Wednesday, 31 October 2012


(Incident Sourced at ‘Jumbo Records’
St Johns Centre, Leeds) 

hey andy,
flipping vinyl in jumbo’s
Ian, great to see
bin a while, how long?
doin fine, I can see
how’s the lady? – oh
she’s not your lady now
stuff happens, man, yeh?
when she goes, she’s gone, but
we had happysad times though
partners in rhyme though
you & me, Ian, riffing verse
reelin in them years, wow!
how we did Blackburn…
driving down to Blandford
a high hi-fidelity weekend
Ian, crazy days drift away
what’s bin did & what’s bin hid
never forget, know warra mean?
flipping vinyl through futures past
yeh, we’re younger than that now
are you on Facebook, Ian?
see you there, great, great…

it’s only later
walking away,
no, it wasn’t Ian
it was Martin…

This poem is one of many published in the new issue of the wonderful ‘NEON HIGHWAY no.23’ (with guest editor: AC Evans). Contributors include Fiona Pitt-Kethley, Michael Woods, Rupert M Loydell, Alicia Winski and others.

It costs just £3 from:
Alice Lenkiewicz
37 Grinshill Close
Liverpool L8 8LD

enquiries to



The story of a flashy 1960’s cult group
seen through the lens of CD compilation:
(Pilot Records 118, 2002)

There was a 1983 TV-ad for ‘Kit-Kat’ in which a music mogul auditions a new band. ‘You can’t sing, you can’t dance and you look awful. You’ll go a long way…!’ The punch-line must have worked something like that when Simon Napier-Bell first encountered John’s Children. There was a new breed of music manager in 1966. Larry Parnes and Brian Epstein had conclusively proved there was money to be made in spades from that crazy Pop stuff. They even named Parnes ‘Parnes Shillings & Pence’. But Parnes and Epstein were not exactly the models. It was more Andrew Loog Oldham who derived his cool from somewhere around Phil Spector, and promoted himself as much a dodgy-geezer star as the sometimes naff acts he managed. Using the Stones as touch-stone, and their songs in the same way that Epstein had used John-&-Paul cast-off hits to build his stable, Oldham scored with Chris Farlowe, Marianne Faithful, Twice As Much, and The Mighty Avengers. Others took note.

Simon Napier-Bell had been instrumental in promoting the Nicky Scott & Diane Ferraz boy-girl duo. He’d adapted an Italian melody into Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me”. And he’d inherited the Yardbirds from eccentric Giorgio Gomelsky. He had a good eye for a scam. As ‘Black Vinyl, White Powder’ (2001, Ebury Press, ISBN 0-09-188092-0), his book of spaced-out, acid-tinged, technodelic memoirs makes clear. And John’s Children were both his best shot to crack the upper continuum of Pop celebrity, and his most contrived scam. The resulting score of classic vinyl might be slight – “Desdemona”, “Come And Play With Me In The Garden” and… maybe, “Midsummer Night’s Scene”. But the group burned bright, if briefly. In ‘Record Collector: 100 Greatest Psychedelic Records’ (Diamond Publications, 2005) David Wells writes ‘with its blissfully stoned repetition of the phrase ‘petals and flowers, petals and flowers’ and fey, wilting atmosphere, “Midsummer Night’s Scene” couldn’t really have come from any time other than the summer of 1967’. Inspired by the group’s slot on the bill of ‘The Fourteen-Hour Technicolour Dream’ Hippie Freak-Out Happening at the Alexandra Palace (29 April 1967) alongside Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, the Pretty Things, Tomorrow, the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, plus John Lennon and Yoko Ono, it was a career peak, of sorts… surely?

From the West Surrey stockbroker-belt John’s Children were a flashy Mod four-piece cast from the Who/Small Faces template. In Great Bookham, near Leatherhead, personable blonde extrovert Andy Ellison and Boarding School-friend drummer Chris Townson had been involved with a number of local groups. Recruiting tall lanky guitarist Geoff McClelland and bass-player John Hewlett they managed to wangle some dates and build up a strong local fanbase. On a trip to St Tropez with Chris, wandering penniless, Hewlett fortuitously happened to collide with Napier-Bell in the ‘Voom Voom’ club, and blagged the group to his attention. ‘Oh, he’s the best seducer ever’ explained Chris, ‘if we want something from someone and everything else has failed, we send John along. He won’t tell us what he does, but it always works. It’s his eyes, I think.’ Sufficiently intrigued, Napier-Bell even bailed Chris out of jail, where he was facing vagrancy charges.

Later, back home, they were still called the Silence when Napier-Bell subsequently stumbled across them on a temporary-stage at the Burford Bridge swimming pool. And as he tells it in his other – totally scurrilous but irresistibly funny memoir ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ (2005, Ebury Press, ISBN 0-0919-0272X), ‘they were dreadful. Positively the worst group I’d ever seen… none of them could play his instrument well enough to be called a musician. And although the singer, Andy, had a great talent for leaping up and down, he couldn’t actually sing’. For their eventual ‘Newcomers To The Charts’ box in ‘New Musical Express’ he goes on to expand his description of them as ‘completely arrogant, cripplingly honest, totally naïve and four good clean healthy lads’ (18 March 1967). Maybe be exaggerates for effect? Maybe not.

Certainly they had cheek, energy and attitude. They had EEL-LECT-TRY-CITY…!!! Perhaps that’s enough? It’s not as though musical excellence, technical virtuosity… or even functional competence has ever been an integral element or an essential qualification for Pop success. To merely suggest as much would be absurd. Looking cute is more vital than knowing your chord-shapes. And Napier-Bell knew a thing or two about cute boys. Hadn’t Kit Lambert promoted the Who into the charts through a barrage of controversy and outrage? Surely Napier-Bell could do the same with the newly renamed John’s Children? He signed them. Dressed them in all-over white. And took them into the recording studio… or, at least, he took one of them there!

He began with a backing track cut by Los Angeles session professions, dubbed Andy Ellison’s vocal across it, and thus John’s Children’s “Smashed Blocked” became an unlikely US ‘Billboard’ Hot Hundred entry. Feeding into the same kind of incoherent amphetamine speed-buzz that powered the stuttering ‘My Generation’ Andy Ellison emotes ‘please, I’m losing my mind, help me before it’s too late! My eyes are tired. Where are you? Where am I?’ as a discordant jangle fades in behind him. An effective promo now on ‘YouTube’, filmed in the basement of Peter Cook’s Greek Street ‘Establishment Club’, immaculately catches the moment, shadowy, blurry, a swirling red spiral op-art backdrop. The glisten of a single tear as Andy emotes ‘sometimes I cry’, or maybe it’s sweat? Andy helpfully explains ‘SMASHED was a Mod term for drunk, and BLOCKED was a Mod term for being pilled up – high on amphetamine’.

Written by Napier-Bell, taking and using their phrase to exploit the shock-value of cult drug-association to gravitate the frisson of attention, he then defused it so as not to scare wider audience access, via radio-play, when the single was issued through EMI’s Columbia label. More accessibly renamed “The Love I Thought I’d Found” in October 1966, this re-edited variant, the result of guerrilla surgery nip and tuck, renders the singer’s mental confusion more romantic, less pharmacological. Its attack becomes an embrace. So this miscalculated revision opens with a softening tacked-on verse resembling ‘Bring It On Home To Me’ as done by Herman’s Hermits, an impossibly fey foreplay before exploding into the centrifuge of guitar-effects climax with the disembodied ‘Smashed Blocked’ mid-to-echoed-fade ‘please, I’m losing my way. Help me now! Try to bring me back before it’s too late. Where am I…? Everything’s spinning…!’ like a Merry-Go-Round being sucked into a black-hole. The track falls one-millimetre short of becoming a garage psych-beat classic by virtue of what seems like this calculated loss of last-minute nerve. But flip the single, and even stranger there’s “Strange Affair” (by Napier-Bell with Kyle Ellison), a wondrous farrago which is kind of like Blur’s ‘Park Life’ as scripted by Joe Orton, the story of Ernie and the Vicar, recited with funny-voice narration, taking the story as far as Grimsby Fish Market. Was there ever commercial potential here? even as a wacky novelty…? It’s difficult to imagine.

With some momentum established, accelerated by their explosive live stage act, “Just What You Want, Just What You’ll Get” swiftly followed, with the rapid-crunch martial drumming in 5/4-time, a one-finger keyboard, and the title delivered in a hissy intimate-whisper, then a catchy Turtles-style ‘ba-ba-ba-ba’ chorus. Still entrusting the actual playing to seasoned studio musicians, Jeff Beck contributes a distinctively deep-burning solo to the ‘B’-side “But She’s Mine” which creatively rips-off and adapts the Who’s ‘Can’t Explain’ riff. A later ‘Melody Maker’ scribe finds even more, ‘every girl they fall for is a lie… (its) jut and thrust hold together a shuffling lexicon of rhymes that become interchangeable, hinting successively at Pop romance, then the embrace of a corpse (one of the band’s scarcely-submerged themes), and then the threat of utter non-sense. The girl… is made of contradictions, a perpetual shifting and threat to identity that JC are both attracted to and terrified by’ (Paul Oldfield, 6 August 1988). Which is perhaps a deconstruction too far? possibly reading a mite too much into it…? Maybe. The single nudged and nibbled the very foot of the charts, not entirely undue to Napier-Bell’s payola investment. According to Johnny Rogan’s book ‘Starmakers And Svengalis’ (MacDonald, 1988) chart-fixer Harvey Freed was hired for a few hundred pounds to elevate the single to no.28 in the ‘New Musical Express’ Top Thirty (the week of 18th March 1967). Such a showing was not enough to satisfy EMI however.

Nevertheless, the precarious purchase established in American awareness prompted their US label, White Whale, to agitate for a tie-in album which was duly cobbled together. As well as singles “Smashed Blocked”, “Just What You Want” and the forthcoming “Not The Sort Of Girl” there were new titles. The best of which was probably “Jagged Time Lapse” written by Hewlett with McClelland, provoked by the ‘flashing waves and violent thunder’ of a migraine attack Geoff was enduring. It fizzes and glows in spasms of distortion. This is energy forever. Yet in what seems like a further loss of nerve, Napier-Bell dubs live audience-screams (nicked from the soundtrack of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’) over the resulting tracks, either to paper-over the musical inadequacy, or to create an impression of massive English popularity. Coincidentally, the Byrds later also sampled the same Beatles scream-track for their music-industry satire “So You Wanna Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”. Meanwhile, Napier-Bell also thought it a great idea to name the album ‘Orgasm’ – which further complicated matters. The label, despite having stumped-up the initial financial backing, lost its nerve, and delayed putting it out, fearing outraged conservative backlash. It was kept on permanent hold, and only finally emerged in 1970, by which time the group’s brief career-arc was well and truly over. A subsequent Cherry Red CD edition, expanded with bonus tracks, allows the opportunity of hearing the original un-dubbed tracks, which largely stand up well. Although, inexplicably, the version of “Strange Affair” included here is played backwards…!

Meanwhile, there was another single scheduled – “Not The Sort Of Girl You’d Take To Bed”, the kind of song-title the likes of Morrissey could make great play with. It counts in ‘1-2-3-4-5’ into nagging jerky lumpy rhythms with stinging fuzz guitar. She – the girl, is maybe a groupie who’ll brag about the sex afterwards, ‘your friends would be very proud if they heard you’d had me too’. He’s not keen, ‘I’d never think of kissing you… all I want of you I’ve had’, before the repeating staccato accusation ‘you’re sick! – sick!! – sick!!!’ It could be argued there’s a kind of in-your-face honesty here. Weren’t the broadsheet newspaper’s howling against the ‘permissive society’, wailing about pill-liberated teen promiscuity? Isn’t that what this record is all about? But despite Napier-Bell’s astute cash-from-chaos appraisal, flirting with the margins of what they could get away with, perhaps the scam was just a little premature, a little too ahead of the game? The title alone scared the label off. The group were promptly dropped.

Maybe the grand strategy was flawed, or at least needed further fine-tuning? Perhaps some degree of musical talent would be a positive asset after all? Napier-Bell grabbed the opportunity of renegotiating a new deal with Kit Lambert’s Track Records, to reshuffle the line-up, upgrading their flair in the process. Marc Bolan was a raggle-taggle talented misfit with turreted castles, wizards, gryphons, warriors and prancing horses living inside his head. He’d just penned his own strange third solo record called “Hippy Gumbo”, with Napier-Bell producing. A solo acoustic performer, his braying vocal style lacked – say, Donovan’s wistful romantic melodic quality. So he needed a convenient commercial vehicle to ignite his obvious potential. Napier-Bell remembers that ‘Marc definitely wanted to be a solo star. He never saw himself as anything else. But I persuaded him that John’s Children would be a good stepping-stone. I felt that if he was singing with John’s Children people would get used to his voice and he’d begin to find a market’. Andy Ellison once claimed the prime qualification for membership of John’s Children was that they were all the same height, so they looked uniform in press-photos. Well, 5ft 6ins Marc certainly blew that theory. Nevertheless his self-evident talent outweighed his lack of stature, and he was drafted into the group to replace guitarist Geoff McClelland, drawing “Hippy Gumbo” into the repertoire with him.

Amusingly, the press photos were hastily adjusted, with Geoff’s face simply cut-and-pasted away and replaced with Marc’s – and back then that literally meant scissoring and gumming! They promptly embarked on a German tour with Marc, supporting their new Track label-mates the Who, leaving for Nuremberg, and scheduled to return 18 April. But once plugged-in and wigged-out their deliberate attempts at upstaging the headliners ignited an escalating feud that led to spectacular levels of sensational outrage involving fake blood capsules, on-stage skirmishes, cherry-bomb explosions, whirling feathers, Bolan playing his Gibson SG with a length of chain, stage-diving and probably real blood too. A (possibly planted?) letter to ‘Melody Maker’ protests that the group’s performance was ‘the most atrocious excuse for entertainment I have ever seen. They issued forth a barrage of sound bearing no resemblance to anything on Earth – it was sickening’. Following a particularly riotous set at the 12,000-capacity Messehalle hall in Ludwigshafen, which assumes even more outrageous proportions with each telling – ‘a forty-five minute happening’ according to Marc, they were dropped from the tour. ‘People who see us play often think we’re out of our heads’ John told a hapless ‘Record Mirror’ interviewer (June 1967). Despite the altercation it’s significant that Townson was later asked to sit in on drums near the end of the Who’s UK tour in June that same year after Keith Moon injured himself demolishing his drum kit on stage. John acquitted himself well.

‘The reason we’re succeeding is ‘cos we do everything for ourselves… we don’t sit around waiting for publicity people to do all our promotional work for us’ insists Chris. Well, maybe. The journalist breathlessly adding ‘John’s Children don’t wait for questions, nor do they stop talking, nor does their enthusiasm ever drop for a second.’

As quirkily attractive as some of the group singles had been, the only ones with any creative depth and originality are those subsequently written for them during Marc’s brief stay as one of John’s Children. “Desdemona” – with its title-nod to the Bard’s murdered heroine of ‘Othello’, is the motherlode. This is as good as John’s Children were ever going to get. It’s a great little single. For the first time there’s a song and a performance strong enough to stand without the added buzz of inflated controversy. The curious lyric plays around with tasty titillation while further flaunting Marc’s cultural credentials with ‘just because Toulouse Lautrec painted some chick in the rude, doesn’t give you the right to steal my night, and leave me naked in the nude…’ But if there was ever going to be a John’s Children hit record, this was surely it? Then the moral guardians of the BBC took offence at the line ‘lift up your skirts and fly’, and promptly banished it from their hallowed airwaves. As a last-minute damage-limitation they played around with alternate lines, replacing the offending text with ‘why do you have to lie’, ‘why do you have to cry’ and for the final verse ‘why do you have to speak’. But it was too late. Admittedly, by then the BBC wasn’t the only voice in the ether, their chokehold was no longer absolute. And the Pirate-stations played “Desdemona” on high rotation. I well remember hearing its energy crackling from the transistor, with Marc’s frenzied bleating repeating the title behind Andy’s lead. Enticingly strange. Ahead of the game. Singles had charted on the strength of pirate-support… but no, not this time. Even a front-page ad in ‘New Musical Express’ failed to do the do. It was too late.

But wait, flip the single and ‘B’-side – “Remember Thomas à Becket”, is equally strong, making it a value-for-cash coupling. ‘What sounds like a strangled horse at the beginning is in fact a car skidding into a plate-glass window’ offers Andy by way of explanation, plus ‘a crate of empty wine bottles thrown down the stairs’. I’m not sure where Thomas à Becket fits into the lyric either, or why we should remember this ‘turbulent priest’ murdered at the behest of Henry II in 1170. Not that it matters. The song was promptly reworked. To Andy Ellison ‘with a new set of lyrics each time, we managed to get three or four songs out of what was originally a rip-off of a Small Faces tune’. Dropping the Thomas à Becket element, but with the song otherwise intact, it was launched as the follow-up ‘A’-side as “Come And Play With Me In The Garden”. It reprises the ‘come and play in the petals and flowers’ from ‘Midsummer Night’s Scene’ and adds the ‘why you always cold like ice-cream, don’t you know that love’s a nice dream?’ Again it’s a strong and highly-likely chart contender, with Pirate support, that failed to crack the Top Fifty.

Even the new ‘B’-side, “Sara Crazy Child” is another mysterious example of Marc Bolan’s early magic, and a late John’s Children’s gem. There’s a drum feed-in that again recalls the Small Faces, leading into a fractured fairytale lyric that’s pure Bolan referencing the Minotaur, and Sara’s ‘brother, the juke-box king’ who, ‘in summer he’s a young boy, but in winter he’s a bear’. Marc’s voice is clearly audible in the mix. Between the two releases there were at least three attempts at recording a viable singles version of “Midsummer Night’s Scene” – sticking with the close-Shakespeare theme but feeding in lines such as ‘eating the heat’, ‘disfigured with love’ and a reference to ‘the dance of the hours’ (from Amilcare Ponchielli’s ballet ‘La Gioconda’), its echoey emanations set against the primitive amplified dinosaur’s heartbeat of a brooding one-note bass-riff – before it was abandoned and shelved. Acetates briefly distributed at John’s Children’s own ‘Bluesette’ club in Leatherhead rapidly assumed such legendary collector’s status that its epic price tag even qualified for a mention on a BBC2’s ‘Antiques’ show. All three takes are salvaged onto ‘The Complete John’s Children’ CD compilation, the third involving ‘arguably, the first backward guitar chords used in recording… possibly psychedelic’ according to Andy on the liner notes.

For a BBC radio session DJ Brian Matthews urges ‘let’s turn on a groovy beat’ with the ‘mind-bending sound’ of John’s Children. They play Otis Blackwell’s “Daddy Rollin’ Stone” (‘B’-side of the Who’s “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere”) propelled by tribally solid backbeat, starting out as a passably goodish R&B cover it collapses midway into a ‘uh-hah, uh-hah, uh-hah, uh-hah’ vocal chant over relentlessly pounding drums. A phonetic nonsense, seemingly lifted from the background of “Just What You Want”. But as the crescendo of a sweaty club set, surely it must have worked as a powerful incendiary routine? Brian Matthews interviews John (as the only John present, they must be his children, right?), inviting him to explain what the group is aiming for. When the response is simply ‘I think we’re just putting across what we feel musically’ he probes deeper. Are John’s Children deliberately breaking down musical restrictions? ‘Well, we’ve been told we’re doing this’ he concedes, ‘but it’s not intentional. It might come across as we play that we’re doing this sort of thing, but we’re just going on stage playing what we feel’. He seems not entirely at ease doing the talking bit, as though his ‘seducer-magic’ is temporarily disengaged. Clearly this exchange is not about to result in startling revelations. Is Brian Matthews maybe out of his comfort-zone? Andy Ellison relates an anecdote about the staid veteran-presenter quizzing Napier-Bell ‘are the band on some kind of drugs?’ Probably not. Brian’s been doing this sort of thing since the dawn of BBC Pop, surely he’s seen them all come and go?

Brian Matthews calls Bolan the group’s ‘built-in writer of weird and wonderful songs’. And in a last-minute salvage-operation he enquires about the lyrics. Again John simply deadpans ‘the lyrics? Marc is the song’s main writer, and his are tremendous lyrics as far as we’re concerned’. With the sound of emptiness roaring around them. Elsewhere John is more expressive, telling ‘Record Mirror’ that ‘Marc’s songs are part of it, they’re super-dimensitive (!)… not just double meanings but millions of meanings’. John also adds that they’ve been working on an album, ‘yeah, it’s great, we’ve been recording it for the past month or so’. Maybe he was just referring to a sprawl of sessions done at ‘Spot’, a small studio in South Moulton Street, that result in a spread of demos, incomplete backing tracks and try-outs relegated to the archives, only to emerge as bonus CD tracks on compilations decades later? “Arthur Green” is pounding drums and echoplexed guitar. “The Perfumed Garden Of Gulliver Smith” – done complete on the BBC radio session, also appears as an instrumental demo. On “Hot Rod Mama” Bolan takes the second verse lead vocals, using auto-metaphors for his female object of desire, showing a lyric continuity with his later “Get It On” (‘You’re built like a car, you’ve got a hub cap diamond star halo’) and “Jeepster” (‘Just like a car you’re pleasing to behold, I’ll call you Jaguar if I may be so bold’). Then there’s “Mustang Ford” – another girl/car song ‘all put together with alligator leather’. The group reconfigured it into their final single “Go-Go Girl”, after being impressed by seeing the nubile dancers on a Hamburg TV-pop show they were guesting on. Although – yet again, it failed to chart, Marc also salvaged both songs for the debut long-player of his next project, Tyrannosaurus Rex’s ‘My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair, But Now They’re Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows’ (1968).

Although the group was no more, and he’d only been adopted as one of the Children for a brief time – rating as scarcely John’s step-child, as Marc’s glam-star rose into 1970’s glitter-Rock celebrity, eager archivists began excavating his past. And came up with these neglected gems which were newly re-polished with escalating collector price-tags. Elsewhere, the muses of time were also shifting. In 1975, Andy Ellison and Chris Townson formed Jet with former-Nice guitarist David O’List, for a new chapter of sonic adventures and vinyl history. Then there was Radio Stars. And Simon Napier-Bell? He eventually got the commercial equation right as manager of Wham! Meanwhile, here in retrospect, is John’s Children’s legacy to the youth of posterity. History tints events. People have their own interpretations. But they generated a sizable media buzz, even if it never quite translated into big bucks. Their score of classic vinyl might be slight – “Desdemona”, “Come And Play With Me In The Garden” and… maybe, “Midsummer Night’s Scene”. But they burned bright, if briefly. They were mad, crazy, dippy, disingenuous, irrational, and – as a targeted Pop product, not even especially commercial. But surely it’s chastening for indiePop kids to discover that every extreme they strive for in terms of drippy-soppiness and giddy-miasma dementia has already been exceeded here, simultaneously. John’s Children were fun in a way that’s totally absent from anything going on now. Irresponsible, for the hell of it…


Incredible Sound Show Stories Vol.5: Yellow Street Boutique’ (sampler featuring songs recorded by ‘The Silence’ – “Down Down”, “Cold On Me” and “Forgive Me If I’m Wrong” recorded on a Revox two-track during Summer 1965 by local enthusiast Pierre Tubbs)

14 October 1966 – “Smashed Blocked” (Simon Napier-Bell and Hewlett) c/w “Strange Affair” (USA, White Whale 239). Debut John’s Children single, backing-track done by L.A session musicians with Andy Ellison vocals. British ‘A’-Side retitled “The Love I Thought I’d Found” (UK Columbia DB 8030) in which form ‘Record Mirror’ review says ‘This is so unusual that it just gets a ‘tip’. Spoken intro over ‘space-age’ instrumental sounds, but it’s rather a patchy production thereafter. Maybe the slow opening will hold it back, but it deserves to do well for originality. Hard to describe… just play it! TOP FIFTY TIP’. While in the USA, December 1966, it makes the ‘Billboard’ Hot Hundred and local (Florida) Top 10.

3 February 1967 – “Just What You Want – Just What You’ll Get” (Hewlett, Townson, Ellison, McClelland) c/w “But She’s Mine” (UK Columbia DB 8124) ‘A’-side, backing by UK session musicians, Jeff Beck guests on ‘B’-side. ‘Record Mirror’ review says ‘Full marks for originality. Not so many for commercial prospects this time, but they ARE trying’. Nevertheless it enters the ‘New Musical Express’ chart at no.28 for the one week of 18th March. In Germany ‘B’-Side of February 1967 single “Smashed Blocked” is “Just What You Want...” (Polydor 59069)

Orgasm’ (Album, projected release, 18 March 1967 as White Whale 7128, withdrawn and finally issued September 1970) Recorded at ‘Tiles’ in Oxford Street, and Advision Studio, titled by Simon Napier-Bell who also dubbed a scream-track lifted from the ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ soundtrack to give the effect of a ‘live performance’ (or to ‘conceal their failings’). With “Killer Ben”, “Jagged Time Lapse”, “Smashed Blocked”, “You’re A Nothing” (‘pathological masculine thrust’), “Not The Sort Of Girl”, “Cold On Me”, “Let Me Know”, “Just What You Want” (plus “Leave Me Alone” and “Why Do You Lie” which ‘flirt with the residue of Merseybeat’s honied harmonies’). 1988 Cherry Red CD (CDM RED 31) is expanded to fourteen tracks with un-dubbed ‘studio’ versions of “Smashed Blocked” and “Just What You Want”, plus “But She’s Mine” and a reverse-tape version of “Strange Affair”. Sleeve notes by Chris Donovan. Reviewer Paul Oldfield writes ‘ignore every other punkadelic sixties band till you’ve heard this’ (‘Melody Maker’ 6 August 1988)

1967 – “Not The Sort Of Girl You’d Take To Bed” (Columbia) release cancelled

Born in Hackney in 1947, Marc Bolan’s pre-John’s Children solo singles started out with a one-sided acetate “The Road I’m On (Gloria)” (an old Dion ‘B’-side) recorded at Regent Sound Studios with producer Jim Economedes in early 1965 as by Toby Tyler (EMIDISC), subsequently reissued as a one-sided 7” single on Archive Jive TOBY1 in March 1990. A lost ‘B’-side of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” later turns up – issued in August 1993 (Zinc Alloy ZAR CDS9005). Then “The Wizard” c/w “Beyond The Rising Sun” issued as by ‘Marc Bowland’ (1965, Decca F12288) string-arrangement by Jim Leander and vocal back-up by The Ladybirds, performed on a ‘Ready Steady Go’ show with Wilson Pickett and the Small Faces. “The Third Degree” c/w “San Francisco Poet” by Marc Bolan (1966, Decca F12413), his last with producer Jim Economedes. And “Hippy Gumbo” c/w “Misfit” by Marc Bolan (early 1967, Parlophone R5539) produced by Napier-Bell, about which the ‘Record Mirror’ reviewer wrote ‘this one could easily make it because of the unusual, tense, dramatic voice used this time by Marc. Sort of wavering… like an old jazz singer’. Despite being picked up by John Peel and played on his ‘Perfumed Garden’ show, and promoted by a second ‘Ready Steady Go’ slot – alongside Jimi Hendrix, it sells only 200 copies. Its failure prompts Marc to accept Napier-Bell’s suggestion of a temporary liaison with John’s Children…

24 May 1967 – “Desdemona” (Marc Bolan) c/w “Remember Thomas à Becket” (Hewlett and Ellison) (Track Records 604-003, Germany Polydor 59-104), with Marc Bolan on ‘A’-side – he claimed to have written “Desdemona” in just 25-seconds!, and McClelland on ‘B’-side. Producer: Simon Napier-Bell. Track Records take out front-cover ad in ‘New Musical Express’. The track is later included on the Track Records compilation LP ‘Backtrack One’ (2407-001) Record Mirror review says ‘This is an intuitive tip for the Fifty – based on a feeling that this is very commercial though also rather different. Verse is well sung and the chorus, with ‘answering’ voice in the background, is both catchy and impacty. Strong guitar in parts and the beat is just right. Rather a refreshing slice of Pop. Flip: Noisier, also rather original – but not so strong. TOP FIFTY TIP’ In ‘NME’ Napier-Bell says about ‘Thomas à Becket’ ‘we decided to play safe with this and get right away from drugs and sex and into a good healthy murder. They wrote it themselves and it’s all about a fella who goes mad and begins playing funerals in his back garden!’(18 March 1967)

June 1967 – “Midsummer Night’s Scene” (Bolan) c/w “Sara Crazy Child” (Bolan) (Track Records 604-005) full length mix, release cancelled, and only a few copies distributed to fans at John’s Children gigs, making it highly collectible. Included on ‘Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts from the British Empire and Beyond 1964–1969’ (Rhino 4CD Box-set, June 2001). Bolan’s original ‘B’-side title was ‘Sister Crazy Child’

14 July 1967 – “Come and Play with Me In The Garden” (Ellison, Hewlett) c/w “Sara Crazy Child” (Bolan) (Track Records 604-005). Issued by three-piece line-up following Marc’s departure (he plays his final live gig with them 19th May, although he’s there 17 June for the BBC sessions), Marc plays on ‘B’-side only. Press ads feature the group nude ‘veiling their hairy bits with convenient hunks of shrubbery’, and the ‘Record Mirror’ review says ‘Drummy precussive (sic) opening, then group vocal for the flower-power group who are getting enough publicity to make it quite big this time. Chorus is catchy and the directness of the arrangement is effective. Odd little falsetto touches. What you’d call a ‘full’ sound. Flip: a Marc Bolan song, original, but just a shade monotonous. TOP FIFTY TIP’. A full un-edited version issued in Germany only (Polydor 59-116). “Come And Play With Me In The Garden” is later included on the Track Records compilation LP ‘Backtrack Two’ (2407-002)

6 October 1967 – “Go Go Girl” (Bolan) c/w “Jagged Time Lapse” (Hewlett and McClelland) (Track Records 604-010) ‘A’-side is a revision of Bolan’s “Mustang Ford” featuring Bolan on guitar, ‘B’-side from remaining recordings with Geoff McClelland (Germany Polydor 59-160). The ‘Record Mirror’ review said ‘these boys have so much going for them that they actually deserve a hit. This starts rather in olde-Rock style, yet up-dated – if you understand me. Wordless chanting a lot of the time, but with explosions of sound, plus organ, midway. It’s rather clever but I doubt if it’ll be a massive hit. Flip: guitar-intro and quite good lyrics. TOP FIFTY TIP’. While ‘NME’ says ‘If you can resist the compulsion to dance to this disc, you must be a Radio 3 listener! It’s a sizzling hunk of R-and-B, blended with psychedelic effects and oscillations, and strings – surprising, but effective – in the background. Ideal for discothèques, but the welter of big-name releases coming out simultaneously may prevent it from making the Chart. Flip: You’d expect something way-out from this title – and you’d get it. Not so much from the treatment, as from the lyric, which is very surrealistic. Unusual!’ Also issued in Greece as Polydor International 244.

Briefly, for live work, Chris Townson switched to guitar while former roadie Chris Colille (who also ran the ‘John’s Children Club’ in Leatherhead) took over on drums – he was ‘driver, substance procurer, raconteur (wreck on tour!), all-round nutter and brilliant guy’. There was a final German tour – including TV with Jimi Hendrix, before winding up at the Hamburg ‘Star Club’, after which the group split

Post-John’s Children Andy Ellison solo singles: “It’s Been A Long Time” c/w “Arthur Green” (December 1967, Track Records 604 018) Andy Ellison sings the ‘A’-side on the soundtrack of the movie ‘Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush’. The ‘B’-side is the final recording from John’s Children, with Chris Colille helping out on drums. The second solo Andy Ellison single is “Fool From Upper Eden” c/w “Another Lucky Lie” (March 1968, CBS 3357). The third and final solo single is “You Can’t Do That” (Lennon-McCartney) c/w “Cornflake Zoo” (Andy Ellison and Marc Bolan) (May 1968, SNB 55-3308, Simon Napier-Bell’s own label). Two other solo cuts, a big-band arrangement of the Beatles “Help” and “Casbah Candy” (aka “Jasper C Debussy”) – written by Marc Bolan, remain unissued until ‘The Complete John’s Children’ CD anthology

June 1972 – Marc Bolan solo single “Jasper C Debussy” c/w “Hippy Gumbo” + “The Perfumed Garden Of Gulliver Smith (acoustic)” (Track 2094-013), three tracks recorded with Simon Napier-Bell from 1966. Nicky Hopkins on piano. Single withdrawn but eventually released June 1974

June 1974 – Marc Bolan ‘The Beginning Of Doves’ (Track 2410, reissued Media Motion MEDIA2), with underground elf Tyrannosaurus Rex, then Glam-Slam T Rex the biggest band in Britain, this is a timely and useful compilation of Marc’s very earliest recordings, the acoustic solo tracks put down at the De Lane studios with Napier-Bell in late-1966, then two tracks from the later session used for the re-recording of the “Hippy Gumbo” single, and finally informal Napier-Bell-produced tracks of Marc with Steve Peregrine-Took prior to their first Regal Zonophone session. Includes “Jasper C Debussy”, “Lunacy’s Back”, “Beyond The Risin’ Sun”, “Black And White Incident”, “Observations”, “Eastern Spell”, “You Got The Power”, “Hippy Gumbo”, “Sara Crazy Child”, “Rings Of Fortune”, “Hot Rod Momma”, “The Beginning Of Doves”, “Mustang Ford”, “Pictures Of Purple People”, “One Inch Rock”, “Jasmine ‘49”, “Charlie”, “Misty Mist”, “Cat Black” and one-half of a John’s Children demo “Sally Was An Angel”

1974-1976, JET – formed by Andy Ellison and Chris Townson (who had been playing with Jook since John’s Children), with Martin Gordon (bass, ex-Sparks), David O’List (guitar, ex-Nice and Roxy Music) and Peter Oxendale (keyboards). They tour with Ian Hunter-Mick Ronson, and issue one LP, ‘Jet’ in May 1975 (CBS S-80699) and two singles “My River” c/w “Quandry” (March 1975, CBS 3143) and “Nothing To Do With Us” (June 1975, CBS 3317). A subsequent compilation, ‘Nothing To Do With Us’ (double CD Fan Mael Records) includes everything Jet ever recorded, the LP coupled with demos and all sorts of non-album track. Jet also played back-up for ex-Glitter Band frontman John Rossall’s solo single “I Was Only Dreaming”, which was later collected onto 1987 ‘Great Glam Rock Explosion’ compilation (Biff Biff 3). Chris augmented the (Hammersmith) Gorillas briefly for a Cheswick single “She’s My Gal” (July 1976)

1977-1979, RADIO STARS – Glam-Rock Jet evolved into post-Punk New Wave Radio Stars, with Andy Ellison (vocals), Chris Townson (drums, replaced by Paul Simon, then Steve Parry, then Jamie Crompton), Ian MacLeod (guitar) and Martin Gordon (bass). They make their TV debut on ‘Marc’ – Marc Bolan’s show playing power-Pop second single “No Russians In Russia” (later featured on Chiswick compilation ‘Long Shots, Dead Certs And Odds-On Favourites’, April 1978)! And the ‘B’-side of single “Nervous Wreck” c/w “Horrible Breath” (no.39, in February 1978) was a Marc Bolan song (“Dan The Sniff”) dating from the John’s Children period. This time they manage three CD’s for Chiswick – ‘Songs For Swinging Lovers’ (December 1977, WIK5), ‘The Radio Stars Holiday Album’ (September 1978, CWK3001) and ‘Something For The Weekend’ (March 2008, Radiant Future RSVP010CD) before splitting. They leave a compilation CD ‘Somewhere There’s A Place For Us’ (Chiswick CDWIKD107)

Music For the Herd of Herring’ CD by John’s Children – live (2001, Radiant Future Records REVP001CD) Prompted by renewed archival interest in John’s Children during the mid-nineties, Andy Ellison reforms the group with Boz Boorer (guitar) and Martin Gordon (bass) from Radio Stars, performing gigs in Britain, Italy, Spain and the USA. In 1999, Ellison, Townson and Gordon recruit Leatherhead guitarist Trevor White (ex-Sparks) and Ian Macleod (ex-Radio Stars) to tour a repertoire of John’s Children songs, with additional material from Jet and Radio Star. This CD was recorded in Britain, the Netherlands and Germany.

Black & White’ (Acid Jazz AJXCD 234, sessions begun in 1999, but issued in June 2011) New recordings by the reformed line-up of Andy Ellison, Chris Townson (drums), Boz Boorer (guitar) and Martin Gordon (bass) with a new mix of old and new titles, including “Train In My Head”, “Sara Crazy Child”, “Lazy Sunday”, “Eleanor Rigby” and “I Got The Buzz”. John’s Children officially reform again in June 2006 with Ellison, Hewlett and Townson plus guitarist Trevor White. Until Townson’s death in February 2008


February 1988 – ‘A Midsummer Night’s Scene’ (Bam Caruso MARI 095 CD) with “Smashed Blocked”, “Just What You Want, Just What You’ll Get”, “Desdemona”, “Remember Thomas A Beckett”, “It’s Been A Long Time”, “Arthur Green”, “Midsummer Night’s Scene”, “Sara Crazy Child”, “Jagged Time Lapse”, “Go-Go Girl”, “Come And Play With Me In The Garden”, “Hippy Gumbo”. Reviewer Simon Reynolds writes ‘John’s Children were one of those mid-sixties beat groups like The Eyes or The Creation who were too extreme to make it, while more professional ‘accomplished’ peers like The Yardbirds and the Who prospered’ (‘Melody Maker’ 20 February 1988)

1997 – ‘Smashed Blocked!’ (New Millenium Communications NMC Pilot 12) with “Hippy Gumbo”, Hot Rod Mama”, “Perfumed Garden Of Gulliver Smith”, “Sally Was An Angel (instrumental)”, “Jagged Time Lapse” (BBC session)

1997 – ‘Jagged Time Lapse’ (NMC Pilot 18)

1999 – ‘John’s Children’ (EP) – 1999, Trash (LARD 20 07 99)

2002 – ‘The Complete John’s Children’ (NMC Pilot 118) 2CD set, 31-tracks including BBC sessions, instrumental versions of “Come And Play With Me In The Garden”, “Perfumed Garden Of Gulliver Smith” and instrumental original “Sally Was An Angel” (probably a uncompleted backing-track), with solo Andy Ellison tracks “Help” and “It’s Been A Long Time”



In the 1960’s they sang ‘fly JEFFERSON AIRPLANE,
get you there on time...’ And GRACE SLICK’s flight-plan
with the band took in the Monterey, Woodstock, and
Altamont Festivals, the high – and low points of Hippie-dom.
Then the STARSHIP enterprise boldly took her to new highs –
three American no.1 hit singles with slightly less adventurous, but
monstrously mega-platinum MOR Rock. And it’s all here.
Three decades of the most outrageous Rock Life-Style excesses this interview with ANDREW DARLINGTON

‘years, or maybe centuries from now, someone
will discover that there really was a music of the spheres,
and it will sound not unlike the music the
Airplane plays in the moments of its highest flight...’
                                                   (Lillian Roxon - 1969)

Years, and decades – if perhaps not yet centuries later, I’m interviewing Grace Slick. I’d been pre-warned by the publishers of her new book ‘Somebody To Love?’* that she is ‘feisty’. I’d read the previous interviews too. I know her reputation. To Philip Norman (writing in his 1993 biography of ‘The Stones’) Jefferson Airplane were ‘a band of psychedelic chamber musicians fronted by the vengefully beautiful and beady-eyed Grace Slick’. Even then they were a band capable of putting the psychotic into the psychedelic. And even Marty Balin – founder and co-pilot of the Airplane once confided that ‘back in the sixties her nickname was ‘ICE’, you know. Her whole trip is self-destruction’ (‘New Musical Express’ 29th June 1987). While now Danny Sugerman – who wrote the Doors biography ‘No-one Here Gets Out Alive’ (1980, with Jerry Hopkins) and ‘Wonderland Avenue: Tales Of Glamour And Excess’ (1989) claims that in her book ‘Grace has finally lifted up her skirt and given us a view you won’t soon forget... ‘

Born Grace Wing, she’s been the Dark Angel of Rock, the Ice Queen and the Chrome Nun, and her book is a Bliss-O-Rama of Acid Flashback visions and twisted wisdoms. But – pre-warned, I start off gradually by asking what she’s wearing, and where exactly she’s speaking from. Telephone interviews are fine if there’s no other option available, but you miss all kinds of minutia of body language, facial expression, and personal-space ambience. It helps if you can build up some kind of visual impression in your head of what the other end of the line is like. ‘I’m at home. I live in Malibu which is on the... er... Pacific...’ she replies, more evenly now. ‘Yeh. Well, right now I’m standing in front of the fax machine, because the fax-line is running, and looking partially at the ocean which is covered with fog at the moment...’

                       – September 1967)

Andrew Darlington: In your book you seem to date the start of your musical career from an incident where – as an early teenager, you go into a record shop with the intention of buying “La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens – but wind up listening to Lenny Bruce instead. You write ‘I knew I’d found a soul mate’. And in fact you devote more text-space to describing the effect that Bruce had on you than you do to any musician. And later, of course, you wrote a song for your first band – Great Society (“Father Bruce”), about him.


Grace Slick: Well, Lenny Bruce, Miles Davis, Edvard Grieg (Norwegian composer of the ‘Peer Gynt Suite’) – those people had an impact on me, and DID influence the music. I was watching a recent documentary about a painter who said that he is more influenced by what he’s READ than what he’s SEEN! Which is a very interesting remark. In other words, when he reads, there will be a scene or description of a person that will – er – create or BECOME real in his mind, and he wants to bring that to life visually. So Lenny Bruce influenced the way I speak, and how what I’m saying comes out. That’s very important. Lenny Bruce could have influenced the way an artist DRAWS. Or the way an actor ACTS. Or the way somebody views POLITICS. He was very important to me in how I thought about politics. Which end I wanted to be on. Who I was fighting for, or not. So, Lenny Bruce had a very powerful influence on me, and so he DID influence the music.

You took his attitude? Well yeh, in other words. He brought to light some extreme problems in the so-called marvellous democratic society that we think we have in this country. And instead of just going along thinking you’re fabulous, he brought to light that NO, we aren’t quite as marvellous as we think we are – and HERE’S where the problems are. And he did it with a sense of humour. So that was just irresistible to me.

After working with Great Society around San Francisco clubs you were recruited by Jefferson Airplane, who’d already released an album (‘Jefferson Airplane Takes Off’, September 1966). Before reading your account of the process in the book I’d imagined that you’d perhaps seen Airplane in their first incarnation, when they were fronted by Signe Anderson, and seen her as a rival, a kind of ‘Wow – I could do that!’ Exactly. Yeh. I looked at it (the band) and thought ‘I can do that’ – ‘cos I knew I could carry a tune, I mean, there’s my parents - they used to sing around the house, just for the hell of it. And I know I can more or less carry a tune, so I figured I could probably do that. It just seemed like a reasonable thing to do at the time (Jefferson Airplane then consisted of Jorma Kaukonen – lead guitar, Jack Casady – bass, Spencer Dryden (replacing Skip Spence) – drums, Paul Kantner – rhythm guitar, Marty Balin – vocals, and Grace – vocals).

Your first album with Jefferson Airplane – ‘Surrealistic Pillow’ (February 1967), became massive and spawned two American Top Ten singles, “Somebody To Love” (no.5 on the 6th May 1967) and “White Rabbit” (no.8 on the 1st July 1967). What was it like when suddenly Airplane became, not only one of the two biggest bands in America (the other being the Doors), but also the most visible face of the whole new San Francisco ‘Hippie’ scene? Was it scary? I’m sorry – what? I didn’t get the first part of that question. Yes – was it what? Oh no, it wasn’t frightening, because there were about twenty bands at that time, some from Europe – couple from New York, couple from L.A. – and so, there were a bunch of us who were out on the road doing that, and I felt that we were doing it. It wasn’t a matter of narrowing it down to Airplane. I thought it was a generation of people making various remarks through music. It wasn’t like I’m here doing this all alone. It was a whole bunch of us. So – no, it wasn’t frightening, it was kinda fun as far as I can determine.

In Jefferson Airplane Paul Kantner seemed to be delineating the generational aspects of the Hippie dream that the Airplane supposedly represented through confrontational lyrics such as ‘loyalty to their kind, they cannot tolerate our minds, Loyalty to our kind, we cannot tolerate their obstruction’ (“Crown Of Creation”), asserting that – unlike previous generations ‘this generation’s got soul’. At the same time Timothy Leary was writing about the supposed evolution in the psyche which our generation had over the previous generation. Were you suckered by all that? You always seemed to be more into realism. Well – I’ve got a little darker eye. I live more in a... I’m a little bit more sceptical, and cynical than – er – Paul Kantner. Or Leary. I don’t have that ‘let’s all go to the moon together and storm the Capitol and all that kind of stuff’. But it’s not necessarily more healthy that way. I’m not saying that I’m right either, I’m just saying that I happen to view things that way. I’m not going to assume that that flower’s gonna bloom. I wait till it BLOOMS before I get REAL excited. You know what I’m saying? It’s a PROBABILITY, but it’s not absolute. There aren’t ANY absolutes that I’m aware of – except death and taxes, they say. Y’know? – so I just view everything with the attitude that it is POSSIBLE (pronounced ‘PAWSIBLE’). When I went to the White House it was with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek, rather than with any intent of the ‘purest’ nature. I don’t go there with any of that kind of stuff. I don’t know what the hell the ‘purest nature’ is anyway (Grace and Yippie activist Abbie Hoffman were turned away from the East Gate of the White House 24th April 1970, when they tried to attend Trish Nixon’s Garden Party there organised for alumni of Finch College, Grace’s former school. Hoffman later joked to ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine ‘I wouldn’t let Ms Slick go in there alone. I understand they lose a President every three years. It’s a dangerous place’).

When I was a kid delivering newspapers in 1969 I came across the headline ‘CHARLIE MANSON’S HIPPIE DEATH SQUAD MURDERS’ – and I thought ‘No! – Hippies don’t DO that, Hippies are Love ‘n’ Peace’. I was suckered by that Hippie illusion. There aren’t any heroes. Some people do some things very well, but that same person is gonna be hideous in another area, i.e. – Hitler loved his dogs, OK? Jeffrey Dahmer was probably real nice to the mailman or something. There aren’t people who are all good or all bad. And the second you decide somebody’s all BAD – you’re wrong! It just doesn’t work that way. The second you decide somebody’s all GOOD –you’re wrong too. Mother Theresa was fine, she’s out there saving lepers and all that, but she’s HELL as far as business goes. She wanted what she wanted, and by god she’d walk over you to get another hospital in Tangier or wherever (in the April 1981 issue of ‘US’ magazine Grace also commented about Mother Theresa that ‘she’s suppressing the Hitler in her’!). So EVERYBODY is an ass-hole. And EVERYBODY is an angel. You can’t land on either side. Because it just isn’t happening that way.

Were you aware of Hippie-doms ‘darker side’ at the time? Well you see – I didn’t call myself or anybody else a ‘Hippie’. Herb Cohen – a San Francisco columnist made that term up. So that’s it – these are PEOPLE. They’re not HIPPIES, they’re people. And some people are gonna murder people, and some people aren’t. Some HIPPIES are gonna murder people. And murder each other. And some Hippies aren’t. So it’s not a matter of whether or not you’re a Hippie. It’s like, the Catholic Church is not all good. Hideous things were taking place during the Inquisition. And yet at other times there are some Catholics out there saving people. Same thing. Again – it’s 50/50. It’s Yin/Yang. There is no... it’s not just all Yang – it’s Yin and Yang together.

There’s a very good chapter in your book about your very first LSD trip, which was conducted according to Tim Leary’s recommended method – with a non-participating guide. Yeh. It’s a REAL powerful drug. It’s not like just getting kinda loaded on alcohol and putting a lampshade on your head. It’s not an EASY drug to take. If you’re not psychologically in balance... IT – IS – A – ROUGH – DRUG! But if you’re in a good frame of mind – which fortunately I was when I took it, then it’s very exciting and very eye-opening and mind-altering, and all that sort of ... and all those other cliché’s. But what if you’re NOT in psychologically good condition...? It’s best to have somebody with you. People assume they can fly. I mean – and you know, you CAN’T! So you’ve got to have somebody there saying ‘ah – not now, maybe later’ (laughter). So it’s a good idea to be ‘in nature’. Ah – it’s a good idea to have somebody be a guide with you, and it’s also a good idea to take it with somebody else. So that you have a frame of reference.

In your book you talk about recording the Jefferson Airplane albums, and the constant consumption of chemicals that took place while you were in the studio. Do you now accept that perhaps if you had been under greater control – at least in the studio, that the albums might have been in some ways better? Yes. I’ve always wanted... I always wanted to do more practising, so that we knew a song so well that when you go on stage or go into a recording studio, then you can elaborate on it, or improvise or something. But – I was always sort-of jealous of the tightness of Crosby Stills & Nash harmonies. Their harmonies were so beautiful and so pristine. But – on the other hand, our not knowing led to a lot of improvising that would not otherwise have happened. So – either way, it’s OK. If you practice a lot, then you get a really pristine clean sound. And if you don’t practice then you get some... er, interesting improvising. So – either way is OK. It was just, at the time – I thought, I would have liked to have practised a bit more than we did.

Just that it’s the unpredictability and the occasional unevenness of the Airplane albums that makes them artistically fascinating. Oh good. Thank you, I like to hear that (laugh). That makes up for a lot of wanting more practice.

(Press ad for the Corgi Paperback
novel edition of ‘Go Ask Alice’
by ‘Beatrice Sparks’, 1971,
October 1973, 30p)

‘What Is Your Favorite Stripe On The (American) Flag?’ (It’s posed as ‘Question Of The Day’ on the reverse of the ‘Volunteers’ (November 1969) album sleeve. Grace’s answer then was ‘Point that thing somewhere else’.) What’s your answer now? The fourth one. The fourth stripe has always been my favourite.

Any particular reason? Because it’s right about... it’s right there, it’s the fourth one down from – y’know where there’s the square full of stars? I mean not the fourth one down from the top. But the fourth one down from the bottom of that square. That’s the best stripe in the flag (this is all delivered seriously dead-pan. Is this a send-up or what?)

 The ‘Volunteers’ album was reviewed as ‘arguably the best rock album 1970 has yet produced, and certainly it’s one of the best things the Airplane have done’ (‘New Musical Express’ - 21st March 1970). Yet following its release Jefferson Airplane fragmented into solo projects... Well – yeah. We couldn’t find Jack and Jorma! They were in one of the Scandinavian countries speed-skating. They got real interested in speed-skating. They were over there, and we had no idea even what country they were in. So Paul and I just sorta started making our own albums – ‘Sunfighter’ (1971) and ‘Baron Von Tollbooth And The Chrome Nun’ (1973) and some solo-album type things. Until we figured out where we wanted to go from there. And then Paul sort-of got into forming Jefferson Starship on the kind-of next-step deal. He had an album called ‘Blows Against The Empire’ (1971) that went very popular. It talked about going off in a starship – so he called it ‘Jefferson Starship’. But we literally didn’t know where Jack and Jorma were. So we were (laughs) just kinda waiting around, and we got bored waiting.

It’s generally accepted that those solo projects – including Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen’s spin-off band Hot Tuna, weakened the integrity of Airplane. Was that something that was inevitably bound to happen, given the diversity of talent within the Airplane tribe’s irregular alliance? When you say ‘inevitable’ it depends on a lot of different things. In other words – the Rolling Stones are still together. And who knows why? But they are. There’s a variety of reasons for that. It might be the genetic make-up of each member of the group, or it might be what happened two weeks ago – who knows? Who knows why groups break up? You know – who knows why they’re still together? Who knows why marriages break up? And yet others stay together. It’s the same dance. The same scenario.

Grace married Jerry Slick when she was twenty-one, but sexual honesty was as much a part of the ‘Hippie Dream’ as recreational or spiritual drug-use. And Grace’s book describes her sexual encounters with Spencer Dryden, Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen, and – of course, Paul Kantner with whom she had a child. All of which occurred while she was still technically married to Jerry! While ‘The Observer’ newspaper recently carried a further excerpt from her book – one that claims ‘I regret not getting Jimi Hendrix into bed, and not getting Peter O’Toole’, in their ‘Quotes of the Week’ column alongside all the portentous pronouncements of politicians. Alright. Ah – Ha-ha...

Do you feel that when you work in close proximity with people, in an office, a factory, or as you did in your sexual relationships with various members of the Airplane – a Rock band, that sexual intrigue is inevitably likely to result. And for a band on tour, sharing a double room tends to save on expenses! Yeah – sure they do. It’s like Pat Benatar married her guitar player. And there was everybody in Fleetwood Mac doing it. And the Mamas & Papas – generally that happens. It’s hard not to love people, I think. I think it’s a very good thing to love people. It’s too bad we have that possessiveness that we do. THAT’S what gets us into trouble. But loving people you work with is wonderful. It’s a whole hell of a lot better than hating them! But possessiveness – generally, will get in the way. People are very possessive. But apart from that – ah, the loving of the people you’re with is fun. Fun. Interesting. A way of connecting, y’know?

Virtually the only member of the band you didn’t ‘sexually connect’ with was Marty Balin. And in your book he comes across as a very enigmatic figure. He is enigmatic. I think he’ll even cop to it. Some days he’ll be delighted with the world, y’know – ‘I felt wonderful and I walked on the beach blah-blah-blah’, and then the next day he’ll be gone. And we’d say ‘well, what happened?’ He wouldn’t show up. ‘Well – I had to walk on the beach’ or ‘I had to go...’, I mean, you – I, just never knew what was happening there. But he’s fascinating. It’s fascinating to see somebody move like a child. Children can move very quickly from one emotion to another. And he’s very much like a child in that he can move quickly from one frame of mind into another.

One product of that period of solo projects I always enjoyed was your ‘Sunfighter’ (November 1971) album (released as by ‘Grace Slick & Paul Kantner’). You’ve described on a number of occasions how you came to write “White Rabbit”. And in your book you explore the history behind your song “Lather”. But what is ‘Sunfighter’s opening track – “Silver Spoon”, all about? Ah – “Silver Spoon”? That’s not, is that the... is the other line ‘cannibal soup’? Yes? Well that was – we were living in Bolinas at the time which is, there was a kind of a... a lot of Hippies around there. And I was getting hammered by that kinda deal because you gotta make your own bread, you gotta be a vegetarian, and you gotta do... so I was annoyed with that. You shouldn’t shave your armpits, don’t wear any make-up – you gotta be REAL. And I thought ‘fuck all that shit’. I wanna hear, and I wanna do what I wanna do. So I wrote a song that was purposely kind-of disgusting. Just to shock those people. Usually I was interested in shocking or making fun of the Right Wing. In this particular case I was trying to shock the Hippies, because... they were talking about not eating meat, and being pure and all that kind of stuff, and I just thought ‘Oh Christ’, everybody’s 50/50. You’re going around thinking you’re pure? You’ve got your head up your ass! So I wrote the song because at some point you could be faced with the decision to eat your brother! In this country there were some people coming across from the East Coast to the West Coast – and they got stuck for months in a blizzard. I believe it was in the Donner Pass in Colorado (they were pioneers in 1846), and they were there some months – they couldn’t get out, too much snow. People were dying. Pretty soon they ran out of food ‘cos there was no way to get in, no way to get out. Because they were stuck in the blizzard. So they had to eat the people who’d died. And they were called the ‘Donner Party’. So I was sorta making a song...

‘...what if you were starving to death, and all you had to eat....’ (quote from “Silver Spoon”) ? ...that’s right. What would you do? Yes – what WOULD you do? In certain circumstances you do things that you ordinarily would not. And is that wrong? The guy’s dead! Who cares? It’s just food. Everything on this planet depends upon – we KILL to eat. You may be killing a broccoli. But you’re killing. The problem with eating meat now is that it is not sudden, it’s brutal, it’s a long process of putting these animals into pens and shooting them full of drugs, and they get so insane from confinement that they sometimes even bite themselves to death. I mean – that’s torture. But if you have to eat something – you go kill a broccoli, or you go kill a whatever. I was just objecting to their flat-out statement that ‘this is wrong, that’s wrong’ – who knows? You may have to eat your SISTER at some point. WAKE UP!

‘Frank Zappa once said –
I believe, that today’s
revolutionary is tomorrow’s
boring old fart. Grace
Slick may be living proof
of that axiom on record...’
                    (journalist Sandy Robertson
         writing in ‘Sounds’ 10th May 1980)

As early as May 1968 ‘IT (International Times)’ had warned ‘Grace is at her best when she is at her least slick’. And later in your career, when you do become more controlled and more digitally perfect – around the time of your successes with the Starship troupers in the eighties, you become more commercially accomplished, but less artistically interesting. Well – yeah, but there was a lot of fear... there was a fear around money. The people in Starship had families, and, in other words, people didn’t want to experiment with weirdo songs. Because they were afraid they wouldn’t sell. They were afraid. There was a lot of fear in that. Now – it was a commercial band, and Starship actually sold more... I mean, had more no.1 singles and all that kind of stuff, than Airplane ever had. So – it was a commercial band. And we had played our instruments or sung long enough to know what we were doing. So it was relatively easy to go into a recording studio and make a song. But I don’t think they were quite as interesting. I prefer, for myself – to go, ‘I’ll write the song that I sing. Paul writes his thing, Suzi – you write this, Freida, Joe – y’know, whatever’. So, I like it when the bands write their own songs. I really was not all that fond of singing somebody else’s song. I mean – there was a song that went to no.1, it was called “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”, and it was written by Diane Warren. And I like her – as a person. She’s very funny. Very bright. Loves writing. She stays in her little studio and writes all day long – sixteen hours a day. She’s amazing. And I like her. But “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”? I don’t believe that. That comes from Diane. A truck will stop you in five seconds flat. I DON’T BELIEVE that nothing’s gonna stop you! I’m cynical. I think that there is a great possibility that this romance is not gonna last more’n six months. So, I would not have written a love song in that way. So I’m basically singing something I don’t believe. And I don’t like that. It’s a good song. But not for me, ‘cos I don’t believe it. Somebody who believes that ought to sing it. That’s what’s important. So I don’t think I’m right or Diane’s wrong or any of that kind of stuff, I just think that somebody who believes those words ought to be singing them.

Diane Warren has written lots of MOR hit songs. Well – I was amazed, ‘cos I just saw it on TV the other night somewhere, that she can write for anybody. She has written for Rock bands too, and she also writes for – er... but I’m not just talking about her necessarily... there was another no.1 song we had which was “We Built This City On Rock ‘n’ Roll”. Everybody assumes we were talking about San Francisco. It was not written by us. It was not written about San Francisco. It was written by a British guy – Bernie Taupin, about L.A.! So – you see what I mean? It’s a good song. But it doesn’t have anything to do with me. He was talking about - there was a grey time in the early Seventies when cops were closing clubs or something – I couldn’t give a shit! That’s not gonna last long. I couldn’t give a shit whether they close the clubs in L.A. OK – so they close the Clubs. They’re gonna re-open them all in a month anyway. Everybody needs Clubs. So – y’know, I’m singing songs that I really don’t care about, and lyrics I don’t believe in. And I think that’s a mistake. You shouldn’t do that. I had fun during the Eighties. It was OK. I can DO it. It’s not like I CAN’T do it. I’m a professional in the sense that I’ve been doing it over a long time, but I would prefer to sing songs where I know the lyric, I know what I’m talking about because I WROTE it.

So your current activities are restricted to book-signings and promotions for your autobiography. Ah – well, I certainly did meet a lot of people, ‘cos we did book-signings over here in the book stores. So I ran into a whole hell of a lot of people in New York, San Francisco, Toronto – places like that. And it was very interesting. But in this country its already been released some time ago, so I’ve already done it here. Only now it’s being released in Britain – or the UK, or whatever you like to be called.

Didn’t that promotion give you a renewed taste for interfacing with an audience, and perhaps give you an appetite for doing something like an MTV Unplugged? I don’t DO that now. I haven’t been in a Rock ‘n’ Roll band for ten years. And I don’t even think about it. In other words it’s a little bit anachronistic. It’s just... I’m not there. So, it’s a little odd. It’s sort-of like going around representing an airline company when you don’t fly anymore – it’s like ‘huh, what am I doing here?’ It was interesting. Almost anything is interesting if you get the right frame of mind. But no – I don’t like old people doing Rock ‘n’ Roll. I think it’s kind-of pathetic. Yeah, I’m sure that if people – if the person whose doing it likes to do it, then that’s fine. It’s just that I think – I feel SAPPY!!!, at age 59, singing ‘UP AGAINST THE WALL MOTHER-FUCKERS!’ (quoting a line from the ‘Volunteers’ track “We Can Be Together”) . It’s STOOOO-PID. Or – as a non-practising alcoholic, singing ‘feed your head’ – it’s not pertinent. Now, if I were to write an album of songs talking about the way I feel and am right now, it would be rude to an audience, because they want to hear – understandably, ‘why don’t you play “White Rabbit”, why don’t you play dada-dada-dada’. I don’t want to DO that. And you can’t do that to an audience – you can’t go out and say ‘I’m not gonna SING that...’ (in bratty little girl voice). Well then – don’t sing. So I don’t.

Nevertheless, this opportunity of speaking to you has been a peak experience for me – and I for one look forward to seeing you on stage again – in some format, in the not-too-distant future. Thank you for the thought. I’ve enjoyed talking to you. I may talk to you again. Bye Bye.

‘Slick was the only other female
singer of her generation (with
Nico) not ensnared by the
sixties and seventies stereotypes of
virgins, whores and Earth Mothers..
 Grace Slick was never a ‘Chick’...’
                                       (Journalist Bill Graham writing
                                                in ‘Hot Press’ July 1987)


Original tape of this interview featured on:
(UK -July 1999 & Jan 2000)

Monday, 29 October 2012




Once upon a pre-digital age, I made my first-ever sale to a science fiction anthology. Editor George Hay accepted my story “When The Music’s Over” for his 1974 ‘Stopwatch’ project, because he found it ‘chimes with the kind of anthology I’m doing’. By a torturous route I’d actually submitted it to George’s more academic magazine ‘Foundation’ – which didn’t publish fiction anyway! But he was nothing if not a creative editor. On a subsequent visit to seek him out, I discovered him – a tall slim man with an air of extraterrestrial preoccupation, thinning on top but with a surrounding fall of grey-white hair, living near Winchmore Hill in north London. His book-crammed maisonette was no.38B, which means it consisted of the upper storey of the house, reached by ascending an exterior staircase.

Once within, head-angled to one side, I check out ageing novels and magazine-editions crammed into his shelves, carefully extricating garish softbacks for inspection at random. Doing so jogs the memory of a conversation in one of his tales, ‘and what do you find in books?’ his character asks, only to provide his own self-answer, ‘words – which are but thoughts reified, immensely compacted. The glittering ores of intellect’. Many of the books in his shelves were by him, with covers showing bulbous spaceships and heroic twenty-fifth-century astronauts set against the backdrop of swirling psychedelic planets, although they don’t all necessarily bear his name. During the 1950’s he was known to share the publisher-owned pseudonym ‘King Lang’ with EC Tubb and John W Jennison, or he might be ‘Roy Sheldon’ or ‘George Hayman’, so it’s no longer certain with any degree of accuracy, who actually wrote what. A puzzle to archivists now, it didn’t seem to matter at the time. Selling for just one-shilling-and-sixpence old-money the slim Hamilton paperbacks were less concerned with ‘the glittering ores of intellect’, in preference to their cover-boast ‘We Never Publish A Dull Story’.

In George’s case, he somehow managed to fuse elements of both. His ‘Flight Of The ‘Hesper’’ (1952) comes emblazoned in a colourful jacket-illustration of spacers apparently marooned on the hostile surface of a barren world, helplessly watching a needle-sharp spaceship cutting through the alien skies towards some kind of spherical proto-Death Star. The blurb announces it as ‘A Yarn For Science-Fiction Enthusiasts’. But although the story bears all the ingredients of a straightforward fifties generation-ship ‘yarn’ he can’t resist making the psychological programming of the crew a significant sub-theme. His space-farers are conditioned to follow the mission – the ‘chart’, and despite their attempts to break free and establish a colony on the new world glimpsed on the cover, the agoraphobic contradictions they experience on the planet’s surface set up a mental conflict they’re unable to resolve, and they’re forced back to the ‘Hesper’.

This preoccupation with ‘psych-dynamics’ already looks forward to Hay’s interest in Dianetics, and the ‘lateral thinking’ theories of Dr Edward De Bono. Elsewhere on his bookshelf, his ‘Man, Woman – And Android’ (1951) anticipates the kind of holo-suites later enjoyed by the crews of Star Trek’s ‘Enterprise’. Within the pleasure planetoid Paradise his protagonists can stroll the ‘Hesperian Gardens of Luna’ with its score of artificial suns, or experience its other virtually-projected realms. While his androids, with their number-designation branded into their foreheads, have their life-spans prematurely terminated ‘at the end of their statutory sixty years’ before they can become ‘wild’ – like the ‘Bladerunner’ replicants to come. A precaution imposed following a Philadelphia android insurrection. ‘Never trust an android’.

We sauntered down tree-shaded Compton Road to the comfortable twilight ‘dimnity’ of his local pub lounge where he allows me to ply him with drinks, presumably in recognition of his role in realising my first print sale. But the advice he dispensed is generously practical. He’d taken care to establish copyright of my story with me, allowing me to resell it to other markets. Which I do. Alert and analytical, he was no dreamer. Or just possibly, a practical dreamer. Lanky, and hyper-articulate, or – as David Langford perceptively recalls, ‘like William Hartnell playing the first ‘Dr Who’, peering through thick glasses invariably mended with sticky tape’, he regales me with tales of then-recent events. About how he’d met Timothy Leary’s wife and entourage at a London Press Conference for the LSD guru and Futurologist, ‘she seemed nice enough, but I felt that, knowingly or unknowingly, someone was being taken for a ride. Apart from anything else, the event was a shambles, organisationally speaking...’ He pauses, and picks himself up in mid-story, ‘well – admittedly, I rate pretty low in the neatness stakes myself, but on the other hand, I think I have a reasonable track record on results achieved. If you have chaos, and no results, someone’s cheating…’ George Hay was a man who strove for, and more often achieved, a run of impressive ‘results’.

Born with the convolute name Oswyn Robert Tregonwell Hay, in Chelsea in 1922, according to SF legend he was pronounced ineducable at the age of fourteen due to a ‘time-wasting’ obsession with reading ‘Amazing Stories’ and ‘Astounding Stories’ magazines. ‘I used to sneak out of boarding school to come back with copies of ‘Astounding’ hidden under my jacket’ he tells me, chortling at the memory, ‘when on holiday I showed some of these to my uncle, who was by way of being a competent amateur scientist. He was horrified!’ Yet George would stay true to their shiny lure of the future throughout his life. Who were his favourites? ‘In the very early years, people like Clark Ashton Smith and John W Campbell. I suppose it’s hardly necessary to say I’m an admirer of Campbell, warts and all? It may well be that we are still suffering from an overdose of larger-than-life characters from thirties SF, created by writers like Campbell and Heinlein. I don’t feel that way myself, and could go on reading them forever, if they were available. But that may just be put down to galloping immaturity on my part! After all, for a long time I was the only person to have kept him in print in this country.’

Like others of his generation SF was always more than mere escapism, it was a blueprint for possible futures. A practical user’s guide to tomorrow that runs through his brain like ticker-tape. The ‘dead hand of the past’ was an encumbrance, as his character Cantow reflects. Why do we call the control-centre of a planetoid-sized spaceship ‘the bridge’? ‘Because the centre of control on sea-going vessels back on Terra was called the bridge – always that dead hand of the past reaching out...’ In ‘Flight Of The ‘Hesper’’ the two mindsets are embodied within the crew, the original oldster Earth-born’s who were idiotically ‘clinging to outmoded terminology that meant nothing’, and the impatient young space-born’s eager for change. George Hay’s anti-sentimental allegiances always lay with the future.

When I probe him about ‘those ‘Authentic’/Hamilton novels’ he admits ‘my memories of those are pretty dim. Ah, the mists of Time! I have a problem here. The fact is that at that time I – and I’m sure other writers, received marvellous backing and advice from the then-editor, whose name I’m quite unable to recall. No – sorry to be awkward, but I’m sure it wasn’t (‘Authentic SF’ magazine editor) HJ Campbell, I’ve a vague recollection of meeting the latter once – chap with a black beard, I think. But no, another name comes to mind – ‘Hamilton’, but I couldn’t be sure of that. He was a very able Scot, who moved on afterwards to what I hope were more profitable ventures. Backroom boys such as this man, and Ted Carnell, really don’t get the praise they deserve...’ In an interview with the ‘Drilkjis’ fanzine he confided ‘do you know how I got into professional SF writing? I was working for the Refuse Collection Department of Camden Borough Council – I think it was still Hampstead in those days, when I wrote a first chapter-and-outline of a novel and sent it blind to Hamilton-Stafford. Gordon Landsborough was editing for them, the man who later founded Armada Books and other first-rate series. He liked it, and said I should finish it. No contract, mark you! (so was Landsborough – no Scot, but born in Huddersfield, George’s sponsor…? Maybe) I dropped my work, let my rent pile up, and sent in the finished product. At £1 per thousand-words for 36,000 words, by the time I got the cheque it all went in rent! Well, it was a start, not everyone sells the first book they write.’

‘After all, even if it was in the fifties, I had every novel – save one, I wrote published! But my novels were pretty derivative’ he tells me. ‘Mind you, when I re-read one of them, about ten years back, I found it no worse than some contemporary writing I could mention, and an American contact tried out one of them on his (adult) son, who seemed to like it. But they lacked originality…’ I’m not so sure. The ‘man’ in ‘Man, Woman – And Android’ is Flane ‘Barr’ Roth, on an undercover mission to ‘Paradise’. The forty-mile-long worldlet which is caught up in a furtive undeclared stealth-war in which Terra is besieged by the League of break-away colonies of Mars, Venus and the Jupiter moon-system. The ‘woman’ is the militaristic Venusian Spartiate Aristarch Sandra, with whom he develops a mutually hazardous attraction. Returning to Earth with his loyal android Andrew X079, Flane finds himself in the midst of an android revolt, at the exact time that a five-thousand-ship invasion fleet is approaching Terra. It’s inventive fast-action stuff as he escapes the android-controlled city of New Plymouth only to be beaten and imprisoned as a suspected android-agent in human-controlled Frentaton, even as he attempts to alert the World Council of the imminent invasion from space. There are interplanetary-battles, vaporised cities, and hair-raising pursuits, until it becomes apparent that the android-component of the occupying League force is also in revolt. The novel takes its climax back to opalescent Paradise, to investigate the ‘strange and vicious pleasure’ to be found ‘in its lower levels, where few penetrated, and fewer still returned’. Here it’s revealed to Flane and Sandra that Andrew X079 is, in fact, one of a surviving group of the original ancient Martian race who are benevolently influencing human destiny, and have genetically engineered them to bridge the human-android division and so found a new evolved future human race…

‘I’m all for hard-SF myself’ he explains, ‘provided it has a good human-character and metaphysical basis. Also hard plotting. Have you noticed how pedestrian much of Larry Niven’s narration is? – yet one enjoys him, because the science is ingenious and the plotting first-rate. ‘Sword-and-Sorcery’ is not something I care much about, and – curiously enough, my finding is that the best writing in that area are completely overlooked anyway. In my view, one novel by Fletcher Pratt is worth a bookshelf-full of Mike Moorcock’s, I think Mike is a really great literary critic who got lost en-route to the publishers! And who’s ever heard of Fletcher Pratt now, save a few of us…?’

2: THE

For George Hay there can be no straightforward linear career-outline. No ‘he wrote this story then he wrote that story’, ‘he edited this anthology then he edited that anthology’, ‘he published this book then he published that book’. He was far too diverse an activist for such a simple schematic.

Once upon a digital present, I discussed researching George Hay’s fifties writing with SF poet Steve Sneyd. Steve cautioned me that George had no interest in the past. I’d get no nostalgic reminiscing from him. George’s concern was always with what he was doing now, and the new projects he’d be initiating tomorrow. Steve’s comments remind me of the time George contacted me about a scheme he’d co-founded called the ‘Applied Science Fiction Association’, encouraging me to submit examples of ideas extracted from science fiction that could be patented and turned into marketable products. It’s in this spirit that the SF community remembers him through the ‘George Hay Memorial Lecture’ at the UK-SF Eastercon. With the 2009 event in Bradford given over to a researcher on a self-replicating machine, a device that ‘prints’ 3D objects. Chris Anderson – ‘Wired’ editor, enthused over the potential of such new programs. It’s true that there’s little evidence of products being marketed as a direct result of the ‘Applied Science Fiction Association’. But to George, SF could provide ‘an armamentarium of tools for coping with the future’, and he would certainly have been intrigued by this step towards science fiction’s ‘replicator’.

To SF academic Brian Ash, George was ‘the archetypal British SF enthusiast’, a man who ‘has pterodactyls on his letter-heading and almost as many ideas flying in different directions as Leonardo’ (in ‘Who’s Who In Science Fiction’). It was this relentless enthusiasm that led him into a brief connection with L Ron Hubbard’s quasi-cults, but also determined he’d outgrow them – ‘he distinguishes between Dianetics, which interested him in its early years, and Scientology, whose paranoid bureaucracy he couldn’t stomach and which declared him a Suppressive Person’. He went on to become communications officer for ‘Spectrum’, which he described as ‘Britain’s only upbeat futures-orientated society’. And his was the original ‘think-tank’ concept that led to the establishment of ‘my brainchild’, the ‘Science Fiction Foundation’ in October 1970, with John Brunner, Kenneth Bulmer and James Blish. He began by ‘taking advantage of ‘Mr Xerox’s invention’ at the North London Polytechnic for serious SF agitational-propaganda, before a ‘coup’ handed over editorial chores to Peter Nicholls, Chris Priest and Malcolm Edwards. Although this shifted the Foundation into a more academic-critical direction than he’d initially intended, he remained a provocative vice-president. Steve Sneyd reflects how ‘so many of George Hay’s projects/plans could go on forever, from the inclusion of poetry in the first issue of ‘Foundation’. George admits ‘I had to use my own as I couldn’t find anyone else’s on time’. To the ‘postcard encyclopaedia’ plan. Postcard Encyclopaedia…? ‘Sample ones appeared, and he spoke of having a publisher interested. The idea was that it would consist of postcards, each summarising some aspect of human knowledge. Whether the idea was that they’d be collected like a part-work, or bought all at once…?’

George’s only loyalty to past-time was through honouring its legacy. By editing the stories of innovative writer and groundbreaking ‘Astounding’ editor John W Campbell – as he explained, ‘first with that ‘Tandem’ collection – they used my blurb but didn’t credit me, and then with ‘The Best Of John W Campbell’ (1973). And he was instrumental in the republication of several long out-of-print HG Wells’ titles, through his ‘HG Wells Society: Starlight Research’. Meanwhile, as an anthologist George followed ‘Stopwatch’ with two volumes of ‘Pulsar’ – ‘hampered by my publisher’s passion for Big Names’. Volume one (1978) includes Chris Boyce and Stan Gooch as well as David Langford, Ian Watson, Bob Shaw – and even HG Wells (“Foretelling The Future” – ‘a real scoop, the only article HG Wells ever wrote about the technicalities of writing SF’). The second volume (1979) adds Robin Douglas and Perry A Chapdelaine as well as Robert Holdstock and EC Tubb. The ratio the publisher demanded was 80/20 – ‘with the 80% being stories by ‘name’ authors’. ‘I suppose you haven’t considered changing your name to Asimov’ he playfully suggests, to enable adding one of my tales to ‘Pulsar 2’! So I was far from the only tyro writer to benefit from his largesse, as his partner, Mollie Gillam points out, he was ‘generous with his ideas and time in encouraging young writers’. Langford readily acknowledges the debt. But although he championed and promoted the work of new writers, George had little sympathy with what he saw as the bleak negativity of the so-called SF ‘New Wave’.

Some brief time after our conversation in the comfortable twilight ‘dimnity’ of his local pub lounge, he complained to me ‘I have an instinctive antipathy towards stories about Lost Tribes dying in the post-apocalypse waste-lands. One has to remember that the novel really came into its own with the Romantic Revolution, which is to say, with the Industrial Revolution. It had to do with the actions and reactions of people dealing with a rapidly developing culture, with how they adapted, or failed to adapt to change. JG Ballard’s characters seem to ‘handle’ change by drifting with it. It’s a way of survival, I’ll concede. But in a broad sense, it fails. And I think most readers are right in not wishing to identify overmuch with failure. Literature of the Romantic period, which for me is still the best, cannot survive without some sense of struggle set in a larger context – a struggle which perhaps may not be won, but which at least takes place on the understanding that it is possible to win. If the fight is lost from the start, then there is no tension, and hence no story, just a succession of events. I might also add that there can also be no real tragedy, for tragedy is impossible without some kind of greatness, even if it be only hinted at. One gets back then to George Gissing on the one hand and ‘Mr Pooter’ (from George Grossmith’s ‘The Diary Of A Nobody’, 1892) on the other. So I feel that even crude two-dimensional ‘death-to-the-scaly-alien’ type stories have – in a sense, something more real than passive descriptions. Of course, one really seeks stories with the best of both worlds. That they can, in fact, be achieved, is shown by the deserved success of such stories as ‘The Left Hand Of Darkness’ (by Ursula K Le Guin, 1969) which deals – as I read it, with the nature of justice and honour, reinforced by the authenticity of the background detail, and by the ambiguity of the various sub-cultures dealt with.’

A pause. ‘I don’t think what I say is dependent on my age and generation, though obviously it does affect the issue. At my time of life, one begins to get the feeling of re-living the decline of the Roman Empire – originally played at thirty-three-and-a-third, but this time at seventy-eight rpm, and the last thing one wants to do is envisage even further social breakdowns. However, having seen so many novels along these lines, and noted that of late they have often been very commercially successful, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that they represent a real psychic need among younger readers today. A natural reaction, I suppose, to the grey society in which we live. Whether they’ll actually enjoy the day the water stops coming out of the taps and the box refuses to switch on, is another question…!’ While his enthusiasm for innovation was unable to extend to graphic novels, ‘wars and recession are inevitable in a culture that seems devoted to preventing people from actually thinking and forbidding them access to anything but the most trashy literature. Repeat after me ‘A GRAPHIC NOVEL IS NOT A BOOK! It does not invoke discursive thought. If you want to see what people could produce when they did think, go back to medieval theology, or, more recently, such writers as Simone Weil… or, to come back to SF, how do you account for the fact that John Crowley’s ‘Little, Big (Or The Fairies’ Parliament)’ (Bantam Books, 1981), to my mind quite undoubtedly the best SF-Fantasy novel for many decades, is practically out of print…’

Inevitably, he had a solution. Even if it was more that a touch tongue-in-cheek! ‘Actually, I’ve been thinking of late that the rate at which genuine literary culture is being eroded in this society is so fast that it’s not sufficient only to make vital works available to readers, one should also have a class of people able to read and assimilate them in quantity and, having them in their heads, go round the country and enthuse others to do likewise. So what we need, then, is not just libraries and bookshops but, what I suppose one might refer to as travelling bards. After all, the Druids had ways of teaching that would seem far better than ours, and people are turned onto theatre by actual performance, not just by reading printed versions of the plays. What do you think?’ How could I argue? As Dave Langford observed, George was ‘a genuine, charming English eccentric, a Socialist of the old-fashioned idealistic kind’ (he told me ‘I used to be a press-hand for Sunbeam-Talbot during the war, though I solved the problem of boredom at that time by political involvement), ‘and also a man of weird erudition who – like Borges, had not only read everything, but specialised in books nobody reads any more’ A man as equally likely to quote cobwebbed philosophers such as Korzybski (a major influence on AE van Vogt), as Ouspensky…


Nevertheless, he did admit to me that ‘I’d like to get back to writing fiction. I have been toying with the idea of writing fiction once again, as a relief from endless editing. But what sort of fiction? I belong to the school that never knows what it’s going to write until it has written it, and can read it, so it can then reply to the question.’ And despite his reservations about the New Wave, with obstinate wilfulness he was quick to seize upon its potential for innovatory new literary freedoms. For ‘Science Fantasy’ and ‘Impulse’ magazines in 1965 and 1966 editor Kyril Bonfiglioli selected two of George’s brief ‘condensed novels’, written in an inventive playful mood far removed from his Hamilton and Curtis Warren 1950’s fiction. The two-page “Over And Out” comes in the form of blocks of experimental capitals, like concrete-poetry, representing an exchange of teleprinter bulletins complete with .Stop. punctuations, and hasty misspellings ‘POL POL OHA HA NO GOOD GOD GUD DO SOMETHING PLEASE PLOSE PLUZ’. Dated 11-8-1984 the print-outs come from the besieged PRESSCOMP where the computer systems are taking over, sealing exits and cutting phone lines in preparation for rewriting the history of the ‘BROTTISH EMPIRE AND THE AEMRICAN CONTINENT’. The recipient is their last hope, the Rutland Post Master, until it too is closed down.

“Synopsis” is an equally original premise, as the opening frame of what purports to be the ongoing plot of a lavish imaginary Space Opera serial, a ‘New Readers Start Here’ speed-reading update affectionately poking tongue-in-cheek satiric fun at his own galaxy-spanning fifties tales. Key-words are capitalised as, in his battle against the Outer Planets Federation space hero Terry Spanner borrows a Timewarper from the Allystra, a strange insectile race from lost planet Dis beyond Pluto, but – sabotaged by villainous traitor Aargh Parr, his ship plunges out-of-control towards New York. However, temporal conundrums thrown up by the coming impact mean that the war itself has been provoked by enigmatic mutant Kark Kurr, the child resulting from the rape of Terry’s fiancé by Aargh. Terry can only undo that history by prematurely operating the Timewarper, with unpredictable results, he could ‘materialise as a super-brain in the remote future, or as a cell in the gut of some Chicago gunsel of the 1920’s. Or as one of Napoleon’s slaughtered Old Guard at Waterloo. Or as Hitler’s moustache’. With just fifteen seconds to go to resolve the dilemma, the final line invites the reader to ‘NOW READ ON…’. There is no more.

Later still I was fortunate indeed to return his favour, and to be in a position to publish one of his own finest short-stories, “Of A Still Night” in ‘Ludds Mill’ (October 1982) magazine. I contrived the art-work to hopefully reflect the melancholy strangeness of his poetic vision. In his tale, wistful observers wait, ‘the dusk was the silence. The two men hung like shadows over the bridge. In the ebb of the sun the rails beneath them shimmered for a moment like water at noon. A moment only it was, then the rails sank with the light from night’. It is the near future of 1982, and the Simultaneity Drive has liberated travel with ‘half the population in speed-of-light transit at any given moment somewhere between, say, Moorgate and Mars Central’, with the ghosts of trains as a nostalgic haunting of older more leisurely modes of transportation. And one man, Tim Morgan, who becomes obsessed with tracking down and recording sightings within the abandoned London Underground network, building up a pattern, which enables him to predict and celebrate Wimbledon Station, 11:20 in late-August 2000, the very last ghost-train. Invited participants converge in mini-derigibles that drift along the District Line. As George himself wrote, about Walter De La Mare’s unusual novel ‘Henry Brocken’ (1904), ‘within its domain, one walks enchanted, yet it is not unrealistic… there is starlight, but there is also darkness’.

Soon after, with Mollie Gillam, George relocated to live in All Saints Street in Hastings – ‘my living conditions are probably the most comfortable I have ever enjoyed, and that in a quite blessed environment’, where he resumed his SF activity. To Steve Sneyd he was a walking-thinking hyperactive contradiction, a man whose capacity for ‘maddened exasperation’ was inseparably linked with ‘running an event like the ‘Hastings-Con’ totally single-handed organisation-wise, and creating real excitement’. An event that continued his track record of results achieved, ‘because, if you have chaos, and no results, someone’s cheating’. Then he became the victim of a hit-and-run accident in November 1994, suffering concussion and multiple leg fracture. With a humour that he would certainly have appreciated ‘Ansible’ reported that in the Cookson Ward of St Leonards Conquest Hospital he ‘was treated at length for delirium until medical staff realised he was telling them about the SF Foundation’! He died 3rd October 1997 following an operation. His relentless positivism determined his hatred of funerals. According to Mollie ‘he was a man without malice, kind, modest about his achievements. He preferred to remember friends in life’.

Today, as Dave Langford fondly recalls in his ‘Critical Mass’ column, ‘even now I half-await one more of George’s letters on the famous pterodactyl-headed notepaper, picked out on his ancient typewriter with a ribbon last changed in 1980, and outlining another amazing scheme to transform the world through Science Fiction’. Me too, Dave, me too…


THIS PLANET FOR SALE’ by George Hay (November, 1951, Hamilton & Co). 110-pages, cover art by George Ratcliffe

TERRA!’ as by ‘King Lang’ (1951, Curtis Warren). 112-pages, cover art by Ray Theobald

MAN, WOMAN – AND ANDROID’ by George Hay (a ‘complete novel’ published as ‘Authentic Science Fiction’ magazine dated 15th June 1951, edited by ‘LG Holmes’ aka Gordon Holmes Landsborough), cover art by George Ratcliffe

MOMENT OUT OF TIME’ by George Hay as ‘Roy Sheldon’ (1952, Hamilton Prehistoric Series) ‘A Fast-Moving Yarn of Man’s Struggle For Survival’. 109-pages, cover art by J Pollack

FLIGHT OF THE ‘HESPER’’ by George Hay (1952, Hamilton). Cover art by George Ratcliffe

BEYOND FANTASY FICTION’ (July 1954), magazine edited by HL Gold. Short story “It’s A Gift” as by ‘George Hayman’

HELL HATH FURY’ edited by George Hay (1963 Fantasy Fictional, Neville Spearman) with Cleve Cartmill (‘Hell Hath Fury’), Fritz Leiber Jrn (‘The Bleak Shore’), Robert Bloch (‘The Cloak’), P Schuyler Miller (‘The Frog’), Jane Rice (‘The Refugee’), L Ron Hubbard (‘The Devil’s Rescue’), AM Phillips (‘The Extra Bricklayer’) – stories collected from ‘Unknown Worlds’ magazine 1939-1943. Preface by George Hay

SCIENCE FANTASY no.71’ (April 1965) features George Hay short story “Over And Out”

IMPULSE no.4’ (June 1966) features George Hay short story “Synopsis”

THE DISAPPEARING FUTURE: A SYMPOSIUM OF SPECULATION’ edited by George Hay (1970, Panther ISBN 0-5860-3323-8) with James Blish, Michael Moorcock, John W Campbell Jr, Samuel R Delaney, Anne McCaffrey, Dr Christopher Evans, David I Masson, Christopher Priest, IF Clarke, Perry A Chapdelaine, Edward Misham, Anthony Haden-Guest, Kit Pedler

SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW no.43’ (March 1971) with George Hay poem “Twenty Years On”. Edited by Richard E Geis

THE BEST OF JOHN W CAMPBELL’ (1973, Sidgwick & Jackson) edited by George Hay. Introduction by James Blish. With ‘Who Goes There’, ‘Forgetfulness’, ‘Double Minds’, ‘Out Of Night’, ‘The Cloak Of Aesir’ & bibliography

STOPWATCH’ edited by George Hay (1974, New English Library) with John Brunner (‘The Protocols Of The Elders Of Britain’), Robert P Holdstock (‘Ash, Ash’), AE van Vogt (‘All We Have On This Planet’), Ian Watson (‘EA 5000: Report On The Effects Of Riot Gas’), Christopher Priest (‘The Invisible Men’), Andrew Darlington (‘When The Music’s Over’) and others

THE EDWARD DE BONO SCIENCE FICTION COLLECTION’ edited by George Hay (1976, Elmfield Press, Leeds ISBN 0-7057-0068-2), a selection of stories chosen to illustrate Dr De Bono’s theories of ‘lateral thinking’ from ‘Astounding/ Analog’ 1940-57, ‘Galaxy’ 1952, and ‘If’ 1964, with Raymond F Jones (‘Noise Level’), L Sprague De Camp (‘Hyperpelosity’ & ‘The Warrior Race’), AE van Vogt (‘The Monster’), Eric Frank Russell (‘The Glass Eye’), William Tenn (‘Firewater’) and others

THE FOOD OF THE GODS’ by HG Wells (November 1976, Sphere reissue), with introduction by George Hay

THE NECRONOMICON: THE BOOK OF DEAD NAMES’ edited by George Hay (1978 Neville Spearsman, Corgi, ISBN 0-552-980935), a ‘semi-serious reconstruction’ of HP Lovecraft’s ‘unspeakable forbidden’ book, introduction by Colin Wilson, with short George Hay fiction “Letter From Dr Stanislavs Hinterstoisser”, plus L Sprague De Camp, Christopher Frayling & Angela Carter, Gavin Stamp & Robert Turner (a practising occultist who devised Clthulhu’s incantations)

PULSAR I’ (1978, Penguin) editor George Hay, selecting David Langford (‘The Still Small Voice Inside’), Bob Shaw (‘Small World’), HG Wells (‘Foretelling The Future’), Ian Watson (‘Immune Dreams’), Christopher Evans (‘The Time Travellers’), AE van Vogt (‘Death Talk’) and others

PULSAR 2’ (1979, Penguin) editor George Hay, selecting EC Tubb (‘The Knife’), Robert P Holdstock (‘High Pressure’), Christopher Holdstock (‘The Human Operator’), Alan Dean Foster (‘What Do the Simple Folk Do?), Garry Kilworth (‘A Warrior Falls’) and others

GHOSTS AND SCHOLARS no.1: THE M.R. JAMES NEWSLETTER’ (1979) edited by Rosemary Pardoe (Haunted Library) includes George Hay story “A Serious Call” – ‘my story is set in a London Polytechnic, and any ‘horror’ involved concerns the truly ghastly nature of such institutions. A novel approach to the subject, I like to think’ (from a letter to me dated 27 December 1979). The story is reprinted in ‘The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series VIII’ edit Karl Edward Wagner (Daw, 1980), and ‘Horrorstory: Volume 3’ edit Karl Edward Wagner (Underwood-Miller, 1992)

MORE GHOSTS AND SCHOLARS’ (1980) edited by Rosemary Pardoe (Haunted House) includes George Hay short story “All That Flies”

LUDDS MILL no.18’ (October 1982) features George Hay short story “Of A Still Night”

GHOSTS AND SCHOLARS no.7’ (1985) includes George Hay short story “An Error Of Long Standing”. Art by Alan Hunter

THE LETTERS OF JOHN W CAMPBELL Volume 1’ (1985, AC Projects ISBN 0-931150-16-7) the texts of Campbell’s letters to, or about, 283 SF writers and scientists, edited by Perry A Chapdelaine, Sr, Tony Chapdelaine, and George Hay

PAPERBACK INFERNO no.55’ (August 1985, BSFA publ), edited by Andy Sawyer, with George Hay article “Keeping Books In Print… By One Who Knows”

HENRY BROCKEN: HIS TRAVELS AND ADVENTURES IN THE RICH, STRANGE, SCARCE-IMAGINABLE REGIONS OF ROMANCE’ by Walter de la Mere (1904 novel, reprinted by TalisMan Books/ Lewis-Graham, 1987) Introduction by George Hay

THE R’LYET TEXT’ by Robert Turner (1995, Skoob Books, ISBN 1-871438-90-X) Preface by George Hay, with introduction by Colin Wilson

FOUNDATION no.70’ (Summer 1997) George Hay review of ‘Retrieved From The Future’ by John Seymour. A frequent reviewer for ‘Foundation’ George also reviewed from ‘Black Destroyer’ by AE van Vogt in no.24 (February 1982) to ‘World Brain’ by HG Wells for no.66 (Spring 1996)

THE INHERITORS’ by Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford (1999, Liverpool University Press ISBN 0-85323-560-0) Foreword by George Hay

References made to ‘Critical Mass’ by David Langford, in ‘Odyssey’ magazine (no.2, 1998)