The clearer picture: a rare photograph of 
Mick Farren and his wife Joy. 

Photo from
The Sunday Times
Culture Magazine.
 
Funtopia comment:
Normally, articles in these pages are reproduced as they come, without editing or commentary by us.  However, the Sunday Times article by Lynne Truss, reproduced below, prompted us to supply various annotations.  Links are in the text.
 
Review by Lynne Truss, The Sunday Times, Culture, Section 7, December 16 2001 

"He is a disgruntled dropout and rebel in search of a cause, who yearns to be Elvis Presley."

On Mick Farren's website, along with other recently harvested aperçus, is a simple statement, dated March 2000. "Why I'm not a huge blockbusting star is a constant puzzlement to me." [see Note 1]    In 13 words, it sums up the agony of nonentity that informs all 422 pages of his colurful autobiography Give the Anarchist a Cigarette. Because - whisper it - who is Mick Farren? Well, Farren is a self-styled hero of the British counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, and I bet you've never heard of him. He had a band called the Social Deviants, and I bet you've never heard of them, either. Ask your friends. Look him up in reference books. It's uncanny the way he's never there.  [see Note 2]

Evidently, however, he has been urged for years to write this account of the London psychedelic scene, and personally I'm glad he has. Give the Anarchist a Cigarette is clearly the work of a preposterous and rather infantile ego; you can tell that from the title, with its fantasy of the firing squad and blindfold. But it is a vivid and well written book about a period that nobody is writing about any more, and even if the grandiosity can't be helped, it has the merit of providing laughs.

Farren opens his narrative in 1964, where he is discovered living in west London in the "House of the Chinese Landlord" - ie cheap rented accomodation. West London in those days was drab and squalid, he says, "a lot less colourful than those who never saw it would have us believe". The only features brightening the monochrome were David Bailey billboard advertisememnts of Beefeaters ("Drinka Pinta Milka Day") and the odd Wimpy Bar or Golden Egg. His most evocative descriptions, I now realise, often involve food. Around the corner in Westbourne Grove was a dismal American-style 24-hour "automat", where you could get hot chocolate the colour of boot polish made of "ersatz cocoa, cheap non-dairy creamer and sand".

Amid this wasteland, the early-years Farren - there is never a sense of him being actually younger - is a disgruntled droput and rebel in search of a cause, who yearns to be Elvis Pres;ey but tragically lacks the looks, charm and musical ability. What he does have is rage and hair. he is angry, aggressive, and ever so, ever so annoyed, but because he is cagey about his childhood we can't speculate why. He has "warred" against authority ever since Mixed Infants; practised "relentless guerilla warfare" against "teachers, constables, bus inspectors, park attendants". Well, I did say it was funny. Bathos abounds. At the House of the Chinese Landlord, Farren defiantly plays his records, even though it is against house rules. "I half expected threats of eviction, but surprisingly, nothing happened."

One tends to forget that people were angry in the 1960s, even while making political gestures against park attendants and being rendered hopelessly solipstic by drugs. One tends to forget that, before Withnail and I, a Camberwell Carrot wasn't an affectionate joke, it was great big bloody Camberwell Carrot that made you go "Wow". This is what makes Farren's book so valuable; neither disclaiming nor justifying. He looks back and just vividly recollects - sometimes with humour - his role in the revolution. When he first encountered the "counterculture", he recognised his tribe, and that was that. he joined his tribe, criticised it, subverted it, documented it, went to court in defence of it (obscenity charge), attempted to lead it, and seemingly never left it. He had brief affairs with Germaine Greer and Julie Burchill but, to be frank, the drugs and the rock 'n' roll seems to have meant more to him than the sex.

Now he lives in Los Angeles and writes books; his band still makes records. And he can evoke a pschedelic party 30 years ago at the virtually derelict Roundhouse in Chalk Farm as if it were last week.  [See Note 3]   "A rickety scaffolding stage had been erected, and slide and movie projectors threw film clips and abstract images on plastic sheets hanging on clothes lines. Today it would all seem tattily pathetic, but right then it was the stuff of dreams...To one side of the stage, someone had attmepted to recreate a 6ft jelly. The assumption had been that it would stand up on its own, but...it lay in a multi-gallon glutinous blob-mass on the uneven floor, and the more extrovert partygoers were already sliding about in it."

There are no photographs in Give the Anarchist a Cigarette. I can think of three possible explanations for this. First, Farren is ugly (hard to tell from the murky cover photos). Second, pictures don't exist of places such as the hippie UFO Club or the editorial office of the International Times. And third, he would rather not have his stories undermined (or contradicted) by documentary truth. Whatever the explanation, it leaves the reader flicking through the pages with a confused expression ("There must be! There aren't!") and then flicking through them again and again to make sure.

Perhaps poor Farren has dwelt so long on the capriciousness of fame that when he finally gets the chance to show off in print, he just can't do it [See Note 4] Oh well. His inadequacies have driven him to write a fabulously readable and original record of the period. Meanwhile, keep on checking the reference books. He's got to be in there somewhere.

Excerpt from Anarchist reproduced in the review.

"A lot of nonsense is talked these days about the degeneracy of the Sixties, but the early hippies readily embraced an eccentric but nonetheless tireless moralism. Hippies didn't drink, hippies avoided junk food, hippies sought enlightenment rather than oblivion, and hippies didn't wear handcuffs to bed. In fact the hippies were bloody puritan...and frowned on many passionate rituals that were close to my tainted heart. A relentless mood of sunshine is downright oppressive...I didn't want to watch the flower children play, finding myself completely out of place amid such bliss."

 

1) This was a flippant, throwaway remark made by Mick to the authors around the time Darklost was published.  We included it on our "Thoughts Of Chairman Mick" page (a) because we think Mick Farren damn well should be a huge blockbusting star (we wouldn't have bothered with this site otherwise); and (b) because the remark is a pretty good example of Mick's laconic outsider chutzpah.  Farren is fully cognizant of the fact that he ain't never gonna sell like Stephen King, or Michael Jackson.  Funnily enough, he seems to like it out there in the badlands.  For further insights, see the Erich Himmelsbach article reproduced from LA Weekly.
    We're honoured that Lynne Truss (or her research minions) checked out Funtopia and thought it was Mick Farren's website.  But it isn't, even though he very kindly includes our address in his official publications and releases.  [Back to article]
2)  Let's see: Days In The Life by Jonathon Green; Playpower by Richard Neville; England's Dreaming by Jon Savage; Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain; I Knew I Was Right by Julie Burchill.  Plus sundry other reminiscences, collections and dissertations on the 60s, the Underground Press, the UK music press, Punk Rock and rock music in general.  [Back to article]
3)  Of course, he may have drawn on his own previous documentation of the Underground scene, notably in Watch Out Kids.  A bit of homework would not have gone amiss - although, to be fair, Mick's older books are hard to come by.  [Back to article]
4)  "Finally"???  Mick Farren's done nothing but show off in print (and on stage and vinyl) since 1967.  Long may he continue to do so.  [Back to article]
The last word belongs by right to Mick Farren.  When asked what had he done to this reviewer to "rattle her cage", Mick replied "I never met the damned woman. I hear she fancies herself as a humorist."