Brian Routh is still often referred to as his alter ego, Harry Kipper. He and Martin von Haselberg formed the eclectic comedy duo known as the Kipper Kids, who garnered a large cult following performing from the early 70’s through to the 80’s. In addition to performing live, the Kippers were featured in HBO specials, movies, television and soundtracks. While they no longer perform as a duo, their following is still solid. Martin von Haselberg has kept a relatively low profile, but Brian Routh continues to create his own brand of art, music and film. He’s grown as an artist, while retaining the originality that made him so exciting to watch in the first place. Brian was cool enough to sit still long enough for me to badger him with some questions.
1. Let’s start at the beginning. How did you and Martin von Haselberg partner up together and how did that turn into the Kipper Kids?
Martin and I met in 1970 at E15 Acting School in the UK. It was a very experimental school started by Joan Littlewood of Stratford East Theatre.
2. The Kippers were off the beaten path, even for the 70’s. What was the initial reception to your act?
At the school, we were hated, or more accurately, Martin was hated for being a toff from an aristocratic German family and I was thought of as being the working class lad who was led astray by the wicked rich guy. We were thrown out of the school after one year for being disruptive. we got a gig at the Chelsea school of science and technology and that encouraged us to create a fake newspaper review from the Times and with that we got a gig at the Munich Olympics in 1972. The Kipper Kids character was in the early stages then and was born earlier in Frankfurt Railway station prior to the Olympics gig. The birth took place on an acid trip at a friends house in Frankfurt where he was playing Pierre Henry’s Le Voyage electronic music based around the Tibetan Book of The Dead and on top of that, he was reading from the tibetan book of the dead. the atmosphere was fraught and Martin was in the bathroom looking at his hands and then he and the friend both got into a conversation about knives, which was freaking me out. So, I found myself reacting to this heavy talk by becoming what became a Kipper Kid and Martin immediately joined in the Kippering. we couldn’t stop for a number of years.
3. Growing up, who most influenced your career direction?
Spike Milligan and the Goons were a big influence on me personally when I used to perform a lot in the street as a teen. Gilbert and George were an influence on us both.
4. In 1980, Richard Elfman cast you in his cult classic, Forbidden Zone. How did that come about? Had you worked previously with Elfman and the Mystic Knights?
No, never met him before arriving in LA in 1974. Tom Sewell and David Ross were the two main people who helped us when we first arrived and Tom put us in touch with Rick and Danny Elfman. We performed a lot in LA and Rick was a fan so, he put us in his movie.
5. Do you still keep in touch with Martin? Any chance of a Kipper reunion?
Not so much anymore, what with serious health problems and completely different worlds we live in. I suppose there is always a chance, but pretty slim.
6. You’ve shared venues with an incredible who’s who list of independent artists that includes Henry Rollins, Blue Man Group, Sex Pistols, PIL, and Eric Bogosian, just to name a few. Which was your best experience? And who would you most like to work with, given the chance?
There was something valuable to experience with everyone that I have worked with and as far as the future… I don’t know, I am open to all experiences, really.
7. Tell us about your collaborations with artist and wife, Patricia Wells.
We began collaborating online before we physically met. I would make a sound work and Patricia would create an animation to the rhythm of my work. We showed it online and at the LA county museum in LA. Right now, Patricia is getting a Phd in Digital Media and after that we will be creating a lot more animations. We have loads of very funny ideas.
8. Listening to your music is like watching you perform; it’s frenetic, eclectic, a cacophony of sound that somehow works together. What goes into creating a Brian Routh composition?
I want to say as much as I can in as many ways possible. Using sound, which is something I actually started out with as a teen, is always my preferred tool of choice. Back then in the 60’s, I was in a band where I played the drums and sang in a group. I moved on to folk music and played mainly guitar, and after that I ventured into experimenting with sound which was pretty basic back then; lots of tape decks and homemade sounds. Now today with the new technology, the field has opened up and is great for me to explore my ideas, thoughts, rants, etc. and to make video to go with the sound. I write the poem first or I just ad lib and edit out what I don’t like and then add the sounds.
9. The UK has Brexit. America has Trump. Who’s more fucked?
We are all controlled by the same small handful of narcissistic, psychopaths, so, we are ALL fucked!
10. Doctor Who fan?
Tom Baker was the last time I watched seriously, although the latest series was excellent.
11. I’m all out of questions. Plug away.
What can I say? I worked all my life in menial jobs to support being an artist. I very rarely had any funding, but I was free to do as I pleased, when I pleased and that is how I have always lived and WILL always live until I die.
Brian Routh aka Harry Kipper
EPILOGUE: On August 3rd, 2018 at 6 am GMT, Brian finally succumbed to his long battle with cancer. My heart goes out to his wife, Patricia, and to all of his fans out there. I can’t help but think that the world just got a little less strange without him.