Tonite Let’s All Make Love in Leicester: Peter Whitehead and the Long 1960s (March 2017 De Montfort University)

Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th of March 2017 I attended a conference at DMU, Leicester about film maker Peter Whitehead, and celebrating the donation of his archive to the University.

I found out about it late but am really glad I went. There were some excellent talks that brought new light to the meaning and relevance of the 1960s Counterculture, and other aspects of the Swinging 60s, and also a sublime showing of Whitehead’s Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London on the big screen at Phoenix Square Cinema, Leicester. It was almost like watching a different film to the one I have only previously seen on YouTube.

This is a fascinating view of what was happening at the height of what is now seen as the first great flowering of the Counterculture. It is not uncritical though and the seeds of it’s decline can be seen in the interviews of contemporary stars like Julie Christie, Michael Caine and David Hockney. There is almost a sense of impending loss, and also a critique of it’s superficiality and materialism.

The film is really a response to Time Magazine’s famous article about Swinging London that shifted American’s ‘must visit’ tourist location from Paris to London. After a brilliant start with footage from the UFO Club accompanied by a great version of Interstellar Overdrive by Pink Floyd, Michael Caine bizarrely announces that “…it all started with the loss of the British Empire….”

There is no narrative as such but a series of Chapters that are linked by the time and place, and a general sense of bewilderment by the participants. Following some amazing footage of the Rolling Stones live in Ireland Mick Jagger comes across as a slightly lost , petulant school boy trying to make sense of it all “… they don’t like violence but they themselves are violent which doesn’t seem to make sense…”. Yes okay Mick, thanks for that, you sound just like my mother. Julie Christie, who looks absolutely stunning, bemoans the fact that she is totally superficial and has nothing to say “… everything’s happening to me and I’m not happening to anything…am I allowed to talk?…”. David Hockney is not impressed by ‘Swinging London’ at all and prefers New York and California. The bars stay open til 2 a.m. and the drinks are cheaper and he can meet ordinary people in the clubs, unlike London which is overpriced and exclusive. To be fair though, David Hockney has been moaning about something for most of his life, quite often about not being allowed to smoke cigarettes wherever he wants! He is very amusing though. When Julie Christie smokes a cigarette in the film she doesn’t look like she quite knows what to do with it. Vanessa Redgrave, on the other hand, exudes confidence and political commitment and sings a capella and lectures the audience, a bit like an over-confident trainee teacher.

Andrew Loog Oldham is the stereotype of a cynical, Svengali-like pop manager who talks about how he ‘invented’ the Rolling Stones image as the ‘bad boys’ of pop, which, in fact, they quite obviously are not. He revels in his lack of knowledge but obviously believes he can do anything he wants “… I might get into politics someday..or films” he says. In some ways, this is quite a refreshing and confident attitude. Nevertheless, he never did get into either politics or films which is probably just as well as I am sure he would have joined the ranks of the Thatcherites and done something really terrible like close down the NHS or sell the whole of England to Disneyworld. The film ends where it began with some amazing footage of dancers at the UFO Club and the music of Pink Floyd. A truly remarkable film! There is a real sense of dynamism and change. The way the music accompanies the live performances of the Stones is inspired especially with the song Lady Jane. Whitehead doesn’t bother about synchronicity and blends unrelated recordings with live footage. Have You Seen Your Mother Baby (Standing in the Shadows), a surprisingly dark and seemingly uncommercial recording (even though it was a top ten hit), it’s not unlike the Velvet Underground, plays while the band and audience go wild and Lady Jane introduces a strange and eerie sense of calm.

The rest of the conference passed quickly. It took place over two days but the papers delivered were so fascinating that I never lost interest the whole time I was there. This has got to be a first for me, my attention can easily wander! I usually have alternative activities at hand in case I get bored! Didn’t need them this time! There were a wide range of themes that dealt with the 60s with some, but not all, relating to the work of Peter Whitehead

Adrian Smith discussed the interesting sub genre The Love Business: European Prostitution Drama as British Popular Entertainment. This dealt with the film distributors who were showing European films, many of which had a serious sub-text, as soft porn films to a British audience. There are some echoes of this theme in a recent Channel 4 series Magnifica 70 that deals with film and censorship in Brazil in 1970. Worryingly, this is about a right wing dictatorship in Brazil but could just as easily be about censorship and social control in Britain in the 1960s.  Definitely worth a look.

The Love Business: European Prostitution Drama as British Popular Entertainment

Richard Farmar looked at the bizarre film The Touchables and Melanie Williams gave an interesting account of the film maker David Hart. She talked about the “Right-wing Counterculture” which to some would be a contradiction in terms. The majority of  countercultural participants were either “left wing” or perhaps “apolitical” but she made a very good argument about how many issues, like women’s lib or gay rights, could belong to either the left or right.  She pointed out how politician and journalist Jonathon Aitken started as a countercultural figure in the 1960s but ended up as a cabinet minister in the Conservative Government of the 1980s (before he ended up in jail, that is!). I have investigated elements of right wing attitudes in my essay The Decline of the 1960s Counterculture and the Rise of Thatcherism in which I look at libertarianism and other aspects of the counterculture in the 1980s such as sexual freedom, drug taking and “alternative” businesses such as Virgin and Gap.

David Hart and Right-wing Counterculture

Caroline Langhorst gave an interesting talk on three lesser known films of the 1960s all of which are critical of the optimism and the joie de vivre of the period. These are Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London, Privilege (starring Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones) and Herostratus (featuring a young Helen Mirren).

1960s Dystopian Tendecies

Both Privilege and, especially, Herostratus are relatively unknown films. Privilege had a cinema release in the 1960s (I actually saw it) but I believe Herostratus was virtually lost, although there is a copy now on Blu-ray (which I have yet to see). There are some clips of it on YouTube which are quite intriguing. Personally, I feel that the films that really define and critique the era, especially in terms of pop music and the counterculture, are Easy Rider, Performance (featuring Mick Jagger) and, of course, Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London. What becomes generally apparent is the mainstream media’s inability to really understand what is going on during this period. Their attempt to commercialise the movement in films of the time often produced a cliched view of pop culture and society that, for some, defines what the 1960s are about but is actually a ridiculous fiction.

Niki de Sainte Phalle with her trademark targets. An influence on Mod fashion?

There were some interesting talks about feminism in the 1960s. Alissa Clark investigated Peter Whitehead and Niki de Saint-Phalle’s collaberation Daddy. In 1972, Saint Phalle shot footage for this surreal horror film about a deeply troubled father-daughter, love-hate relationship. She was an artist, sculptor and film maker who made quite an impact on the avant garde scene from the 1940s onwards.

Jane Arden “The Other Side of Underneath”

There was also a passionate and forceful account of radical filmmaker and theatremaker Jane Arden who I had actually not heard of before. In 1970, Arden formed the radical feminist theatre group Holocaust and then wrote the play A New Communion for Freaks, Prophets and Witches. The play would later be adapted for the screen as The Other Side of the Underneath (1972). Arden directed the film and appeared in it uncredited; screenings at film festivals, including the 1972 London Film Festival, caused a considerable stir. The film depicts a woman’s mental breakdown and rebirth in scenes at times violent and highly shocking; the writer and critic George Melly described it as “a most illuminating season in Hell”, while the BBC Radio journalist David Will declared the film to be “a major breakthrough for the British cinema”. Interesting stuff!

Stephen Glynn gave an entertaining look at Whitehead’s films of the Rolling Stones including the iconic promotional film for the song We Love You and Steve Chibnall showed us what the 1960s Counterculture was like in a provincial city, namely Leicester! Well, I should know because I was there, but he managed to come out with facts that I knew nothing about. For example, how the local paper The Leicester Mercury led a campaign to close down the late night clubs and coffee bars that proliferated at the time. Do You Know What Your Children Are Up To While You Sleep? screamed the headlines. My favourite band Legay complained that they had hardly anywhere left to play and were moving to London! I am shocked and stunned by these revelations!

Jimi Hendrix at the Leicester Art College Hawthorn Building. Local rock and roll band Warlock ended up doing the support spot.

Richard Dacre gave an entertaining account of the Counterculture and Peter Whitehead at the Royal Albert Hall. Apparently, after Wholly Communion, poetry performances were banned at the hall for more than 20 years! Hilarious. I am looking forward to the Whitehead inspired festival at the RAH later on this year!

Counterculture at the Royal Albert Hall

 

 

 

 

The ‘Hungry I’ Pancake House.

Blog about one of the great Leicester places. I used to go there often with friends in the late 60s/early 70s. The pancakes were good and the atmosphere was fantastic. Candle light and Jazz. You can’t beat it.

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During the 1960’s one of the places to go, in Leicester was a pancake house called the ‘Hungry I’.  A great place for an evening out, good food, and great music.  The’ Hungry I’ was owned by The Monk brothers, and the music was provided by The Monk Brothers Quartet.  They advertised it as, ‘ muted jazz by candlelight’. 

The whole place was very atmospheric, and to us then,  full of excitement.  We usually went in the late evenings, and I only ever remember approaching it through the lamp lit streets.  Down a very narrow Lane  behind the main shops, and in at a small doorway, then up the winding stairs and as you climbed the smell of food, cigarette smoke and the  sound of lovely drifty jazz came down to meet you.  It sounds rather prosaic and un- pc by todays standards, but really you had to be a teenager in the 1960’s to appreciate it. 

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The Beatles Live at De Montfort Hall in Leicester, U.K. 1st December 1963

This is a re-post of Catherine Turnell’s blog about the Beatles in Leicester U.K. The original can be found here http://leicestershirelalala.com/the-beatles-at-de-montfort-hall-in-leicester/

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The Beatles played at De Montfort Hall three times. Sunday, March 31, 1963, December 1, 1963 and October 10, 1964.

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It was as if time at De Montfort Hall had gone into some kind of gloopy slow motion. From the back of the stage, John, Paul, George and Ringo confidently strode towards the crowd – and into a deafening wall of hysterical screaming.

It was Sunday, December 1, 1963, and Beatlemania had touched down in Leicester.

Popular music, here and the world over, was already in a state of shock.

For the 3,000 children, teenagers and adults who got tickets at 3/6d each, the concert had been feverishly anticipated for weeks.

In the village of Burbage, brothers Paul and Roy Wheatcroft had fed their Beatles hunger by poring over every scrap of inky newspaper they could find. On discovering the band were playing in Leicester, the 12 and 10 year old knew they had to be there.

Tickets were going on sale at the Rugby Road offices of Hinckley’s Mr Showbiz – Arthur Kimbrell – at 9am on a midweek morning. Mr Kimbrell, praise his name, was the concert’s promoter.

De Montfort Hall Concert promoter Arthur Kimbrell, (1961) gave thousands of people the best nights out of their lives. Mr Kinmbrell arranged appearances at De Montfort Hall by such stars as the Beatles, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and Engelbert Humperdinck

However, The Beatles had actually been to Leicester before, the March previous, but without fanfare.

“Roy and I went to bed early so we could be at the office – a mile’s walk away – before 2am. We arrived to find six people before us, but we were the youngest.

“At about 6am a policeman turned up to keep his eye on the growing crowd. He spoke to Mr Kimbrell and we were allowed into the inner sanctum an hour early to pick up our tickets.”

As it turned out, they managed to get prime seats on the front row and brought friend Nigel Dawson, 13, with them.

“The Fab Four,” remembers Paul, “had given an interview shortly before the performance saying that their favourite sweets were jelly babies. And so, during the journey to Leicester, my dad stopped his Ford Escort and my little brother bought a box.”

As it turns out later, they weren’t the only ones to stop off for the jellied sweets.

However, getting Beatles tickets in Leicester was a little more fraught.

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George Harrison fan Jennifer Fivaz (nee Woods) from Melton, was a schoolgirl living in West Knighton.

“The main thing I remember was queuing all night for the tickets. I must have been 16 and we must have been right at the beginning of the queue.

“We started queuing at 9pm and we were getting the tickets the following morning.

“I remember being wrapped in a sleeping bag. In the early hours there were a lot of people in front of us.

“Police were doing crowd control and they had Alsatian dogs, pushing us up against the wall and the dogs were snapping at our ankles. It was quite frightening.

“Of course,” she remembers, “the biggest and strongest pushed straight to the front.”

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On the night of the performance, the gloom had set in for WPc Frances Harris (nee Edginton) who was working at Charles Street police station.

She was vexed to discover she wasn’t going to keep an eye on The Beatles during her shift – three hundred officers had already been chosen for duty.

Back then, WPcs were allowed to go backstage at the hall and with that, the biggest band in Britain had been within tantalising grasp of the 20 year old fan.

Frances was given messages to take to CID men in the traffic office and stomped out into the police station’s cobbled yard, and into the traffic room.

On the return journey she half noticed a dark car in the quad, and marched back to the control room still fuming.

Sensing her displeasure, the traffic sergeant started asking her about The Beatles, and if she liked them.

Of course she did, was her response. Although she didn’t let slip that John Lennon was her favourite.

“He said ‘they are in our enclosure, in the quad’,” recalls Frances.

“They’d brought them in the side door and just left them in the car, to keep them safe from the fans. I didn’t even think to look in.

“He went on to say they looked as if they needed a good shave.”

Squashed in the van, the lads kept themselves to themselves and passed the time listening to a radio.

Sadly, the car had gone by the time the WPc had learned the truth. “I probably got nearer to them than anybody,” says Frances, who lives in Leicester’s Narborough Road South.

“I was so annoyed I didn’t even think. It was evening and it was dark in there. It taught me a lesson: You keep your eyes open.

“I don’t mind telling you, I hope they thought ‘that’s a good looking WPc’.”

The screams and heat inside De Montfort Hall were escalating as The Beatles, the biggest band in England, arrived ignominiously in the back of a Leicestershire Constabulary dog van.

All night, no-one had heard a note from support acts the Vernon Girls or Peter Jay and the Jay Walkers.

And then, the time had come.

The Beatles, entering from the back and middle of the stage, took up their positions. The crowd went wild.

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“It was absolute bedlam,” remembers Geoffrey Freeman, a semi-retired warehouseman from Evington. “When they came on stage you couldn’t hear a thing.

“It was fantastic. I could see the stage and I could see John and Paul and George. There was a post, and so I couldn’t see Ringo or his drum kit.

“I think there was just one song they played I could actually hear. I think it was Please Please Me and most of the time all I could see was people jumping up and down in front of me.

“I’d always been a Beatles fan, right from the start,” says Geoffrey, who was 19. “I’d picked up on it early.

“I’ve been to various other concerts since and I’ve never seen an atmosphere like that ever.”

It wasn’t long before the heat and hysteria took its toll. Within minutes, girl after girl started fainting, and the police, along with St John Ambulance, had a fight on their hands.

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Janice Benfield (nee Barnwell), was 18, and working at Frears and Black bakery, where Abbey Park’s B&Q is today. She went with three other girls from work.

It was steaming inside De Montfort and very, very loud, she recalls.

“Some girl who fainted was passed over our heads, nearly knocking our hair off!” she says. “It was very, very noisy and very hot. God was it hot.

“Girls were crying ‘Oh John! Oh Paul!’

“Oh God,” she sniggers, “I was one of them girls. I loved John. I loved him. I had my eyes on him all night. I couldn’t hear the music; they only had to move and the screams went up. It didn’t spoil the show, though. They only had to open their mouths and the girls would go bonkers.

“It was a brilliant night, I’ve never forgotten what it was like.

“The Beatles was my first big gig and it really opened my eyes.”

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Eric Bridding, a pensioner from Lincolnshire, was six rows from the front and “never heard a sound all night”. “But,” he says, “I did see their mouths move. Mind you, I was old even then,” he laughs.

Fourteen year old Jo Harrison (nee Meadows) spent most of the evening stood on a chair in Row Y, seat 39.

The mum of two from Oadby was with friend Sheila Angrave and the pair were schoolgirls at Oadby’s Beauchamp College.

“It was quite scary, just the sheer hysteria. You were there and everyone around you was screaming. I wasn’t very big and I’m not very tall now.

“We stood on chairs rather than sit down. I remember the screaming starting fairly early. Although, when they came on stage, it went so loud that it went into a hiss.

“This is really embarrassing,” says Jo with a dry chuckle, “there was a Beatles song Til There Was You and it had one line about ‘sweet fragrant meadows’. When they played it my friend looked at me and said “he said your name”. I was a Meadows then and I knew it was coming.”

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Jo, a retired children’s speech therapist, still has the gold brochure from the gig and priceless memories.

“You couldn’t believe you were seeing them, it was just amazing to see them. At the time I just adored Paul McCartney.”

Of course, the room wasn’t just full of hysterical screaming fans. It was also full of hysterical screaming fans with bags of Jelly Babies. The Beatles had told a radio presenter they were the band’s favourite confectionery.

Teenagers Carole Digby and cousin Sandra Boyer were among the numbers at De Montfort.

“We’d heard that Paul McCartney liked Jelly Babies, so we went to Woolworths and bought a 1lb bag,” says Carole, a teaching assistant at English Martyrs.

“The security guards had threatened to throw people out if any more were thrown on stage, but we carried on.

“My cousin’s father worked at De Montfort Hall and he got me all their photographs and autographs. I wish I still had them now.”

It was raining Jelly Babies a few seats forward on the front row, remembers Paul Wheatcroft.

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“Within minutes of The Beatles being on stage, one or two people started to throw the occasional jelly baby but soon it was a barrage. My brother opened his box and threw one or two and a policeman in front of the stage pointed at him and shook his head. So my brother had to continue throwing cautiously.

“It was during a duet with Paul and John singing into the same microphone when my brother launched a jelly baby which sailed through the air and hit John Lennon squarely on the neck. The pair burst out laughing and stopped playing for a short time. To this day, that’s my brother’s claim to fame.”

Forklift truck driver Nigel Dawson was sat next to Paul and his brother Roy.

For all three, The Beatles were the first band they ever saw live.

“Yes, I suppose it is quite something,” says Nigel, from Burbage. “That’s not bad, is it?”

“I remember at the end of the concert there was a chap who jumped over from the right hand side of the balcony. He lowered himself down so far and jumped the final distance onto the stage, walked over to them and they all walked off together to the right. I wonder who he was?”

Teresa Ashton (nee Richardson) was 14 and living on Eyres Monsell estate with her family. She was a fan of blond boy wonder Adam Faith at the time and The Beatles meant nothing to her.

ENTERTAINMENT.The Beatles at De Montfort Hall, December 1, 1963PICTURE WILL JOHNSTON

If it wasn’t for her good friend Ann Lawrence’s convincing entreaties, she would never have gone.

But, lucky for her, she did: “It was the most wonderful experience ever,” she says, reminiscing from her home in Barrow on Soar. “It was very noisy and happy; I made several new friends that night. I particularly remember coming out with a sore throat with all the screaming and shouting.

“I also got into a lot of trouble when I got home late.

“From that concert, several of us off the estate never missed a pop concert there again,” she says, happily, “and I’ve been a Beatles fan ever since.”

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(Written by Catherine Turnell. A similar version to this story was first published in the Leicestershire Chronicle. Images copyright the Leicester Mercury)