Monday, December 10, 2018


For five years (2000-2005) I edited a bi-annual nationally distributed magazine called Tree News, owned by the charity the Tree Council and funded by the late Felix Dennis. You can see all the covers here in a Previous Post. 

The opportunity to talk with some of the world's leading tree experts was eye-opening and to be able to run pictures by some of the great tree photographers of the world was a privilege and a pleasure.

Trees are not only vital for the survival of the planet they are also fascinating organisms to study on many levels. Throughout time they have been worshipped and admired, and  have inspired creativity in artists of all kinds. Their wood has been vital to human societies and has been shaped and formed into habitations, everyday objects and object d'art.

Ever since I finished work on the magazine I have been nursing the idea of doing a book on Trees and Art. I searched for many years to find an existing work with no success. I collected many images that might fit into such a project and there they have sat in my Archive for many years. Now in the last month as chance would have it, I've received review copies of two excellent and valuable volumes on this subject and am chasing a third.

Charles Watkins  is Professor of Rural Geography at the University of Nottingham and is the author/co-author of four other recent books on woods and forests. In 'Trees and Art [Reaktion Press.2018] he combines his scientific, cultural and historical knowledge of trees with relevant biographical detail on artists throughout the ages who have depicted them.

He makes it clear in the introduction that the vast majority of paintings use trees as a framing device or a generalised backdrop, often to indicate the season or location of the main subject in the picture. It was Ruskin who claimed that artists 'understand that they cannot catch nor imitate the foliage, form or lines of the tree.' Yet a small minority did just that, producing works with an accuracy and precision that enables individual species to be identified.

In tackling this complex subject Watkins combines chronological and thematic approaches in the book's ten chapters.

The first 'Depicting Trees Before 1800s' begins with rare prehistoric tree art, the best examples being from Zimbabwe, in which two species - the quiver tree and the the lala palm - can be clearly identified, often depicted with animals nearby. The Roman towns of Pompei and Herculaneum, smothered and preserved by the volcanic ash from the AD79 eruption of Vesuvius, have revealed many wall paintings in which more than 100 identifiable trees have been documented.

'Spruce' by Albrecht Durer c,1497
By the 15th century, the master artists Albrecht Durer and Leonardo were producing the first accurate tree paintings. Durer's single spruce tree portrait illustrates his belief that 'art is embedded in nature, and he who can extract it, has it'. Leonardo in his 'Treatise on Painting' discusses how to  depict different types of woodland, the effect of light on shiny and matt leaves and the movement of leaves in a storm. The pioneering landscape painter and etcher Albrecht Altdorfer viewed trees as being both sheltering and threatening by turn. Claude Lorraine, whose landscapes had a huge affect on British artists in he mid-18th century produced numerous pen, ink and chalk drawings of trees en plain air. The lesser known Alexander Cozens' 1771 publication 'The Shape, Skeleton and Foliage of 32 Species of Trees For the Use of Painting and Drawing' further enhanced the realistic portraiture of trees.

Chapter Two 'Drawing and Painting Trees after 1800'  sees this trend continuing as interest in landscape painting expands. Constable, an admirer of Gainsborough's trees, was obssessed with the subject, making detailed studies which he incoporated into his paintings. Remarkable drawings by Edward Lear, Henry Dawson and Ruskin (which ontradicts his earlier quote) lead into the remarkable paintng by Millais 'The Woodman's Daughter' produced in 1851 when he was just 19. Trees by Monet, Braque, Picasso and Paul Nash are also illustrated.

There we leave the chronology for a series of thematic chapters beginning with 'Trees and Ancient Stories' which principally centres on the depiction of a number of myths and stories from Ovid's 'Metamorphosis and similar tales in which people are transformed into trees. There are two  glorious watercolour drawings by William Blake out of the 102 he produced as illustrations to Dante's 'Inferno' which, in turn influenced Doré's engravings of the same work.  Mention is also made of the woods and trees in Shakespeare's plays.

'Dante and Virgil Penetrating the Forest' by William Blake  [1824-7]
In 'Lops and Pollards' Watkins reminds us of the enormous importance of trees as a source of fuel and fodder. Examples included range in time from Pieter Brueghel's the Younger 'Two Peasants Binding Faggots' painted c1620  to an early Van Gogh drawing 'Road in Etten' (1881) via Gainsborough, Caspar David Friedrich and many others, depicting the collection of firewood. the pollarding of willows and the harvesting of the leaves of the white mulberry to feed silkworms. This survey concludes with David Hockney's 2006 painting of an elder sprouting with fresh shoots after being cut by mechanical hedge cutters.

The chapter 'Sacred Trees' covers an even longer time period as trees have, since time immemorial, been worshipped as gods and held to be sacred by many different tribes and societies. Trees were also markers of boundaries and routes since prehistoric times and many of those were also shrines. Watkins writes: 'The pillars of churches and temples are closely associated practically and in the imagination with rows of trees'. Visitors to Gaudi's Sagrada Familia will agree that here is a place that, says Watkins, 'presents a forest to the worshippers'.Watkins shows trees that feature in both Botticelli and Michelangelos' frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Here also is one of the few places in the book where art from outside of Europe is featured. There are thousands of sacred trees in Japan to this day and an example is shown in a magical painting by Hiroshige of the legendary pilgrimage of the foxes to the Shozoku Enoki Tree at Oji.

'Nationality, Revolution and War'  centres on the fact, says Watkins, that trees and woods, 'have always been of central importance in insurgency and warfare...and essential for invasion and conquest'. The frieze on the famous Trajan column in Rome features over 200 trees and 24 trees can be identified in the Bayeux Tapestry. Trees have symbolically celebrated successful battles and in the 18th century were seen as symbols of Liberty. The devastation of the forests of Britain, France and Germany during the two world wars of the 2Oth century is still little appreciated. The Nazis were keen on forests and had a forest police force. A remarkable John Heartfield photomontage shows Hitler watering an oak tree whose acorns have turned into gas masks, bombs and helmets.

The  chapter 'European Forest Interiors' documents how these have been seen as both inspiring and threatening by artists. It begins with the wonderful 'The Hunt in the Forest' by Paulo Ucello and ends with the remarkable almost photographic realism of the Russian painter Ivan Shishkin and  Gustav Klimt's beautiful paintings of birch forests.

'The Hunt In The Forest by Paulo Uccello [c.1470]
The largest part of this section is devoted to the ancient forest of Fontainbleau which was a key site for the development of French landscape painting from the 1820s to the 1870s through a group of painters known as the Barbizon school. Corot was an early painter of  this forest (one of his works features on the book's cover) but the leading tree enthusiast of the artistic group was Theodore Rousseau. Watkins writes: 'He saw trees as almost animate, as beneficial creatures which, although they did not think themselves, encouraged humans to think'.  When his idyll was threatened by the planting of commercial conifers (covering 1/4 of the forest) and by mass tourism, he and his painter friend Sensier sent a petition to Napleon III to try and protect it. This was remarkably effective and in 1861 the Emperor decreed that 1,097 hectares of the forest should be set aside as a Partie artistique - the first natural reserve in the world to receive legal national protection.

Another painter Jean Francois Millet became leader of the Friends of the Forest of Fontainbleau Society after Rousseau's death in 1867. Several of his paintings document different aspects of woodland management, the subject of the book's chapter on 'Timber and Trees'. Here also are works by Gainsborough, Edward Lear, Henri Rousseau, Paul Klee and Alfred Munnings, whose 'Felling A Tree in the Vosges' brings us back to the devastation of the forests during the first World War. Watkins says that. in 1916 alone, the Canadian Forestry Corps were thought to have extracted 70% of Allied timber from the forests of northern France.

'Western Art Abroad' is a wide-ranging chapter featuring an artistic arboretum of trees, mainly by little known artists. It was interesting to discover Marianne North (1830-1890) who was one of the most indefatigable painters of trees, landscapes and plants around the world. She gave her paintings to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew together with a large sum of money to build a gallery to house them.

The final chapter 'More Than Real Trees' features works of the imagination from the extraordinary drawings of Hieronymus Bosch to strange works by Dali and Max Ernst. It concludes with a handful of tree-inspired sculptures including work by Ai Wei Wei.

This extraordinary cross-disciplinary work is a remarkable piece of scholarship, full of fascinating knowledge and illustrated with an unexpected asssembly of visual material that confirms the richness of tree art across the ages.
'Cart Bearing a Large Tree Trunk' by Paul Sandby [1731-1809]


Pastoral with a Horse Chestnut
Tree (1830-31] by Samuel Palmer
A Study, In March by
 John William Inchbold. 1855

'Silent Witnesses: Trees in British Art, 1760-1870' by Christiana Payne [Sansom and Company 2017] was produced to coincide with the Woodland Trust's initiative 'Charter for Trees, Woods and People'  - signed up to by 70 tree organisations - and launched at Lincoln Castle on the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter of the Forest

At Binsey, Near Oxford by George Price Boyce. 1862

Fir Trees at Hampstead by John Constable.
The Cypresses at the Villa d'Este
by Samuel Palmer. 1836

In her introduction to this well-written and beautifully illustrated study of tree art in Britain (1760-1870), Christiana Payne sets out what she calls 'the artistic response to the beauty and usefulness of the tree in Britain' in the context of the boom of landscape painting during this period and the passionate interest in trees - aroused in not only artists and writers but also in naturalists, landscape gardeners and rich land owners.

This was  partly because trees in Britain were relatively scarce and there were few native species - an estimated 30 broadleaf  and five evergreen - owing to the fact that it was cut off from continental Europe during the Ice Ages.

There was also a shortage of timber within the country from the 16thC onwards and, by the 17thC, Britain was one of the least wooded countries in Europe with less than 5% of its area planted with trees.[Currently 13% of the total land area in the UK.] This situation inspired  John Eveleyn to write Sylva (first published in 1664) - one of the most influential texts on forestry ever published - to encourage tree planting.

However it did have more ancient woodland and signature ancient trees, relative to the percentage of total woodland, than any other European country and these were considered rare and special. Trees in hedges were more plentiful in the 18thC than before or since and most villages at that time would have a central tree next to a village green and an alehouse.

Demand for timber was increasing due to the needs of the navy. Payne reports that  building a 74-gun ship would require 2,000 well-grown oak trees with elms for the keel. An 1812 estimate was that, in order to maintain the Royal Navy at its then current levels, 100,000 acres of trees would be required.

The Royal forests covered 115,000 acres of which only 60-70,000 had the rich, well-drained soil necessary for growing oaks.  Between 1760 and 1835, private landlords planted and estimated 20 million trees and, by 1887, the amount of woodland in private hands covered 2.5 million acres.

The start of the industrial revolution in the late 18thC created a further demand for wood to make charcoal, pit props for the mines, many domestic items and to provide fuel for cooking and heating. There was massive market also for oak bark which was used to tan leather. In 1810, at its height, the industry required 500,000 tonnes of oak per year.

 As landscape design shifted towards the Picturesque, collections of exotic trees in arboretums became popular. The number of varities of shrubs and trees coming into Britain steadily increased as its Empire expanded,  from 89 new varieties in the 16thC to 699 in the first 30 years of the 19thC. The horse chestnut arrived sometime in the 17thC, the Lombardy Poplar in 1758. Orchard apple trees came from central Asia.

The notable landscape artists of several generations primarily painted oak, ash, elm and beech. Most were working mainly for patrons with landed estates. Many paintings - the most well-known being Gainsborough's 1746 painting of 'Mr and Mrs Andrews' in front of an ancient oak - featured family portraits.

There were a considerable number of drawing manuals catering for what Payne desribes as a 'massive explosion of interest in the drawing of trees'. Constable and Samuel Palmer were outstanding tree lovers but the lesser known artist Paul Sandby was, says Payne, one of the first to take interest in individual species and the growth pattern of trees. Drawings aside, an outpouring of water colours, etchings, engravings and lithographs of trees were produced. Mostly they were isolated tree portraits. Constable avoided any instruction manuals when producing his graphite sketches and viewed trees in a landscape paintings as being like actors in a history painting.

With the arrival of the Pre-Raphaelites in the period 1840-70, Payne tells us that tension between the general and the particular in the painting or drawing trees became a major issue. Certainly Holman Hunt and the two Millais brothers were into the minutae and did careful studies of timber and foliage.

Silent Witnesses provides the detailed evidence of the importance of trees in British landscape painting. Its a valuable work that adds new perspectives to previous studies of the period.

'Under the Greenwood: Picturing British Trees From Constable to Kurt Jackson' was the book of an exhibition staged at the St Barbe Museum, Lymington in 2013. This review of the show by Andrew Lambirth in The Spectator gives a flavour of the event. The book itself is out of print and rare copies are expensive.

Such was the impact of the show and the spirit of camaraderie engendered in a truly diverse group of artists that they took on a more permanent identity. The Arborealists is the name of this loose association of artists, including such luminaries as David Inshaw, who have come together for exhibitions in galleries across the south.

The Generalist has managed to locate a rare copy of  The Arborealists: The Art of the Tree book by Angela Summerfield. More details to come.

Both titles are published by Sansom & Company.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018


This post was triggered by listening to 'The Persistence of Analogue' on BBC Radio 4 in which technology writer Leigh Alexander explores the growing popularity of analogue culture in a digital world. Excellent. The blurb reads as follows:
'For 30-something technology writer Leigh, the digital world is just a part of her everyday life - there's no logging off. But despite all the boundless conveniences of the digital world, she says it can sometimes feel as if something has been lost in the transition to an intangible, instantaneous, always-on virtual society. 
'Perhaps that's why analogue formats remain timeless - in fact, they seem more popular now than ever, especially among people of her generation. From board games and vinyl records to books, calligraphy and even old-fashioned letter writing, people are increasingly seeking avenues to bring a little more face-to-face back into their lives. 
'Leigh hears from Colleen Cosmo Murphy, founder of listening events that bring participants into a room to enjoy a single album uninterrupted by phones. A 17-year-old student explains why he prefers reading news magazines in print.
'Leigh hears from a couple who fell in love over vinyl and Leigh's own husband, Quintin Smith, explains why board games are experiencing a huge boom. People just like being with other people, he says. And Guardian columnist John Harris argues that the persistence of analogue is nothing less than a cultural revolt against industrialisation, one that's been present ever since the late 18th century.'

Why Vinyl Records and Other 'Old' Technologies Die Hard

by Nick Bilton [New York Times 16th March 2016]


Posted on Wednesday July 22nd, 2015 by Melanie Langpap under Allgemein

Is analog the new organic and 24/7-connectivity a drug that became a part of our culture? Then ( OFFTIME ) can be compared to methadone, a substitute drug to overcome addiction?
Following the call of Berlin’s Tech Open Air, ( OFFTIME ) hosted a public satellite event as part of its ongoing series of meetups on how to live in a hyperconnected world. For that purpose, on 16th July, ( OFFTIME ) invited for a fireside chat with André Wilkens, author of “Analog is the new Organic”– a book that has recently seen a massive hype. 
You can listen to the interview. The illustration above is a visual diagram of it. 

For some years now I have been trotting out my thesis that there has been a noticeable shift back towards analog culture - a human reaction to the digital virtual world.

Back in September 1994, I produced a 15-page article for The Telegraph's  Saturday supplement entitled 'Communicpia: The Shape of Things to Come' - the first major piece in a mainstream paper sketching out the huge implications of the digital reveolution. It was also the longest piece the magazine had ever published. This was at a time when only a couple of MPs had e-mail and CD-ROms were going to be the next big thing! That didn't last long.

One of the people I interviewed for the piece was Professor Peter Cochrane, the head of BT's Core Research group. Although it didn't make it into the finished piece, what has stuck in my head is his idea that, in the future, digital technology would be an everyday thing and cease to be seen as this miraculous and exciting technological revolution and the broadband network will simply be accepted as another utility like the gas, electric and water systems. We have obviously reached the point where this is the case. In addition, people have become more and more aware of the downside of computers, the internet, 24/7 news, social media and virtual reality and are once more seeking to balance that by returning to analog culture.

Vinyl Records and Analog Culture in the Digital Age: Pressing Matters examines the resurgence of vinyl record technologies in the twenty-first century and their place in the history of analog sound and the recording industry. It seeks to answer the questions: why has this supposedly outmoded format made a comeback in a digital culture into which it might appear to be unwelcome? Why, in an era of disembodied pleasures afforded to us in this age of cloud computing would listeners seek out this remnant of the late nineteenth century and bring it seemingly back from the grave? Why do many listeners believe vinyl, with its obvious drawbacks, to be a superior format for conveying music to the relatively noiseless CD or digital file? This book looks at the ways in which music technologies are both inflected by and inflect human interactions, creating discourses, practices, disciplines, and communities

Vinyl was an obvious starting point. After justified concern about the massive reduction in the number of record shops in the country, which lead to the establishment of Record Store Day, the ones that survived began giving less and less space to CDs and more and more space to vinyl. Smart new record players at an affordable price became available which meant younger people who'd never owned a vinyl record were suddenly hooked by this new old medium which they found had a warmth and depth to it  They discovered that the very act of making time to sit down and really listen to a record - carefully constructed so that both sides of the LP have a satisying flow of songs that take you on an audio journey - whilst admiring the sleeve and digesting the sleeve notes was a very satisfying experience.

You'll see from the Previous Posts below a lot of stories challenging the popular trope of the mainstream press namely that paper was dead and in the future we will all be reading everything on
screens. Great article too on the fatal flaws on newspaper publishing on-line by the man who  concieved the idea in the first place.

Further thoughts came in 2012 from viewing the excellent documentary 'Side By Side' produced by Keanu Reeves which contrasts every aspect of film making and examines
the pros and cons of  digital vs analog. Digital is a nightmare for archivists.

Film is now back in fashion in movies and photography.




THE END OF PAPER ? [9 Sept 2008]

Sunday, August 19, 2018


Colin Davies and Nol van Schaik

The first time I became aware of the existence of Nol van Schaik and his book 'The Dutch Experience'  was when I came across not the book itself but this picture of the front cover somewhere on the internet in 2005. 

On the 14th August that year, in a previous 'Inside Dope' post, I reported on the attempt  by Colin Davies with the help of Nol van Schaik to open 'The Dutch Experience' coffeeshop in Stockport, England, They were raided and both were arrested along with others present. At time of writing, Davies was serving a three-year prison sentence as a result. Van Schaik owns three coffeeshops  in Harlem and a marijuana and hemp museum.

So as it happened, on the 2nd August this year I spotted a copy of the book itself in the window of a second-hand book and vinyl store in Brighton. It had to be purchased. So now I am able to at least give you the early history of the Dutch coffee shops. The book was published in 2002. The second post on this topic will also bring you up to speed as to what's happening now on the Amsterdam coffee shop scene.


The famous Provo White Bike Plan, Teun Voeten writes 'envisioned as the ultimate solution to the "traffic terrorism of a motorized minority." The brain-child of Industrial designer Luud. Schimmelpenninck, the White Bike Plan proposed the banning of. environmentally noxious cars from the inner city, to be replaced by bicycles. Of course, the bikes were to be provided free by the city. They would be painted white and permanently unlocked, to secure their public availability.'

Van Schaik begins his tale by reminding us that the Dutch have historically traded in spices, herbs and opium and grown hemp. He tries to set the scene from which the hash coffeeshops emerged. He is correct on focusing on two important individuals - Robert Jasper Grootveld and Roel van Duyn - but his account is somewhat brief and a bit muddled. Looking for clarification, I happened to immediately find what must be the best single article on the Provo Movement. Reading this changes one's perspective on the history of that whole period. Another exciting find.

It was commissioned in 1988 by Steven Hager, the then editor of High Times magazine, and written by the great Dutch photojournalist Teun Voeten who at that time was a young anthropology student from Leiden University. Hager loved his portfolio and immediately commissioned him to photograph the Cannabis Cup Awards in Amsterdam. As the conversation progressed Hager writes:
'Suddenly, we both got very excited about the possibility of publishing the first definitive history of the Provo movement. Since so little has been written about the group, the job required a lot of research. Teun flew back to Holland and spent nearly a year tracking down all the original members for interviews. It's a great article and presenting it provides my proudest moment as a magazine editor.'
 This is how the piece begins, introducing what is by any stretch a remarkable and interesting piece of work. Voteten begins:
'It's no secret that Holland has the most liberal drug laws in the world, especially when it comes to cannabis. What you may not realize, however, is that these laws were enacted thanks to the efforts of the Dutch Provos.  
The Provos set the stage for the creation of the Merry Pranksters, Diggers, and Yippies. They were the first to combine non-violence and absurd humor to create social change.
They created the first "Happenings" and "Be-Ins." They were also the first to actively campaign against marijuana prohibition. Even so, they remain relatively unknown outside of Holland. Now, for the first time, their true story is told.
'It all started with the Nozems. Born out of the postwar economic boom, the Nozems were disaffected Dutch teens armed with consumer spending power. Part mods, part '50s juvenile delinquents, they spent most of their time cruising the streets on mopeds, bored stiff and not knowing what to do. Their favorite past-time? Raising trouble and provoking the police."Provo" was actually first coined by Dutch sociologist Buikhuizen in a condescending description of the Nozems.  
'Roel Van Duyn. a philosophy student at the University of Amsterdam, was the first to recognize the Nozems' slumbering potential. "It is our task to turn their aggression into revolutionary consciousness," he wrote in 1965. Inspired by anarchism, Dadaism, German philosopher (and counter-culture guru-to-be) Herbert Marcuse, and the Marquis de Sade. Van Duyn, a timid, introverted intellectual, soon became the major force behind Provo magazine.  
'But while Van Duyn presided over the Provos' theoretical wing, another, more important element was provided even earlier by its other co-founder, Robert Jasper Grootveld, a former window cleaner and the original clown prince of popular culture. 
'More interested in magic than Marx, Grootveld was an extroverted performance artist with a gift for theatrical gesture. During the early '60s, he attracted massive crowds in Amsterdam with exhibitionistic "Happenings."  
'At the core of Grootveld's philosophy was the belief that the masses had been brainwashed into becoming a herd of addicted consumers, the "despicable plastic people." According to Grootveld, new rituals were needed to awaken these complacent consumers. While the writings of Van Duyn greatly appealed to the educated crowd, Grootveld found his followers among street punks.
'The Provo phenomenon was an outgrowth of the alienation and absurdity of life in the early '60s. It was irresistably attractive to Dutch youth and seemed like it would travel around the world. However, in only a few short years it disappeared, choked on its own successes.'


Van Schalk  writes that  Grootveld first came to public attention in 1955 when he began sailing Amsterdam's canals in a heated raft. He picks up the story of Grootveld in 1969 when he and Kees Hoekert, who 'had been sowing cannabis seeds all over Amsterdam's lanes, parks, veranda's and balconies', founded the Lowland Weed Company and 'opened the first ever pure hemp outlet'

Discovered that Kees Hoekert died on the last day of 2017 aged 88: According to his Facebook site: 'Cannabis culture started in Holland with Kees Hoekert going to Morocco in 1951. He's the one that found out that the cannabis seeds from Morocco and South America could also be grown in the Netherlands, and that smoking pot does not lead to addiction or hard drugs use. It was the start of the legendary (and officially registered) Lowland Weed Company.'

This picture must be later. Kees (left) and Grootveld
'The plants were openly displayed on top of Kees' houseboat; they actually stashed 15.000 on it, and started offering them for sale, for a guilder a piece. Hundreds of people were attracted by this opportunity, every day, and visited the houseboat, where Grootveld and Hoekert sold them rapidly, the customers walking off with as much plants as the could carry. They sold a total of 30.000 plants in a few weeks, that season. This green enterprise caused a pile-up in the neighborhood traffic; Kees' and Robert Jasper's clientele wanted a trunk load full! The police came to their assistance, for a change, and directed the future cannabis growers to the Lowlands Weed Company houseboat, to keep the other traffic flowing.'
Between 1968 and 1976 the authorities re-examined their policy towards cannabis. The Baan committee was established to look into the alternatives to filling the prisons with hash smokers. Their report made it clear that the law had to change and offered various options to government. The result was the 1976 Netherlands Opium Act which made, writes van Shaik: 
'a distinction between cannabis products and drugs bearing unacceptable risks...Penalties for dealing in the latter were sharply increased, while those for trade and use of cannabis were reduced substantially. Possession of marijuana and hash up to 30 grams became a misdemeanour. It caused a boom in the number of so-called teahouses and coffeeshops that started selling cannabis, and the beginning of a new mainstream in Dutch society.'


Coffeeshop Mellow Yellow in the former bakery Eickholt, May 1978 Stadsarchief Beeldbank.Photo Martin Alberts
Source:  Amsterdam Museum

The first coffee shop or 'tea house' as it was then known was opened in Amsterdam in 1972, in a rented room at 'Second Home' - a walk-in youth centre - located at Weesperzijde 53 on the Keizersgracht canal, 

Old school friends of Wernard Bruining's invited him there to join their 1970 New Year celebrations.Wernard (b.1950), who was at the time training to be a teacher, completely dug the social atmosphere where hash was being smoked, which reminded him of New Guinea [then a Dutch colony] where he lived and grew up before settling into Holland in 1960. It was the beginning of what he called 'my year of love and peace'. Second Home was run by the 'uncles' who also supervised guided LSD experiences for groups in the 'trip room', 

At that time, according to Van Schaik, marijuana was scarce in Amsterdam. What was available was Moroccan hash. To get their supplies, Second Home pooled their money and a designated buyer ventured out, avoiding street hustlers and making a score with older, more established, dealers.

In 1971 the owners of the building that housed Second Home was sold by its owners. Nine members of the hippie group rented a flat with two small rooms and a kitchen. When a fire broke out on the floor below, they became homeless once more. That same night they squatted a former bakery shop  near Weesperzijde 53. 

So many friends and acquaintances started coming round on a regular basis they decided in 1972 to make it into the 'Mellow Yellow' teahouse, named after the Donovan track. Van Schaik says that 'they considered the term 'coffeeshop' but they found that too commercial.

What made their place different from other clubs and venues, where you had an array of competing dealers, was that they had one house dealer selling pre-packed bags of 10 and 25 guilder deals of cannabis. It was open from 'wake-up until 3 o'clock in the morning.'  until there was so many people coming they had to reduce the numbers by cutting the opening hours to 8pm-12pm only. The new look, as seen on the cover of van Schaik's book, featuring a yellow submarine with four portholes, came in 1973. At one point when Werner was house dealer he realised he was selling 100 kilos a day. That's when he stopped.

Police raided them after a few years but nothing was found or confiscated. A second visit came in 1978 without hassle but later that year, a 20-strong police force came at them with dogs and found their secret stash, confiscating 801 grams of cannabis and 82 grans of hash. At the end of that year, 'Mellow Yellow' caught fire and that was the end of that location. However, it reopened shortly after on Vijzelstraat, near the Heineken Museum, and has remained there until the last day of 2016 when it was forced to close. [See next post]

Nol's book is highly detailed and there is a wealth of other information to be gleaned. Copies of the book are not quite as rare as hen's teeth but nevertheless difficult to find. It took me 13 years!!


Colin Davies and Nol van Schaik
As mentioned at the beginning of this piece Nol van Schaik worked with Colin Davies to open the first Amsterdam-style coffeshop in the UK. Nol writes at length (45pp) about this in his book. The Generalist has put together a selection of links, arranged chronologically, which runs from the first news story when it opened and was immediately raided to 2015. It's an extraordinary story and shows that Davies was man ahead of his time in pushing for medical marijuana, now at last being recognised as an important and effective treatment for many illnesses and conditions.

16th Sept 2001: Cannabis Owner released [BBC News]

20 Nov 2001: A tea, a coffee and two joints, please... [The Independent]

14 Apr 2002: Dope cafe king was bank robber [The Guardian]

25 April 2002: Go Dutch in Dorset [The Guardian]. News of cannabis cafe in Bournemouth

May 17, 2002: Colin Davies is free [Cannabis Culture]

July 3, 2002: Colin Davies in jail again [Cannabis Culture]

02 Oct 2002: Coffee shop man guilty of cannabis charges [The Telegraph]


So what is the situation with the Dutch coffeeshops in recent times? The cannabis control system appears to be in a state of flux. Is legalisation in the Netherlands now inevitable in the next five years?

[Left] The iconic Mellow Yellow was forced to close on December 31st 2016. 

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction says (March 2018) that there are 573 coffee shops in 103 of the 380 municipalities in The Netherlands, including The Hague. A  report from The Economist [10th Jan 2017] estimated that, since 1995, the number of coffeshops in the Dutch capital has been reduced by more than half, from 350 to just 167.  

This closely regulated network of places in Amsterdam where visitors can buy and smoke cannabis - used by one in four of the 17m tourists in 2016 -  is considered by the liberal city authorities to be the way of keeping soft drugs out of the hands of criminals.

But the government in the Hague, the political capital of the Netherlands, has clamped down by banning coffeeshops near the border from selling to tourists and forcing the closure of coffeeshops which are less than 250m from schools. 

'Mellow Yellow' was a victim of this latter ruling (it was 230m from a hairdressing school) as were nearly 20 others. Thirty more were closed some years before during a clean-up of the red light district but the majority of coffeeshops in the city, says The Economist, 'went out of business either because they ran into trouble with law enforcement (there have been several shootings recently) or because they couldn’t hack it financially. A “no growth” policy means coffeeshops are petering  [out?] because no licenses are being handed out for new ones to replace those that have closed.'

[According to an NPR report and a Guardian piece, both in 2018, Amsterdam is suffering from 'overtourism' (as is Venice, Dubrovnik and Barcelona). In 2017 tourist numbers went up to 18.5m, an 11% rise on the previous year. The city government has responded by doubling the tax on hotel rooms to 6%, banning short-term Airbnb in the city centre and new souvenir shops. In early August more than 2m of the city's 85,000 inhabitants now go abroad on holiday to avoid the tourists,]

So the coffeeshops that remain have to deal with a higher demand. This means, in some cases, coverting from being a cosy cafe to just doing take-aways. They are allowed legally to only hold 500 grams of marijuana at any one time which 'makes their couriers more vulnerable to robberies. It could also push proprietors to turn to criminals for their increased supply needs.'  There has also been an increase in street dealers.

In Febreuary 2017 the Financial Times reported that the Dutch parliament had narrowly approved a bill that would create a regulated supply chain of growers who are permitted to cultivate the drug without being arrested. This removes a legal loophole that left coffeeshops open to prosecution for obtaining supplies for their businesses. At that time, the cannabis bill still had to be approved in the Dutch senate.

The FT reports: 'Yet at the same time Dutch police have gone after those who grow the drug, dismantling nearly 6,000 plantations in 2015 alone, according to NRC, a Dutch newspaper. This policy discrepancy led to criminal gangs becoming heavily involved in cannabis production, according to the bill’s supporters. They also argue that allowing its cultivation would reduce the grip of organised crime on supply and cut its export to other countries.'

In March 25th 2018, the New York Times  published an article 'Solving the Dutch Pot Paradox: Legal to Buy, but Not to Grow' by Chistopher F, Schuetze which examined this issue. It says the Dutch government has proposed a pilot program to explore the effects of legalizing, standardizing and taxing professional-grade marijuana operations which it is hoped will remove organised gangs from the supply chain.
'Last month, the national police union, Politie Bond, released a stinging report warning of the growth of organized crime in the country, fueled by the drug trade. 
The Netherlands fulfills many characteristics of a narco-state. Detectives see a parallel economy emerging,” the report stated, noting that while crime over all had decreased, those producing and trafficking drugs were becoming ever more sophisticated.'
 [A piece about this report in The Guardian claims that 'A large majority of ecstasy taken in Europe and the US comes from labs in the south of the country, which are increasingly run by Moroccan gangs involved in the production of cannabis. Half of the €5.7bn a year of cocaine taken in Europe comes through the port of Rotterdam, according to Europol.']
Referring back to the pilot programme, Schuetze reports that:
'The proposal, which is being shaped in committee and is scheduled for a vote in Parliament in the summer, would allow six to 10 Dutch cities to legally produce and sell cannabis for four years.
 Although only the rough outline of the proposal is known so far, the law would most likely license official growers, who will then be allowed to grow specific strains, similar to how medical marijuana is handled in the Netherlands.
Whatever final shape the pilot project takes, it is likely to create a multimillion-dollar industry, and stakeholders — from corporate greenhouse suppliers to coffee shop owners — are vying for a say. 
“We ask to be part of making the rules,” said Nicole Maalsté, an academic who helps represent nearly half the 567 Dutch coffee shops nationwide. “We want to be partners in this.”
Schuetze's story was filed from the city of Breda in the south of the Netherlands:
'The coffee shops are a fixture of neighborhood life in many Dutch cities...A shared fear among those connected to the current coffee shop scene is that a fully open and commercial system would squeeze out the smaller growers they have come to count on.
But others see such a shake-up as an inevitable part of commercialization.
“Whether you like it or not, the consumption is so widespread that you have to organize the production,” said Mr. Depla, the mayor of Breda.'


 In 'Cannabis smoking outlawed in The Hague's city centre' by James Crisp [The Telegraph 16th April 2018] he reports that The Hague has banned cannabis smoking on the streets of its city centre and in major shopping areas and the central railway station after complaints from residents. 'Local politicians had considered outlawing cannabis use across the whole city but opted to pinpoint certain areas instead. 

'Several other Dutch local authorities have considered similar moves...Rotterdam, which has moved to cut its number of coffee shops, banned pot-smoking near schools. Later, the ban was extended to the whole of the city, making it illegal to smoke a joint on the street.'

In 'Dutch Cities Don't Love Weed' by Feargus O' Sullivan published on the CityLab website (20th April 2018) he writes his views on The Hague ban
'The Hague’s new ban on the public consumption is the latest signal of the country’s waning tolerance... the tide seems to be turning against general tolerance in the Netherlands, with increasing curbs being placed on cannabis trade and public consumption. So why is this tightening up occurring here at a time when other countries are moving toward relaxing their laws?
'The truth is that the Netherlands has been trying to curb some aspects of the weed business for a while now. As things stand, cannabis possession is technically illegal, but for personal consumption, that law is ignored. Amsterdam (later followed by Rotterdam) banned coffee shops from setting up within 250 meters (820 feet) of secondary schools as far back as 2011.  
'Meanwhile, the whole country came close to limiting weed sales back in 2012, when the government proposed a “Weed Pass” system that would limit cannabis sales to national residents, replacing a cannabis club membership system that had long been in place in the county’s three southernmost provinces. While a few border towns kept the system, the pilot was largely abandoned due to fears that it increased black-market street trading.' 
'Consumption isn’t necessarily the target here—the Netherlands has long had comparatively low levels of cannabis use compared to other European countries, anyway. It’s more about combatting a sense of public untidiness and tacit official approval for weed use...Frustration at publicly active stoners is also partly influenced by the country’s ongoing anti-tourist backlash.'

 On the 7th July 2018, the Dutch government in the Hague gave the green light to a wide-ranging experiment to allow six to 10 municipalities around the country to legally grow cannabis.



'A Look Inside Amsterdam’s Cannabis Liberation Day 2018' was published [25th July 2018) on the website. Its a great article with lots of links. Here is a short summary of this reportage of an event featuring the Cannabis University  - an eight-hour program of master classes and panels - which ran alongside the Cannabis Liberation Day "protestival" that took place on June 17th in Amsterdam’s Flevopark.

 One of the main sessions had Derrick Bergman as interviewer. He is the chair and founder of the Dutch Union for the Abolition of Cannabis Prohibition (VOC for short) who started the festival in 2009 and has run it since. This year's event was the largest ever (estimated 10,000-15,000 people) and is the last. Bergman explained why in an email a few weeks after the festival:
 'We’ve spent over ten months preparing for this final edition, which means there’s less time, energy and money for our other activities, such as lobbying politicians, informing media, running campaigns. Compared to the situation when we started in 2009, the world has really changed, and we believe legalization of cannabis has become inevitable here in the Netherlands. We feel our priority should now be to make sure that regulation of cannabis will not turn into ‘prohibition 2.0.’ This means we will focus on influencing policy makers, politicians, and journalists.”

Bergam interviewed 'The Bulldog' coffeeshop impresario Henk de Vries, and Ben Dronkers, the who founded Sensi Seeds.
 'Sharing a stage—and a joint—at Cannabis University, the men spoke for their allotted 25 minutes about the past 50 years, during which the Dutch government has turned a blind eye to cannabis use and vending yet punished its commercial cultivation.... It was momentous. Nowadays, De Vries rarely gives interviews. Dronkers lives in Malaysia, though was in town after having opened 'We Are Mary Jane: Women of Cannabis', a new exhibition at the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum (which he also established in 1985).
  'Though one hails from Rotterdam and the other from rivaling Amsterdam, Dronkers and De Vries revealed remarkably similar backgrounds. Just shy of 70, both got involved with dealing “grass” through proximity to the “African weed,” as De Vries termed it, that arrived on ships in their respective cities’ ports. Each waltzed into readymade networks through their fathers’ business dealings.
'Dronkers’ dad sold secondhand goods—schlepping around used fridges was a convenient way to transport illicit substances. By 1984, Dronkers had opened Rotterdam’s first coffeeshop, Sensi Smile. 
'De Vries’ dad had a sex shop, which became The Bulldog’s flagship location once De Vries decided selling porn was, in a word, “shit” (reportedly throwing the collection of videos and printed matter in a canal) and transformed the place. Its vibe was modeled after an old Dutch koffiehuis, where people were expected to relax, bitch about social and political grievances, and consume whatever they desired.
'A characteristically Dutch knack for commerce and entrepreneurialism made them savvy and solvent. But being broadminded free spirits kept Dronkers and De Vries unwavering in their vision of a green society. When both men described countless raids and arrests and Bergman asked why they still bothered, they were matter-of-fact. “You get raided a hundred times, a thousand times. All this hassle, all this shit, normal people would. Why did you not give up?
“Well, because you believe in what you do. And we knew there was nothing wrong with it; on the contrary, there was something good. We couldn’t give up,” responded Dronkers. “We want to legalize. We want this plant to be a plant for all humankind, for all its purposes.”
FINAL WORDS                    
'When it comes to the cannabis culture, it's sad. The Grasshopper, which is one of the biggest coffee shops in Amsterdam, is being shut down. Also, coffee shops were able to stay open until 3, now the vast majority of them shut down at 1 o'clock. So many of the great growers have left. The whole culture has fled and shifted to Spain, Colorado, and, of course, California. So the whole culture of Amsterdam has really changed. It's definitely moving in the wrong direction. All it does, as we've seen in America and elsewhere, is that the industries don't go away, they just shift. They take different form and they shift to places where you can get into a lot more trouble and get hurt, to be honest.'
'With the book, I really wanted to create an experience for people who smoke. I think people in the cannabis community would enjoy it because it captures my transition from someone who never really smoked that much before I went to Amsterdam. It shows how innocent the plant really is. It's not a big deal. It's just a part of life. It shows that you can go to an Ivy League school and smoke a joint and be fine.'
         Source: Interview with David Wienir on 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


Bob Boilen, co-creator of Tiny Concerts. He
was once in a band called Tiny Desk Unit
The main reason I've started making music again after a lengthy gap of maybe 18 months or more was watching NPR Tiny Concerts on YouTube.

Started in 2008, by November 2016, the series included more than 550 concerts, viewed a collective 80 million times on YouTube. 

The full story about the origins of Tiny Concerts and Bob Boilen himself can be found here at

The series features bands of all shapes and sizes, playing all kinds of music from a wide geographic spread. 

They continue to stun me and entrance me. I watch  and rewatch my favourites. Here are some artists who  I consider a bit special for a variety of reasons. 

They are called Tiny Concerts because there is very little room for the band. Bigger bands are shoehorned into a space between bookshelves and counter, all covered with objects of all kinds. Each set-up uses the available space cleverly.They're shot in the NPR building during the lunchtime break. Each set lasts for about 20-25 minutes max - time for three or four numbers generally.

What makes it so good is their taste in music and their openness to new music. They are particularly well filmed, edited and recorded. These Tiny Concerts pack a punch. They come highly recommended. You'll be hooked.

Ani Di Franco
Lake Street Drive
Margaret Glasby
Lo Moon
Lalah Hathaway
The Crossrhodes
The Midnight Hour
Tom Misch
Chick Corea and Garry Burton