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Oyez, Oyez! Official town crier prepares for world competition

Martinez’s own ‘Redmond O Colonies’ heads to New Zealand for a cry

Redmond O Colonies, Martinez’s official Town Crier (at left), pictured with partner Sheena Bonfield. Near the end of September, O Colonies will represent Contra Costa County at the World’s Best Criers Competition in New Zealand. (REDMOND O’CONNELL / Courtesy)
Redmond O Colonies, Martinez’s official Town Crier (at left), pictured with partner Sheena Bonfield. Near the end of September, O Colonies will represent Contra Costa County at the World’s Best Criers Competition in New Zealand. (REDMOND O’CONNELL / Courtesy)

By E. CLARK
Martinez Tribune

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Residents of Martinez may be surprised to find that our fine city has its own town crier – and a world class one at that.

Redmond O’Connell of Martinez, who performs under the pseudonym “Redmond O Colonies,” is currently ranked 11th out of approximately 500 “Brothers and Sisters of the Bell” who don traditional dress and make public proclamations in the streets. O’Connell is also the county’s official town crier, and is set to represent Contra Costa at the World’s Best Criers Competition in Central Otago, New Zealand, next month.

O’Connell, originally from Lancashire, England, told the Tribune he became involved in “crying” after playing the part of town crier in a street theater. It was after that experience he realized that while the profession had diminished, there were still criers in existence. So in 1991, with a flourish of his hat, he went to City Council and was declared the official town crier of record for the City of Martinez. Shortly thereafter, he also visited the Board of Supervisors and became Contra Costa County’s official crier – a title that comes free of charge to both city and county.

“I thought it was a great way to give back to the community,” O’Connell said. “A crier’s job in this day and age is more or less as an ambassador of good will for his or her community.”

O’Connell said Greek runners were the earliest criers, with the first mention of criers made in the “Domesday Book,” a manuscript record of the “Great Survey” of England and Wales, completed in 1086 by order of King William the Conqueror.

Criers were once used in England to announce anything from the close of salmon fishing season to increases in taxes, and were thus protected by law. In fact, the phrase “don’t shoot the messenger” was a real command issued in England to protect town criers from harm.

“With the onset of media, our potential has been very much diminished. Now, there are about 500 criers around the world, with lots of working criers in Africa, Columbia and Balkan countries, still working, still fulfilling a function,” O’Connell said. “But my work here in Martinez is to provide color, tradition and pageantry.”

O’Connell said he’s performed cries for a few celebrities visiting Martinez, including actress Linda Evans (when she opened her now-defunct fitness center in Virginia Hills), and historian, author and Pony Express rider Joe Nardone, who’s come through Martinez on the Pony Express route.

“I read he would be coming through town on horseback, so I thought, hey, I’ll make sure somebody’s out there to greet him,” O’Connell said. “As it turns out, I was the only one there to welcome him. I gave him a copy of the cry, which he included in a book he wrote about it.”

O’Connell was there to greet Nardone on two more successive trips through Martinez as Nardone followed the Pony Express route across the states. “We have something in common – we’re both carriers of the word,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell is available, commercially, for cries, and dons a uniform modeled after the formal attire of U.S. President George Washington. He writes his own cries, delivers them with flourish, and provides them for $150 to $200, depending upon the occasion.

He also works as a musician, actor and comedian, and will perform Friday, Aug. 28, from 4:30-6 p.m., at Armando’s in downtown Martinez. Patrons can expect a mix of Gershwin, Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer, along with parodies and comedy, including O’Connell’s own version of “Name That Tune.”

As for the upcoming competition in New Zealand, O’Connell says he’ll be judged on content, clarity, diction, sustained volume and comportment during his cries. His best finish in competition was 5th place, so here’s hoping he’ll come home a 1st place champion.

For more information on O’Connell or to “hire a cry,” call (925) 222-1892, email redmondoc1@gmail.com, or visit http://rocolonies.wix.com/hoopla-productions.

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