Doug Fishbone’s Booze Cruise – Journey into the inner-workings of London’s psyche

A-Hoy Captain Doug Fishbone (my adopted long-lost brother) and beautifully self-titled ‘conceptual stand-up artist’!

Undoubtedly an important art maverick on the International scene we see him reignite the Doug Fishbone’s Booze Cruise this month in London.


Originating from an invitation by a few prominent art world friends to partake in Boris’s Thames Festival, plus a childhood memory of a drunk ranting coach tour guide and the enticement of a captive audience Fishbone’s ingenious ‘river art-tour’ was born.

Though in terms of artiness v boozyness according to Doug this is ‘ultimately up to the punter’ though one passenger on the last cruise showed a remarkable ability for downing G&Ts. Doug is known for his undeniable sharp observational wit and visual gymnastics, here we see him skilfully cram in a 500 plus image slide show – that reveal the inner-workings of London’s psyche neatly mashed up against knowledgeable quips about its monuments. This also includes an anecdote about a boneless ham and the reclassification of a coconut as a mammal; due to it being hairy and producing milk.

This project naturally continues his venture into humorous performance whilst being the closest his work has come to a conventional stand up theatrical routine. The progressive quality of this piece is its transferability – Fishbone has already been invited to produce a version for Berlin and we have discussed collaborative versions for both Manchester & Venice.

Mike Chavez-Dawson: So Doug, it’s great that our brotherhood is now revealed to the art-world but more importantly tell us the origins of the ‘arty booze cruise’?

Doug Fishbone: Yes, bruv…Some friends of mine asked me to develop a project for the Mayor’s Thames Festival earlier in the year and I thought a guided tour of the river would be great fun. The original idea came to me in Russia in 1983, when I was there on a tour with my school. Our tour guide came back drunk from the lunch break and started ranting into the mic about men being losers, and all sorts of things, because he’d apparently just been dumped by his wife. Something went off inside my proto-artist teenage brain, understanding what a great context a tour could be – you have people on the tour bus (or boat) who are forced to listen to you, a truly captive audience. The possibilities are endless….

MCD: How boozy will it be?

DF: This is up to the guests. There is a full bar on board the boat, which is called the King Edward. One fellow on the first tour told me he put away 4 gin and tonics, which is not too shabby considering it was just under an hour, and started at 11:30 am.

MCD: How arty will it be?

DF: Hopefully somewhat. There is an elaborate slide show with about 500 images which illustrate the tour, covering a range of topics from the history of the river and its monuments all the way the notion that coconuts have now been re-classified as mammals, since they have hair and produce milk. There is even a discussion of the semi-boneless ham, which is, to be sure, an odd idea.  I would say it is more of a stand-up inspired thing than a traditional art performance. I have been called a stand-up conceptual artist, so I am hoping I can still pass it off as high brow.

MCD: How does this idea fit in with your overall practice?

DF: It is very much development of the performance side of my work, where I have long investigated the use of still images in a slide show format to weave elaborate narrative tapestries that question how information is delivered, manipulated and interpreted. And of course, I have been focusing on the use of humour in the artistic context for many years. The Cruise is a very good example, being the closest thing to a conventional comic, theatrical performance that I have ever attempted. In some ways I would say it is an experiment to move the practice outside the traditional art world as far as I have ever gone, to see how the narrative comic style works with audiences that have less of an artistic set of expectations when they come the presentation. Audiences have found it very good fun, which is very rewarding, especially as the art world can be a bit arid at times.

MCD: If there is a seminal message within the piece – how are you hoping the viewers who experience the cruise will arrive at its meaning?

DF: There is, as often in my work, a heavily satirical message about the state of our society – kind of philosophical shrug of the shoulders about how we live the way we do, and why. Using the grandiosity of the city as a backdrop, with its historical monuments to long forgotten and archaic ideals that are no longer relevant, offers very fertile terrain for such speculation. I am particularly interested in the idea of memorializing and building monuments. In a transient and rapidly moving world it seems so quaint and ill-advised somehow, a bit like getting a tattoo. Imagine building a monument in celebration of Geometry, as they did at the Albert Memorial, in the middle of Hackney nowadays?

MCD: Have you any arty boozes cruises planned outside London? And would you do a Manchester ‘canal boat’ arty booze cruise?

DF: Sure. That would be excellent. I have just started chatting with someone about developing one for Berlin, and I think there is a lot of potential in that it is a portable format. I did a performance on a canal boat in Amsterdam once, which was good fun, though it was not specifically written for Amsterdam. The current performance was specially written for London, as part of the Thames Festival, so it entailed a solid period of research into the river’s history, which I greatly enjoyed. I would love to do such a thing in Manchester.

MCD: Will there be a arty booze cruise 3 – maybe a Gondola in Venice – I’d be up for collaborating on that?

DF: That is a great idea. We can hijack rich people in town for the Biennale.

MCD: So, what’s next on the cards for Captain Fishbone after the Arty Booze Cruise?

DF: I am currently developing an idea for an artistic sketch comedy show, something which fuses an avant-garde sensibility with more traditional comic writing. And I am developing another feature film project in Ghana as a follow up to my film Elmina from 2010, in which I played the lead in a Ghanaian melodrama without ever addressing the racial anomaly of my being a white New Yorker playing a Ghanaian farmer. The new film is inspired by a 70s B-movie from the US called “The Thing with Two Heads” about head transplant technology which, as you might expect, goes drastically wrong. My version will see me in the role of a white businessman in Ghana who goes to a witch doctor to help drum up business – my head winds up on a black Ghanaian man, forming a hybrid person with 2 heads, one white, one black. I am planning to work with my partners from Elmina to use it as a way to discuss globalization and race from a very unexpected vantage point, while making something completely outrageous and wild. The intrusion of a white head onto a black body is a very useful metaphor for such discussions, and I am looking forward to seeing where it will lead.

Doug Fishbone’s Booze Cruise, June 7 and June 14, setting sail at 1.30pm and 3.15pm both days. Tickets available here

Doug Fishbone is interviewed by Manchester-based artist-curator Mike Chavez-Dawson who is currently artist in-residence at In-Situ, Brierfield Library, Brierfield, UK.


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