Deviation Street: High Times In Ladbroke Grove – 1967-1975
For the first time we’re living in a cultural age when last or even “best of” selections are somehow defining or equal to past classics, why else bandy such clichés as “national treasure” even (God forbid) “superstar.”
But why not celebrate origins from first albums on—maybe they include ideas and inspirational scope adapted for those then and now? After all, television has classics without the current need to load it with octogenarians, like the odd media-led obsession for America (4% of the world’s people consume four times more than the 96%). As in Colin Wilson’s The Outsider about creative spirits seeking to survive, self-expression of a vision goes in various directions. Words are horizontal but music, like painting, can be vertical: each of these unified in west London for a decade.
A new 3-CD set from Cherry Red examines origins and context, thus aiming to be definitive about the time and specifically the counterculture of England in those crazy days before band names were copied by the unknowing or, unthinkably (literally) cloned for money as identikits instead of originality. Its breadth with a full 48 pages on West London’s microcosmic W10 and W11 backs this claim. Surprises even in the same street for those there at the time (Family—a fun clapping B-side about their road when in the film Groupie—Steamhammer, Roxy Music!) shoulder-rub dustier artefacts (some more arty than others). It spliffs up with Quintessence but NOT the group-written single (Notting Hill Gate) which is two minutes shorter and does in fact start with lighting a spliff! Its swirling sitar and guitar welcomed in 1970 when re-recorded some weeks after their LP and on a film by Pink Floyd’s lightman, plus Q’s Cosmic Surfer from their third consecutively charting LP which should have been a single.
Hawkwind Zoo (first spelt Hawquins Zoo) recorded at Abbey Road five months before their debut’s sessions, which included an edited single: this extended ‘Hurry On Sundown’ comes from that first session. Another was taped for John Peel, and each featured a different guitarist! ‘We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago’ reprises their ’71 classic ‘In Search Of Space’ bash heralding them as space rock pioneers, a path rejected by UFO (seen mangled by new guitarist Larry Wallis on French T.V.). Awash with SFX for ‘Space Ritual’ which didn’t even break for applause, it’s a total cosmic immersion thinks this Greasy Trucker (tour support Magic Muscle recorded too late as did Nik Turner’s ICU). High point was ‘Silver Machine’ over TOTP’s credits on their year-end Xmas show. There’s also Motörhead with Lemmy “I’ve got a sick hobby” Kilmister for the lyrically superb ‘Lost Johnny’ (co-written with Farren for Hawkwind), Robert Calvert’s solo project ‘Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters,’ and Michael Moorcock’s then-unreleased (and variant) ‘Kings Of Speed’ written for Hawkwind the same year (1974).
The first CD climaxes with the Edgar Broughton Band’s call-to-arms response to The Fugs with ‘Out Demons Out,’ one of Broughton’s most acid guitar licks and progressive label Harvest’s first singles as well as an inaugural Top 40 hit. Each CD fittingly closes with statements like this. These three bands of freedom fighters led a psychedelic vanguard through festivals (like the first Glastonbury before mugged by profiteers), benefits and free concerts nationwide when “Getting it straight in Notting Hill Gate” to forge an alternative lifestyle.
Well-known names that seeded reputations in these painted side streets and alleyways include Tomorrow’s 1968 LP on Parlophone featuring Twink and Steve Howe several months after a debut 45, as well as their later short-lived incarnation Bodast with an unreleased ‘Black Leather Gloves’ proto-blasting a couple of years early. A young Pete Bardens, son of the founder of Panorama, grew up in the Gate and after Shotgun Express, Them, and Love Affair, formed the trio Village in ’68 who regularly supported at the Marquee. As well as the B-side of their only single, an atmospheric organ-led instrumental on Pye-distributed Head in mid-’69, is Barden’s Transatlantic solo LP a year later with some nice wah-wah. Lemmy’s first recordings weren’t with Hawkwind of course but acid-drenched Sam Gopal, i.e. a local Malaysian-born tabla player now living in Asia, on a Stable Records debut LP (1969). Though under the wing of Trojan Records, it was distributed from a record shop at 297 Portobello Road who also issued pre-Pink Fairies band The Deviants fronted by Mick Farren, here at their rockiest (and shortest) with ‘Slum Lord’ from second LP ‘Disposable’ and the boxset’s title ‘Deviation Street’ from the self-released ‘Ptooff!’ (1968) rambling with warning, dread and dreadful over SFX. The UFO doorman/International Times editor’s solo ‘Mona’ (Transatlantic) boogies with ‘Summertime Blues’. Also, the Pink Fairies’ ‘Uncle Harry’s Last Freakout’ based on a police ambush while playing in Holland Park, the ultimate stoned wig-out (paralleled only by Bakerloo?) but missed is their Portobello Shuffle from Bunch of Sweeties.
Mod legends The Action have the unreleased ‘I’m A Stranger’ from early ’68 when they moved in next door to Family (and “borrowed” their electricity). After a sniffy opinion from Marc Bolan, they changed their name to Mighty Baby and recorded for Head Records, founded by their roadie John Curd, followed by ‘A Jug Of Love’ (Blue Horizon 1971) from which ‘Slipstream’ wafts unusually with mandolin and slower vocals. Despite production by Tony Visconti, the ill-fated-but-now-classic Tickle’s Subway from a sole Regal Zonophone 45 in ’67 failed to hit. Songwriter-guitarist Mick Wayne then formed the more underground Junior’s Eyes, with a Regal A-side two years later that’s re-recorded on their LP. Heavy giggers at first, as David Bowie’s backing band they split in early 1970 but also appear here on Sam Hutt’s Boeing Duveen & The Beautiful Soup’s B-side ‘Which Dreamed It’ from mid-’68: sitar, bells, sound effects and all shades of blossom. Hutt, a local community doctor, reincarnated as Hank Wangford. Other casualties include The Misunderstood, John Peel’s American group dumped on his mother’s Notting Hill home, with an unreleased demo from October 1966 sounding surprisingly heavy with fuzz not too long before they imploded.
Also unearthed is Mataya’s demo ‘Changes’ from early 1971, a mixed-race group in those multicultural lanes. Police raids at the Mangrove Caribbean restaurant and squats provoked tension that rerouted a renamed Carnival in 1970 as locals celebrated wherever they could. This popular band were invited into a studio near Bond Street by Chris Blackwell’s accountant who started a label. Two tracks amazingly are here, one may even have been released and so evocative you can almost smell it. Roger Bunn, once of festival bill regulars Giant Sun Trolley and then Djinn, who recorded at EMI and provided songs for Bowie via Tony Visconti, recorded the solo ‘Piece Of Mind’ (Major Minor 1970, also on Ohr in Germany where he played with several groups and Phillips in Holland). Recorded there with an orchestra, its airy Powis Square Child evokes a play area, sounding like the absent Magic Michael. He was on Piblokto’s albums and spin-offs as well as The Gas Board (pre-Roxy Music) but refused Ferry’s edict to smarten up; he left in ’71 as a survivor in his own stream of consciousness before passing in 2005.
Throughout the box are mainstays from the Clearwater Agency that were integral to the scene: Cochise (ex-Plastic Penny, Tintern Abbey, Bluesology) from an eponymous United Artists debut (maybe a too-mainstream vocalist for their driving sound led by the underrated Patto-like guitarist Mick Grabham, who left for Procol Harum); Skin Alley’s dreamy debut ‘Living In Sin’ which was on the CBS sampler ‘Fill Your Head With Rock,’ and ‘Sun Music’ from follow-up ‘Two Quid Deal’ (Transatlantic) the price of the LP or a weekend of stash!; and punchy Pretty Things from ‘Parachute’ (Harvest). Trees waft through with a band composition that opened their debut and edited for a single, at their pulsating best as if two bands in astral harmony for CBS LPs of psychedelic rock blended with freak folk. A chat in a local café led both to their and Clearwater’s formations, when singer Celia Humphris was the partner of another local, BBC DJ Pete Drummond. First gig was nearby in All Saints Hall in mid-’69 with High Tide and Skin Alley, then Quintessence and The Village up the road in a Caribbean bar’s Metro Club.
Atmospheric is Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come, formed from his Derby-based band Charge, which released the tripping ‘Galactic Zoo Dossier’ (1971 Polydor). The short title track is testament to its foolhardy panning by NME. I can still see them at Margate’s Dreamland where the guitarist literally rocked dressed as a galleon! Another rated LP was ‘Delivery’ on B&C with local resident Carol Grimes (later helping Rock Against Racism in ’76) and Canterbury scenesters who gigged under Westway in a fusion of styles, as is the hard-to-find Uncle Dog title track as sax-led jazz rock (see my separate interview with her about this period).
Surprises might be Stray’s ‘All In Your Mind’ (non-album from a ’75 compilation but not the violin-added Italian single) as they were more Acton-way but their scintillating rock often lit up the Roundhouse. Another might be Steamhammer’s 1970 CBS LP (of five that decade their website says) when local squatters decamped from sleepy Worthing at their most whimsical with double bass drums dormant. More underground were arch-jammers High Tide, who lived in Abbey Road, sounding Can-like when opening their second Liberty platter of multi-arranged dynamic tempos, like Mighty Baby who were in the heart of the Grove’s daily organization before and after turning Sufi. An unreleased Tyrannosaurus Rex (‘Ring Of Fortune’) from the duo’s first session in the summer of ’67 along with that duo’s Steve Peregrine Took in his next venture Shagrat, the unissued Still Yawning, Still Born recorded in Larry Wallis’s family garage.
Quiver from a first year’s eponymous debut (1971) were often compared to The Band after members of Cochise and Village joined highly rated guitarist Tim Renwick of Junior’s Eyes. They later penned a famous hit for Rod Stewart when they ran out of shafts to merge as soft rockers Sutherland Brothers & Quiver for albums on Island and CBS. First band to play the Rainbow, melodic Quiver here sound most “Brinsley.” Trader Horne from their classic ‘Morning Way’ (1970 Dawn) were a duo (ex-Fairport Judy Dyble the later wife of local entrepreneur Simon Stable, and Jackie McAuley of Them) who befriended Steamhammer and moved into the area. Quirky purveyors of exotica were Third Ear Band, ethereal before Enya’s puberty. An unreleased song from their late 1970 Abbey Road sessions for the aborted ‘The Dragon Awakes’ surfaces, before they scored Roman Polanski’s film Macbeth (1971). They blossomed out of Festival warmers Hydrogen Jukebox and The Giant Sun Trolley of 1967 at obscure venues like Ladbroke Hotel and Safari Tent in Westbourne Park Road, tickling punters with “cosmic ragas” when forced to be acoustic after their gear was nicked.
Another legend was G.F. FitzGerald whose rare ‘Mouseproof’ (1970 UNI) was named after his band that supported Pink Floyd, Soft Machine etc. at early London clubs when offered a contract by Island too. ‘April Affair’ showcases topical harmonies (“breezing down Portobello Road”) with such as Sam Gopal, Lemmy, Judy Dyble and Cochise’s B.J. Cole. The Scotsman later played with Gong and Lol Coxhill. Davey Graham looms from his childhood streets for a tabla-and-bass instrumental on his way to high repute as a folk and world music pioneer; experimentalist Ron Geesin worked with Pink Floyd, Pete Townshend and Bridget St. John while a favourite of John Peel with an early electronica drone; and local celebrity (before the word was dumbed down) Ram John Holder, a 30 year-old Caribbean via Greenwich Village. Involved with “happenings” as well as citizen rights, he cut three EMI singles (one produced by Paul Jones) before Black London Blues on Beacon Records, owned by the Antiguan Milton Samuel who issued UFO’s first spacey albums. Featured is the actor’s real-life Notting Hill Eviction Blues: psych-blues with a message (“Everybody wake up!”).
From a garden emerges a lost and unreleased Chimera from 1970 (on Morgan). These two girl cousins did a confident harpsichord and guitar demo for Apple after accosting them in the street when in David Gilmour’s circle, and often dancing on contemporary T.V. music shows. Rosemary, formed from Tangerine Slyde and Harlem Speakeasy, were also unreleased but their two-side demo’s ‘If’ / ‘One Hand Clapping,’ influenced by Buffalo Springfield and Love, was planned by Major Minor Records as this quintet were well-known on the scene. Hapshash & The Coloured Coat, a duo of designers for posters and LPs next door to Oz magazine were Carnaby Street suppliers who owned Kings Road’s famous boutique Granny Takes A Trip ‘til the late ’70s. Managed by Guy Stevens, they did an album in late ’67 on Minit—with pre-Spooky Tooth combo Art—which here features harmonica (surprisingly) and bongos (not) for an instrumental. They later did proto-Kraut rock produced by Mike “Womble” Batt.
Similar rainbow-riders are The Aquarian Age, i.e. Twink and John “Junior” Wood with Nicky Hopkins and Clem Cattini lampooning Tomorrow’s Keith West in an inventive Parlophone ’68 single of Twink’s ‘10,000 Words In A Cardboard Box,’ though when issued he was in the Pretty Things. ‘Cat’s Paw’ led to three leading Afro-rock bands Osibisa, Assagai and Noir, of which the latter quartet’s LP (on Dawn 1971) included The System with Arthur Brown-like vocals (a compliment) atop a dynamic seven minutes. Ubiquitous were Ginger Johnson & His African Messengers: ‘African Party’ (1967) on little-known Masquerade, was produced by Island co-founder Graeme Goodall and its funky ‘Witchdoctor’ was a single years later. Some see the Nigerian, who died in 1975 when not yet 60, as the father of Afrobeat (e.g. a mentor for Fela Kuti) appearing in the inaugural Notting Hill Carnival of 1966 and first Gay Pride March six years later as well as at UFO and Middle Earth clubs, Seymour Hall with Floyd, Hyde Park with the Stones etc. when Disc & Music Echo hailed them as “hot, exciting…ecstatic and pulsating.”
This roadmap compilation adds Roxy Music’s mid-’71 pre-gigging home demo (by Eno) entitled ‘2HB’. Miner’s son Bryan Ferry was a teacher of ceramics at Holland Park School up the road in the less seedy, soon yuppy-exploited end of the borough. It’s a jazz and Arabic paean to the actor Bogart rather than a pencil as their art grew from these early days in squats. The dawn of Punk (and haircuts) sees the 101ers’ (named after their squat’s street number) Silent Telephone, an unreleased communiqué from the autumn of 1975 guitar licked by Mighty Baby’s Martin Stone as they kick-started (literally?) the pub rock genre with a nine-month residency at the Elgin at 96 Ladbroke Grove, and a single with Dr. Feelgood’s producer on Chiswick Records. After the Sex Pistols supported them, frontman Joe Strummer went off to form the Clash instead.
The pre-gentrification Grove was Rotting Hill for residents, an urban slum ghetto Michael Moorcock recalls. But this “square mile of squalor” (The Times) meant more to those eking a living there. The year before the ‘60s even began Oswald Mosley was a candidate in the ward after local riots, and taxis refused (illegally) to venture there, so it was hardly hunky dory before. Close to troubled areas like Kilburn but only 20 minutes from the West End, the local government listed it for redevelopment with low rents. Caribbean cultural halls and cafés sprang up leading to the first Fayre later called carnival, the London Free School in Powis Terrace from early ’66 whose founder’s son was Pink Floyd’s lightman and put on gigs (as name-dropped in Quintessence’s single), magazines such as IT and Frendz (beside the Electric Cinema and Barney Bubbles’ design studio Teenburger) and community projects like Release giving free legal aid. All Saints Hall saw many debuts, and with the head shops, cheap cafés and bookshops stocking underground press were Island Records and Blackhill Enterprises etc.
It soon attracted a reputation. I read somewhere that Cat Stevens did a demo with Kim Fowley called Portobello Road, a B-side to a 1966 single. The Spectrum did a similar track on their ‘Light Is Dark Enough’ that was heavily played on pirate radio, even Gilberto Gil and a chum did a couple of songs about it after returning to Brazil. This ethos is captured in the booklet’s images and sleeve portraits replacing hackneyed choices elsewhere for 58 tracks of four-hour delight. The Quintessence track is a rare blip, as the project shows knowledge and no little diligence to provide a rare treat surpassing even the acclaimed Nuggets compilations of yore.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that even the humble Walkman, first called the Sony Stowaway because of its easy mobility, was still a few years away in 1980. Colin Wilson’s second book about outsiders closes with a Yeats’ poem about three old Chinamen looking down on the end of their decaying society; their response seems appropriate here as civilization is bled out by technology: On all the tragic scene they stare / One asks for mournful melodies / Accomplished fingers begin to play / Their eyes ‘mid many wrinkles / Their ancient, glittering eyes happy.
Brian R. Banks
Deviation Street: High Times In Ladbroke Grove – 1967-1975, 3CD Box Set Various Artists (Cherry Red Records)