In the Life
Days In The Life - Jonathon Green
Voices from the English Underground 1961-1971
Dans cet ouvrage publié en 1998 aux éditions
Minerva, Jonathon Green part à la rencontre du Londres
"underground" des 60's. Il brosse le portrait
d'une ville et d'une génération à travers
une sorte d'abécédaire kaleidoscopique et
les souvenirs d'une centaine d'activistes majeurs de cette
période dont Robert Wyatt...
...Pendant ce temps, que se passe-t-il dans cette
Angleterre, justement? (...) Dans le courant de cette
nouvelle culture, Marc Boyle présente un light show
en compagnie d'un groupe nouvellement formé, de retour
des Baléares où ils ont pas mal expérimenté ce genre
de choses (c.à.d. de fameuses substances):
Soft Machine. De leur côté, des gens comme Miles,
Jack Henry Moore, Jim Haynes, créent un certain nombre
d'entreprises formant petit à petit le noyau d'un
underground vivant, avec des magazines, un hebdo (International
Times), et surtout, un endroit sur Southampton Row
appelé à devenir l'épicentre de toute une révolution
en Grande-Bretagne : UFO. C'est un sous-sol d'assez
bonnes dimensions, où l'on peut faire un peu de tout:
projections des films de Jack-Henry Moore et Yoko
Ono, diapositives organiques de Marc Boyle sur des
corps féminins en mouvement, et bien sûr, beaucoup
de musique. Trois groupes s'y illustrent régulièrement:
le Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band de Vivian Stanshall, et
Neil Innes, héritiers à l'anglaise des Village Fugs
de New York; le Soft Machine, première mouture; et
Alain Dister - ROCK CRITIC Chroniques de rock'n'roll
Robert Wyatt words about...
It all started for me in the
50s when I was a jazz fan. I still am. That was my underground.
That was the life I discovered outside the prescribed life.
I was born in 1945, left school in 1960. I hadn't got enough
exam results to get any particular job so I worked in lots
of things. The place where culture and politics seemed to
meet for me was always centred around black music. Jazz
in the 50s. That's the romantic period for me. To me protest
music was Max Roach, Sonny Rollins and Charlie Mingus. I
didn't understand folk music, I didn't even like the songs
at the Aldermaston march. I knew about jazz, I wasn't particularly
well read, but I knew the sleevenotes of about twenty LPs
backwards and could spot a new bass player on the New York
scene as quick as anybody.
'Something very sharp'
The big difference between the trad
jazz people and the modern jazz people, which is where the
word 'mod' really comes from - the modernists who went
to modern jazz gigs - was that the mod thing tended to be
more working class or East End lewish, whereas the trad
thing tended to be public school dropouts - much more English,
people leaping up and down to trad jazz, already the thing
of being ostentatious in dress, whereas the modernist thing
was very much not ostentatious. Somebody else might notice
how you had your tie, someone who knew about things like
that, but it wasn't ostentatious. But we did want to function
as a parallel world.
'You had to have things going "Pow!"'
Mark Boyle was burning himself to
pieces doing these experiments with different coloured acids.
You just saw him with these goggles, looking alI burnt and
stuff, high up on some rigging. He used to play tricks,
he used to make bubbles corne out of people's flies and
things. You couldn't see exactly what he was doing from
on stage, but the atmosphere was good.
The Floyd always had their own lights people, but no one
else did and Mark used to do the place, not particularly
the groups, but the walls, everything. The light-shows meant
that what we shared with the Floyd was that as personalities
you could hide and the overall group effect could be more
important th an the individuals. The normal thing would
be that there would be a focus on one or two individual
performers, even in the R&B bands, the lead guitarists
would get that focus. Whereas we and the Floyd would hardly
be recognised off stage, nobody knew what they looked like
through the light-show. The anonymity of light-shows was
nice - the fact that you were almost in the same swirly
gloom that the audience were in was relaxing and you could
get a nice atmosphere going.
Deviants : 'The Worst record in the history of man'
I didn't know MickFarren well
and I don't think he particularly welcomed what he thought
we [the Soft Machine] represented. But I certainly admire
him because he was a sort of protopunk and saw elements
immediately that were false. He heard the false notes being
rung all around him at a time when people thought it was
all in tune.
14-Hour Technicolor Dream: 'Everybody I'd ever known swam
before my eyes'
I got a short-back-and-sides
haircut and a suit and tie to do that gig. That was my avant-garde
gesture. The Floyd had those pyramids as far as I recall.
They were doing very slow tunes.
Pink Floyd: 'What we wanted was an avant-garde pop group'
The Pink Floyd were with a
lovely bunch of people, Blackhill, and they were very nice
and I think they were an honourable exception to the shady
rule about managers. I think they were nice people and really
cared about the people they worked for. I think that most
of were less lucky than that.
Soft Machine: 'The only other bloke In Kent with long halr'
In Canterbury I got into a
local sort of beat group, the Wild Flowers. The name had
nothing to do with flower power; we lived in the country
and Hugh Hopper had a book called Wild Flowers and
I think he thought it up. Wild Flowers was the beginning
of what became the Soft Machine. Hugh Hopper's brother Brian,
who played saxophone, was a friend of Mike Ratledge and
when Mike Ratledge came back from university and wanted
to play, we were the only people there to play with. So
he joined the band, playing piano. But nobody in the band
was trying to do the same thing at alI, which is why it
was quite original and why, after a couple of years, it
fell apart. It was a constant process of disintegration
really, getting in new people to fill the gaps. Which in
the 60s was rare, because most bands were quite stable.
I talked to Nick Mason of the Pink Floyd about that once.
I said, 'How come you lot have stayed together so long?'
and he said, 'We haven't finished with each other yet.'
But it kept changing, we kept on tinkering with it and tinkering
with it and throwing each other out of it and leaving it
until eventually alI the kinks were ironed out of it and
in the end it became a standard British jazz-rock band.
I don't know what happened in the end. I stopped listening
after a while - I stopped listening before I even left.
When we came up to London there were two connections: Daevid
Allen had the connection with people like Hoppy. The other
connection was Kevin Ayers, who played bass guitar and wrote
songs. He was the only other bloke in Kent with long hair.
The name Soft Machine came through Mike Ratledge. He had
books like V and alI that kind of thing. I knew the
name was taken from Burroughs but I don't think it intrigued
me enough to get a copy. Wild Flowers more or less became
the Soft Machine. We trickled up to London and then regrouped,
one by one.
Kevin Ayers was important in that he knew the AnimaIs office,
where Hilton Valentine and Chas Chandler were already starting
to manage, and they signed us up really on the basis of
Kevin's songs. They were looking for something commercial.
Chas was always looking for Slade, and eventually he found
them, meanwhile he had to put up with people like us and
Jimi Hendrix. Shortly after we joined Chandler Hendrix came
to London and musically that was tremendously important
for lots of people. For me too, if for nothing else than
that what he let Mitch Mitchell do on drums gave me space
for what I wanted to do on drums. We were using a lot of
jazz ideas on drum kits that there hadn't been room for
in the constricted time-keeping stuff I'd been doing before.
Of course this was quite the opposite of what Nick Mason
was doing with the Floyd: he was a kind of ticking clock
there - which is just what they needed. For electronic rock
his approach was more suitable - uncluttered. People like
me and Mitch were probably too busy, but at the time it
seemed exciting. So Kevin actually got us a deal and turned
us into a group that had a manager and so on. He liked bossanova
and calypso. Ray Davies and the Kinks, who started using
stuff like that quite early on, were a big influence on
him. One record company bloke told us, 'I don't know whether
you're our worst-selling rock group or our bestselling jazz
Speakeasy: 'There was a good deal of excess'
The Speakeasy was exactly
the kind of place that I saw as really unpleasant. There
was a sense in me that while I was flourishing as a member
of the late-60s culture, this very thing that was flourishing
was squashing something that I felt was really more oppressed.
Rock groups meeting in expensive clubs that are difficult
to get into... what's all that crap? It was exciting and
it was interesting, there were lots of new scenes, but it's
very very hard to think it as underground.
When you arrived at UFO, early
on, they were usually playing Monteverdi or something. I
was probably more awestruck by the place than most of the
punters, who I felt took it for granted.
It wasn't any easier playing UFO than the circuit, but the
demands our own. We were able to develop our own idiosyncrasies.
Our management had immediately put us on the road on a circuit
where you had to play for dance audiences. We weren't very
good at that. So the great thing for us about UFO was that
the audiences weren't demanding in the same way. They were
sitting about, most of them were asleep as far as I could
see. The very things that were our faults on the regular
circuit - that of alI the bands playing 'Midnight Hour'
or 'Knock on Wood' on any particular evening we would play
it worst, if we played it at all- became bonuses at UFO.
We couldn't play that stuff, or if we did people didn't
realise that was what we were playing.
'Some kind of golden age'
I think in the end that by
not beating the system we strengthened it. In the end the
culture we were involved in was an Anglo-american cultural
narcissism revamped, and if you look at it from the point
of view of world culture it actually reflected the power
structure, the extraordinary media power of the English-speaking
West. With the best will in the world the people involved
might have thought that they were providing an alternative,
but they were simply making the Establishment more flexible.
So I'm not at all surprised that we have proceeded to vote
in lots of incredibly right-wing and chauvinistic governments.
I don't see that as a reaction to the 60s, but as a direct
result. What a pathetic thing to think: that you can just
blow the castles down.