Way beyond a pale

Here as promised, drawings of my 1976, Street Lightnin’ Gang, stencil-graffiti bust

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David Wills in Street Lightnin’ Gang uniform, top picture is outside Camden Town Underground station

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Wills sprays the traffic light control box in Notting Hill Gate.

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Busted by Sergeant Bootsy!

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Bootsy says, “OK. Keep your hands on the back of the seat in front of you.”

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Sergeant Fraser books Wills in for Malicious Damage.

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Sergeant Bootsy signs off on “Defacing a pale.”

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Wills leaves for Lucinda Cowell’s place in what used to be his old flat on Basset Road
– Bootsy stays the night in the cell.

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Next day, early in the morning at Marylebone Magistrates court.

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Wills pleads guilty, the judge asks if he has anything to say, he says, “Won’t do it again.”
The judge returns the stencil, when told it is an art object.

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The notice of a 55 pound fine.

It was on a  grey day, Sunday 11 January 1976,* that, after I had been visiting with graphic-designer Barney B, I walked from The Barbican four miles to stay at what had been my old flat on Basset Rd. with the vivacious Lucinda Cowell,+ whom I had met one Saturday in the ‘Bridge Kaff’ (The Mountain Grill) on Portobello.

On the journey, carrying a back pack and two shoulder bags, somewhere around Camden Town, I found a sombrero that added to my odd appearance. By the time I got to Notting Hill, and having sprayed my recently cut stencil in a couple of places, I got too careless and was busted, literally red handed, spray paint dribbling, as I stenciled, on a traffic-light control box, “Street Lightnin’ Gang Rules Easy, OK.” This art was one of a series of cardboard stencils I had designed that related to SLG President Molly (now Mrs. Mark Bode) Rodriguez’s ‘World Teleport’ system of world free transport. It was an early green solution to reduce world pollution from cars and planes, World Teleport’s tag line is “Get’s you where you want to go, in your own time.” (A line that was later adopted by the Grateful Dead.) All one has to to do is brand a space with a stencil, (it can be on paper attached with sticky tape) and there’s your teleport. If you really want to, you’ll get there one way or another.

Back to the story. I was apprehended by Sgt. ‘Bootsy’ Frankton of the Notting Hill Gate constabulary. (The guys who had targeted the underground magazine Oz I had worked on intermittently from ‘67 to ‘71.) Bootsy drove up, unnoticed in what I think may have been his cop car, yelling. “Stop that! You’re under arrest!”

Bootsy was in a bad temper because I had interrupted his journey home, and he thought I was potentially dangerous, so I was delivered under guard in the back seat by Police Constable Michael Moody, whom we picked up on the way to the station. In the booking room, while being questioned at his typewriter by Sgt. Fraser, I drew portraits of the assembled coppers.

I drew PC Moody (who had once booked writer/artist Heathcote Williams) as he discussed with Sgt. Fraser how to get Bootsy back home the quickest – because Bootsy’d had a hellava week and deserved an uninterrupted trouser-roll at the seaside he’d booked on his week off.

As I drew him, Moody looked up in a big legal tome, a lesser offense than the felony ‘Malicious Mischief’, or similar, that Bootsy was going to throw at me – and which would have taken him all week to report and try. So Moody came up with a misdemeanor, an old Victorian statute, one of the applicable citations being, ‘Defacing a Pale.’

The tea-lady walks in and says, “Anybody for tea and biscuits, you want some too dear?” And I swear to some god – I was served tea.

The deal was that Bootsy could get priority on the roster with a nice simple case, so we could both appear in Marylebone Magistrates court first thing, at eight in the morning on Monday along with the other easy cases such as women of the night and those people stealing electricity. I’d be the first case (Fraser had pull with the clerk) and so get Bootsy home for his break – as long as I plead guilty.

This is where it got funny. Bootsy lived forty mile away in Abinger, Kent, so to save traveling to and fro for our first thing in the morning trial, the arrangement was that he, the cop, slept overnight in the cell – while I conveniently went off to the joy of Basset Road.

I got to sleep with Lucinda up in a loft in what I think had been the future LA antique restorer, Rita George’s room, in the apartment we had shared back around 1970. It was in Rita’s room that I’d first tripped in ‘69, after sipping unknowingly on the acid-spiked-orange juice on Garry Rusoff’s  dining table (see my last post about Garry’s visit with Bruce Connors).

•••

The judge said “Do you know what you are accused of?”

I go, “Defacing a pale,” titters in court.

“What have you got to say?”

“Won’t do it again, can I have my stencil back?”

The clerk tells him that I said it was an “art object.” The judge fines me maximum, 55 pounds Sterling, but gave me back the stencil.

•••

I gave that stencil to a fellow artist, to use in my absence. (He could have been [but wasn’t] the line-man Alan Stephenson, from Bristol, who said he was the distant grandson of ‘Rocket’ Stevenson.) The cops never got the Oz connection.

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  • I had previously posted I had been “visiting Barney’s studio on Paul Street, as he worked on the Elvis Costello’s ‘My Aim is True’ sleeve, with all that small pearl type (it’s not really that small) meticulously stuck in little squares and positioned by hand. He was arranging a visit down in Fleet with our old friend Alison, who was featured on the album,” but that must have been in 1977. I just recently discovered the date of the court appearance on the court document as being 12 January 1976, the day after my adventure,  and that doesn’t square with the date of the Costello album, so I revised the story. Where I had been visiting with Barney so that I was in the Barbican I am at a loss to explain. I suppose I didn’t get down to visit Alison until I returned by Teleport from San Francisco the next year, in 1978. All very confusing, but hey, it was all a very long time ago…

+ Lucinda Cowell, being American, is as far as I know is no relation of A1GG ‘Record’ John Cowell or his brother, the TV fella, Simon Cowell, of amateur hour on the box, but what with all the other coincidences and whatnot – she might be. To add another level to the odd coincidences, when Lucinda moved back to San Francisco, she moved into, yet again, my old flat on Clay at Levenworth.

John Cowell has subsequently confirmed that Lucinda is not a relative. I did however date John’s friend, the elegant and very educational Victoria. Her dad was the retired spy, with a stall in the Camden Market.

This is a longer version of a post previously on this site and reprinted from the Haight Beat, San Francisco.

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