Torsten is a character created by playwright Barney Ashton-Bullock and brought to life by singer Andy Bell and musician Christopher Frost. Queereteria is the third album, released this Friday (12 Apr) in a series that explores the world of this immortal character. Queereteria TV is the second stage show based on the music opening this week at Above The Stag theatre. Dave Cross met up with the Erasure singer to discuss all things Torsten.
Hi Andy, so who is Torsten?
I think it’s safe to say, he’s a bit of a strange character. Born in 1905 in Norway and brought over by his dad, who was a sailor and his mum to live here, by the seaside. He’s a polysexual immortal who is 115 but looks my age, he used to work in a sex club and has really seen and done everything. He’s lost so many people during his long life and he’s trying not to be bitter, but this long life has made him very intuitive about people, he’s good at sussing them out very quickly.
How was Torsten and this whole project created?
He was created by Barney Ashton-Bullock, who a brilliant playwright and the songs for the album and shows were written by him and Christopher Frost.
What’s the inspiration?
Barney’s had this character inside his head for a while I think, he’s lived in Norway and he’s worked as a DJ at Central Station where they have the sex club downstairs. All of that has fed into this and it’s really his take on part of the gay scene and on show business.
And does this mirror your own experiences on the gay scene?
I think we all can relate to going out as a young gay man, really wanting to pull and not. That feeling of rejection, going home alone, leaving the club. Of course now you can go online, but I think it’s still something that is relatable. I was really shy when I first went out, aged 21. I didn’t find a lot of gay places were that friendly and it took me ages to get the confidence to talk to anyone. I went to a gay group in Ealing and wasn’t made to feel welcome because I wasn’t a Londoner. I left my home town because I wanted to feel welcome, so that was disappointing.
Does all of that feed into your performance of Torsten?
Yes, our experiences pour into Torsten, the show and album from all of us.
The subject of immortality is almost always treated as something negative in fiction…
Yes, it’s often shown as a curse. There’s a song on one of the other albums called Fountain of Youth and it’s about all these products and procedures we do to ourselves to keep us as young as possible and to live as long as possible on Earth.
Would you want to live forever?
You see people who are 100 years old, and I’m not sure I really want that. But if there was a way to switch off the ageing process, like with Torsten, then yes I guess I would try that.
Immortals and relationships is another popular theme in fiction with things like Highlander and Doctor Who, is it possible for Torsten to have proper relationships?
Torsten has definitely had relationships and been promiscuous and I can relate to those concerns with falling in love. In the past when I was in an open relationship and had different partners in different places, I would sometimes feel myself falling, but I couldn’t allow myself to do that because it broke the rules, it was part of the deal of that relationship and I think an immortal would have to do that too.
With all the Torsten projects is it the album or the show that comes first?
It’s always the albums that come first. To be honest I don’t know how Barney does it, he’s always writing and creating, there’s a constant flow of ideas, not just Torsten. He blows me away with his talent.
Musically there’s quite a few different styles on the album, including some lounge cabaret sounds, folk, was that deliberate of did it evolve that way?
I think that’s a lot to do with Christopher and his input. Barney brings in all these words, outlines of songs with an idea of a tune in his head and then Chris fits all these chords to what Barney has. I guess it’s like Elton John and Bernie Taupin, it’s a proper two way conversation and creative process between the two of them.
And how does it work when you come in to the studio?
They have demos of the songs with Barney singing and then I go in and do my interpretation of the songs with them.
You’re back at Above The Stag theatre from this week with the new show, Queereteria TV, is the show the album?
The show features some songs from the new album, but also from the other albums too.
How would you describe the show?
It is a post Armageddon TV show! But the audience sees the actual show, what’s going out, but they also see the behind the scenes part making the fictional TV show. The world has basically ended and there’s a group of characters trying to re-launch TV with a series of cheap celebrity driven shows…
So basically like the real world right now…
Yes, really. The world in the show has moved to the far Right, almost like a Nazi world where everything is better seen through the lens of celebrity and the TV show fixates on things like the royal baby. It’s like an alternative universe, a twisted vision of the future.
Who else is in the play?
It’s mainly me, Peter Straker, Matthew Baldwin and Barney, but there’s more characters than that. There’s a dysfunctional set of people all with their own agendas including Lady Domina Bizarre who is kind of Torsten’s enemy and she sedates him as he’s one of the last surviving celebrities.
This is the third Torsten album and second show, will there be more?
Yes, Barney has told me there’s going to be a fourth project, but I don’t know any more at the moment.
And what’s next for you after this?
After the show I’m doing a series of live shows for Let’s Rock, which is 80s and 90’s hits and lots of other acts. That’s without Vince, but after that we will be writing together again for a new Erasure album and recording that.