Tag Archives: Keith Richards

Robert Fraser: the butterfly, Performance and the Rolling Stones

I’ve often thought that when William Rees-Mogg wrote his famous editorial in the wake of the Redlands court case, the butterfly was not so much Mick Jagger or Keith Richards but the third party in that sorry affair. Art dealer Robert Fraser was convicted alongside the Rolling Stones for possession, but while Richards and Jagger were spared prison partly thanks to the Times editorial, Fraser pleaded guilt and was sent to Wormwood Scrubs. It’s difficult now to think of Richards and Jagger as butterflies; Fraser was the one that got left behind to get broken.

Some of letters and telegrams Fraser received and sent while during his four months at the Scrubs feature in the Pace Gallery’s superb exhibition, A Strong Sweet Smell Of Incense, which runs until 28th March. The title comes from Richard Hamilton’s collage, created as a response to the Redlands bust.

It is displayed alongside one of Hamilton’s other famous creations in his Swingeing London series, which shows Fraser and Jagger being led away from court.

Hamilton was one of several artists that Fraser promoted at his Duke Street gallery in the 1960s, and many of them feature in the show. Here there are works by Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, Eduardo Paolozzi, Claes Oldenberg, Clive Barker, Gerhard Richter, Bridget Riley and Peter Blake, as well as later pieces by Francis Bacon, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

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Copyright Pace London

There’s also a nice mock up of Fraser’s office.

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Copyright Pace London

Fraser had a great eye and a sense of daring, and that helped attract the stars. Fraser’s gallery became a centre for the cool kids of the counterculture, attracting pop stars, actors and film directors as well as perennially lurking scene figures like Keith Anger. Paul McCartney described Fraser as “one of the most influential people in the London sixties scenes” and The Beatles feature in the exhibition, most wonderfully in the shape of the drumskin from Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which Peter Blake created under Fraser’s direction. Fraser was the catalyst for much that happened in this mid-60s meeting of art and pop.

Copyright Pace London

Copyright Pace London

Fraser was nicknamed Groovy Bob and a sense of the fluid interchange of ideas that resulted from these encounters can be seen in a long display cabinet, arranged with artful haphazardness and crammed with personal letters, memos, books, flyers and photographs. There’s no caption for this wonderful ephemera, but rich pickings for those who take the time to drink it in.

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Copyright Pace London

I was fascinated by a 1968 letter Fraser wrote to Richard Lock at Simon & Schuster proposing a biography of the Rolling Stones, which “would be satirical and totally fictional”. It was seen as a suitably Stonesy response to Hunter Davies’s recently published and “totally humourless” Beatles biography. Sadly, this came to nothing.

I also liked a letter written by the producer of Performance, confirming that Anita Pallenberg would be renting Fraser’s flat in Mount Street for the eight-week duration of the shoot, at £30 a week. This was presented alongside a page of the script from Performance. Fraser’s spirit is essential to the milieu and mystery around Performance. He had known Pallenberg since 1961, and his interest in art, drugs and bohemia was infectious.  Pallenberg later recalled that around Fraser gathered “a fascinating group of people who were on the cutting edge of what was happening in high society, great cultural evenings, wonderful intellectual talk, plenty of hash and marijuana and speed and LSD.” Marianne Faithfull’s recollection is a more withering English take on the same deal: “Desultory intellectual chit chat, drugs, hip aristocrats, languid dilettantes and high naughtiness.”

The weeks that Pallenberg, with boyfriend Keith Richards, stayed at Fraser’s flat, would be pivotal to the unfolding psychosexual drama surrounding the Stones. Fraser was using heroin (his opium pipe is on display), and soon turned on Keith, who was otherwise writing Let It Bleed and brooding about the shenanigans Pallenberg and Jagger were getting up to while making the film.  The ensuing atmosphere of jealousy, betrayal spiced by heavy drug use would hang round the Stones for decades. As Richards spiteful autobiography shows, they still haven’t entirely gone away.

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Cecil Beaton photograph from Performance set.

Also floating around the scene was another arch mischief-maker, Kenneth Anger, and a couple of his missives to Fraser can be found in the cabinet. Best of these is probably the telegram requesting £60 which concludes “GROOVING ON MAGIC CURRENT ONE TRILLION VOLTS AFTER AUSPICIOUS LUCIFER HOUSE BOAT LOVE IS THE LAW”. Indeed.

But it’s the Stones with whom Fraser became most closely associated, for better or for worse. No matter how it ended, I’ve always loved a pair of photographs Michael Cooper took of the Stones with Fraser in 1966 and 1967 in Morocco, a location that is almost as emblematic of the 1960s as London itself, lingering even in the set design of that orgiastic lightning rod Performance. Here is the calm before the storm, before the butterfly is broken.

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A Strong Sweet Smell Of Incense at Pace London, 6 Burlington Gardens, W1S 3ET.

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Selling ‘psychedelic marmite’ in Ladbroke Grove with the rock ‘n’ roll doctor

 

Before he met Gram Parsons and became country and western singer Hank Wangford, Sam Hutt was an avowed member of the sixties counterculture as well as a qualified doctor. Like many on the scene, he managed to combine his two lives for a brief period when he and two other doctors ran a practice prescribing marijuana to junkies. Hutt, incidentally, was one of the signatories of Steve Abrams pro-pot advert in The Times.  I spoke to him recently, and he explained how it all came about:

‘I qualified as a doctor and didn’t know what the fuck to do. I didn’t like doctors, I didn’t like medical students, I didn’t like working in hospitals and I didn’t want to do general practice. Then I heard this guy, Ian Dunbar, had a place in Ladbroke Grove. I found this out from Bernie Greenwood, who was the only doctor I really liked and was also a musician, playing saxophone and keyboards.

 

So we both joined in. Ian had this practice on the crest of the hill in Ladbroke Grove. There’s a church and right opposite is the church building and we had the top floor. Ian’s big thing was to help people who were on heroin. He’d discovered that doctors could still prescribe cannabis, ironically in tincture form, which means in alcoholic solution. Ian prescribed it to people who were coming off smack, not because it replaces the heroin – it doesn’t – but as a way of getting high. That’s counter to the usual treatment of heroin, which is to use methadone. The rationalisation for methadone, which can kill you if you overdose on it, is that you don’t get high. It doesn’t make you feel good, whereas heroin makes you feel good.

It seemed to me this was a Presbyterian attitude – if you like something, it must be bad for you. So they switch you on to something you don’t like. Ian went counter to that, offering them something that let them get out of it, just in a different way to heroin. People often switch between heroin and alcohol as alcohol is much closer to heroin than cannabis is. Cannabis doesn’t achieve wipe out, it doesn’t achieve oblivion, which both heroin and alcohol do.

So me, Ian and Bernie set up this hippie practice and as a political act, we prescribed cannabis. In the 60s, smoking a joint was a political act, it was you saying you were a freak, a part of an alternative society, not a straight. And you didn’t touch alcohol because it would kill you. Our ethos was that we wouldn’t prescribe speed: uppers or downers. If that’s what you wanted you had to go to the straight doctors in pin-stripe suits in Harley Street. They’ll give you bucketloads. So I’m not a grocer, but I will prescribe you cannabis. They closed that law down in 1973. We were seeing all sorts of people but when we got our first cheque from the National Health it was for £11. That’s for three doctors after six months work. Even then, £11 wasn’t much. So we had to support ourselves by making it a private prescription charging a couple of quid a time.

We got the cannabis from William Ransom & Son. They were the company in Hertfordshire that had a government license to extract cannabis from the plant. They made it into this sticky thick stuff, like a psychedelic marmite. That would then be dissolved in alcohol to make a tincture. The extract was much stronger than the tincture, you could get very, very stoned.

That practice was eventually closed by the police, because they didn’t like junkies being treated like you and me, they wanted to lock them up. I continued being a rock and roll doctor. I went on tour with Family and I shared a house with Jenny Fabian and Roger Chapman before, through Keith Richards, I met Gram Parsons and discovered country music.’