Sixties in Context – a small chunk of biography.
In 1968, with a rucksack on my motorbike, I moved up to London to begin a degree in Zoology.
These were the carefree days of freedom and time. I had a grant of £333 to live on. I shared a room in a grotty part of Ilford with my genius of a friend Pete. A hundred and eleven pounds a term had to provide food, rent and petrol. We started the day with a mug of cocoa and had one meal a day – usually a mound of cheese potato with onions. We sometimes made Irish stews from sheep’s heads and brawn from pig’s heads. A pig or sheep’s head cost one and six (seven and a half pence). It was all the protein we could afford. We kept a bit pot going and added veg (we scrounged outside leaves and half rotten veg from the local shops). We sometimes got bacon or cheese ends or stale bread from the supermarket to augment our diet. I was extraordinarily thin! I weighed around 9 stone.
£333 wasn’t a lot but we made it go a long way. To put this in context: an ounce of hash was £6; a top gig (Pink Floyd, Traffic, Cream, Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall, Roy Harper) was twelve and a half pence to twenty five pence.
My days were spent reading a lot of books from Kerouac to Sci-fi. The nights were spent with friends playing records, talking madly about lyrics, music, philosophy, the environment, infinity, books, art, and spirituality.
I went to at least three gigs a week and all the free festivals in Hyde Park, then the summer festivals – (the likes of Windsor Jazz and Blues, Woburn Abbey, Glastonbury). My haunts were Les Cousins, Middle Earth, UFO, Marquis, Eel Pie Island, Toby Jug, college gigs and Fishmonger’s Arms and hosts of others. I was heavily into the full range of underground bands – Hendrix, Free, Cream, Mothers, Beefheart, Country Joe and the Fish, Bonzos, John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Edgar Broughton, Dylan, Doors and hundreds more. At places like Cousins there was wizardry in the form of Jackson C Frank, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Davy Graham.
Having discovered the genius of Roy Harper in 1967 at least twice a week, sometimes four times a week, I’d go and catch a Harper gig. He invited me round, gave me his number and we became friends. That added a new dimension to my crowded schedule.
In the day I’d wander around town, buying the underground paper IT, checking out gigs, looking through second-hand albums for bargains (original remaindered cardboard sleeve Folkways albums of Woody Guthrie and Sleepy John Estes), West Coast acid rock, progressive rock, blues, folk, singer songwriters and psychedelic. We starved so we could go to gigs and buy albums. Well worth it!
In those halcyon days of 1967/68/69 Harper was on fire! – A fiery ball of anarchic wisdom, beat poetry, vitriolic social comment and musical genius. Those early gigs were fantastic. They melted my brain. His poetry was in a different realm. Nobody was as insightful or scathing – not even Dylan.
Those days were mind blowing. I was eighteen/nineteen. Full of energy. My mind was incandescent. Gigs back then were amazing. You could be bouncing around all night at Middle Earth to Edgar Broughton or sitting in wonder in the cellar at Les Cousins watching Bert, John or Davy weave their magic.
I remember going to Eel Pie Island to see Pink Floyd. A lady collected a penny off us to cross the bridge. It cost a ridiculous seventeen and a half pence (price went up from twelve and a half pence because there was a double header with Blossom Toes). We bounced around on the old rotten floor that swayed and bounced along with us.
Roy played anywhere that would have him. He did the folk clubs, college circuit, festivals and all manner of small clubs. He hitched to gigs or went by train. Occasionally I’d give him a lift on the back of my motor bike or in my beat-up old Ford popular.
When I first started following Roy his audience was often only around twenty or thirty. By the end of 1968 they were queuing around the block. I was lucky. Roy put me on the door! Being put on the door was a great help to my limited finances.
Roy was often on with other people – Free, Al Stewart, Bonzos, Ralph McTell, John Renbourn and Bert Jansch come to mind. Always a joy. I got to see and meet a lot of great musicians.
Somehow, I managed to fit in a lecture or two (I actually attended under half) and actually finished with a BSc in Zoology!! Phew!! Mind you, I could have got a PhD on Harper and the songwriting or the sixties underground!! They didn’t do degrees in that though!