Tag Archives: rock

Trouble at the East German border and at the punk rock concert in East Berlin

More tales of old East and West Germany… when Berlin was divided in two by the Berlin Wall and, for West Germans to get into West Berlin, they had to drive through part of East Germany.

“In the 1970s,” Rudiger Schmidt told me in Nuremberg yesterday, “I went with my mother to Berlin.

“If you went to the border, the East Germans asked you Are children on board? Do you have weapons? and my mother was very nervous, because she was old and she thought, if she said something wrong, she would be sent to Siberia.

“I was driving to Berlin with my mother beside me and an East German policeman asked Are children on board? and I said No and, at the same moment, my mother said Yes. He looked into the car, asked Where are the children? and my mother said This is my son.

“The policeman did not find it funny.

Die Toten Hosen’s album Reich & Sexy II

German rock band Die Toten Hosen’s album Reich & Sexy II

“Have you heard of Die Toten Hosen, the rock band?”

“No,” I said.

“They are from Düsseldorf and started in the early 1980s.”

“What does Die Toten Hosen mean?” I asked.

“The Dead Trousers,” replied Rudiger. “In Germany, if a situation is boring and nothing is happening, you say That’s dead trouser – tote hose.

“Just after Die Toten Hosen had started as a band, they went on a tour through Germany and drove from West Germany to Berlin and I went with them in the tour bus. The driver of the tour bus was from Cologne and people from Cologne think they are very funny.

“When we arrived at the East German border, the East German policeman asked Weapons, explosives, children? – He did not ask Do you have weapons, explosives, children? – He just asked Weapons, explosives, children?

“So the driver of the bus, who was from Cologne, said Oh, well, give me two weapons and twelve children.

“The policeman said Please park over there and take all things out of the bus.

“It was about 2.00am in the night and we had to do it. We took everything out of the car and the policeman went inside and was checking everything when the driver of the bus said Oh, while you are inside, please check the oil.

“The policeman did not find that funny.

“We had to take the wheels off the bus, take the seats out of the bus and we did not have the tools to do it – the screwdrivers and the spanners. We just had our little knives. The East German policemen were standing there for two hours laughing at us. We had arrived at the border at 2.00am. When we were finished, it was 7.00am in the morning. All because the driver from Cologne had made these two little jokes.

Lead singer Campino with Die Toten Hosen in 1985

Campino of Die Toten Hosen in 1985 concert

“Die Toten Hosen were going to play two concerts in West Berlin and one concert in East Berlin… but to play the concert in East Berlin was not allowed, so we each had to go into East Berlin via different border checkpoints to take in the instruments.

“The place where they played was a church and, because it was forbidden, you could not have any posters. Nothing.”

“This sounds dangerous,” I said.

“It was kind of dangerous,” said Rudiger. “They started the show and soon after that a guy came into the church and said Down the street on the next corner they have grilled chickens – You could not get grilled chicken in East Germany every day. Maybe once a month you could get them.

“So this guy said: Down the street on the next corner they have grilled chickens and everyone ran out of the church and the band was left with no audience. Nothing. And that was it. The concert was over.”

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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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I wanna tell you a meandering story which ends with a large sexual organ

No truth in obituaries

When the late comedian Malcolm Hardee died, the surprisingly voluminous obituaries quoted some of the many bizarre stories linked to him. But, often, the stories were slightly wrong. It was fairly obvious the obituarists had read Malcolm’s autobiography (which I wrote with him) but were slightly mis-remembering and mis-quoting the anecdotes.

One story involved his genitals getting painted in day-glo paint. It happened at the Glastonbury Festival but at least one obituary claimed he regularly did this at comedy clubs.

Now, because the mis-quoted and mis-remembered stories were printed, the myth will become fact.

Malcolm would have liked that.

Yesterday afternoon, I bumped into top rock fiddler Bobby Valentino in a street in Greenwich.

Somehow, the subject of calling people ‘Wally’ came up – as in “He’s a Wally,” meaning “He’s an idiot.”

I said: “I think that started at some rock festival in the West Country, didn’t it?”

Was it originally Wally from Essex or Wally from Wessex?

“No, Essex,” said Bobby Valentino. “There was a Weeley rock festival in Essex in 1971. I was still at school and a mate of mine, Barry Bartlett or Spot Hughes, came back from the Festival and said, Oh, I’m Wally from Weeley, and, from then on, everyone was called Wallies.”

“The story I heard,” I said, “was that an announcement kept being made Could Wally please contact the organisers about something and eventually people started to yell out Wally! as a term of derision and, when they left the festival and spread out to their homes across the country, the name spread all over the country too. That’s the story, isn’t it?”

“As far as I know,” said Bobby Valentino. (Update for regular readers of this blog: his dispute with PRS over royalties for past work continues.)

When I got home, I looked up Wikipedia, which currently reckons a Wally chant did develop over the course of the Weeley Festival weekend in 1971, but that it had been a continuation of the same behaviour at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970.

I had heard the term ‘Wally’ had started in the West Country. This seems to have been because (again according to Wikipedia) in 1974, a group of New Age travellers encamped near Stonehenge were being evicted and, to hinder the eviction, they all gave their name as Wally of Wessex.

Stories take on their own life. And, you may have noticed, I have been quoting what is in Wikipedia as fact. Always a dubious thing to do. But people do.

Later yesterday, I got an e-mail from Bobby Valentino:

“After I saw you today,” it said, “I remembered an Edinburgh Festival story which I hope is true.

“Some years ago one of Kirk Douglas’s sons – the one who had the drink and drug problems – fancied himself as a comedian and booked himself a slot at the Festival. At one of his shows, he wasn’t going down at all well, brick-like in fact. He then said completely the wrong thing – Do you know who I am?… I’m Kirk Douglas’s son.

“A quick witted member of the audience immediately piped up: No, I’m Kirk Douglas’s son!  to be followed by another audience member… and another… and another.”

(For extraordinary people who have never seen the movie, this is a reference to the scene in Kirk Douglas’ Spartacus where, at the end, everyone in the hero’s army stands up and says I am Spartacus.)

“As far as I know,” I told Bobby Valentino, “the story is totally true, but it happened at the Comedy Store in London.”

I said this with some authority, having heard the story several times. But who knows if it is actually true?

“I think I might blog about stories tomorrow,” I told Bobby Valentino.

“If you do,” he said, “you should point out that there are two sorts of people who tell stories more than they actually do what they’re supposed to do – musicians and fishermen.

“John Sebastian wrote a song about it called Stories We Can TellThe Everly Brothers covered it and I played it with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.”

After all this, last night, I went to Vivienne and Martin Soan’s monthly Pull The Other One comedy club in Herne Hill, South London.

In May 2011, I posted a blog about a very weird night there which included, in the audience, a very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard.

He was there again last night and sat right by the stage.

Michael Smiley and audience member last night

About a third of the way through the wonderful Northern Ireland comedian Michael Smiley’s act, which involved tales of coming to Great Britain 30 years ago, the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard asked in a conversational tone:

“Are you Scottish?”

“No,” replied Michael Smiley to loud laughter. “Are you Pakistani?” he added to louder laughter (including very loud laughter from the black gent).

When the laughter subsided, Michael asked: “Do you love people from Scotland?”

“I am the last king from Scotland,” the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard told Michael Smiley.

“You’re the last king of Scotland?” Michael Smiley said. “You’re not mate. Let me spread a few more rumours for you. What else have the voices been telling you?”

“You can get on with the show now,” the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard, said languidly.

“Well,” said Michael Smiley amiably, amid laughter, “if you’ll shut up, I will.”

“Alright,” said the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard.

“Thankyou,” said Michael Smiley.

The audience laughed and then added in a few ironic Owwwws of sympathy.

“Yeah, yeah,” said Michael Smiley, joining in, “He comes in, sits at the front, shouts out mad shit all the time, I try to get on with my shit, I try to get him to shut his shit up and I’m the feckin’ bad guy!”

The audience roared with laughter.

“I might have to stand up here and wank off a pig for you by the end of the show, just to weird the whole thing up just a little bit more. White middle class Herne Hill come out for a bit of weirdness!

“Just so you can say to your friends tomorrow: You shouldn’t have bothered your arsehole with that new restaurant down in Brixton Village. We were up in Herne Hill last night in the dark like a firecracker and there was a mad black bloke at the front and a really angry Northern Irish guy on stage. That was two stereotypes for the price of one! I couldn’t believe it! All we needed was a fuckin’ midget on a unicycle… There’s an angry lesbian poet on at the end. This is like shit time travelling. All you people who bought your squats in the 1980s are just flipping out now. When you get back to your house, there’ll be a re-run of Boys From The Black Stuff on TV and you’ll come in your pants!…”

The audience roared with laughter.

It was a very weird night

And that is without even mentioning the very attractive young girl Mina The Horse prancing around the stage with a tail sticking out of her bottom or Richard Vranch and Pippa The Ripper giving a chemistry lesson with hula hoops or George Egg producing a large bowling ball from a small suitcase and sharing with the audience the fact that, to encourage their greyhounds to win races, owners smear mustard on the dogs’ arseholes when they put them in the starting traps.

After the show, my eternally-un-named friend who used to work for the late comedian Malcolm Hardee told me: “He once asked me to get a large penis for him.”

This was at his Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich.

“I think he was being a bit… well, he might have actually wanted it but there was one somewhere – was it in the dressing room upstairs?” she asked me.

“Search me,” I said.

“Or maybe it was behind the upstairs bar,” she continued. “I think it was a prop.”

“You think it was a prop?” I asked. “But it might not have been?”

“You always ask me these things when I’m very tired,” my eternally-un-named friend complained. “It’s not fair. It was a prop. I don’t know what he was actually using it for at that point, because I hadn’t seen it in anything, but then I didn’t see the shows, did I, because I was in the box…”

“So did he…” I started to interrupt.

“…office,” she completed.

“So,” I continued, “did he suddenly just say Get me the giant penis?”

“It was after a show and everything was winding up,” my eternally-un-named friend explained, “and there was a large penis upstairs and I can’t remember now because I’m very tired, but I think it was a papier-mache one. Whether it was worn on the head or on another part of the body I don’t know. Maybe an act had had it and left it behind or whether Malcolm actually wanted it…”

“But you found it?” I asked.

“Well, he told me where it was,” she replied. “I think it was in the dressing room and there was a muddle of stuff up there, but it was obvious which one it was.”

“How giant was it?” I asked.

My eternally-un-named friend held her hands apart.

“That’s about 18 inches,” I said. “What colour?”

“I don’t remember,” she said. “It was the early 1990s and I’m very tired, but I think it was a life-likey thing. I can’t help thinking it might have been some sort of headgear…”

“For a dickhead?” I asked.

“…or a prop,” she continued. “To be honest, I don’t even remember if it was papier-mache. You know who might know? Martin Soan. He might say, Oh yes, there was a giant penis we used.”

“Were there a lot of dickheads around Up The Creek?” I prompted.

“You know what Malcolm was like,” said my eternally-un-named friend, ignoring me. “There was a point where he has this stuffed cat, which you could easily get from the Nautical Shop.”

“That’s where he got it,” I said. “I was there when he bought it.”

But that’s another story.

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Being world class performers won’t sell albums if you’re not available on iTunes

Bobby Valentino and Paul Astles in London last night

In December 2010 I blogged about the wonderful Paul Astles and Bobby Valentino, both world-class performers. They should be living in mansions in Surrey in unhappy marriages and down to their last million like other rockers of a certain age.

Bobby has performed and recorded with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Mark Knopfler, et al and wrote/played the “annoying violin hook line” on The Bluebells’ classic hit Young at Heart.

I went and saw Paul and Bobby perform again last night, at their monthly Brockley gig in South East London.

“Friendly Street” – not available for download nor in shops

They’re still brilliant. As is their new-ish album Friendly Street.

“When did you record it?” I asked Paul after the show last night, while Bobby was getting me a copy from the boot of his car.

“We did it in the summer of last year,” said Paul. “I can’t remember when.”

“Where?”

Charlie Hart’s. He used to play with Ronnie Lane and Ian Dury. He’s Bobby’s next-door neighbour and our old friend and he’s got a studio. He’s playing around London with Slim Chance now.”

At the moment in London, you can stumble on the most unlikely, highly-talented musicians playing in the most unlikely of venues.

“Why’s your album not on iTunes?” I asked Paul.

“Just because I’m not together enough to do all the PayPal and bank accounting and all that kind of stuff you have to do.”

“How can people buy it, then?” I asked.

“Only if they see us. It’s a rare and precious thing.”

“You could be selling around the world on iTunes,” I said. “Not just in the UK.”

“Well,” replied Paul. “A man contacted me on my Facebook account from New York and asked me if I would send a copy of Friendly Street to him, so I did and he sent me a cheque for whatever £10-and-postage is in dollars. He was a very nice man.”

“You should put the album – and the individual tracks – on iTunes,” I told Paul. “You might find you have fans in Texas or you might become a big hit in the Ukraine. As far as I know, Right Said Fred are still mega-stars in Germany – they were a couple of years ago – and they make a very good living. Here in true UK, Right Said Fred are yesterday’s one-hit wonders; in Germany, as I understand it, they’re still selling shedloads.”

“Weren’t they Princess Diana’s favourite band?” Paul asked.

“Well, there you are,” I replied. “You can overcome any set-back. You have to be on iTunes. If you put your album on iTunes, the two of you might become a hit around the world.”

Even if they only became a cult hit in China or India, they could be living in mansions in Surrey in unhappy marriages and down to their last million.

Everyone should have aspirations.

And there’s still time. It just needs luck and distribution.

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How a future comedy writer almost joined a famous rock group who forgot

Mark Kelly - at the time he almost joined the Nashville Teens

Yesterday, I was chatting again with comedy scriptwriter Mark Kelly about his upcoming play Stuart Leigh – The Stewart Lee Tribute Act.

We were in a cafe in London’s Soho. I was a little distracted from what Mark was saying by a transvestite eating spaghetti sitting at the table next to us dressed in a white mini-skirt with long thin pale legs, a long blonde wig and a tanned, thin, very gnarled brown face. It was like sitting opposite a young nymphette with a squashed version of comedian Sid James‘ face bursting out from under the shiny long blonde wig.

Then Mark un-distracted my attention back from the transvestite.

He was talking about what happened almost forty years ago:

_______________

When I was a kid, I really liked the Nashville Teens’ song Tobacco Road and bought the follow-up Google Eye and liked all their singles. They were one of my favourite bands. Then, in the 1970s, when I’d learned to play guitar and I was playing with my own band, I saw this ad in the music press saying the Nashville Teens were looking for a rhythm guitarist. 

I knew things would be a bit different because, obviously, times had changed, but I quite fancied being in the Nashville Teens for a bit. I thought it would be great. They were playing at a club in Liverpool when I was back staying at my parents’ house and I got in touch with their management and said I was interested. 

I turned up at a nightclub I didn’t know in Liverpool and when I went in it was a real, literal chicken-in-the-basket place. I was shown to the dressing room and the only surviving original member was Ray Phillips. All the others were much younger. He asked me, “What songs do you like?” and I started naming all these B-sides. “It’d be great to do that,” I said, “and I really like that,” and he could not remember most of them.

“We don’t really do that any more,” he told me. 

“But this is a great song,” I told him.

“Well,” he said, “It’s not what people want.”

I was enthusing about these really obscure Nashville Teen songs which he could not remember despite having sung them. In the end, he looked a bit worried and said: “Well, I think you should just stay and watch what we do and, if you’re still interested, then give us a ring.”

So I just hung around the bar and, before the Nashville Teens went on stage, there was a comedian who was appalling. My memory is that he was racist, sexist, just dreadful. Then the Nashville Teens themselves came on and basically, Ray Phillips had changed into a big, blousey, ruffled white shirt and actually had a medallion hanging round his neck. 

They opened with an insipid cover version of the Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Women and it went downhill from there. They played Tobacco Road at the end and they played one other hit of theirs which the audience did not seem to recognise and which they did not play very well because its driving force had originally been their exceptionally good pianist; the new guy was playing the notes, but there was no passion there. At the end, I just left and never rang them again.

Of course, I should have anticipated this in advance. But what’s interesting is that, had they wanted me and had I joined, we would have been in the curious position that the person who was by far the youngest in the band was trying to do all these old songs and the person who actually sang them originally could not remember how they went.

_______________

I have a feeling this is a somehow a parable for life but I just can’t put my finger on it.

Here are the original Nashville Teens singing Tobacco Road on American television…

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Punks were Hippies with short hair – the link from beatniks to The Beatles

When I was in my teens, I used to read the hippie newspaper it (International Times – the title was reduced to the iconic it after The Times threatened to sue, on the somewhat unlikely grounds that people would confuse the hippie International Times with The Times, serious recorder of world events). Later, I wrote a column about movies for a briefly-revived it.

In the earlier issues I read, though, there was a far more prominent column by a guy called only Miles.

He was and is an interesting man. He had created the International Times with that other seminal Swinging London figure John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins.

Miles managed the legendary Better Books shop in London’s New Compton Street and later, with Marianne Faithfull’s husband John Dunbar, he ran the Indica gallery/bookshop where Dunbar introduced John Lennon to Yoko Ono. Still later, Miles ran the Beatles’ Zapple record label and lived in the Chelsea Hotel in New York.

Last night, he was chatting to the Sohemian Society, who shrewdly billed his talk with the line:

If You Can Remember The 60s, You Are Probably Miles

And – though this might be affected by a comparison with my own terrible memory – he does have an extraordinary, fluent memory for names, dates and descriptions of locations… they all tumbled out, recreating the height of the Swinging Sixties, which he reckons really ran from about 1964 to about 1976.

“I always thought punk was really the end of that same period,” he says, “I used to know The Clash quite well, because I used to write for NME, and they told me Well, of course, we grew up in the years of Oz and Kerouac and Burroughsbut we couldn’t tell anybody, because Malcolm McLaren had told everyone to say ‘Who gives a shit?’ It was all ridiculous.

“You see early pictures of Mick Jones and The Clash with hair out to here, it looks like something out of Mott The Hoople who were, of course, his favourite band.

“I always thought that the punks were just hippies with short hair.

Joe Strummer cast the I Ching to decide whether to join The Clash or not – you can’t get more hippie than that.

“Somebody like John Lydon was probably a bit more authentic and generally more angry and cut off from that underground culture, but most of them were still arts students. I used to know Rat Scabies’ mum. She used to come to the UFO club.

“It was part of the same scene as far as I was concerned. Joe Strummer was only eight years younger than me.”

Miles’ start in trendy London, though, was much earlier, after seeing a TV documentary on the American ‘Beat Poets’ – Allen GinsbergGregory Corso and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

He became the 21-year-old manager of Better Books, which had links with the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco (run by Ferlinghetti) and the Peace Eye Bookstore in New York’s Lower East Side (run by Ed Sanders of The Fugs).

This ultimately resulted in an astonishing poetry reading – the International Poetry Incarnation – at the Albert Hall in London on 11th June 1965.

At the beginning of 1965, Allen Ginsberg went from the US to Cuba to “check it out” and managed to get himself deported. They could not send him back to the US because there had been no official transport connection between the two countries since the Bay of Pigs/Cuban Missile Crisis problems.

So they deported Ginsberg to Czechoslovakia where eventually, according to Miles, he “fell foul of the secret police. He got so involved with the students there that he was elected the King of May and 100,000 people paraded through the streets and he was wearing a crown and the authorities started to take a very dim view of this, so the secret police managed to get hold of his secret notebook which, unfortunately, had a long description of some insertions of a broom handle. So they put him on the next plane out of town and that was going to London.”

Ed Sanders had given Ginsberg a list of interesting contacts which included Miles at Better Books.

For a time, Ginsberg stayed at Miles’ flat in Fitzrovia which, then, was a ‘beat’ area.

Ginsberg, according to Miles, was “hanging out at all the local beatnik bars around there. In the winter, everybody used to wear long greatcoats with long white scarves – I think that was the symbol of being a proper English beatnik.”

Ginsberg, though widely-travelled, had never encountered the concept of gas meters, where you put a coin in the meter to obtain a power supply.

“One day,” says Miles, “a man from the Gas Board came to empty the money from the meter and had to stand on a chair to get the half-crowns out. I just left him there as usual and went off to do something in the back room. Then, suddenly, I heard him say: I’m finished now, sir. Can I go now, sir? which was odd.

“Normally, he would just go and let himself out. I went back into the room and the man from the Gas Board was on the chair with Allen standing stark naked next to him asking him all these questions about the money going in the meter and how it worked. The man refused to come down from his chair until Allen moved away from him.”

Ginsberg later turned up at an event naked and, according to Miles, John Lennon’s reaction was: “You don’t do that in front of the birds.” Ironically, says Miles: “John himself did it two-and-a-half years later on the album sleeve of Two Virgins, so everybody could see.”

When Ginsberg had first walked into Better Books, Miles had asked him: “Would you like to do a reading?”

“Of course,” came the immediate reply.

At that time, Ginsberg had a policy of not charging for readings – because poetry had to remain “pure”… Look, it was the 1960s.

The reading was unadvertised but the shop was filled for it, with people halfway out into the street.

Donovan was pressed against the window,” Miles remembers, “and there was Gypsy Dave and Andy Warhol was in the front row – he would never have been outside.”

This Better Books reading was so successful, they decided to have another more ambitious one because they found they could get Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Corso together in London at the same time.

Ginsberg was almost entirely gay but had an on-off girlfriend, underground film-maker Barbara Rubin

“She was very, very aggressive,” according to Miles, “just like his own mother and poor Allen was quite scared of her.”

Both Barbara and Ginsberg’s mother had mental problems: his mother died in a mental hospital.

“When the idea of having this big Beat Poet reading came up, Barbara asked: What’s the biggest hall in town? and my wife said, Well, the Albert Hall, I suppose. So Barbara phoned the Albert Hall and booked it. Pure American chutzpah. My weekly wage at the time was, I think, £8.16s.8p. The Albert Hall cost £400; an unbelievable amount of money. Plus another £100 for every hour we ran on.

“The booking was in ten days time, but we got quite a lot of publicity in the Sunday Times, the Observer and so on. At that time, Hoppy (John Hopkins, co-founder of it) was a press photographer and handed photos out all around Fleet Street.

“We got so many people turning up, we had to turn people away. I think the Albert Hall holds about 7,000. It was just an unbelievable evening.

“The one flaw in it was that we ended up with 17 people on the bill and an awful lot of them had never read in anything bigger than the upstairs room in a pub. And they were just frozen sometimes with all the lights and 7,000 people looking at them.”

Very 1960s.

The film-maker Peter Whitehead made a short documentary Wholly Communionon the 1965 International Poetry Incarnation, which is on YouTube in four parts.

Miles’ books include London Calling: A Countercultural History of London Since 1945.

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Charlie Chuck paid in fresh vegetables by Scottish promoter

I spent yesterday afternoon with comedian Charlie Chuck in Leicestershire, being regaled with tales of how he was regularly under-paid by comedy club owner Malcolm Hardee in the 1990s and of his youthful days as a drummer with the band Mama’s Little Children in the 1960s, appearing on rock music bills in out-of-the-way places with The Faces, The Troggs, Joe Cocker, Alan Price, Georgie Fame and Ginger Baker.

Malcolm Hardee’s later erratic payments and those early band days of the youthful Chuck reminded him of Scottish promoter Duncan McKinnon who, in the mid-1960s, would occasionally pay performers partly in cash and partly in eggs, potatoes and cabbages.

Mama’s Little Children, Charlie Chuck told me, were not much impressed by this method of payment, but their mothers welcomed the foodstuffs transported down from Scotland.

As far as I am aware, Malcolm Hardee never paid his acts in foodstuffs.

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