The inaugural Steampunk party gate-crashes Crewe over the May Bank Holiday weekend, but on the eve of the festival I was lucky enough to meet Montague Jacques Fromage, a dapper and outlandishly eccentric American chap described by most associated with the genre as Steampunk royalty. Buckle up…
For the uninitiated, Steampunk celebrates the many quirks of a bygone era, Victorian values, mad-cap inventions and bizarre machinery, imagining that steam never went out of fashion. There’s Gothic finery with an ample dash of modern-day Emo, and perhaps a little risqué Punk. It’s a heady mix.
The girlfriend raised her eyebrows somewhat when I reeled off Monty’s full moniker. “Fromage what?” was the gist of her initial rebuff when I outlined my proposal for a convivial evening of bluster with MJF, festival organiser David Smith and a few other cracking Steampunk folk.
To ease the social wheels I casually tossed in the fact that craft beer at the utterly divine Hops Belgian Bar would open proceedings, followed inevitably by curry at Crewe’s foremost Indian eatery, the Bombay on Mill Street.
The deal was sealed, and we headed into town hardly resplendent but dressed with a casual nod to everything Victoriana – the lady in crimson over coat, yours truly in muted waistcoat and jacket. We held back on the hats; they were only ever intended to appear during the festival itself. If we’re being honest, we didn’t quite have the nerve to be so radically different.
As ever, we rocked up late, fashionably tardy such that our companions for the evening were already tucking into the very best that Hops had to offer. For us, a half of Leffe was quaffed as we were formally introduced to surely the dandiest gentlemen in Cheshire that evening.
Unlike us, they had arrived bang on time, 7:30pm on the dot, having completed a chat show slot on local radio, aimed at promoting everything about the Steampunk weekend. They had entertained The Cat’s listeners for a good thirty minutes, with hearty banter that we caught prior to leaving. So we jokingly blamed them for making us late!
Back to the assembled Steampunk collective, and other drinkers’ jaws still hung in unison. They did not know what to make of the new arrivals; Crewe invaders that were already ruffling a few feathers, although they were hardly a threat. They were simply different, unique even, and sure to turn heads wherever they went.
Monty, David, Andy and Ben (another late arrival) were a sight to behold. Between them they boasted flamboyant shirts, multi-coloured cravats, dandy waistcoats, yellow-checked trousers, much hair, coiffured beards and moustaches that would make the finest artisan barber immensely proud, flowing jackets, and of course hats. Big hats! Oh, and Monty carried off the bandanna look effortlessly.
Now my only knowledge of Monty prior to our meeting was courtesy of myriad images adorning the Internet pages of Steampunk festivals from across the world. In almost every shot the man sported a splash of makeup that lured you in à la Captain Jack, eyeliner that shocked and mesmerised in equal measures. But not tonight; this was an evening off. The full regalia, make-up and other accessories was saved for the stage.
There was, however, a twinkle in his eye as we all swapped pleasantries and gravitated to seating upstairs. He had a deep, silky American twang, from the New Jersey area. In fact, as the conversation progressed, we talked of his former pre-Steampunk life, one that saw him working in the tough US prison system. The authorities over the pond seem to be fighting a losing battle, so it’s no surprise that Monty eventually sought another career.
Chat also switched to politics, although his opinion on Donald Trump will be kept under wraps. Suffice to say he’s not best keen on the man and might well be moving to England if the American public vote the unthinkable!
What intrigued me was the wholehearted love for everything Steampunk that was shared by those gathered at our table. Not only the look, clothing and mannerisms, but the whole ethos was firmly upheld. I swear that Andy with the top hat could have stepped straight onto the set of Dickensian, while Ben (he of the yellow-checked trousers and waistcoat) declared himself a professional Steampunker. Quite a claim, but after several wonderful minutes in his company his line of work seemed perfectly natural! You’ll be able to catch him entertaining shoppers and visitors around the town centre throughout the festival.
All the time, our guest from America watched, listened and joined in when prompted. He was far removed from the brash character I had previously known only online. Despite his alternative and rather edgy appearance, Monty was manners personified.
The curry session, well, it was top fodder, good wine and great company. In true Steampunk fashion, Monty ordered a pot of tea to accompany his meal (oh, in case you didn’t know, tea is a significant element of the whole culture, often taken when croquet or bowls are in full swing).
Apart from flipping a plate of rice onto Monty’s lap the evening ended on a magnificent high. The restaurant staff played along, great sports as usual. There were more photos and heartfelt goodbyes, hugs and air kisses. They were a tremendous bunch, more than enough to restore any lost faith in humanity.
And then with a collective flick of wispy moustaches they were gone, ready to greet their Steampunk public over the coming days. As the girlfriend observed, it was a very different but hugely enjoyable evening…
You can get full details about the events, acts and attractions to be found over the Bank Holiday weekend (27-30 May, 2016) on the official festival website http://www.crewe-steampunk-convivial.co.uk/