Tag Archives: International Times

Sohemian Society: lateral thinking and how to steal a book in 1960s London

Last night, I went to one of the Sohemian Society’s increasingly prestigious and increasingly jam-packed meetings.

It was a talk by Barry Miles, there to plug his book In The Sixties. I remember him for his column in hippy newspaper International Times. Not a man who should be forgotten.

I blogged about him (also at the Sohemian Society) back in 2011.

The Sohemian Society billed last night’s event thus:


At the beginning of the sixties Barry Miles was at art school in Cheltenham; at the end he was running the Beatles’ Zapple label and living in New York’s legendary Chelsea Hotel. This is the story of what happened in between.

In the Sixties is a memoir by one of the key figures of the British counterculture. A friend of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, Miles helped to organise the 1965 Albert Hall poetry reading. He co-founded and ran the Indica Bookshop, the command centre for the London underground scene, and he published Europe’s first underground newspaper, International Times (IT), from Indica’s basement.

Miles’s partners in Indica were John Dunbar, then married to Marianne Faithfull, and Peter Asher (brother of Jane Asher). Through Asher, Miles became closely involved with the Beatles, particularly Paul McCartney, and In the Sixties is full of intimate glimpses of the Beatles at work and play. Other musicians who appear  include the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen and Frank Zappa. This is the real story of the 1960s, from the inside.


The old Foyles building at 111-119 Charing Cross Road, London (Photograph by Tarquin Binary)

One of Miles’ more inconsequential yet fascinating memories was of Foyles Bookshop in London and an enterprising person he knew.

The old Foyles building in Charing Cross Road was a labyrinthine collection of books, arranged not logically by subject but confusingly by publisher and there was a Byzantine system of buying a book (if you could find it) involving two, possibly three, separate members of staff in different locations, so punters were meandering all over the place, books in hand, with no check on what, where or why.

In addition to the bizarrely arranged publisher sections, there was a Second Hand Books section and a Rare Books section.

If you were enterprising, as Miles’ acquaintance was, you could pick up several books from the Second Hand section and take them to the Rare Books section and sell Foyles’ own books back to them, all without leaving the shop.

It is lateral thinking and enterprising amorality like this that built us an Empire and makes me proud to be British.

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My cheap life and how PBH changed the very costly face of the Edinburgh Fringe

Malcolm Hardee Show 2014

Tonight, I stage the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show – starting slightly late in The Counting House, one of the venues provided by the Laughing Horse Free Festival at the Edinburgh Fringe.

I am old enough to remember Swinging London and the Summer of Love. I helped out briefly at The Free Bookshop – it was a garage in Earl’s Court – where people donated the books they had read and other people could come along, take them away, read them and, if they wanted to, bring them back.

I even went barefoot for a brief time, but grit and dog turds on suburban London pavements proved to be a deterrent to long-term foot liberation.

The International Times ‘it’ girl

The iconic ‘it’ girl on the hippie International Times logo

Later, I was Film Section Editor – I wrote reviews and gossip about movies – for a re-incarnation of iconic hippie newspaper International Times (latterly called simply it after The Times threatened legal action on the basis people might confuse the two).

So I am no stranger to the concept of “Let’s make it free, man” which has now changed the face of the Edinburgh Fringe.

There are currently four free organisations at the Fringe: the original PBH Free Fringe… the breakaway Free Festival… Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want model which is separate from but happily co-exists with the Free Festival… and the Freestival, this year’s new breakaway from PBH. I understand that, next year, there may even be a fifth free organisation.

My first involvement with the free organisations at the Edinburgh Fringe was in 2008, when I helped stage a comedy show for a performer.

This year’s PBH Fringe logo

This year’s PBH Fringe logo

The performer wanted to go with the PBH Free Fringe, so I staged my other show with the Free Festival to keep a foot in both camps. If the performer had wanted to go with the Free Festival, I would have staged the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards shows with PBH.

In 2011, I staged some chat shows with the Free Festival.

In 2013, I staged some chat shows with Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want operation.

And this year’s Grouchy Club chat-with-the-audience shows are with the Free Festival.

The ‘free’ show model is that the audience pays nothing in advance. They can pay whatever they want (or nothing) on leaving. It is like indoor busking.

With the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award Shows, I take no profit and cover none of my costs. 100% of any and all money donated goes to Kate Copstick’s admirable Mama Biashara charity in Kenya.

On my Grouchy Club shows, no money is collected. The shows are totally free. This is because I am old enough to know how to stage 23 hour-long shows for a total cost of £60.

I love Edinburgh.

My favourite places in the world are Edinburgh, Prague and Luang Prabang in Laos. I feel more at home in Edinburgh than anywhere else. Which is strange, as I have never had a home here.

My other childhood destination in August

Isle of Whithorn: Another childhood destination in August

When I was a kid, after my parents moved to London, my family used to go to Scotland every August for our summer holidays – we stayed (for free, obviously) with relations in Wigtownshire where both my parents grew up, and in Edinburgh, where my father had an aunt. After I left college, I started going to the Edinburgh Film Festival (then in August; now in June). And, around 1985, I started going to the Edinburgh Fringe. So I have been going to Edinburgh in August for most of my life, possibly since I was an embryo.

And, perhaps excepting two years, for free.

When I was accredited at the Film Festival, I happily sat in press screenings in darkened rooms from 10.00am to 10.00pm.

When I came to the Fringe, it was usually scouting talent for TV companies, publishers or whatever.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The three Malcolm Hardee Awards, awaiting their collection

I started the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in 2007 partly because I thought Malcolm (who drowned in 2005) deserved to be remembered, definitely because I wanted to see new comedy talent and partly because it was a good way to get free tickets to every comedy show in Edinburgh for ten years. (I had trophies made in advance for 2007-2017.)

In 2007, shows were mostly pay-to-see at a rapidly escalating rate. If a show costs £10 and you see 6-8 shows per day for perhaps 28 days, that adds up. Well, at that rate, 6 shows per day actually adds up to £1,680.

It is said that the Free Fringe was started by PBH (Peter Buckley Hill) with one show in 1996. But it took a few years to get momentum going and it was probably just before I started the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards that the Free Fringe started having a serious impact.

In 2008, PBH himself was nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality for starting the Free Fringe (the award eventually went to comic Ed Aczel) and, in 2009, PBH won the panel prize from the Perrier Award (which, that year, was calling itself the Edinburgh Comedy Awards).

This year, PBH has again been nominated for one of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – as the Act Least Likely to Make a Million Quid because (the nomination says) “unlike most acts, Peter has heroically never aspired to make any money from the Fringe and has staunchly defended his free model.”

Peter has said he declines to be nominated: “I did not seek it and do not want it.”

Well, you can’t really turn down a nomination. You can turn down an award, if it were to be offered (which it has not been yet, at the time of writing) or send a Native American Indian along, like Marlon Brando did at the Oscars. There is, luckily, a community of Native American Indians in nearby Glasgow, left behind from when Buffalo Bill performed his Wild West show there in the early 20th century…

The Act Most Likely Award awaits its fate in Edinburgh this morning

The Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely’ Award awaits its fate in Edinburgh this morning

I have no idea if Peter will win this, one of the three increasing prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards. We decide this afternoon and announce the full awards at midnight tonight, during the Counting House show.

But he deserves an Award. He has changed the face of the Fringe.

Most of the shows I saw at the Fringe this year were free shows.

All three of the nominees for the main Comic Originality Award were performing free shows.

For the Cunning Stunt Award, two of the nominees were flyerers and the other one was performing a free show.

In the Act Most Likely To category, both the nominees were linked to free shows.

That reflects a major change in the Fringe.

Janey Godley podcasts with daughter Ashley Storrie

Janey Godley (left) podcasts with daughter Ashley Storrie

In her podcast last week, my comedy chum Janey Godley, who has always very successfully performed in pay venues at the Fringe, revealed that, next year, she will be performing in a free venue. I know that she and her husband go through Fringe revenues with a fine tooth comb. This is not a minor change. If someone with Janey’s profile in Edinburgh is prepared to move from the pay model to the free model, others will move.

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Magical Mystery Tour: The Beatles, John Peel, “it” and Jimmy Savile

Perhaps you had to be there…

Here is a track called Way Back in the 1960s from The Incredible String Band’s 1967 album The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion, released one month after The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album:

Tomorrow night, BBC2 is screening The Beatles’ film Magical Mystery Tour for the first time in 33 years. It is being preceded by an Arena documentary about the making of the film.

I saw a preview of both at the National Film Theatre earlier this week. What people who were not alive at the time of the film’s first screening will make of both I cannot begin to imagine.

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” is how L.P.Hartley started his 1953 novel The Go-Between.

The same could be said of the 1960s. They are almost unimaginable now.

I remember seeing what was, this week, the wonderfully colourful and beautifully stereo-sound-mixed Magical Mystery Tour when it was first broadcast by the BBC on Boxing Day 1967 in black and white on mono TV sets. Like most other people, I thought it was a right old dog’s dinner of incomprehensibility.

It mostly still is, but it has aged rather well.

The movie is basically a series of pop videos – before pop videos had been invented – loosely linked with the story of strangely old-fashioned people (and The Beatles) going on an old-fashioned mystery coach trip travelling through an old-fashioned Britain shot and edited in then avant-garde, occasionally psychedelic, style.

One point well made in the Arena documentary is that Magical Mystery Tour was a cross-over between the old and new cultures. And it is very British. Even the concept of a mystery tour in a coach to an unknown destination is in itself bizarre to Americans.

The documentary is very evocative of 1967 and features, I’m glad to see, occasional mentions of hippie newspaper the International Times (I wrote for a much later and not-very-good rebirth of it in 1974) and plentiful quotes from the highly influential Barry Miles whom I blogged about last year.

As a schoolboy, I kept a diary but, annoyingly, wrote nothing about watching the original Magical Mystery Tour transmission. And, equally annoyingly, I have copies of International Times issue 21 (17th-30th November 1967) and issue 23 (5th-19th January 1968) but not the issue published at the time Magical Mystery Tour was transmitted.

it Issue 21 – Kill The Blacks!

The cover of issue 21 of what was then billed simply as The International Times said:

It’s not the colour of your skin, it’s the colour of your heart. KILL THE BLACKS! KILL THE BLACKS!

The cover of what was by then called “it The International Times” said:

A GUIDE TO A NEW AGE AND THE ECSTATIC RETURN OF EVERYONE BLESSED

In that issue, DJ John Peel wrote in his regular Perfumed Garden column:

it Issue 23 – Everyone Blessed!

1967 was a year when I finally broke out of the shadows and found sunshine and laughter all around and within me. Many people have walked into my open heart and lodged there and I find that the more who wander in the more room there is for others. I’m certain that during this amazing year I must have unwittingly offended a few by forgetting a name, a face, a meeting, a phone number or a letter. To anyone so hurt, I’m truly deeply sorry. I would not have done it for the world – and there have been many new worlds this year.

This winter you should not overlook the trees. There is still so much to see without the leaves. They cast such shapes against the sky and make mosaics of the clouds. Even in dark, wet and hurried-feet London there is beauty everywhere and everywhere is unmarked.

Your wardrobe leads to Narnia, your mirror leads to a wonderland. It is better than you can know to breathe the air that you breathe because, by so doing, I kiss you and you me and there is something now unseen and unknown that connects us. Thinking about that is really good, it warms me and I inhale you and you refresh me. Thank you.

That was written in the issue of International Times dated 5th January 1967.

Three years earlier, on 1st January 1964, BBC TV had transmitted the first edition of Top of The Pops, presented by DJ Jimmy Savile.

Now we know Savile was feeling-up and raping under-age girls in BBC TV dressing rooms during that period.

Different people have different perceptions of reality at different times.

Now we are in the 21st century.

The BBC screenings tomorrow are timed to plug a release of Magical Mystery Tour on DVD, Blu-Ray and a double vinyl edition of the original UK EP release.

Oddly, the YouTube trailer for the new release has had embedding disabled, but this is a less high-res clip from the original Magical Mystery Tour film, first screened only six months after The Beatles released their Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album:

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My encounters with Jesus Christ… and the reason I could say Yes to heroin

In yesterday’s blog – drink.

Today – drugs.

Tomorrow, who knows?

If you are lucky, maybe even sex.

I was 13 when the Beatles hit big; I was 17 in the Summer of Love. Prime druggie material.

I once spent a long time in a kitchen in Clapham with a close friend of mine and the boyfriend of one of her friends who, let’s say, was called Susan. We were trying to persuade him that Susan did not really want to see him and that he should get the train back to his home town in the north of England. The problem was that he knew he was Jesus Christ and this kept getting in the way of the discussion. He kept telling us how he could change anything by deciding it was changed. We eventually persuaded him to go with us to St Pancras station and we did put him on a train north, but he was of the opinion he did not really need to travel on trains as he was the Messiah.

The second time I encountered Jesus Christ was a couple of weeks after a plane had crashed on a crowded rural area in (I think it was) Holland. The person who had done this was prepared to make a plane similarly crash onto the Thames TV building in Euston Road, London. He told me (the person who said he made the plane crash) that he would do this unless Thames TV issued an on-air apology because one of their programmes had offended him and I should pay attention to what he said because his father just happened to be God and he himself, as you will have guessed, was Jesus Christ.

I have never taken any non-medical, so-called ‘recreational’ drugs though, at one time, I would have done.

The only drugs which ever attracted me were heroin and LSD.

Marijuana in any of its forms never attracted me. It just seemed to be an alternative to drink, though less self-destructive than alcohol and spirits.

I lost count of the number of times I sat in a room in the 1960s or 1970s while other people smoked joints and talked utter drivel.

The next day, they would go on and on about what a great, deep and meaningful philosophical discussion they had had the night before and I would think:

“Nope. I was there. You were talking utter drivel, like five year-olds after eight pints of beer.”

Hellfire – forget “I sat in a room in the 1960s or 1970s” – I have sat in rooms throughout my life listening to stoned people talking drivel.

Amiable drivel. But drivel nonetheless.

It is rubbish to say weed has no effect on anyone in the long term. Not if you take it regularly in significant quantities over a long period.

Neil in The Young Ones TV series was not a fantasy character.

That was social realism.

I have worked with real Neils.

I remember a very amiable and well-meaning but totally brain-groggy and decision-incapable head of department at a regional ITV company in the 1990s. His entire brain had been turned into semolina by twenty years or more of weed and pseudo-philosophical befuddlement. If he had been an alcoholic, he would have been dribbling saliva out the sides of his mouth; as it was, his few remaining brain cells were almost visibly dribbling out of his ears.

I might well have tried hash in the 1960s or 1970s but it just seemed to be a milder version of alcohol with less aggressive effects and there was also a seemingly tiny but actually rather large practical problem: I had never smoked nicotine cigarettes, so the whole technique of smoking and inhaling was alien to me. If anyone had offered me hash cakes, I would have eaten them; but no-one ever did.

To me, marijuana in whatever form was and is a mild and uninteresting drug. If you want to be relaxed, then I recommend you just eat a marshmallow, don’t stuff one inside your brain cavity.

A friend of mine told me in the 1970s: “You just don’t understand what weed is like because you have never taken it.”

But, in the 1980s, I vividly remember standing in Soho with a long-term alcoholic I knew as he looked lovingly into the crowded window display of Gerry’s booze shop in Old Compton Street.

You could see the tenderness and nostalgic thoughts in his eyes as they moved from bottle to bottle and from label to label.

I was not an alcoholic, but I could see objectively what the drink had done and was doing to him.

In a sense, to see the real effect of a drug, you have to not take it.

I was always very strongly attracted to LSD.

It held the very major attraction to me of mind-alteration and making surrealism real. But the attraction and alarm bells over-lapped and, in any case, LSD was not available in my circles in my middle class area in Ilford, East London/Essex in the late 1960s.

Yes, I went to events at the Arts Lab in Drury Lane; yes I read International Times and went to Blackhill Enterprises’ free rock concerts in Hyde Park before the sheer scale of the Rolling Stones’ appearance in 1969 ruined them. But life in Ilford at that point was not druggy.

By the time LSD was available to me, I had read enough about people freaking out on it, read of Syd Barrett self-destructing in Pink Floyd, seen other people’s minds gone wrong. And then there were the Manson Murders in 1969. Not acid-induced as such, but not totally unrelated to druggy people’s minds going haywire.

The logic of LSD, as I saw it, was that you could alter the chemical balance inside your mind and, as it were, temporarily re-arrange the inter-connections. But if you felt, as I rightly or wrongly did, that perhaps your mind was potentially ‘near the edge’ to begin with, then there was the obvious danger that LSD would tip you permanently over the edge.

So I would have taken acid during a short window of opportunity but it was not available to me until after that window of acceptance had closed. I never took it. And reading about Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s mind being sent spinning over the edge by one drink spiked with acid did not change my opinion. He spiralled out of control after that first acid trip of course but, the way Rolling Stone told it, the whole spiral began with that one tab of acid.

With heroin: the same thing. When I would have taken it, the stuff was not available to me. When it was available I no longer wanted to take it.

When I was in my late teens, a close friend of mine married someone who was ‘an ex–heroin addict’. But, even then I knew that being an ex-heroin addict is a bit like being an ex-member of the SAS. You can never be too sure.

Years later, when the first anti-heroin ads appeared on TV, a close friend of mine said to me, “They make smack look bloody attractive, don’t they?” and I had to agree with her. If I had been an impressionable young teenager and it had been available, I would almost certainly have taken heroin. The first anti-heroin TV commercials were almost, but not quite, as good a commercial for smack as Trainspotting which felt to me like a positive Jerusalem of an anthemic hymn to the attractions of smack.

That first injection of heroin may, as I have been told, give you the biggest high – the most gigantic orgasmic leap – you have ever had. But it is also a drug for nihilists.

So that’s the one for me.

I think, with heroin, the potential lows can be as attractive as the highs – something the anti-heroin ads never seem to have realised.

Whereas cocaine seems to me to be the drug of self-doubting egotists who want to prove to themselves that they are as special as they hope they might be.

But that is another blog.

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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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