Tag Archives: Ladbroke Grove

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.’

 

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Hell W10: the film that killed the Clash?

In 1983, just as the band were starting to fall apart, The Clash decided to make a film. But stung by their experiences on the strange but compelling Rude Boy, they decided to make it themselves. They called it Hell W10, filmed it on 16mm silent black and white film, and made the plot up as they went along. The result, understandably, was somewhat bizarre.

‘Let’s make a film!’ said Mick Jones in 2005. ‘We had no other agenda there than that. Everyone put in their time without thinking about it. That was what we did on our time off; we worked! It was totally Joe [Strummer]’s idea. He directed it, he shot it, he did it. And then it was gone. It didn’t even come out!’

Strummer believed the film was lost forever. In 1987, when it looked like he might carve out a new career for himself in the film world, he told an interviewer, ‘I have directed a film myself, a black and white 16mm silent movie and it was a disaster. Luckily the laboratory that held all the negative went bankrupt and destroyed all the stock, so the world can breathe again. I shot without a script. God knows what it was about. I’m the only other one that knew, and I’m not telling.’

In 2002, the film was rediscovered on video tape and re-edited by long-time Clash collaborator Don Letts, who added a fine Clash soundtrack over the top. It is a strange piece indeed, a gangster tale that follows Earl, a musician and small-time hood played by Paul Simonon, who falls foul of the local crime boss called Socrates, ‘The Lord of Ladbroke Grove’, played with some relish by Mick Jones, resplendent in white tux (‘You wanna end up as a pillar in a Canning Town flyover?’ he threatens one lackey). Strummer gives himself a cameo as a corrupt and racist policeman. It’s a cross between The Harder The Come and some of the pulp London crime novels of the 1950s (many of which have been republished by London Books).

Hell W10 also features some cracking period photography of Notting Hill, Paddington and Ladbroke Grove, and weighs in at almost 50 minutes, which suggests it must have taken quite some time to film.

What makes it particularly fascinating is that it was filmed just as the band were starting to go belly up; Topper Headon had already been kicked out for drug abuse, while Simonon and Jones were barely speaking, making their feud in the film a little too close to the truth. Things came to a head within weeks of Hell W10 being made, with Jones sacked from the band in September 1983.

In Letts’s documentary, Westway To The World, both Jones and Strummer confess that the band had simply spent too much time in each other’s company and should have taken a break; if they had done so, hotheads may have had time to cool. Instead, they made a film. Perhaps if they’d had a summer holiday in 1983 rather than fool around with a camera, the band of Jones, Strummer and Simonon might have lasted another few years. Still, it looks like they had fun making it.

Was it worth it? Watch and decide, this is the first of five parts.