Wednesday, June 04, 2008

News of the World, UFO and the Rolling Stones 1967

This week's protest at the Daily Mail put me in mind of another series of music-related demonstrations against a right wing British tabloid newspaper: the News of the World. In February 1967 the News of the World tipped off police about drug use at a party at Redlands, the Sussex country home of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. The police raided the house and in June 1967 Richards and fellow Rolling Stone Mick Jagger were jailed for drugs offences.

In his book Watch Out Kids (1972), Mick Farren put the event in the context of a wider police crackdown in the period:

"The authorities weren't slow, either, in getting their shit together to deal with the hippies. As early as March 1967, regional drug squads were formed to deal with the "drug problem" (the only drug problem most of us experienced was not getting enough). In a grand showcase on the first weekend of their operations, this new glossy narc squad managed to bust over 150 hippies, including the Rolling Stones and the IT offices. In subsequent weeks hundreds more kids were busted, in their homes, on the street, or in clubs.

A club being raided by the narcs is a strange experience. One moment there is music, lightshows, dancing: everything normal, and then, suddenly, the band falls apart, the house lights come on and hundreds of people are shuffling about, dropping pills and pieces of ·dope. There are uniforms everywhere. The audience is hastily segregated by sex and dividing screens are erected. Everyone is then searched. This can be a swift frisking or an order to strip, this depends totally on the individual cop's attitude. It is sad that a lot of pigs tend to adopt the manners of Gestapo officers in B-­feature war movies. If you're clean it's okay to leave, in fact, you are forced to leave, and even to go home, by police stationed in the street outside. It doesn't matter that you've broken no law, and paid for a good deal more entertainment. In the eyes of the drug squad you are guilty by association and lucky not to have been arrested. In this kind of raid it's women who suffer most. Women of 23 and 24 without means of proving their age find themselves hauled in on suspicion of being under age…'

On the day Jagger and Richards were convicted (29 June 1967), Farren was involved in organising a protest:

'The general opinion was that a protest should be made the same evening at the News of the World building. Everyone split to spread the word, and agreed to meet at midnight for the demonstration. Those of us who were left went to the house of one girl's parents where there were two phone lines which we were confident were not tapped. For the next three hours we called people solidly telling them (a) to show up at midnight in Fleet Street, and (b) to start calling people they knew to tell them about it.

At about a quarter to twelve we arrived at the News of the World to find that about fifty freaks had shown up. It was disappointing, but it didn't last. From then on hippies began to show up in droves, until by twelve-­thirty the narrow streets around the newspaper building were thronged with a weird assortment of people. Hippies came with drums and flutes, political heavies in leather jackets. Superstars drove around the building in limousines. A rock band equipment manager blocked the street with his truck.

The police were totally unprepared. Accustomed to protests that were planned and publicised for weeks in advance, they had no rules for dealing with these dial-a-mob tactics. It took them at least an hour to raise a force capable of dealing with the 1,500 freaks paralysing the newspaper building. So unprepared were the police that most of the people they did arrest had to be released because the arresting officers could not be found in the confusion.

The protests continued for two more days. The second day (Friday) the audience at UFO, the weekly rock/multi-media concert, left the club and marched to Piccadilly, where they found the police, equipped with dogs, waiting for them. After an hour of scuffles and abuse the crowd returned to the club, where a number of people were treated for cuts, bruises and dog bites.

On the Saturday things got a little heavy. Late in the evening between two and three thousand kids showed up in Fleet Street again, with the intention of blocking the street so the Sunday newspaper could not be shipped out. The police, this time, really had their shit together. In addition to uniformed pigs operating in force, hurling people back on the sidewalk and attempting to split the crowd into small groups, detectives and plain clothes men mingled with the demonstrators with orders to "pick out the ring leaders." As I was pushed across the road by the uniformed squad four of these infiltrators grabbed me, dragged me into a door way and worked me over with their fists and boots.

Joe Boyd, like Mick Farren, was involved in running the UFO club in London's Tottenham Court Road. In his book 'White Bicycles: making music in the 1960s' (2005) he recalled the night of the second protest, Friday 30th June 1967 as the peak of the sixties:

For the UFO audience, the Stones' bust represented the sinister collusion of circulation-seeking editors, treacherous grasses and killjoy drug squads. Jagger and Richards may have been wealthy superstars, but they were counter­culture heroes, too. Hoppy had also been busted that spring (after a plainclothes man reached, conjuror-like, behind his sofa and pulled out an evidentiary plum) and had just been sentenced to eight months in Wormwood Scrubs. Ads and editorials in the International Times, posters around UFO and graffiti in Notting Hill Gate reminded everyone of the injustice. A bucket was circulated at the club, the money going to a legal defence fund for drug busts.

We decided to close the club after the first set and parade through the West End, finishing off with a protest in front of the News of the World building in Fleet Street. The West End at 1 a.m. on a Friday night was nothing like as busy as it is today, but there were quite a few 'normals' about, and they gaped as we rounded Piccadilly and headed for Leicester Square, then down through Covent Garden towards Fleet Street. Our destination was a letdown: the News of the World building was dark and silent. Firebrands among us started planning a blockade of the Sunday paper and an assault on their vans the next night.

The long walk in the night air, the hostile stares from the 'straights' and the threats from the police had energized everyone, so the club was packed and buzzing when Tomorrow hit the stage about 4 a.m. The unity of spirit between audience and musicians was tremendous: Twink had been at the head of our two-hundred-strong column. Tearing into 'White Bicycle', they had never sounded tighter. At some point Skip from The Pretty Things took over on drums as Twink grabbed the microphone and plunged into the audience. Howe's playing moved to another level of intensity, sending the dancers leaping into the cones of light as Twink crawled along the floor, hugging people and chanting 'Revolution, revolution'. Everyone was high - on chemicals or adrenalin or both. You really did believe in that moment that 'when the mode of music changes, the walls of the city shake'. The tide of history was with us and music was the key.

The bill for this glorious moment was presented a month later. The News of the World may not have known who we were before that weekend, but they certainly did afterwards. The fruits of their plotting burst forth on the last Sunday in July: beneath a grainy, out-of-focus shot of a bare­breasted girl, the front page screamed that she was fifteen years old and that the photograph had been taken at the 'hippy vice den' known as UFO. Our normally stoic landlord buckled under police pressure and evicted us.


Rachel said...

This is fascinating. I love the vision and direction of your blog. What a wonderful new historiography it is!!

Transpontine said...

Thanks PF, btw I've got some good stuff coming up on Valentino.

StefanSzczelkun said...

The final line of Farren obit in the Telegraph "He collapsed and died as the band was playing Cocaine & Gunpowder at The Borderline in Soho." !