David Bramwell is a British writer, musician, performer and broadcaster. For BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4, he has made programmes on diverse subjects, including Ivor Cutler, clapping, time travel, and the murmurations of starlings. He is the founder and host of Brighton's spoken word night, the Catalyst Club. Bramwell is also a singer-songwriter with his band Oddfellow's Casino.
Bramwell was born in Scunthorpe, moving to Doncaster at the age of six, where he lived until he was eighteen. After 'four long years studying geography' at Coventry Polytechnic, he moved to Brighton in the early 1990s. He describes the impact of Brighton in his book, The Haunted Moustache: 'For a northern boy in his early twenties and still wet behind the ears Brighton was overwhelming. I'd stumbled on an exotic seaside town that welcomed me with open arms....To top it off, Brighton was almost comically eccentric.' Much of Bramwell's work documents and celebrates the eccentricity of the seaside city, as he strives 'to keep the spirit of Brighton alive and through his work across a multitude of platforms.'
Bramwell is a singer-songwriter, whose band, Oddfellow's Casino, has released five albums since 2002. The band has been described as 'an outlet for Bramwell to explore his more macabre and supernatural interests rather that the outright bizarre.' Reviewing the second album, Winter Creatures, Everett True said that Bramwell's music was 'firmly out of sync with current trends, being instead a delicate pastoral exploration of the countryside, coloured with brass and sweet vocals reminiscent of Soft Machine-era Robert Wyatt. Notes linger. Tunes ache. Lyrics tease, like a cornucopia of found sound and jumble sale psychedelia.'
In 2004, Bramwell founded the Catalyst Club, a monthly spoken word event 'celebrating the singular passions of everyday folk'. The Catalyst takes place on the second Thursday of every month at Brighton's LatestMusic Bar. It usually comprises three 15 minute talks by guest speakers, each followed by a discussion. Past talk subjects include Having No Sense Of Smell, Marmite, The History of the Martini, Demonology for Dummies, Slime Mould, The Eating Habits of Politicians and The Ontological Argument for God The Club has a fortnightly podcast, called the Odditorium. Bramwell also hosts live Odditorium events at festivals, including Brighton Fringe Festival, Port Eliot Festival, the Secret Garden Party and Wilderness Festival.
Bramwell is the founder of Cheeky Guides Ltd, writing and publishing guide books which celebrate 'everything unusual, entertaining and saucy that a town has to offer, from how to attend a séance, places to spot local celebrities, where to get egg and chips at four in the morning, and the best place to buy fetish underwear.'. The most popular is the Cheeky Guide to Brighton, which has gone through six editions since its first appearance in 1999. A typical entry in the 'What's On' section claims that, on 28 December, Brightonians celebrate Poseidon's Day: 'Once a year, 23 Brighton councillors gather on the nudist beach to offer blessings and sacrifices to the venerable sea god. Hosted by Simon Fanshawe the dancing, nudity and orgies go on into the small hours, weather permitting.'
Adam Trimingham, reviewing the 4th edition of The Cheeky Guide to Brighton in The Argus found it to be generally well-informed, but complained that 'after 300 pages, the relentless facetiousness is grating... The guide is nothing if not biased. The authors seem to have it in for Hove, traffic wardens and David Van Day, all of whom have their supporters... But the Cheeky Guide does reach corners this paper does not and probably doesn't want to reach... It's best taken, like sherry and many soft drugs, in small doses, or probably not at all.'
For the 2008 Brighton Fringe Festival, Bramwell createdThe Haunted Moustache, a one-man stage show in the storytelling tradition of Ken Campbell and Spalding Gray. It was directed by Nicola Haydn, who described it as 'an affectionate tale of old Brighton from someone who was really there.' Paul Levy, writing in Fringe Review, described The Haunted Moustache as 'a piece of writing genius and a performance that doesn’t always sit comfortably as either theatre or storytelling. However, it still manages to hold the audience in thrall.'
In 2011, The Haunted Moustache was dramatised for Radio 3's Between the Ears. It won a Sony Silver Award for best feature, and was followed by further Bramwell programmes, all produced by Sara Jane Hall. She described the making of The Haunted Moustache on a BBC blog: 'When David Bramwell, presenter of The Haunted Moustache, first pulled out a box containing an unlikely inheritance – a small waxed moustache – I decided not to ask if it was real, or how much of his tale was true. Remarkably neither did anyone else. It was a game between us – don’t ask, don’t tell – and the final programme was a riddle for the listener – soothed by David’s haunting music.'
In 2016, Bramwell published The Haunted Moustache as a book, 'part memoir, essay and scrapbook (which) pays tribute to some of the town's countercultural heroes, past and present.' Laura Lockington reviewed the book in the Brighton and Hove Independent: 'Bramwell takes us on a roller coaster ride of discovery, from deep Doncaster, to outlandish Brighton in the 1990s....I expected this book to be funny (and it is) and full of quirky stories and facts (it really, really is) but I hadn’t expected to feel the full ache of nostalgia for a city that has all but disappeared.'
In 2008, Bramwell and the singer Eliza Skelton created Sing Along a Wickerman, an interactive showing of the cult 1973 horror film, The Wicker Man. Audience members, invited to dress in character, are given a 'Pagan Hymn Book', which allows them to join in all the songs from the film. The show was originally performed in 2008 at Bom-Bane's in Brighton, and has since toured festivals and theatres across the UK. Sing-Along-a-Wickerman won the approval of the film's director, Robin Hardy, who took part in several shows.
Bramwell took a sabbatical from his teaching job in 2008 to investigate utopian communities, including Findhorn, Esalen, Freetown Christiania, Damanhur and The Other World Kingdom. The journey led to his second one-man stage show, The Number 9 Bus to Utopia, which was directed by Emma Kilbey and first performed during the Brighton Fringe in May 2009. Audience members were driven to the venue, the Earthship in Stanmer Park, in the Big Lemon bus, which is fuelled by recycled chip fat. The show won the 2009 Brighton Fringe award for Best Comedy. Bramwell also performed a short version as a TED talk and in 2013 made a Radio 3 programme about the Damanhur community called 'Time Travelling in Italy - Finding My Religion'. He has also retold the story in five short films posted on youtube.
In 2014, Bramwell published The Number 9 Bus to Utopia as a book, using crowdfunding through Unbound. Reviewer Ben McCormick wrote, 'Through the pages, as you accompany the author on his journey...you feel like you’re meeting a wealth of strange and familiar folk who in one way or another are just as lost, uncertain, bewildered and ultimately seeking some kind of answer as we undoubtedly all are.'
The investigation of utopian communities inspired Bramwell to promote Zocalo, an annual event, first held in 2006, in which Brighton people were encouraged to turn off their televisions, and take chairs onto their steets to get to know their neighbours. Bramwell told The Argus, 'Nobody talks to their neighbours any more, most of us live in these towns and cities and we feel isolated....(Zocalo) is a way of getting communities bonding and to get people just talking to each other.'.
In 2016, Bramwell collaborated with Jo Keeling, editor of The Ernest journal, to produce a new book, The Odditorium: The tricksters, eccentrics, deviants and inventors whose obsessions changed the world. According to the Ernest journal website, the book is 'a playful re-telling of history told not through the fish eye lens of its victors but through the fascinating stories of lesser-known creative mavericks.'Yellow Bellied Wonderland, Pickled Egg Records, 2002
Winter Creatures, Pickled Egg Records, 2005
The Absence of Birds, Pickled Egg Records, 2008
The Raven's Empire, Republic of Music, 2012
The Water Between Us, At the Helm Records, 2012
The Cheeky Guide to Brighton, Cheeky Chops Publishing, 1999
The Cheeky Guide to Brighton (2nd edition), Cheeky Guides Ltd, 2001
The Cheeky Guide to Oxford, Cheeky Guides Ltd, 2000
The Cheeky Guide to Brighton (3rd edition), Cheeky Guides Ltd 2004
(with Tim Bick) The Cheeky Guide to Brighton (4th edition), Cheeky Guides Ltd, 2006
(with Tim Bick) The Cheeky Guide to Brighton (5th edition), Cheeky Guides Ltd, 2009
The Number 9 Bus to Utopia, Unbound, 2014
(with Tim Bick) The Cheeky Guide to Brighton (6th edition), Cheeky Guides Ltd, 2015
(with Tim Bick and John Ashton)Cheeky Walks in Brighton and Sussex, Cheeky Guides Ltd, 2016
The Haunted Moustache, Nightfinch Books, 2016
(with Jo Keeling) The Odditorium: The tricksters, eccentrics, deviants and inventors whose obsessions changed the world, Hodder and Stoughton, 2016