Hat, Bag and I decided to go camping in Brighton. We piled everything into the Herbert-mobile and set off. We only got stopped three times on the way down!
We go a field a set up camp. There were two other tents in the field so when we had got things sorted we set off to introduce ourselves and be friendly. Tent number 1 contained three young lads about our age. They seemed a little apprehensive at the sight of three hairy individuals. Their camp was very neat and tidy and the three of them were equally well manicured with longish, layered hair and corduroy.
“How’s it hangin’, man?” Bag asked as he poked into the tent.
“Oh, actually, O.K.” one of them replied in a rather cultured accent as they assiduously set about involving themselves in a variety of tasks and doing their best to ignore us.
We hung around a few minutes and got the distinct impression that we weren’t exactly welcome and left.
Camp number 2 was a bit different. There were three girls who seemed a bit friendlier. They invited us for tea and put steaming mugs of coffee in our hands. This was more like it.
We built a big campfire and settled around and one thing led to another. They had a big tent so we moved in.
The Public School tossers, as we quickly came to call the occupants of tent number 1, tossers for short, sat around their own campfire and cast anxious looks our way. We ate beans, as is mandatory when camping, spit-roasted sausages on sticks and charred marshmallows. We didn’t have Jack with us but did passable impressions of his outrageous guffawing. Then we broke out some beers, rolled a few jays and rounded off the evening, well maybe the middle hours of the night, by driving around and around tent number 1. We didn’t intend to get so loud but things got a bit out of hand and what with the girls laughing so much and hanging out of the windows of our Hertbertmobile it all got a bit riotous. Eventually we turned in for the night and settled down with the girls. That too all out a bit out of hand, we swapped around a few times, and when the sun came up none of us had got any sleep and we were all knackered. So we finally called it a day and snuggled down our sleeping bag, or at least into the girls’ sleeping bags, which were a bit cramped with two in but fine with us — and them. Seemingly, the noises of our orgying, tents not being exactly soundproof, had not proved conducive to the well being of fellow campers. When we finally emerged into the bright light of late afternoon there were only two tents in the field.
That evening we took off for the legendary ‘Shoreline Club’ – a psychedelic dungeon notorious for its frequent drug busts and the degeneracy of the clientele – sounded just our sort of place. It was all a bit of a disappointment seemingly long past its best. The place was half empty and you found yourself wandering around this dimly lit series of rooms with coloured lights, ultra-violet and dangly stuff to a muffled background of obscure wailing sounds and pseudo-psychedelic noises. There were posters and hand painted murals that were supposed to give it the hippy touch. When you’d experienced the real thing with Pink Floyds lightshows and weirdness or Jefferson Airplane’s acid show I all seemed a bit lame and pretentious.
We wandered about for an hour or so mingling with the bored clientele who seemed nowhere near degenerate enough, dancing with the girls, and trying to avoid the rather heavy looking bouncers who seemed to be homing in on us, then Hat got us thrown out. It was all a bit of a misunderstanding really. He’d found this door with a big orange sign saying ‘WAY OUT’ and wanted to see where it led. He’d pulled at the handle and it wouldn’t open so he’d given it a few big yanks and pulled the handle off. A bouncer had seen him, grabbed him and rounded us up and chucked the lot of us out. We were lucky not to collect a few bruises from the look of them. Seemingly the sign was part of the ambience and necessary parlance for a ‘hippy’ experience, man. It wasn’t an exit at all. Still it was an experience.
Beefheart was playing the Toby Jug so that was a definite. I hustled round to get the crew together and organised with Allie. Jack took Jan and she seemed real nice and not at all the picture of the nympho Jack had painted for me. She was a real sweetie. We got a car-full and set off. The others were meeting us there.
The atmosphere was tense with expectation. This was Beefheart. The weirdest band in the whole dam universe! How could they live up to this?
The Magic Band ambled on stage and plugged in grinning round at us. We were all in our weirdest gear but they outweirded us. Our hair was long but theirs was longer. Zoot’s hair was down to his arse and he was six feet four! With their scarves, jackets, dark glasses, robes, weird hats and toasters. They were the freakiest set of individuals any of us had ever seen. But there was no Captain in sight.
Allie and I danced like fuck to the pounding beat and the whole place rocked. Right from Drumbo’s first beats and Rockette Morton’s bass. Then Zoot Horn Rollo and Alex Snouffer St Claire came in trading slide riffs and it soared and wailed and pounded at your soul. It grabbed your heart and squeezed it. The rhythms danced through your cells and pulled your skeleton all over the place. The floor heaved. The walls pulsated. Psychedelic blues. Acid Africa. Who gave a fuck what it was. No one had ever made a sound like this before.
Alex started a riff and Zoot picked it up, brittle, jagged and extraordinary. Rockette’s bass line leapt here and there and Drumbo held in together with his extraordinary pounding. It weaved and roared. Then the Captain strode on in his top-hat and long fur trimmed coat. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any louder his voice roared over the top of it like a tidal wave of sound and we drowned in his words. We knew ‘em backwards. Poetry. Roaring, wailing poetry. It soared high and roared low and we raged.
What a band!
We had to eat. It didn’t take much. We were frugal and our flat was cheap. Allie had a job as an auxiliary nurse at the hospital a couple of nights a week. I worked the bakery for a twelve-hour night shift every Friday night. It was OK. I had to put my hair up in a snood. That was a sight!
For a long while I could not figure out how everyone got to get through the night without flaking out but then someone introduced me to these little white pills and amphetamine made the hours soar by.
I worked with this student guy called Mike. His ambition in life seemed to be to grow his hair as long as possible. He was so paranoid about split ends that he hardly ever washed it and never combed or brushed it. He just used to run his fingers through it to get the knots out. He’d managed to get it down to his arse and was really proud of it.
We’d spend the tea breaks and midnight meal hour pouring over IT and Oz and discussing the relative merit of the Doors, Country Joe an the Fish, The Mothers of Invention, Love, Moby Grape and Pink Floyd. The stringent hygiene meant that you couldn’t slip off for a craft jay. The only place to smoke was the canteen and that was a little too public.
Every week he’d drop some acid and head for London to the UFO, Middle Earth or The Roundhouse. It was him that got me thinking about moving up to London. There was so much more happening. You could taste the vibes as he talked about it.
The bakery was a pretty straight place. Apart from Mike and myself there weren’t a lot of freaks around. We did get friendly with a few of the Jamaican guys though, as they were pretty much into ghanga. Henry was a particularly big guy. He was six foot seven, must have weighed eighteen stone and powerful with it. He towered over me and could have crushed you with a sweep of his enormous hand. Fortunately he was very mild mannered and was always chuckling. His whole face lit up when he saw you. He spoke in a hushed whisper. He was the epitome of a gentle giant. I got along with him great and he sort of adopted me and looked out for me.
I was grateful of this one day when I accidentally put the prongs of the forklift truck I was driving through the side of one of the Lorries. The drivers are very proud of their Lorries and take a great deal of time tarting them up and looking after them. Putting holes in the side of one did not exactly enamour you to the driver. This particular driver was quite large and he was explaining this to me while holding me up by the collar of my jacket and pinning me against the side of the van. He pushed his face into mine and shouted. His fist was poised to emphasise the point by connecting with various parts of my facial features with a view to a serious rearrangement. Just then a big black fist engulfed his fist and he was spun round. The other fist gathered together the clothing at the front of his chest and effortlessly lifted him up off the floor.
“What’s going on here?” he whispered. “What are you thinking of doing to my little friend here?”
The big driver stared back at him with bulging eyes. He kicked and struggled but Henry just calmly held him up there at arm’s length until he stopped. Then he gently placed him on the floor.
“Run along now, my friend. And no more of this silliness.”