Everybody was a loser in that band, it was the all-time great losers' band and that's why the fans were so weird.
Days in the Life, Voices from the English Underground,
1961 to 1971 – Jonathon Green (Pimlico)
This is a hell of a book. Historically it covers the period that saw the great flowering of the underground in England in all it's various forms; from the Beat Generation, (Aldermaston, CND, jazz, Ginsberg & Trocchi), through the rnb & folk explosions, past the psychedelic and hippie eras, and ending up at the underground's politicization with the Angry Brigade and the nascent Womens Movement. The whole caravan ends up in the ditch with the Oz trial in 1971.
"Days in the Life" covers various themes in a relatively chronological order. A large cast of participants is assembled, each giving their version of events they were involved in. This means, happily, that you will get Courtney Tulloch and Horace Ove discussing the Black Movement, and the rise and fall of Michael X; or Joe Boyd and Peter Jenner reminiscing about the Barrett led Floyd. Long forgotten and obscure byways are are covered too. The Dragon Tea Rooms anyone? Strange characters such as Thom Keyes and Barney Bubbles appear and disappear back into the mist, their crushed velvet loon pants flapping.
It's not at all what you'd be expecting to read. Most of the obvious Beatles/flower power stuff turns out to be just the commercial, mainstream manifestation of the underground, though to give the fabs some credit, they all maintained strong links with what was going on at street level. No, its the stories about The Deviants, Pete the Rat or the Firm that are really gripping. Take this bit about the Deviants.
"Everybody was a loser in that band, it was the all-time great losers' band and that's why the fans were so weird. The only fans you could get for a band full of losers were losers. We nearly killed an entire audience once by bringing a motorcycle in and taping a contact mike onto the exhaust and revving it. When you rev a Triumph 650 Twin inside a small church hall...they were dropping like flies."
The accent on "English" in the book's sub-title is pretty accurate in that it covers events in England, and, specifically after 1963, London and the South East. London was the place to be. The underground press such as Oz, IT, and Friendz were all based slap bang in the centre of the capital. The clubs and venues to be seen at, such as UFO, The Arts Lab and Middle Earth were all in the Soho/Covent Garden area. And, guess what? Where were the main events of the era played out? Yep, London and the South East. You couldn't imagine the Albert Hall poetry reading getting so much coverage if it was in Leeds, could you?
The other thing immediately noticeable is the institutionalisation of both organisations and people involved. Things we now take for granted in British everyday life, such as the summer rock festivals, the Womens Movement, the Notting Hill Carnival, Release, and Time Out, were all born as a result of underground activities and initiatives. Many of the instigators of these ideas have become big names in their own right. Rosie Boycott, Richard Neville, the late great John Peel are just some, and its quite a list. I mean, the other night I heard another counter culture luminary,Germaine Greer complaining about the government's attempts to ban fox hunting. I ask you?
It is also quite ironic that the hippie era, with all it's proclammations regarding the sharing of possessions and the widespread belief that 'property is theft' saw the re-invention of the British entrepreneur and ventue capitalist; rising, phoenix like, from it's Victorian ashes. Two classic examples are Oz's Felix Dennis, now a multi millionaire, and Richard Branson who is now, well, you can fill the rest of this sentence in with whatever you like.... These people are the first media manipulators. They were also an elite. The very idea that this period saw a breaking down of social barriers between the haves and have nots is debunked by the contributors themselves. In one of the most entertaining parts of the book, where the contributors discuss the legacy of the underground, and incidentally, hardly anyone agrees with the other, you get contrasting views such as Christopher Logue's;
"Was it a counterculture? I suppose it was. It was rather pretentious and silly in some ways. I found it rather...kids in the playground "You're not part of our gang" sort of thing. A bit childish. They were certainly not going to change the world, no, no, no. Never had a chance. I think they thought the world was going to follow them. That they wouldn't have to do anything....There was no 'alternative society'. It was playtime."
and Duncan Fallowell's;
"People sneer at the sixties but I think that it's one of the major watersheds in modern history, in terms of attitude...If there's any future for mankind it will be because certain attitudes became popular in the 60s..To have lived through the 60s and not have participated in it...And those who are moving into political power are the ones who lived through it without participating in it and actually hate the people who were liberated
And there's plenty more of this throughout "Days in the Life". Never smug, always self opinionated and (though I am guessing here) pretty damned honest, this account is an essential read if you profess any interest in the counterculture. I suggest you go and buy this book, I really do.
Words : Richard Foster.