Who Are We?
Hi! Optical Busstop are a loose group of Poets, Writers, Artists, Photographers and Musicians whose primary base is in Bolton, England. The mainstays of the current group are Nat Clare and Paul Blackburn who collaborate and perform with a variety of other artists, poets and musicians.
Originally they were primarily a hybrid hippy/weirdo/musical/visual band formed in January 1971 after an all night party at John & Lesley Hayes's house in Holly Grove, Bolton. The following day about 12 or so people went down and played a wildly chaotic set at the hugely innovative Bluesology at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton and the legend was born!
Over the years, the most archetypal line up of the band was: Barry Ferguson, John Hayes, Johnny Kirman, Nat Clare and Paul Blackburn with Nat and Paul being the main writers. The band played at many gigs across the country, some memorable ones include: Leicester University Arts Festival along side poet John Silkin, Lancaster Arts Festival, Liverpool University Arts week (as "The Flying Bandini Brothers") & Real ale Festival (never again), Bolton Busker, Manchester West Indian Centre with John Cooper Clark as well as too many pubs and clubs to remember. In Bolton their "home" gigs were held at The Gypsy's Tent and later the group performed many times at Bolton's Socialist Club in Wood Street.
Other people involved in the group at various times and in various ways have included: Jill Govan, Lesley Hayes, Pete Middleton, Henry Heap (RIP 1949 to 2003), Gloggs, Gary McArdle, Pete Dunleavy, Paul Humphries, Linda Jennings, Mike Syddall (RIP 19/12/1943 to 13/4/2013), Isobela Freudenberger, Christine Dawson, Pete Crompton, Stella Blackburn and Kevin Bates.
Many of the early members of the group were involved in creating and running "Bolton Free Press" an alternative Newspaper of the 1970s. Some were involved in the Bolton Anarchists, CND, other leftist political & pressure groups and the Trade Union movement (when they weren't being drug addled hippies that is).
Nat and Paul, as the "Poor Poets", instigated a highly successful monthly event originally called "Mutant Music Hall" but later "Live Friday" which ran for several years in the early 90s at the Octagon Theatre. There were also two "Live Friday" specials (at the Pack Horse hotel and the Albert Halls) which they were asked to mount in two consecutive years as part of the Bolton Festival, and another special as part of "Poetry Live in the North West".
Out of this came several appearances on the notorious Channel 4 TV programme "The Word" and one of their performances was chosen for a compilation of the programme's best bits. You can see a video of one of the poems they performed on the Poems page on this site.
At some stage Nat and Paul became involved in community theatre, touring locally in the acclaimed play "Will you come o' Sunday Morning" adapted by their friend Les Smith (now a famous playwright) from the work of Allan Clark, music by Nat Clare and directed by Romy Baskerville which celebrated the mass trespass at Winter Hill some 100 years earlier. This was revived in the early years of this century by the Octagon Youth Theatre who used Nat's music and original songs. Romy died in 2012 but shall remain in our memory as a brilliant director and cracking actress who you will have seen on TV in Coronation Street as Ken Barlow's headmistress plus lots of other parts in many, many shows), she was working in the West End in Billy Elliot until shortly before her untimely death.
Nat enjoyed great acclaim as a singer/songwriter on the folk circuit appearing around the country and on several local Radio stations. At the same time he was a regular columnist for North West Folk magazine and worked on a voluntary basis for NW Arts. He also wrote for several TV programmes including "Not the Nine O'clock News" and particularly "Spitting Image" who used a great deal of his material. Paul, meanwhile, worked for the Leigh Alternative Workshop Project (LAMP) and put a great deal of time and effort into developing and running several Websites.
Over the past few years Nat and Paul have become increasingly involved in the vibrant Poetry Scene in the North West performing both together and individually across the North West and beyond in venues such as Bolton University and Bolton's Phoenix & Octagon Theatres; Studio Salford; Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre, Urbis, Green Room, Jushua Brooks, The Iguana Bar, the "Lost and found" Arts Squat and Manchester University's Folk club and Poetry Society; LitaBury Festival in Bury; The Darnhill festival and the Olde Boars head in Rochdale; The White Hart in Oldham; The "Barefoot in the park" Festival & The Old Police Station, Leeds; The Poetry Cafe & The New County Arms Arts Pub in Preston; Clifton Creative Writing Group Wigan; Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal; Spotlight Club, Lancaster; Everyman Theatre, Liverpool & Liverpool University; and the International Poetry Festival in Bordeaux, France. Organised and compered "guerrilla" poetry readings for National Poetry day at the Central Library, Bolton and organised & performed at the prestigious Turton High School Media and Arts College, Bolton.
Paul ran Write Out Louds very successful website from 2006 to 2012, he also runs an eclectic, experimental event called "Riders" which was showcased at the Royal Exchange in Manchester in September 2009. Paul's work has been accepted in several publications over the years the latest of them being Citizen 32, Scribble Magazines and Unsung; his poem "Doctor Curio" was not only Write Out Loud's poem of the month in October 2006 but was also that site's first audio offering and he received an award in an International Writing Competition for his story "Viking"; whilst both Nat and Paul have, individually, won national Slam Idol contests with poems "Sex Bag" and "The policeman in my head" respectively. The lyrics to Nat and Paul's classic song "Oh no Rodriguez!" appeared in issue 4 of the Libertines magazine.
After video-recording several performances of themselves and other poets, they recently produced videos for their songs Speedhead & The Exorcist which you can find in the Video section of this site and are working on a video of The Stalker. They are also extremely interested in developing multi-media projects involving video, art, music, puppetry and the spoken word. They hoping to apply for a grant to NW Arts to facilitate these new and exciting developments at some point.
You can book Optical Busstop to compere or perform at your events click Contact.