Some of the individuals involved. Seeing we have said so much about King Mob ranging far and wide and always reflecting theoretically, perhaps it's time to say a few things about some of those crazies who passed through this impassioned moment.
The following sequence is quite haphazard and has no pretence at any top down hierarchy, the sequence of names being purely random. It's by no means definitive as nothing ever is and apologies to those inadequately represented or not mentioned. It's not intentional. Among those left out of this potted biography are Al Green, Brenda Grevelle, Gill Woodward, Cathy Pozzo Di Borgo and Abbo who wanted us to make no mention of his existence. The latter is a very good friend and closeness remains far too precious and whatever defects are there, they are the ones we all possess. He's a fine guy and the rest is quibbling.
However, maybe it's better to say something briefly about some of those individuals who deliberately went out of their way to get their names in lights if only because it says a lot about contradictions and terrible slurs that can ensue. Notably we are dealing with Malcolm McLaren and Fred Vermorel who in their early days were really very good indeed. Some of Fred's revolutionary leaflets from around 1970 are included in the web, Lost Ones around King Mob. His critique of cineastes along with other soberly assessed though polemically argued leaflets were really rather good. In 1970, he was determined to burn down the ICA gallery in The Mall in London and wanted others to help him. We dissuaded him simply because we knew we'd all have been picked up immediately by the police, our bad reputations by then well known and certainly this would have been followed by a long stretch inside her Majesty's toilet. What's interesting about this is not the proposed act but that both McLaren and Vermorel were to achieve star status in the cultural milieu a few years later in another re-run of the rejection/acceptance nexus so familiar in the history of modern art, sidelining a more thorough going negation, and going back well before Vlaminck wanted to burn down the Louvre in 1905 with his cobalts! By 1973, Vermorel was sending postcards to Malcolm "the boss McLaren" declaiming, "stop wasting your time. Time is running out. There are better things to do". Those better things were to become the honing-up and selling of punk rock! Thus five years later, in reply to a letter from Nick Brandt condemning his support for punk rock, Vermorel replied criticizing his "gee whiz logic" as merely "pissing in the wind". Hate always has to be out, though once aggro becomes spectacularised and sold by show-biz rebels it's never then directed against the system but is turned venomously against those who refused to cop out. Whilst spectacular rebels don't use 'clever' put-downs against the system, they are often used against some of the more obviously conservative representatives of this society, as well as against those who rebel against this society.
More than a decade later in 1989, Jamie Reid, the so-called Situationist artist, at the finale of the opening night of the exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris turned on the picket outside the exhibition protesting at this shameless recuperation with a snarling, "Fuck off you arty wankers". The truth must always be inverted. After all weren't Vermorel, McLaren and Reid the arty wankers and isn't this a case of pre-empting an attack and turning it against the would-be attackers before they use it against them? It's a bit like politicians denouncing those who attack them as 'cynics'. Never forget punk promo meant McLaren was able then to make an ad for Virgin business class flights that earned him maybe as much as a 100 grand for less than an hour's work. Indeed Vermorel had noticed this tendency in 'the boss' even in 1970, saying to him, "You'll make a good businessman", though it was said in a matter of fact, uncritical way and no-one responded one way or the other. Never forget there's usually something in people who later sell-out that's already there in their behaviour as 'revolutionaries', something more than just the contradictions everyone lives.
Before the following potted bibliographies, there is a diabolical true story to sadly relate. A guy called Sam Lord was involved with King Mob for a little while. He was a sensitive person always asking probing questions and produced one of the better posters aimed at criticising a surfeited consumerism. A guy with an agonised face looks out from a poster proclaiming: "I wanted to cry, instead I ate." Some further comment, the memory of which escapes us, was written across the bottom of the poster. Sam Lord tagged along with a soulful girlfriend called Lucy Partington who was rather down on what she regarded as some of the gratuitous excesses of King Mob. Many years later in horror we read in the newspapers that she'd become one of the victims of those ghastly serial killers, Fred and Rosemary West and buried in the cellar of their Gloucester charnel house. In the days of King Mob we'd put quite an emphasis on the psychotic character of capitalism's underbelly – the person "crippled to the point of abnormality" - as Marx so eloquently put it, though only referring to the division of labour in this instance. We pushed such characterizations a lot farther, giving such insights of Marx a far greater dimension and urgency as we trawled the underworld of maimed desire. There's the letter from Jack the Ripper reprinted in KM No 1 under the heading: "The art of death". As if to ram the point home, opposite 10 Rillington Place in Notting Hill, the scene of the pathological killings that had so obsessed the newspapers a few years previously, we sprayed up the slogan "Christie Lives." Indeed many people when first reading this letter thought King Mob was praising Jack the Ripper in some grotesque anti-moralist stance – and certainly there was a KM influenced text a little after this time that made light jokes about Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, so one cannot deny there was more than the semblance of shock value here. However when all is said and done, what we wanted to bring out was that these horrendous episodes were nothing more than can be expected from a necrophiliac capitalism where the dead labour embedded in the process of accumulation somehow toxically reacts on a starved psyche only De Sade had had the guts to depict in all its utterly necessary rawness. In 1968, we all desperately wanted to read The 120 Days Of Sodom but the British Board of Censors had banned the book, only relaxing its opposition a couple of years later and then merely through the pressure of an American import. Dominant ideology classifies Sade's book as approving of the horrors he describes, when it's an attack on the torturers, all of who are generals, priests, judges etc. Never forget too that De Sade was briefly a judge himself during the French Revolution and refused to send anybody to the guillotine, which he opposed because of its cold-blooded calculatedness, although he wasn't opposed to hot-blooded killing. Trouble is, from the late 1960s onwards, in plays and films and novels, 'art' often described horror in great detail, supposedly from a condemnatory point of view, but really said nothing about the reasons for these horrors outside of some conservative 'human nature', which actually helped people inure themselves to the horror. Decades later, Lucy had returned to haunt us as the West's activities seemed to have capped any previous psychotic horror in these islands. Reflecting on conversations we all seemed to have had that capitalism from the 1980s onwards had become sociopathic – did this therefore imply that its excesses had become even more luridly and exquisitely ghastly? The Wests' had all the appearance of a reasonably normal family household. Was this going on next door to you behind the chintz? 120 Days in A Housing Co-op? Almost, as if by default, we were still trying to unravel what we'd first rather naively put forward in the days of King Mob.
Madeleine was certainly the most aware of the women who chose to orientate themselves around the King Mob scene. Nervously precise and at times excruciatingly honest, a Londoner from a half Jewish, half Irish background, she hailed from the labour aristocracy, - her father being a low ranking supervisor on what was then the Thames Water Board. In a permanently agitated state, taking the rings she had on her fingers and placing them on others, Madeleine felt inferior and superior at the same time especially in relation to those dissident women from the more assured middle classes in the King Mob milieu as though she was locked into competition with them. Finally however and for whatever reason, Madeleine simply felt this overwhelming feeling of inferiority. She acutely noted those who were on the make, what she called "the success ethic" in people like Dick Pountain and Dave Robins, at the same moment referring to herself and those close to her rather oddly as "insects", illustrating yet again her masochistic put-down of those desiring authentic life. It was even more complicated as it also was part of a more general conundrum embracing that inferiority/superiority complex suffered triumphantly and miserably by an increasingly unsure cockney identity – if one can characterise like this. Perhaps in Madeleine this conundrum was stretched to breaking point, as she also felt ill at ease with the cockneys she'd grown up with. Her life had been hell, experiencing constant depressions forcing her to bed for days on end, feeling society's emptiness as something excruciating. Endless sleep. Endless suffering. To make matters even more difficult for poor Madeleine, there was also a certain traditional cockney contempt for what she regarded as "the provinces" and in her late teens was desperately unhappy that she could only gain a place at Hull University instead of one at a London college. Nonetheless despite these contradictions, she possessed a fine cutting edge. Together with Don, Chris Gray and us, she helped put together and then spray painted in 1968 the long slogan about the banal capitalised colonization of everyday life, which finally sends you mad, alongside what is now the Hammersmith and City line between the bridge over Portobello Rd and Westbourne Park tube station and long since painted over by mindless, competitive hip-hop tags and pieces. Madeleine at the time worked as a typist on The International Times as well as doing other free-lance typing stints. On the same evening before venturing out to spray up that classic graffiti, we'd half suggested putting up some comment by Shakespeare, but it was rightly opposed by Chris Gray and, rather more forcibly, by Madeleine simply because it sounded too high flown and rather pretentious. All agreed. We then sat down together and in about 20 minutes flat worked out what we were going to say, then went out into a cold damp night taking about an hour to execute in huge letters the slogan. It was all so simple....
In the harsh, depressing times after the debacle of King Mob, Madeleine went seriously AWOL. Her potentially lucid hatred turned into a lashing out at all and sundry and her characteristic inferiority/superiority syndrome bizarrely enmeshed with an ever-increasing madness. She ludicrously believed that the working class had to make as much money as the professional middle classes in order to have any chance of socially defeating them! Wasn't Russian society at that time in any case not that dissimilar (admittedly only in pockets e.g. high wages for miners) and yet communism was nowhere to be seen? On reflection, this ridiculous comment was most likely based on personal tragedy finally ensuring she'd end up on the long road to madness. Some time in 1969, Madeleine had fallen seriously in love with that swine Jock Young (the later Sociology of Deviancy lecturer and future star of lectern and TV) who had himself hailed from a working-class background around Aldershot in Hampshire. On the lower rungs of a career ladder, Jock Young blatantly used Madeleine for lecture material and street cred info, spitting her out once her 1968 insider's aura had been drained dry. Combined with everything else, particularly the dawning realisation we'd all suffered a terrible defeat, Madeleine never recovered from her unrequited love for Jock Young. It was to haunt every step she was then to take – hating him and loving him at the same time. The problem was she couldn't move on from this to a more coherent negative hatred, and perhaps working out, through a step-by-step analysis, the unfolding of a more fiendishly clever mode of capitalist exploitation that has killed love off stone dead.
She'd visit the rising stars of the more clued-in feminists like Lynne Segal who lived in a huge mansion of a house in Highbury, north London at the time quickly scurrying away from that cushioned abode, fuming about their lack of any day to day knowledge of working-class women. Madeleine also seethed about their inherited wealth particularly when deploying worse than patronising terms like, "we the poor" a phrase regularly fronting their usually fairly dire leaflets. As Madeleine said at the time: "The only working class women they regularly talk to are their paid cleaners who come round to clean up all their shit up which they just drop out of their hands – you know they must have had servants and the like when they were kids." We readily agreed with her. The following day though, instead of learning a lesson and perhaps prepare for a future more lucid assault on these feminist careerists, Madeleine would again masochistically go round to Lynne Segal's abode, ready for more humiliation and punishment because basically – and this was her greatest error – she wanted to compete with them on their terms. Sure the feminists sounded fine and radical at the time but their take on the essence of real revolutionary critique was dismal and ignorant as well as crassly and hypocritically populist. Even Sheila Rowbotham, who presented herself as northern and down home, implying therefore a greater class orientation in the women's perspective was full of cant. In her manifesto in the Trotskyite oriented Black Dwarf newspaper in 1970, she demanded that "we" as women should demand the right to be bus drivers when the last thing these secure professional careerists wanted was to be put in the ranks of bus drivers! One things for certain, they damned well made sure for the rest of their lives to keep well clear of such downwardly mobile prospects. Leftists from the word go they were never to encounter any autonomous feminist critique and moreover even if they knew what that meant (which they didn't) would never have sought one out as such perspectives were anathema to them in the first instance. Even now this crew probably has never read a word of that excellent latter-day French Surrealist, Annie Le Brun whose critique of feminism may even have helped save Madeleine from that black hole she was falling into. But let's quit the carping. These people were nonetheless all good trade unionists and Sheila Rowbotham's present partner still fights for the cause of working-class justice as a TU representative representing assistant headmasters. The sheer radicalism of it all constantly astounds...
Madeleine's increasingly aloof but anxious demeanour always had something somewhat puritanically unsure about it and what little eros seemed to flow from her, particularly as her carapace began to harden, the more capitalism again gained the upper hand, seemed very out of place. Her disposition though wasn't that of a starchy intellectual, rather it was frozen and relatively absent of hostile vibes. She couldn't be coquettish or seductive in any cornball way, but neither could she be militantly aggressive and feminist as she was far too suss for that. A restlessly calm, hidden hysteria characterised her being which at times masked a terrible sexual raving and craving. Now and again she'd just gently cry out after some drinking bout, "I just want to be fucked, I just want to be fucked." In terrible anguish this could be endlessly repeated. Looking on sympathetically, you always felt such behaviour had to do with the devastation of unrequited love, a means of massaging the pain of a broken heart but a heart which had, like so many others, been broken by catastrophic defeat, as well as by creeps like Jock Young.
Becoming more desperate and schizoid by the moment, bit by bit she fell into real madness. Being properly competitive meant buying a house as all the rising feminist stars were doing, so Madeleine bought one in a street in Hackney a few doors down from where Sheila Rowbotham was living. But the contrast couldn't have been greater. Rowbotham's house had a kind of open door character, invitingly there for all the petty cadre of the leftist parties to visit, particularly those around the Trotskyist, Socialist Worker. A boy-friend was installed who dabbled in plumbing - though more for the image than anything else – as really he was into carving out a career for himself in the new therapy techniques and liked having baths immersed in a range of coloured water apposite for the particular mood of the moment. He certainly impressed the feminists with his sensitive, new man imagery and they clamoured to bed him. Doing his duty for the womens' cause he duly obliged them. More to the point, the guy was handsome and as Mick Carter said at the time: "Always look for the obvious". Madeleine's home couldn't have been more different. It was forbiddingly forlorn, empty of furniture and heating as well as men and women. It was a veritable disaster with builder's rubble heaped here and there in corners. Only one room was pathetically lived in with a few chintzy pictures hung on a green emulsion covered wall. On the floorboards of this room she'd marked out a star of David which she kept stepping into hoping her deepening misery might be "cured" by creating for herself a full Jewish identity. One day mugged in nearby London Fields (or at least accosted) she thought it was the actions of an M15 agent pursuing her. Truth to tell, her accounts of the incidence were pretty convincing, but on reflection, we thought it was the acuteness of her own paranoid critical activity that was so convincing. As if to console her increasing misery, more and more Madeleine, day in and day out, sat in a rocking chair, endlessly tipping backwards and forwards as the leak in the roof got worse and the electrics, spurting flashes with the constant drip drip of the rain, finally went kaput. Inevitably she was carted off to the loony bin. Periodically she ventures out, only to be found wandering somewhere experiencing those terrible absences of mind which "patients" feel so aggrieved about.
Richard Brendan Bell (A.K.A, Irish)
Coming down to London in 1967 from Newcastle, "Irish" had been involved in the early to mid-1960s art scene in the 'toon' and despite feeling increasingly distant from it he never really got involved in any of the later art/anti-art experimentation around Icteric. He was living a more proletarian life anyway and hangovers and the 8 o' clock start facing a crazed foreman called "Tulip" figured rather more intensely. He was once nicknamed "the most colourful psychopath in Newcastle" what with the constant heavy brown ale bottle fights he often got into sometimes involving Geordie hards who were extremely adept at nutting people. The most notable set to was with Tiny Crumb, the bouncer at the Club Agogo where The Animals pop group made its name. Crumb regularly had to take on heavy gangs like The Diamonds from North Shields whose favourite pastime was giving somebody a good nutting. Pinned behind the lapels of their jackets were deadly fishhooks that an adversary would grab onto, ready to nut back. Needless to say it was invariably the last thing they did for sometime. Though "Irish" lost the Club Agogo punch-up, nonetheless Crumb reckoned the fight was one of the worst he'd ever had to deal with. A few months later and the two of them after that brutal evening at the club became fairly friendly with each other.
Irish's flirtation with art, sometime before the above incidence, had always been full of wry and crazy comment. He liked to do paintings that were utterly mocking in intent. One, a huge portrait of the Queen was simply titled underneath in big red letters: The Queen By Her Subject, R Bell. Another crudely executed painting requested in similar letters: What We Need Is An Art For The People That Even The Lowliest Storm Trooper Can Understand. Obviously, all this piss-take/playful black humour remained firmly within the bounds of the art / anti-art artefact we've all become so wearily familiar with and can be as good a sales pitch as anything else provided one plays the game of the charismatic artistic image intent on promo. But Irish was made of finer calibre than any of this nonsense as the undertow of the mood of the times was pulling in another, more consequential direction. Slowly abandoning the fall out from art, he took on board a more coherent Situationist tendency and when sometime later he was to put pen to paper again, it was for a more subversive effect, though his previously wittily crude gestures were still there – even more so! He executed many funny cartoons for the London Street Commune, most of which are probably lost. Before that, "Irish" drew some funny-man pornographic one-off comic posters satirising the usual self-appointed committees you get in college occupations which were later put together as a pamphlet by King Mob featuring The Black Hand Gang for a student sit-in at the London School of Economics in late 1969. (The gang name was a purely invented folkloric phantom gang which still seems to crop up in various threatening stories about psycho street life in many northern cities and possibly the name hailed from quite brutal protestant sects in Northern Ireland though translocation in England meant the bigoted sectarian religious inflection had disappeared). The cartoons were couched in terms of toilet graffiti together with a Carry On Nurse tits and bums humour applied to leftist racketeering in a given situation. These comic cartoons, which were copied and stuck up everywhere, infuriated the leftist parties who were dominating the occupation with all their references to Lenin, Mao, Che Guevara, and Trotsky etc. In short, the usual suspects - as they say. Robin Blackburn and other paid-up respectable intellectuals furiously tore down the posters, aghast at their crudity. This was precisely the point as they were meant to be an emanation from the gutter and we wanted these leftist ideological big wigs to react like that. It was a kind of 'epate le bourgeois' of the lefty cadre and the pictorial counterpart to Chris Gray on the same occasion shouting at Robin Blackburn after he'd come out with some high falutin' rhetorical tosh, "I don't read New Left Review I'm just a common thief myself". Sometime later in the early 1970s, the fresh-faced neo-puritanism of the seemingly ever-rising feminist tide, was again to singularly pick on these posters for blatant sexism because of their cock and cunt imagery. This was ironic, since the school-kids issue of OZ, the underground magazine of the time, which appeared in 1970, had a finely sketched picture of several naked women, some with rats' tails coming out of their cunts, which could make one feel a little bit queasy. Given the legal attack on this issue, there was no criticism of this picture by the left. And didn't Germaine Greer participate in some issues of OZ, despite the constant use of women in erotic poses? It probably wasn't just the crudity of Irish's imagery they objected to, since OZ often had fairly crude images (women sucking cocks etc.) – the 'sexism' must have been just a pretext, convenient put-down because in reality what they objected to was the critique that accompanied it. It was however enough to definitively pronounce King Mob male chauvinist and that, it seems, was that. End of discussion and please don't mention the subject ever again. Some of that priggish attitude still carries on quite powerfully. For instance, all the various publishing outfits reprinting excerpts from King Mob never reprint these cartoons, including those two booklets by that trendy load of watered down nonsense, Tom Vague, who purports to have published all known King Mob. Censorship again and still too offensive for a delicately tuned pro-feminist ideology which probably still considers such posters as little more than top shelf pornography? Whatever; let's still plead guilty on belonging to that long tradition of bawdy subversion that once found very forcible expression among The Ranters in the 1640s English Revolution and little different to that memorable ditty of theirs which said:
"To swear and whore
And rant and roar
With yet no brawls and squabbling"
As the decades passed on by, much of this King Mob oriented sexual provocation has inevitably lost all its original liberatory impact. Again in deploying blatant public lavatory imagery to get home some point or other, advertising was to take the biggest cue and nowadays we are everywhere overwhelmed by a sexualized commodity sales pitch getting ever more lurid as the erotic impulses in everyday life are colonized to the point of near extinction.
Essentially, the comics offended English moralism which throughout the centuries keeps rearing its ugly head and we must never forget that such an arch academic as EP Thompson was to write his last book centred around that seemingly amazing sexually loaded manuscript of William Blake's which was burnt after his death; a manuscript which it seems was quite the equal of De Sade. It wasn't as though Irish was obsessive about cocks and cunts like that. On the contrary, he was a rather shy person, treating people with respect unless they turned him over and then he could be very hostile and unforgiving. Rightly so. He equally did posters for rent strikes and lots of anti-police stickers at the same time which were directed against a bunch of maniacs at Notting Hill police station under the direction of a certain PC Pulley, who took it upon himself to declare a personal vendetta against the neighbourhood, especially those he regarded as trouble makers. "Irish" had reason to feel intense vehemence against PC Pulley having received a three-hour thrashing from him at Notting Hill police station during one long night in the cells. Memorably during one of these ordeals, "Irish" had a book in his jacket pocket on the Clerkenwell riot of the 1830s in which a certain PC Culley was killed by the mob. Later a jury drawn from Clerkenwell's inhabitants absolved the rioters accused of murder, referring to the incident as an unprovoked attack by the police. On the blurb on the book's back cover, Irish had crossed out the C on Culley replacing it with a P. On seeing this, PC Pulley tore the library book up, scattering it to the winds. It wasn't only Pulley he locked horns with as "Irish" was always in trouble one way or another whether due to a punch up or attempting some petty crime or other. Naturally one gets older but 12 years later he nearly lost his job attempting to defenestrate a union official of a public sector union he belonged to.
"Irish" was one of the first with his seering honesty to get pissed off with the so-called revolutionary movement once rigidity set in and the revolutionary role made its ghastly entrance on the stage. A witty smile would play across his face as he talked about "the situationist police state" having got heartily sick of the ritualistic denunciations doled out almost by rote when what he was tending to see, along with others at the time, was the old class system reappearing again right in the heart of capital's supposed negation. He made an amusing poster of a kind of Pillsbury dough man next to a tree with his hand cupped to his ear saying, "Hark I hear the first militant of spring." More then that, Irish began to hate the experience of the late 1960s precisely because of the inter-classism saying he thought the early 1960s were less duplicitous on this matter as at least you knew your companions weren't kidding you over the essential basics like how much dosh did you have in your pocket and where hypocrisy played itself out with less deadly effect. The trouble is, it was an over-reaction and the wheat wasn't separated from the chaff as unfortunately, there was a kind of return to a class-in-itself workerism that sentimentally tended to embrace a nostalgic view of an old and always mythical Labour party. It finally prevented hope of open flowing discussion and a deepening of friendship that could lead to something more consequential, given the possibility of things suddenly opening up.
Jed Gardner and Johnna
Reflecting the proletarianisation which was overtaking the drift in the revolutionary impetus of the times, these two guys who had had nothing whatsoever to do with Further Education institutions quickly trained themselves up as carpenters, came down from Newcastle and survived by working on the buildings. They wanted a new world alright and immediately gravitated around the most radical critique having had nothing to do with any previous leftism simply because it hadn't appealed in the first instance though they'd obviously been brought up in that old Labour party type culture endemic on the Tyne. In a sense, they reflected that shift among the workers that very visibly shook things up in the shipyards at the time. They joined in gleefully with many a King Mob action and quite gladly handed out some of the most provocative leaflets such as The Death of Art Spells the Murder of Artists. This was certainly handy as their lyrical Geordie accents plus their tough disposition (needless to say both were as sensitive as anything inside) made certain that quivering artists furious at the leaflet didn't dare complain about it's contents too loudly.
What can one say about this guy without feeling disheartened and miserable? It is the case of somebody initially having a pretty good critique on all kind of things taking place at the time gradually going to the all time dogs and "lilies that fester small far worse than weeds". In the early days and at his best, he possessed a keen sense of observation. Hailing from Chesterfield in North Derbyshire, Dick Pountain had for instance a fine take on some of the complexities of people working in heavy industry in and around Sheffield, particularly those who'd taken to frequenting heavy drinking night clubs packed with Chicago blues fans and which spawned the likes of Joe Cocker etc. Once after a Saturday evening of heavy drinking and getting the last bus back to Chesterfield, he recalled a drunken companion hitting the bus conductor simply because the poor guy didn't know who bluesman, Buddy Guy was.......
From reading the plethora of books appearing on the late 1960s, you could be forgiven for thinking Dick Pountain was a "leading situationist" as some blurb on one of these nonsensical offerings would have it. Ever ready to cultivate some part of the limelight, though usually in a discreet manner, this same man now is willing to accept such an accolade particularly as his posh friend, the journalist and lexographer, Jonathan Green, has published quite a few books on the late 1960s trawling the undercurrents of the time, though Green is unable to make a memorable statement or critique of the age. In these books there are on-the-spot interviews with Dick Pountain discussing drugs, direct action and some of the characters involved. Regarding the latter, it is noteworthy that Pountain never names those unworthy friends of his, always concentrating on the name people, i.e. those among us who cultivated publicity. People like that miserable opportunist cum pop entrepreneur and ex-White Panther, Mick Farren, who memorably broke up (Sir) David Frost's TV show, which in retrospect was an act wanting rather than negating, publicity. Dick Pountain always liked individuals who were on the make – so no change there. Glad to bask in a hip glow, the murky reality of what Dick Pountain was to become isn't even hinted at. So let's start therefore by putting the record straight.......
Dick Pountain was a man who could read and understand Situationist theory, quickly getting a grasp of some of its essence, which for Britain was fairly remarkable considering the pitiful few that did in the late 1960s. He applied the critique though with a somewhat dour disposition, as if even from the earliest moments, he wasn't all that keen on it and which from then on – well, in no time really - was quickly bracketed alongside "naive utopianism". A memorable incident comes to mind. Sometime in the summer of 1970, journeying with Phil Meyler (an ex King Mobber) in the American Midwest they decided to cheer themselves up as all around lay the growing ruins of the revolutionary late sixties and the two friends were feeling pretty bad inside. Chancing on an escarpment, they grabbed some large pieces of cardboard and slid like children down the screed, ending up in a heap at the bottom of the hillside. Dick looked at Phil and grimly said: "Is this the future?" Behind such seemingly trivial comment lurked a more menacing reflection implying that what we've been involved in over the last couple of years or so has been nothing more than gesture politics and games and in the future we will have to become more serious. Unfortunately, seriousness for Dick Pountain wasn't about gaining greater theoretical coherence which all of us, bar none, lacked but was more about falling back into the latter-day deadly embrace of the decaying stench of Stalinism he'd had some association with in North Derbyshire in his later teenage years. It was generally anyway being reinstated with a vengeance world wide, but with a supposedly greater theoretical depth (actually it had everything to do with a slicker, more contemporary, makeover) heralded by the writings of the French academic Marxist, Louis Althusser, and the baneful pseudo-profundities of Britain's own Theoretical Practice contingent staffed by some influential New Left Review adherents. Quite frankly endlessly sliding down screeds was probably more thought provoking than the empty intellectualisms of French academia, post-1968. At the moment of its disappearance stood the last consequent theoretical academics like Henri Lefebvre. Soon there would be none to replace them, despite all the hype and ephemeral glamour about to be bestowed on the now forgotten Nouvelle Philosophes and later, the empty euphoria and mildly critical, acceptance culture, purveyed by a post-modernist void in the writings of Deleuze, Baudrillard, Lyotard ,Derrida, etc. What insights and youthful radicalism some of these latter-day stars of a vacuity unknown in previous history may once have had was quickly left behind as some kind of posturing juvenilia.
Dick Pountain in his head was to follow a similar path, though his real emphasis would be on a very discreet crude money making essentially glossed over by a bogus intellectualism he used to front real accumulation. Even his intellectualisms were mired in a perverse crudity itself the opposite of real subversion. Thus, by the late 1970s, he was even prepared to accept some of the grotesque Stalinist apologetics for the Moscow show trials of the 1930s, proclaiming that defendants like Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin really "did want to restore capitalism in Russia". Any critical theory of state capitalism had long before been jettisoned by these new apparatchiks of the old school, even accepting the crudest of Stalinist slurs not only regarding the Moscow show trials but other contemporary events too. He hated Phil Meyler's first draft for his subsequent book on Portugal simply because it mocked the Stalinoid, Portuguese Communist party. Truth to tell, Pountain by then didn't feel anything towards anybody who cut up untidy or held subversive opinions. Anton Ciliga's magnificent book on the Russian experience (translated into English as The Russian Enigma) had recently been published in English, but it was of course a total no go for Dick P's growing totalitarianism the more he upheld the baneful belief that Russia was a workers' state where capitalism had been abolished. It wasn't only the 1974 Portuguese revolution Dick Pountain hated, for he also refused to acknowledge the inspiring actions of the Russian workers from 1917 up to the defeat of the Kronstadt sailors in 1921. From the mid-1970s onwards, Pountain had become a loose kind of fellow traveler of the British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), which helped buttress some of his perverse take on things. Around this time he also was to write an utterly dreadful text fully supporting the then expanding nuclear power industry. This pamphlet was peppered with much scientific detail befitting Pountain's scientific training and at the time the press was full of stories prompted by the various debates about further full-scale nuclearisation suggested in the proposed new Marshall Plan which came to light in the early 1980s. Broadly supporting this plan, the only activity Pountain desired at the time was the smashing of an emotional and "un-scientific" Peace Movement epitomised at the time by the Greenham Common women's occupation. Although a lot of real subversives were also at the time pissed off with the often trite whimsical, and naive Greenham Common actions, particularly the gender based pro–feminist mysticism (e.g. gentle women as against war-like men etc), in no way did such a critique also encapsulate a hideous pro-nuclear perspective.
Latterly, along with sociologist, Dave Robins, Dick Pountain has written a book entitled Cool Rules, a laudatory appraisal of the cool outlook so anodyne and essentially early Blairite in tone. There's no trace here of the old Stalinism, or indeed any kind of vanquished Bolshevism and is truly remarkable for not saying a thing which could be construed as remotely controversial. The book has since vanished along with the wretched Cool Britannia pop scene of the dismal 1990s.
Behind all these somersaults of mind and attitudes which mark Dick Pountain's career, lies his basic drive: the ever-greater accumulation of money as a minority partner in some of Felix Dennis's business activities. It's well known that Felix Dennis, after a youth of notoriety as so-called radical editor of Oz magazine in the late 1960s, gradually turned his attention to more middle of the road printing ventures, becoming ever more sleazy and slimy as Dennis has ended up becoming one of the wealthiest individuals in Britain, publisher of Loaded and a fat cat donor to the Blairite Labour Party. From early in the 1970s, Pountain handled the organisation of the graphics, print set ups and what have you around Dennis's Bunch Books, watching passively and saying nothing as Felix Dennis endlessly ripped off the cartoonists, illustrators, wordsmiths, etc who provided the material for this budding super-entrepreneur. Howard Fraser, who worked at Bunch Books at the time and incidentally a man with a far more coherent take on Situationist and subversive theory in general than ever Pountain had and who often developed memorable arguments and occasionally profound insights (particularly on England), would tell Bunch contributors not to sign contracts drawn up by Dennis as the contributors were been taken to the cleaners. As if in response, Pountain masked his silence on this crucial question by later unionising the firm. Trade unionism again became the means and substitute for suppressing this honest direct, telling-it-like-it-is encounter though no doubt it ameliorated some of the worst excesses of Bunch Books super-exploitation. In the meantime, Pountain typically continued to keep his head down and befitting an industrious northerner, applied himself extremely skilfully to the many difficult technical tasks of managing magazine production. Almost inevitably surrounded by the new hi-tech and with his scientific background, Pountain became a very informed technical writer on the computer age and production manager of that glossy trade magazine; Personal Computer as he saw his personal wealth increase by leaps and bounds. First it was one million, then the next and the rest following ever more rapidly. In 2002, he even wrote a bestseller paper back on computer terminology as he played up to the image of polymath extraordinare by being interviewed on radio programmes about the Angry Brigade.
And the more he made, the meaner Pountain became with his dough, donning a hair shirt the like of which perhaps has rarely been seen? Refusing former friends small requests for money (a £100 or so) to publish magazines critical of the system, usually coming up with the excuse of a cash flow problem (!), he went from the bad to the dire. He acquired so much wealth he was finally able to seduce the wife of his youthful dreams who'd rejected him in the very early 1970s because he had no inherited wealth and lacked financial prospects. Yes our man Dick Pountain fell into abject mediocrity and utter conformity, even rebuking individuals for not wearing appropriate dark suits at a funeral of a former drug freak cartoonist.
However, we must end here on a note of congratulation and innovation. Surely Dick Pountain must be the first to have miraculously transformed himself from pro Communist Party apparatchik to money-grubbing entrepreneur - a species now as common as a latrine in modern Russia - embracing neo-liberal ideology and loudly proclaiming their horror of the "evils" of the pre-1989 Soviet Bloc as though it was some fresh, undiscovered news? Unable to read Ciliga in the mid-1970s he was still unable to read him! No wonder one of his best acquaintances is Anatole Kaletsky, that rabid free-marketeer, Times journalist and together with that other journalist creep, John Lloyd, (who blatantly made his name by siding with the scabs during the 1984-85 miners' strike) all sit smugly, though probably unhappily together, in convivial evenings at the obnoxious Supper Club, which surely must have been so appropriately named in honour of their servitude to the status quo.
Ian Clegg and Diana Marquand-Clegg
This couple was perhaps the strangest bed-fellows in King Mob as in many ways they were the traditional examples of the English, Anglo/Scottish ruling class in the sense that they were straight yet utterly 'mad' at the same time. Diana Marquand was the sister of David Marquand, the future Liberal Party MP; although at the time she was very critical of her brother's limited grasp and obtuseness. Their all too brief coherent madness rapidly gave way to typical English eccentricity which Tom Nairn characterised in the early 1970s as "that crab-like moving side ways" rushing blindly back into the past they tried to escape from, lured no doubt by the promise of considerable promissory inherited wealth and therefore good enough reason to do so. Like many of those who coalesced into King Mob, they'd come from high up public school backgrounds (in fact we were later to learn that Di Clegg went to grammar school though her posh accent suggested otherwise) instead but were very reluctant to talk about these schools or even to name which ones they were. Was it so weird they wouldn't tell you much detail about their past, yet wanted to know everything about yours? Later we found it to be typical of all of them: keeping mum themselves, they demanded self-exposure from us in the name of overcoming our blatantly repressive behaviour!
Ian Clegg evidently met Don Smith at some Oxbridge university college and they struck up some kind of friendship. During university, or just after, they journeyed to Algeria together around the moment France had abandoned her colonial possession after a brutal and murderous war in the early 1960s. Both of them, though on separate occasions, mentioned how thrilling it was to walk the streets of the haute bourgeois district of Algiers marvelling at the abandoned mansions of a former colonial ruling class having fled for their lives. (In reality there was in fact a yes and no to this, as the FLN invited the pieds noirs to stay, and probably around 100,000 did just that, even though dispossessed of 'their' land; land which originally had been stolen from the indigenous population despite the fact that in the mid-19th century much of this land was desert). Ian Clegg once noted that it gave him a sense of certainty, (even if the uprising was basically a war for national independence which Ian Clegg had no leftist illusion about) that one fine day the rich could be pushed out of everywhere and made to disappear once and for all. However the way in which it was said was as if he – Ian Clegg – wanted to disappear! (Ironically we remembered this during the miners' strike in the aftermath of that inspiring uprising around the village of Fitzwilliam in West Yorkshire which caused the very well off to flee from the old aristo-imitative hamlet of Nostell Priory nearby). Under the influence of Don Smith, Clegg became more and more Situationist influenced from the mid-1960s onwards though in a much more intellectual, somewhat New Left Review–ish kind of way although the guy was considerably better than those of that ilk who were later to write on the Situationists in that rag (e.g. Peter Wollen who was rightly condemned for hypocrisy in a recent text by Don Smith and Tim Clark in an MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology - magazine with the baneful title of October).
Nonetheless, Ian Clegg lived a highly schizoid existence even in the late 1960s and there was little attempt to iron out any of these often-blatant contradictions, so it was push and pull every which way. Condemned by his father, a Royal Navy big wig, stationed on the Firth of Forth who'd blamed his son's Ban the Bomb activities at Faslane naval base on the Clyde for spoiling further career opportunities, Ian Clegg in 1967 nonetheless opted for a traditional military style wedding completed by arches of crossed swords above the bride and bridegroom's head. A year later and the same couple, lying under leafy trees with friends, were rightly scorning academia and sounding-off about the death of art, having eaten home baked hash cakes! Of course with such vast contradictions lurking inside and between themselves and the everyday existence most were forced to live, nothing gelled and the insufficient glue which held it all together quickly came apart once the quick of the revolutionary impulse hadn't successfully followed on through. In no time with the waning of King Mob and, more importantly, the general revolutionary impetus of the late1960s, Ian Clegg quickly cobbled together a souped-up M.A. or proposed PhD thesis for a New Left book entitled Workers Councils in Algeria which was duly published by publishers, Allen Lane. It was long, it was clever, it was wide-ranging intellectual stuff (e.g. featuring a dispute with Andre Gorz, etc) and it was boring, having nothing of the living, breathing pulse which galvanised the Situationists original, Address to the Revolutionaries of Algeria1 . It had however a major point in its favour: it was one of the first post '68 books to pinprick councilist ideology disputing the form in itself as the great panacea. True Clegg also did emphasise content as a corollary to workers' councils but via a treacherous intellectualese language which made nonsense of real theory and, as Mike Bradley was to say some eight years later in, The Catalyst Times: "Theory cannot be taught it can only be incited." A few months later in California, Isaac Cronin, one of the members of the pro-Situationist groupuscule Contradictions, was to call the book, "a work of advanced recuperation". He was right, as like any other recuperator, Ian Clegg hadn't written the book in order to establish or improve on any basic truth; he'd written it in order to advance his career and in no time landed a job in the politics dept of Leeds University. Modern academia of course thoroughly approves of pulled punches and watered down arguments – and this has been even truer in the last 30 years than prior to the watershed of the late 1960s.
Once ensconced in a secure academic niche, Ian Clegg descended into academic obscurity, quickly abandoning or even exhibiting any vaguely radical orientation. Considerable inherited wealth helped this process gather momentum and it was probably the Cleggs' more than any others belonging to the King Mob economic elite which marked the-waiting-to-burst class split brooding in that loose grouping of like-minded, if not like-surviving, people. These two factors must somehow begin to come together if any truer collectivity stands a hope in hell of more durable survival. Instead, The Cleggs' began to use the poorer ex-King Mob affiliates to decorate their house, rewarding them with cooked meals and cups of tea simply so their property would acquire a higher rating in an estate agent's window. Schmucks at the sharp end (including ourselves) were still foolish enough to believe that you hung on to basic comradeship, helping each other out periodically, particularly when agreeing with a basic set of ideas you still hoped to realise in a social arena. At the same time the Cleggs' would criticise working-class people for taking tacky consumer holidays in Blackpool which caused at least two women from working class backgrounds, Freddie Cooke and Anne Ryder to explode having spent more than a few "wakes weeks" as kids in Blackpool. The Clegg's, once their economic position and aim became all too clearly visible, were never forgiven for their class users' mentality and snobbery and their blatant deploying of their former friends / comrades as unpaid brush hands.
However, the Clegg's had one brief moment of sheer excellence. In attacking spectacular consumption though often on a too simplistic a level simply forgetting their greater economic clout, the Cleggs' along with ourselves, proposed an action which would involve an invasion of an Oxford Street store in London, Christmas 1968. Selfridges was chosen for the foray. Together with the Cleggs' we wrote the leaflet, which was handed out providing the layout and drawings of Christmas decorations as a seductive detourning of the usual decorative regalia surrounding the yearly ritual. What more is there to say? The well-known rumpus followed along with arrests and subsequent publicity. Whatever may have been said subsequently, we know for fact there was no attempt to contact in advance any media: the rejection was absolute. In distributing the leaflet, all communication was done by word of mouth. One further comment needs to be made: The Selfridges' invasion was not the invention of Malcolm McLaren, although he played a plucky part in the melee inside the store. In this guy's much later TV film on Oxford St revolving around some of its amazing historical characters which, like the great jail escapee, Jack Shepherd, are said to haunt the area, Mclaren's voiceover makes it look as though the Selfridge's intervention was all his idea, including his verbatim quotes from the afore mentioned leaflet - without mentioning its existence - a process typifying fashionable recuperation! Of course, as Lautreamont once said, "plagiarism is necessary" but when it amounts to something like an economic repossession, well then it's a very different matter and McLaren appropriated simply for his own star-struck economic kudos and gain. Moreover, McLaren was not dressed up as Santa Claus as that part was bravely taken on board by Ben Trueman – though more about that later. What happened to the Clegg's? Well no one really seems to know, as they certainly kept well clear of their former comrades from very early on.
Again, Tony Schofield was one of the ex-public school contingent emanating from those belonging to the more privileged echelons of King Mob. Tony had been treated appallingly by his parents in a mercilessly cold manner. As a real monster from the public school system, Pete Fowler, the despicably reactionary editor of the 1980s art magazine Modern Painters was to say during his earlier Marxist foray, "public schools treat their own off-spring brutally preparing them for their sadistic treatment of the lower orders in the future". Too true. Sometimes, however, the neglect is so brutal that they really do destroy their own. A northerner whose parents owned the Schofields megastore in Leeds, Tony was one such victim. But how could you know him when he seemed to reserve his friendship for the dissident wealthy, unable to cut free from the very class mores he was tortured by? Unwilling to break out of the cocoon / tomb which was killing him, he could also be extremely funny in the company of his best friends who were rather similar, though regarding future prospects probably generally less wealthy than himself. One night in early 1968, he entertainingly spent a good hour "looking for the proletariat" inside keyholes, under carpets, on top of bookcases etc. We all laughed our heads off, as it wasn't done in a disparaging, put down way. This would have been lightweight stuff if he also wasn't pretty good at whacking coppers on the violent anti-Vietnam demonstrations of that year. Tony's demeanour was shy and withdrawn and obviously he was a very decent guy. Sensitive to the all-pervading reaction which seemed to drop suddenly within the hearts of all the most insightful protagonists during 1970 or a little later, and which was to engulf the totality of society as the years rolled by, Tony Schofield just couldn't handle this growing brutal reaction. In fact, nobody could, but most had reason to hang on – just! The path of the suicidal Young Werther was to be repeated, not too dissimilar to Goethe's ruminations on Werther in later life when he wondered if Werther was right or wrong to do what he did. We still exist in the same tortured dilemma given an extra dimension by the sheer absence at the heart of modern alienation. Tony Schofield and all those countless others after 1968 who ended this excuse for a life we nonetheless hold in deepest respect. They refused humiliation which we subsequently know now was to be our lot in the years of deepening reaction which, on the cusp of the 1970s, we also felt in our bones was bound to follow. We weren't wrong and our nightmarish premonitions were to become even more nightmarish in reality.
One day, in the early 1970s, Tony probably took a long, last, agonised journey up Wharfedale in Yorkshire (no doubt the scene of happy, youthful memories) beyond even then, the gentrified former mining village of Grassington, to that darkly dramatic and stark, Wordsworthian-like, Arncliff Crag where once, the rare and exquisite Scotch Argus butterfly flew and there ended his brief life passionately and ruthlessly throwing himself off that pinnacle-like, overhanging outcrop. A renegade from the respectable upper northern bourgeoisie, he ended his life in the heart of what became known as the Yorkshire Badlands, courtesy of some American westerns, which were partially filmed there. Now and again when passing that forbidding and awesome limestone crag, one immediately thinks of Tony Schofield that fine man nursing a restless and wounded psyche.
Older than most of the protagonists who figured in King Mob, Grovel, or so he was called by some referring to that indefatigable toff and Private Eye cartoon character even though the description wasn't apt, had formerly been the husband of Brenda Grevelle, Chris Gray's girlfriend. John Grevelle's personal history had in his youth revolved around the more traditional anarchist milieu of the Peace Movement, the Committee of 100 and, more to the point as he gradually left a simplistic anarchism behind, the Castoriadis influenced group, Solidarity. As the temper of the times began to dramatically quicken (and they seemed to move very briskly in the mid to late 1960s), Solidarity quickly attracted a wide, strong worker base, who in no time began to think of John Grevelle as a head case by most of these intelligent, hard working people who made up the backbone of this memorable council communist group with a much more sharpened modern critique than say, an ultra-leftist like Pannekoek had envisaged in the 1930s, 40s or 50s. It's worth pointing out that Grovel (despite his posh accent) had not come from wealth and therefore his gut association with most of these sober stalwarts in Solidarity was real enough. Sober though is the word, which must be emphasised here because John Grevelle rarely was sober. Most days – indeed probably every day - drink and whatever drugs were on hand passed down his throat. He had his favourites though, especially a cocktail of paregoric cough medicine mixed with cider which must have incited some kind of delicious calming high seeing that a more effective opium 'medicine' was no longer dispensed at the chemists as in the more liberal times of De Quincey's in the early 19th century. Amidst all the collective conversations and actions in flow at the time, drunken attacks and assaults were usually the most effective of John Grevelle's interventions, which, without exception, were spontaneous affairs. He had the merit of being one of the first to thoroughly wreck, at least for an evening, a nascent community politics milieu in Notting Hill clearly recognising the structure as a vehicle for drawing the sting of radical protest and a means to career advancement. His drunken raving one evening in summer 1968 against the fresh-faced Notting Hill, community politics scene, in particular George Clarke (number one guru among the nascent community politicos) was memorable indeed, and had all the youthful erstwhile future "community servants" foaming at the mouth. They never forgot Grevelle's savage attack and of course they never forgave him.
John Grevelle's negativity was however never clearly worked out and you always found it impossible to discuss anything with him in a pensive, reflective way as he lurched about stabbing the air, punctuated by short, wild guffaws. Beyond this, greater coherence was always clearly lacking. Contradictions increasingly jarred within him as he oscillated between utter negativity and an informal impresario's role like organising musical venues at the old Round House in Chalk Farm, London. The only common denominator between these two disparate activities was something like a permanently functioning drunkenness. Sometime later, during the very early 1970s, he made an effort to launch a Free School in the same area. There were many stinging criticisms made of this venture, as it was hardly free though Grevelle insisted the richer kids were subsidising the poorer ones and Bernie S wrote some hard-hitting stanzas, which were accurate enough about this expensive way to be free! However, whatever one may think of all the grave inconsistencies in Free Schools generally, John Grevelle's version had the merit of being completely over the top. It was organised between Grevelle and his then girlfriend, who was a dominatrix by trade and would regularly on an evening lock up her clients in the school cupboards. The school couldn't carry on like this and shortly thereafter fell to pieces in a mad orgy of drink, acid, grass and paregoric: an auto-critique in action of a Free School even if by default. From then on, drink more or less reigned in John Grevelle's life until dying of a heart attack in the mid-1990s though still remaining in daily contact with Chris Gray. Whatever the content of this relationship inherited from the old days of the 1960s, what must also be mentioned and admired is his sustained friendship with one or two other larger than life, really great guys. In this non-stop spree of drink and other substances, Grevelle still spoke his mind and received more than a few thumpings for his blindly courageous, off-the-drunken-cuff responses usually in uptight London pubs where it would have been wiser to keep schtum, e.g. shouting "Up the Argies" during the Falklands war of 1982.
Another one of the wild crazies who gravitated around King Mob, abandoning his job and career prospects despite being trained at Cambridge University as a scientist, specialising in chemistry. Notably, he helped put together a big A3 size broadsheet ranting and raving about this, that and the other, calling for a supercession of the Situationist critique. Truth to tell, the broadsheet was extremely garbled and you couldn't discern any direction, as basically it was more a reflection of the guy's apocalyptic behaviour in daily life than anything else. He was one of the people who carried the big banner in the anti-Vietnam War demonstration in London, October 1968 on which was emblazoned, "Storm The Reality Studios. Retake The Universe", which though distinctly more inspiring than the usual pedestrian banner was a quote from William Burroughs who himself had hardly given any clear indication of the transcendence of art. Nonetheless on the same demo, Gerry, along with other friends, frequently attacked cars, smashing the occasional camera whilst loudly pointing out that his participation in this event had little to do with Vietnam but everything to do with the "new poverties" which we in the highly developed world were increasingly colonised by. Gerry Brenchley wanted to slash priceless paintings in the National Gallery, though he never did more than mouth off about it. Again none of this was at all clearly worked out and as a consequence he tended to identify with those nutters who occasionally resort to this form of action, never seeing the necessity of a clear theoretical explanation on why such actions may possibly be worthwhile, although it's very difficult to know when that could be so. Suffice to say, invariably the reasons nutters give are garbled and pretty non-sensical, despite arousing mild interest. By and large, if consciously undertaken, such gestures are used as a form of sensationalism to promote some cause or other like the action of the Suffragettes prior to the First World War. Such outrages have long since lost their shock value in an age when all memory of the past and its treasures has been essentially destroyed by a rampant commodifying capitalism. What's at stake here is an intelligent subversion of the fall out from modern art, something ill-equipped for use in gesture politics but which potentially could have far greater impact.
Gerry Brenchley had the merit of never copping out and survived for some time by taking low-key jobs in chemistry laboratories, jobs that he detested. In a way though, this humdrum work kept a lid on his psyche as periodically after the defeat of the 1960s he started to go hyper, spending brief periods in asylums. The build up to incarceration was marked by manic behaviour when in a solipsist way he'd lapse back into the time of King Mob euphoria when the social ambiance, which had created that period, had been well and truly eclipsed. Over the following years, Gerry Brenchley's critique went - and remained - pretty haywire as he mulled over the reasons why everything fell apart not so much in acrimony more through bewilderment and burn out. But for Brenchley, his musings contained more than a whiff of paranoid plots and skullduggery, ("John Grevelle stabbed in the back" etc as he said in one letter) and more a product of his own dementia than anything else. It didn't just stop there as it was usually accompanied by some action that was as bizarre as it was funny in a madcap sort of way. One day in the late 1970s and in this frame of "mind", Gerry B sauntered out into the middle of Ladbroke Grove in west London and began personally re-directing all the traffic. A little later when arrested by the cops who naturally asked what he was up to, he replied, "Well it's all good fun isn't it." Evidently he'd been up to the same thing two days previously elsewhere in west London, so the court imposed the regular sectioning order it uses for such miscreant behaviour. Thus Gerry Brenchley probably remains to this day alternating between the funny farm and living in some shack at the bottom of some garden in Wales rather like some latter-day Johann Baader – the "lunatic" of German Dada, one of the originators if you like in deploying 'madness' as a practical tactic in the history of modern subversion.
Memories of this man are usually a joy to recall. He was, and still is, larger than life. The son of a taxi driver from Winchester, he gravitated around the King Mob scene, drawn to it by his rebellious ways. He joined in many of the actions with a devil-may-care attitude, often arrested for one thing or another, notably as the red-coated Santa Claus in the Christmas 1968 Selfridges' protest where he grabbed sweets from the counters and handed them to passing kids. Some mums were furious and started handbagging him, calling Ben a "drug-crazed hippy." In other circumstances this might have been true though not on this occasion even though Ben generally always tended to despise laid-back hippies. Ben drank like a fish and more or less indiscriminately took whatever drugs he could get his hands on, subsidising his excess of leisure delights by the odd burglary or two like nicking lead from church roofs etc. after a skinful in a pub. To put it mildly, the guy was none too cautious in any of his escapades and inevitably kept getting banged up for brief periods. He personally felt at the time that the greatest enemy of the revolution was the "straight" working class although this attitude was somewhat conditioned by the prevailing criminal ideology which Ben modified the older (and wiser) he got.
So infectious was his general love of life and spontaneity – and a very un-PC spontaneity at that – meant he was cultivated as the untutored working-class rebel like some modern-day Wild Boy of Aveyron who was brought up by wolves, emerging from the forests of southwest France in 1800. He wasn't averse to giving middle-class girlfriends, fascinated by his handsome charisma, an occasional slap or two who, in their turn, went racing off complaining to the new fuming feminists who'd usually willfully ignore the provocative acts and put downs which could lead up to such unnecessary (and bad) responses. As a friend said apropos of this, "Why hit a woman when a few well aimed words can do just as much damage." We all laughed cynically, well aware that the feminist onslaught was almost as bad as what they were replacing though in different ways. Down at the sharp end things had (and still have) a way of defining and redefining themselves and we were all rather pissed off by middle-class girlfriends into rough trade complaining in a tub-thumping way about their wild working-class boyfriends banged up in nick asking them on prison visits what colour knickers they were wearing.
Being cultivated like this from both middle-class men and women alike did Ben Trueman no good at all and he began to perform - even when feeling pretty bad inside - to an image others had invented for their own ends and uses which soon enough was to become diabolically clear. Ben provided the first deviant stereotype for a budding rip-off in the shape of the Sociology of Deviancy who patronised him before moving on to the next-in-line deviant fashion. Finally though, and just in time, Ben wasn't fooled and gladly partook of an atmosphere and discussion that was again reinstating, though in a different way, the us and them gulf which was sadly again unfolding before our very eyes. Sick of the misery of performing to middle-class proclivities Ben married Marion, a working-class gal becoming more subdued and relaxed, and feeling he could breathe easier now that he was no longer called on to act the part of the iconoclastic permanent rebel against the constraints of daily life. A great gal, Marion was bi-sexual and quite the equal of Ben in wildness. Hilariously, he'd recount how he stick her vibrator in a pint of Fullers beer and watch it froth all over the place. Under the quickening disintegration of everyday mores, no matter what safety shots you make, nothing seems to remain stable for long. Would it was so easy! Sadly the new couple quickly broke up. We were the last individuals to see Marion alive as an hour later an unknown assailant murdered her. As for Ben Trueman he picked up the pieces, and carried on.
There was no question Ben would fall for the con of education for the working class simply because, unlike so many others, he never felt sufficiently resentful to crawl into the middle classes himself. From youth right up to this day and age Ben has continued to work – if one can call it that – applying himself to various manual trades. To get away from all the imploding pressures with the defeat of the late 1960s, he opted for farming for a few years, employed as a farm labourer to an ex-Communist party farmer on the moors near Halifax in West Yorkshire. Even away from all the pressurized hustle and bustle, mayhem was always Ben's closest companion as a nascent Angry Brigade – unbeknown to our friend – camped out with him, enjoying a holiday in that wild and beautiful scenery would, with their newly acquired armaments, take more than a few pot shots at the teeming game. Elsewhere, on the buildings when Ben was around, uproar was always in the offing, decking sub-contractors who instead of paying up kept their hands in pockets. Like the best of King Mob, he remained an un-reconstructed scoundrel and when shall we see the likes of such scoundrels again? The guy still remains a joy to see warmly greeting long lost friends........
TJ (Tim) Clark
"If I cannot have the proletariat as my chosen people any longer, at least capitalism remains my Satan"
(T.J. Clark. Farewell to an Idea. 1999)
Despite his position as one of the so-called leading lights of the English Situationists, if our TJ ever got hold of an idea it was in order to almost instantly betray it. Let's use this occasion to fill in more than a few unsavoury details to debunk any myth that have grown up about this guy. First of all, the proletariat was never his "chosen people". Throughout his life, Clark has always tended to relate to those at the sharp end as thick, stupid, rather philistine and quite beneath him. Now and again, such an attitude, usually politely hidden, would break out in quite bitter and uncalled for personal rancour. Once in a pub on Tottenham Court Road, London sometime in 1973, Tim Clark quite savagely and gratuitously turned on a bar tender who quite innocently asked him if he was OK. Spluttering with bile, he turned on the bar tender, "No, I'm not OK and I'm sick of having all my privileges eroded." True enough; the fear regarding erosion of privileges would seem to be the core of the matter. Upset that his elite upbringing, his attendance at a top public school (Winchester) followed by admission to the Courtauld Institute, London University's top notch Art History Dept, after a stint at Cambridge, was in danger of coming to naught, because after all, he had participated in the notorious Situationist International, which could imply that he was adept at self-destruction courting career disaster? In that sense, it's therefore understandable for somebody in his then possibly precarious position to turn venomously on a barman he may have felt possibly one day he could have become if all his treasured "privileges" had been taken away. He'd glimpsed the anti-careerist Situationist abyss and he'd recoiled in fear and horror! Yet hadn't this guy who had once proclaimed his knowledge of the history of the self-destruction of the artistic avant-garde suffered a memory lapse? Hadn't that principled Surrealist, Benjamin Peret, experiencing one of the bouts of periodic poverty he was so accustomed to, endured stints as a barman? Ah, Benjamin Peret, a man who made many creative breakthroughs signaling the end of the poet's role no more so than in his exemplary early commitment, gun in hand to the anarchist militias in the Spanish insurrection of 1936-39 – e.g. remember that lovely photo of him with rifle and playful cat on his knee – who in his later years was to write a passionate historical factograph on the history of the 19th century Brazilian slave revolt, yet at the same time also evolved a more cogently revolutionary anti-trade union stance in collaboration with a figure like George Munis who existed far removed from the literary world.
But he need not have worried; his paid-up intellectual future career was secure. Nay more than secure, because Tim Clark was quickly to become the rising star in the Art History firmament, as throughout the following decades he produced a series of art historical books tepidly analysing one artistic movement after another from the late-18th century to the mid-20th century. Well, it wasn't quite tepid as he raised valid points here and there only to drown them in a deluge of sidetracking and deliberate obscurantism. But there again, it was necessary to do so as all were published by big, Anglo-American, middle of the road publishing houses that would drop any radical statement like it was a hot potato. Two of his early efforts were published by Thames and Hudson and were called, The Image of the People and The Absolute Bourgeois. If the comparison is not too far-fetched, Clark bears comparison with a radical opportunist like Umberto Eco in Italy whose novelistic pursuits like The Naming of the Rose marking the end of his radicalism was nicely turned by others into an appropriate wall slogan during the 1977 Italian insurrection, "Here's a policeman – there's an echo". Around the same time, one anti-student, Rob Horn and connected to the pro-Situationist groupuscule, Infantile Disorders, scrawled something similar - in tone at least - on Clarke's faculty door at Leeds University which read, "Tim Clarke may present himself in the image of the people but he's still the absolute bourgeois". This is in fact truer than one cares to realise. T.J.'s father was the esteemed Sir Otto Clarke, the top Whitehall civil servant who supervised the production of the supersonic, transatlantic airfreight carrier, Concorde. According to TJ his illustrious father provided the name "Concorde" to the supersonic aircraft. One of the engineers who worked under Sir Otto said of him, that you "Never got twelve pence to a shilling". The same could also be said of his illustrious son, the future Sir Tim, or rather that was what it felt like to us at the time grubbing around building sites with hardly a penny to our names.
Although playing with the Situationist nametag, which no doubt provided some radical background cred, T.J. Clark never put his life on the line. He always made certain that his economic future was more or less secure and his radical sounding theoretical contributions when he was a member of the Situationists were penned when living on a student grant in Paris and London. After that it was from lectureship to lectureship, on, on and up through academia to a top Professor's role at the University of California. Clark's non-life has been completely covered over by the mantle and protective shield of elite educational institutions, so how can all of this square with a passionate yearning for authentic life, when much of his existence has been spent in actively promoting alienation, never once taking a walk on the wild side? It's doubtful whether he even took a menial job during vacations, so no wonder this creep has no feeling for those at the sharp end.
Don N Smith, a long and forgiving friend of this petrified fossil and the most aware by far of that early elite band of Situationists hailing from public school backgrounds could, on the one hand say; "He, [(T.J] is the most intelligent man I ever met," at the same time making lame apologies for Clark's academic careerism: "Well, what else could he do?" What of course this implied was an underscoring of that familiar emphasis on social provenance and social determinants so beloved of the English middle classes. And for those present, the unspoken bottom line was all too clear – "Therefore what else could you do other than survive through casual labour, welfare and building sites." This is hardly the atmosphere and stuff of transgression and the choices that can (and must) be made by one and all though it accurately reflects the seeming immutability of the social apartheid in these islands.
Choices can and are made, but for Tim Clark there was to be no This Way Down or Sunk – that memorable title of the German Dadaist, Franz Jung's, autobiography. Clark never wanted to be included among workers, nor did he even wish to live within their social space using the same bar or pubs as them. More generally, he never wanted to go anywhere near such a place where all jams might possibly be permanently kicked out which could allow him the emotional space and time to express himself radically again.
To be sure bitterness can be more than detected in this long and overdue commentary, but that is because something else really mattered. These people, these Situationist elite were for a brief moment, sharp. In fact, they were razor sharp. There were no better in their general grasp of things relating to the beginnings of a critique of the totality pertaining specifically to these islands on the basis of a universal, but on-going grasp of negation and revolutionary critique relevant not only to the UK but elsewhere throughout the world. During this period, Tim Clark did contribute considerably to then unpublished texts such as The Revolution of Modern Art and the Modern Art of Revolution2 . In this text, his knowledge of the self-destruction of modern poetry was eloquently put to use. More importantly, over and above any danger of falling into the role of writer and theoretician (roles which were adamantly rejected by all of us in King Mob at the time) were many on-going conversations together with that passionate desire to constantly seek each other to re-engage again in amazing states of euphoria as insights and ideas were developed in run-down bed-sits, pubs and cheapo cafes purveying English junk food. Tim Clark contributed superbly to all of this - now re-counting De Quincey's life on the London streets - followed by an accurate insight on Henri Lefebvre's, The Sociology of Marx – "well the title is a dead giveaway" etc. Examples are too numerous to mention always remembering these weren't insights for the sake of clever insights but were experienced as preludes to action, making points that could have maximum subversive impact.
However, that excellent lucidity of TJ was extremely short lived and though repeating some of what we've mentioned previously, having no taste for life on the margins, in no time Mr. Clark obtained a secure full-time lecturers tenure at the University of Essex. Being one of the hot spots of student revolt and educational, anti-institutional vandalism in England in the late 1960s, T.J. was caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, Clark knew full well that the leftist lecturers at Essex were theoretically under developed and retarded, most having some vague Trotskyist orientation; he quickly got annoyed with them exploding in exasperation at their sheer ignorance. In particular, there was NLR hack, Peter Wollen who some 20 years later was to come round to a garbled situationism helping produce the I.C.A./ Verso garbage in that touring exhibition from Paris to London to Boston in 1989. (Later Clark was to attack this caricature of an update). On the other hand, Clark was himself now ensconced in a petty power position and he was being undermined from below once students began acquiring a realisation that their courses were a smokescreen of distortion, lies or at best, half truths. They responded accordingly taking little interest in courses, exams, tutorials and the rest of the academic paraphernalia. Some knowing that our TJ had helped translate as well as contribute to an Afterword to, On the Poverty of Student Life (and a splendid Afterword it was too) didn't bother to do much at all about their looming B.A degree finals or end of year exams. As a kind of shock tactic which he presumably hoped would have some aura of revolutionary truth (!), Clark failed the lot of them, possibly because he was beginning to see them as little more than self-indulgent spoilt brats or possibly again, simply for the sake of some arbitrary shock value. In reality however, it's what happens when a poacher becomes gamekeeper as the whole system works behind your back and no matter what, after awhile, you start performing the way the system wants you to perform. However, it didn't go down too well among his mates outside education! No doubt feeling guilty about this perverse type of skewed praxis, Clark, a few years later at Leeds University, was to award some Infantile Disorder students with 1st Class Honours even though they openly criticised his role.
This was part of the nub of a serious contradiction though and not a minor discrepancy. He'd been faced with a choice right back as a young lecturer at Essex University. TJ had to bite the bullet but refused to do so. Instead of realising he'd made a big mistake quitting his art historical role, he massively consolidated his initial backsliding. In parenthesis, we're not calling for a kind of steadfast purism here. It's hardly surprising if in fear or pain or what have you, you retreat and take steps backward, getting lost in a labyrinth, providing you come through such detours relatively quickly. Such experiences can be treated as a temporary loss, something which may in the long run strengthen you. Perhaps this was what was meant by Nietzsche's comment somewhere, "The path towards eternity is bent". Moreover, we weren't perfect by any means as we also briefly tried to climb back into the academic arena after the defeat of the late 1960s. In fact Tim Clark fixed one of us up with some part-time lecturing! But by then we'd gone too far and any attempted return to the fold proved to be more agonizing than carrying on down the road of real refusal. For Clark obviously this 'existential' crisis wasn't experienced with the same rawness, the same sense of betrayal of your real self, thus it was obviously easier to substitute hard decisions through somehow concentrating on the pursuit of knowing you were able to knock out very acceptable, very saleable art historical commodities, producing books which give off the aura of profundity, deploying thoughtfully picked out, seemingly precise words and phrases which play on a mimicry of "great" writing when this cascade of words is merely a decorative cover for what he must know deep inside himself is deliberately misleading. Such books crammed with pulled punches have to be written this way in order to con grants from various bodies and obtain permission from university Regents - and moreover Regents whom Clark profusely thanks - befitting any grovelling careerist. To get published like this isn't merit in the real sense, it's merely being adept at arse licking and brown nosing and in short, a life more or less to the likes of his family destiny and truly a son Sir Otto could have been proud of. Let's face it; art history has always been one of the acceptable faces of finance capital, of high rolling antique and property assets brought to realisation by an endless accumulation of hype. Is he therefore that much different from his erstwhile younger brother – that rising star and Minister of Education Charles Clark who has been mooted as leader of the Labour Party once Blair steps down?
As if to counter this knowledge that he dare not acknowledge in himself, TJ Clark produces the odd radical pamphlet. In the late 1990s in collaboration with Don N Smith, he produced a kind of 30 years on (in style at least) imitation of the Afterword to On The Poverty Of Student Life. It lacks by a long way, the original power and promise of that Afterword but as things go and as a sad general comment upon the sheer emptiness of the present, it's better than most things presenting themselves as critique. And, furthermore, when Tariq Ali (still some kind of social democratic Trotskyist) called Tim Clark's Farewell to an Idea, the 1999 book of the year, you know you're in trouble. Not that Tariq Ali has improved since his no-business-like-show-business militant days of the late 1960s. His critique hasn't got any better though his money-making skills have vastly improved, cornering a large part of the media/TV business outlets emanating from South East Asia.
Epithet: "And every glory that inclines to sin
The shame is treble by the opposite."
Shakespeare: Edward 111.
Don Nicholson Smith
What can you say about this guy? Certainly he was one of the best of the original Situationists in these islands in terms of his general theoretical grasp, his amiable bingeing ways possessing more than a glimpse of problems the rest of the elite were blind to, particularly, the social apartheid and the difficulties you have with it. This had more than a little to do with his own precarious position being a somewhat marginal interloper among the traditionally English middle classes able to see the predicaments of both sides though finally and with much internal anguish, to side with that elite, nay more: Never ever to break with it, retaining many a devious link. In practice he hobbled himself by constantly riding both horses at once, trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. In his youth having been sent to some notable public school or other, possibly as a scholarship boy, it would seem probable that he constantly had to guard himself against vicious put downs from the offspring of the traditional, often unspeakably crass and rich ruling class. As Chris Gray said of him at the moment of impending general collapse in 1969, "He has the character armouring of a World War Two battleship" – a comment made not in anger but one which was attempting to find a kinder and deeper critical sympathy.
Though constantly fraternising with so many who carved out little, and not so little careers for themselves, especially in academia, Don never took up any obvious cadre role himself, settling down into translation work from French into English. It was an occupation he increasingly took very seriously indeed so much so that it effectively put on the back burner any original contribution he might have wanted to make himself and which he was more than capable of doing. Often the guy has worked for much lower translation rates than is the market norm in order to translate books by Debord, Lefebvre and Vaneigem. Sometimes he worked for nothing as when he translated N'Drea by Os Cangaceiros and subsequently published by Pelagian Press in England and an outfit related to the Here & Now grouping in Leeds in the 1990s. All of this is of course salutary as these translations are by far the best going. Saddled though he is riding two horses at once, Don has been unable to speak plainly himself. Only, it seems, at moments of real despair (was it this?) could he speak with acute, clued-in anger though never to be followed through into anything more concrete like simply letting flow with the computer keyboard and to hell with it. Emotionally though he couldn't do such a thing because his precarious self-identification meant he was constantly looking over his shoulder, just in case he offended. As he once lamely said - and it casts light on his dilemma - "everybody's right". Well, of course they're not. He meant this though in terms of his diverse circle of acquaintances as for sure, Don had a constant hatred of the real right wing, but beyond that his anger was tempered by some form of psychoanalytical even Freudian-cum-Keats-like take on "negative capability" as he perhaps strove to understand the insides of what makes a person tick - only to forgive them. The trouble is does one really forgive like this with a polite glossing over and a forgetting, a friendly conciliatory gesture, maybe a drink together without any argument? For truth to tell, with Don after the disarming get together and a sense of relaxation pending a boot quickly goes in only to be pulled away just as quickly but leaving you in no doubt where your place is in the not so informal hierarchy.
Maybe this is sparse comment upon Don simply because it hurts to write it. Enough to say that he had to leave these islands for New York, a place where class doesn't figure in the same all consuming way and where any social apartheid isn't so particular, often irritatingly miniscule and quite frankly shut down and hostile as it is here. Of course class does figure in America, but in a very different way and has more to do with crude money making than social provenance and a tendency towards a separate species being so characteristic of the UK. Certainly the American way of class is less encumbered by baggage but be that as it may. Don always said that the French Situationists didn't have a clue about the peculiarities of these islands. He was right, but only to depart to a place, which eased his personal sense of being on that particular wrack he was incapable of talking about.
The first issue of King Mob Echo3 contained only one original statement from those who put the magazine together and that was on the back page with Urban Gorilla Comes East written by Phil Cohen and Don N Smith. Basically it's a series of questions about how modern repression works in relation to working-class youth. It is, in effect, quite well written put in a short list of generalised, rhetorical, even poetic questions such as, "Why is King Kong the most heavily guarded animal in the Children's Zoo? Why is he asleep." etc and is the outline for a kind of research directive for Catch 22, a proposed youth initiative in the East End of London.
Well fine as far as it goes, although the statement ends up with a kind of youth / community cum social work / anti-social work feel to it which wasn't to become obvious in Phil Cohen's orientation until at least a couple of years later when revolutionary hopes were rapidly being dashed everywhere. However, one should have been aware at the time of this tendency that was possibly going to update the face and practice of social work. Over a year later and its example was to prove the point as it influenced Case Con, the magazine of "the revolutionary social worker"! Since then social worker facelift has spread everywhere throughout the ideological state apparatus, cementing the new totalitarianism.
In the meantime, Phil Cohen did engage in often quite inspired acts of revolutionary disruption, general cheekiness and aggression which culminated in the audacious squat in the salubrious mansions of 144, Piccadilly in the heart of London's wealthy Mayfair. However, many of these acts did contain internal ambiguities, which weren't sufficiently thought through. Even at the high point of this audacious squat under the new name of The London Street Commune, Phil Cohen, referring to himself as Dr John, no doubt after the Mississippi blues shouter, conducted interviews with the press and proposed setting up a sub-cultural research centre based there. (For a few more details see Like a Summer with a Thousand Julys)4 . Freddie Cook, a woman from Liverpool and on the fringes of the disintegrating King Mob milieu was really involved in the Commune as she later, spoke about the experience animatedly and with an excellent analysis emphasising the manoeuverings which Phil Cohen got up to even at this high point. As with so much other off the cuff excellent analysis, Freddie never put any of this to paper, but she did crystallize coherently the dissident tendency in that superb anti-ad for squatting.
Perhaps Aggro the street paper put together by Phil Cohen and published courtesy of the Gutter Press in late 1969 together with cartoons by Irish was better in some respects than Catch 22 some 18 months previously in that it called for some kind of unity among the youth subcultures embracing hippies, skinheads, football hooligans, bikers etc. It identified THEM – the enemy – as parents, teachers, social workers, work and the cops while nonetheless - and contradictorily - in a section called Project Free London, leant towards anti-institution institutions favouring somewhat Resource Centres and organisations like Release, the Simon Community, People not Psychiatry, New Horizons etc.
It was said at the time by the most sussed out people that all the survival tips in Project Free London, like how to make free phone calls, secure free travel, fixing gas and electricity meters, kiting cheques and shop-lifting tactics, was merely an egotistical show-off, a publicity stunt which gave unnecessary assistance to the authorities exposing survival techniques which should have been kept as clandestine as possible. Whilst this is still true enough, looking back from today on these survival tips seem so arcane and unremarkable as everybody you knew was up to something or another along these lines. Moreover these passages, like the paragraph on shoplifting, are so laughably wooden and forced they sound like some fresh-faced innocent who'd just gotten into it! However, over the years bit by subtle bit, all scams and ploys around the refusal to pay were to be gradually eliminated for those at the sharp end and poachers turned gamekeepers played a sizeable part in this close down. Publicising scams encouraged this process at the same moment as criminality and the scams of the rich were to be given an ever freer rein by the state.
Ever after, the going has been rapidly down hill for Phil Cohen and all personal integrity came apart at the seams as he fell into the role of the hip youth worker he'd blazed a trail for followed by writing academic sociological books on the youth question his most recent with the name, The Youth Question Revisited. He no longer has to keep publishing like that in order to keep his name in circulation as academics must do to ensure further employment as Phil Cohen really is now just too big a name which wouldn't have had the same clout if he hadn't cynically used his earlier revolutionary insights as part of his CV. None of us saw it clearly like that in the beginning as then it was his increasingly unsavoury personal behaviour towards people which caused us to get pissed-off, using his gay disposition as a power brokers' ploy. Turned on by working-class youth he'd seduce some of them, bribing them with presents in return for sexual favours. At the same time, he'd ponce off his poorer friends and - one began to sense it - laughing behind their backs that they were mug enough to buy him drink after drink (pleading the usual poverty scam) as he pontificated on how his middle-class parents had forbidden him from playing with working class kids and how it had damaged him! Of course there was nothing unusual about this as it was blatant gay rough trade plus condescension towards others. However, as Freddie recounted, one or two working-class lads would fall in love with him and he'd break their hearts in a couldn't-care-less type of way. It wasn't liked and according to Freddie who'd been in the squat at 144, Piccadilly, one committed suicide. She was really aggrieved about this.
And then to crown it all, 13 or so years later and a lectureship at Hendon Police College beckoned, one which he took up avidly. It was all too much as Phil Cohen launched his cultural studies programme to sensitize the police in political correctness, resorting to occasional TV slots about police racism and...no doubt...the occasional delicate shafting with a truncheon. From then on it wasn't too long before Phil Cohen became the esteemed establishment Professor courted by a litany of big wigs in the civil service, police and top civil rights agencies who fawn at his feet and hang on to his every word as he takes the big time stage in conference after conference mouthing all the acceptable liberal platitudes he helped create and which have now become such a PC obstacle to authentic and accurate expression. Even in 1968 holding tightly on to his Lacan and Foucault, Phil Cohen rightly found his allotted place in the post-modernist horror story, which was to unfold throughout the coming decades.
Phil Meyler was probably by far the most consequent individual to gravitate around King Mob, remembering that King Mob wasn't any kind of formalised, card-carrying group but a field of magnetic attraction spreading ever wider, making it sometimes quite difficult knowing who to include and who not to. Phil Meyler in the 'groups' latter days played more than a big part, often quite savagely leaving his mark on this particular scene through his various leaflets, actions and magazines and when drunk, managing to put everybody's back up at some time or another.
Basically, he gravitated towards this fulcrum through some kind of friendship with Ian and Di Clegg whom he quite rapidly thereafter rightly fell out with after a somewhat violent punch-up. After bringing out Arson News - a crude but fiery diatribe - he took the kernel of the chaotic King Mob breakthrough and tried to transpose it on Ireland, particularly Dublin, city of his birth. He put together a couple of editions of The Gurriers5 (Dublin lingo for hooligans) which completely upset the two dominant ideologies in Irish life – the Catholic church and an Irish nationalist culture orientation - launching a broad sided, wild attack on both which didn't pull any punches, if lacking somewhat in a more coherent theoretical approach that Red Rat in Dublin two or so years later, was fleetingly to provide. It was a promise, which sadly was never fulfilled regarding more penetrating evaluations of Ireland. One remembers with delight on first reading The Gurriers just how down home, raw and splendidly nutty it was. After the obligatory attack on professional roles there is the great exhortation, "You must destroy the lorry driver within yourself". Wow, just how do you do that?
Remember though, when Phil initially launched his attack peppered with cartoon strips of nuns saying they wanted to be fucked, there were over 8,000 books banned in Ireland by the 1923 board of censorship dominated by a fundamentalist Catholic Church. His intervention was done in a kind of radical void in Ireland due to a basically intense sexual repression fostered by the church. This repression spilled over necessarily involving all other aspects of thought and the nascent counter culture there was muted in comparison to America or most other western European countries at the time.
For his pains, Phil's broadsides alerted the unwelcome attentions of the Irish Special Branch, who seized what Gurriers they could plus related documents when they raided his mother's home in Dun Laighoire, putting this poor, God-fearing, semi-illiterate lovely woman through a horrible ordeal once she realised what blasphemous activities her son had become involved in. The Gurriers was probably the biggest (and by far the most explicit) anti-cultural intervention that Ireland had seen since the hey day of its avant-garde in the early 20th century, perhaps since the moment James Joyce was forced to leave Dublin for more tolerant climes. It's worth mentioning some of the choicer examples of Phil's output at the time like the cynically accurate Tony Trend in Carnaby Capers plus some other cartoon strips also distributed in Ireland, which further provoked the ire of the country's establishment.
However, Phil's major contribution came in the moments after the collapse of King Mob when he tried to grasp a lot more theoretically the nature and whys and wherefores of this collapse, recognising clearly the looming reaction ambushing us from all sides. In the States, he produced a leaflet that he distributed at some New England seminal eco meeting around Murray Bookchin, which did not go down at all well. In cartoon form the smell of defeat was put clearly and a character, like in some 19th century English Imperialist African venture, comes out of the jungle exclaiming; "I've been up front Bwana and there's nothing there". Few were sympathetic and Murray Bookchin took the disillusioned young man aside, countenancing him to note the whole meal baked bread freely distributed at this venue, the vegetarianism and the on-going alternative life styles etc. Replying, "It's all just become plastic Murray, all plastic" he drifted on to the nearby golf links crying his eyes out. Refusing however, to fall back into any kind of retardation, particularly a re-emerging and strengthening makeover of old leftism or a union-oriented workerism falsely claiming to be "the new unionism", plus the growing eclipse of the critique of art, Phil Meyler was about to produce his best efforts.
In exile from Ireland after his escapades and unable to live in London or elsewhere in England preferring the States, in desperation and despair in early 1973, Phil moved to Portugal (much to the disapproval of those who objected to visiting Fascist countries like Portugal then under Salazar's dictatorship) where he became a witness and protagonist during the Portuguese revolt of 1974-6. Initially, he put together written comment after written comment on the events in that country which he dispatched to people in London and America, becoming more and more involved with those of an autonomous persuasion like the melancholic and profound Situationist influenced Julio Henriques and those who gravitated around the ultra-leftist group, Combate. Through our help, having earned enough spare cash through hard graft plastering on building sites what developed from type written sheets quite speedily morphed into a sizable book and subsequently was published by the Cardanite revolutionary group, Solidarity in England. There was certainly a deft re-arranging and probably some editing by Solidarity, but they did the thankless and boring task of putting it all together and doing it well. Some people have criticised this move saying it was a step backwards to have consorted with Solidarity but we didn't have enough money or technical means to produce Phil's long text with all it's telling photos and it was too good to have been left on the side without hope of seeing the light of day. The book also needed to come out relatively quickly if it was to have any effect. Portugal: The Impossible Revolution6 was more than good; it was the best book in any language on the near revolution in Portugal. It definitely surpassed Jaime Semprun's The Social War in Portugal which written in French was limited by a self-imposed need to say Situationist theory was being realised in practice by the Portuguese workers as that baneful "Our Party" syndrome gained some traction throughout France. For sure, "Our Party" was meant to be somewhat jokingly ironic, but in its Debordist rigidity on all matters, it sometimes felt like that you were being given real stick over nothing! Phil Meyler's account was a lot more complex, shot through with that unmistakable "I was there" feeling, not just as an acute observer but protagonist too. In a photo book in Portuguese on the thousands of slogans which covered the walls of Lisbon, it's surprising how many of Phil's spray painted comments are reproduced from "Football Or Revolution" outside the Benfica stadium, to simple suggestions like "Workers Councils" to an occasional sober assessment of possibilities.
Moreover, at the moment of the attempted coup-within-a-coup in late 1975, Phil quickly got together some of his companions, along with others mostly around Combate and began instructing them how to use firearms plus further elements of basic military training which he'd acquired through his compulsory stint in the Irish army where he'd been commended for his adept military prowess with rifles and sub machine guns. This informal grouping almost immediately tried to liaise with soldiers going up to their barracks or check points, even asking for weapons which the soldiers weren't very keen to hand over. Finally though, Phil didn't have to put his military knowledge into practice and October 1975 wasn't to be a prelude to the May Days in Barcelona in 1937.
The trouble is in dealing with a personal history/cataloguing like this loses much sense of the collectivity which was the most important thing of all. We all bounced off each other. As enumerated in the general, more theoretical part of this book, some individuals were more persuasive and influential than others. This must be said of Chris Gray and as we've said so much about this guy previously, this sad précis about to be elaborated concerns his later activities.
Slowly but surely with the decline of the revolutionary edge of the times, Chris Gray began moving towards things which others, forced to confront a sharpened survival, especially after they'd burnt their bridges and with no money to fall back on, found quite unacceptable. Perhaps it began by endlessly playing the recently hyped dirges of Leonard Cohen, a pop musician quick to pick upon the renewed feeling of despair and nothingness even, in a sense, before such feelings had actually made their real debut! Was Chris Cray thinking about himself when playing for the seemingly millionth time "and the rain falls down on yesterday's men" or did he think we'd all failed, that we were all yesterday's people? But this was merely a taster. Instead of recognising what was tragically beginning to unfold, Chris Gray began to look for answers in dubious quarters few could go along with. Dabbling with hard drugs and messing around with various other substances was fine, but once serious heroin use was on the cards it was too much as it was accompanied by other interests, theoretical ones, which we were trying to get away from particularly a growing tendency towards mysticism, that quintessentially English fall back when nothing can be sorted out in terms of any practical critical activity. It wasn't just the typical Guedjieff / Ouspensky orientation which was hovering in the background but more centrally an interest in Aleister Crowley as Chris Gray frankly attempted to imitate Crowley's charismatic image; a contrivance which was particularly effective in seducing young heiresses, helping them part somewhat with their wealth. Chris Gray was reasonably successful on this level, making certain that from now on he'd only hang around with women of reasonable means like Lucien Freud's daughter. Moreover, there was a gradual withdrawal backwards into Beat poetry and renewed friendships with the American Beat poet, Dan Richter and the ex-Situationist, Alex Trocchi although small time, wheeler dealing heroin played more than a minor part in the latter relationship. Disappointed that people, mainly for survival reasons, started to get involved in some type of work despite dole culture remaining reasonably intact, even just-to-say coming on stream, Chris Gray on finding a penny lying on the pavement, could say, "Look why work when you can find money lying about everywhere" neglecting to mention that he'd previously survived on tranches of inherited wealth and now, via the philanthropy of a well-off girl friend was financially OK. Funny, if your roots were from the working class it was rather more difficult to come by this solution, although with the advent of consumer capitalism it wasn't by any means impossible, providing you were prepared to cut out a lucrative, aberrant career for yourself as a budding pop musician, artist, hip academic, ad maker or, a drug dealing raconteur like Howard Marks capable of presenting yourself as true-blue posh.
Chris Gray became more than a little interested in the need to find and cultivate "some loony peer" which first saw the light of day in the one and only Manifesto of The Black Hand Gang. We wrote the first draft of this in the spirit of some kind of drift around the possibilities inherent in James Ward's huge painting of Gordale Scar in the National Gallery. Chris Gray considerably changed the original emphasis and he introduced the guiding light of a possible future benefactor, thus the loony peer syndrome. This concept gradually merged with the possibility of finding some rich, preferably enlightened aristocratic type who maybe owned a castle or two and was utterly jaundiced and strangled by the aridity and banality of an everyday life increasingly colonised by commodity production, thus searching for some kind of transcendence. If you like it was a search for a modern-day benefactor prepared to build an even more outrageous version of Beckford's Fonthill Abbey and /or Ludwig the 3rds castle on a cliff above the Rhine in Bavaria or even Coleridge's Pleasure Dome in Xanadu. This new Pleasure Dome though wasn't to be mundane like say the original technological fall-outs based partially on this phantasm and built in the 19th century like Brighton Pier or Blackpool Tower, but a fulcrum of experiment where individuals, groups and gangs etc. would go out into the world to disrupt a reified everyday life. Inside this castle (preferably), Chris Gray talked about having workshops where all kind of things could be conceived, where weird machines could be constructed and strange costumes sewn together. Then with like-minded people at the helm, epigones of Chris Gray perhaps, they'd break out of the castle running amuck in the streets, disrupting boredom and set ways of doing things. The basis for all of this had, of course, been the carnival gorilla /circus horse in Powis Square Notting Hill and the aggressive, bad taste float for the Notting Hill Carnival in 1969 plus those figures originally suggested by Chris Gray, dressed as giant bean cans who'd cavorted through the streets of London calling for revolution and an end to work and boredom amongst other things. This wasn't street theatre as there was no plot or scenario to watch and it was too purely confrontational in a minor, pushy way, perhaps funneled through the lineage of mid-1960s Dutch Provo. In any case, street theatre had been met with disdain for its tame set pieces, which merely transferred the stage to the street never challenging the passive audience /actor relationships.
Nothing thankfully was to come of these schemes, although Chris Gray spent a great deal of time and energy in the early 1970s looking for some kind of approximation to this ideal patron. Somehow or other he befriended Paul McCartney and did some minor DIY jobs for him like tiling. He also cultivated a rising journalist cum property speculator named Benny Gray. For the time, Benny Gray was a new type of investigative journalist principally highlighting homelessness problems and had been involved with Christopher Booker (later of the Booker Prize yearly literary awards which of course was the art front masking the often brutal exploitation of food processing workers by the Booker food marketing empire). Like Booker and art, Benny Gray's real concern wasn't homelessness but owning homes, and lots of them, making millions of spondoolies out of property deals. Fawning like this got neither Chris Gray nor his erstwhile toff companion, Duffy Jordan anywhere. Neither the future Sir Macca nor Benny Gray was exactly the freaked-out rich looking for some transcendental negative coherence set against this banal world. In reality, Gray and Co, were merely the decorative entourage and necessary adjuncts to Benny Gray's hip tycoon-style put-on or McCartney's more "concerned" caring intellectual image and they had no more intention of funding any serious revolutionary project than fly! It was obvious at the time and Chris Gray got very upset with any individual who crudely but rightly pointed this out to him. Instead of becoming an intelligent and wily Machiavellian like the original Prince who cleverly called the shots, Chris Gray was on his knees more or less groveling to them - hardly the strategy of successful deviancy – seeing "deviancy" as a hip word was very much in vogue at the time. Needless to say gone was the slogan in the old English Situationist adaptation of the original French poster, "C'mon he's just another bloody Beatle". To be sure, if Chris Gray had hung on in there, he would have probably come across an updated eccentric peer like the hippie oriented Duke Of Devonshire who, as well as being a friend of minor dissident authors and actors like Heathcote Williams and Jeremy Irons, was purported to have a taste for Raoul Vaneigem, the French Situationist who relished passionism.
But there's no way the Duke or even Paul McCartney and Benny Gray would have been on the brink of accepting a thorough going revolutionary critique like perhaps the multi-millionaire entrepreneur, Gerard Lebovici aspired to in France during his long patronage of Guy Debord until Lebovici's death at the hands of an assassin in 1984. Although one can roundly criticise the relationship between Debord and Lebovici, as the latter certainly related to Debord through his notorious image cultivated, post '68 in the French media, France was a country where revolutionary uprisings had been regular occurrences since 1789 and where the concomitant ever more lucid disintegration of modern art was at its most intense. Our World Turned Upside Down had been nearly three and a half centuries ago and despite the occasional brilliant revolts and an on-going combative working class (up to say the 1990s), these revolts haven't been accompanied by an evolving and general earth-shattering, theoretical lucidity since that more primitive take on the totality in the 1640s and which then was inevitably rather shrouded in religious sentiment.
In a sense, all Chris Gray was doing was handing on to wealthy entrepreneurs and pop stars a more enlightened take on things than they probably wouldn't have possessed otherwise. No wonder Paul McCartney was later to be called the most clued-in Beatle. Interestingly, about the same time, Charlie Radcliffe became an adviser/intellectual-in-harness to Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane. Afterwards, Chris Gray was to apply the same kowtowing technique of "enlightening the boss" to Baghwan Shree Rajneesh in Poona, India who was given doled-out potted summaries of Vaneigem and Wilhelm Reich to add to his mystical brew. In any case, this snake-oil salesman liked to add all sorts of things to his ersatz version of old Indian scriptures and remedies and remember he'd started out in as an adherent of the Maoist inspired, Indian Naxalites. On looking at a photo of Chris Gray in the late 1970s, Rod B was to say, "Here's mud in your third eye." All of Chris Gray's latter performance art however had to have an air of daring about it and living off the sale of relatively minor amounts of heroin in order to fund a session with the Bagwash in Poona added charisma to both parties.
The castle/ loony peer syndrome in Chris Gray marked some kind of rapport, although obviously more superficially, with the beautiful statements of Ivan Chtcheglov in the early 1950s which were echoed in Chris Gray's Leaving The 20th Century in 1974: "Who the hell is going to exert themselves to get another frozen chicken, another pokey room? But the possibilities of living in one's own cathedral" was for Chris Gray a place of material fantasy where all traditional and modern usage be abandoned and where newly regaled and fleshed-out Arthurian legends could venture out from a remote Tintagel castle hung on a cliff face above crashing waves. The trouble is this "grail" wasn't the derive or drift that early psychogeographical experimenters in Paris had made comparisons with – perhaps in a momentary weak wording – summarising perhaps that the original participants were into something new that had yet to be properly marked-out. Applied by Chris Gray, this grail was now heading in a much more traditionally English mystical direction. At the time, in the early 1970s, it was impossible to separate Arthurian legend from a relatively passive and laid back hippy life-style. Revolutionary critique didn't enter into the fray, but neither did historical accuracy. The search for the grail in England or Wales had none of the resonance of similar quests in Europe in the early middle ages, a search that enmeshed with messianic peasant revolts of extreme radicalism in terms of a collective sexuality and often involving the abolition of property. True, there was much tabooed sexual transgression in the Arthurian legends, but this wasn't (and still isn't) emphasised. Rather the emphasis is upon that elite band of knights which through their quest bring about a realm of truth and beauty. Chris Gray at the end of his Leaving the 20th Century infamously compares Debord, Vaneigem et al to a kind of new Round Table.
In truth it would have been more appropriate if you really wanted to communicate through past references if Arthurian legend had been side-lined in favour of the Peasants Revolt of 1381, Robin Hood, the plasterers revolt during the reign of Henry the Eight and what have you, though to be fair these scenes had been mulled over by traditional leftists, though not in an inspiring way. It wouldn't have taken much to have written a kind of docu-polemic on the Peasants Revolt emphasizing some remarkable facts, like grinding down all gold to make it worthless, facts which are usually overlooked in pedestrian histories. In a sense though, Chris Gray at this moment was no longer in the hippy embrace but was on the cusp of new ageism harking back to more pagan times where simple revolts of the oppressed didn't figure. However for Chris Gray, the countryside was still a play area to be endlessly disrupted and he'd embark on many a walk in the Lake District (where else?) deliberately leaving farmer's gates wide open.
Although a critique of The Situationist International had become necessary Leaving the 20th Century was only symptomatic of this malaise providing no indications of a way out. In retrospect, it was probably at the time impossible to conceive of such a thing, seeing we were only beginning to experience the sheer enormity of the defeat. Consider two of Chris Gray's statements from this publication which nonetheless were to have quite an impact on a younger generation heading towards careers via a recuperation reinstating old world specialisms (the artistic / entrepreneurial activities of Suburban Press who helped produce the Leaving the 20th Century booklet plus a future Punk Rock). "What was basically wrong with the SI was that it focused exclusively on an intellectual critique of society. There was no concern with either the emotions or the body"...."After their initial period, creativity, apart from its intellectual forms, was denied expression." But is it possible to say that the original Situationist critique was intellectual like that? They thought - and thought accurately – but it was essentially anchored in an everyday life resolutely refusing professional roles, particularly that of any paid-up intellectual, artist, sociologist or politico. Crisp thought and emotional experience came from the essence of that refusal predicated on the social space you inhabited marking that refusal! Believe us, sex and personal relationships (plus the serious absences which now multiply here through the sheer onslaught of the commodity directed against basic survival communities) are very different on this terrain than those mediated on selection by status. As for the second italicised sentence, it seems like a coded plea hiding behind the loony castle, weird costume and provocative street displays, like a back door appeal for the reinstatement of art. Chris Gray wanted to bring all of this together in a campaign for a total revolution demonstrating the possibility of life, "simultaneous with the creation of mass therapy".
The therapy isn't defined (what was it; bashing cushions, screaming, endless narcissistic me, me, me, splurges?), but everyone at the time who had been involved in the "movement" in no matter how half-arsed way, knew now the pain inside as consequence of sheer defeat, or at the very least as the closure of all subjective hopes for a fulfilled everyday life. If we hadn't been united in our assault, we certainly were united in our grief! It's difficult though to know in practice how such a therapy could have worked and just how could it have been different from the pandemic of a banal, dumb-fuck counseling that later was to appear as a placebo, achieving at times, pseudo-collectivity through the manipulations of periodic mass market grief fests like that for the obnoxious Lady Di in 1997. Soon after the Free Fall publication, Chris Gray found therapy through that pseudo-mystic, the Bagwash, a solution, which was merely a talking/touching/fuck-in for those with economic clout and without relevance to those at the sharp end who couldn't afford it. He goes on to say that the American and English Situationists wanted, "political subversion and individual "therapy" to converge in an uninterrupted everyday activity". Well, did they? Despite being freaked out, somewhat crazy and depressed there wasn't that much recourse to therapy. Some did but there was a certain pride in refusing to give in to such palliatives, knowing full well Freud's rueful skepticism on this crucial point. Rightly so considering how the therapy industry was to colonise society's mores over the next 30 years in an attempt to make us adjust to an increasingly insane society and where even the cops were to become therapists.
Although Ron Hunt, even during the late 1960s would have objected to be referred to as an associate of King Mob, nonetheless the link was there. Enough has been said about his influence in Newcastle, which was profound but what happened to him afterwards? In many respects throughout the King Mob ferment, he was to write some of the most balanced and intelligent leaflets and commentaries. The Brigitte Bardot interview was his, as was a contribution called: The Great Communications Breakdown, a previously mentioned text still retaining its original merit. Ron though was to become increasingly bitter, pushing him in a reactionary direction. Even during the apocalyptic times of the late 1960s, he wasn't too enamoured of the Situationist critique, although he went along with it as his intelligence was too keen not to recognize its inherent truth. Having hailed from a working-class background in his teens working in aircraft factories in Bristol and later with a family to support, Ron was understandably hesitant. Despite all the deepening conflicts within Icteric, he'd wanted the group and magazine to continue, cynically hoping perhaps some research job could come out of it. Maybe Troels Anderson, the hip director of the Moderna Musset in Stockholm might employ him? Possibly through the effect of Icteric, Ron gained sufficient prestige to host a superior Descent into the Street which was staged in the Stockholm Museum in 1969. The exhibition turned into a display of various reconstructions made in Newcastle like Malevich's Suprematist coffin which Malevich was buried in at Vitebsk, Tatlin's Ornithopter, plus fresh photo-montages illustrating visually the Surrealist schemes for the re-construction of Paris which interestingly the psychogeographers of 1950s Paris had rightly objected to because they merely presumed to alter the face of things architecturally, when it was the ambience / potential existing in present day reality that really mattered. Nonetheless, the exhibition was OK as history, particularly as most of the catalogue was in English. Although Anselm Jappe in his book on Debord mentions the exhibition's "excellent iconography" – which was true enough – he fails to point out its essential feature: recuperation. It's perhaps worth quoting at length some of Ron Hunt's introduction here as it is well put, if a little tepid (befitting the mode of recuperation) and in contrast to the often somewhat crazy histrionics of King Mob. (It is in fact part of the web, Lost Ones around King Mob on the RAP [Revolt Against Plenty] web).
Ron Hunt finally did take his cue from such recuperation. He was to dislike even more intensely the growing Situationist lucidity and refusal to take up cadre roles; explicitly saying he, "couldn't go a long with that worker thing" penciling such sentiment in a greeting card form with the comment, "militant self-sacrifice can be ideological as well as head-bashing for a cause." As if it was that simple, considering the critique of the modern cadre didn't by any means necessarily mean adopting a self-conscious worker role in order to make some point. Nonetheless, Ron moved up the ladder from librarian to college lecturer and there he stayed put, getting more jaundiced by the second (remember Icteric meant "jaundice as well as a cure for jaundice") as he failed to get anywhere in terms of a name in lights which it seems he'd wanted so much. Obviously he had to get out of Newcastle, as he knew he'd be severely punished as one of the instigators of a more general rebellion. He was however able to survive for a while on scholarships with many a willing reference from recuperators high up in European art establishments. However, in a kind of lacunae before hard-headed career choices had to be made, Ron Hunt wrote a book on the history of modernism and the cultural avant-garde which was never published, though not through want of trying. Again recuperative, it was however way better than the ultra safety shot of T J Clark's, The Absolute Bourgeois published by an equally ultra safe, Phaidon Press around the same time, nay somewhat earlier. Knowing it was mealy-mouthed in comparison to his own effort, the book infuriated Ron Hunt, causing him to exclaim a little nervously that, "Clark needs a rap across the knuckles". Recuperators at war with recuperators, Ron Hunt being much more incisive and plain speaking than Sir Tim.
Moreover, unlike TJ, though from the same neck of the woods in the south west of England, Ron Hunt was from the wrong class and that really mattered in an England where thought is really only supposed to emanate from one class of person. However, if Ron had pushed harder, he probably could have got his book published in perhaps Sweden, Canada or the States. If not, he could have made 50 or so reasonably presentable photocopies and no doubt something would have come of it. Most likely he lost his nerve. Feeling reaction on his skin – and what sensitive person didn't – he hunkered down under possibly thinking publishing such a text in the looming Thatcherite epoch would no longer be a choice career move. After the defeat of the 1960s, Ron became very conscious of safety shots, bitterly retiring into obscurity and full of bile comments towards his former comrades, more or less blaming them for what he regarded as his demise, tending to cultivate the more right wing of local art establishments, fearing the sack, economic impoverishment and the wife fucking off. To top it all and after all he'd said and done in the years of youthful exuberance, he embarked on the pursuit of easel painter!