1968, We occupy the LSE: and 1969, Bubbles at Teenburger
In, maybe, February of 67, Barney and I occupy the London (University*) School of Economics(LSE).
Inside, the London School of Economics feels very much like the institutional walls of Twickenham, with that familiar educational aroma, but bigger and darker, with burnt-sienna panelled wood walls instead of cream and green paint. Walking through the unguarded empty entrance on a Sunday, down a corridor, the air smelling of school dust, we furtively join a throng of people milling. We look at a chalk board on a seat at a T-junction, with a list of choices, and a go-right arrow pointing to the print shop. Barney is all, “Looks like that’s the way for us.” We enter the print room. In between the two big rooms used to produce the posters and placards, decided on by the Text Commitee, are two big brown-wooden folding-screen dividers flung half-open.
We clean screens for the print workshop, while the French Situationists, and the Maoists, who don’t agree with each other, argue the toss. Colin (just beginning ‘Barney’ now) and I are both skilled squeegee-bashers. While the politicians go loud behind the now closed dividers (because of a strong sniff), we assiduously scrub, with the sweet noxious gas off the methylated spirits spiking our breath for an ugly hot-high; us hard working chaps deserve a break.
So I figure we can just grasp a clean screen and cut ourselves a stencil, unseen. I walk over and pull one we’ve just cleaned.
We work during the day, when finished I hid the screen under the table and we leave for Leigh Court by bus. I spend about 2 hours cutting the paper stencils of the ‘Black Mickey Mouse’ late at night – past nine o’clock(!) from Colin’s idea. An idea that he had already painted on the wrecked Vespa body for the Leukemia Show at Twickers back in ’63. (Later in November ’64, the Vespa was lost after the enormous jumble sale I arranged for the Boy Scouts at the ‘Mansions’ block-long attic on Hammersmith Road. Barney is incensed, “That was an important piece!”)
Lessons in getting the job done
Next day we tape up our precious work, the paper-stencil I had hand-cut from Fulcher’s drawing. We carefully position the stencil on the screen, and place the L-shaped card-board registers for the paper on the board.
Barney leaves for an hour or so for some biz at Conran, I think. Working on clean-up, I’m across the room from our screen, two desks tween me and the stencil. When suddenly, up runs some 27-year-old, 165 pounds, 5-foot ten, brown-eyed officer of righteousness, the very caricature of a bossy Frenchy-Marxist-Situationist, with oily-black flopped hair, a comic-book mustache, and a sneer, who rushes the screen. All leather jacket and attitude, he comes up, rips the daintily cut paper-stencil, mask, cover, retouching and all. All of it, off the stretched silk, he’s yelling, “You have no permission from the commitee to have zis screen!”
We leave. Barney is not pleased, fact is, he is very pizzed off. “Why didn’t you stop him?”
Me, “So what was I going to do, fight him?” Sitting in top front seats of the double decker going home, he doesn’t speak ’til we get to Ken High Street.
He became Barney as a permanent thing in ‘68, partly as ref to ‘Barney’s Beanery’ in LA. during his ‘Frisco trip, and he added the ‘Bubbles’ a bit later as a riff on his light show at the Speakeasy.
Coming soon: Read later about Bruce Connor the sometime anonymous San Franciscan.
Life in the ‘Grove
1969. Any description of life at Teenburger, Barney’s place at 307 Portobello is going to be fun.
The building is on a rise in Portobello Road, as you walk north, up from under the bridges and the buried tributary of the Westbourne River sewer, it’s right there, fourth or fifth store on the left, unless they’ve built some more in the crater on the corner. There is a setback sidewalk, what the Brits call a pavement, with big square stone slabs, probably covering what were gardens at one time – good space for a stall on Saturdays during the street-market.
A line up of Teenburgers: with Barney in the middle, damp eyed on acid; with the Motherburger, Giana looking doubtful; that’s Crispin Thomas ‘the Football Poet’ on the far left? (?) his beau Jenny is left front; Rod standing, 2nd from left; 3rd is Colin Elder from Dundee, a friend of my brother Peter (not here), who both guarded the Thames Fort that Barney designed a model of for Ed Moulton’s pirate radio station; Record John Cowell 2nd from right – he’s Simon Cowell’s brother: for a while. my good friend David Herrera, The Mexican Painter, lived at Teenburger then too, but didn’t want his phisog seen.
They are standing on the 4-foot wide, rectangular, bent iron grills over the basement vents. There’s trash in the street left over from last Sunday’s veggie-market. The buildings were, at that time, decrepit three-storey early Victorian row-houses built in that in badly-pointed London-course pattern of mustardy-grey brick, with lots of water-dissolved, white saltpeter exuded and dribbling down the damp bits, ready for making gunpowder, should anybody care to.
There’s a sagging, low-pitched roof, with a 2-foot false-front parapet trying to hide leaning chimneys. Maybe you could call ’em Georgian on a sunny day, erected by some Lordly Westbourne slum-Lord around 1835, hoping to gentrify, back in the days of the stinking swamps, the fetid tanneries and the potteries’ kilns with their comparatively pleasant, burned aroma of oak and coal. The kilns’ curious inverted wineglass-shapes were still to be seen in the ’70’s in someone’s back yard down the road.
Many of the houses were never finished in this area; the good Lord went arse-up, estate unsold. Much of the unfinished stonework architectural detail is missing to this day. This description of an old workin’ class district, would not be complete wivaht mention of the burglar’s fence operations over in Shepherd’s Bush. ‘Course the Grove itself, y’r Honor, is renown for some of the best thievin’ daylight-men in all of the city, which was of obvious benefit to the lads in the ‘Bush. Nice arrangement that, right? (Read the Quincunx.)
Hawkwind, Warrior and Bike
So, where was I? Yerst. It would have been about this time that I saw, in the downstairs studio, the originals for the Hawkwind black and white Indian-Ink on card drawings. About 18 x 24 inches. They had a trace-paper cover and folded-card cover, all Sellotaped on the back in pro-presentation style.
Barney tells me he got Chris Higson to help with this shield and warrior art, you can see the result in the multi-dimensional, shiny-splendor of the circles on the shield, intertwined with swirls and reflections, in a virtuoso of counterpoint. And that Helmet! Those curves are very Higson. Compare this with the rather flat, angled motor-cycle that Barney drew. They both used cribs found by Barney for reference. I said, “Does he get credit?” Barney said Higson didn’t want his name used because of contracts with his agent; I forget the name now. “Saxon Artists” that’s it. Barney goes, “Anyway, I don’t either.”
For further discussion of the tale of the credit, check the comments below.
Industrial squalor with style
So, anyway, to continue, in the building was the pandemonium of a frat-house slum on acid. There was an attempt at a spacious drawing-board studio on the ground floor to begin with. Then that moved upstairs, for a hippie record store, and later, a clothes ‘Booteek’ store on the ground floor. Bodies were shuffled around on the various floors, using sleeping bags, no beds.
There was a smallish wooden cartouche with ‘Teenburger’ in Bubbles script where the fire-insurance tag would have been, centered on the second floor brick front.
A curtained off space to hide the naked. Those who lived there will, I’m sure, soon write about the living arrangements (Carol, Cathy, Rod?) – too Byzantine, or Florentian maybe, for me to document.
Sometime, in June maybe, we were working, laying concrete under the basement gratings (see photograph above) – where if you looked up you could see people standing above, which was just as you’d imagine. We were setting up the alcoves beneath the set-back pavement, or sidewalk as I’d call it now, with a view to have sleeping cots there, instead of valuable art-space upstairs. ‘Course they didn’t on account of the rain dribbling through the grating, as I told poncy Rod, who said they’d put up “rain protection” ground sheets. He didn’t like that, and I was out of there for a while.
I ruined my first pair of Dr. Maarten’s (later to be renown as ‘Doc Marten’s) good boots, whilst laying concrete there.
A month or so after they move in, on a Saturday, Barney very formally invites me over, from my place down a couple of blocks, on Basset Road. This was a second floor flat which I shared with that beautiful and creative feline, the Hungarian, Diney Bercel, who worked as an architect in Florence after the floods, and the now renowned LA Museum antique-restorer, the gorgeous Rita George. Ah, it was heaven, until the jealousy of course.
The following story is totally false, I must have dreamed it after Paul Gorham first shewed me a picture of the Stonehenge painting. Misty fade, dream time, Gorbody said it was not to his liking, and used a bad word, that it wasn’t by Barney, even though I know it is, and Gorblimey didn’t use it in his book.
Gorham believes it was Paul Olsen who painted this view of Stonehenge and Paul agrees, says it was never at 307 Portobello. Like I said, way early on in this venture, I wouldn’t trust my memory in any court case about all this.
Barney wants me to look at a painting he’s done for Funky Paul who was commissioned by some folk to paint Stonehenge, but unfortunately he can’t paint a scene. So Barnstable does, with input from some of his campy roomies, in particular, the American draft-protester, Rod, who had the ‘idea’ to put mirrors as the moon and stuff on the purple sci-fi Stonehenge night scape. Barney calls me up to say he’d been painting and could I come over to look because of my Stonehenge field-cred. Barney said it was the first one of a series of what would be his paintings, what did I think of the mirrors? I said I thought the mirrors were kinda flaky. Barney says that’s the downside of commune-work and sighs. But I liked the Stones flying in the air as a prehistoric UFO, as being remarkably accurate. Great colour too, a night on the plains, where the telegraph poles are singing their lonely song, if you put your ear to them, just like Leadbelly spoke about. When he finished it, Barney was going to, and did, send it to Funky Paul In LA, which he did at great expense. He had to wrap it up all protected like with wood. Never got paid for the packaging either. This was so Paul could bring it back over with him when he returned, and be met at the airport in London by the client, and they’d think Funky Paul painted it. Except they didn’t meet him there. End dream.
Back in reality as it was
Then all that crew got turfed-out at the instigation of Ted Moulton doing a Rackman, tryin’ to up the income on the property, at Barney’s expense. The merry band was breaking up. Moulton, rented it to the former ex-Rolling Stone magazine London-edition crew, for their new pursuit, Friends. Barney moves uptown to the railway-line council-house and commuted six blocks to work at Friends where he formed some of the best graphic work ever seen on newsprint.Later, when Moulton went down Carey Street, (bankrupt) they, Frendz with a z, sometimes paid the bank, but not always.
*Dad playing mum
Lengthy aside: My dad took a London University engineering course for his BSc. at night school while in the Boys Service of the fledgling RAF, at armament research, Martlesham Heath in the 20’s. So mum told me not to tell him we were occupying the LSE.
One project that my dad, Cecil S Wills BSc, worked on in the 1930’s was spying on Goering’s gliders at an air-show in Nuremberg – and then co-designing, and working on drawings to show to the builder. These plans were filed away and resurfaced in ‘41 in response to orders from Winston Churchill, who wanted a quick answer for the need for gliders. And that’s how Dad’s plans he had drawn up ten years previously were used for the Horsa glider, of D-Day fame and, unfortunately, A Bridge Too Far at Arnhem. The scary controlled, ‘Horsa stall’ used for flack evasion was influenced by dad’s aeronautical skills.
The Horsa also used my dad’s ideas for the clever hook and hawser method, used to pick up our chaps, Chindit’s spies, deep in the Burma jungle of occupied Japanese territory. Able to land in small clearings with the Horsa stall, the take off was achieved using a jury-rigged affair, with the glider attached to a hawser suspended on a ‘clothes line’, suspended between two trees which was hooked by a low flying Lancaster (?) to grab the glider on the ground and pull it up almost vertically out of the small jungle clearings.
He also helped perfect their sighting methods, later used on the Mohene Dam Bouncing Betty Bomb used in The Dam Busters. That’s what the Fleet Air Arm, and Navy planes also, used to land on aircraft carriers up until computers. That was dad’s work based on compass orienting sight-mirrors. Used on Concorde. And, incidentally, the source for the renown BBC ‘Goon Show’ use of the old magician’s hoary line, “It’s all done with mirrors.”
My dad always answered the phone basso profiundo, with a deep “Wills here!” that I used to deride as staged, but now recognise as quite effective to establish his authority to cover his shyness at public speaking.
It was he came who came up with the name ‘Horsa’, as in Hengist and Horsa, those two-timing redheads from up-north; Pictish mercenaries hired by Kentish folk to defend against the Vikings. The plucky lads then took over Kent and ruled with an iron fist. The RAF chose Horsa because Churchill wanted all gliders to be named beginning with ‘H’ and Dad had worked on the design of two: The unbuilt Hengist version was strengthened for use with an auxiliary engine for powered take offs.
Dad told me he was in a Nissen hut in 1941, visiting up at Boscombe Down attending a meeting presenting the plans he had drawn back at Marrltesham Heath in the ’30’s. (With his old compass set that I used for tech drawing). he piped up shyly from the back when no-one in committee could come up with two ‘H’ names. “How about Hengist and Horsa?”
Churchill couln’t come to the meeeting, he had a stomach ache. Dad thought it might have been his wonky shoulder, since Churchill had dislocated it every so often sleeping awkwardly, resulting from when he jumped off a bridge over Branksome Chine playing tag.
Dad had learned about Messrs. H. & Horsa from his “history teacher in the pinafore” at Clapham Grammar in 1916. End aside.