I’ve been on a bit of a “70s Brian Eno kick” of late, scooping up all of the recent 2XLP 45rpm editions of Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, Here Come the Warm Jets, Before and After Science, etc. and then fanning out through some of his work as a sideman and producer, which was quite extensive during that decade. Aside from the obvious collaborations with Robert Fripp, Talking Heads, DEVO and David Bowie, Eno also made music with Nico (The End), he’s on both of Robert Calvert’s wonderfully loopy 70s solo albums and believe it or not, Genesis for whom he provided “Enossification for two tracks on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (”In the Cage” and “The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging”). But the item I want to call to your attention here is the marvellously eccentric 1974 album—newly released by Mental Experience/Guerssen Records in a beautifully published vinyl version with extensive liner notes and lyric sheet—Lady June’s Linguistic Leprosy.
When she died of a heart attack in 1998 at the age of 64, her obituary in The Independent called “Lady” June Campbell Cramer “a great British eccentric and cosmic prankster.” That’s already a pretty good claim to fame, but the obit went on to say that her “most achieved performance was herself: she succeeded in turning her existence into living art, bristling with humour.”
“Lady” June—the honorary title given to her due to her upper-crust, aristocratic voice (she sounded like a really stoned Judi Dench) and the fact that she was the de facto London landlady of many a progressive musician from the Canterbury set—was a sort of free-spirited hippie bohemian poetess and multimedia performance artist who ran with the crowd that included Gong and Soft Machine, who she first met in Spain in the early 1960s.
According to Daevid Allen, who was in both groups, June’s enormous twelve room Maida Vale flat was “London’s premier smoking salon”:
“She was ferocious in the mornings until the first joint arrived: she’d hover over you with a wet cloth demanding that you clean the stove.”
Amongst the other tenants in June’s apartment were Steve Hillage, members of Henry Cow, Hawkwind, Hatfield and the North, Tim Blake and David Bedford. Some of her tenants were more conventional types who were often dismayed by the likes of nine freaky members of Gong suddenly turning up to sleep on the living room floor.
Gilli Smyth of Gong was her best friend, and it was at a dual birthday party June threw for herself and Smyth that a drunken Robert Wyatt fell out of a window, falling four stories and leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
In 1973, June took part in the chaotic BBC Radio 4 series If It’s Wednesday It Must Be… with Kenny Everett and former Bonzo Dog Band member Vivian Stanshall. Later that year she recorded Lady June’s Linguistic Leprosy, her surrealist poetry set to music by her longtime friend (and longtime tenant) Kevin Ayers and Brian Eno, a neighbor who lived nearby. The recording was primarily made in the front room of her apartment with Ayers on guitar, bass and vocals, and Eno playing guitar, bass, Imminent, Linearment (sounds mathematical, right?), and something called “Lunar Lollipops,” with Gong’s drummer Pip Pyle and David Vorhaus of White Noise mixing. It is said to have cost just £400. A wary Caroline Records—the arty Virgin subsidiary set up to release things with little to just about zero commercial potential in the first place—pressed up only 5000 copies, but the album sold out quickly when news of her famous collaborators got around. June performed on bills along with Gong, Hawkwind, The Pink Fairies and Hatfield and the North.
“Lady” June Campbell Cramer returned to Spain in 1975 and became an active and creatively fulfilled participant in the artists’ community of Deià in Majorca. It is primarily for the company she kept—and this one remarkable album—that we remember her today. According to the reissue’s liner notes (and her nephew Tim Campbell Cramer) when June died in 1998, she was cremated and guests at her wake tied little parcels of her ashes to helium balloons and let them go into the Mallorca breeze.
“Optimism,” music by Eno
“The Tourist”/“Am I”
“To Whom It May Concern”
“Some Day Silly Twenty Three”
“Missing Person,” a gorgeous number from a 1984 French various artists release entitled History of Jazz.