliant.
He did – you know, he was obviously heading overseas like you, too because he kept saying “hey don’t leave without putting a few bob in my plate.” But he was just brilliant and as you say, whether you people are on stilts or on heights or on pogo sticks or what have you, us commoners, we just stand there and we’re just spellbound with the abilities you’ve got.
James: No, exactly. I find it interesting being an entertainer as well because sometimes the audience don’t actually applaud and it’s not because they’re not impressed, and as a performer on the stage I’m like “Oh, they don’t like it.” But it’s not even that.
Host: No, we’re not…
James: In fact they are, they’re going “What? He just did that?”
Host: We’re not going to applaud because we don’t want to distract you. Specifically if you’ve got a chainsaw or sharp knives in your hand. If I was clapping and thinking James got – oh, what was that? And you’ve sliced your hand off.
James: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, like I said being on stage is quite funny because you’re like “Oh, they’re not applauding it.” And then by the end of the trick it just goes mad. But everyone’s nice and peaceful and quite normally. So…
Host: Are you a calm fellow before a performance or do you sit backstage and psyche yourself or are you quite happy just to bowl out and you know what you’re doing?
James: When I started, I was very… like strolling up and down backstage and thinking about the show and things like that.
Host: Burning off some energy.
James: Now I have a routine, I have obviously stretches that I need to do because my show with balls has got a contortion with juggling. And then just do some simple breathing exercise and things like that but most of the time now I can just kind of walk out on stage and do it. But, I mean it’s always just a… the routine is just for me to control my nerves because even after being an entertainer now for over a decade it’s like I still get nervous and there’s an expression in the entertainment industry that if you don’t get nervous then it’s time to quit.
James: Really, so…
Host: Yeah, you mentioned your early training was with the fruit flies and I’ve never found anybody who didn’t appreciate the training they got and the experience they got. Do you find it a thoroughly positive experience?
James: Oh, totally. I mean for me it was amazing, I mean obviously Fruit Flies Circus is a tiny bit like university. So you…
Host: Not because of tests.
James: No. *chuckles* Just specializing…
Host: Final exams.
James: … into skills and then you learn everything. So, I learned every skill within circus but then I kind of specialized in juggling and manipulation, balance kind of thing like unicycles and juggling and clowning and things like that.
But for me it was amazing. I got to travel all around the world with the Fruit Flies Circus.
James: And to be in a family of people where…. not the same personality but…
Host: The same psyche, I know where you’re coming from. Yeah.
James: And it was, it was basically like a big family and then it was obviously the happiest, some of the happiest years of my life in terms of finding my passion.
Host: Yeah and that’s where I find it interesting James, because you go from that close-knit group that as you say you’ve all had similar dreams and aspirations and wishes and you’re traveling the world together so you’ve got companionship. How hard was it to say to the fruit flies “Look, I’ve got to step away, I’ve had a terrific time, but I’m going to go out and conquer this on my own.” Because that has to be a big psychological barrier to go through, to go from that, the companionship of a troop, to go out and say that “Okay, I’m going to do this as a solo act and take it around the world.”
James: No, it was for me. Like, I mean it’s always hard to leave your family because of that…
Host: Yeah, they might still be close mates.
James: In terms of that and it just got to the time for me that I’d just done the final show with them at the Commonwealth Games. And I wanted to…
Host: Did you drop anything on your final show?
Host: It went well, good?
James: Yeah, I finished on the high. So yeah to go on… it wasn’t – it was a hard decision like I said, it was time for me to kind of move on and during the time I’d been in the Fruit Fly Circus I was doing my own things on the side. But there came a time when my own things and Fruit Fly’s were kind of running into each other in terms of shows and things like that where I was kind of booked to do my own show but then I was supposed to do the show with the Circus and things like that.
So, it just became time to step out. But it was hard because I had to go and get a normal job for a bit just to be able to leave because I wasn’t at the stage where I could live off entertainment and then it got to the stage where I went “I’m going to move back to Sydney and I’m going to work on the street in Sydney.”
And I worked on the street in Sydney for about a year or so.
Host: Now where’s best to work on the street? Is it down around the rocks? Or is Circular Quay still the prime spot or King’s Cross, or where are you most comfortable?
James: I was always basically under Ward Two, no sorry, Ward Four, Circular Quay, so it’s just around the railway. And occasionally I was over at the MCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art. For me they were my two favorite spots. With a couple of other guys I went down to Darling Harbor but that spot’s gone now because they’re making it a new convention center.
Host: That’s right. Yeah. It’s all dust at the moment.
James: Yeah, it’s lots of dust and lots of construction. But yeah, they were my two favorite places.
James: No I haven’t, all I really did in terms of street was trying at Sydney because lots of street performers say that Sydney is the hardest place to work in the world in terms of a whole bunch of factors. And if you can work in Sydney then you can work anywhere.
But by that time it was kind of time for me to start touring and things like that in terms of the street performing side of things. I got offered a job in Japan. So I flew oout to Japan and worked for the theme park over there called Huis Ten Bosch. They basically rebuilt the Netherlands in Japan.
James: So I traveled thousands of kilometers to Japan to work in the Netherlands.
Host: Of course as you were talking about a clown’s existence. Now just before we get back to Japan and just between you and I – it’s only you and I and the radio audience – when you were busting say down at Circular Quay, who are the best people putting money into the hat? Is it the drunks, people who’ve had a few drinks? The money isn’t all that prevalent in their minds or they just pull out what’s in their pocket or is it the young blokes trying to impress the girls they’re with by showing they can put in a fifty as against a coin? Or you’re not going to say.
James: No, I can say anything. It’s very unpredictable. I mean most of the time the drunks are the ones that are trying to interrupt your show.
Host: Right, yeah, which you don’t need.
James: Yeah. But sometimes it actually aids the show as well. But when you’re kind of young and inexperienced like I was, I had no idea what to say back to…
Host: Yeah, you’ve got to know how to bounce off them, haven’t you?
James: Yeah, so for me it was like a stopping point, like I don’t know what to do. And that’s when my kind of insecurities came back again.
James: But it’s hard to tell. I mean tourists are always good, but not tourists of cruise ships interestingly enough because they’ve just been on the cruise and spent a lot of money. So people say “Oh, cruise ships! Great, it’s time to perform, let’s go out and perform.” But it’s really not. I mean you have more people. But you’ll have more people who will stop and watch the show and then walk away without saying anything.
Host: Yeah because they paid all their money and expect to be fed and entertained on board of the ship, when they get the show they just want to have a quick look around and you’re right, there’s no disposable dollars with them.
James: Not exactly, yeah. Well…
Host: When you got to Japan, you worked up your banta in Australia, now you knew how to bounce off a drunk, you knew how to bounce off somebody who’s trying to impress his girlfriend or a girl who’s trying to impress his boyfriend or what have you.
Is it language that’s a problem in Japan, or a different sense of humor or how do you find the audience between Japan and Australia?
James: Obviously when I got over there for the first kind of week or so it was all about experimentation and seeing what works and what doesn’t work. I didn’t really speak that much in the show and make sure there wasn’t that much in the show. And what I did speak I obviously learned Japanese and spoke in Japanese.
But the big thing that Japanese audiences like is basically skill. They love juggling. And they love clowning and I died my hair bleach blond and they loved that. It’s all about facial expressions and things like that in Japan.
Host: The facial expression was; “look at the dokey big blond Aussie boy, look at what he’s doing, throwing knives up.”
James: Yeah, exactly. I mean they absolutely kind of loved me when I was over there and that was unexpected for me. Because it was kind of my first real time overseas by myself doing something so…
Host: Yeah, yeah. Now you’re back to your… next month through June and August. What will be the subtle or not so subtle differences for the European audience as against Japan and Australia?
James: I mean luckily for me I was born in the UK, so I was born with a British as such sense of humor and so I don’t really have to change the show that much. I mean the biggest change for me is the majority of the year I’ve been working on cruise ships doing my kind of show on ships because I kind of… I mean I haven’t done street and things like that for years now.
Host: Yeah, so when you’re on a cruise ship, you know, there you are throwing things up and juggling and half the passengers are over the rail throwing up, aren’t they? Isn’t it just the case of throwing up inside the entertainment section of he ship’s been throwing up outside over the rail?
James: Yeah, it depends I mean that has happened funny enough, I mean if it’s a very rocky night, then you’ve got many people using the bags discretely.
Host: Yeah, discretely.
James: And the whole ship’s really, I mean my show isn’t that night then everything really is just outside throwing up.
Host: Have you had to become a business in such, like okay, you fly over to Europe and you’re there for a number of weeks. So are you stuck with you know, booking venues and booking accommodation or as they say, you’re now part of a group where they do all of that slog, your role is to get there, do your sound check, do your walkthroughs and then do the show?
James: Yeah, pretty much, I’ve got a great manager over in the UK now who I picked up last year when I was over. And he’s basically done everything for me. So it’s basically, like you said it’s basically I turn up to the gig and I do the gig and I leave and he’s put all the effort in behind the scenes.
Host: So you’re manager’s got down to a fine art now, has he?
James: Oh yeah, a fine art is exactly what he’s doing.
Host: So now that he knows what he’s doing, you know, because the first time is always tough, you could say “Simon, okay, we’ve got this all worked out now, it’s just the case of re-booking we’ll bring it back down to five percent, mate.”
James: I wish the world was like that but…
Host: Perhaps not.
James: I’ll give him as much percent as he wants because he…
Host: Just trying to give you some ideas here, James.
James: Oh yeah, I know. I know. But he’s, compared to last year, I mean I’m very busy when I’m over in the UK. Which is brilliant for me and it’s nice to kind of go back to my roots as well. Kind of like I said earlier in an interview “take my show back to where it came from” in a way, so…
Host: And mum and dad still get on the phone once a week and say “Darling, when are you going to get a real job?
Host: They’ll always do that, don’t worry.
James: They’re still hoping that I’ll be an accountant probably. Secretly. I mean to my face they say otherwise but I’m sure that having a juggler as a son is an interesting…
Host: At the moment you’re out of sight, mum would be telling everybody she mixes with you know, “I’ve got a son in show business, he’s over in Europe at the moment.” She’d be so proud of you but you’re right to your face she’ll be “When are you going to get a proper job?” You know, “So embarrassing saying that you go out there and juggle things.”
James: I know, I find it really hard to only really work at night time.
Host: *laughs* Hey mate, I wish you nothing but success. When do you fly out, how many weeks until you’re off to this latest adventure because I heard that you absolutely slay them last summer in Europe and you’re about to do it again.
James: Yeah, I head out on June the 3rd. Like you said last year – so that’s next Tuesday – so last year went very very well. I performed in Jongleurs and other comedy clubs and things like that some resorts. And then this year I’m going all over the place. I mean Wales…
Host: You’ve got to sing when you get to Wales! Everybody sings in Wales.
James: *laughs* I can’t sing, that’s one of the things I can’t do in my life. I tried.
Host: It’ll come to you. If it’s going to be a Walesman staring down on you, you’re going to say “Yes sir, I can sing a Tome Jones song, it’s okay.” You go over there and kill them, won’t you and stay in touch, we’ll talk to you when you get back.
James: Oh, I will.
Host: Great to talk to you tonight.
James: You, too.
Host: See you soon, bye-bye.
James: See you.
Host: There he is, James the juggler, James Blacksoul as his mum knows him, James Bustar on stage. As you’ve heard he’s just a fun character, isn’t he!