PORTOBELLO FILM FESTIVAL 2009
THE BEAT GOES ON



1 Adrift in Notting Hill and A Blues for Shindig
2 Alex Trocchi’s Invisible Insurrection
3 Longhair Times: Hoppy and Miles
4 Rolling Stones on the Portobello Road
5 Michael X on the Black Beat in the Ghetto
6 Ladbroke Grove Roots


PART 5
Michael X on the Black Beat in the Ghetto



In his ‘On the Black Beat’ column in The Gate, Michael de Freitas wrote: ‘There are many approaches to this place – some by road or rail – some by moral degeneration. Today I chose the bus, boarded a number 28 outside West Hampstead station and headed for what was once my home, ‘The Grove’ as we black ones call it, ‘The Gate’ as it is commonly called by Free School people. The Grove is still one of the few places I feel safe in Babylon, no yobbos are going to attack me there and get away with it. My brothers down there know they are my brothers, unlike the other more sophisticated and pretentious black people in and around the area where I picked up this bus. I was a little bit bluesy when I started this trek but gradually my mood changed as we got closer to Westbourne Park Road. Maybe it was all those black faces I started seeing more and more of as we went along that did it, maybe it was the familiar stench of the Ghetto.’

Michael Horovitz’s 1966 Carnival
Michael Horovitz’s 1966 ‘Carnival’ poem adds to the Beatles’ local street cred with: ‘Children – all ages chorusing – we all live in a yellow submarine – trumpeting tin bam goodtime stomp – a sun-smiling wide-open steelpan-chromatic neighbourhood party making love not war.’ In the hippy Carnival origin theory, as propagated by Horovitz in Days in the Life, the Notting Hill event began as a jazz-poetry extension of the 1965 Albert Hall beat poets gig and the headline act was Pink Floyd. In what could be hippy confusion with the renowned Nottingham Goose Fair, he remembered saying: “There used to be a goose fair or something, spelt f-a-y-r-e, before the last war, and Hoppy said ‘Hey, man, there used to be this fayre thing! Listen, man, you poets, we ought to get together and start Live New Departures in the local community.”

Michael Horovitz’s early 60s Live New Departures show also featured the beat poets Pete Brown and Adrian Mitchell. Horovitz’s ‘Vision of Portobello Road’ poem in the Children of Albion anthology – featuring ‘screaming tricycles and melons, lettuces and ripe negroes, stripe shirt, and others proud walking, it’s gay and sad and rich enough’ – is cited as a prime example of William Blake inspired beat/hippy mysticism in ‘The Magical City’ chapter of Jonathan Raban’s Soft City.

After Mark Boyle and Joan Hills did the lightshow for Michael Horovitz’s Live New Departures at the Marquee in 1963, they went on to do psychedelic shows at the UFO club and on tour with Soft Machine and Jimi Hendrix. The Boyle Family was also renowned for artwork made from rubbish found at randomly selected sites around Notting Hill. In ‘The Street’ happening of 1964 they took their audience down Pottery Lane into Notting Dale, to a door marked ‘theatre’. Once inside the participants found themselves facing a curtain which was drawn back to reveal the Crown pub corner, and whatever happened in the street was the performance.

At All Saints church hall in the late 60s, the beat poet Cream lyricist Pete Brown remembered ‘incredible mad jamming sessions’, citing one featuring Alexis Korner, Arthur Brown, Mick Farren, Nick Mason of Pink Floyd and himself singing ‘Lucille’, as “really frightening to a lot of people, including us.” The Carnival founder Rhaune Laslett recalled an All Saints hall happening involving Jeff Nuttall’s People Band, ‘motorbikes and very scantily dressed girls riding pillion, throwing jam covered newspapers and other paint dripping missiles at the audience.’

International Times
As well as Notting Hill Carnival, Pink Floyd, psychedelic lightshows and adventure playgrounds, the London Free School launched the UK underground press on the world from All Saints hall. International Times, or IT, the first and longest running British hippy underground paper, was a continuation of the Free School newsletter, The Gate/The Grove; originally published by Hoppy and Miles’s Love Books and financed by the proceeds of Pink Floyd’s All Saints gigs. The idea of expanding the local newsletter into a London/world-wide newspaper came from the American underground press; the 50s Village Voice, the East Village Other, LA Free Press, San Francisco Oracle, Open City, Berkeley Barb, etc. The first issues of IT propagated such counter-culture causes as Miles’s 24 hour hippy city, Alex Trocchi’s Project Sigma, William Burroughs’ ‘Invisible Generation’, Allen Ginsberg, Michael X’s Racial Adjustment Action Society, Steve Abrams’ SOMA Legalise Pot campaign, Gustav Metzger’s Destruction In Art Symposiums, Yoko Ono at Indica, the Arts Lab, the Dutch Provos, Timothy Leary, Dick Gregory and Harvey Matusow.

In 1967 ‘the Death and Resurrection of IT’ parade down Portobello Road (after the paper was first busted by the Obscene Publications Squad) featured a coffin containing the speed beat poet Harry Fainlight carried on a ‘rebirth journey’ from the Cenotaph in Whitehall back to Notting Hill Gate on the Circle Line, with bongo drum accompaniment. In the picture from the Some of IT book a group of fairly short-haired beatnik/hippy types in capes and Paisley shirts are led by a black bongo drummer. At the end of the demo, IT was symbolically resurrected in the human form of Harry Fainlight, resulting in several arrests.



read on - part 6: Ladbroke Grove Roots


 

 

 






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