|Apart from the correction of a few minor typographical errors this is a transcript of the e-mail interviews with Mick Farren conducted by Richard Deakin. The interviews took place between January 21 1999 and May 2 1999.|
Interview with Mick Farren, Los Angeles, by e-mail,
January 21 1999.
RD) What was the general attitude of those involved in the London underground scene towards those in the provinces?
MF) There was always a lot of talk at editorial meetings about the need to cover events in the provinces and, to some degree there was coverage of major centers like the Manchester Arts Lab and any spectacular drug bust. Also any self appointed correspondent could pretty much get his or her stuff into print, but, in fact not many actually appointed themselves. Mainly they complained that we didn't do it. I will confess, however, that, a lot of the time, we elitist snobs in the big city concentrated on how cool and groovy things were in London. For my part, I was always something of a global thinker and was far more interested in what might be going down in Nepal, Cuba, Japan, Holland*, and above all, the USA rather than events in Barnsley or Burton on Trent. I guess another form of elitism.
* The connections, however, between London and Amsterdam and also Paris and (then) West Berlin were pretty strong.
RD) Do you think the London underground was as relevant to people in the provinces as it was to those in the capital?
MF) Yes, even though we tended to dis them. In Penzance they also wanted to read about the MC5, the Paris Situationalists, Nepalese temple balls and Captain Beefheart. In many respects, IT, Oz etc. were a definite cultural lifeline. We also reprinted stuff like Crumb comics that were impossible to get in their original form outside of London. Remember, back then, we were the poker game in the country and the only ones writing about even fairly mainstream phenomena like (say) The Doors or Dylan on a regular basis. The NME and the Melody Maker, at that time, lagged far behind.
RD) What significance do you think free festivals, such as Phun City and Glastonbury Fayre had on the development of the alternative travelling culture that revolved around nomadic living and free festivals?
MF) They were the absolute start of the whole thing. Prior to the festivals, a few beats hitchhiked around during the summer but mainly headed for seaside resorts and London. The festivals really provided a focus for what you might call potlatch tribal gatherings or clan meets. Phun City and Glastonbury also proved that a festival could be staged on an economic wing and a prayer.
RD) In what ways were community bands like the Pink Fairies and Hawkwind relevant to 'freak' enclaves, such as Ladbroke Grove, or even elsewhere?
MF) The relationship with the "community bands" was highly symbiotic. The underground press publicised them, which helped it possible for them to tour and get record deals. They travelled around spreading the ethos and the demand for the newspapers and magazines grew and flourished for a while.
*********Interview with Mick Farren, Los Angeles, by e-mail, January 26 1999
RD) The Observer (24.1.99. p.6) reports plans to stage a 30th anniversary festival on the Isle of Wight next year, the IOW County Council having approached Richard Branson to organise the event. Being yourself inextricably linked to events that 'freed' the 1970 festival, what do you think about, as The Observer puts it, '…plans to lure the rock legends – and the old hippies – back for a bit of millennium nostalgia…'?
MF) Personally I think the 1970 IOW festival was a highly amusing disaster, and for the IOW council to want to commemorate it is highly ironic since at the time they did everything in their power to stop it. Also, of the musical highlights Hendrix is dead, Jim Morrison is dead, The Who retire etc. etc…Being a total hypocrite, I'd probably go for a laugh if someone sent me a ticket, but I'd file the whole plan under dumb and irrelevant.
RD) What are your views in general on the established commercial festivals of the 1990s? For example, what Glastonbury has become?
MF) The current festivals are what they are. Open air commercial show business, nothing more, nothing less.
RD) In Watch Out Kids, your vision of festivals and 'Tribes of super-nomads, musicians, artists, craftsmen, who can gather and spread information first hand', was somewhat prescient of the travelling communities and free festivals, such as Stonehenge, of the 1970s and early 1980s which constituted a way of life for many people. What are your views on the subsequent legislation against such lifestyles and events?
MF) Nomads have always been legislated against and generally scapegoated by settled communities, since they didn't observe either national boundaries or the authority of monarchs and government. Jews, gypsies, old hippies, it's all fundamentally the same. It's control v liberty, the great historical conflict. My only disappointment is that the current nomads didn't, to any great degree, embrace advanced portable technology, which would have given them a hell of an edge.
RD) How did the existing Notting Hill community react to the developing underground scene there, and to an increasing influx of hippies/ freaks etc. into the area?
MF) The Notting Hill area was an enclave of freaks, immigrants and bohemians long before the hippies got there. Check Colin Innes and beyond.
RD) Do you think that the underground press contributed to establishing places such as Notting Hill as countercultural communities?
MF) No…see [answer to previous question]
RD) To what extent was there a sense of underground community solidarity within Notting Hill?
MF) Pretty damn solid, particularly among the freaks, and the West Indians (the ganga alliance). This even carried over into the punk era. Ref. The Clash.
RD) When methedrine use came to be seen as a problem within the counterculture didn't the underground press become involved in alerting the community of its potential dangers?
MF) We did, to a degree, warn about speed, but we also took a great deal of it. Try laying out a newspaper in 50 hours straight without it. I think the rants about heroin were more effective, but I personally was never in the "good drug / bad drug" business. What a person puts in their body for good or bad is their own business. Period. Ref. Bill Burroughs. All else is soul saving, and my hypocrisy doesn't stretch that far.
RD) Would you say Notting Hill was the British equivalent of Haight-Ashbury?
MF) Yes, but not as heavily marketed, thank god. Closer to New York's Lower East Side.
RD) How do you view the overall relationship between the London underground papers, such as IT, Oz, and Frendz?
MF) There was competition and rivalry, but, on the whole a pretty strong sense of solidarity. Things became really unglued when Richard Neville started Ink, supposedly an over-ground-underground link, which failed miserably, wasted a great deal of capital and energy, destroyed goodwill with printers, distributors etc. etc.' did untold damage, and made it ultimately possible for publications like NME to move into what had been underground press turf.
*********Interview with Mick Farren, Angeles, by e-mail, May 2 1999.
RD) Many British bands emerged from the art school scene of the early/mid 1960s, including the Deviants perhaps, but what influence did the art schools have on the development of the wider underground movement?
MF) The British art school system, now diluted beyond recognition, was an invaluable institution during the sixties. Most importantly because the entry requirements were so vague, you were virtually guaranteed a place in an art college if you showed any kind of potential talent, and academic scores could be waived. Thus they provided a safe haven in which all kind of malcontents, misfits and outsiders could flex their muscles.
RD) In reply to my first question on the 'general attitude of those involved in the London underground scene towards those in the provinces' (21.1.99) you mentioned a tendency towards 'global thinking', and how the 'connections …between London and Amsterdam, and also Paris and…West berlin were pretty strong'. Would you expand on the nature of these international networks?
MF) There really was no 'international network' per se, except for the Underground Press Syndicate under the terms of which, all underground papers mailed copies to all other underground papers with full and free right to reprint. Thus at IT we had the pick of stories from all over the world. Also the constant flow of travelers through the capital cities provided a constant organic link with all the stopping points on the hippie trail.
RD) In response to [my] question (21.1.99), 'Do you think the London underground press was as relevant to people in the provinces as it was to those in the capital ?' you say that 'The NME and Melody maker at that time lagged far behind'. What effect did the absorption of underground writers, such as yourself, by the the likes of the NME etc.have on those papers?
MF) It revolutionized and radicalized these publications, particularly the NME, as far as was possible within a corporate structure. If nothing else , it set them up for their total embrace of punk in the late seventies.
RD) How did you find the transition from underground press to the NME?
MF) It was a drag and came with a definite sense of defeat. Loads of free albums and record company coke, but it was still working for the man.
RD) You indicated that things in the underground press 'became really unglued' (26.1.99) when Richard Neville's attempt to link overground and underground press with the ill-fated Ink, allowed the underground press to be encroached upon by the likes of NME. Wasn't the effect of seemingly constant police harassment just as detrimental to the long term existence of the underground press?
MF) Police harassment, if anything, made the underground press stronger. It focused attention, stiffened resolve, and tended to confirm that what we were doing was considered dangerous to the establishment. Cooption of the more commercial functions and features was simply draining , both spiritually and economically and really sapped the will.
6. RD) The underground was always renowned for its libertarian tendencies, and the Angry Brigade also found a mouthpiece in the underground press. Did any friction within the underground press arise from this, and what was the general atmosphere like within the underground during this era?
MF) There was constant factional friction always. The Angry Brigade was no exception. Of course it accentuated the ongoing debate among the advocates of direct action and non-violence, but, in practical terms we had to treat them, metaphorically, as another rock band looking to make their name.
RD) IT, like other underground publications was always very eclectic in nature, but by the early 1970s, it appears to have adopted a more consistently revolutionary stance. Were the political beliefs of the editorial team and writers a main reason for this, or was IT merely reflecting a shift in prevailing attitudes among the underground.?
MF) It was reflecting the shift, perhaps not in the complete prevailing attitude but certainly that of those who gravitated to underground papers, either to write foir them or who had an axe they wanted publicly ground.
RD)What for you personally did you find most gratifying about being involved in the production of an underground newspaper?
MF) Truthfully? My kick was to see IT on the news stands right next to Playboy and the Daily Express. The day the issue with the parody tabloid cover and the banner 'SCREWING CAUSES CLAP' went on sale was one of the happiest of my life. There it was, bold as brass, on the stands right by Oxford Circus tube station. Total absurdist street theatre and a magazine as well, Monty Python with fangs.