Tag Archives: hippie

A comedy performer, an entrepreneur and a desperate blogger talk about sex

Adam shows off his lady lifting skills in Soho

Adam Taffler is good at picking up women

Yesterday’s blog was a chat I had with comedy performer Lindsay Sharman at the Soho Theatre Bar. By coincidence, also sitting at the table, was showman/promoter Adam Taffler. After I had finished chatting with Lindsay, Adam joined in.

“It would be great,” said Adam, “to have a pop-up venue to encourage new artists and to have a place where people like Lindsay can do her shows.”

“Not a money-making venue, then,” mused Lindsay.

“You could have one floor,” suggested Adam, “where you just have people coming in to freelance and type. Hot desk spaces. And, for some shows, people could come in and wear blue overalls and they get in there and throw grunge at each other. And you could have Bob Slayer in one room, Martin Soan in another room and John Robertson down in the basement doing some crazy shit. Great fun.”

Lindsay asked: “Can you find anything like that place Bob Slayer found for his Christmas Grotto in the City of London?”

“Well, I’ve got something up my sleeve,” said Adam. “But we’ll see. I’ve got some ideas. I want to start a little hot tub cinema in my basement in Fitzrovia.”

An irrelevant film poster for Fifty Shades of Grey

An irrelevant movie poster for a sex film in a desperate bid to get blog hits

“So,” I asked Adam, “you would have Hot Tub Cinema presents Fifty Shades of Grey?

“No,” said Adam. “Something like Ghostbusters and we would have marshmallows and stuff.”

“How many people can you fit into a hot tub?” I asked.

“Depends how big it is. Six to eight?”

“And I suppose,” I said, “it depends how friendly you want to be.”

“Yes it does,” agreed Adam.

“You should,” suggested Lindsay, “do what you did with Doctor Brown – take people off to the Welsh countryside but do it in whatever weird format you want to try-out.”

“It’s going that way,” Adam told her. “I’m doing one next weekend called The Winter House Party.”

“A bit like the Summer House Party?” I asked.

“Except in the winter,” explained Adam. “And I’ll be doing some interesting things there.”

“Wasn’t there an orgy involved in the Summer House Party?” I asked. “Everything you do involves orgies.”

“It wasn’t an orgy,” Adam corrected me. “It was about sexual liberation.”

“I’m a child of the 1960s,” I said. “I said it was Free Love and you said: Oh no, it’s not Free Love. It’s something else. I think you said it was about £55 a throw.”

“It’s Sex Positive,” said Adam. “The 1960s probably weren’t the best time for women’s liberation.”

“Sex positive,” Lindsay pointed out, “sounds a bit too much like HIV Positive.”

John Knox, a Scots Presbyterian

John Knox, revered Scots Presbyterian with beard

“I was brought up as a Scots Presbyterian,” I said. “That’s all about sex negative.”

“I think it’s the next big thing in London,” Adam said.

“Scots Presbyterianism?” I asked.

“Sex Positive. Sexual liberation.”

“Well,” I said, “the cultural impact of Fifty Shades of Grey…”

“That is not a cause,” said Adam. “It’s a symptom of the thing that’s…”

“I actually wonder,” said Lindsay, “if people are becoming more prudish. Apparently teenage pregnancies are down.”

“That’s good,” said Adam.

“I was reading something,” continued Lindsay, “saying that the amount of really quite alarming porn that’s out there is actually turning youngsters off sex. And, if you look at history, it’s prudish – backlash against prudery – prudish – backlash against prudery.”

Fifty Shades of Grey,” I suggested. “There’s a backlash there.”

“It’s a wheel, a circle,” said Lindsay.”

Adam Taffler appears to attempt a bad demonstration of Fleming’s Left-Hand Rule while chatting this week

Adam Taffler appears to attempt a bad demonstration of Fleming’s Left-Hand Rule while chatting last week

“It was worth having Oliver Cromwell,” said Adam, “just to have the Restoration afterwards, where things were filthy.”

“But then,” said Lindsay, “the Victorians were very prudish.”

“But I do think,” said Adam, “that every time you come to a new level of understanding. The great thing about the Sex Positive scene is about embracing sexuality in a healthy way and exploring it and you can’t limit your sexuality to the bedroom.”

“The pavements,” I suggested, “are going to get slippy. There will be accidents.”

“It sounds unhygienic,” said Lindsay. “You’d have to carry wet-wipes everywhere. It’s because whatever the previous generation did you don’t want to do, so you do the exact opposite. So, actually, we might be due a prudish period.”

“There’s loads I want to say,” mused Adam, “but I don’t want to open my mouth.”

“Well,” I said, “you grew up living the hippie life in the fields of the West Country.”

Lindsay Sharman makes her point this week

Lindsay Sharman makes her point last week

“You don’t like being called a hippie, do you?” Lindsay asked Adam.

“His parents were hippies,” I told her.

“No they weren’t,” said Adam sharply.

“They certainly were when they got mentioned in my blog,” I told him.

“My mum started a community in Wales…” Adam started to explain.

“Hippies,” I said.

“…and we lived in canvas structures,” Adam continued.

“Hippies, I said.

“It’s not a bad thing,” Lindsay suggested to Adam, “labelling someone a hippie.”

“But,” he argued, “a label sometimes defines something in a way that isn’t useful, because then you can’t understand all the nuances of it. But an audience can understand a generalisation, so…”

“Do you think,” asked Lindsay, “the word ‘hippie’ has negative connotations?”

“For me it does,” explained Adam. “I fucking hate hippies. I used to do all these festivals with them. All these people wafting around…”

“You grew up in a community living in wigwams,” I asked, “but you weren’t hippies?

Adam Taffler, underground entrepreneur (Photograph by Kirsty Burge)

Adam prefers Bohemians to hippies (Photograph by Kirsty Burge)

“Not in my understanding of it,” replied Adam. “The word ‘Bohemian’ is one thing. But ‘hippie’ to me has connotations of someone who doesn’t really do anything and complains about everything and thinks they’re really kind-of right-on. The people I hang around with now do loads of stuff. They’re intelligent, creative, they’ve got an open mind…”

“So they’re not drop-outs from Society,” said Lindsay.

“That’s right,” agreed Adam. “And, for me, ‘hippie’ does have that connotation.”

“I think of hippie,” explained Lindsay, “as someone who integrates a bit of Eastern mysticism with a Western way of life but in alternative lifestyles.”

“I think Sex Positive,” said Adam, “is interesting people who are trying to do something, looking at ways of re-inventing culture, having new ways of relating to each other which are not always sexual.”

“But,” asked Lindsay, “is polyamorousness quite prevalent in your…”

“Well,” Adam told her, “when I first came across that at hippie festivals, everyone who said I am polyamorous sounded to me like a complete arsehole who just wanted to have sex with lots of people. Whereas, in the Sex Positive scene in London, I’ve met some pretty cool couples who I really respect who do have multiple relationships and it comes from a very strong core of love for each other and I think it works well for them… Though so much can go wrong in those situations.”

“How long have those wonderful relationships lasted, though?” I asked. “Five years?”

The "love outside the box" symbol, sometimes used to represent non-monogamy, polyamory, and LGBT relationships,

Love Outside The Box symbol, sometimes used to represent non-monogamous, polyamorous and LGBT relationships.

“Yeah, four, five years at most.”

“Yes,” said Lindsay, “I don’t know that it’s a long-term strategy.

“The thing is,” argued Adam, “we’re all different and all have different boundaries. What’s good is just to be adult and to communicate with each other what those boundaries are and to explore them. So for some people it might be right; for other people it might never be right.”

“Well, some people,” I said, “think buggering badgers is wrong, but we’ve all been there, haven’t we?”

There was a slight pause.

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Aspiring clowns lured into Welsh goat-feeling cult by lady-lifting UK showman

Adam Taffler in Square this week

Adam Taffler, the showman, in Soho this week

This blog ends with me standing in Soho Square, London, when showman Adam Taffler says to me:

“John, I want to see you reclining on a litter, surrounded by beautiful girls wafting you with giant ostrich fans.”

“You see me as a sort of Cleopatra figure?” I ask.

“Like an emperor,” says Adam. “A loveable, aged emperor in a toga.”

It all started off with me meeting Adam at Bar Italia in Frith Street.

“It’s a good day,” he said to me. “Let’s go to Soho Square.”

Last October, I blogged about Adam’s new Shhh Dating speed dating venture in which the two prospective romancers could not speak to each other – they had to communicate visually.

There might be a slight sense of deja vu or deja read here.

Back in October, Adam was just about to stage Edinburgh Fringe hit Red Bastard’s show in London. And, again – at the end of this month – he is about to stage a Red Bastard show in London.

All this is happening through his company Adamotions, now with added business partner Sharney Nougher. Their selling line is Cultivating Hilarity and Humanity.

“We’re doing another Clowning In Nature with Dr Brown (aka Phil Burgers) ,” he told me.

“You were just about to do one last time,” I said. “What is it exactly? Dr Brown teaching people to be clowns?”

Dr Brown at one with Nature

Dr Brown is Clowning in Nature

“Sort of,” replied Adam. “We go out into what is pretty much the wilderness and do what Dr Brown says. He likes pushing the boundaries so this time we’re organising it for eleven days with a two-day break in the middle. Most of it is in this place called St Hilary just outside Cardiff and then we’re doing a two-day deep nature break in this wild place called Pennant Valley.”

“What’s a deep nature break?” I asked.

“There’s no phones down there,” explained Adam. “no electricity, just rivers. There are a few structures we’re going to live in: semi-permanent tents.”

“Wigwams?” I asked.

“No, they’re like lodges: wooden posts and canvas roofs. It will be really wild, nomadic, beautiful.”

“It sounds like a nightmare,” I said. “No internet access.”

“It’s different,” said Adam. “It’s not for everyone. If you wanna go for a normal course, then go to one of the ones Dr Brown runs in London where you go to the course and you go home afterwards. This one is fully-immersive. You go deeper into it. You go deeper into your relationship with everyone else and all the stuff around.”

“I feel like I might be sucked into some cult.”

“You are,” laughed Adam. “The cult of Dr Brown. He’s teaching people all his stuff, being in the shit, being totally present, finding the pleasure in every moment and all that kind of stuff. But using your whole environment. So, last time, you and I talked a bit about goats. Sometimes you blindfold each other, you go out and feel stuff and Whoa! There’s a goat! There are lakes. We’ll go and jump in lakes.

A previous Clowning In Nature group

Previous Clowning In Nature group apparently high on a hill

“When Dr Brown does his ones in Soho, he has people performing sun salutations on the street and running round the block in stupid costumes. This is the same type of thing but this time you’re in nature, so you’re rolling in the mud, you’re covering your face in clay, you’re jumping in the river.”

“How many people?” I asked.

“About 20 or 22 plus two chefs and Dr Brown and me and Sharney.”

“Pricey?” I asked.

“Because a lot of comedians can’t afford the amount of money it costs – £750 including all accommodation and food – we’re putting on a FUNDr.brownRAISER in London after the event finishes. It’s going to be Dr Brown and all the people who’ve been on Clowning In Nature in an open workshop/performance occupying a while building and all the money from that will go to a bursary system to subsidise people on low incomes to come on Clowning In Nature.”

“You should be an agent,” I said.

“I dunno, John. I’m a showman.”

On his website, Adam calls himself a “Social Entrepreneur with a focus on entertainment”.

Adam crowdsurfs in a previous incarnation

Adam crowdsurfs in one of his previous showbiz incarnations

“It’s in my blood,” Adam told me. “I used to go round festivals with my sauna. My granddad Leo Indra, the lady lifter, used to hold up golden painted ladies. I’m just carrying that vibe on a bit more. I dunno. It’s about making something interesting happen. How long are we alive for?”

“I’ll take a photo,” I said.

“I’ll pick up a woman,” said Adam.

He asked the girl sitting on the next bench in Soho Square if he could lift her up on his shoulders for a photograph. She turned him down, laughing.

He asked a girl on another bench.

Her name was Ashleigh Taylor.

She agreed, laughing.

Adam shows off his lady lifting skills in Soho

Adam shows off his lady lifting skills in Soho

“That’s my skill,” Adam said. “Getting people to do things they don’t think they want to do and then they really enjoy it afterwards.”

“I didn’t think you would get anyone to let you lift them up,” I said.

“John, I want to see you reclining on a litter, surrounded by beautiful girls wafting you with giant ostrich fans.”

“You see me as a sort of Cleopatra figure?”

“Like an emperor. A loveable aged emperor in a toga.”

“Can’t I be a loveable young emperor?” I asked.

“Not really,” said Adam.

Even Adam Taffler, it seems, has his limits.

But I am now looking for a toga.

And I feel obliged to mention that Malcolm Hardee used to tell a joke about a dyslexic who went to a toga party dressed as a goat.

Perhaps it was a mistake to mention it.

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Comedy performer Martin Soan, aged 15, led into crime by a latter-day Fagin

Nick Revell (left) takes photo of Martin & Vivienne Soan yesterday at Leipzig station

Nick Revell (left) takes a photo of Martin and Vivienne Soan yesterday after arriving at Leipzig railway station in Germany

I travelled with comedian Nick Revell from the UK to Leipzig in Germany yesterday. This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith had told me I was lucky to have gone to Leipzig, Germany, not the one in Saskatchewan.

“You are better off in the German Leipzig than the Canadian Leipzig,” she told me, “as ours is a mere hamlet, where the only industries are drug and alcohol treatment centers although, on the other hand, these must be fertile grounds for comic material.”

I am here in Leipzig, Germany, to see Vivienne & Martin Soan’s’s first German version of their Pull The Other One club on Saturday night. The new one is billed as Comedy Confusion From London.

Last night (from left) Nick Revell, Mick, Steve & Martin Soan

Last night (from left) Nick Revell, Mick, Steve & Martin Soan

Much jollity was had last night with Martin, his wife Vivienne, Martin’s schoolfriend Steve and Steve’s friend Mick.

Mick had come over here to go to robot maker Jim Whiting’s club Bimbo Town. Alas, this closed last year and so Mick was thus more than a little vague as to why he was now here.

Last night, I recorded three extremely interesting stories for the blog today, got toothache overnight and woke up to find all three of the recordings (which I had watched recording) no longer existed. One of the mysteries of 21st century cyberspace.

But then, this morning, Martin, Vivienne and I had breakfast.

“Steve was a weekend hippy,” said Martin. “He admits he was. He used to come round to our commune in Colchester when I was a teenager. He saw what was happening – but from the outside.

Martin (right) with Steve remembers the hippie commune

Martin (right) with Steve remembers the hippie commune

“This bloke called Tom took over the hippy commune. Tom was probably around 27. He was incredibly handsome. Women went for him immediately. Old ladies used to be charmed by him. He ended up in Colchester from exactly the same East End (of London) streets as me. He was from Stratford; I was from Forest Gate.

“Tom got his girlfriend Maureen to seduce me when I was about 15 so he could recruit me into his ‘crime syndicate’, such as it was. He taught me how to shoplift, how to pick locks…”

“How to break into cigarette machines,” added Vivienne.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “How to use diversionary tactics to lean over shop counters and get stuff. He also used me as bait. He used to point men out to me in bars. I used to flirt with them and then walk out the back with them and he used to fleece ‘em – beat them up. I only did that a couple of times, to be honest. It wasn’t a regular thing.

“The first job he got me to do was to break into a dairy. He told me how to knock off the locks. All these milk floats were parked up and, in those days (when milk was delivered to your door in electric-powered ‘milk float’ vehicles) they used to have cigarettes in the back of the floats as well.

“So Tom chucked me over the wall, I went and smacked the locks off the back of the milk floats and I was so scared I just filled up my swag bags as quickly as I could with packets of Corn Flakes, jumped back over the wall, jumped in the car, got back to the squat and emptied all the Corn Flakes onto a table. Tom just looked at me and whacked me.”

“He didn’t burst out laughing?” asked Vivienne.

“No,” said Martin. “I wasn’t proud of all this but, if I didn’t do it, he would beat me up. What he used to do that was frightening was – if I disappointed him or his temper flared up – he used to batter me and then, after be battered me, he used to cuddle me.

“It was very, very creepy indeed and it all built up to a confrontation where he held me and his girlfriend Maureen captive in my flat and he beat us up, just regularly beat us up over the period of a day and a half. He used one of her shoes – a stiletto, I always remember it – he kept on whacking us with this stiletto shoe.”

“He hit you all over the body?” I asked.

“On the head,” said Martin. “In the head. Just beating us and beating us and beating us. It was horrible.

“He was one of the characters in my life before (comedian) Malcolm Hardee turned up. Two of the other characters were Waff and Taff. They may be in Leipzig tomorrow.”

“So there was Waff, Taff and Tom?” asked Vivienne.

“Mmmm…” said Martin.

“But,” said Vivienne, “Waff and Taff were not…”

“They were not violent,” said Martin. “They were hippies, but we used to all get up to…”

“So,” asked Vivienne, “were they all scared of Tom as well?”

“Yeah,” said Martin. “Everybody was scared of Tom.”

“So who rescued you from Tom in the end?” asked Vivienne.

“No-one. I ran away. I had to escape the squat because it was just getting mental. I’d already been in trouble with the law.”

“Is that when you were made a ward of court,” Vivienne asked, “for stealing the carpet from the doctor’s surgery?”

“Yup,” said Martin. “When I was 15.”

“The hippy commune just got out of control because of drugs?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin. “Because of Tom. It became violent. Poor old Tom.”

“Poor old Tom?” I asked.

“A homo erotic fuckwit,” said Martin.

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Adam Taffler on mute speed dating, feeling goats & a nomadic naked sauna

Adam juggling spaghetti  in Edinburgh in 2011

Adam juggling spaghetti in Edinburgh, 2011

I first met Adam Taffler aka Adam Oliver at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago when I was organising – if that’s the word – spaghetti-juggling in the Grassmarket.

He was promoting his own show, but joined in. This impressed me.

The next time I encountered him was at the Fringe this year, when I saw him as half of Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret with Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma.

But he is not only a performer. He is also a promoter. This weekend, he is staging a show and workshops by American act Red Bastard, who got a lot of attention and an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nomination at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Then, on 20th October, Adam’s Adamotions company – slogan: Cultivating Hilarity & Humanity – gets together with comedian Bob Slayer’s Heroes company – slogan: Let’s have another drink! – to stage a performance of Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Adrienne Truscott’s Fringe show Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else!

Last night, though, Adam enticed me along to see one of his Shhh Dating events – which are basically speed dating but you are not allowed to talk. Last night it was for 35-45 year olds. I was way out of my age range.

“You’re putting on Red Bastard this Friday,” I said to Adam afterwards. “So you’re not just a performer. You’re an entrepreneur.”

“Well, if I really like an act,” he said, “then I want other people to see it. Originally, we were going to do one workshop and one show with Red Bastard, but the bookings went so well we’re doing two shows and three workshops now.

“It’s happened on the back of what I do with Phil Burgers – Dr Brown – I run these retreats with Phil – Clowning In Nature – one-week immersive events. The idea is it’s beyond a workshop. Instead of just going for one day and going home, you’re all there together, living in the same place for a week and Phil takes people out into the nature. It’s not all just in the classroom. It’s blindfolded running down the hill and feeling goats and…”

“Hold on,” I said. “Feeling goats?”

“Yeah,” said Adam. “At the last one, we did this blindfolded walk and I took the lovely Leanne Davis into this pen of goats and she was touching them but was so scared. Afterwards, she told me she’d had a phobia about goats since she was a kid (his words) but she got over it through doing that.

“After I’d done that with Phil, I wanted to do some work with Eric (Red Bastard) because I loved his act in Edinburgh.”

“He and Adrienne Truscott were the most talked-about people this year,” I said.

“And now I’m working with both of them!” said Adam.

“Do you come from a showbiz background?” I asked.

“My maternal grandfather Leo Indra was a lady lifter.”

“A lady lifter?” I asked.

Adam, last night, lifting two ladies

Adam in London, last night, picking up ladies

“He travelled round Europe in the 1950s with water revues, painted in gold, lifting up women with gold loin cloths. This was quite risqué at the time.”

“Sounds fairly risqué any time,” I said. “And on your father’s side?”

“My father’s father was a real businessman. He was the 12th of 12 children and came from a family which was so poor that, if you looked away at dinner, someone would steal your food… My mum is the matriarch of a community called Spirit Horse, which she set up.”

“A hippie thing?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t say ‘hippie’ – I’d say they were really intelligent people who are trying to re-invent culture. And my dad is a hardcore academic: he doesn’t get me at all.”

“An academic of what?” I asked.

“Financial accounting. He’s a socialist academic who travels round the world giving papers about stuff. A lovely guy.”

“You started performing at hippie festivals,” I said.

“Well, I studied Media Studies and French at the University of East Anglia,” said Adam, “but, mostly, I was promoting events and did the radio station. Before I left UEA, I asked people what they were doing – Oh, I’m applying to be a manager at Boots The Chemist – Oh, I’m joining the Civil Service – and it made me cry and shrivel up.

“When I left university, with three of my best friends, I set up a nomadic naked sauna at festivals and we toured that for five years and it was one of the best times of my life. We had these beautiful hippie audiences who would do whatever we said and every single show I did at a festival ended at about one in the morning with everyone stripping naked and painting their nipples gold and running through the fields.”

“You can’t get a better job than that,” I said.

“It really turned me on,” said Adam. “That level of permission and permissiveness and freedom. But how do you give that level of permission to a mainstream audience? I think you have to re-train the audience. That’s why I’m experimenting with all these different formats.”

“Including this dating thing?” I asked. “How did it start?”

“I had a job looking after ‘blank canvas’ spaces in central London,” explained Adam. “We had things like Gucci comedy fashion shows and…”

“What are blank canvas spaces?” I asked.

Adam (right) with Zuma Puma at Edinburgh this year

Adam (right) and Zuma Puma at Edinburgh Fringe

“You hire a space,” explained Adam, “but all you have is electricity and maybe some house lights, so you have to bring everything in for yourself. You have to decorate it and… it was mostly for fashion events and a bit of film, which was more interesting for me. So I would sell Sony a £50,000 space for a month to have an electronics trade show and… Well, it wasn’t that exciting… The stuff I loved doing was… I was looking after The Sorting Office in Holborn and we had You Me Bum Bum Train and I managed to get them an extra month of shows because I was so into them. I loved that bit. But I left my job. I thought I can’t pretend any more. I can’t pretend to be a normal fucking person. I’ve got to be myself.”

“Which is?”

“I like people coming together and experiencing each other. I like people being ‘real’ together.”

“That sounds a bit Californian,” I suggested.

“Well,” replied Adam, “this dating thing is my first attempt at doing it in a way that mainstream people can understand. When you take away words, you get to see people as they really are. That’s interesting. We’re all so protective. Which is OK. It’s OK. But I think, in these hippie festivals where I started painting everyone’s nipples gold and naked crowdsurfing and…”

I interrupted: “There seems to be a motif running through all this of nakedness.”

“It’s a metaphor,” said Adam.

“It’s a metaphor for psychological nakedness?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s the same thing; it’s like stripping away the stuff. If you can get an audience to act something out, then they become it. Audiences – at these hippie festivals especially – are all waiting to have permission to do the shit they want to do. In the festivals, I used to be able to give them that permission, to speak their exact language and it was incredible. Such fun.

“I’ve not yet found out how to do that with a really cynical, mainstream, alcoholic comedy audience, so I’ve decided to create my own audience now – and that’s what I’m doing with all these events.”

“How did you get the people who came to this silent speed dating thing tonight?”

“We’ve been in Time Out a couple of times, we’ve been in the Sun, we’ve been in the Daily Mail. Actually, the Daily Mail journalist really got this more than anyone else. We’ve been in the mainstream press and people from around the world have been contacting us wanting to set these things up.”

“So,” I asked, “the Shhh Dating is not just going to be in London? You’re going to expand into other places?”

“We’ve got people actively working on Brighton and Bristol. We’re going to do Cardiff; there’s someone in Berlin.”

Red Bastard is in London this week

Red Bastard on stage in London this week promoted by Adam

“And,” I prompted, “as well as Red Bastard this week, you’re co-promoting Adrienne Truscott’s show in a few weeks with Bob Slayer. Will you do other things with him?”

“We might do,” said Adam, “What I like about Bob is he’s creating this stage where any art can happen. He’s opening it up for true art and creativity to come true and that’s what really excites me. I love the renegade nature of it.”

“So what are you?” I asked. “A performer? A promoter? An entrepreneur?”

“I feel I’m a showman. I like performing shows, I like putting on shows. I was at my happiest travelling round from place to place with that nomadic naked sauna.”

“Other people you want to work with?” I asked.

“There’s a friend of mine – Joanne Tremarco – we trained together with Jonathan Kaye at the Nomadic Academy For Fools and she did a show called Women Who Wank. You might have heard about her, because she was dressed up as a vagina and there was a guy dressed up as a penis at Glastonbury and someone ripped his hat off and punched him. It went round the world – Man Dressed As Penis Gets Attacked.”

“The penis head had a hat?” I asked.

“Yes, he had a proper bell end bit,” said Adam.

“I think attention to detail is important,” I said.

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Why the Greatest Show on Legs started their infamous Naked Balloon Dance

This afternoon, I am driving to Totnes in Devon with comedian Matt Roper, who has started to describe himself as a homeless vagabond, though I prefer to think of him as an itinerant purveyor of comedic entertainment.

Being a ‘vagabond’ might imply dubious liaisons with women and goats… Of which more later.

Matt Roper claims I will like Totnes, because it is full of interesting creative people.

Martin and Vivienne Soan at home last night

Martin & Vivienne at home  last night

Coincidentally, last night, my eternally-un-named friend and I had dinner at Vivienne & Martin Soan’s home in South East London. Martin created comedy group The Greatest Show on Legs, famed for their naked balloon dance which included late godfather of UK alternative comedy Malcolm Hardee.

“Totnes is where we created the balloon dance,” Martin told me over dinner.

“I’ve never been there,” I said.

“It’s like a little model village,” explained Martin. “Perfect in every way. But full scale. Divorced rock ‘n’ roll wives in the 1970s decided that it was a good place to live.

“Malcolm had a liaison with one of these ex wives – I think she was an ex-wife of one of The Small Faces – and all these rock chicks had moved down there and just three miles up the road was Dartington College, which was the very first ‘free’ school which was very liberal and encouraged dramatic arts.

Totnes - like a model village but real... or maybe it is surreal

Totnes – like a model village but real… or is it maybe surreal?

“Totnes is like The Village in The Prisoner. It is perfect in every way. Not too many people. You have your drunks and you have your council house people. But, basically, all the locals have had four generations of acid-taking liberalism. Even the council-house crack-addict coke-head element has been gentrified and you get amazing sights.

“There used to be this one guy with a great big Afghan hound, an Edwardian suit and a waxed moustache who walked up and down like some latter-day rake.

“In the church, where Malcolm got off with a girl called Lucy The Goat Lady… That sounds very demeaning, but nicknames are easier to remember than real names… Her name was Lucy…

Aleister Crowley - "the wickedest man in the world"

Crowley “the wickedest man in the world”

“She said we could stay at her place, a big rambling farmhouse which belonged to Dick Heckstall-Smith, the English jazz saxophonist and in the grounds was this de-consecrated church. It had been de-consecrated because the occultist Aleister Crowley had bought the house years before and done secret ceremonies late at night. When the locals found out, they had the church de-consecrated.

“And, in the kitchen of the house,” Martin continued, “the Greatest Show on Legs reacted to the local extreme, over-the-top feminists who were living in this land of privilege and having weekly meetings about how they could wipe out Chinese foot-binding in Devon. Shit. They were all living in a bubble, really. It was our reaction to that. We thought up the balloon dance in the kitchen and we went to the Dartmouth Inn that night and premiered it.”

My eternally-un-named friend was a bit surprised.

“It was a reaction to feminists wanting to ban foot-binding in Devon?” she asked.

“The Greatest Show on Legs were feminists,” said Martin. “We weren’t sexist in any way.”

“That’s what I thought – sort of,” said my eternally-un-named friend, who knew Malcolm and Martin before I did.

“Though,” said Martin’s wife Vivienne, “they antagonised feminists all over the place.”

“Yes,” said Martin, “but they were feminists who weren’t really thinking. In actual fact, we were rather gallant as a group of performers.”

“You just went round fucking everybody in sight,” said Vivienne.

(From left) Malcolm Hardee, Paul Wiseman, Martin Soan (Photograph by Steve Taylor)

(From left) Malcolm Hardee, Paul Wiseman, Martin Soan possibly/probably in the 1980s (Photograph by Steve Taylor)

“I was trying,” said Martin, “to think of a rather more poetic or lyrical way of putting it… We were young men and we enjoyed ourselves, but we did it in a rather gallant way.”

After you, Malcolm…,” suggested Vivienne. “No, after you, Martin… Oops, sorry Malcolm… After you…

“But, getting back to the balloon dance,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “What year was that?”

“I can’t remember,” said Martin.

“It would have been the 1970s, early 1980s,” suggested Vivienne.

“It’s like writing Malcolm’s autobiography,” I said. “He never knew which decade things happened in either.”

“Anyway,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “in this kitchen, you suddenly thought Ooh! Let’s do a strip with balloons!

“Because,” explained Vivienne, “they were reacting against the ultra-feminists who were trying to create a storm about Chinese foot-binding.”

“I don’t quite see the connection,” said my eternally-un-named friend.

“We arrived there,” said Martin, “and just thought This is sick. They’re living in their own world. Everything’s perfect. What right have they got to complain? They’ve got nothing to complain about. To start being over-the-top feminists in such a rarified atmosphere… It just antagonised us….

“So we thought: I know! We’ll fucking take our kit off! And we were laughing. We were not thinking about it as creating a routine. It was as much a joke for ourselves. A stunt. Let’s take our kit off! But it went down such a storm that night, Malcolm and I thought Right. Let’s keep it in the show.

Martin Soan enters his living room last night in SE London

Martin Soan enters his living room last night in SE London

“So,” said Vivienne, “Totnes is now full of creative people who are probably all the children of these feminists.”

“And this goat woman…” asked my eternally-un-named friend. “She would be about 60 now?”

“Probably,” mused Martin. “Older. She was older than us.”

“She had a goat?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“She did have a goat,” replied Martin.

“Is that why she was called Goat Woman?”

“Goat Lady,” corrected Martin. “Not Goat Woman.”

“The Greatest Show on Legs were always very gallant,” I said. “What was the goat called?”

“John,” said Martin reprovingly, “I don’t know what the fucking goat was called. It didn’t have a name. I would have loved it if the goat had been introduced to me, but it was just there as the goat.”

“But goats have names, too,” I protested. “Bob Slayer went round Australia with Gary The Goat.”

“That’s slightly different,” said Martin.

“You’re the one who calls women ‘ladies’,” I argued. “Goats deserve respect too.”

“Eat your pudding,” said Vivienne.

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The night Bob Dylan got booed for going electric and changing the world

“The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter” album by the Incredible String Band. Unlike Bob Dylan, at least they could sort-of sing

I was never a fan of Bob Dylan. He could not sing.

But, in the 1960s, when they were still influenced by Hinduism and before they discovered Scientology, I was an enormous admirer of The Incredible String Band. It was through their records on the Elektra label that I first became aware of the highly influential producer Joe Boyd.

Along the way, he also produced Pink Floyd, Fairport Convention, REM, Billy Bragg, Taj Mahal etc etc and opened the highly influential UFO Club in London. Then, as head of music for Warner Brothers Films, he organised the scoring of Clockwork Orange, Deliverance and McCabe and Mrs Miller and co-directed Jimi Hendrix, a feature-length documentary. He later went into partnership with legendary American movie producer Don Simpson to develop film projects and later still was Executive Producer on the British movie Scandal.

Last night, he was at the Sohemian Society in London, reading from his autobiography White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s. He also shared a memory from 1965, when he was one year out of Harvard University and working at the Newport Folk Festival.

A Newport Folk Festival had been held on Rhode Island in 1958 and 1959 – a commercial event staged by producer/promoter George Wein, who already organised the Newport Jazz Festival.

It then stopped for three years and re-started in 1963, run by a non-profit foundation which put money back into preserving traditional culture in America.

Joe Boyd had gone to the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 and now, aged 23 in 1965, he was production manager at the festival, working for George Wein. This is what Joe said last night:

_____________________________

Joe Boyd remembered the 1960s last night in Soho

When Dylan appeared at Newport in 1965, the Beatles’ songs were all still about love – boy meets girl. They released Rubber Soul later that year. The Rolling Stones were still doing R&B-inflected pop music; they were dressing up to do Top of the Pops. They were part of the world of pop music. The word ‘Rock’ as a term was seldom used before 1965. There was pop music…

And then there was folk music, which was this whole other thing and the Newport Folk Festival was this very idealistic thing. Everybody got paid the same – $25 per day plus room and board. And Newport was this huge event. People, kids from all over the country came and camped out to go to it.

But it was a kinda elite audience – the kids who were most aware who would actually sit and listen to a fiddler from Texas who was 75 years old or prisoners from Texas doing something. They were glued to this. It was not a pop audience.

That summer, the airwaves had been suddenly… out of the blue… completely startling… there was Mr Tambourine Man by The Byrds, I Got You Babe by Sonny & Cher which had Sonny imitating Dylan – sounding and doing a kind of take-off of Dylan’s vocals, which indicated how important Dylan had become.

Then Dylan released his six minute single Like a Rolling Stone with drums and Al Kooper’s organ and everyone who arrived at the Newport Folk Festival was asking this question: What is Dylan gonna do? because he’d never performed with a band before and would he dare? Electric? Impossible! Not at Newport!

Well, maybe… Then rumours started going around. Really?

And then there was this divide between the older generation – the political folk music people – and the kids who thought Hey! We thought Bluegrass banjo was cool and exciting three years ago but now we think the Beatles are cool and exciting. 

And what Dylan was doing on his record was just unbelievable. And then the Paul Butterfield Blues Band were shoe-horned into the festival at the last minute.

So the idea that this guy would come and play a loud electric guitar at Newport was outrageous and shocking to a lot of people and transgressive really.

I loved the idea that he might play an electric guitar. I was kinda excited by Butterfield playing, because I’d helped sign him to Elektra.

And so the Butterfield band played the end of the Blues Workshop on the Saturday afternoon. There had been Son House and Robert Pete Williams and Skip James. It was authentic, real Blues singers from the Thirties suddenly reappearing out of the mists of time and then, at the end, we moved all these amps on stage and (traditional folk music collector) Alan Lomax was introducing the whole thing and he just looked at us with such hatred.

We got the thing set up and then he introduced Butterfield by saying You’ve heard these wonderful musicians singing authentic Blues now here’s some kids from Chicago who’re going to try and play the Blues with the help of all this equipment.

And then he walked offstage and walked right past (Bob Dylan’s manager) Albert Grossman, who’d taken over as Butterfield’s manager and Grossman said That was a real chickenshit introduction and Lomax just pushed him Get out of my way! and they started fighting. These two guys started throwing punches and they had to be pulled apart.

So there was this absolutely cut-it-with-a-knife tension, confrontation.

And the other thing that was going on was the Old Guard were walking round among the kids in the camp area and in the audience and among the stalls and there was this smell they hadn’t smelled before. And then somebody said It’s all Grossman’s fault, because Grossman was known as a real connoisseur of dope and he certainly was giving dope to favoured musicians backstage, so they tried to ban him from the festival and George Wein had to explain to them You can’t do it, because Dylan’s gonna walk, Peter, Paul & Mary will walk, Butterfield will walk. It’ll be a disaster.

So there was this huge tension and then Dylan came on, played, some people booed, some people didn’t. The Old Guard tried to get me to turn the volume down. I went out to the sound control. Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul & Mary) was there and he was on the board of the festival. He was sitting there next to Paul Rothchild who was mixing the sound and I said Lomax and Seeger want the sound turned down and he said Tell them the board is adequately represented at the sound controls and the board here thinks it’s just right. Oh and, by the way, tell them (raising his middle finger).

That was the atmosphere. It was so confrontational.

When Dylan played, some people booed, some people cheered. They only knew three numbers, so then everybody left the stage. He was supposed to do 45 minutes; he only did 15. Some people were cheering. Finally, he came back on with just his acoustic guitar and sang Mr Tambourine Man brilliantly, reclaiming the song from the shiny but shallow Byrds’ version. He finished with It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.

He didn’t close the show. He was in the middle of the first half.

________________________________

Joe Boyd book on making 60s music

As Joe Boyd says in his book White Bicycles:

The significance of many watershed events is apparent only in retrospect; this was clear at the time. The old guard hung their heads in defeat while the young, far from being triumphant, were chastened. They realised that in their victory lay the death of something wonderful. The rebels were like children who’d been looking for something to break and realized, as they looked at the pieces, what a beautiful thing it had been. The festival would never be the same, nor would popular music and nor would ‘youth culture’. Anyone wishing to portray the history of the Sixties as a journey from idealism to hedonism could place the hinge at around 9.30 on the night of 25 July 1965.

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Rutger Hauer says more about life in “Blade Runner” than the Bible, the Koran and Douglas Adams

Last night, I watched Brian De Palma’s movie The Untouchables on TV. The music is by Ennio Morricone.

“That music is very sad,” I said to the friend who was watching it with me. “An old man’s music. He composed the music for Once Upon a Time in the West too. That’s melancholic.”

I think you have to be over a certain age to fully appreciate Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. It’s not about death, it’s about dying and it’s very long.

On YouTube recently, I stumbled on the closing sequence of Richard Attenborough’s movie Oh! What a Lovely War.

I cried.

I watched it five times over the next week. I cried each time I saw the final shot. I bought the DVD from Amazon and watched it with a (slightly younger) friend. I cried at the closing sequence, watching the final shot. One single shot, held for over two minutes. She didn’t understand why.

Clearly the cancer and cancer scares swirling amid my friends must be having their toll.

Someone has put online all issues of the British hippie/alternative culture newspaper International Times (aka “it”).

I was the Film Section editor for one of its incarnations in 1974.

Tempus fugit or would that be better as the Nicer sentence Ars Longa Vita Brevis?

There comes a point where I guess everyone gets slightly pretentious and feels like Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner.

Especially when you look round comedy clubs and you’re by far the oldest person in the room and you don’t laugh as much because you’ve heard what must be literally thousands of jokes told live on stage over decades.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

With me, it’s flashes of memories from the 1960s.

I remember working at the long-forgotten Free Bookshop in Earls Court. It was really just a garage in a mews and people donated second hand books to it but – hey! man! – wouldn’t it be great if everything was free? I remember going downstairs in the Arts Lab in Drury Lane to see experimental films; I think I saw the long-forgotten Herostratus movie there. I remember walking among people holding daffodils in the darkened streets around the Royal Albert Hall when we all came out of a Donovan concert. Or was it an Incredible String Band gig? I remember the two amazingly talented members of the Incredible String Band sitting in a pile of mostly eccentric musical instruments on stage at the Royal Albert Hall; they played them all at one point or another.

No, I was right originally. It was a Donovan concert in January 1967. It’s in Wikipedia, so it must be true. On stage at Donovan’s gig, a ballerina danced during a 12-minute performance of Golden Apples.

I remember it.

Moments in time.

Like tears in rain.

It’s not true when they say that if you can remember the Sixties you weren’t there.

I remember being in the Queen Elizabeth Hall (or was it the Purcell Room?) on the South Bank of the River Thames in London, seeing the two-man hippie group Tyrannosaurus Rex perform before Marc Bolan dumped Steve Peregrine Took and formed what Tyrannosaurus Rex fans like me mostly felt was the far-inferior T Rex. And the Tyrannosaurus Rex support act that night on the South Bank was a mime artist who did not impress me called David Jones who later re-invented himself as David Bowie. I still didn’t rate him much as David Bowie: he was just a jumped-up mime artist who sang.

No, it wasn’t in the Queen Elizabeth Hall or the Purcell Room. It didn’t happen there. It was in the Royal Festival Hall on Whit Monday, 3rd June 1968. There’s an ad for it on the back cover of International Times issue 31.

The gig was organised by Blackhill Enterprises, who were part-owned by Pink Floyd.

The ad says DJ John Peel was providing “vibrations” and the wonderful Roy Harper was supporting.

I remember that now.

But the ad says “David Bowie” was supporting.

I’m sure he was introduced on stage as “David Jones”.

I think.

I used to go to the early free rock concerts which Blackhill Enterprises organised in a small-ish natural grass amphitheatre called ‘the cockpit’ in Hyde Park. Not many people went. Just enough to sit on the grass and listen comfortably. I think I may have been in the audience by the stage on the cover of the second issue of the new Time Out listings magazine.

I realised Pink Floyd – whom I hadn’t much rated before – were better heard at a distance when their sounds were drifting over water – like bagpipes – so I meandered over and listened to them from the other side of the Serpentine.

I remember a few months or a few weeks later turning up ten minutes before the Rolling Stones were due to start their free Hyde Park gig and found thousands of people had turned up and the gig had been moved to a flatter area. I think maybe I had not realised the Stones would draw a crowd. I gave up and went home. The Hyde Park gigs never recovered. Too many people from then on.

I remember going to The Great South Coast Bank Holiday Pop Festivity on the Isle of Wight in 1968. I went to see seeing Jefferson Airplane, Tyrannosaurus Rex, The Pretty Things, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Fairport Convention. I didn’t go back the next year to the re-named Isle of Wight Festival because top-of-the-bill was the horribly pretentious and whiney non-singer Bob Dylan. What have people ever seen in him?

Moments in time.

Like tears in rain.

Ars longa,
vita brevis,
occasio praeceps,
experimentum periculosum,
iudicium difficile.

You can look it up on Wikipedia.

Though equally good, I reckon is the ancient saying:

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

OK, maybe I spent too much time in the 1960s…

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