Tag Archives: The Beatles

1967 Uncut

I have a couple of pieces about 1967 in the new issue of Uncut, a Summer of Love special.

The first is about the Monterey Pop Festival, which became a template for almost all music festivals that followed without actually taking on board the two things that made Monterey such a success – artists played for free and the audience numbers were relatively limited. The concert featured performances from The Who, Hendrix, Grateful Dead, the Byrds, Janis Joplin, Ravi Shankar and several more. The music wasn’t always spectacular but the vibe was clearly unique, thanks to fine weather, excellent LSD and a general mood of harmony both among crowd and audience. I interviewed musicians, organisers and also the guys who did lighting and sound, who provided great insight.

Monterey was arguably the high point in the career of John Phillips, who co-organised the festival, booked the acts, headlined and wrote the best-selling jingle.

It must have seemed that after Monterey anything was possible but in reality – and as a neat metaphor for the movement in general – it was all downhill for Phillips from here. Pete Townshend told me a couple of Phillips anecdotes that I couldn’t include in the piece and so will repeat here.

‘My best John Phillips stories are:

1. He hired my Dad to play sax on a Nic Roeg film (The Man Who Fell To Earth I think). My Dad came home and said, “I thought I could drink, but that John Phillips out-drank me five to one. And he never stopped working, we started at seven, and were still doing takes at five in the morning.” My Dad didn’t really know about cocaine.

2. His sister asked me to call him a few years back to try to persuade him to stop drinking and using cocaine. “Pete!” He was delighted to hear from me. “Have you heard the news?” “Yes,” I replied. “You have a new liver”. “Ah!” He was triumphant. “But it’s a black woman’s liver. At last, I’ve got soul.”

The second piece is about the London scene, which is basically the story of the UFO club but covers everything from the 14-Hour Technicolor Dream to the Dialectics of Liberation conference and the launch of Radio One. I spoke to numerous figures from the scene, including Joe Boyd, Jim Haynes, Jenny Fabian, Dave Davies, Twink, Mike McInnerney and Sam Hutt.

I wanted to make this interesting, to get beyond the Beatles and write as little about fashion as humanly possible, so at the suggestion of Robert Wyatt I spoke to Caroline Coon about Release, the NGO she helped start in 1967 – partly as a result of the Stones bust at Redlands – to provide information and support to those who had been busted for drugs.

I also wrote about the psychedelic art, which is probably my favourite element of the psychedelic experience. Mike McInnerney was excellent at explaining the subtle differences between the key UK practitioners – himself, the Nigel Waymouth/Michael English collective, Martin Sharp and Alan Aldridge.

Hippies are often rejected as fluffy utopians  – partly the fault of The Beatles and “All You Need Is Love” – but I’ve always been impressed by things like Release and Steve Abrams‘s full-page ad in The Times (funded by The Beatles) challenging the marijuana laws. These are radical undertakings, that required considerable gumption and a great deal of practical planning. The underground had these in spades, even if the results weren’t always as intended. This was also the last time when the underground was really united. By the autumn of 1967, political schisms had emerged and pop was beginning to fracture into often opposing genres.

It’s impossible I think to watch the film of Monterey and not want to be there, to feel that this is the world and these are the ideals which we’d all like to inhabit. And no wonder so many still look back on 1967 with such fondness and bristled when I asked if they actually achieved any of what they had intended.

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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.

Five videos of Paul McCartney’s London

Inspired by this marvellous piece of Paul McCartney-related London trivia from Mark Mason, I thought we should look at five classic Macca In London videos on You Tube.

1 Press, 1986
Here’s Macca on the tube in this little known video from 1986. Check out the modestly greying locks, and drink in the 80s atmosphere and the now lost station architecture.

2 Busking, 1984
A dream sequence from Give My Regards To Broad Street features Macca busking outside Leicester Square tube.

3 Give My Regards To Broad Street computer game, 1984
This appalling Commodore 64 game based on the film sees Macca taking a cab around London to a brilliant, blippy 8-bit soundtrack of Band On The Run.

4 London Town, 1978
Paul and Linda take a boat trip down the Thames to promote London Town. Features many bridges and some fish and chips.

5 Oxford Street, 1983
And here’s Macca nipping round the West End in the back of a cab with Lesley Ash.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6dHRTQH-js

 

The Monkees and Alf Garnett

I have a piece in the latest issue of Uncut magazine about the making of The Monkees 1967 hit “Alternate Title”, originally titled “Randy Scouse Git”.

The song was the band’s biggest hit in the UK reaching No 2 in the chart, which seems pretty appropriate given that it was written in London and is full of London references.  When Mickey Dolenz said it was called “Randy Scouse Git”, the English Monkee, Davy Jones, was a little perturbed. ‘They asked me what it meant,’ he told me, ‘and I tried to explain, but they just didn’t get it.’

Dolenz wrote the song during a visit to the UK. As he explains: ‘We were in London doing press and the Beatles threw us a big party . We were staying at the Grosvenor. Mike Nesmith and I had turned up on Top of the Pops to surprise everybody by saying hello – they’d smuggled us in in the boot of a car. That’s where I met my first wife Samantha who was a Top Of The Pops DJ, the record girl. We must have had a party and the next morning there were still a few people hanging around and Mama Cass was in town, and the Beatles were huge and I’d met this girl and I just start doodling with the guitar and singing about Samantha and my friend in the room and the waiter who came in with breakfast and the girls outside screaming day and night. It was like a diary, word association. There’s no deep hidden meanings in there.

It was an amazing experience in London. I am told I had a great time. And of course I met Samantha and we had a massive love affair.  Lots of stuff was going on. Brian Jones hid in one of our rooms when he was hiding from police and we got a letter from Princess Margaret asking if we could keep the fans quiet because she could hear them screaming over in the palace.

‘I must have been watching TV and Till Death Us Do Part was on and Alf Garnett called the kid, Tony Booth [later Tony Blair’s father-in-law], a “randy Scouse git”. I had no idea what it meant, no clue, but I thought it was funny. He said that line right in the middle of me writing the song and as was the way in those days I was just spontaneous –  ‘Wow man, what a cool title!’ – and wrote it down.’

So that is how you go from this…

…to this…

Cabbage, cheese and Liverpool

Uncut dragged me kicking and screaming out of my London comfort zone by asking me to write about Liverpool’s Cavern club. The feature was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Beatles show at the Cavern in February and is published in the current issue. It begins like this:

Something is happening in the streets of Liverpool. It manifests itself in a number of unusual ways: in the explicable aroma of cabbage and cheese that clings to local youths, in the long queues of teenagers that stretch down Mathew Street before disappearing into a hole in the ground and, most worryingly for the workers in nearby offices, in a constant and puzzling low rumbling sound that breaks out underground every weekday afternoon from midday.What on earth is going on?

The answer, of course, was that The Beatles were going on.

This is probably the only feature I’ve ever written that will namecheck Cilla Black, Edwina Currie and Freddie Starr but don’t let that put you off. I’ve also interviewed the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band’s about their hit ‘Urban Spaceman’, which was about as insanely entertaining as the song itself.