Tag Archives: international Times

Mick Farren: dead good Deviant

‘Sure the underground was elitist: we were an elite. We were the cutting edge of ongoing bohemianism at that point.’ Mick Farren in Days In The Life by Jonathon Green

The last time I spoke to Mick Farren (May, 2013) he was waiting for the doctor to come round. He was, he told me, in pretty poor shape but welcomed our interview as it gave him something else to think about. Farren’s ill health had been known for some years, but it didn’t stop him going on stage with his old band the Deviants every now and then. It was while performing at the Borderline last night (Saturday, July 27) that he collapsed and died.

It seems crude to say that is how Mick Farren would want to go, but it’s certainly no great surprise that this vivacious ball of hair and action, the closest thing London ever came to producing an Abbie Hoffman,  should die while giving it all to his great love rock and roll. (The following, and all subsequent quotes, are from my interviews with Farren.)

‘Essentially, from when I was in art school through to Joe Strummer the major communication medium of the counterculture certainly in the second half of the 1960s was rock and roll music. You start with that and everything else was peripheral to it.’

Farren’s Deviants were pre-punk noise terrorists whose self-distributed debut album, Ptooff! was one of the first records to come directly out of the London counterculture. When I spoke to Farren for Uncut about the Rolling Stones free gig at Hyde Park in 1969, I asked him whether the Deviants had wanted to play the show. He said,

‘We asked if we could play. We were vetoed, it was probably Jagger. Everybody said I wouldn’t behave myself and start rabble rousing, which was fair enough.’

I put this to Pete Jenner, who co-organised the gig, who responded.

‘Well, there was that and also the fact they were a rotten band. I really like Mick [Farren] but they were a rotten band who smashed instruments on stage. It wasn’t kick out the jams motherfucker, it was let’s have a joint and a buttercup sandwich.’

The Deviants weren’t really a rotten band, but Farren certainly saw them as London’s answer to the MC5. He was heavily active in the political end of the counterculture, forming the London branch of John Sinclair’s White Panther Party and leading the occasional putsch at the International Times when he felt it was getting too bourgeois and boring. Farren was a key figure in so much of what happened in the counterculture, running the door at UFO, writing for and editing alternative newspapers, organising free festivals while playing shows and really meaning it, man. He was fixer and a doer, a wit and sometimes a sage.

‘IT came out of the Beats – poetry, jazz and art with a bit of lefty politics. I told them this was fucked up, they weren’t talking about the weird changes going on with The Who, or where The Beatles were coming from. I’d say that with all respect to John Coltrane there’s this black geezer in the Bag O’ Nails who has long hair and plays guitar with his teeth, what are we going to do about THAT?’

His politics though, always came with a sense of fun – at one anti-war demo the Deviants played he annoyed the po-faced organisers by being more concerned with getting on stage without splitting his trousers than with espousing the cause. He was once described to me by a fellow traveler as being one of the three coolest men in London in 1967, and that made him one of the three coolest men in the entire world.

”We were always condemned as frivolous and philosophically disorganised, and the counter-accusation was they were just boring totalitarians who wanted to sing the Red Flag when we’d rather listen to Voodoo Child and smoke pot.’

When the alternative press disintegrated, Farren – like many from the underground – went on to write great pieces like this for the NME:

The immediate legacy of the underground papers was the NME because we all went there. They had a very profound effect on the visual effect of magazine publishing, but much more important is that the spirit of the thing is now preserved on the internet.  It’s all still there, it’s just become more specialised and you have to go looking for it.’

Farren is one of the dominant figures in Jonathon Green’s essential history of the British underground, Days In The Life, and also wrote brilliantly, if unreliably, about his own activities in Give The Anarchist a Cigarette. What resonates from those books is what an unlikely fit Farren seems in the upper-middle-class world of the counterculture, which was largely run by public schoolboys and Oxbridge graduates imbued with that remarkable confidence that comes with a good education. Farren was different, his confidence was self-generated and less polite, while his art school experiences meant he ‘learned to manage chaos’. Indeed, he relished it. Take a look at the clips below if you don’t believe me.

In his own writings and when interviewed, Farren always came across as funny and incredibly sharp but there was more to it at than that. He was fundamentally, intrinsically, decent. A man without edges. As Jonathon Green told me when hearing the news of his death: ‘Of the underground ‘stars’ he seems, and always did, to have been one of the good guys.’

RIP Mick Farren. He will be missed by many.

Farren invading The Frost Show.

Farren recollecting the Grosvenor Square anti-Vietnam riot of 1968.

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Pete Townshend and the London counterculture

For my recent piece in Uncut on the London underground press, I contacted Pete Townshend to ask if he had any memories of the era. His reply was long and illuminating, and is worth reproducing in full.

85348475, Redferns /Redferns

ME: Pete was a regular at UFO. Was it unusual for somebody so well-known and from a Mod background to go to a hippie club?

PT: I was taken hostage in a sense. My partner Karen Astley (whose pretty face was used for a few UFO posters) was working with her old friends from the Ealing Fashion School – Angela Brown and Annie Dupée. They had a company called Hem & Fringe. They made clothes for various boutiques, but in particular were designing for an adventurous new King’s Road store in the manner of Granny Takes a Trip. It was to be called Gandalf’s Garden. It was a joint effort by Barbara Allen and Michael Rainey I think.

Michael McInnerney was doing the window design, with – I believe – another artist called Dudley Edwards (who had decorated Lennon’s big Rolls Royce in psychedelic style). I had met Mike and Dudley after the Who had played Monterey Pop Festival with Jimi Hendrix in 1967, and I was interested in Meher Baba who they both followed.

The Who then went off on a very long tour supporting Herman’s Hermits, and while we were away there was a widely reported hippy wedding in Hyde Park, Michael McInnerney married Katie, and Karen was there, and in many of the photos. There is also newsreel film of Karen dancing with Barbara Allen and Hoppy. Mike McInnerney worked with Hoppy and Miles on IT. Karen was right in the centre of the hippy scene, and knew a lot of the leading faces of the time. Through her I met Joe Boyd, the producer of The Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention, and Barry Miles and his wife Sue (who was a terrific restaurateur), and Hoppy. I also got to know John Dunbar [Marianne Faithfull’s first husband] and met the other founders of the Indica Bookshop in Southampton Row at a party with the Beatles, but I never went to the shop. The way I remember it is that Paul McCartney was the chief patron of Indica from the Beatles and the pop scene at large. He was passionate about legalising marijuana, and came close to being arrested for some of the things he said. As far as I could see, marijuana and LSD were what the politics of the times revolved around. There may have been more, deeper things, but I never saw much sign of it at the time. Vietnam was big news of course, but sadly not to me. More of my myopic tendencies later.


Michael English was an old friend from Ealing Art College, and his partner was Angela Brown. When I wasn’t performing we hung out together. Michael was developing his air-brushing techniques, but also making silk-screened posters for hippy events with his colleague Nigel Weymouth. Michael and I were extremely close for about a year in 1967, and I became very fond of him. My friendship with Mike McInnerney lasted much longer, and although we don’t see much of each other today, his work on the Tommy artwork went much further than just coming up with cover art. I flew every single Tommy song past him before I played it to Kit Lambert my mentor and Who producer and manager.

I loved the UFO club. Hoppy was always on the door, smiling, welcoming, never spoke about politics although we knew he was involved in trying to get marijuana legalised. On the stairs I often found Mike McInnerney, who would never stop drawing and painting, and sometimes took his work out with him. One night Gustav Metzger who had lectured at Ealing Art College did the acid-based-light-projections for The Soft Machine. In those days Soft Machine were really very jazzy, and I seem to remember they played a few pieces by John Coltrane. I’ve always been a huge fan of Robert Wyatt, and he married one of my friends Alfreda Benge who edited The Lone Ranger, the first film for which I ever made a soundtrack. Pink Floyd were regulars, and I thought they were wonderful, and not just Syd. I’d met Syd at a few parties, and he was already pretty mad, too many trips we all thought. One Pink Floyd night at the UFO a bunch of Mod boys circled me and ridiculed my hippy coat that Karen had made me, and from then on I think I started wearing boiler suits and Doc Martens, attempting to disown both fashions. We had a lot of fun, I had about five LSD trips, one good one, the rest pretty scary. The UFO was a very friendly place, unless you happened to run into Roger Waters. I’m joking, he was friendly enough, but though handsome he was extremely scary looking, and was rather too keen on Karen for my liking, but then a lot of men were.

I am simply name-dropping here, over and over again, because I was not really a part of this scene at all. I just met all these extraordinarily glamorous and friendly people through Karen, then jumped back in the shitty old Who tour bus and went off to play in fucking Morecambe.


 
Was Pete’s comfort with the counterculture a result of his art school background?

I was not comfortable with it. This is where I confess my myopic nature. I never ever managed to find a sense of place in it. I think when we played Woodstock a year later, and my famous argument happened on stage with Abbie Hoffman, I suddenly realised I simply hadn’t understood how divided society had become by then. This divide was not just between young and old, but between those younger people who saw themselves as political agitators and those who simply wanted to conform, get a job and have a quiet life.

As an artist I operated within the Who as a kind of mirror or commentator, always looking at the local neighbourhood rather than the international scene, trying to give a voice to that part of our audience that seemed most disaffected, but I lost touch completely during the hippy years. Tommy was possibly only accepted from the Who because in hindsight some aspects of the hippy movement had been seen to be counterfeit and bogus. But the spiritual yearning that grew out of the LSD revolution was carried in Tommy, and made a connection somehow. 

My art school work had been hugely inspiring, especially with respect to the possibilities of future technology and the way it would affect art. I have always felt I juggled art, technology and spiritual matters fairly well. But those three issues really needed from me an awareness of politics to produce balanced artistic work. That never happened for me. My mostly apolitical protests were rather sullen and sometimes resentful.

Did interviews with International Times allow musicians to reach different audiences or talk about different subjects than was possible with the mainstream press?

Oh yes. But I don’t remember my talk with Miles, I just remember Miles himself, and I adored him. Around that time (1967) I began to specialise in thought-stream interviews, just rapping really. I spoke creatively, sometimes absurdly, often moving into territory I knew little about. Occasionally this system did produce the most wonderful ideas. At other times, looking back, I just sounded out of my depth.

Why did rock stars like Pete and Paul McCartney get involved with IT, UFO and the counterculture scene? What did Pete personally do to help?

It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that Macca got taken hostage as I did, but in his case by his partner Jane Asher. I know that her brother Peter was involved in some way with John Dunbar. We were all part of what we thought would be a new London intelligentsia. In the end it was just a group of young pop stars with extremely pretty girl friends. I can remember one gathering – I think it was at an art opening for Simon and Maryka – where George Harrison was talking about Krishna, Macca about legalising marijuana and Eric Clapton and I were with the artist and lyricist Martin Sharp talking about the Oz Trial. I don’t think I helped at all, but Macca did. He gave money when Hoppy was arrested, and later for the Oz trial I believe.

Did Pete attend or have anything to do with International Times happenings at the Roundhouse or Alexandra Palace?

Yes I went to both events. Michael English and I took LSD and walked all the way to the Roundhouse from his house in Portland Road. A long, wonderful trip, one of the good ones. At the Ally Pally Rave I ‘discovered’ Arthur Brown and started recording him. Kit Lambert got thrown out of the Alexander Palace event. God knows what he did. He was rather posh, maybe he was thought to be too straight, but I got Hoppy to get him back in. The Who actually performed at one of the last IT Roundhouse events, with Elton John’s new band. By that time IT and Hoppy had lost control of the London hippy scene and it was being taken over by the old guard of promoters. 

London’s underground press: IT and OZ and the psychedelic left

‘IT came out of the Beats – poetry, jazz and art with a bit of lefty politics,’ says Mick Farren. ‘I told them this was fucked up, they weren’t talking about the weird changes going on with The Who, or where The Beatles were coming from. I’d say that with all respect to John Coltrane there’s this black geezer in the Bag O’ Nails who has long hair and plays guitar with his teeth, what are we going to do about that? So they asked me to be music editor.’

The current issue of Uncut magazine contains my feature on the London underground press of the 1960s and 1970s. It includes a number of stupendous quotes like the above from Mick Farren, one of the most colourful figures from the British psychedelic left.

The piece covers the founding of International Times in 1966, the relationship between the underground press and pop stars, the difficulty of publishing, happenings at the Roundhouse and Alexandra Palace, the creation of the UFO Club and the gradual demise of the movement after the dehibilitating OZ trial of 1971. Interviewees included Pete Townshend, Mick Farren, Marianne Faithfull, Robert Wyatt and Jonathon Green. Townshend was particularly reflective on his troubled relationship with the counterculture, and I’ll post the whole thing up here shortly.

There is some great stuff on the internet about both these publications, which in different ways served the needs of London’s young and switched-on population who were not being sufficiently satisfied by either the mainstream newspapers or the pop press. (And does that sound familiar or what?) They covered pot, pop and politics, were revolutionary in their use of colour, design and language and paved the way for later influential print movements like the punk and football fanzines of the 1970s and 1980s.

The entire International Times archive is online, a hugely valuable resource for hippy-watchers. Discover it here. Some of the old IT heads are also collaborating on a blog called The Fanatic.

For those interested in the OZ trial, I recommend the following two-part news clip made for Australian TV at the time of the trial in 1971. It’s a fascinating watch.