Sunday, December 23, 2007

CELEBRATING JEFF NUTTALL


(Above): The front-line of Brenda's Boyfriends, with Jeff Nuttall on cornet, playing live in 1980. (Photo by George Perkin)

(Below): A 1990 photo of Jeff in his beloved Volvo ('Celia') with one his hand-made friends ('Auntie') in the passenger seat. Photo taken in Nelson, Lancashire By Claire McNamee.
Purchase 'Jeff Nuttall's Wake on Paper' and 'Jeff Nuttall's Wake on CD'

My 1985 audio interview with Jeff Nuttall is now available for download at the Audio Generalist. Please check it out. The full back story to the interview can be found at this previous post: Jeff Nuttall: Bomb Culture and Beyond

By way of introduction to Mr Nuttall (what a great name for a prankster and animateur), here is the obituary written for The Guardian (12 Jan 2004) by Michael Horovitz and used with his permission. Hear MH on the Audio Generalist

'Jeff Nuttall, who has died aged 70 was a catalyst, perpetrator and champion of rebellion and experiment in the arts and society. Bomb Culture, his 1968 chronicle of the emergence of internationalist counter-culture in Britain, remains a primary source and manifesto for the post-Hiroshima generation.

The vision of Jeff's youth was grounded in "a faith that, given liberation, the human spirit would predominate. I imagined some kind of stone age village. People would build their own houses imaginatively and live there sophisticatedly and in a literate way and they would live with their hands and their minds and they would not be dictated to by anybody selling them anything. People would have the opportunity of coming into their true self, which was generous and creative and permissive".

He was born in Clitheroe, Lancashire, but most of his childhood and teens were spent in Orcop near Herefordshire's Welsh border. His father was the village headmaster but the most formative years of Jeff's education were at Hereford and Bath art schools (1949-53). In 1954 he married Jane Louch, the painter who had taught him at Hereford, with whom he reared a daughter and three sons. They stayed more or less together for the next two decades.

From the late 1970s to 1984 Jeff drove around Britain, Australia and Portugal with Amanda Porter, as svelte as he was chubby, with whom he had another two boys. The rest of his life was shared with Jill Richards, a diminutive Welsh actor as hard-drinking and sharp-witted as himself.

From 1956-68 Jeff was a secondary school art master, and for the following 16 years he worked at art colleges, in Bradford, Leeds, and then as Liverpool polytechnic's head of fine art. But while bringing a transformative zest to those jobs, he was also getting on with his mission.

From 1964-67 he edited and circulated My Own Mag, a bran tub of anarchic texts and images, with William Burroughs lavishly featured in most issues. In 1966 International Times, the first London-based "underground" newspaper, was set up. Jeff contributed articles and cartoons to IT and other underground publications which emerged in its wake.

Central to the burgeoning oral verse, jazz poetry, happenings and performance art movements, he also played effervescent jazz piano and scalding cornet in the Red Allen-Roy Eldridge idioms, and sang infectiously genial vocals. The humours of Fats Waller were recreated in Jeff's persona, yet he struck some on a brief encounter as a show-off. For many more he was an outstandingly original artist also possessed of a gift for helping others appreciate their own potential.

Other precursors whose legacies he extended were the dadaists, surrealists and beats, Dylan Thomas, John Bratby and kitchen sink painting, McGill postcards, bebop and northern music hall. In 1967 he co-founded the People Show, an improvising theatre troupe with which Jeff travelled, wrote and acted for five years.

From the mid-1980s he took cameo roles in films and television. Throughout his days he made and exhibited hundreds of lyrical-threatful-polemical artworks.

He was the Guardian's incisive poetry critic (1979-81) and during the last 40 years he published some 40 books. There were poetry, plays, fiction, memoirs, essays, and verbal portraits of kindred spirits like Blackpool's star mid-20th century comedian Frank Randle (King Twist, 1978) and the free jazz virtuoso Lol Coxhill (The Bald Soprano, 1989). Jeff's Selected Poems has just appeared (Salt Publications).

In 1990 Jeff summarised his artistic approach: "I make a line out of a rhythmic figure. The previous figure suggests the subsequent one. The rhythmic figures owe much to Charlie Parker's saxophone phrasing." Thus a characteristic Nuttall poem opens:

So brightly blisters the great regurgitating ribbon of the Thames .
Sculls skim through like springtime swallows.
Keels kiss tidal scum, lancing the stolen sun-boils
or bops to a stop, as in
The bee on wheels has laments on a stick
Wags weepy banners with gypsy ribbons ...
The tiny wheeled bee has the sky on a stick
Idly waves as she buzzes through the afternoon
Kicking the tears around like bean tins.

Two defining moments for Jeff - and for the future he considered crucial for human survival - were the beginnings of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the late 1950s, with its anti-H-bomb marches and the first grand scale cosmopolitan poet-meet that filled the Albert Hall in June 1965. Jeff felt confirmed in that "all our separate audiences came to one place at the same time, a frisson for us all to savour as there had been at the first Aldermaston, and the underground was suddenly there on the surface, in open ground with a following of thousands".

Nuttall and John Latham had planned a happening for that gig which encaked them both top-to-toe in blue paint, but this blocked their pores, and Latham passed out. A hot bath was needed fast but the only bath in the building was in Sir Malcolm Sargent's dressing-room. The dazed duo tumbled gratefully in, to be discovered, reviving, by a caretaker, who assumed that unimaginable beatnik outrages were being enacted beneath his eyes.

In Jonathon Green's Days In The Life: Voices From The English Underground (1988), Jeff recalled "a shift between 1966 and 1967 from poetry and art and jazz and anti-nuclear politics to just sex and drugs, the arrival of capitalism. The market saw that these revolutionaries could be put in a safe pen and given their consumer goods. What we misjudged was the power and complexity of the media, which dismantled the whole thing. It bought it up. And this happened in 67, just as it seemed that we'd won".

Nuttall lived to see that spirit rekindled 35 years later, with wise children again marching, speaking, and acting out their hearts and minds against the philistines, profiteers, and warmongers who go on ruling the west.

He died on a Sunday, leaving the Hen and Chicks pub in Abergavenny, where his trad band's lunchtime gig had been the highspot of his week for 10 years. At his soul's incarnation in Elysium it will surely come to pass, as Jeff once dreamed, that "Spifflicate water-buffalo drunk on rainbow fish will snore beside the oval father where he basks". For the rest of us, as long as "global politics" fester in lies and pea-brained Hollywooden mega-violence, it is bollocks to them, and long live Jeff Nuttall.'

· Jeffrey Nuttall, polymath, born July 8 1933; died January 4 2004

JEFF NUTTALL 2 : BOMB CULTURE


(Left): The excellent cover for the 1970 Paladin edition (UK) of 'Bomb Culture', credited to 'Head Office'. Any clues as to who they were ?


The most well-known of Jeff Nuttall's works (and with good reason), 'Bomb Culture' is a fascinating and vivid insight into
the mindset and mores of the alternative/underground scenes of the 50s and 60s told by a man who was in the thicket of it. But it is much more than that.

Here is the back cover pull quote from Peter Fryer, writing in New Society: 'Fragments of autobiography? Anarchist manifesto? Slice of contemporary cultural history? Manual for young guerillas in the generation war? The Underground's epitaph by one who was in at its birth? Jeff Nuttall's book is all these and more...his book is a letter from a man who deaperately wants to share his terrible healing vision in the hope that we may profitably pool our madness and our sanities. He is a man I should like as a friend.'

Even more interesting is this extract from Dennis Potter's review in The Times: 'BOMB CULTURE is an abcess that lances itself. An extreme book, unreasonable but not irrational. Abrasive, contemoptuous, attitudinising, ignorant and yet brilliant...a book which you must read, as soon as possible.'

Here is a short but key extract from the book that goes to the heart of the book's theme:

‘What way we made in 1945 and in the following years depended largely on our age, for right at that point, at the point of the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the generations became divided in a very crucial way.

‘The people who had passed puberty at the time of the bomb found that they were incapable of conceiving of life without a future. Their patterns of habit had formed, the steady job, the pension, the mortgage, the insurance policy, personal savings, support and respect for the protection of the law, all the paraphernalia of constructive, secure family life. They had learned their game and it was the only game they knew. To acknowledge the truth of their predicament would be to abandon the whole pattern of their lives. They would therefore have to pretend, much as they had pretended about ecstasy not being there, and they proceeded to pretend as cheerfully as ever. In any case, to look the danger in the eye might wreck the chances of that ultimate total security their deepest selves had contrived, death by H-bomb.

‘The people who had not yet reached puberty at the time of the bomb were incapable of conceiving of life with a future. They might not have had any direct preoccupation with the bomb. This depended largely on their sophistication. But they never knew a sense of future.

‘The hipster was there. Charlie Parker's records began to be distributed. The hipster became increasingly present in popular music and young people moved in his direction. They pretended too, but they did not enter the pretence at all cheerfully. In fact they entered the pretence reluctantly, in pain and confusion, in hostility which they increasingly showed. Dad was a liar. He lied about the war and he lied about sex. He lied about the bomb and he lied about the future. He lived his life on an elaborate system of pretence that had been going on for hun­dreds of years. The so-called 'generation gap' started then and has been increasing ever since.’

Monday, December 17, 2007

THE GENERALIST AUDIENCE

This is a snapshot of The Generalist's global audience, courtesy of Stat Counter, a wonderful service for all bloggers. Stories being accessed in this view of my blog's global traffic (16th December 2007) include stories on the Bering Bridge, on Arthur Brown, Tony Tyler, Mike Horowitz, Truman Capote, Al Gore, Johnny Depp, Joy Division etc etc

In case people wonder why anyone would spend 2 1/2 years writing hundreds of thousands of words - for free - the answer is in this image. After decades of working for mainstream newspapers and magazines, my blog gives me complete freedom to write about what I think is important, in a way of my own choosing. Equally important is the oppotunity to reach out to a genuinely global audience, of all cultures, backgrounds and thoughts.

Imagine if there was some global system whereby, when you wrote a book, you could log on to the internet and get a map of everyone who had taken your book to bed that night and was reading it. This blog gives me a feeling of real connection with an incredibly diverse global world.

I have written stuff every month since June 2005 - except for three months surrounding my mum's death - and the possibilities keep opening up before me.

Thanks to you all - past and present readers. Output is variable but consistently so. The plan is to keep this baby going until I run out of road. Hope you will join me for the ride.

Check out the Audio Generalist here

Saturday, December 15, 2007

ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY 1970s: MEMORABILIA


Some of the first fruits of the extensive
archaeological dig into the HQ INFO archive,
currently undergoing an extensive cataloguing operation
From Top Left:

1. Band sticker for Chilli Willi and The Red Hot Pepper's
first album - 'Kings of the Robot Rhythm' -
released on Revelation Records in 1972.

2. Membership card for Radio Geronimo

3. Business card for Joint Enterprises, who sold
smoking paraphernalia of all kinds and imported
very cool US skins from the States

4. Sticker produced as part of the protest
movement connected with the 1971 Oz Obscenity Trial
at the Old Bailey - the longest obscenity trial in British legal history.

5. A dollar-bill sized handout advertising a
Spring Offensive to End the Vietnam War,
which was staged on Wednesday April 15th 1970.
Organised by the Vietnam Peace Parade Committee,
17 E 17th Street, New York

ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY 1970s: FEEDBACK

Nick Saunders on right
(Photo by Mark Edwards/
Still Pictures)







Back in August 2006 I published three posts (below) about Nicholas Albery, Nick Saunders the BIT Travel guide to India and Australia and the Arts Lab movement.

Previous postings from THE GENERALIST Archives (August 2006)

ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY 1970s: BIT by bit
  • ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY 1970s: BIT Travel Guide
  • ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY 1970s: Arts Labs
  • ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY 1970s: Nicholas Albery
  • ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY 1970s: Nicholas Saunders

  • Regular readers will be interested in the following valuable feedback - one message which arrived almost a year ago, the second which came today.

    Hi!
    I am Josefine Speyer, the widow of Nicholas Albery and have just discovered your website, six and a half years after Nicholas' death. It gave me great pleasure to read about Nicholas and his doings in such detail. You must have known him or interviewed him? I wonder.

    I have just been at a Christmas gathering yesterday organised by the Saturday Walkers Club which is going strong 10 years after Nicholas first published his 'Time Out Book of Country Walks.' There are now about 200 people who are doing various country walks every week. They have built up a tribe of walkers, many of them used to walk with Nicholas. They have published the 'Time Out Book of Country Walks 2'. Apart from getting exercise and keeping fit, the groups are a wonderful opportinity for networking and wideing ones social circle. They also organise theatre outings and other events, and several couples who first met on the walks are now happily married.

    When Nicholas first came up with the idea of a self oganising walking group, I could not believe this kind of thing would work, but it did! And wonderfully so.

    The Nicholas Albery Foundation is now The Natural Death Centre, which also runs the annual Poetry Challenge in October every year.

    Nicholas died before his time. Had he been alive today he would be deeply involved in getting projects off the ground that create sustainable community, helping create discussion and ideas to stop the destruction of the environment, the issue of terrorism and thinking about a future that would allow for 'nature to be at ease'.

    As he had written on a piece of paper, which he kept stuck on his bedroom mirror:
    "My purpose in life is to use my imagination, humour and perseverance, through my writing, my projects and my helping people fulfil their potential, so as to help create a world in which people are warm, tolerant and kind to each other, nature is at ease and magic is alive."


    Dear John

    Just before he died in a car accident, I telephoned Nicholas Albery, who was then the leading light in the Natural Death Centre, and we were delighted to discover, during the ensuing conversation, that we had (unknowingly) collaborated to produce the first overland guide to India.

    In 1970. I walked into the BIT offices in Notting Hill (founded by Lennon, as a kind of wild Underground advice centre) with a piece of paper. On it was written the details of how to get from Istanbul to Delhi overland using public transport (buses and trains) for £9.70. This information had been given to me in Athens, at the then well-known YHA Hostel no.2, by an American deserter – a sergeant, I recall - from the Vietnam war. Anyway, Albery was then attempting to compile the first overland to India guide for hippies, and was delighted to receive this information, which was duly incorporated into the guide (and the route worked, I discovered afterwards, though I never used it myself). The guide itself began life as a few mimeographed sheets stapled together, but soon swelled from the ensuing feedback from the freaks who used it. According to Nick, he then gave/sold it to Richard Branson (who then ran a seedy organic restaurant in Westbourne Park Road) who in turn gave/sold it on to Tony Wheeler, and the rest is history, save for the fact that Wheeler made a mint and we didn’t !

    Terry Phelps




    Sunday, December 02, 2007

    JOY DIVISION: THE DOCUMENTARY


    Source: http://members.aol.com/vmelo1/raw/joyd.html

    The word of mouth starts here.

    Last Friday night at the Duke of York's in Brighton - a night of torrential rain and strange encounters - The Generalist was fortunate enough to attend a special screening - as part of Brighton's excellent Cinecity film festival - of 'Joy Division', a new documentary.

    Due for release in the UK next March, 'Joy Division' is a remarkable portrait of the key band behind the explosive and remarkable Manchester scene that transformed a decaying industrial city into a world-renowned centre of new style and culture.

    Shot and directed by Grant Gee and scripted and researched by Jon Savage, 'Joy Division' is a work of great beauty and artistry, a powerful and emotional experience that will leave no viewer untouched.

    I have no doubt that it will come to be seen as the definitive telling of the story of one of the truly great bands of the 20th century and of the city from whose streets they emerged.

    What this curiously unsettling film makes you feel is that you’re been given some very deep insights into something huge, important and glorious, a feeling enhanced by the eyewitness accounts of those who witnessed the birth of Joy Division. They describe the impact it had on them in almost spiritual terms, in a way strangely reminiscent of the accounts of the scientists who witnessed the early nuclear tests.

    The surviving band members recount that the strange chemistry that ran between them was so strong that the music just flowed out easily and that it was only after the songs were written that it became difficult.

    The figure and fate of Ian Curtis is central to the film’s power. We witness his transformation from mild-mannered married man to otherworldly shamanic priest, dogged by epilepsy, racked by emotional confusion. He commands our attention, even in his absence.

    Joy Division’s music is not comfortable listening. It is mysterious and profound. Like Stravinsky’s The Rites of Spring, time has only deepened its force. It seems to be eternally contemporary but also eternally challenging and disturbing on levels that other music just cannot reach.

    The film plunges into their strange world, into a story which we know has a dark ending, with great force and artistry. Its scrupulous, innovative and stylish collage of sound and vision always adds dramatic and powerful forward motion to the story. Everything fits so beautifully, seems so exactly right at every moment, that you are just carried along, as if by a deep ocean current, towards events that you suddenly realise you’re not entirely comfortable about.

    Joy Division were young lads in the early 20s, lads who admit they never saw a tree until they were 12 and who rode pigs round the street for amusement, beer boys with no prospects and a lot of onboard anger. This fuelled their twice-weekly rehearsals - held in artic conditions inside wrecked warehouses – where they forged a sound of resistance powerful enough to challenge the prevailing atmosphere of the city, governed at the time by a near-fascist Bible-reading police chief, in a Britain ruled by the grim forces of Dame Thatcher and all her minions.

    There is some very dark territory here but - in another curious paradox - the film is both inspiring and life-affirming. It awakens your senses and your intellect in equal measure. It is a window into a world in which magic can happen, a strange parallel universe where one small gang of street kids can create a music that now stands alongside the greatest of its time and beyond.