Dodgy-doings in Hackney
The lowdown on the up-and-up?
Sometime in 1967 Barney had told me about a party he’d been to in the East-end, at a family of dustmen in Hackney in London’s East-End. He had been invited by the girls ‘Denise’ and ‘Carol’ (I’m unsure of their names) formerly at the Carnival shop on Hammersmith Road where we’d got supplies for the ‘Sounds good’ event. I was supposed to have gone to the party but didn’t. They were having another knees-up the following year and I went because Barney insisted it would be worthwhile.
When we went to his party in Hackney, Ed Moulton was standing there, a ready-made caricature of the man in the Liverpool deck-chair postcards, standing at the foot of a wide stairway. He was in his 50’s, with balding, black hair; a thin-mustached scrap-metal merchant wearing a loud blue suit and cravat, about 5’ 8”, dark eyes, round face, 180 pounds, leaning importantly against the newel post. Standing on the first step for height, he was welcoming guests. He looked like a man who’d be at the seaside in his roll-upped trousers. When I asked Ed if he was the son of a rag ‘n bone man, he said “Yers, and proud of it. Now I’m in waste-disposal.” I chatted briefly with the blonde at a desk by the side door, who I think may have been ‘Denise’ from the Carnival shop, and left quietly, thinking to contact her later. Never did, and so wrote myself out of that great adventure…
A Dodgy Lad
I thought Ed Moulton a dodgy piece o’ work, which he was, but Barney said he had a wild side, that Ed was crazy cool. “I don’t know if he’s dropped acid or not, but he sure acts like he does.” … and another time, in 1978, when he was detailing his History, Barney goes, “He said I could do anything – anything! I want to.”
Psst! Wanna buy an Adam Fireplace?
Bert Crowther was related to the Aleistair Crowley family, his Syon Lodge in Isleworth, a commercial garden-furniture sales display, was in the open air, a crazy disarray of aged sculpture and bric-a-brac of uncertain provenance. Barney went once or twice on documentary drawing outings there on Thursdays with Mr. Mathews, one of his favorite teachers at Twickenham. The spooky place was at a crossroads, a good place to bury a wart, close by where Barney had gone to grammar school (where selection was by IQ at eleven years)
Isleworth is also the site of a private school that, improbably, Vincent Van Gogh in a brief stay in England, had taught drawing to young women in 1887. They say his spirit wanders yet, painting in the ghostly orchard across the way.
Dead men can’t sue
I think there may have been some connection in about 1962 between Bert Crowther, the sculpture salesman, and our Ed Moulton in some dodgy trade in Adam fireplaces. I asked Barney in ‘83 if Ed was involved with him as a ‘fence’ he said, “Yeah, something like that.” (If any body can verify that I’d be grateful)
In one memorable conversation in late ’68, but of which I have only a vague pictured memory, Barney asks me in the kitchen if I’d want to work with Ed? I’d forgotten about him by then and didn’t know what he was on about. I go, “Who?” so he says, “Well, he’s kind of not the sort of person you’d… you might find him a bit… your dad wouldn’t approve, would you want to work for someone like that?” So I said “No.” And I didn’t.
Pirate Radio in the Teeth of London
Just before Barney left Leigh Court in early 1969, and was all pretty much packed, Barney takes me back into his room at the end of the corridor. “Top secret” he said, “don’t tell anybody” and there, over towards a blanket half draped across the window as a curtain, no light bulb working, in front of the torn out fireplace, there was an exact paper and cardboard model of one of what, at sea, was once a set of seven Maunsell Sea-forts, built to protecct shipping from Nazi bombers in the Thames estuary, off Southend-on-Sea. They were the original designs from which sea-going oil-rigs are modelled. Barney had decorated his mock-up with Marvel and other comic super-characters – Spiderman especially. About 24 inches high his Maunsell Sea-fort was a strong, glorious sight. This was the result of our trip to the bash in Hackney, and was Ed Moulton’s grandiose idea to create a pirate radio station outpost right in the teeth of London.