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

 

 

 

 

Camille Paglia on the Iconic Cover of Patti Smith’s Horses | Literary Hub

Source: Camille Paglia on the Iconic Cover of Patti Smith’s Horses | Literary Hub

“THE MAPPLETHORPE PHOTO SYNTHESIZES MY PASSIONS AND WORLD-VIEW”

In 1975, Arista Records released Horses, the first rock album by New York bohemian poet Patti Smith. The stark cover photo, taken by someone named Robert Mapplethorpe, was devastatingly original. It was the most electrifying image I had ever seen of a woman of my generation. Now, two decades later, I think that it ranks in art history among a half-dozen supreme images of modern woman since the French Revolution.

I was then teaching at my first job in Vermont and turning my Yale doctoral dissertation, Sexual Personae, into a book. The Horses album cover immediately went up on my living-room wall, as if it were a holy icon. Mapplethorpe’s portrait of Patti Smith symbolized for me not only women’s new liberation but the fusion of high art and popular culture that I was searching for in my own work.

From its rebirth in the late 1960s, the organized women’s movement had been overwhelmingly hostile to rock music, which it called sexist. Patti Smith’s sudden national debut galvanized me with the hope (later proved futile) that hard rock, the revolutionary voice of the counterculture, would also be endorsed by feminism.

Smith herself emerged not from the women’s movement but from the artistic avant-garde as well as the decadent sexual underground, into which her friend and lover Mapplethorpe would plunge ever more deeply after their breakup.

Unlike many feminists, the bisexual Smith did not base her rebellion on a wholesale rejection of men. As an artist, she paid due homage to major male progenitors; she wasn’t interested in neglected foremothers or a second-rate female canon. In Mapplethorpe’s half-transvestite picture, she invokes her primary influences, from Charles Baudelaire and Frank Sinatra to Bob Dylan and Keith Richards, the tormented genius of the Rolling Stones who was her idol and mine.

Before Patti Smith, women in rock had presented themselves in conventional formulas of folk singer, blues shouter, or motorcycle chick. As this photo shows, Smith’s persona was brand new. She was the first to claim both vision and authority, in the dangerously Dionysian style of another poet, Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors. Furthermore, in the competitive field of album-cover design inaugurated in 1964 with Meet the Beatles(the musicians’ dramatically shaded faces are recalled here), no female rocker had ever dominated an image in this aggressive, uncompromising way.

The Mapplethorpe photo synthesizes my passions and world-view. Shot in steely high contrast against an icy white wall, it unites austere European art films with the glamorous, ever-maligned high-fashion magazines. Rumpled, tattered, unkempt, hirsute, Smith defies the rules of femininity. Soulful, haggard and emaciated yet raffish, swaggering and seductive, she is mad saint, ephebe, dandy and troubadour, a complex woman alone and outward bound for culture war.

Adam Ritchie: Photographer

I came across Adam Ritchie when I was researching into the Velvet Underground. Most of the early pictures of the band were taken by him and Lisa Law. It seems strange that there are not more pictures of the band from this time when you consider the number of photos taken at Andy Warhol’s Factory by Billy Name and various others. The quality of Richie’s pictures are brilliant, especially as he had no training as a photographer (mind you, neither did Billy Name who also produced some outstanding prints).

His pictures of the Velvet’s first gigs at Cafe Bizarre in New York are fascinating as are the only pictures I have seen of the New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry annual dinner at the Delmonico Hotel, New York, 13 January 1966. This still seems like one of the oddest events ever staged. What did the guests think whilst Gerard Malanga wielded his whip and the band churned out distortion and feedback at maximum volume? I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall! The fact that it was a psychiatrist’s convention makes it even more surreal.

His photographs of Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett at the UFO club in London in 1966  also give a real insight into the period. Both the Floyd and Andy Warhol were experimenting with light shows at the time.

This is from his web site:

I went from London to New York in 1962. Found a loft on Bond Street just off the Bowery and got work doing international economic research. I moved to 277 East 10th Street in the East Village. In 1964 I bought a 35mm camera and became a photographer instead. I worked for Conde Nast’s Mademoiselle and Glamour, Esquire, Look, ESP Disk, etc. I was always interested in alternative culture and jazz. Working at night at the Bleeker Street Cinema, I got to know Jonas Mekas, Barbara Rubin, Betsey Johnson Cecil Taylor, Sunny Murray and some of the Fugs.

I disliked Andy Warhol’s celebration of tinsel and superficial glamour until I found myself on the 27th floor of an advertising agency showing my pictures to an art director. One of Andy’s helium filled silver pillows floated very slowly in a straight, even line across the huge window behind him. I was spellbound with amazement. It seemed impossible for steady movement and a lack of gusting outside the window at the 27th floor level. I didn’t say anything about it to the art director but it was clear that Andy’s understanding of the time was profound. Barbara Rubin introduced me to the Velvet Underground before she introduced them to Andy Warhol. I was mad about them because of their music and how they felt serious about what they were doing.

I came back to London in 1966 and immediately went to John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins and Joe Boyd’s new UFO Club. I took photos of Pink Floyd’s earliest performances at the club and at the Round House. I taught photography at Central School of Art as well until 1973 when I started building houses for people in Wales and later in London until 1995.

While I was building houses, my photo lab closed down suddenly. All my photos and negatives were destroyed without my knowledge. Later I just happened to discover a battered old paper carrier bag with the Velvet Underground and Pink Floyd photos in it. That, apart from a few prints, was all that was left of 10 years professional photography.

I had always kept in touch with Rudy Franchi from the Bleeker Street Cinema. In 1997 he offered me my first exhibition, called “The Lost Photographs” at his gallery in Boston. Since then they have appeared in 40 or more books and hundreds of magazines and newspapers. They have been in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum and Boo-Hooray Gallery in New York, Victoria & Albert Museum, Tate Liverpool, Idea Gallery and Artisan Gallery in London, in Paris, Bologna, Vienna, Tokyo and in Sweden and Australia. There will be many of my photos in a new Velvet Underground show at the Cité de la Musique opening between March and August 2016.

Some of the Velvet Underground photos are also in the Andy Warhol Museum collection.

Since then it has been cabinet making, teaching furniture design, local community organising, then running a furniture company for 8 years and now I’m retired, singing in two choirs, growing delicious fruit and vegetables in allotments, Irish set dancing every week and going to classes.

What follows is an interview with Adam Ritchie from ‘Wombat’ photography and arts blog. He seems to have been equally blessed and ill-fated!

Interview Adam Ritchie

Are you a self-taught photographer?

In 1962/63 I was working doing international economic research for a New York company called Business International and living on the Lower East Side. One day I saw a rat walking calmly along my street, East 10th St, between 1st Avenue and Avenue A. I wanted to photograph what I saw. A friend, Larry Fink, was a professional photographer and he helped me buy a 35mm camera one friday, after work. I took my first photographs on Saturday, developed the film in Larry’s darkroom that evening, spent Sunday printing with his help. I went to work early on monday and covered the wall of my office with 20 prints. Everyone came in and looked at the pictures, pretty amazed that it had all happened since the office closed on friday.

The boss suggested that there was such feeling in the photos, that that is what I should really be doing. I said it was just a new hobby I had taken up that weekend for the first time and underneath it all, I was a serious economist. He kept on at me about it until finally, he fired me with three months salary in advance to force me to try and earn a living from photography. I already had a holiday back to England booked and paid for. I planned a series of photographs of people in London. Mademoiselle Magazine bought and published six pages of them. Following that I got published by Glamour Magazine (also Conde Nast), Esquire, Look and others.So yes, I was self taught.

What is your educational background?

Normal, except that I did my last two years of school at the Lycee Français de Londres and then two years of a degree in Economics at Amherst College in Massachusetts on a scholarship.

Why do I take pictures?

I’ve always being interested in seeing things and how you organize what you see. I was involved in the Underground Avant-garde in London and New York, so I wanted to show people what I saw. I saw John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Cecil Taylor and Velvet Underground and others in New York and when I went back to London in summer 1966, I photographed Pink Floyd earliest performances.

I taught photography at Central School of Art in London from 1966 to 1973 and took lots of other photographs, but in 1973 I resigned from teaching, went to Wales and built houses for other people. I learned from books and experience. I built houses there for 4 years and then moved back to London still building for another 8 years. I discovered about then that all my photographs and negatives had been destroyed (except for Velvet Underground and Pink Floyd pictures and a few prints. I spent a couple of years at a furniture college learning cabinet making and furniture design and launched my own studio and also taught furniture design.

Were you friends with the Velvet Underground? 

I talked a bit with John Cale while I was photographing the making of the Venus in Furs film but mainly I photographed them because I loved their music. My friend, Barbara Rubin, was playing a nun in the Venus in Furs film and phoned me to say I had to come and listen to this amazing new band. Obviously I took cameras. Piero Heliczer, whose film it was, was very informal, sometimes with a film camera, sometimes blowing an alto sax. There was a CBS News film crew doing a story about The Making of an Underground Film as well so the whole thing was like a happening with everything going on at the same time.

What were your influences?

In the early 1960s, I lived in an apartment in London together with 6-7 men and women. We all read William Burroughs (Naked Lunch). He visited our apartment. We read Genet, Kerouac, Flan O’Brian, Dostoievski, Samuel Becket, etc. We listened to Charlie Parker, Coltrane, Miles Davis Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell every night.

I worked in Better Books, the most avant-garde bookshop in London with all the artists and intellectuals constant visitors. We organized happenings and spontaneous demonstrations.

The truth is I was young, intelligent, very interested in culture and alternative underground culture.

I had lived for three years in New York as a child and had later got a scholarship to attend university in Massachusetts1958-60. I had not enjoyed the university in the States but wanted to try again, so I got a work permit and went to New York in 1962 for four years. Although being an economist for work in the day, the rest of the time I listened to and saw Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Monk. I went to many art galleries. I also worked as assistant Night Manager at the Bleeker Street Cinema and met Barbara Rubin and Jonas Mekas. I went to happenings and jazz and movies every week. I became a photographer in order to photograph what I saw. Back in London in 1966, I started a campaign in my very poor neighborhood for playgrounds and community facilities. I spent three or four years working for that in my free time and it became the largest community scheme of its sort in Europe. It is 115 000 m2 in west London built underneath an elevated motorway called Westway. Later I built houses for ten years and afterwards became a furniture maker/designer.

John Hopkins Invented the 1960s

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This interview was first published in VICE March 2nd 2010

British photographer and political activist John “Hoppy” Hopkins spent the 1960s documenting jazz, poetry, The Rolling Stones, Nelson Mandela, the sexual revolution – basically everything that defined the decade. When he wasn’t working, he was launching the legendary UFO club at The Roundhouse in London, with Pink Floyd as its resident band. Also, in 1966 Hoppy and friends founded the anarchist newspaper IT (International Times). Today he’s an activist for peace and for the circulation of information, and at 73 he’s still the best dressed guy in London.

Vice: Hello Hoppy. What motivated you to start IT?
In the early 60s there was a lot of experimenting going on, in all sorts of art forms, politics, sex and lifestyles. There was a lot of stimulus toward different ways of thinking, and I got to thinking about the politics of information. I saw it as a level of political activity that wasn’t to do with political parties, and wasn’t necessarily to do with the left or the right, but rather to do with freeing up information and seeing what happened. I, along with many other people at the time, felt that information should be free where possible, because the withholding of information is the withholding of power. This idea led to the beginning of the underground press, and the beginning of IT.

What information was IT providing people with that they couldn’t get elsewhere?
All sorts of stuff – from the price of drugs, to where the new experimental theatre was, to different ways to fuck and have a good time. Basically, all the peripheral things that straight society didn’t want to know about.

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Did you get loads of hassle from the police?
Oh yeah, our offices were always under police raid. Underground papers were constantly being busted for obscenity, for printing pictures of naked people, people fucking, stuff like that. It broke the censorship laws of the time and the power holders in straight society didn’t like what was going on. They felt threatened. It’s like in today’s word, the establishment is threatened by the idea of terrorism, so anyone who looks like a terrorist is beaten up, thrown in jail or just generally fucked over. It was the same syndrome. The way society is controlled is largely through fear, as far as I can make out. That isn’t a very good way to organise society.

Is it correct to call IT an anarchist newspaper?
Well, the word “anarchist” tends to have two slightly different meanings. But yeah, I guess you could call it that.

Are you an anarchist?
Yeah, with a small “a”.

How did UFO come about?
In 1966, I was working as the secretary for the London Free School. To keep it afloat, I organised a benefit at the local church hall to generate some money, and these people called The Pink Floyd turned up and played. It was really interesting, so we decided to do it again the next week, and so on. Soon there were queues round the block. It became pretty clear that something interesting was happening, so my friend [music producer] Joe Boyd and I found a place in the West End to continue the club, and launched UFO. We opened with the Floyd.

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In 1967, you organised The 14-Hour Technicolor Dream, with acts like Pink Floyd, John Lennon and The Soft Machine playing. Pretty much every kid born from then on wishes they were at that gig. What did you love about promoting events?
It’s interesting when people come together for social purposes, because it creates interaction and ideas get exchanged. I particularly enjoyed putting on the sort of event which is called a “happening”, where some things are planned, but some aren’t, so you never know quite what’s going to happen. The 14-Hour Technicolor Dream was supposed to be a benefit to pay for the legal costs of IT, after it got busted for obscenity. It turned out to be unexpectedly rich festival – a happening. Yoko Ono did a lot of happenings in the 60s. On the whole though, hers were really boring.

Dissed. Is it true that at the launch of IT at UFO there was a tower of acid sugar cubes?
I remember at the entrance there was someone with a big bowl of sugar cubes wrapped in tin foil. Whether there was anything in them, I just don’t know. Although the first acid trip I ever had was from a sugar cube wrapped up in silver foil.

Was it good?
Yeah, it was spectacular. The world was never the same after that. It altered the whole course of my life. You can’t go back after you’ve taken acid, you can only go forward.

What did you get out of it?
The ability to reconstruct my world view. Ha, that sounds a bit pompous. But when you trip, your frame of reference crumbles, and you become free of the constraints of your constructed identity for a few hours. And if you’re ready for it, when you come back down you can integrate any new realisations you’ve had back into your old life, which then changes it.

What was it like living through the summer of love? Did everyone fuck as much as they say?
I hope so. I was in jail for the summer of love. There wasn’t much love in jail, or sex for that matter.

Lame! You got put in jail for six months over a tiny bit of hash, right? It’s speculated that the harsh sentencing had something to do with your rising political power.
That’s one version of events. I did stick my head up above the parapet, politically. It was exciting times when IT and UFO started. There was a lot of stuff going on, and the establishment felt like they had to do something about it. I’m not claiming that putting me in jail was the answer to their problems – far from it. Plus, I was pretty careless leaving a block of hash by my bedside and getting busted.

In your opinion, was the political movement that started in the 60s a failure or a success?
That’s hard. To define success you have to start off with an objective. I don’t think everybody involved in the movement had the same objectives. In the 60s a lot of us were quite optimistic. We thought we could see society changing fast into what could be a better state. Looking back it didn’t change nearly as fast as we all thought. Change is really quite slow, and most of what happens gets lost in the memory of society. But there were changes made. People often say to me, “It was great in the 60s, wasn’t it? Where’s the underground now?” And my answer to that is: We are the underground! We may not call it the underground anymore, and there’s an awful lot of us now, but we are joined together because we are all people who want to be free of a corrupt government and a society run by greedy hooligans.

John Hopkins died in 2015. This is a link to an obituary by his friend and collaberator Joe Boyd: John “Hoppy” Hopkins.

Here is the text:

John “Hoppy” Hopkins

John “Hoppy” Hopkins died at the end of January. Some of you may have read the obituary I wrote for the Guardian or heard my contribution to “Last Word” on BBC Radio 4.
The Guardian stayed reasonably true to my original text, but added more facts and removed some of the quirkier passages. Originally, (and within their word-count restraints) it read like this:
Wow!! was John “Hoppy” Hopkins’ response to any number of things: an idea, a record, a film, a poster, a joke, a poem, a drug, a girl…. And his “Wow!” did not simply echo the ubiquitous “far out” of San Francisco hippies; his delight in the world was genuine, committed, astute and infectious.
Hoppy, who has died, aged 77, was co-founder of International Times, the UFO Club and the London Free School. During the intense two-year heyday of London’s fertile and diverse counterculture, he was the only true leader the movement ever had.
John Hopkins was born in 1937 in Slough; his father was a naval engineer, who designed turbines for large vessels. After attending Felsted School, he took a General Science degree at Cambridge, receiving his MA in 1958. His degree was undistinguished; as Hoppy put it, he discovered sex, drugs and jazz at Cambridge and pursued all three with great diligence. After graduation he worked as a lab technician for the Atomic Energy Authority at Harwell, but lost his security clearance after a jaunt to Moscow for a Communist youth festival.
In 1960, he moved to London and became a photographer. I first encountered him backstage at the 1964 ‘Blues and Gospel Caravan’ photographing Muddy Waters and Sister Rosetta Tharpe for Melody Maker. His seldom-shown work is among the most evocative of the era, including brilliantly insightful shots of Beatles and Stones, John Lee Hooker and Thelonious Monk as well as a colourful early-‘60s underbelly of tattoo parlours, bikers, fetishists and derelict architecture. (There is a book of them: “From the Hip”, Damiani Press 2008 – http://hoppyx.com/)
In the summer of 1965, Hoppy joined with Barry Miles (future biographer of Ginsberg and Burroughs) and poet Michael Horovitz to organize the Albert Hall Poetry Olympics, featuring the American trio Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Corso, as well as Brits Adrian Mitchell, Alexander Trocchi, Christopher Logue and Horovitz; that night, the standing-room-only audience recognized themselves as a counter-culture for the first time. Two months later, Hoppy started the first of a life-long series of projects to democratize communication and information. The Notting-Hill-based London Free School achieved few of these goals, but its money-raising events gave Pink Floyd their start and his inspired collaboration with the local West Indian community brought about the first annual Notting Hill Carnival.
In October of 1966, he and Barry Miles published the first issue of International Times, Europe’s first underground paper. (By the end of 1967, there would be almost 100 of them.) The IT launch party at the Roundhouse – with music by Pink Floyd and Soft Machine – inspired Hoppy and me to open the UFO Club in a West End dance hall. Every Friday, Hoppy would mount a scaffolding at the back of the club, play records, make gnomic announcements, show films, project light shows and imbue those nights of music, theatre and dance with an unforgettable atmosphere. Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Arthur Brown, Procul Harum, Tomorrow, Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Fairport Convention are among the many bands for whom a UFO appearance helped launch a successful career.
In response to a March police raid on the IT offices, Hoppy mounted a “14-Hour Technicolor Dream” at Alexandra Palace; Peter Whitehead’s film “Let’s All Make Love In London” shows a dazed John Lennon wandering in the huge crowd, transfixed by Yoko Ono cutting a paper dress off a girl as Pink Floyd greeted the North London sunrise.
Revolutions are, almost by definition, factional, but during those two golden years from June ’65 to June ‘67, the working-class anarchists, vaguely aristocratic bohemians, musicians, crusaders, poets, dropouts and psychotropic adventurers were united in their respect and affection for Hoppy. Seemingly irreconcilable differences were bridged again and again by our ever-positive leader. He had a scientist’s suspicion of waffle or cant, forcing us to confront the flaws and contradictions in our ideas and actions, but always in the most positive and supportive manner. All craved the reward of a “Wow” from Hoppy.
That he was seen as leader of this amorphous movement espousing recreational drug-taking, political protest, sexual liberation and “obscene” literature inevitably led to his downfall. Hoppy’s flat was raided and a small amount of hashish found. At his trial, he attacked the prohibition on drugs and, having been branded a “menace to society” by the judge, was handed a nine-month sentence. Outrage at the sentence inspired ubiquitous Free Hoppy graffiti as well as a full-page celebrity protest in The Times, paid for by Paul McCartneyWithout Hoppy, UFO lost its way and closed by October; the scene he had inspired was reduced in his absence by internal bickering, police harassment and better-funded competition.
Though prison robbed him of his energy for leadership, the following decades saw Hoppy persevere with his ideals. Inspired by the Paris events of May ’68, he and Miles converted IT into a workers cooperative. With his partner, Sue Hall, he formed Fantasy Factory, an offline editing facility that revolutionized affordable low-tech video editing, bringing it within reach of community activists and independent directors. UNESCO funded Fantasy Factory’s educational package and distributed it widely in the developing world. For Hoppy, culture was always seen in the context of politics and vice-versa.
Always eager for scientific challenges, a chance meeting in 1990 led to Hoppy designing and constructing a greenhouse for horticultural research at the University of Westminster. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2007, he never lost his curiosity or his charm, meeting a new partner for his final years at a gathering of Parkinson’s sufferers. In his final months, his speech and movement severely hindered by disease, he was still able to open wide his brightest eye and say ‘Wow!
John “Hoppy” Hopkins, born 15 August, 1937, died 30 January, 2015.
With you, loyal mailing list readers, I can be less restrained. I have no idea what my life might have been like had Hoppy not turned up that afternoon at Fairfield Halls Croydon to snap those pix for Melody Maker. I liked him immediately and asked if he was coming to the show that night. He had other plans, but eagerly accepted a pair of comps for the Hammersmith Odeon (now the Apollo) show the following week.
Afterwards, he gave me his phone number and address and, as I recall, we shared a joint in the alley outside the stage door. When I returned to London at the end of the Blues and Gospel Caravan tour (for which I was tour manager), a folk club organizer offered me a slab of hashish at a bargain price. It was far too large for my modest level of consumption, so I rang Hoppy. He jumped in a cab and the three of us rode round a Soho block while Hoppy sniffed and pinched and bargained until the deal was done. I went back to his flat to sample the bounty and a friendship was forged. (Curious to recall our shared assumption that a London cabbie in 1964 wouldn’t have the faintest idea what we were up to…)
From late April until the beginning of August, I rented cheap rooms, or slept on floors and sofas waiting to go back on jazz promoter George Wein’s payroll in Paris on August 1. I made three friends during those first weeks in London: Roy Guest, who was the Caravan’s liaison for the British promoter; Nigel Waymouth, a blues fan who came backstage at that same Hammersmith Odeon concert; and Hoppy. My entire life in London since then can be traced to the headwaters of those three encounters: Roy introduced me to the folk scene and all of his musical friends, Nigel turned out to be brilliant artist and designer who started Granny Takes A Trip and designed the UFO posters and Hoppy turned out to be… well, Hoppy.
That summer, he was living in a large flat on Westbourne Terrace; Paddington was unfashionable then and the rent was nothing. For a month or so, I slept on his sofa, watched, followed and learned: back-doubles around London, the best curries, the best fry-ups, how to develop and print black and white film, how to talk to girls, how to listen to the Ayler Brothers, how to roll a British joint. Hoppy was always up for it, always full of energy, always positive, always searching, questioning. And it was no free-ride; I was expected to run errands, drop off film, make excuses to stood-up girls… When I ran out of money, he loaned me £10, a large sum in those days.
My first attempt at pay-back came in September when I got him a press pass to the Berlin Jazz Festival. He took fantastic photos (many still for sale, or viewable in From The Hip) of Miles, Roland Kirk, Sonny Stitt, Kenny Clarke… I got him another pass to the Newport Jazz Festival in July ’65, where he told me about the big poetry reading at the Albert Hall he’d helped organize a few weeks earlier. I didn’t grasp its significance until I moved back to London in November. I rang Hoppy as soon as I arrived and he invited me to a meeting of the London Free School the following night. Everything seemed to have changed; Hoppy was no longer taking pictures, he was organizing. Leaflets were printed, a hall was rented, West London locals – Trinidadians, Irish, Ukrainians, students on the dole – were targeted as beneficiaries. The idea was to share our privileged knowledge with the disenfranchised – a theme that would run throughout Hoppy’s life.
The next two years are a vivid blur: Pink Floyd gigs to raise money, the IT launch at the Roundhouse, the UFO Club every Friday in an Irish dance hall in Tottenham Court Rd, the Technicolor Dream, borrowing a 16mm projector every Friday from Yoko Ono and returning it through a door left open to the street each Saturday dawn, police busting people in the queue, getting advice from Michael X about how to confront authority…. I’m not sure how I discovered that Hoppy was a terrific blues pianist, but he performed expertly when I hired him for Incredible String Band and Purple Gang recording sessions. (The Mad Hatter’s Song and Bootleg Whiskey, respectively.)
When Hoppy went down in June, the air went out of everything. We were already under siege – what had been a colourful psychedelic sidebar to “Swinging London” in the autumn of ‘66, had become a threat to the stability of society by the spring of ‘67, as the Beatles told of taking acid and then released LSD’s slickest advert, Sgt Pepper; the police colluded with the News of the World to bust the Stones. By the time Hoppy was released in January, our world had changed out of all recognition. I was busy in the studio and the “underground” was completely fragmented. Hoppy went into what he later confessed was his ‘Maoist’ period, sometimes even provoking factionalism rather than healing it. The warmth never went from our encounters, but throughout the 70s and 80s, they were sparse.
In the ‘90s and ‘00ies, I saw more of him; I found there were things I could do for him – help him move a couple of times, for example. He ended up in a great 3-room ‘sheltered accommodation’ in Islington, with a garden at the back. I would sometimes explain to American friends why I can’t imagine living in the US; would someone like Hoppy, who had been so central to the culture but who never profited from his efforts, have been taken care of that way in America? (Will Britain still be like that if the Tories win in May…?)
As his health deteriorated, I saw more and more of him. In the hospital a few days before he died, though his mouth was unable to form words, his good eye was wide and alert as I talked of how he’d changed my life and changed the life of this country. He moved his head up and down; for all his gentle humility, Hoppy knew who he was and what he’d accomplished.

PORTRAIT: JAMIE TAETE

 

Visit to Oslo, Norway April 2014

 

End of April 2014 I decided to go to Oslo, Norway for the weekend. I founds a Ryanair return flight for £50 from Stansted Airport. Hmm, pretty cheap I thought but maybe I should have factored in the cost of getting to Stansted Airport but, more importantly, the cost of getting from “Oslo Torp” Airport to Oslo! To those who don’t know Ryanair this may sound quite odd but, no, Ryanair have their own idea of where airports are and Torp is more than 100 miles from Oslo and an expensive bus ride away that takes nearly two hours. Total cost in reality was more than £100 return but I suppose that’s still pretty cheap really.

Both Norway and Oslo itself weren’t really what I was expecting. There were no mountains and the weather was beautiful, warm and sunny for the whole weekend! Oslo is a very pleasant, relaxed city and the people are very friendly and everyone seems to speak English. I had a really nice time there and enjoyed travelling on the trams and visiting the museums and the parks. I would particularly recommend The Vigelandparken Sculpture Park. This park is really lovely and contains sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. Some of these are truly amazing to look at and the whole park is like a work of art with beautiful fountains, bridges and wide boulevards:

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3 Days in Rome February 2016

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At the end of February I went to Rome for three days. I’ve been there before but that was a flying visit when I played at a festival in Florence. The last time I went I wasn’t over impressed, which may sound odd and slightly absurd, but I was only there for about five hours. During that time I went on the open top tourist bus, visited the Trevi Fountain and had a meal. Then I hightailed it back to Florence on the high speed train. Because the city didn’t look like it did in either of my favourite Rome films, Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita, I was disappointed and, yes, I know I’m sounding a bit stupid and trivial but that’s the way it is. I wanted to be mown down by a million Vespas and Lambrettas and it didn’t happen! It didn’t fit in with my preconceptions of Rome. In my mind it should have been noisy and anarchic and that couldn’t have been further from the truth. It is actually quite a relaxed and easy going place and nowhere near as big as I thought it was.

This time was an improvement and I became better acquainted with the more interesting aspects of the city and, apart from being attacked by a dog at one point that fortunately didn’t bite me but did shred my trousers, I had a really nice and interesting time. I had two whole days there which wasn’t enough to see everything but was enough to make me want to go back again.

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Trip to Rome Day One

 

The first day I visited the Spanish Steps which are nice but are being renovated at the moment and are fenced off, then I walked to the Vatican where I stumbled on a mass being given by the Pope! I wasn’t expecting this but I was amazed by the efficiency the crowd were exited at the end. Although there were thousands of people in the square there was no crush or panic. A real lesson in crowd control! It is interesting that the Vatican buildings are so well preserved that they almost look new i.e. recently built. Intriguing, I suppose to look old, buildings need to have evidence of decay, it’s not enough to actually be old!

Which leads on to the next part of my tour, the Coliseum. This definitely looks old. Most of it isn’t even there! Apparently the stones of the outer wall were used to build the Renaissance buildings of the Vatican and other parts of Rome. What we see is the mainly brick inner wall but it is still pretty impressive, as is the Triumphal Arch.

That night I went to an Open Mic at a bar called The Public House. Met some really nice people and played a few tunes on a borrowed guitar. It takes place every Wednesday night. They also sell really good cocktails.

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Trip to Rome Day Two

 

Day two was even more interesting I went to the Trevi Fountain and then walked along the Tiber to an interesting and dilapidated area of Rome called Testaccio. This is in the process of being regenerated but at the moment  is a fascinating mix of abandoned buildings, graffiti, a brilliant art gallery and ancient ruins. There are also people living and working there. A truly fascinating place as is the last place I went to, the Protestant Cemetry. This is where Romantic English poets Keats and Shelley are buried. I really love both of their work.They both died in their mid twenties within a year of each other. It is very evocative with some amazing sculptures and tombs. Again, well worth a visit.

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The Protestant Cemetery

All this walking wore me out so I spent my last few hours reading in the garden of the National Gallery. Very relaxing and a lovely and peaceful place to sit.

There’s so much more to see so I’ll be back soon no doubt. Next month I am visiting Paris to check out the live music scene.