The gas-lit Victorian streets feeding the town square were shrouded in fog. The clank of empty beer barrels rang out from the cobbled yard behind The Crown public house. The landlord’s ornate pipe rocked rhythmically as another steam engine thundered by heading for Manchester. Theatre goers streamed out of the Lyceum foyer having enjoyed the latest burlesque extravaganza. A well-dressed couple in flowing capes entered the pub, arm-in-arm. Gothic elegance was very much à la mode.
This is make-believe, but it could be a scene acted out in Crewe in the not-so distant future. It’s very much part of the sci-fi sub-genre that is Steampunk; an amalgamation of Victorian fantasy and futurama still obsessed with steam. A festival celebrating its many idiosyncrasies could be coming to Cheshire’s engine room, hopefully across the end-of-May Bank Holiday weekend later this year.
Social media carried a few details about the Crewe Steampunk Convivial the other week. I suspect it left some bemused, others scared, but most intrigued.
Steampunk celebrates the quirks of a bygone age, Victoriana, Gothic finery with a hefty dash of modern-day Emo, and maybe a little DIY Punk. People explore fantasies otherwise confined to the pages of dusty books.
We need a quality festival; something that sets Crewe apart, something most befitting the town’s rich industrial heritage. Steampunk is perfect. From a potentially vast exhibition in the Heritage Centre, where imaginations can run riot with crazy inventions unleashed on the unsuspecting public, to outlandish performers and out-of-this world mechanical contraptions paraded down streets leaving onlookers in awe.
I’m excited. Steampunk encompasses art, engineering, literature, music and fashion. Variety acts at the theatre, in public open spaces, school classrooms and shopping centres. Ghost stories and tours, outrageous costumes everywhere, and bric-à-brac stacked high on stalls that would make The Old Curiosity Shop look mundane and lustreless.
And don’t be shy; there’s the opportunity to dress up here. Many amongst us will have donned fetish clobber to mimic maids, tarts and pimps, but Steampunk culture is Rocky Horror with classy brass knobs on.
The rather splendid reworking of Charles Dickens’ novels on the BBC of late will have whetted appetites, as will the plethora of period dramas such as War And Peace, Mr Selfridge and Sherlock Holmes. Who doesn’t love a dash of historical excess?
Passengers at Crewe railway station could (just for the weekend) be greeted by porters decked out in fine-tailored Victorian uniform. Local MP Edward Timpson could dress as the political classes once did – top hat, cane, cravat and well-groomed moustache – while the town crier will surely make a welcome return for a brief bout of verbal gymnastics around the markets. Sci-fi films that encapsulate everything Steampunk could play out at the new library facility, in the formal rooms of the Municipal Buildings or beamed onto the walls of the Market Hall. The possibilities are endless.
Staging such festivals is expensive. The council will be cautious. This, however, seems a no-brainer to me. There are opportunities aplenty for business to get on-board, plus an army of volunteer enthusiasts are sure to crave involvement. Officialdom is required; guidance to ensure smooth running and the ticking of health & safety boxes. That’s standard these days.
Red tape aside, Crewe and its fabulous railway history is the perfect partner for a Steampunk Convivial. Embrace it, Crewe, Cheshire and beyond. Please!