6 JULY 2006




Notting Dale: A place of evil, mister In the run up to the 1958 race riots, Colin MacInnes’s Absolute Beginner locates the Notting Hellmouth: ‘Still in the W10 bit, there’s another railway, and a park with a name only Satan in all his splendour could have thought up, namely Wormwood Scrubs… a long, lean road called Latimer Road which I particularly want you to remember, because out of this road, like horrible tits dangling from a lean old sow, there hang a whole festoon of what I think must really be the sinisterest highways in our city, well, just listen to their names: Blechynden, Silchester, Walmer, Testerton and Bramley… And just where this railway is slung over the big central road that cuts across the area north to south, there’s a hole, a dip, a pocket, a really unhappy valley, which, according to my learned Dad, was formerly at one time a great non-agricultural marsh. A place of evil, mister. I bet witches lived around it, and a lot still do.’

Sizzling Hot Holly Rave On: Joe Meek The local traditions of bedsit recording and occult pop culture were founded in 1957 by the legendary maverick producer Joe Meek at 20 Arundel Gardens. While his makeshift studio, featuring a honky-tonk piano from Portobello market, was visited by the likes of Petula Clark and Lonnie Donegan, the ground floor flat was also used for séances and Tarot readings during which Meek received a forewarning of the death of Buddy Holly. After launching the skiffle single ‘Sizzling Hot’ by Jimmy Miller and the Barbecues in the flat, Meek moved up the hill to set up the Lansdowne recording studios on Lansdowne Road. Following his greatest hits, ‘Johnny Remember Me’ by John Leyton and ‘Telstar’ by the Tornados (Margaret Thatcher’s fave rave), in 1967, on the anniversary of Buddy Holly’s demise, Joe Meek killed himself and his landlady on Holloway Road.

John Michell’s View Over Atlantis from Powis Terrace But the weirdest street in Notting Hill has to be Powis Terrace aka Hedgegate Court; largely due to John Michell, the local esoteric cult author and landlord. Aside from his property X-files, John Michell was the underground press resident expert on all things mystical; the holy grail, leylines, Stonehenge, UFOs; and has published numerous arcane books including The View Over Atlantis and The Flying Saucer Vision; John Hopkins cites him as the archetypal eccentric Notting Hill writer.

After Powis Terrace was converted into self-contained flats, Michael X acted as the letting agent, and the notorious Rachman street gained further renown from David Hockney’s studio, a Performance influence great train robber hideout, the London Free School, a residence of the murdered hippy fashion designer Ossie Clark, hells angels, Rastas and Graham Bond.

Gone Dead Train: Graham Bond The blues saxophonist, keyboard player and singer, Graham Bond, who claimed to be an illegitimate son of Aleister Crowley, is recalled locally; on Powis Terrace at the time of the Jack the Stripper murders in the early 60s; playing in the basement of the first Macrobiotic restaurant on Campden Hill in 1967; and under the Westway during the 1971 Carnival.

He first appeared with the Blues Incorporated group of Alexis Korner, who lived on Moscow Road. The subsequent Graham Bond Organization with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker (who went on to Cream) folded in 1967 due to Bond’s increasing involvement in drugs and black magic. His later Holy Magick ritual album featured a pentagram on the cover and the Ghanaian drummer Gaspar Lawal, he also had a group called Initiation and played with Pete Brown and Mr Fox. The devoted Crowleyan apparently committed suicide in 1974 by jumping in front of a train at Finsbury Park, after carrying out an exorcism of Long John Baldry’s house.

Pink Floyd’s Astronomy Domini in All Saints hall Neil Oram’s The Warp play features a hippy guru character addressing his commune in the London Free School basement of 26 Powis Terrace. In other scenes, a hippy talks about opening Colville Square Gardens, so that the kids can generate more positive cosmic energy, and a psychedelic pied piper leads Portobello processions of ragged kids.

Following on from the 1966 Free School Fayre, John Hopkins presented ‘London’s farthest out group The Pink Floyd in interstellar overdrive stoned alone astronomy domini – an astral chant and other numbers from their space-age book’ in All Saints hall on Powis Gardens. Here Pink Floyd transformed from a regular r’n’b band into Britain’s foremost psychedelic pioneers.
As they refined the whimsical stoned folk pop of ‘The Gnome’, ‘Matilda Mother’ and ‘Let’s Roll Another One’, and developed the experimental prog-rock freakouts ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ and ‘Astronomy Domini’, as Miles puts in his gothic All Saints hall review, Pink Floyd were taking ‘musical innovation further out than it had ever been before, walking out on incredibly dangerous limbs and dancing along crumbling precipices, saved sometimes only by the confidence beamed at them from the audience sitting a matter of inches away at their feet.’ The Cream and Graham Bond lyricist, Pete Brown says of Syd Barrett looning about in Granny Takes A Trip psychedelic finery: “It might be overly poetic, but you could almost say that he appeared to live in those lightshows – a creature of the imagination.”

As Pink Floyd’s All Saints set was released on their debut album, ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ (inspired by William Blake and Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows), the Notting Hill People’s Association made the first attempt to forcibly open the gates of the Powis Square gardens.

Nightmare on Southam Street: Bedazzled Stanley Donen 1967 Peter Cook and Dudley Moore appear on Southam Street (of previous Absolute Beginners fame and Kelso Cochrane murder notoriety) in Stanley Donen’s Bedazzled (recently re-made with Liz Hurley in the Pete Cook devil role), on or around the site of Trellick Tower. As Pete leads Dudley to his Rendezvous club/office, Dudley asks: “Where are we? Is this hell?” Pete replies: “Just my London headquarters.” (Pete Cook did live in Notting Hill; at 19 Denbigh Terrace, which was subsequently occupied by Richard Branson; and in Ruston Mews opposite Rillington Place.)

The Death and Resurrection of International Times On March 11 1967, the day British psychedelia was launched with the release of Pink Floyd’s debut single ‘Arnold Layne’, Hoppy presented ‘the Death and Resurrection of International Times’ parade on Portobello – after the paper was first busted by the Obscene Publications Squad. This hippy street theatre, as relic of tree worship in mod Europe, consisted of a coffin carried on a ‘rebirth journey’ from the Cenotaph in Whitehall back to Notting Hill Gate on the tube, and in a procession through the market, with bongo drum accompaniment. At the end of the happening, IT was symbolically resurrected in the human form of the beatnik poet Harry Fainlight, as the Sunday Mirror came up with a ‘Sacrilege at the Cenotaph’ hippy shock horror story.

Hippy Heaven W11 What seemed like Notting Hell to straight society was hippy heaven W11 to the blooming flower children. In Saucerful of Secrets, the Exploding Galaxy performance artist David Medalla recalled a euphoric classless society, with free food, housing and love. If you needed money you just set up a market stall, Hare Krishnas and Situationists were taken seriously, and benevolent rich hippies like Tara Browne and Robert Frazer financed the happenings.

In Jonathon Green’s Days in the Life, Notting Hill in the summer of love is described in equally utopian terms as “an earthly paradise” and “like some fairytale.” To Chris Rowley, “the summer of ’67 was when Notting Hill was really a little paradisiacal.” To sum up the vibe, he cites the wedding reception of the Who and Free School designer Mike McInnerney in Hyde Park (or Kensington Gardens) as “like something out of Tolkein or a spoof there of. 60 or 70 fey young people, mostly in velvet, gathered around some bongo drummers and primitive guitarists… Michael English (of Hapshash and the Coloured Coat) would go off to Portobello to put out the next poster and capture this atmosphere of trees, golden haze, an aura of decadence and mellowed out young people.”

IT 10.5, the emergency issue after the paper’s first bust (which doubled as the Alexandra Palace ‘Technicolour Dream’ programme), features a poem by Dave Tomlin calling for more flower power in the gardens of Notting Hill: ‘Pavement bursting grass, quickening the grove, greening out the grey this spring, seeds scattered on brown municipal mound in conduit lined holes, to find its way into the sun and spread a carpet for London child to dance, these grains carried in pockets ready to sow in subversive sweeps where heavy unseeing law can only flounder, and with the wirespring rooted grass mix sundry blobs of colour from Woolworth packaged blooms to invade this grove with smells that clog the diesel chugging pipes and waft the scent of sanity from Portobello’s Gate.’ To the hippies, opening the fenced off garden squares of Powis and Colville became a symbolic mission, to convert ‘unturned on people’ and start ‘a tidal wave which is about to wash away the square world’, as Neil Oram put it.

Notting Hill Interzone In May ’68, as students took to the barricades in Paris and radical hippies stormed the Powis Square gardens, John Hopkins came up with IT 30, the Notting Hill ‘Interzone A’ map issue. Inspired by William Blake and William Burroughs, Situationist psychogeography and local history, Hoppy recalls: “I got all the data together, and plotted it all out on a map, and what I discovered was the main density of people in those days was like a fertile crescent. It followed the 31 bus route that runs down to World’s End, Chelsea, and came up through Kensington and Notting Hill to Swiss Cottage and Chalk Farm. We called it the fertile crescent, which is a phrase from archaeology, from Mesopotamia, and the centre of gravity of IT was in Notting Hill. One of the things we understood then is if you want to take the territory you publish the map, that’s an axiom that really works. So we decided that the first place that we want to conceptually seize is Notting Hill – this is in 1968 – so we published a map and we called it ‘Interzone A’.

“Somebody did some research about the 3 villages, Notting Dale, Westbourne Park and Portobello. The idea wasn’t local history, although I think you can call it that. What we tried to do was provide that information for people, so that they’d know when you walk along the street you’re treading along somewhere people have lived and walked along for hundreds of years. It used to be farms then it was a village. When you stand here imagine that this was a village, trying to help give people a sense of place in time which goes beyond the present. We got some old maps and we traced out the field patterns and we talked to people who reckoned they could remember what their parents and grandparents said going back a hundred years. When you do that your sense of where you are and what you’re walking on changes, it’s like the fields lie dreaming underneath sort of vibe.”

‘Walking the Grove’ in ‘Interzone’ IT, Courtney Tulloch grappled with the paradox of hippy Heaven W11 and concrete island Notting Hell, at one point concluding that ‘Notting Hill in its social aspects is a huge grimy garbage heap, that is just waiting to get set on fire.’ As the GLC’s car-park plans for the 23 acres under the Westway were discovered, he thought ‘the area could congeal into a genuinely depressed ghetto, people’s social and economic needs being overshadowed by the gigantic inhuman motorway.’ But, on the other hand: ‘If the spans are given over to the community, the possibilities for further creative extensions to the children’s adventure playground already under way in Westbourne Park, are total... In the meantime, look forward to the Notting Hill Fair especially, a human bonfire of energy and colour. Don’t wait for the area to change – no change in a physical environment how ever great can ever change you. Instead dig the vibrations in and around Notting Hill, perhaps the only area in London where through the differing enclaves of experimental living, a free-form and ingenious communal life-style could really burst forth.’

The opening of the Westway on July 28 1970, by the transport secretary Michael Heseltine, was accompanied by another local road protest, over rehousing priorities. As a convoy of demonstrators disrupted the official opening ceremony, a banner was unfurled on Acklam Road demanding ‘Get Us Out of this Hell – Rehouse Us Now’. George Clark, the former CND Committee of 100/housing activist saint, was consigned to Notting Hell for claiming credit for Acklam Road rehousing at the expense of Walmer Road residents. A placard proclaimed, ‘There’s only one man I know who could live in this hell hole and that is George Clark – the devil himself.’ The IT report on the demo, entitled ‘The Devil is alive and well and living in Notting Hill’ (under a picture of Mick Jagger in Performance), accused Clark of ‘diverting justifiable community anger from radical action into harmless words.’





PFF report