‘Kaleidoscopic Colour, Beautiful People’: Hoppy and the Sixties Underground

Hoppy, the Pied Piper of the Underground and involved centrally in virtually every key counterculture event in this city in the 1960s, died on January 30, 2015, aged 77. He co-founded the International Times, which became the voice of the hippie movement; he set up the London Free School which in turn brought us the Notting Hill Carnival; he established the UFO psychedelic club which brought us Pink Floyd; and promoted the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream at Alexandra Palace, which kicked off the Summer of Love in London.

He was also its martyr. As nominal leader of a movement that didn’t really have or want a leader, he was targeted by the Establishment so while all his hippie friends were turning on tuning in and dropping out in the summer of 1967, he was doing 8 months hard time in Wormwood Scrubs for possession. By the time he was released in January 1968, he wasn’t the same and the counterculture had clicked over into a new less peaceful year and he was never at the centre of events in the same way again.

Originally a nuclear physicist for the Atomic Energy Authority – seriously! – who lost his security clearance after an episode in Moscow with Young Communist Party members in 1960, he turned to photography, specialising in fabulous black and white portraits of jazz and R&B stars of the day, mainly for the Melody Maker. He did pop stars too. He was – may still be – the only person ever to have photographed the Rolling Stones before lunch. Nice to know Mick and Keef were thoroughly unreliable even in 1964. A studio was booked for 11am and after five minutes it was clear it wasn’t going to work. They were all asleep and they were literally holding up Keith, so they went to a café nearby and had the shots taken while they were drinking restorative cups of tea. 

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He was front and centre for the event that is often cited as the beginning of that radical Sixties Underground, which most people figure started on Friday 11 June 1965 at the Royal Albert Hall, with Poetry of the World/Poets of Our Time which is usually known as the International Poetry Festival or The Poetry Olympics. It featured famous American Beats, poets like Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg who happened to be in London – he had already inserted himself into Bob Dylan’s entourage at the Savoy hotel and can be seen cavorting behind Bob dropping his big cards in Don’t Look Back. He gave a fabulous reading of ‘Howl’ at Better Books at 94 Charing Cross Rd and everyone thought, wow we should rent the Albert Hall and put on a  poetry festival.

The organising committee – they called The Poetry Cooperative, obviously – included Hoppy doing the photos and using his contacts to get publicity in all the papers. The Albert Hall was booked for £400 (plus £100 for every hour they overran – we’ll come back to that) for June 11. Tickets were 10/ downstairs and 5/ up in the gods and many brought their own picnics or smokeables which were shared communally. All 7000 tickets were sold, at which point thought this might be a movement and thus started of the Underground in London.

Ginsberg headlined but was drunk an slurred his words, something you can get away with at a Stones show but not at a poetry recital, although not many people noticed. It was more of a social event an refused to leave as  the lights went up, something the Poetry couldn’t afford. It overran by 2 hours adding 50% to their costs. It did make £1000 profit all told but someone on the committee ran off with the money.

Next on a trip to America, Hoppy saw the Free University of New York, an educational enterprise set up by professors who had been sacked for protesting against the Vietnam War, so he returned to London and helped set up the London Free School in the basement of 22 Powis Terrace W11, as a community adult education project for the downtrodden. To raise funds, they held a series of benefits on Fridays throughout the autumn in the church hall of All Saints Church opposite featuring the band described as ‘London’s farthest out group’: the Pink Floyd. The Free School didn’t last – most remember quite a lot of sex and drugs but not many lessons – but the Floyd did. And so did the Notting Hill Carnival, which began in August 1966 with one lorry and about 50 people marching with one steel band that sort of went on a walkabout and everyone followed.

If 7,000 people could pack out the Albert Hall, then they might want a newspaper, which as it turns out they did: the International Times, an intense mixture of radical thinking and avant-garde carryings-on, where you could check out where to get your macrobiotics and the price of hash. When they needed start-up funds, they approached Paul McCartney, MBE, a far more radical and switched on Beatle than John Lennon, who wrote a cheque. The launch issue was 14 October 1966 with a launch party and fundraiser the next night at The Roundhouse in Chalk Farm Road. Not the beautifully and stylishly refurbished Roundhouse we know now mind, but one with no proper floor, grime everywhere, no heating (this was October), an electricity supply only sufficient to power a small house and most importantly only 2 toilets for 2,000 people. There were films and a psychedelic light show projected onto a plastic sheets hanging from the balcony. The Soft Machine were on first and the Underground’s house band the Pink Floyd headlined. Just as their set finished, the electrics blew.

A few weeks later, on Friday 23 December 1966, he and friend Joe Boyd opened the UFO Club – always pronounced Yoo-Fo – in the basement of ‘The Blarney Club’ at 31 Tottenham Court Road, opposite the Dominion Theatre. Actually the club was called ‘UFO Presents Night Tripper’; the ‘Night’ relevant because it ran all night and ‘Tripper’ because…well, you can probably guess.

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Hoppy ran the lights, Joe ran the business. Hoppy played the music and sat atop a scaffold at the back of the club, making gnomic announcements, showing old Charlie Chaplin or Marilyn Monroe films, and projecting dazzling light shows. The live music was once again provided by the Floyd, who despite the times showed their breadhead creds by negotiating an increase from £50 a night to £75 the moment they sighed a record deal. UFO also gave us The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Procul Harum, who followed the Floyd as house band and played there the week ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ was released and again 6 weeks later when it went to Number One.

The Police pressured the landlord to kick them out after six months so they moved to the Roundhouse and the Man didn’t like the look of the International Times either. In early April 1967, they raided their offices in a calculated attempt to close the paper down, so to raise money for its legal defence,Hoppy and Joe organised the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream benefit concert, held at Alexandra Palace on 29 April 1967. The flyer promised 30 top groups in a night of kaleidoscopic colour and beautiful people. All for a quid.

An estimated 10,000 punters crowded into the hall. Two stages had been erected inside the cavernous hall – bands often playing simultaneously! who could tell anyway? –  with a smaller central stage designed for poets, performance artists like Yoko Ono, jugglers and dancers, with names like the Tribe Of The Sacred Mushroom and The Exploding Galaxy. Top of the bill of course were Pink Floyd, who went on stage just as dawn was breaking. The light of the new spring day streamed through the huge glass window as the band played and many watched the sun come up lying on the grass outside

But the Establishment cannot tolerate such goings on and Hoppy was busted at home at 115 Queensway just before Christmas 1966He was out of the country at the time but the Man found people smoking exotic cigarettes in his living room so he was charged with allowing his place to be used for taking drugs. There was a big campaign to free him but the authorities wanted to make an example. Rather than take a caution and a fine, he opted for trial by jury, so he could treat the court to a full-on exposition of hid “tune in, turn on, drop out” philosophy. Pot was harmless, he explained, the law should be changed. The judge disagreed not surprisingly, called him a pest to society and sent him down for 9 months on June 1 1967, the day ironically Sgt Pepper was released.

Shaken by the severity of his punishment – most thought he’d get a fine – he was never the same force after his release, directing his energy into less confrontational causes and making his living as an academic and from his photography. The Free School lasted but a few months, UFO didn’t survive the move to Chalk Farm, someone ran off with the Technicolour Dream’s benefit money, but the International Times survived and belive it or not, is still going online only in this brave new world.

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