David Bramwell on his undiminished love of Brighton

Writer and broadcaster David Bramwell

Writer and broadcaster David Bramwell - Credit: Archant

Cheeky Guide creator David Bramwell’s new memoir mixes cults, seances and a mysterious quest in 1990s Brighton. He reminisces with Duncan Hall

By its very nature Brighton and Hove is a transitional city.

Part of it is down to the two universities, which bring a crop of new faces to the city every autumn. And part of it is down to the structure of the city – a place of flats, house-shares and two-up two-down houses, with most family homes confined to the outskirts and suburbs. It is the sort of city where people talk about golden periods, or special times when the stars all aligned – and are just as likely to say it isn’t as good as it used to be. In his book The Haunted Moustache that golden period is the early 1990s as a 23-year-old David Bramwell, future creator of the alternative Cheeky Guide to Brighton and Hove, moves to the city from his hometown of Doncaster.

“I partly wanted to leave some little slice of that period,” he says while tucking into an impressively leafy mint tea at the Redroaster in St James’s Street. “It’s easy to be nostalgic – but I don’t like talking about a golden period. If you moved to Brighton in 2016 as a 16-year-old then today would be a golden period for you.”

The Haunted Moustache follows David’s search for the story behind the titular keepsake left to him by his Great Aunt Sylvia on her death in 1991 – a framed Dali-esque moustache accompanied by a metal disc bearing the words Trust, Absolute, Unconditional. On the way he joins a cult, attends questionable séances,and comperes a unique and now sadly defunct club night. Characters encountered along the way include a former Dali model, the creator of the world’s smallest theatre and a Situationist cabaret performer who one night did a show with a scale cardboard model of a fireplace on his head.

“I make it clear that all the memories are partly embellished for the sake of a good story,” says David, who puts the ratio of truth in the story at about 83 per cent. “I loved the way Nick Cave created a semi-fictionalised version of himself in the film 20,000 Days On Earth. It’s down to editing. Everything in this book is how I would like to remember it.”

The Haunted Moustache began life as a Brighton Fringe Award-winning stage show in 2008, before being adapted into a Sony Silver-award-winning BBC Radio 3 feature. When it came to writing the book David, now 48, didn’t want to just regurgitate his original scripts. Instead he further investigated some of the ephemeral and fascinating elements touched on in the original story. Each chapter is accompanied with a diversion with photographs into a related subject – such as The Anarchist’s Cookbook, hag stones, conjoined twins The Hilton Sisters and the Order of Oddfellows who inspired the name of David’s band Oddfellows Casino.

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But at the centre of the book is Brighton, and David’s undiminished love of the city.

“With creeping gentrification and rising house prices you can’t avoid how it affects a place,” he says. “But Brighton has such a strong personality that I don’t think it will ever become sanitised. It can outlive going in and out of fashion although the rising house prices drives some people away – I have friends looking at houses in Worthing and Hastings. Brighton has a strong theatrical, gay and musical culture which is so ingrained – if that went I would probably leave. But Brighton will remain my home for the long term. I don’t think my relationship with Brighton has changed much – I can’t remember the last time I went clubbing, and I don’t go to as many gigs as I would like to, but I’m still always looking for the next odd thing.”

Having spent 23 years as a primary school teacher David quit to focus on the other projects which had taken over his life. As well as his aforementioned musical and writing careers, these include the podcast The Odditorium, based on his monthly Brighton debating salon The Catalyst Club, and live spoken word shows including an hilarious examination of the trickster in history. He has made several radio appearances including hosting a documentary on Ivor Cutler and as a guest on John Lloyd’s BBC Radio 4 show Museum of Curiosity.

The Haunted Moustache follows on from David’s debut book The Number 9 Bus To Utopia, which saw him search for alternative ways of living – from a time-travelling community in Northern Italy to a Czech S&M castle – as he tried to get over being dumped by his girlfriend. Searching for a sense of place seems to be a theme running through much of his work, from his alternative Cheeky Guides to Brighton and Oxford to the quarterly psychogeography night The Wellsbourne Society he set up with Caught By The River editor Mathew Clayton in 2012. In recent years he has found himself more influenced by graphic novelist, author and magician Alan Moore, who famously creates his other worlds from his hometown of Northampton. Moore provided a quote for the back of The Haunted Moustache describing it as: “a genuinely marvellous demonstration of how beautifully the mechanism of reality functions, if you’re paying sufficient attention.”

“A great writer finds magic from the everyday,” says David. “They don’t need to live in Hollywood. David Lynch manages to turn quaint suburbia into something other worldly. In a roundabout way the book is about me realising that. If you go back to the places where you grew up – if you had a nice childhood – there is a magic in the streets and houses. You have rich memories of your first kiss, early friendships, loves and losses. The heartache is there in those streets. The book is a love letter to Brighton, but also that everywhere can have that magic. That said I would never go back to living in Doncaster!”

To find out more about David’s many projects visit www.drbramwell.com


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