The Forgotten Flower Power Band From The London Underground – The First Psychedelic Jugband ?
“1967 was a remarkable year, for many reasons.Records that would now probably achieve only cult status, were Top of the Pops.There was a feeling that audiences were open to anything.A record that achieved true “cult” status that year was a surprising mix of Cheshire jugband and London hippy sub-culture-“GRANNY TAKES A TRIP” by THE PURPLE GANG. I produced it the same week as PINK FLOYD`s “ARNOLD LAYNE”-one night later. The two seemed part of the same world then, despite the vastly different careers that subsequently opened up for the two groups.At UFO, the crowd would cheer whenever it came on and start dancing madly to psychedelic lights.THE PURPLE GANG were an eccentric collection of talents, who have gone on to a variety of interesting careers.The London scene was greatly enriched that summer of `67 by their contribution.“
“They can have No.2 and we`ll have No.1”..Syd Barrett to Joe Boyd on hearing “Granny” in Sound Techniques, Old Church St. Chelsea.
My name is Chris/Joe Beard and I am the founder/spokesperson/leader/custodian- of- archive/guitarist/co-songwriter/lyricist and torchbearer for the above-named band.Here is the main background to our story, which, if I have my way,is not over by any means yet…though the main emphasis in this version, is towards THE PSYCHEDELIC YEARS …`66 `67 `68
Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Fun
The Purple Gang were allegedly from California, Chicago, London, Birmingham and Liverpool and also Manchester. None of this was true, just speculation because of our rare sightings and sudden disappearance…neither of which the band had much control over.We were actually formed by myself in Stockport Art College, Cheshire, England in the winter of 1965/66.
I had been to St.Ives in Cornwall that summer and hung out with some musos from the London area I wanted to be in a band for years having met Ringo Starr years before in The Rock & Calypso Ballroom at Butlins,Pwthelli, N.Wales (I wore my “Lucky Ringo Socks” at “Granny Takes A Trip” recording,…at the 14 Hr.Technicolour Dream ..and when I got married!! I also had my first ad hoc guitar lesson from John Mayall in 1963 before a local gig of his, in our shared village in N.E. Cheshire.His house was also on my butchery-boy delivery round.-.on which I began the famous lyric to “Granny”
People in bands first are fans!.I was always hanging around bands, but I guess most budding musos are like this anyway…”money for nothin` an` yer chicks for free”
I met Gene Vincent once..and Joe Brown….and I booked Cyril Davies All Stars/ featuring Long John Baldry and The Velvettes for my school dance one night after following John Mayall into Manchester to see Alexis Koerner Band..(.Gene Vincent`s daughter Sherry lives nearby and has promised to sing “Be Bop A Lula” with Purple Gang ..anytime soon . )
But as the British R&B boom cooled down a touch,I discovered JUGBAND MUSIC and being a poor art student ,I thought here was my chance to get out there and PLAY.
I formed a band by asking Peter Walker, who I had re-met down in St. Ives…when he was temporarily working as a gravedigger(…a suitable blues-singer apprenticeship?)….as I was told he liked singing blues at college.He brought in his mate Gerry Robinson on harmonica and I then asked the comical extrovert Geoff Bowyer to add washboard/piano and then Ank Langley on jug .I bought a guitar( with my college fees) and we practised after college in whatever room we could find empty.The jug was made for us and fired in the Pottery Dept.
We started out in the folk/blues scene and did some weird gigs****and then an eccentric friend of ours called Gordon Aldred (half-mast elephant-cord. trousers,smock,bowler-hat,posh oxford accent and Frankenstein impersonations) suggested we did a demo-tape and he would hawk it round Tin Pan Alley.
He would come back cursing “the damn Philistines” after being rejected as not commercial enough etc… One night during rehearsal he came in whittering -on about something and nothing for ages..and turned on heel to walk out saying “Well I`m off to a séance now”and left the room.We all looked at one another vacantly… then he popped his head around the door saying quite blandly “Oh..by the way……..we`ve got a recording contract.!!”
The uproar was deafening, with screaming and shouting/drumming fists on desks and general mayhem..bringing the old caretaker “Bees Knees” running down the corridor. He found himself in an impromptu knees-up with “THE YOUNG CONTEMPORARIES JUGBAND” as we called ourselves then.
So off to London town we went ,on the bus, with our “gear,”to an appointment with destiny…and Nat Joseph of pioneering folk/blues label TRANSATLANTIC.
BUT first we made our debut London performance in St.James`Park nearby Buck.Palace when we drew a bigger crowd than The Coldstream Guards not far away in the Bandstand(lyric for Auntie Monica comes from this)Sat in a deck chair semi-circle with Pete blowing his “Hornazoo”the tourists quickly became a crowd until we were arrested by the “Fuzz”and ejected to boos from the crowd…plenty of photos taken.My only ID was my “Screaming” Lord Sutch.fanclub members card (I was No.9 member) We were cautioned and names taken (“William Broonzy /JohnEstes” etc ).
At Transatlantic.. Sheila (Elton John`s producer, Gus Dudgeon`s wife) Gudgeon made us a welcome drink and I sarcastically commented about the wino outside,who we had seen sliding down the wall and pissing his pants ” Who`s that you`ve signed up now?” This was met with stony silence, but I could see the band were suppressing laughter, whilst praying I had not blown it for us.
Nat took to us and praised my lyrics but said we should do more of our own stuff and my guitar playing must improve..touchee.The next day he brought in a young American called JOE BOYD to meet us who he thought may be a possible Producer for us ., as JOE was connected to USA jugband people, “Lovin` Spoonful” “Jim Kweskin” and worked with Elektra Records and was a general music man about town.BUT…he was involved with the new “Happening” scene and was also commisioned to produce a debut single for a band down from Cambridge now calling themselves THE PINK FLOYD
It was instantly agreed by all that our daft name had to go and what`s more it should be colourful and relating to the Roarin`20`s NO CONTEST It had to be “THE PURPLE GANG”(Detroit murder squad and ELVIS would always sing the name forever in “Jailhouse Rock…” as Joe quickly pointed out) BUT .horror- of- horrors.the long hair would have to be cut, to go with a “gangster” image.(our first big managerial mistake) Gerry, Pete and Ank had longer hair than the “STONES” so were mortified.But Joe pointed out that if we wanted to stand out in the London hip scene it might not be such a terrible thing.We all reluctantly agreed.Gerry lost all his strength.!
We performed for Nat and Joe an acoustic set in the back room and Nat and Joe went off to discuss matters, leaving us to polish off Nat`s whisky(gangster act of petty larceny) We could see Joe liked us by the big boyish grin on his face during our songs But we were pleased to hear that he also was to be our MANAGER( as well as PRODUCER) when they returned (hoping for a slug of single malt).
Gordon was to be tour/road manager and we would have to get a van (Nat Joseph never offered to buy it…I noted) There was no mention of where we would all stay/sleep…a minor detail when you are young/immortal and about to become stars. A van would become our home on wheels later****(thanks Transatlantic !)
That week Joe took us off to meet THE FLOYD down at the ” Marquee”in Soho And it was all polite intros, “good luck” and “where you from?” sort of thing.Syd liked jugband stuff and I could see he was interested in “Lucifer” as we called Pete.
The dressing room was getting crowded, so we gave our goodbyes and went out to stand near the bar on the right. I was pleased this was going to be an “arty” band, when I saw the light-show /oil- wheel set-up,as we had wondered about how to incorporate paintings or art into our shows..but we had gone down a light-hearted/tongue-in-cheek goodtime route-as jugbands tend to.
The lights went down and I walked to the front of the stage grinning at Syd ,but he`d got into “mode”and was concentrating.The place wasn`t packed as this was all new-ish stuff and they launched into Astronomy Domine (I think) .Before they started though, I remember the red amp pilot-lights (or LEDS now) twinkling like stars and then the first oil-wheel coloured blobs dancing into action over the guys and Nicky`s drums.We were all thrilled with it and thought “YEAH, THIS IS GOOD BRAVE STUFF”good on` yer guys .But oh we were jealous of that EQUIPMENT.
Later on we returned to play the “Marquee” ourselves and I met up with Long John Baldry once more in the dressing room, who told me John (Mayall) was getting really famous now.I thought wow I hope I can make it as well…(.two from the same little Village at the cutting edge of it all) I met a young dark-haired guy in there in the dressing room called Steve Adams and he let me have a go on his beautiful “Black Box”GIBSON…..he let me tune-it in for him as his hands were shaking(after all he was going on solo as compere)He did OK and was signed up after that gig.His song “I LOVE MY DOG” was haunting that night and we all congratulated the young “CAT STEVENS”.to be.
Another night at the Marquee I was really upset because I`d broke a string /we were off-form/didn`t go down as good as usual (we were never billed on the posters as we were being groomed by Transatlantic…so we played for no money.Thanks Transatlantic.) and I was a bit inhibited by Al Stewart`s flash guitar work..in the extreme.Also the famous London street- singer Meg Aikman arrived brought in by Alexis Korner….she was amazing.I was sat in the dressing room despondant -and tearful Shegave me a big bearhug / encouraging praise and general keep- your- chin-up pep-talk.At the end she whispered to me”and don`t you never let on that I told you I was from Cheshire too…not London….it`s all a game sweetheart ..we`re all in a game…keep playing it.”she winked…(.thanks Meg wherever you`re singing now….maybe for St.Peter?)
Granny Takes A Trip
The arrogance of the small town jugband from Cheshire,to appear in the heart of the inner sanctum of the trippy Underground..with short hair ,in gangster suits,SMILING on stage with next to no equipment,was breathtaking in the extreme.But as Joe Boyd puts it “audiences were open to anything then”People were beginning to like us/talk ****about us.(the manager of the MOVE sent a letter of complaint saying we were plagiarising their new gangster image..and was considering suing…..we replied “Go ahead”and heard no more.
I had previously seen an old lady back home getting into an old Rolls,with her chauffeur loading her cases and I hoped to get something like this into a song. Maybe to do with Silent Movies or something. I had scribbled some rubbish down on meat wrapping paper on my delivery round (on which was the Mayall`s)…”no more sad songs for me….when I get me across the sea…gonna dance with Rudi Vallee” sort of garbage…so when Joe took us down to the World`s End in Chelsea to meet Nigel Waymouth and Michael English in their new boutique “Granny Takes A Trip”We went back there to do our publicity shoot for the record company and PAUL McCARTNEY turned up to buy a dress for Jane Asher and stayed around to watch .-much hero worship from Purple Gang. Also Patti Boyd was waiting outside..
The song title was all there waiting.-.fate if you like.The shop front fitted our image and it just had to be written.It was one of those fateful coincidences in retrospect.
After more appearences/adventures we got back home to our base, which was by now an ancient tiny pub in Macclesfield.,where our friends/followers used to hang out playing guitars and all that 60`s stuff.Geoff and I were songwriters by now and on the way home from the pub he got this really fast tune going in his head.He got on the piano and gave it a few goes(we couldn`t write notation) until Fred, his Dad kicked him off to bed. Next day I was round to help with the rest of it (Intro/Middle etc.) and of course I suggested “Granny Takes A Trip”. It was written straight away then..no problem…about THAT old lady going to Hollywood.We rang Joe and he checked with Nigel about us doing it….no problem at all, in fact they were delighted
We knew what a “trip” could be,but we never thought it would be offensive or outrageous(and when your lead singer is a witch.****.not much else seems outrageous!)
Nat Joseph sent Joe up in his old Humber “Snipe”- which he abandoned in S.Cheshire when it blew up- and he arrived by train to hear “Granny”.He thought it was great BUT the band wanted “Bootleg Whiskey” as the single.Joe pointed out that the hippies were going to become influential to popular taste and we all really belonged to what would be termed “The Underground”..even as a jugband…(“the two seemed part of the same world back then..”..Joe Boyd 1998) And besides Transatlantic were going to launch their new “pop”label BIG T with us and this “Granny”song.So it was agreed Joe Boyd would launch his new discoveries THE PURPLE GANG with “GRANNY TAKES A TRIP”. It went in the music papers and all the Underground had another release to look forward to along with PINK FLOYD`s.
We went into UFO, this club Joe was running on Tottenham Court Rd.and met THE FLOYD again.This time they were in their own environment and we all enjoyed the night.They said they were in the studios the day after us but hadn`t got the right record deal and had got backing to do their own thing….the record deal would come later.
My heart sank when I realised we had signed up to a label first without any advance to us or much muscle………but…….as a jugband we had already come thus far, so what the hell.But their way was the best way in the long run.When I heard that the title was ARNOLD LAYNE….I fell about laughing as I was at school with a kid called ARNOLD BLAYNE..Syd said “Man you`re kidding?”..but it`s true..he`s still alive But does NOT RAID LADIES WASHING LINES OK.???
We went into SOUND TECHNIQUES Old Church St. Chelsea early in `67, which was a converted slaughter-house..The control booth was high up some stairs and we trooped up to meet John Wood and assistant Jerry.(Woody was very interested in what Walker got up to at his coven..but didn`t get any info.) .thankfully.
We were a tight band,confident and well played-in.Piano/guitar/mandolin/jug went down in 5 takes.Next..harmonica and washboard and it was adjournment-time to the pub opposite for lunch.I got into conversation and a round with Rodney Bewes (one of the”Likely Lads”….big TV stars then.He was up for putting kazoo down on Granny but some mates took him off somewhere .A pity….that would have been good .Walker finished his vocals and Kazoo and it was all done in 5 hours.It went like a blur…so fast….but so does the track.
I believe the same night FLOYD heard it in there and Syd reckoned “Granny” would be kept off the No.1 spot by….”Arnold Layne” (from JOE BOYD/quote)
The next day we were in there mixing when Joe/John played us ARNOLD through the big speakers.We were speechless at the work not only the FLOYD had done but also BOYD/WOOD…….the intro and the organ blew me away.Surely our effort was paltry alongside this wall of beautiful noise?But Joe said we had both captured something unique in those few hours…..vastly differing sounds…but both unique.
And filled with an ambience of something coming along- that was later to be recognised as the springtime of “the summer of love”
BOON TUNE .At this point in time ,Syd Barrett and Joe thought of a follow-up to “GRANNY”-a Syd song called “BOON TUNE” and theGANG were going to learn it off a tape that Syd sent via Joe In one of those haphazard ways it incredibly got overlooked and Joe mislaid the tape…. so it never happened .And also Nat Joseph discouraged us from getting involved with other songs/publishing —With hindsight it should have been done- BUT 34 YEARS ON I decide we shall do it on next CD as I have found the song on an old tape.It is now available on “MADCAP LAUGHS” as “HERE I GO”.
UFO was Joe and his friend John Hopkins`( “Hoppy”) new venture on Tottenham Court Rd..moving on from some other place I think might have been the “Arts Lab”. Or something similar,where FLOYD had begun to properly evolve.It quickly was becoming the epicentre of the new MOVEMENT and we returned with Joe un-billed again so he could show off his new protogees.I think we appeared 3 times at UFO but I am unclear as to whether or not we were billed on the posters..it was all a bit ad hoc and haphazard.We were in the legendary Jane Easton Agency by now and I don`t think Joe wanted to spoil our chances by double-booking etc.When I say that in this agency were THE ROLLING STONES…JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE….THE YARDBIRDS……………and us……you`ll see what I mean.We had met Mick, Keith and also the quietly spoken Jimi at the offices briefly..even discussing the (Vietnam) war.We were known around town now and we were in there with it all…. Jugband or not “it all seemed the same back then”.So down to UFO we returned.
Last time the FLOYD were there ,this time it was TOMORROW. We went on in the middle and I remember leaning on an old battered grand piano to stop me falling down.Joe had simply held a mike and introduced us whilst pulling the curtain back.
The silence was terrifying as the UFO crowd weighed -up this short-haired jugband outfit.After they heard our sound and saw Geoff`s antics behind on washboard, all seemed to go ok, until Lucifer and Ank drew out two starting pistols and fired over their heads .There were screams as some people hit the floor but then everyone realised this was UFO…and well…just DIG it.We went in to the Wizard and the light show helped the creepy atmosphere….there was even a revolving mirror ball….Ank kicked at me a few times to get me out of my “trance” and motioned towards the side curtain during our next number (an old jugband blues).Jimi was there playing TOMORROW`s (Juniors`s) bass leaning against the wall, sort of helping out the struggling- to- be- heard jug.It wouldn`t be plugged in I suppose,but it was a nice memory. He played with Tomorrow later while we went off to another gig.
UFO used to be an Irish club, called “The Blarney”,but it was now painted up all freaky and psychedelic.I remember the stairs down into the club were all garish day-glo colours.The pong of incense and hash used to waft up the stairs -plus body heat-onto the street-where hippies were always milling around-doing hippy things.I remember there were usually “Mods” lurking around but “Hoppy” let them in eventually and things were ok/cool ..peace man.There were “Idiot”dancers usually stripped to the waist ,body-painted with long flailing hair and waving arms.Even PURPLE GANG had those. One guy I called “The Sheep”(because he was so hairy,blonde and predictable- always danced to us.I even noticed him at ALLY PALLY down in the crowd.Then there was Suzy “Creamcheese” who danced erotically stageside.Hoppy (who played piano on our track “BOOTLEG WHISKEY”) married her to get her in as a British Citizen.There were cartoons/art films/silent movies/stoned/tripping/famous/sloanish/infamous/not famous/revolutionary/people down there and that is before the rock musicians arrived to swell the numbers.
“RAINY DAY WOMEN Nos.12 &13” was a fave track on the desk amongst others including our “Granny”.THEY could dance to it ok. Down there in the UFO was not like other venues, it had a “presence”..the hippies were stylish, not scruffy grubby dossers as the media sometimes portray.
One night you had “SOFT MACHINE”, but another you would be seeing “BONZO DOG DOO DAH BAND”! I saw the lunatic “BONZOS there and witnessed SAM SPOON`S infamous solo on electric trouser press—now that WAS a freak-out.
“14 HOUR.TECHNICOLOUR DREAM…SAT.APRIL 29 1967 ALEXANDRA PALACE…..INTERNATIONAL TIMES BENEFIT
The View From The (organ-end) Stage
Through the smokey spotlights,strobes and beyond the heads/ sea of faces- I could make out ,to my left-a helter -skelter which we went on later.I got a nice smile off Julie Felix, who was stood with David Frost to the right.The noise around the cavernous place was at first intimidating, but then uplifting at the same time.This was from having two stages at either end of the venue going hell-for-leather to accommodate all the bands/happenings due to partake in The Underground`s coming-out party(…to help the harassed IT editor (and UFO co-organiser)”Hoppy”).
We eased into our new psychedelic dirge “Sing Me The Word Called Love”.This time we had a drummer, who was with us to help out on a couple of tracks.over at SOUND Techniques.Unfortunately he was also out of his tree and instead of using beaters on the tom-toms- as rehearsed- he sort of went “Uuurrgh-aahg yeeee” and stared at me in a demented manner.Before I collapsed with laughter we were saved by “Lucifer”( our vocalist) creeping forward from rear-stage, adorned in scarlet and black satanic robes,shades,sandals(!), with his jaw violently rocking from side to side, in a drug -induced spasm.People thought he was chanting some obscure ancient oath (See MILES` book) but it was his pills.I was definitely relieved that he was not wearing the black hood (as threatened to Joe Boyd) but amused by the sandals and shades.
I spotted “Sheep” and some UFO faces/afros and began to enjoy it. The Wizard went well in it`s usual goth. way and Geoff got on piano for our goodtime numbers like Auntie Monica.He had been on washboard- complete with it`s cymbal,cow-bell and block—he was in a dinner-jacket,beret and T shirt.I was absurdly dressed in bottle-green crushed velvet flares,silver shirt,purple suede boots and a double-breasted gangster jacket.What a mess we must have looked…..but it all didn`t seem to bother anyone.”GRANNY TAKES A TRIP” was called for by the UFO section and we duly delivered—-I was pleased to see more people surging towards our stage.Then.I think we came back to do it again but it was all over in no time-and the next band awaiting behind.
I got into the dressing room and there was John Mayall(plus lots of even more famous people).I reminded him of home and the old days and had a chat about my band/plans.etc.Denny Laine came and sat with me and was playing some new song he was writing and the rest was a blur of well-known facesJoe and Hoppy were well pleased with us and there was talk of Hoppy going on the organ with it`s mighty pipes/later.
ANK our jug player arrived with the the two hippie chicks from the stageside, who had been throwing things at us and larking around with us during our set.We then heard John Lennon was around outside but couldn`t get in without being mobbed.When he didn`t show, we all went to go on the helter-skelter.On there I got a great view of the whole scene and it was bloody fantastic -then I got pushed and slid down.Half-way down I spotted Lennon and entourage in Yoko Ono`s area(she had a model called Valerie.sat on a stool(naked) wearing cellophane.You were given scissors to cut off cellophane and expose the exposed Valerie….a feminist statement/happening) I walked towards my hero, but so did everyone else, so off he went(he”split the joint” man) out to de-camp in the park…in the trees,for a smoke.
There was an igloo filled with bananas,Arthur Brown hung from a small crane made a fiery entrance and I saw loads of bands /happenings and public love-making for real.
We also went outside for a smoke and sat a respectful distance away from John and then I went to check our van window.We had been stopped on Oxford street that afternoon in our Purple Gang van, by loads of hippies ,who were hanging onto the sides and all over us ..”Granny “band was getting famous (Jane Easton agency PR machine at work.) I had damaged the window trying to wind it up while someone was hanging on to it.
I stuck around to the end to wait for the PINK FLOYD who were late coming over from Holland I think,or Rotterdam.It was getting towards the end of the night (but not the gig) and I wanted to get my spot- so I sat down with a few others in a meditation group. I can, 34 years on, still smell the dusty floorboards/the hash/incense/body odour and hear that big-hall reverby,crowd-din and swirling band noise/drum crashes.
The Floyd roadies began to get the gear organised and the light show people took over.The dawn was at the gates and everyone was getting a bit tired now and shouting for the band to get their asses on stage.On they eventually trooped looking unhappy I thought.a bit of tenseness there( I was glad we`d gone on earlier so we could enjoy the gig)The shafts of dawn light were now beaming through the high windows and were caught and reflected back off Syd`s mirror/effect guitar.But something was not right and Syd was not up to it ..just sort of standing there out of his tree I suspected.(We had been warned off acid by one of our friends who we had visited in a mental hospital.He was found naked in a lift with a sword later.He made us promise not to take the stuff when we hit London…..and beside ..we were weird enough)
It seemed apparent that the FLOYD were allowing for this as ROGER seemed to take over.I admired him for this and was not happy that Syd had now drifted off. Can`t remember what they played but it would be the set of the time.
There was a guy eventually who had climbed up the great organ-pipes and then up to the ledge-HIGH UP where the walls met the roof.”Hoppy” who had just played the organ(Bach) got a mike and talked the silly bugger down eventually..”It would be really..like not cool man if you were to stop the gig by killing yourself”..to great applause.
Eventually after another hour of finding everyone.we drove off back to JOE`S and crashed down after(as usual) tip- toeing around the debris of exotic and fragile instruments left on the floor by the INCREDIBLE STRING BAND who were touring. (we always had to avoid these instruments-a bloody nuisance!!)
“GRANNY TAKES A TRIP” was coming out and we were going to be famous…BUT….OH NO….
Careful With That Axe You Beeb
We were booked for “Juke Box Jury”/”Top Of The Pops”/SIRE records were going to put out our LP in the USA/BARCLAY records covered “Granny” in France and the pirate dj`s backed us especially JOHN PEEL…..”PURPLE HAZE” came out the same week…and we thought we were on our way.I learned later that Pete Jenner had bought in/hyped “ARNOLD LAYNE ” sales to ensure it`s charting position and subsequent TOTP appearance.Brian Epstein had even had to resort to these shady tactics years before for “Love Me Do. Such was the two-faced state-run so called “popular charts”
ARNOLD LAYNE escaped the censor`s net ,so did PURPLE HAZE but not GRANNY TAKES A TRIP.A BBC letter arrived at Transatlantic records castigating the record/group and company for “attempting to corrupt the nation`s youth. The PURPLE GANG having a self-confessed witch as a singer will not be tolerated by any decent society either”
We were to be the scapegoats and the song was about acid .We were banned and all Big things planned were dropped overnight.USA got cold feet and at the 11th.hour stopped all promotion.The pirates were all closed down and the dj`s re-hired for the state-run crappy RADIO 1.…….welcome Tony Blackburn and co.
THE PURPLE GANG STORY DOES NOT END HERE .THERE IS AN ALBUM TO DO…A PURPLE GANG2 WILL ARRIVE AND GIG WITH BOWIE/LOVE/BEEFHEART/BOLAN/MOVE/KINKS and a host of others.A connection with Liverpool and lots of adventures to follow. There will be a gap of 34 years THEN IT ALL WILL BEGIN AGAIN.
BUT THERE WILL NEVER BE ANYTHING QUITE LIKE SUMMER 1967 AGAIN —-DOWN IN THE UNDERGROUND OF PSYCHEDELIC LONDON.
A VAN FOR ALL SEASONS
PSYCHEDELIC LONDON ACCOMODATION FOR THE PURPLE GANG
Hotel wrecking by some `60`s bands are the stuff of legend, but our hotel WAS a wreck,and it was on wheels.Purple Gang never stayed in hotels.We were expected to fend for ourselves by our over-generous record company.. in a bid to toughen us up for stardom..no doubt in the Bankruptcy courts later.We lived as travellers in our legendary van..
As Geoff Bowyer (piano/washboard/vocal/kazoo/lunacy)says in 1997-
“My fondest memories were of my life in the van travelling the M1 and the new M6 in all weathers, along with dozens of other bands in other vans, all on Safari for a recording contract and that perfect college gig. Because our electrical equipment consisted of only one microphone and a small amp (that resembled a sewing machine case) it meant that there was room in the van to sleep five insane young men.At night though ,the mandolin, guitar, washboard and jug slept in the cab covered over with coats…not to keep them warm,but to stop them giving the game away that the soon -to-be- famous five were asleep in the back.We`d basically sleep where we ran out of petrol-places like Regents Park,Hampstead Heath,Cheyne Walk…even The Mall.
In the morning we would queue outside public baths waiting for them to open or outside public toilets with our towels, soap and toothbrushes..to freshen up.These times of what others would find an unbearable existence I found highly amusing-and much better than being in a job or being an Archbishop…but it did remind me of an extremely cramped, smelly,hardware shop on wheels.”…JOE BEARD
The first van we had was a THAMES TRADER 12 cwt.which had two large jugs painted on the sides ,so we must have had the appearance of being paraffin salesmen ,which might explain the occasional queue of strange types with cans asking us”how much a gallon?”I think it was pale blue in colour originally,but eventually had flowers and posters pasted along it.Most would be collectable `60`s memorabilia now..had they survived.
In Spring1966 I went along to a local foam factory and managed to scrounge some foam sheets which I cut to shape to line the inside of the van…I put 3 layers down.Now it was a hotel on wheels.We would sleep in the van as we (and it seems our record company) ,had no finances for anything better.The attitude then was “think yourselves lucky we gave you a contract and brought you to London……now look after your selves”…so we did.We made the most of it and when the gangster suits arrived around Xmas `66, we hung them around the inside on coathangers.
The two smallest in stature were forced to sleep at the back ,horizontally between the wheel arches and we other three,lengthways at the front section.The instruments went in the cab.At the time it reminded me of those dreadful slaveship plans you would see in history books.
So, at night,parked near a gig or in a London park or alley ,the van would be inconspicuous to Old Bill..but generally they were OK with us and let us continue as long as we kept our heads down.With the instruments tucked away in the cab, under coats and the suits hanging around the sides it got quite warm in winter…..but the condensation was bad.We even had to wipe the suits down in the cool mornings.
Once we were woken up after a foggy night (where we had just stopped and turned in for the night )by a cavalry officer, in full regalia (on horseback) ,who drily pointed out that we were in The MALL and in danger of being arrested as Her Majesty was due in about 20 mins.It was so foggy the previous night we had not realised where we were.
At night ,before we slept, sometimes we would play and sing quietly( if we were in a good mood and a lot of the time we were.)Gerry would play harmonica and me guitar.Jug and washboard were rested though…hardly lullaby instuments.Sometimes we just sang , old songs we`d heard in earlier folk scene days,maybe early Dylan or blues or even old Scottish ballads like “The Water Is Wide”.A favourite was “Ain`t no more cane on the Brasssos” which The Band eventually covered ,but we learned it from “Duster” Bennet.
To listen to music whilst travelling ,we had a Decca transistor radio ,operated by batteries, which lived in the cab window.Occasionally you would get a decent song coming off the BBC Light Programme like a Beatles or even Dusty Springfield.We liked all sorts of stuff apart from blues and jugband,(which you would never hear)..any good song really.One number we learned this way was Ramsay Lewis` “In Crowd” which went in the set later.
THE LUNATICS ARE IN THE VAN
Unfortunately,the first van came to an untimely end around midnight Nov 26 1966. It had been my 21st birthday bash ,back at home in the local pub,with relatives and friends ..and I had got drunk.My friends had left to go on to another party and I was a bit envious.Relatives were great ,but to a young guy..mates were better. Briefly, I found the van keys and drove off to this farm to join in ,but only made it a mile down a country lane..when a telegraph pole jumped out and assaulted the van.I woke up looking at the stars( on my back without shoes and a splitting headache)I could hear whirring,steam hissing and realised the van was wrapped around the telegraph pole.The pole was where I had been sitting and it looked like the van had eaten it.I couldn`t move for a while, nothing worked ,but slowly I got up and staggered back to the van and switched lights and ignition off.Walking unsteadily to the nearest house,I rang the bell and waited in the darkness until the disturbed occupant slowly opened the door .Dressed in pyjamas ,he found one of the world`s first psychedelic gangsters, slumped in the porch with a bloody face ,asking for help.I wanted to say that Elliot Ness and The Untouchables had intervened to stop a vital “hooch” run -but it seemed more appropriate to ask for a cup of tea and a telephone.The guy got in touch with my long suffering old man, who took me off to hospital.The charge nurse insisted I did not have a cracked skull, but a cracked personality instead and should clear off home.
I was lucky to survive and the Goddess of jugbands ,Viola Lee herself,must have given me a lucky break.Today, this would have been a criminal offence (rightly so )but in those days the local copper,”Nobby Clarke” got me out of trouble -as long as I forked out £32 to have the pole replaced.My pole is still there.
The next morning one of our friends (the one who had suggested our new name “Purple Gang”..and who himself lived in a perpetual world of the “Roarin`2O`s )was passing by in his trilby hat and greatcoat (he was then 21 years old )..stopped and on seeing the van parked outside my parents ,on the grass verge, realised I had to have been killed,no-one could have survived that impact. Wonderfully, he took his hat off and stood to attention for several minutes, ( in a W.C.Fields type grand gesture of respect for the dead) then crossed himself and began to slowly walk away,head bowed.I banged on the window and waved ,eventually attracting his attention.He looked back to see the ghost of his old mate at the window and ran off.Later on of course he phoned and I confirmed that I had indeed been fortunate. (Two years earlier I had been in another terrible crash with him and he had lost the sight in his left eye ..again I was lucky..Viola Lee must have been on hand then also.)
TAKING OVER THE TOWN
Naturally the band were furious at my idiocy and really missed the dear old van.There was talk of concrete boots and canals..until I persuaded the ever- generous father of mine to bail me out by buying another. This he said he would do, on condition that when we hit the bigtime,he would have a red Ferrari off me.No problem, Geoff and I were going to be successful songwriters, so we obtained the second Purple Gang van.
This second van was a Commer 15 cwt. and was black with” Purple Gang” in purple lettering down the sides, in typical `60`s swirly lettering.Foam was again used to kit out for sleeping.In the meantime Purple Gang had been contracted to appear as gangsters for an advertising campaign in Swinging Chelsea.
“Stone Dri” was a range of rainwear clothing and they wanted to be up with the “Happening” scene, so they asked their Ad. Agency art director to find a pop group to help sell a new image.He happened to be a fan ,so he came up with a gangster theme called “Taking Over The Town”.We were to be in the shots (but behind the models) and at great expense, a 1920 Chrysler with running boards and whitewall tyres,was wheeled into the studio behind Cheyne Walk.There were Tiffany lamps, rubber plants and all the usual `20`s paraphenalia.We drove to Chelsea and found Frank Sweeney`s studio,parked up and went off for lunch to The Seven Bells.On return, there were a couple of old dears who had spotted this pop group van and wanted it removed ,forthwith ,from their solubrious neighbourhood.Frank came out to explain that we were expected to be there for several days and could they be tolerant.?No way ,they went off to see the local constabulary to get rid of these drug-crazed hippies..or were they drug-crazed gangsters….or even drug crazed hippie-gangsters?Either way they wanted us gone.Sure enough Old Bill called to see us, and they were really cool,saying if we just kept it quiet and did the job,then go quietly ..they would look away.They were sick of these complaining old miseries anyway.So we got on with being international models.
Next to us was a bistro called “Fanny By Gaslight”and the owners were ok with us but occasionally one or two customers peed down the sides of the van.One night a guy was too drunk to open his flies ,so his lady friend did it for him and not only that disgustingly held his penis whilst he peed over our van!So we went straight into singing “The Water Is Wide” to their embarrased shock..off they went followed by our jeers and laughter.
We had to change in the van, falling over one another as the models had commandeered the loos and changing rooms in the photographers studio.The morning passers -by would have to look twice as they saw gangsters getting out of the van.The models were gorgeous and slim ,but one girl who looked like a twig (NOT “Twiggy”)fainted as soon as we started.This went on all morning until Frank gave her some money to go and feed herself as she was costing too much in time.She was also high on slimming pills.We posed around the car and played cards with trilbys ,cigars,props etc. then Walker took out his gun that he had fired over the heads of the UFO crowd some nights earlier..Frank wanted to use it ,so it went in the shot.But later the Art Director was nearly fired (pardon the unintentional pun ) for this ,as children were also in the shot.These adverts went in `60`s mags.”Vogue”,”She”, “Honey” and “Nova” and I still have some of the cuttings in my scrapbook.
On the last night,the local residents sent a vigilante on his bike to harrass us into leaving.This was such a farce and needs telling.We were half asleep and we had made friends with all the hardworking models and had been out for a drink.So as we were about to settle down to sing to harmonica,as usual, we heard this squeak of bike brakes and a voice grumbling about “bloody hippies”.Ank our jug player who was( and is still )a collector of memorabilia, had recovered a broken drumstiok out of “Sound Techniques”(as it would probably be one of Nick Mason`s of The “Floyd”)and suddenly he had this in his hand.Then brazenly, the lone vigilante had come up to our van and started to let down a tyre(I wondered at this point where his logic was leading ,if he wanted us out).Ank flung open the back doors and we all yelled like savages.,tumbling out behind .The mortified vigilante stood in terror,then bolted towards his means of escape ..the bike.He jumped on and started peddling madly, looking for all the world like Kenneth Williams in a “Carry On ” scene escaping from Hattie Jacques, until Ank threw the drumstick onto the pavement -where it rebounded up perfectly -into his front spokes.Over the handlebars he somersaulted,yelling for the police and landed in a flower bed.At this we got back in and drove around to Old Church Street by Sound Techniques,howling in tears of laughter…but still watching out for vigilantes.
THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF OUR LIVES
Further down the King`s Road was the World`s End pub and opposite was the now world famous( but gone) “Granny Takes A Trip”boutique run by artists Nigel Waymouth and Michael English.Not only did we do our publicity shots for the album there,Nigel also designed our poster there -of the old lady on the back of a Harley Davidson.now auctioned by such as Bonhams no less .We, however had this poster pasted on the van sides by now and were getting stopped by fans and hippie UFO club people.Then on went The 14 Hr Technicolour Dream poster with us proudly billed alongside Pink Floyd and all the others we shared our musical world with at that moment in time then a couple of other psychedelic ones and we weren`t so inconspicious anymore.
Eventually,Joe Boyd our manager got a big place at 90 Westbourne Terrace,Bayswater, and our van would be seen outside, though this time we had our own room (with The Incredible String Band lodging in the next )
However,before we all moved in there I had a weird experience going home one night.when the van was struck by lightning.It was raining hard and I had dropped everyone off and was alone driving home .Suddenly I jumped out of the seat as the van lit up blue and all lights went out.Also, my heart seemed to stop and the ends of my fingers tingled .This all happened in a second…but then it was over and I was back driving in control but shaking like a leaf.A scary but awesome experience…Viola Lee had given me a third let off
The van stayed with me one night when I had a cold. And the boys went off to look for grub in the Bayswater/Paddington area.I asked them to bring me a hamburger or something and settled down with Robin Williamson`s sitar.Two georgeous `60`s ladies called round that night, but I was the only one in and so they did not stay unfortunately.I regretted not asking the first to come and watch “East Of Eden” with me which was showing at the cinema round the back…….she would have said no anyway probably…..the late Sandy Denny,and the other..Caroline Coon about to start up RELEASE the drug bust help organisation along with Joe .Later that night a shaken Purple Gang came back to relate to me how they had a met a BBC radio disc jockey in the food joint, who had enticed them back to his flat and began showing them porno boy photographs and generally making lewd suggestions.When Chris Denning rang his mate Jonathon King and said “come round I`ve got The PurpleGang here”the band fled.King and Denning are both in jail(at time of writing) for sexual depravity/ paedephilia activities.(Denning later offered to plug “Granny Takes A Trip” free opting for a commission as he was so sure it would be a hit the second time around (in 1976).
Sometimes we would drive past the Albert Hall and Joe would say “We`re gonna play there soon guys”and I would gaze up at the place and think “If only”.We never got to play it ,but the Incredibles did in their own inimitable flower-power way.
The van was seen back up in Cheshire between gigs outside the door of The Castle Inn back Church Wallgate as we would be inside with our friends.We would go off to parks and outdoor swimming pools,parties and such .The locals could not believe the way out look of the van by now.Sometimes we would give an imprompu performance off the back of the van as we could do the jugband stuff,we did this several times.
By now the van was being recognised around central London especially by UFO types or people who listened to John Peel`s “Perfumed Garden”Radio London Pirate radio show (he plays “Granny” to this day and it was played on his last show of “PG”)
This culminated with the old van being mobbed by hippies in Oxford Street the day before we went up to MuswellHill and a date with The 14 Hr. Technicolour Dream.
The second van survived to an old age and ended up in a scrapyard somewhere……a bit like the band that lived and laughed in it all those years ago.
J.BEARD 2002 – 04 – 05
These memoires belong to Joe Beard of The Purple Gang and may not be reproduced without permission .
C.J.BEARD…Daisy Bank Studio Poynton,Cheshire SKI2 ITG UK… June 2001…firstname.lastname@example.org