Saturday, June 25, 2016


 My dear friend David Powell died recently, in his 80s, and, seven days ago, his family and friends convened to raise a glass to a much-loved passionate old-school socialist, skilled journalist and author - amongst his works being a fine biography of  Thomas Paine. 

As I recall, David and Rachel moved to Lewes, one of the only places in the UK where there is a house Paine lived in, so that David could write the book.

 I'd just arrived in town in summer 1985, coincident with the book's launch. I discovered Paine through David's work and then I discovered David. We hooked up and, he confided in his desire to restart Tom Paine's Headstrong Club in the town He told me he had been trying for years to get it started. Together, with help from other, we sorted out all the basics in a few weeks and had a very atmospheric launch in January 1987 on the 250th anniversary of Paine's birth. As you can see, we made the front page of the Sussex Express & County Herald. Photo from left: Rachel & David Powell, Prof Bernard Crick  and a goofy-looking John May (then 36). Its a classic.

THE GENERALIST has written more on Paine than on virtually any other individual. Given the latest political developments, he seems the right man to return to. 

This Previous Post  TOM PAINE IN LEWES  [June 21st 2005] is extensive

As I sat last week sorting through my many memories of David and the Headstrong Years - having a Chinese meal with Michael Foot, the excitement of listening to Trevor Griffiths read from his screenplay for what was going to be a Richard Attenborough epic on Paine, planting a Tree of Liberty in the town (its a big  copper beech now) in Paine's memory and then getting hammered with the Highways tree crew who did all the hard work, launching the first major site on the internet for Tom Paine in an event at the Houses of Parliament.

Needless to say I've archived all the correspondence and clippings and it was great to find some new material about earlier events and links to Paine in Lewes.

This clipping from the local paper of the time [Sussex Express] is dated sometime in 1964. The national Thomas Paine Society was founded in 1963 and they came to Lewes to hold their first Annual General Meeting. 

This photo shows the Mayor of Lewes (Councillor A.C. Barber) and three of the prominent TPS officials, two of which are named as Christopher Brunel (Chairman) and Robert Morrell (Hon. Sec). Who is who and who is the Third Man remains to be revealed. 

Interestingly the clipping's extensive article reveals an earlier tribute to Paine in the town: 'Mr Brunel recalled that a banquet was held at the White Hart in June 1904, in honour of Paine's connection with the town and a number of prominent men were present.' 

Further information comes from this March 1969 issue of Sussex Life. It reads: 'Lewes remembered him on the 150th anniversary of his death (1959) when the then Mayor, Dr. Patrick Nicholl, sent greetings cables to the Mayor of New York and the Mayor of Paris.'

At the TPS meting in 1964, it was reportedly stated that ' a statue of Paine in the town might be erected.' That hasn't happened yet. It would be hard to rival the golden figure of Paine in Thetford, which I happened to visit many years ago now. The statue on the right is, according to 'Rouser' in the Sussex Express [22nd Oct 1999) is the only statue to Paine in France, at the Parc Monsouris, near the Sorbonne, in Paris. David was reported to be planning to bring it to Lewes.

llustration: Julian Bell

Friday, June 24, 2016


These three titles seem to fit together well, being as they each explore US subcultural activity and are published outside the mainstream by informed enthusiasts. 

The most recently published (2015) is 'The Record Store of the Mind' by Josh Rosenthal who established and runs the very excellent Tompkins Square indie record label based in San Fran following a gold-plated career at Columbia Records. 

THE GENERALIST was first contacted by Josh after he'd read my review of a great musical night in Brighton featuring the legendary Michael Chapman and the  younger guitar wunderkind William Tyler back in April 2011. I followed this up with a post on the TS label itself and reviewed four albums. His label specialises in what Greil Marcus calls "old weird American music" and new cult Americana and folk artists.

 He's got great style and taste which have already earned him seven Grammy nominations to date. T. Bone Burnett rightly points out that Josh runs in a lineage that includes the musicologist, record producer and pioneer writer on the blues Samuel Charters (2015 obit here) and Harry Smith, a star-crossed genius generalist perhaps best known for his influential 'Anthology of American Folk Music', This extraordinary six-album set, released in 1952 on Folkways Records, comprises 84 American folk, blues and country music recordings on 78s issued between 1927 to 1932. It blew Bob Dylan's mind and every other folk, blues and country musician who heard it. It blew my mind too and remains the most expensive record purchase I've ever made but worth it ten times over. I digress.

Josh's first book on the TS label gives you a great flavour of the man himself and is packed with his arcane knowledge and savvy. His constant enthusiasm for searching our rare, cult and forgotten music is exemplary and in several chapters we follows his life journey that led him found his label, There's some great lists of mouth-watering records, a chapter on the stand-out gigs he's seen which is damn impressive and, the bulk of the book - profiles of unsung artists who deserve wider recognition, such as Ron Davies, who wrote songs with Gram Parsons, and 'penned It Ain't Easy' which Bowie recorded on 'Hunky Dory in 1971. My favourite chapters were an appreciation of Harvey Mandel and 'Obscure Giants of Acoustic Guitar.' Favourites for entirely selfish reasons.

Harvey Mandel has always been important because of his instrumental album 'Christo Redentor' featuring a stellar group of session musicians and released in the UK in the spring/summer of 1969. 'Wade in The Water' was the song of those halcyon days. Also lucky enough to see him play with Canned Heat at the Dome in Brighton. Josh's essay has  encouraged me to track down other Mandel albums as yet unheard.

The Obscure Giants leads off with the great Jon Fahey, a seminal  figure whose 'Blind Joe Death' record is a must. Fahey had an encyclopaedic knowledge of early American music and his own stuff haunts me still. Met him in Brighton when he was supporting 'Pentangle'. He was slightly the worse for wear that night and it led me to conducting one of my strangest interviews when he insisted I keep asking him questions while he was having a dump in the artist's backstage toilets.

This small chunky rather creased second-hand copy is the 2008 sccond edition of Stephen Duncombe's 'Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture' published by Microcosm Publishing in Portland, Oregon. Duncombe has quite a rap sheet.. A life-long political activist, he co-founded a community based advocacy group in the Lower East Side of  Manhattan and working as an organizer for the NYC chapter of the international direct action group, Reclaim the Streets.  He is currently co-founder and co-director of the Center for Artistic Activism, a research and training institute that helps activists to think more like artists and artists to think more like activists.  He is also Professor of Media and Culture at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study and the Department of Media, Culture and Communications at the Steinhardt School of New York University. Amongst his other books are the 'Cultural Resistance Reader; White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race'.

Its a wonderful and absorbing and detailed study of largely American fanzines. It began when Stehen stayed at a friend's apartment in Boston and came across a scattered collection of zines. He writes:
'I was awestruck. Somehow these little smudged pamphlets carried within them the honesty, kindness, anger, the beautiful inarticulate articulateness, the uncompromising life that I had discovered (and lost) in music, then  later radical politics, years ago. Against the studied hipness of music and style magazines, the pabulum of mass newsweeklies, and the posturing of academic journals, here was something completely different. 
'In zines, everyday oddballs were speaking plainly about themselves and our society with an honest sincerity, a revealing intimacy, and a healthy "fuck you" to sanctioned authority — for no money and no recognition, writing for an audience of like-minded misfits. Later I picked up a thick journal crammed with zine reviews called 'Factsheet Five', leafed through their listings, and sent off for hundreds of zines. I discovered tens of thousands more at the zine archive housed in the New York State Library. I even began to publish my own zine and traded mine for others. As I dug through mountains of these piquant publications, a whole world that I had known nothing about opened up to me. It was incredibly varied: zines came in more shapes, styles, subjects, and qualities than one would imagine. But there was something remarkable that bound together this new world I had stumbled upon: a radically democratic and participatory ideal of what culture and society might be... ought to be.'

Duncombe argues that 'zines and underground culture offer up an alternative, a way of understanding and acting in the world that operates with different rules and upon different values than those of consumer capitalism. It is an alternative fraught with contradictions and limitations...but also possibilities. 

The book concludes that zines still matter in the digital age. 'Self-publishing may have been democratized with the rise of the internet, but within the zine scene Do-It-Yourself is more than just a publishing practice. It is an entire way of thinking, being and creating; a shared ideal of what culture, community, and creativity could be. It is this subterranean vision that needs to be nurtured...and shared. Zines do this, and that's why they matter. They are, still, notes from the underground.'

Finally we come to 'What Was The Hipster: A Sociological Investigation', published in 2010 by the n+1 Foundation, New York. The teaser on the back reads, in part. 
'Who was the turn-of-the-century hipster? Who is free enough of the hipster taint to write the history without contempt or nostalgia....A panel of writers invited the public to join an investigation into the rise and fall of the contemporary hipster. Their debate took place at the New School University in New York City and was followed by articles, responses and essays, all printed here for the first time.'
The book works almost like a parody of an academic conference on one aspect of street culture, with a range of cultural views on who, what, when and why hipster is. You''ll find it amusing and infuriating but there's humour there and references back to the hipster movement of the '50s, as captured in Norman Mailer's classic essay 'The White Negro.,' 

This extract is from a position paper entitled 'Positions' by Mark Grief. It includes three efforts to define WHAT WAS THE HIPSTER? 

'Definition 3, and the one with which I think I might get the most traction. The "hipster" is the name for what we might call the "hip consumer" or what Tom Frank used to call the "rebel consumer."
The hipster is by definition the person who does not create real art. If he or she produced real art, he could no longer be a hipster. It has long been noticed that the majority of people who frequent bohemia are what are sometimes called hangers-on or poseurs, art aficionados rather than art producers. 
The hipster is the cultural figure of the person, very possibly, who now understands consumer purchases within the familiar categories of mass consumption (but still restricted from others) — like the right vintage T-shirt, the right jeans, the right foods for that matter — to be a form of art.
What else might mark such a person off from the old and immemorial line of snobs and slummers is the puzzling part.
I take it that "hipster" as a name points to the fact that something has become even more drastic, or set apart, again, about these people's status as possessors of knowledge; and that, if we believe there is something essential about 1999 that lasts to the present, it is that the acquisition and display of taste before anyone else has also been radicalized, by the new forms of online capitalism; so that it is increasingly hard to possess, for example, popular music that everyone else can't also immediately possess after widespread internet use.
The 2009 hipster becomes the name for that person who is a savant at picking up the tiny changes of consumer distinction and who can afford to live in the remaining enclaves where such styles are picked up on the street rather than, or as well as, online. I suspect those definitions are wrong, but I offer them for what they're worth. I hope they will form a basis for conversation.'

Sunday, June 12, 2016


'The Salt of The Earth' must be one the remarkable documentaries ever made. A bold claim.
It's a film about the life of the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado (now 72) which takes us to the ends of the earth and the end of ourselves. We travel over what feels like the entire world and go back in time as Salgado discovers villages that are still living in the medieval age and beautiful hunter-gatherer Amazonian Indians that are living in paleolithic times. There is some colour in the film but mostly it's in black and white, his chosen medium. His powerful monochrome images give even poverty, death and violence a certain beauty that he has received some criticism for. Wim Wenders and Salgado's eldest son Juliano were both going to make separate films but happily they joined forces to stunning effect,


The film opens with some of Salgado's most famous pictures, of Serra Pelada, one of the largest mines in the world (now abandoned), a vast hole dug by an estimated 100,000 gold miners, who carry the ore on their shoulders, climbing vertiginous ladders. There is no machinery, just the awesome sound of an anthill of men. Salgado comments: "When I reached the edge and heard the babble of 50,000 people in this huge hole, I felt it had returned to the beginning of mankind" These are the first pictures of his that Wenders saw which made him wonder who this photographer was.

Suddenly we're watching a small plane fly through rugged mountainous country and, as it swoops in to land, black and white changes to colour and we are in the West Papua Highlands, the Indonesian part of Papua New Guinea, to meet the Yali people. Its 2011 but the Yali are on BC time. Salgado seems perfectly at home and the tribes people seem unpased by the presence of this strange bald-headed figure with his monstrous camera..
Salgado and his seven sisters grew up on a remote farm in the state of Minos Gerais in the north-east of Brazil. It was near the biggest mining region on the planet and he remembers the endless trains carrying iron ore. When he started his studies in Aimores, then a small town now a city, he met his lifelong partner Lelia. It was love at first sight. They moved to Sao Paulo where they got married and Salgado graduated with his masters degree from the city's University. The brutal military dictatorship in Brazil at that time, drove the couple to London where Salgado worked as an economist for the International Coffee Organisation and travelled regularly to Africa.

The couple then moved to Paris where Salgado started to lose his interest in economics and instead began taking photos around 1970. On a trip to Niger in 1973, he found both his subject and his style. Lelia and his first son were to stay in Paris and she organised and promoted the sale of Salgado's pictures. Salgado himself set off for seven years to photograph a project called 'Other Americas'.

He made a striking figures at that time with a cascade of long blonde hair and a big beard. He was to travel to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, climbing right up into the Andes to meet and photograph remarkable tribes and colonies of people: The Saraguros, for example, who are very religious but also get totally drunk. In the state of Oaxaca in Mexico he met the remarkable music-loving Mixe people who all play instruments, then the Tarahumara who are great runners.

On the completion of this long project and the birth of their second child who had Down's Syndrome, they left Europe to return to Lelia's home town in Brazil.
Salgado used the opportunity to spend over two years making journeys to he remote parts of NE Brazil where life and death are very close. He shows us babies in tiny coffins who, because they'd died before they were baptised, are buried with their eyes open in rented coffins. The suffering he saw there changed him.

Worse was to come. From 1984-86, Salgado travelled through the Sahel, working with Doctors Without Borders, in Ethiopia, Tigre and Mali. The vast refugee camps, the droughts and starvation, make his photos from this period difficult to look at.

From 1986-1991 he travelled in 30 countries for a project simply entitled 'Workers' which showed the harsh world of fishermen, steel workers, ship wreckers, car workers, tea pickers and, of course, the gold diggers.

In 1991 at the end of the First Gulf War, Saddam Hussein set fire to the Kuwaiti oilfields. He didn't want to leave this vast spectacle: 500 oil wells burning with teams of fire-fighters battlign to subdue titanic forces. His pictures show them as exhausted, oil-soaked hardly humans. Explosions damage Salgado's hearing. 

From 1993-1999 his focus was displaced people, refugees, all over the world.

In 1994, he went to Tanzania and witnessed the huge displacement of people fleeing the slaughter in Rwanda. He drove 150 kms into that country and there were dead bodies the whole way. His photos take us into the megacity of refugees, more than a million.

Then came Yugoslavia (1994-95). He reflects: "We humans are terrible animals - extremely violent."

Then came the heart of darkness: Congo (1994), Rwanda (1995), Congo (1997).
Two million displaced people. He says: "You felt the whole planet was covered by refugee tents."

These experiences took a toll on his soul. He no longer believed in humans: "We didn't deserve to live."

What saved him and healed him was Lelia's idea to replant the forest that had been lost on his family farm. In ten years, their Instituto Terra planted two and a half million trees and the area is now established as a National Park.

In that same period, Salgado embarked on his last great project: 'Genesis'. This time his eye concentrated on nature, a love letter to the planet, and on the unspoilt landscapes and tribes. 

He starts in the Galapagos islands with the other-worldly giant iguanas. One telling image of a iguana's clawed foot reminds him, he says, of the hand of a medieval knight. 

He sits in the jungle with the gorillas, learning that they will allow you there if you show them politeness and respect. He encounters a huge whale, touching its skin and seeing its tail 55m away, flap in response.

He tracks down and lives with the Nenets - the cowboys of Siberia. Eighteen people and 6,000 reindeer. They sleep with their lariats round their necks and wear boots made of silver fox skin that last them a lifetime.

His son captures footage of his journey to meet one of the remotest tribes in the Amazon: the Zolé. Naked with few adornments - the men sport giant plugs in their bottom lips - they stare unconcerned into Salgado's lens, composed and unafraid. The women are in charge and have four of five husbands for different purposes.

The film's message is at least half the world remains untouched. The destruction of nature can be reversed.

Salgado stares out at us like a spaceman. He has seen so much and has spent his life using his remarkable eyes to show us all aspects and extremes of human nature and nature itself. His astonishing endurance, his ability to find kinship with people around the planet, his deep humility and love of nature will touch your heart and spirit and restore your faith about what we can do to save our planet.

Friday, June 10, 2016


Book publishing used to be fun back in the old school days. We had a great hip agent - Abner Stein, the Man from New York City  - and we used to have lots of lunches which the publisher would pay for. The idea would be discussed over
many glasses of wine and a deal was made. Contracts followed and you just got on with it. Its not easy any more in the modern corporate publishing world which has lost its soul  There are, of course, a lot of great independent imprints but its a tough market out there.

Unbound, a crowd funding publishing site, offers some hand-picked authors the opportunity to pitch their ideas to an audience and raise the money to bring their book to reality. This re-invention of an old form of publishing - by subscription - is welcomed.

Crowd funding of any kind is, of course, a lot of hard work. It helps if you've got a big fan base. Here's one of the books currently on the Unbound site - 'The Pagoda Tree'which I happen to know a lot about. Australian-based Claire Scobie is a longtime friend and colleague who is trying to get her latest book published in the UK via Unbound. Claire is a very accomplished and successful writer and is also a first-rate journalist whose reporting on Tibet, East Timor and many other issues are testament to her skill and courage. 

She wrote a brilliant book called 'Last Seen in Lhasa', the true-life story of her friendship with a Tibetan nun which The Generalist reviewed in 2006This new book is a historical novel set in India in the 18th century, its main character being a temple dancer named Maya. A difficult thing to pull off and perhaps not something that I would normally read but Claire has spent a lot of time in India, has engaged in deep research and has the skill to bring the characters and historical situation to life. I enjoyed it.

As things stand, she has found 82%  of  the funding needed with four weeks to go.For other writers who might wish to try and follow this route, here is how Claire has structured her fund-raising efforts. Everyone who donates gets their name in the book and gains access to the writer's shed (a blog on the site). Then there are some further incentives and rewards to encourage you to support.

The funding levels run from £10 (digital e-book) to £3000 (corporate patron who gets special thanks and their name upfront plus signed copy and e-book) Claire is also offering Tailored Travel advice for India + signed hardback (£120), one-day creative writing workshops (£150), an offer for Small Book groups (£200) and more. Something to suit every size of pocket.

Good luck to Claire and authors everywhere.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016


This is one of the great books on Ali, a chunky 300pp delight created by George Lois, a famous American art director, designer, and author, and published by Taschen in 2006. Lois is best known for over 92 covers he designed for Esquire magazine from 1962 to  1972.. One of the most famous of all was Ali as St Sebastian, each arrow named for one of his enemies. Each double page is a striking image alongside an Ali quote or poem. Its imaginative and a testament also to the hit-it-off style and friendship between the two men. In the intro Lois writes:  

'Muhammad Ali was the heavyweight of everything: hype, PR, media, street theatre, black humour, moneymaking, politics, rap, the greats boxing champion ever, and certainly the superstar to end all superstars, the epitome of superstardom - The Greatest. A pugilistic jester whose verbal jabs made more headlines than his punches in the ring, his doggerel was an upscale version of street trash talk, the first time whites had ever heard such versifying - becoming the first rapper, the precursor to Tupac and Jay-Z. His first-person rhymes and rhythms extolling his hubris were hilarious hip-hop, decades before Run-D.M.C., Rakim and LL Cool J. His style, his desecrating mouth, his beautiful irrationality, his principled, even prophetic stand against the Vietnam War, all added to his credentials as a true-born slayer of authority. and the most beloved man of our times.'

Front cover of the Sunday Times magazine/September 9th 1974, in the lead-up to the 'Rumble In The Jungle'
[The Generalist Archive]

Two other of my favourite Ali Books: 'Muhammad Ali: The Glory Years' by Felix Dennis and Don Atyeo [Ebury Press.2002]. Packed with great black and whites and original interviews, documenting every Ali fight from 1960-1981.

'The Tao of Ali' is a much more personal book on Ali the man, Long time since I read it but it has stuck with me. Here's a review from Publisher's Weekly:

To Miller, a contributing editor to Sport magazine, it seems as if Muhammad Ali has always been a part of his life--even as far back as January 1964, when the author ""had just turned twelve and was the shortest and skinniest and sickliest kid in town."" It was then that Miller first saw Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, on TV, in connection with his fight against Sonny Liston. Ali was, as always, supremely confident: ""I'm young and handsome and fast and pretty and can't possibly be beat,"" Miller heard the boxer say. For Miller, ""the voice was cooking with the cosmic.""
In this engaging blend of autobiography and portrait, Miller goes on to tell of meeting Ali in person, in 1975, at the boxer's training camp in Pennsylvania, where the writer sparred with the champ and took a punch that dazed him. Although Miller has met other boxing legends, Ali, he says, is in a class by himself--not only for his consummate skill and self-assurance but for other qualities as well, such as the quiet, sure, unmistakable way he befriends and enlivens others, seemingly relieving them at least in part of their troubles and worries. The author leaves no doubt that his admiration for and friendship with Ali has had a benevolent--perhaps salvational--effect on his own life. While the exact nature of Ali's effect on Miller remains unclear, the picture of Ali presented here offers many clues--the man Miller portrays so vividly is, though physically slowed by Parkinson's syndrome, full of charm, wit and religious fervor (""I've been everywhere in the world, seen everything, had everything a man can have. Don't none of it mean nothin'.... The only thing that matters is submitting to the will of God""). 

My generation were lucky enough to see the 'Rumble In The Jungle' live. If my memory serves me well, we were clustered round a small tv that was sitting on a large round table in our office in Ladbroke Grove. 'When Were Kings' is the fight and much more. Ali and Foreman went out to Mobutu's Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) for the fight which was one of Don King's first major boxing promotions. There was also going to be a concert featuring top flight musicians. In addition the media were there in force including such great writers as Norman Mailer and Hunter S. Thompson. When Foreman hurt himself in training, the whole circus has to be postponed. The fight, which was meant to happen on Sept 25th was pushed back to October 30th.
The three-night-long music festival to hype the fight took place as scheduled (September 22–24) and is documented in the 2008 film'Soul Power'. It includes performances by James Brown, Celia Cruz and the Fania All-Stars, B.B. King, Miriam Makeba, The Spinners, Bill Withers, The Crusaders, and Manu Dibango. 

This Oscar winning film, directed by Leon Gast captures the whole story in brilliant style. I first went to see it on a big screen with my son Louis in a small hot cinema in London's West End one summer afternoon. My son  didn't know what the outcome of the fight was. Even though I knew, it was a amazing experience to see it again. 

William Klein is one cool cat - considered one of the great street photographers, former painter under Leger, also film-maker. His work in inspiring and exciting and this film which I discovered some years ago is stone cold brilliant. 

Imagine if Jean Luc Godard had made a boxing movie and you're getting close to this gem. Klein has a wonderful eye and real and natural untrained genius for creating images. The film goes from 1964 to 1974 and covers the two Sonny Liston fights and the Rumble in the Jungle. It's mainly in black and white but then effectively switches to colour when we reach Zaire.

We don't see the fights. The film opens with a swift montage from the first Liston/Ali encounter [which Klein made an earlier film about: Cassius, le grand (1964–65)] 
'Muhammad Ali: The Greatest' was realeased in 1969.

What we do see is everything surrounding the fights and the dramatic events in between. Klein takes his camera right up in there, close as you can get to people's faces and into the situation. Its visceral and totally real. This must be one of the greatest films to capture not only Ali - formidable, outspoken, dangerous, magnificent - but the real black experience in the South, which perhaps only a Jewish Frenchman born in New York could get. 

We meet the Louisville Syndicate, the white men funding Cassius Clay's early career and their casual racism. We go to Ali's training camp and The Beatles turn up. We see the frightening bulk of Sonny Liston and are taken inside sweaty dressing rooms where the fighters are being prepared for action.  

Klein captures the period between fights when Ali has an abdominal hernia and is out of action for six months. Its during this time that  joins the Black Muslims and changes his name to Muhammad Ali. At that time, Ali believed that the 22 million blacks in America should have their own homeland. Amazingly we see Malcolm X talking straight to Klein's camera and then see the aftermath of Malcolm X's assassination and the period when Ali is receiving death threats. The Africa we see is pulsating and, post the fight, is jumping with vivacious glee and crowds gleefully shouting the name of Ali. The film has cool soundtracks from modern jazz to afrobeat. This is The Greatest about The Greatest.

This fabulous larger-than-life bronze sculpture of Ali was produced by Marcus Cornish
and commissioned by the late Felix Dennis for his Garden of Heroes & Villains.
Photo: John May

Monday, May 30, 2016


Following on from the tragic shooting of the 17-year-old male gorilla named Harambe at Cincinnati Zoo, it seemed appropriate to post this story, originally commissioned for the magazine 'Monika'. Isn't it about time we stopped keeping gorillas in captivity?

This remarkable photo is one of the most famous images taken by the distinguished photographer and cinematographer Wolf Suschitsky.

Back in 1979, he sent me a print of it as a gift with a very sweet note after I told him the story I am about to relate and it now sits centre stage above my gas fire in my work room, framed in black - a haunting image of my totem animal.

I was a kid back in the fifties when I saw Guy at London Zoo. For his whole life in captivity he was the zoo's main attraction, much-loved and famous from his numerous tv appearances. Like a giant hairy Buddha he sat there staring back at me, an extraordinary unearthly being.

The experience stuck.

The basics of Guy's story are well recorded. Born on 30th May 1946, he was captured in the French Cameroons and arrived at the zoo on Bonfire Night the following year (hence his name) as a tiny baby, weighing 231bs (10.4kg) and holding a small, tin hot-water bottle. A Western Lowland Gorilla with the delightful Latin name of Gorilla gorilla gorilla, he grew to a massive size. According to the archives of the Zoological Society of London, at his heaviest in 1966 he weighed 34 stone (215kg), stood 5ft 4in tall (1.1m, with knees bent) and had a 9ft (2.7m) arm span. His neck was 36in (0.9m) in circumference, bigger than an average man's waist.

He was introduced to Lome, a female gorilla, in the late '60s, but they never mated. His favourite foods were cucumbers, melon, pineapple and dates. He had a big fan club, members of which would send him cards on his birthday. The Heatons, from Leeds, regularly spent a week of their annual holiday with him. When small birds flew into his cage he would pick them up, gently examine them, and then set them free.

Freedom was something he never experienced himself, and his celebrity led to his death from a heart attack in 1978 while undergoing surgery. The operation was to deal with infected teeth, rotted from all the sweets fed to him by tourists. What an ignominious end for such a grand creature. 

In a strange way, Guy's death changed my life and consciousness, coming hard on the heels of my discovery of Peter Singer's book ‘Animal Liberation’ and the Animal Liberation Front. At that time I was working as Dick Tracy, investigative journalist, for the NME, and was one of the first journalists to write about ALF activities. It is hard to grasp now how strange these ideas and actions seemed at the time. 

Fired up with new feelings and emotions, it was a small step for me to produce a badge (through `Better Badges', main producer of punk badges at the time), a black and white beauty that had a picture of Guy on it, and the word 'Animal Liberation'. It was a hit. 

While I continued to write animal pieces for the NME, I could see this was a much bigger story, and it was then I invented 'The Beast', which began life as two four-page supplements in International Times before becoming a magazine in its own right. The first issue, unsurprisingly, had Guy on the cover. 

The magazine, which I produced with Michael Marten and designer Mikki Rain, ran for ten issues over two years (1979-1981) and was, in retrospect, a pioneering effort, coming as it did at a new phase in the growth of a movement for a change in our attitude towards animals that is now global in extent. Amazingly, the whole set of the original magazines have now been carefully digitised and can be read in total online.

Together with my colleagues Mike Marten and John Chesterman, I also produced two animal books in this period - a beautiful photo book entitled ‘Weird and Wonderful Wildlife’ and a modern-day bestiary called ‘A Book of Beasts’. Strangely, it happened that both books were published in the same week, and just as I was on the brink of setting out to do some publicity work on them, came the news that Guy the Gorilla was going to be put on exhibition -stuffed - in the Natural History Museum.

A chill went through me, and I knew I was going  to have to do something. Which is why on a brisk autumn day in November 1982, I was standing outside the Museum with my dear departed friend John Chesterman, handing out protest leaflets that I had produced and written on the sad story of Guy, an item that also ran as a piece in Time Out.

Then I was ushered in to do a live interview for Radio 4 alongside someone from the museum who obviously had different views on the subject. We were positioned in front of Guy - a painful experience and, I felt, yet another ignominy.

Of course, times have changed. The idea of housing a huge gorilla in a tiny cage for all its natural life would now be unacceptable. The growth in our understanding of primates over the last 30 years has altered our relationship to them. We now know how genetically similar we are to apes, and how intelligent they are.

The current conservation status of Lowland Gorillas is 'critically endangered'. Estimates from the 1980s put the total population in seven Central African nations at fewer than 100,000. The number remaining is now believed to be less than half this, due to disease and hunting. Good news came in August 2008, when the Wildlife Conservation Society revealed the discovery of more than 125,000 and of these gorillas, previously untallied, but the species as a whole remains vulnerable to the Ebola virus, poaching and deforestation.

According to Wikipedia, there are 550 Western Lowland Gorillas in zoos worldwide, many captive breeding programmes underway. In fact there's even an online stud book.

The spirit of Guy still haunts me. He stares at me from the photo, the shadow of the bars on his face, a constant reminder of the plight of animals in our modern world; also of fugitive personal memories and past emotions. Those were important times. 

By a set of fortuitous circumstances, when writing this piece, the opportunity arose for a phone interview with Wolf Suschitsky, now a remarkable 100 years old. [Now 103]

Source: United Nations of Photography
Principally a cinematographer of some 25 feature films, of which the best-known is ‘Get Carter’, he always carried a still camera and his photos have been exhibited internationally. On the phone he sounded bright and sprightly. He has a sharp memory and a voice that still retains a distinctive Austrian accent. 

He was happy to recall his memories of that day in 1958 when, then aged 46, he took his iconic shot of Guy. He told me that at that time he was working as an assistant to director Paul Burnford, who was making a series of zoo films. Wolf took advantage of this to start shooting portraits of the animals, which zoologist Julian Huxley (brother of Aldous) liked very much. They later together made a book about mammals entitled ‘The Kingdom of the Beast’. According to Suschitsky, Huxley said Guy "was the most magnificent animal he'd ever met."

"I was helped by Mr Smith, head keeper of the Old Monkey House, as it was called. I put the lens of my Hasselblad through the bars and the keeper was there with a big iron bar to keep Guy away, in case he went for me, because he could reach out about three feet.

"Guy was sitting at the back of a terribly small cage and the shadows of the bars were on him. After a while I had to reload my camera, and the keeper said, `I'll just go and get him some more grapes to keep him in place where he is' and he put that bar, which had a hook at the end, onto the cage.

"While he was away, Guy came slowly forward, picked up the iron bar and took it into the cage and put it in front of himself. And when the keeper came back, he immediately said: 'Give me that bar'. No reaction at all. 'Give me that bar'. No reaction. Third time, Guy picked up a sweet wrapper and brought it to the keeper. He was very intelligent, of course, and knew exactly what was wanted, and eventually he gave it back."

In an interview with The Guardian about this picture, Wolf Suschitsky described Guy as a "marvellous ape living in a tiny cage... I don't think he was happy - I don't see how he could have been".


In 1931, Robert J. Sullivan permanently loaned the zoo a female gorilla named Susie. Captured in the Belgian Congo, Susie was first sold to a group of French explorers who sent her to France. In August 1929, Susie was transported from Europe to the United States aboard the Graf Zeppelin accompanied by William Dressman.

After Susie completed a tour through the United States and Canada with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Sullivan purchased Susie for $4500.00 and loaned her to the zoo. Dressman, who stayed on as Susie’s trainer after she was loaned to the zoo, taught her how eat with a knife and fork and orchestrated two performances every day. Susie was so popular that on her birthday on August 7, 1936, more than 16,000 visitors flocked to the zoo. Susie remained one of the most popular animals at the zoo until her death on October 29, 1947. Her body was donated to the University of Cincinnati, where her skeleton remained on display until it was destroyed in a fire in 1974.

 Gorilla Shooting Sparks Memory of Infamous Brookfield Zoo Incident 

Many Chicagoans remember that on Aug. 16, 1996, a small boy climbed a railing and fell 18 feet into the gorilla den at the Brookfield Zoo. An 8-year-old female gorilla named Binti Jua made national headlines when she picked up the unconscious boy and protected him from the other primates. The act of kindness came as a surprise to many of the guests who said they feared Binti Jua would maul the 3-year-old. The boy, whose identity was never released, made a full recovery, and Binti Jua's heroic deed caught on camera gained her national attention. Binti was named Newsweek's Hero of the Year and one of People magazine's most intriguing people of 1996.


2016 is the Chinese year of the monkey which seems darkly appropriate due to the fact that China will, in the next few years, be leading the world in medical research using non-human primates and is soon expected to launch a major brain project to take advantage of this animal resource. The Generalist was alerted to this situation by an article entitled 'Monkey Kingdom' by David Cyranoski and an accompanying editorial comment in a recent issue of the journal Nature

Cyranoski begins his piece by journeying to the Yunnan Key Laboratory of Primate Research, located an hour's drive out of the city of Kunming in Yunnan province in south-western China Opened in 2011 it has become 'a Mecca for cutting-edge primate research'. 
 Inside the gated compound is a quiet, idyllic campus; a series of grey, cement animal houses stack up on the lush hillside, each with a clear plastic roof to let in the light...its inhabitants are some 1,500 monkeys, all bred for research.
 These 'gene-edited monkeys' are being used for research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy, autism and Parkinson's Disease. The dream of Ji Weizhi, the director at Yunnan,  is “to have an animal like a tool” for biomedical discovery.

 Elsewhere in China, over the last decade a network of hi-tech primate facilities have been built in Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Suzhou and Guangzhou.

In 2011, 'primate disease models' was adopted as a national  'big science' development scheme and, three years later, 25m yuan ($3.9m) of funding was allocated to the Kunming Institute of Zoology to enable it's monkey facility to double its population of cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) and rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) to 5,000. Cyranoski reports:

'Zhao Xudong, who runs the primate-research facility, says that the plan is to “set it up like a hospital, with separate departments for surgery, genetics and imaging”, and a conveyor belt to move monkeys between departments.'

The Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai also has plans to expand, increasing its population of 600 Old World monkeys to 800 in 2017 and  its 300-strong marmoset colony.

Macaques are the predominant monkeys used for medical experimentation in China. Although wild populations  have declined, in the period from 2004-2013, the number of macaque breeders trebled to 34, resulting in an increase from 9,868 to 35,385 macaques available. The farming of marmosets, another monkey popular with researchers, has also risen. 

“Governments and politicians don't see this, but we face a huge risk,China will become the place where all therapeutic strategies will have to be validated. Do we want that? Or do we want to stay in control?”
 - Erwan Bezard, director of the Institute of Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Bordeaux in France, has already set up Motac, his own primate-research company in Beijing.

Over past decades, Europe and the US have led the way in the use of primates for neurological research into brain functions and diseases, because of their similarity to humans. The dramatic rise in cases of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's  and other degenerative brain conditions has increased demand.

However, in the West,  primate research is strictly controlled by a matrix of regulations, is very expensive and highly controversial. One geneticist tells  Cyranoski that it costs $6,000 to buy a monkey in the US and $20 per day to keep it; in China are those same costs are $1,000 and $5 per day.

As a result, Nature claims that, in Europe, the number of monkeys used in medical research has declined by 28% between 2008-2011. 

 Nature's editorial claims that 'the German federal government, like most European governments...  has no strategy for the primate research and testing that will be needed to move many candidate therapies into the clinic...[because] primate under pressure from campaigners and politicians.'

The Netherlands voted [in March 2016] 'to revisit a 2013 parliamentary question on whether and, if so, how the country could end primate research within a decade'.

In the US, Harvard Medical School closed its primate facility in May 2015 for 'strategic' reasons. 

[According to a report by David Grimm in the  magazine Science, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) is to convene a workshop this summer to review the ethical policies and procedures surrounding work on monkeys, baboons, and related animals. This follows on from NIH’s decision to end controversial monkey experiments at one of its labs and the termination of its support for invasive research on chimpanzees.]

As a result, many Western scientists are now concerned by the near monopoly China may soon have in using primates for disease research and drug testing. One likes the situation to CERN: scientists from all over the world will have to travel there to take advantage not only of the ample supply of primates but also of advanced imaging tools, genetic engineering and editing techniques. These, combined with new reproductive technologies, says Cyranoski, are 'making monkeys a more efficient experimental tool.'

The Nature editorial raises the fact that:
'Chinese researchers’ freedom from animal-rights pressures will probably continue for the foreseeable future, but it is not a given. To maintain that support, and to make it easier for researchers elsewhere to form collaborations, they will have to show that they are abiding by principles that guide the international scientific community — that monkeys should be used only when necessary and in as small a number as possible.
'...government agencies must also consider the views of society at large, which, as our understanding of monkeys’ capabilities and commonalities with humans grows, is ever more strongly against research on primates. This is a valid perspective and needs to be balanced with the societal benefits that can be gained only through primate research.'

'...the immunity that China's primate researchers have had to animal-rights activism could start to erode, warns Deborah Cao...People are starting to use Chinese social media sites to voice outrage at the abuse of animals, Cao says.'

The Generalist has been in correspondence with the leading authority on animal law and animal rights in China is Professor Deborah Cao, a linguist and legal scholar at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. Amongst her many books are two works in Chinese -  'Animals are Not Things' and While The Dog Gently Weeps'  - and this excellent book in English 'Animals In China', published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015. She was named one of the top 200 most influential blog writers in China in 2012.

Before going on to examine the book as a whole, there's interesting material here on the medical use of non-human primates and other lab animals..


According to statistics from the government's Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) about 12 million animals are used for scientific purposes in China each year, including mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs and primates. Cao writes:
 'Regulatory regimes and guidance for the humane treatment off animals used in research exists, but in a grey area or a black hole from which little information escapes to the public'
Cao suggests that there is a two-tier system: experiments with animals whose results they want to get published in international journals and publications. This is the motivation to ensure these are carried out within a legal framework. But, says Cao, there is a second level of 'ordinary animals' which are used for teaching and research purposes and they have no legal protection under the existing law. The number of these are not recorded.

The first official document and policy in China that uses the term 'animal welfare' is MOST's 'Guidelines for the Human Treatment of Laboratory Animals'. (2006). Amongst other things these define what constitutes animal abuse and the penalties for non-compliance. There is 'little information available', says Cao, as to whether these rules are enforced, nationally or locally. 

According to a report in the China Daily'  a Chinese official 'found it hard to believe that no one has ever breached the rules but that 'no facilities have been punished for animal welfare and ethics violations.' Interestingly the official also reportedly said 'that because of huge pressure from animal rights groups, more foreign companies have been shifting their animal research into China. He says: 'China would never become a haven for inappropriate animal experiments in the name of science.'

 Cao quotes one article by a leading scholar working in the area of animal research in China [Jin, Meilei Chinese Bulletin of Life Sciences. 2012] who notes:
'that there is a lack of management rules for cases of cruel killing of laboratory animals in China; animal carers and laboratory technical staff can cruelly kill laboratory animals wilfully with impunity. This scientist also says that violations of laboratory animal ethics occur; acts such as removing animals' eyeballs to take blood samples and breach of euthanasia requirements are still commonplace; there are also emotional conflicts between laboratory animal carers and scientists, with the former forming emotional bonds with animals they raise and with scientists ending their lives.'

Li Feng's photo of caged monkeys in a med lab in Hubei province was the winner in the Animal Category of National Geographic's 2007 Best Global Photos. Cao writes:
The award-winning photos of a photojournalist Li Feng accidentally revealed laboratory primates living in conditions that violated China's regulations. It turned out that the laboratory where the primates lived and the photos were taken in Yichang City, Hubei Province, was an unlicensed and thus illegal laboratory. Before the photos were taken and published, no one had looked into the facility. There was no public report that the facility was penalized after the disclosure that it was operating outside the law although the prize-winning photos were widely publicized and reported. According to Chinese media reports, more than 30 Chinese institutions are now accredited by the Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC).'
 Cao reports that there has been an increase in research institutions and pharmaceutical companies from around the world who are not only outsourcing their animal testing to China but are also buying laboratory animals from China at a fraction of the cost charged by Western suppliers.
  • More than half of  the laboratory primates bred in China are exported overseas. Crab-eating macaques, long-tailed macaques and rhesus macaques are the main species of laboratory primates bred and used in China. 
  • China is the leading supplier of primates to the USA, exporting more than 10,000 labora-tory monkeys in 2013, or 56 per cent of the total. The cost of raising a monkey in China is about half that in the USA.
  • In 2007, Shanghai built a laboratory animal production base, the biggest in China, as a public platform for laboratory animal services, and a company, SLAG Laboratory Animals Shanghai, is said to have produced 1.1 million laboratory animals in 2007, an eightfold increase over the previous decade.
  • In the mid-1990s, China exported about 3,000 laboratory primates each year. The figure has since risen to over 30,000 a year, making China the biggest country in the world for laboratory primate export.
  •  There are around 35 government-approved companies in China that breed laboratory primates. According to the SFA, the number of laboratory primates for use and sale in China each year is close to 40,000. 

'A victory for animal advocacy was recorded in 2014. China Southern Airlines, a state-owned carrier, decided to stop transporting live primates for experiments on all its flights. An international animal NGO, PETA, campaigned against international airlines' transporting live and other primates for research.
'In 2013, PETA purchased shares of China Southern Airlines so that its representatives could attend shareholder meetings and lobby company executives, but the airline announced its policy change before PETA initiated action.
'Now no Chinese airlines are shipping primates to laboratories overseas. due to the halt by many commercial airlines to shipping laboratory animals, Western research facilities and pharmaceutical companies increasingly rely on charter flights.'

Bear bile protest roars into Beijing

Protesters of bear bile extraction staged a demonstration dressed in furry costumes in downtown Beijing, March 24, 2012. Chinese bear bile producer Guizhentang has been under fire for in recent weeks since it was revealed it planned to expand its bile production. The company's last IPO attempt in February 2011 floundered amid fierce public opposition. Bear bile has been used as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine to cure eye and liver ailments for nearly 3,000 years. [Photo/CFP] 

'I was one of the oblivious Chinese; born, bred and educated in China many years ago, until an American family member asked me to contemplate the pain that animals might have experienced in Chinese cooking. Animal pain is everywhere in Chinese daily life but most choose not to see. However, this is starting to change.


'Chinese love animals - they love them to death, literally. They love to eat them, to kill them, to taker them in medicine, to wear them, to watch them in entertainment, to make an exquisite art form of them in ivory and other carvings. In the process, they drive some animal species to extinction or to its brink. They also cause the living ones extreme pain and suffering before eating them. Unfortunately this is part of Chinese culture, an otherwise great human civilisation, a country with the longest continuous history on earth.
 These powerful statements by Deboran Cao form part of the introduction to her valuable book that, for the first time, gives readers and activists in the West, a powerful overview. 

She begins with 'Happy Fish and Royal Workers; Animals in Traditional Chinese Philosophy and Law'. Every Chinese person has an animal zodiac sign and the Chinese language is full of idioms and sayings with animals. In the Western world, we believe we are separate from nature and superior to the animals. In Chinese philosophy,  there are no distinctions between human and animal; both are united with all living things in one cosmic pattern. Yet animals are serviceable for human needs and enterprises.

Chapters 3 and 4 cover Wildlife Law and Wildlife Crimes. Due to China's insatiable greed for elephant and rhino body parts, both species face extinction.

Chapter 5 is hard reading. In China there is no national law protecting domestic animals against cruelty, the only major country in the world today that does not have such laws.
It is well known that there is a trade in cat and dog meat. What is new to contemporary China is is the word 'pet' and the practice of keeping companion animals. In 2007 there were an estimated 11 billion pets in China, mostly birds, fish and reptiles. One more recent estimate is that there are 27 million pet dogs and 11 million pet cats.

In the chapter Working Animals, as well as the lab animals already discussed, Cao covers wildlife in Zoos and Circuses, and the fur industry - China is now the world's leading supplier of furs and fur garments.

In many ways the most interesting chapter of all is 'Chinese Animal Lib: An Emerging Social Movement.' Cao writes:

'China is undergoing a movement of an entirely different kind - an animal liberation movement...This emerging moral awakening and personal participation in helping and caring for animals in the last few years can be gauged in a number of ways [which she lists].
'Almost all of these [actions] 'are through animal NGOs, homeless animal rescue shelters and private individual volunteers, and all are recent phenomena, still very new to most Chinese and still controversial. Nevertheless, the Chinese 'animal liberation movement' or ' animal protection movement' is a movement for the better. Unlike all previous movements and campaigns in modern Chinese history, it is apolitical...This marks a fundamental difference between this movement and all other movements and campaigns in contemporary China.'
'In short, the animal protection movement in China is still in its infancy. as the great social reformer John Stuart Mill wrote, social movement normally experience three stages: ridicule, discussion and adoption. In China, the animal protection movement is still in the initial stage.'

An important book for our times.


Professor Cao was also the co-editor with Steven White of this other recently published book. Here is an extract from the introduction:
'In our increasingly interconnected and wired world, some of the biggest global stars have been nonhuman animals. On blogs, on Facebook and all around the Internet, claws and clicks go hand in hand or paw in paw, with the furry claiming cyberspace.
'In 2014, one of the most emailed stories on the New York Times website was about the biology of cats. According to media reports, there has been a sharp rise in the proportion of American dog and cat owners with provisions in their wills for their pets, with nearly one in ten now making such arrangements. One of the most fervently embraced documentaries of 2013 was 'Blackfish', shown over and over on CNN. And these are not just "feel good" stories about cute and cuddly animals. They are about animal suffering, animal science, animal intelligence and cognition, animal behaviour and social life, animal welfare in law, and above all, animal dignity, rights and justice...

'These topics are not academic jargon but increasingly entering the popular cyber parlance. In the meantime, apart from stories and images of animals going viral in traditional and social media around the world, significant legal battles are being fought on behalf of animals, for instance in the International Court of Justice in the Hague and in the courtrooms of New York. At the end of 2013, a team of lawyers were filing writs of habeus corpus in New York on behalf of four captive chimpanzees, as part of the Nonhuman Rights Project. At the other end of the world, in Australia, a group of animal lawyers, scientist and scholars were gathering to discuss animal law and animal welfare, the result of which is this edited book...

'The impetus for the symposium...derives from a sobering reality: despite the developments in animal protection law over the last 200 years and, in particular, the developments in the legal front over the three decades, animal cruelty is not decreasing but increasing world-wide. We are witnessing the globalisation of animal cruelty...

'Animal cruelty is increasing in terms of scale and in more varied forms, for both domestic animals and, increasingly, for wildlife. Factory farming, which originated in the West, has now been introduced to developing countries and is expanding rapidly; wildlife is being used and abused for various kinds of human consumption on an unprecedented scale, especially in Asia, and we are facing the real possibility that African elephants and rhinos may become extinct in the next decade; indiscriminate killing of different species of animals occurs every so often on a massive scale due to health scares and panic fuelled by a fear of the spread of disease... In an age of globalisation, a global solution through international cooperation and communication of animal matters is essential to deal with animal cruelty.'

 The first section of this multi-author book focuses on developments in animal law and the need for an international protection treaty addressing the welfare and protection of animals.
The second part examines  animal protections laws in Australia, South Africa, Israel, Brazil and China. There is also an essay about protecting the protection of cetaceans under US law.

The editors conclude:  'If we are on the cusp of a major re-evaluation of human and nonhuman relations, if animal rights and protection are to constitute a major social justice movement of the twenty-first century, lawyers and scientists, for their part will need to be part of a cooperative, creative and committed push for change. This book is an intellectual contribution to this project.'