London Underground: Early counterculture doc with Paul McCartney, Allen Ginsberg, Pink Floyd

Granada Television produced this fascinating TV time capsule “It’s So Far Out It’s Straight Down” as a special part of their Scene at 6:30 series. The program focused on the young counterculture / hippie scene in London and features Miles, the Indica Gallery and the editorial board of The International Times underground newspaper. Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Lawrence Ferlinghetti are seen at the International Poetry Incarnation and we are taken to The UFO Club where Syd Barrett and the Pink Floyd are playing a live version of “Interstellar Overdrive” (Also heard on the soundtrack is an early version of their “Matilda Mother,” then called “Percy The Ratcatcher” and “It Can’t Happen Here” by The Mothers of Invention).

Paul McCartney is a talking head interviewee in the studio, intelligently discussing the nascent underground scene. Macca was an active part of the London underground, financially supporting the Indica Gallery and bookstore—he even built the bookshelves himself—and IT. McCartney, the Beatle who soaked up cutting-edge culture and avant garde influences long before the rest of them did, is seen in four segments during the show, and as a wealthy, intelligent and well-respected person representing the counterculture to people who might fear it, as you’ll see, he knocks the ball straight out of the park:

If you don’t know anything about it [the counterculture], you can sort of trust that it’s probably gonna be alright and it’s probably not that bad because it’s human beings doing it, and you know vaguely what human beings do. And they’re probably going to think of it nearly the same way you would in that situation.

The straights should welcome the underground because it stands for freedom… It’s not strange it’s just new, it’s not weird, it’s just what’s going on around.

“It’s So Far Out It’s Straight Down” was broadcast in March of 1967, so it’s pre-Summer of Love. The time seems so pregnant with promise. This is the exact moment, historically speaking, when pop culture went from B&W and shades of gray to vivid color. If you put yourself in the mind of a kid from, say the north of England watching something like this on television during that era, it’s easy to see how this film would have brought tens of thousands of young people into London seeking to find these forward-thinking cultural movers and shakers to become part of “the happening” themselves.
Watch it after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger
01:15 pm
‘Monotony Maker’: International Times parodies Melody Maker, 1973
10:31 am

Issue number 145 of the legendary London underground newspaper International Times was the first published in 1973, and it’s a wonder to behold.

For starters, on the cover is an interesting creation by an artist named George Snow, a self-referential image highlighting the means of production involved in ... creating a cover for IT. The image is craftily “pixelated” in a way that suggests (of all things) desktop publishing of the late 1980s, and a font card for 42-point Aachen is also featured as a design element.

The issue also included a two-page installment of “Fritz the Cat” by R. Crumb, and there’s an additional bit of Crumb art tucked elsewhere in the issue. There’s a wonderful advertisement for “Climax Books” (a Danish publisher of smut), and an incredible subscription offer—anyone willing to shell out £4.80 for a year’s worth of IT would also receive Hawkwind’s new album Doremi Fasol Latido.

The cover blandly promises a look at “How Melody Maker Hit Rock Bottom,” which is scant preparation for the savage four-page parody of the UK music rag to be discovered in the pages within. They call it “Monotony Maker”.....

It would take someone with a clear memory of the Melody Maker of the 1970s to unpack the myriad of now-forgotten references. On Twitter, Syd Barrett biographer Rob Chapman refers to the parody as “libellous,” which we’ll get to in a minute. The cover featured a fanciful tale of David Bowie becoming the first male rock star to give birth, while also reporting on a forthcoming Moscow production of the Who’s Tommy in which “guest soloists are believed to include everyone in the Soviet Union.”

In a tweet I can no longer find, Chapman also draws attention to the wicked wit involved in the otherwise innocuous-seeming cover headline “Beatles to Split?” which in 1973 addressed the deep-seated denial in the UK music press. On the parody’s second page there is a scurrilous gossip column called “The Raver” that is surely the item IT’s attorneys would have scrutinized most carefully, seeing as how it contains references to an Ian Anderson tax exile in Switzerland, cocaine shenanigans with Jimmy Page, and Marc Bolan’s likely stint in a looney bin.

The “Payolagraph” item affords an opportunity to engage in some takedowns of Ono/Lennon, Neil Young, and the people trying to wring the last quid out of Jimi Hendrix’s legacy.
Read the whole thing after the jump…....

Posted by Martin Schneider
10:31 am
Cosmic Visions: The amazing poster art of the UFO Club, London’s psychedelic dungeon

The short-lived UFO Club was a small, pioneering psychedelic club in London that operated from December 1966 to October 1967. It was born as a result of the underground newspaper The International Times’ fabulously successful launch party at the Roundhouse on October 14, 1966, where the early Pink Floyd and Soft Machine performed. IT‘s visionary owners Joe Boyd and John “Hoppy” Hopkins opened the UFO Club in a basement at 31 Tottenham Court Road under Gala Berkeley Cinema on December 23, 1966. The club was open every week “10:30 until dawn.” A one-year membership was 15 shillings but “Overseas visitors need not be members” (according to a UFO Club ad for a Procol Harum show). Mick Farren was a doorman.

The roster of artists who played there is mind-blowing: Barrett-era Pink Floyd (the house band), The Move, The Pretty Things, Graham Bond, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Soft Machine, Denny Laine, Fairport Convention, and Jimi Hendrix, Eric Burdon and The New Animals, Dantalion’s Chariot (with Zoot Money and future Police guitarist Andy Summers), The Bonzo Dog Band, The Smoke, Third Ear Band, Jeff Beck, Ten Years After, and (Giant) Sun Trolley.

Movies were shown (Buñuel, Dali, W.C. Fields, Marilyn Monroe, Kenneth Anger), first-generation light shows and film projections (by Mark Boyle and Joan Hills), and vegetarian macrobiotic food was served. LSD was easy to find.

Andy Summers wrote in his autobiography One Train Later:

In the Roundhouse, the UFO, and the Middle Earth Club in London everyone seems to get it, and it’s as if we are all in on the same joke. Our music expresses the release, the dropping of old conventions, the newly found freedom – and to play old-style R&B in these places would be distinctly uncool.

UFO Club owners Joe Boyd and Hopkins were inspired by American music venues’ colorful commissioned concert posters and decided to follow suit. They chose pop artists Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, a.k.a. Hapshash & the Coloured Coat, to design promotional posters for the UFO Club. English had already worked on the first few issues of IT.

The two men met in 1966 when both were involved in creating exterior murals for trendy London clothing shops, English at Hung On You, and Waymouth at his own boutique Granny Takes A Trip, on Kings Road. Granny Takes A Trip, opened by Waymouth and artists John Pearse and Sheila Cohen, was the hippest clothing store, selling antique clothes and original psychedelic designs to hippies, young aristocrats, and rock stars and their consorts (Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Ronnie Wood, Rod Stewart, Andy Summers, The GTO’s Miss Pamela, Marianne Faithfull, and Anita Pallenberg). In 1967 English and Waymouth formed their graphic design partnership, Hapshash and the Coloured Coat (earlier discarded names were Cosmic Colors and Jacob and the Coloured Coat).

Hapshash’s intricate, detailed, sometimes illegible posters were printed by IT offshoot Osiris Visions in the Indica Gallery (owned by Marianne Faithfull’s husband John Dunbar, Peter Asher, and IT editor Barry Miles and heavily invested in by Paul McCartney), located in the basement of the Indica Bookshop. The Creative Review said in 2011 before a Hapshash retrospective at London’s Idea Generation Gallery: “Many of the posters were designed to be largely illegible to those not prepared to stand and read them – thus the artists could get away with including explicit elements, subversive codes and messages.”

The Houston Freeburg Collection website quoted Nigel Waymouth’s description of his collaboration with Michael English:

Michael’s talent lies in his ability to balance an unrivaled attention to detail whilst creating the most fluid designs. I brought to the work a strong imagination bursting with romantic ideas and a facility for figurative drawing. We also had a very strong sense of colour, which was important , given the cost limitations and the strictures of the silk screen process. At a time when the prevailing fashion was for an indiscriminate use of rainbows and any clashing colour combination, we strived for maximum colour effect without sacrificing balance or harmony. To this end we introduced numerous innovations that have since become common practice. Expensive gold and silver inks had not been used much on street posters before we made it a regular feature of our designs. We also pioneered the technique of gradating from one colour to another on a single separation. The effects were startling, bringing an explosive vitality to the fly posters on the London streets. Nothing like it had been seen before or since. Looking at a whole block of some twenty or thirty of a single Hapshash poster was a powerful visual shock. It was not long before people began tearing some of them down in order to decorate their own walls. It was eye candy to match any psychedelic experience. In hindsight we now realize that what we had done was to bridge a gap between Pop Art and tagged graffiti. The posters often contained subversive elements, including sexually explicit graphics, mystical symbols and dissenting messages. We regarded each poster, whatever it was promoting, not only as an aesthetically pleasing design but also as a proactive concept. We got away with it because the posters were so charming to look at and the contents, including the words, required closer attention than people could give them at first glance. Our immediate audience was the younger generation, sympathetic to the spirit of the times but we also wanted to brighten the lives of people going about there everyday business on the gray streets of London.

For eighteen months Hapshash also did similar artwork for album covers (The Incredible String Band), the sleeve for The Who’s single “I Can See For Miles,” the film Luv Me, promotional posters for Tomorrow, Soft Machine, Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who, Traffic, Granny Takes a Trip, the 1968 International Pop Festival in Rome, the Middle Earth Club, the Savile Theatre, and the the 14-Hour Technicolour Dream “free speech benefit” fundraiser at Alexandra Palace on April 29, 1967 to help IT with legal fees. The posters’ screen-prints were often given away to members of the audience at the end of a night (well, very early morning). An illicit cottage industry has grown up around bootlegging these posters and inventing unlikely stories about their origins. There is a good checklist of how to spot fakes here.

More posters + Soft Machine at the UFO Club, June 2, 1967 after the jump…

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright
01:18 pm
John Peel interviews Mick Farren about the underground press

Fantastic! Vintage interview with Dangerous Minds pal Mick Farren (seen here with ex-wife Joy) conducted by John Peel!

Here the legendary Mr. Farren discusses how “the authorities” would pressure printers not to deal with the International Times or the underground press as a means of suppressing it. Towards the end, he sketches out how an underground economy would work. What a thrill to see this. Imagine if rock stars today were this smart!

When Mick gets back to me about this interview (not mentioned in his autobiography Give the Anarchist a Cigarette) I will update this post.

Via Blog to Comm

More Mick Farren on Dangerous Minds

Posted by Richard Metzger
02:20 pm