free notes by Tom Vague (Vague 84)

The Best Things In Life Are Free. Portobello Film Festival celebrates its 21st Birthday this year with a feast of independent local, London, UK and international movies from 1-18 September. Uniquely Portobello has been an annual Free - both for film submissions and entry to all events - Festival for 21 years. 

This year’s Festival features a host of local films including Histories of Carnival, QPR, Notting Dale, Frestonia, and local free festival band Here & Now. Previous participants have included John Malkovich, Guy Ritchie, Sarah Gavron, Shane Meadows, Julien Temple, Pam Hogg, Bella Freud, Blek Le Rat, Eine, Chris Cunningham, Julian Marley, Gaz Mayall, Mike Figgis, Joe Rush, Anita Pallenberg and Franc Roddam. Events feature Street Art, Sculpture, Comedy, Poetry, Theatre, Performance, and Music as well as Film. Venues include The Muse Gallery on Portobello Road, the KPH on Ladbroke Grove, and the old Pop Up cinema space in Acklam Village. Portobello highlights films by emerging directors and crews working in the digital medium. Each year 10 Golden Trellicks by up and coming artist Lucy Sparrow are awarded to our favourite films.

The best things in life are free... It’s our 21st birthday and this year’s theme is FREE! Following our example Time Out and NME are now free and making more money than before, higher readership, more advertising, being free is also karmically cleaner, and saves us the trouble of having to sell tickets and do returns, more people come, people who can't afford it can come so there’s no economic fascism, also people who are interested can come and check it out without being out of pocket.

FREE – as in the Notting Hill Free Library, free food kitchens, the London Free School, Pink Floyd’s Free School Sound/Light workshops and Free Games for May, the Diggers’ Free Food project, free love, the groups Free at Last and Free, David Bowie’s ‘Memory of a Free Festival’, free gigs in Hyde Park, the Glastonbury Fayre free festival (organised at 307 Portobello Road), Portobello Green free gigs under the Westway by Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies, the Notting Hill People’s Free Carnival, Free Frendz, the White Panthers’ free food stall, the Free Shop, free housing c/o the Ruff Tuff Cream Puff squatting estate agency, Heathcote Williams’ Albion Free State Meat Roxy squatted cinema on Lancaster Road, the Windsor and Stonehenge free festivals featuring the 101’ers and Here & Now, ‘Stay Free’ by the Clash, the Free and Independent Republic of Frestonia and the Portobello Free Film Festival.

The Notting Hill Free Library – The North Kensington Library on the corner of Ladbroke Grove and Lancaster Road, currently under threat of conversion into a private school, was originally known as the Free Library of Notting Hill when it was founded at Notting Hill Gate in 1874.

In the 1920s Florence Gladstone noted in ‘Notting Hill in Bygone Days’ that ‘Lancaster Road has become the centre of an interesting group of philanthropic agencies’, including the Campden Technical Institute, now a private school, the Church of St Columb and ‘the fine red-brick building of the North Kensington Branch of the Public Library. Although the building only dates from 1891, the Notting Hill Free Library, from which it has sprung, was started in the year 1874 at 106 High Street, Notting Hill Gate (on the site of Campden Hill Towers), through the private exertions of Mr James Heywood.’

In ‘Notting Hill and Holland Park Past’ Barbara Denny adds that when the Kensington Vestry eventually adopted the Public Libraries Act in 1887, ‘Heywood offered his own library stock as a free gift to the newly appointed Commissioners for Public Libraries and Museums.’ The Notting Hill Gate library reopened the following year as ‘Kensington’s first publicly-owned free library.’

Free food kitchens – In the early 20th century soup kitchens were a feature of local life. Churches and missions, including the Venture Hall (on the site of the Portobello Court estate), the Salvation Army Hall and the Latymer Road Mission, provided free food and clothing to the needy. In 1925 ‘The Hunger Queue of Notting Dale’ was photographed at the Daily Graphic Free Meal Kitchen in Latimer Road (now Freston Road). In ‘The Story of Notting Dale’, Flo Howard recalls: “Sometimes after school we would go along Sirdar Road or Bangor Street (on the site of Henry Dickens Court) because there was a lady there giving out free dinner tickets in the evenings. Sometimes there was pea soup, rice and jam, spotted dick.” In Kensal Town charitable relief included the pioneering Free Medical Mission.

The London Free School – 50 years ago, when Notting Hill was still known as a slum area, the concept of a free school was also very different to what it is today. This year is the 50th anniversary of the 1966 London Free School proto-hippy community action project, which encompassed adult education, the first Notting Hill Carnival/Fayre procession, a Muhammad Ali visit, auto-destructive art on the Westway site adventure playground and Pink Floyd gigs in All Saints church hall.

Inspired by American Free Universities or Anti-universities, the London Free School offered ‘free education through lectures and discussion groups in subjects essential to our daily life and work – housing problems, immigration, race relations, the community and you, children, English, education, unions, wages and prices, mental health, law, music, art and literature. The London Free School is not political, not racial, not intellectual, not religion, not a club. It is open to all.’

The secretary John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins said the Free School was “an idea – it lasted for a few months and so many interesting things came out of it. It was one of the myriad things that went down in those days.” He also called it “a scam” and “an idea that really shouldn’t be inflated with too much content, because there really wasn’t too much content.” Pete Jenner said it was either the first “public manifestation of the underground in England,” or “a couple of sessions in some terribly seamy rooming house of Michael X’s.”

Jeff Nuttall recalled in ‘Bomb Culture’ that ‘ultimately the Free School did nothing but put out a local underground newsletter and organise the two Notting Hill Gate Festivals, which were, admittedly, models of exactly how the arts should operate, festive, friendly, audacious, a little mad and all taking place on demolition sites, in the streets, and in a magnificently institutional church hall.’

The Free School building was 26 Powis Terrace (formerly a jazz record shop and a brothel, recalled by Hoppy as jointly owned by John Michell and Michael X), across the road from David Hockney’s studio. But by all accounts not much happened there apart from band practices in the psychedelic basement of Dave Tomlin (of the Giant Sun Trolley and Third Ear Band). The Free School music group set up the DNA label to release an album through Elektra Records by the free improvisation avant-garde jazz group AMM. The Gate Free School newsletter reported that ‘the photography group was last seen at a ‘happening’ at the Marquee club, surrounded by people dancing around in cardboard boxes. The teenage group have been playing folk music and listening to Dylan records.’

The London Free School’s best publicity came on May 15 1966 when the children’s group, run by Rhaune Laslett at 34 Tavistock Crescent, was visited by Muhammad Ali at the time of his second Henry Cooper fight. Michael de Freitas aka Michael X said he told Ali: ‘At the London Free School white and black people worked voluntarily together for the good of the community.’ The Free School adventure playground on the Westway site subsequently hosted auto-destructive art performances as part of Gustav Metzger’s Destruction in Art Symposium.

50 years ago this month the London Free School Fayre and Pageant featured the first Notting Hill Carnival procession, organised by Rhaune Laslett on September 18. The first Carnival was a weeklong series of events including social nights at All Saints church hall on Powis Gardens, featuring Alexis Korner and Jeff Nuttall. The procession consisted of the London Irish girl pipers, a trad jazz marching band, Ginger Johnson’s Afro-Cuban band and Russ Henderson’s Trinidadian steel band. According to IT, ‘the Carnival evolved out of Free School ideas and enthusiasm for the community.’ Half a century later Notting Hill Carnival remains free despite recent ticket proposals.

During Dave Tomlin's ‘Fantasy workshop’ at All Saints hall, Michael X was described by Courtney Tulloch in IT ‘cooling it by the door, impersonating a villain but coming over strongly as the saint he is, hugging all the white guys and talking beautifully about the exciting way everyone was enjoying their little bit of freedom.’

Pink Floyd’s Free School Sound/Light workshops/Free Games for May – After the Fayre, at the Free School Sound/Light workshops in All Saints hall Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd went into psychedelic ‘Interstellar Overdrive, with accompanying ‘light projection slides liquid movies.’ The Free School also launched the UK underground press and the hippy rave scene. International Times was a continuation of The Gate/The Grove Free School newsletter, inspired by American underground papers including the LA Free Press. After IT was inaugurated with an all-night rave at the Roundhouse, Hoppy and Joe Boyd opened the Night Tripper/UFO psychedelic nightclub on Tottenham Court Road. Pink Floyd’s second single ‘See Emily Play’ was inspired by the Free School activist Emily Young. The line ‘free games for May’ refers to their Games for May surround sound gig at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on May 12 1967.

The Diggers Free’ Food project – Meanwhile back in the States, the Diggers radical hippy group (who took their name from the 17th century British radicals) became renowned for their Free Food project in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco. The programme was launched during the Love Pageant Rally free festival with a leaflet announcing: ‘Free food everyday – free food – it’s free because it’s yours!’ Another Diggers leaflet declared: ‘You’re born a citizen of a nation... with rulers who legislate rules commanding you to be free. Free to be conditioned in school until you’re 16. Free to be a compulsory soldier. Free to pay 60% of your taxes to the military budget’, etc. As Jon Savage puts it his ‘1966’ book: ‘The idea of Free went against the materialism of high-60s America, which the Diggers saw reflected even amongst the supposedly enlightened people in the Haight.’

Free Love – Notting Hill in the 1967 summer of love is recalled as the UK’s equivalent of Haight Ashbury, a utopian hippy society with free food, housing and love. If you needed money you just set up a market stall on Portobello and benevolent rich hippies financed the parties and happenings. After Hoppy was jailed for drugs offences amounting to Cannabis possession, a ‘Free Hoppy and the Stones’ demo against the News of the World, led by Michael X and Mick Farren, resulted in the closure of the UFO club.

In ‘Performance’, James Fox as the gangster Chas sums up the scene at the Powis Square house of Turner, played by Mick Jagger, as “a freak show... out on the left. It’s a right piss-hole, long hair, beatniks, druggers, free love, foreigners.’ In 1968 the writing on the walls in Notting Hill included the Situationist King Mob graffiti ‘Dynamite is freedom’.

Free At Last – The jazz/blues group Free at Last was formed in 1966 by the Blues Incorporated founder Alexis Korner, who lived at 4 Burnham Court on Moscow Road and appeared at a Free School gig in All Saints hall. Free at Basing Street Studios – ‘Free at Last’ is also the title of an album by the blues rock group Free, of ‘All Right Now’ fame. Free recorded at the Island studios on Basing Street and were photographed outside on Lancaster Road. The guitarist Paul Kossoff, who ODed in 1976, lived in Munro Mews off Golborne Road. The singer Paul Rodgers went on to Bad Company and Queen. Free are also notable as the only band that refused to play for nothing at Mick Farren’s Worthing Fun City free festival.

In the late 60s All Saints church hall hosted gigs by Hawkwind (their debut as Group X), Quintessence, David Bowie, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the Edgar Broughton and Third Ear Bands. The free improvisation, psychedelic blues rock group Quintessence, featured in the film ‘Getting It Straight In Notting Hill Gate’ by Joe Gannon playing in the hall, recalled the Free School as the halcyon days of the local hippy scene in the lyrics of their ‘Notting Hill Gate’ track: ‘Things look great in Notting Hill Gate, they really move, things look cool in Notting Hill School, they never go about playing by the rules, we’re getting it straight in Notting Hill Gate, we all sit around and meditate.’ Shiva Shankar Jones told Oz magazine that audience participation “frees their minds from fetters, makes them forget earthly matters.” David Bowie’s Memory of a Free Festival – Bowie appeared at All Saints hall at the time of the Beckenham festival that inspired his ‘Memory of a Free Festival’ track.

Hyde Park free gigs – After the London Free School, Pete Jenner, who acted as the first Carnival treasurer, went on to be Pink Floyd’s manager and set up Blackhill Enterprises management company, with Andrew King, Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, Rick Wright and Nick Mason, at 32 Alexander Street, off Westbourne Park Road.

Inspired by American free festivals, in the late 60s and early 70s Blackhill put on free gigs in Hyde Park, beginning in 1968 with a bill featuring Pink Floyd, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Roy Harper and Jethro Tull. They were followed by Traffic, The Nice, Pretty Things, The Action and Junior’s Eyes; Fleetwood Mac, Family, Fairport Convention and Ten Years After; The Move, The Strawbs and Pete Brown’s Battered Ornaments. In 1969 they put on Blind Faith, the Rolling Stones, after Brian Jones died, along with the Third Ear Band and Alexis Korner’s New Church, which had an estimated half million attendance. There were also free appearances in Hyde Park by Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jefferson Airplane, Soft Machine, the Deviants, Al Stewart, Quintessence, Edgar Broughton Band, Roy Harper (a few times), Canned Heat, Eric Burdon and War, Grand Funk Railroad, Humble Pie and King Crimson.

‘All for love and publicity. How free is free?’ According to a contemporary report on the Blackhill free concerts: ‘At first the public were unbelieving and suspicious. Since then the free concert idea has flowered and matured to the point where 120,000 people gathered peacefully on a Saturday afternoon in Hyde Park to see Blind Faith make its debut, Donovan, Richie Havens and the Edgar Broughton Band. Blackhill list the pertinent points of free concerts as first of all, they cost nothing to the audience, they are a launching pad for new bands, they produce a monster audience which couldn't be held in any auditorium, they bring back picnics to the parks and, primarily, they give artists a chance to give back to followers a little of what they have been able to take out of music, spiritually and financially.’

Glastonbury Fayre Free Festival: Memory of a Free Festival – The 1971 Glastonbury Fayre was organised at 307 Portobello Road by Revelation Enterprises, which was run by Arabella Churchill, Winston’s hippy granddaughter who lived on Elgin Crescent. The 71 free festival was the first with a pyramid stage, which hosted Hawkwind (featuring the debut of the dancer Stacia), Pink Fairies (who take up one side of the Revelation Enterprises’ ‘Glastonbury Fayre’ album), Quintessence, Bowie, Traffic, Fairport Convention, Gong, Mighty Baby and Skin Alley. Frendz reported that ‘Arabella Churchill put up a lot of the bread and suffered constant hassles from her family.’ The poster was designed by Barney Bubbles at 307 and the festival was filmed by the ‘Performance’ director Nic Roeg and David Puttnam.

Portobello Green free gigs – As the North Kensington Amenity Trust was set up to develop the land under the Westway, the first director Anthony Perry describes the initial stage: ‘At that time Portobello Green, as I named it, was completely fenced in with a high corrugated iron wall. It had been the site of the lorry ramp leading up to the motorway during its construction. I then declared it open to the public. Over the weeks that followed we slowly cleared it up with volunteer labour – not exactly volunteer, I paid them £1 an hour. We tarmaced the part immediately adjacent to Portobello Road and started a charity market, fencing it off from ‘the Green’ with timber posts cut from surplus telegraph poles. The London Brick Company gave us a lorry load of over-baked bricks and a Canadian student laid out an attractive sitting area. I had tree surgeons in to save the bedraggled trees bordering Cambridge Gardens. The thing to do was to get people to use the land and consider it theirs.’

Perry’s ‘A Tale of Two Kensingtons’ account of working for the trust in the early 70s features a picture of a rock band (who are thought to be Clover) playing on Portobello Green, with the caption: ‘Not everyone loved us or shared the idea of using the green for entertainment. On the north side were the houses of Cambridge Gardens and a small block of council flats. The residents had had a particularly hard time while the motorway was being built. What they felt about the future of the green was important and a small group of the residents immediately took against the Saturday rock concerts that had started early on.’

Hawkwind free gigs under the Westway – Through the summer of 71 Hawkwind played a series of free gigs in different locations under the flyover, including the green, featured on the gatefold sleeve of their ‘X In Search of Space’ album. During these gigs they would merge with the Pink Fairies as Pinkwind. 30 years on surviving members of Hawkwind and the Fairies appeared at the Inn on the Green on Thorpe Close (now Westbank). ‘They offered us contracts, we said “We don’t need ’em”, we’ll just take our freedom and will not be bound in the days of the underground. And some of us made it but not smiling Michael…’ Hawkwind ‘Days of the Underground’, ‘Quark, Strangeness and Charm’ 1977

Notting Hill People’s Free Carnival/Free Frendz – Frendz (formerly Friends) underground paper, whose office was at 305 Portobello Road, promoted the 1971 ‘People’s Free Carnival’, proclaiming that ‘the Streets of Notting Hill belong to the People.’ In the Free Frendz ‘Blow Up’ Angry Brigade issue it was reported that the ‘People’s Carnival got off to a joyous start. The street fest continues all this week so do it in the road as noisily as you can.’ Pictures of Mighty Baby and Skin Alley playing on the green were captioned: ‘The weekly Saturday concert under Westway in Portobello Road pounds on. Next week Graham Bond, Pink Fairies and Hawkwind.’ The Pink Fairies were pictured in the Powis Square gardens, liberated from private control in 1968, ‘at a quieter moment during the Notting Hill Free Carnival, a fantastic week of music, theatre and dancing in the street. Everybody got it on and the streets really came alive.’ Lemmy made his debut with Hawkwind in Powis Square at this Carnival. The Black Unity and Freedom Party made ‘a call to all progressive people; black people smash the racist immigration bill, workers of Britain smash the Industrial Relations bill… Rally and march July 25, Acklam Road.’

Frendz announced that the 1972 Kensington and Chelsea Arts Festival would feature ‘folk groups, theatre, dance, etc under the motorway at Portobello Road where an open air stage has been erected. Also beneath the motorway M40/41 interchange near Silchester Road W10 will be Groverock! 12 hours of rock music on Saturday June 24 from 12 noon onwards. It will be totally free.’ The Frendz underground press collective described themselves as ‘libertarians, leftish loons, freaks and heads who want to get things on now’, such as claimants’ unions, liberation groups and free festivals.

Michael Moorcock’s ‘King of the City’ novel contains a scene at a Saturday afternoon free gig under the flyover at Portobello Green by Brinsley Schwarz and the band of his character Dennis Dover. The audience consisted of ‘Swedish flower children, American Yippies and French ’ippies.’ In 1973 John Trux’s Greasy Truckers Promotions presented ‘Magic Roundabout’ free gigs under the Westway roundabout by Ace, Kevin Ayers, Burlesque, Camel, Chilli Willi, Clancy, Henry Cow, Fat City, the Global Village Trucking Company, Gong, Sniff and the Tears, and Spyra Gyra.

The White Panthers Free Food stall under the Westway – The radical hippy White Panther Party was founded in Detroit in 1968, in solidarity with the Black Panthers, by John Sinclair, the manager of the MC5. The White Panthers UK were launched by Mick Farren of IT and the Deviants at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival, featuring Hendrix and the Doors, in protest at ticket prices. As the festival fences were stormed by White Panthers, hell’s angels and French anarchists, Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies appeared at the alternative ‘Desolation Row’ free festival site.

The White Panthers’ philosophy is best described by Steve Mann of IT in Jonathon Green’s ‘Days in the Life’: “The party line was very, very vague: we had to overthrow western civilization as soon as possible – before lunchtime preferably, although that wasn’t too easy because we didn’t get up very early.” Their demands included a donation from the producers of the musical ‘Hair’ as compensation for their exploitation of the hippy scene. Mick Farren summed up the West London chapter as “a bunch of street kids on the Grove doing the free food thing.” They also built a stage on Portobello Green for the 1970 ‘Fun and Games’ free gigs and produced the underground paper White Trash. Their proto-food bank venture under the Westway on the corner of Portobello and Thorpe Close was featured in a local press report as a free ‘eat-in’:

‘Kids swarmed around a table under the motorway in the Portobello Road last Friday, attracted by the smell of cooking. Free food is being given out once a week in the Portobello Road by the West London Chapter of the White Panther Party. Last Friday at 3.30 pm was the 4th time the group of young people met under the motorway armed with table, gas ring, giant saucepans and paper cups to feed the people. Children gathered round as the rice and vegetables were cooking and passers-by came up almost suspiciously to see what was going on. The food is for anyone who needs it – and the Panthers work on the assumption that unless somebody is authentically hungry, they won’t swallow their pride so much as to ask for food. But operating under the motorway has its problems, not least of them being the cold and the fact that maybe the people who need the food the most couldn’t stand about in the queue waiting for it.

‘Their aim is to get a base indoors where they could also have a free school, yoga and karate classes, a poster workshop and an office for their magazine White Trash. The initial money to get the food programme off the ground came from Oz and 2 pop groups, Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies. The equipment was donated by IT, the Magic Carpet and others. “But we need help to keep the programme together, like the transport, sources of cheap or free food, disposable cups and containers, and help with the cooking and carrying of equipment”, said a spokesman. The White Panthers can be contacted at International Times.’

‘The West London White Panthers were essentially about 5 people, plus a few who helped out on various projects’, recalls one of them, Brian Nevill. ‘They were based in the section of St Stephen’s Gardens which was demolished about 3 years after we met. The main projects that the West London chapter organised were the publishing of a magazine, White Trash, various jumble sales, mainly in All Saints hall, the Westway Theatre project, and the Free Food programme. This took place under the Westway opposite the Free Shop. Like most of the projects started by the West London chapter, it was a gentle and positive task. The food dished out under the Westway was basically a huge pot of brown rice and a pot of vegetables, both slow cooking over heat produced by camping gas and set up on a trestle table. We gave out flyers for various events while dishing out the food. My memory tells me that a few of us treated ourselves to egg and chips at the nearby Mountain Grill at the end of the day.’

The Free Shop – The Free Shop on the corner of Acklam Road under the Westway is described in the mid-70s in ‘Soft City’ by Jonathan Raban as ‘a locked shack with Free Shop spraygunned on it, and old shoes and sofas piled in heaps around it.’ The rest of the area consisted of: ‘a makeshift playground under the arches of the motorway with huge crayon faces drawn on the concrete pillars, slogans in whitewash, from Smash the Pigs to Keep Britain White.’ The Free Shop hand sign on the corner was sprayed with ‘It’s Only Rock’n’Roll’ graffiti, promoting the Rolling Stones’ 1974 single. Emily Young recalled: “Under the motorway was just dead cats. People dumped rubbish and nobody cleared it. My idea was to have big archetypal figures and a continuing landscape of hills and green fields to bring a sense of space and freedom to the concrete bays.”

Anthony Perry wrote in his North Kensington Amenity Trust director’s diary on June 15 1974: ‘While we were talking, we were interrupted by a typical North Kensington event: Mick Gallagher, the so called manager from our Free shop, in fact the squatter in the Free Shop for something like 2 years, burst into our meeting, white faced, and said he had just beaten up his brother, and the Free Shop was on fire. So I left Ian Harker, a member of our management committee who had joined us for the office lunch with Mrs Key, and went over to the Free Shop. The shop was indeed still on fire and lying on the ground was one of the alcoholics from the green. I got a bucket of water and put out the fire, and saw Mick thumping this bloke on the ground, saying “Danny, why did you do it?” It turned out that Mick had told him to piss off on some earlier occasion. His brother had come back and set fire to the Free Shop with Mick in it.’

Free housing/squatting c/o the Ruff Tuff Cream Puff squatting estate agency/The 101’ers – Heathcote Williams’ Ruff Tuff Cream Puff squatting estate agents magazine, based at 217a Westbourne Park Road, advertised Notting Hill properties available for free. After Joe Strummer’s 101’ers were evicted from their squat at 101 Walterton Road, from which they took their name, as the group played at the Elgin they moved to 36 St Luke’s Road – described in the squatting guide as: ‘empty two years, entry through rear, no roof, suit astronomer.’ In 1976 Tony Allen’s Corrugated Times introduced Meanwhile Gardens as ‘3½ acres of freedom.’

Albion Free State Meat Roxy – In the mid-70s the Royalty Cinema, on the site of Royalty Studios on Lancaster Road (which had also been a bingo hall and Middle Earth in the late 60s), became the squatted Albion Free State Meat Roxy venue of gigs by the 101’ers and Here & Now. The name was concocted by the fire-breathing impresario Heathcote Williams from his William Blake-inspired Albion Free State ‘utopian vision of an England free from government and bosses.’

Here & Now/Windsor and Stonehenge free festivals – The free festival stalwarts Here & Now took the Hawkwind and Pink Fairies tradition on to another level with a free ethos stipulation that ‘no one should ever pay to see or hear them.’ Following free improvisation jamming sessions at 30 Hedgegate Court, Powis Terrace, Here & Now formed in 1974 at their squat on Norburn Street, between Chesterton Road and St Charles Square. After their residency at the Albion Free State Meat Roxy, they reformed as a 3-piece and squatted 373 Lancaster Road. They also inhabited a squat on Stoneleigh Street in Frestonia and played at the Tabernacle and the Chippenham pub.

As Here & Now appeared at the Stonehenge and Windsor free festivals, along with the 101’ers and Nik Turner from Hawkwind, they travelled and lived in a former police bus, which later became the Mutoid Waste Company’s skull bus. In 1977 Here & Now merged with Gong as Planet Gong and they also toured with Alternative TV. The drummer/vocalist Kif Kif Le Batter aka Keith Dobson recalled trying to “bring the 2 anti-establishment forces of punk and hippydom together, but it didn’t quite work.” He went on to the 012 group, Street Level Studios at Bristol Gardens with Grant Showbiz, Fuck Off Records cassette label with JB, and World Domination Enterprises, of ‘Asbestos Lead Asbestos’ fame who did a free busking tour.

The Clash Stay Free – In 1977 the Clash posed by the Free Shop on Portobello Road under the Westway and railway bridge. The following year they recorded ‘Stay Free’ on their second album ‘Give ’Em Enough Rope’ at Basing Street Studios.

The Free and Independent Republic of Frestonia – On Freston Road in 1977 hippy and punk squatters declared themselves independent of Britain and appealed to the UN for assistance against threatened eviction. The Free and Independent Republic of Frestonia was founded by Heathcote Williams and Nick Albery, inspired by the former’s Albion Free State, the Marx brothers’ ‘Freedonia’ and ‘Passport to Pimlico’. Their national anthem proclaimed: ‘Long live Frestonia, land of the free – not the GLC.’ The utopia/dystopia was summed up by the ‘Strictly Free Range Reality’ graffiti on one of the houses. During the republic Here & Now and the Passions appeared at the People’s Hall on Olaf Street. In the late 80s and early 90s Evesham Street off Freston Road hosted the free festival Peace Convoy hippy travelers’ site. Frestonia lives on as the Bramley Housing Co-op on the St Ann’s Road/St Katherine’s Walk block.

Portobello Film Festival – Following in the local free tradition, Portobello Film Festival was founded in 1996. It was decided from the start that the festival would be free and would try to show all films submitted and never charge admission. Festival Director Jonathan Barnett says “art should be kept as far away from money and corporate ethics as possible, the best art has always been done for love not money…that’s not to say artists shouldn’t be paid of course they should – they make the world a more wonderful place - , just that the prime motivation, the muse, the inspiration is always clearer from the soul than the management consultant. An art history landmark would be the emergence of Dutch genre painting in the 17th century recording the lives of ordinary people rather than commissions from the rich and powerful.”




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