I returned once more to Blackpool. Anna was waiting, she had been living with my mother during my absence and she had earned us quite a bit of money. She told me that she was fed up and didn’t want to continue working in the pub. We had met a group of musicians in Blackpool. The drummer, Paul Varley, had been in a group that I used to manage when I was in the club business. He was now with a new group called The Purple Haze. They were about to do a tour of Europe and so they invited me along with them. I was to be their personal photographer. The tour lasted five weeks and on our return to England, we all went to live together in London. Their sound man Ken and I became long lasting buddies as you will see as the story unfolds.
One day we all received an invitation from one of our friends in Preston, David. He was having his 21st birthday party. He was the son of one of the wealthiest and most respected families in the North of England. His father owned the local manor house and all the local dignitaries played cricket there once a year. The local police chief, the mayor and other important people had all been invited to David’s party.
David had delivered our invitations personally when he came up to London to score the drugs. He told us that he had bought 500 tabs of acid and a kilo of best Paki Black as well as two Buddha Balls and three dozen Thai sticks. We were astounded, that was enough drugs to stone a whole army but when considering that there would be hundreds of people at his party, well we would see. He told us that the party would start off at the Manor and then move to the local nightclub. He went on to say that the tabs of acid would be mixed in all the food and drink. The small party pies would have one tab in each. The Paki Black was to be mixed in the trifle and other sweets.
The day arrived and we all loaded into the group van for our 300 mile trip to Preston. Unfortunately we were delayed by a minor breakdown and so we arrived late. The party had already moved to the night club and when we arrived there was a very strange ambience. At the front door of the club stood a police officer, the type that wears a peaked cap. As we approached the door, he wished us a Merry Xmas which was strange as it was only July. He didn’t seem to be able to say any more than that. He was in a trance-like state. Inside the club the atmosphere was – well to be honest it is really difficult to explain – it was like a chiffon scarf was hanging over everybody. All the important people were there but why were they all hanging on to each other? There was some laughter and some tears. The band was playing but in total disharmony, then in total harmony.
We immediately headed for the meat pies and trifle. The sooner that we could see through the same drug influenced eyes, the better. The scene was rather like something from an Alfred Hitchcock film. David’s laughter was to be heard everywhere. He sounded like the Devil stirring his manic brew. The pies began to work on us. Anna was dancing with David as the whole place turned into a Space Station. I saw zombies. The ladies in their evening gowns were obviously totally disorientated. They were stripped of all their normal behaviour patterns. And then the net! Everybody in a net, I couldn’t bear it any longer. I had to get out of there.
The group and I had arranged to meet the next day. Anna’s parents lived in Preston so she had a place to stay. I decided to visit an old friend of mine. I found my way to Reg’s house and knocked him up. I told him that I was stoned on acid so he invited me into his house but all I can remember is the dripping tap. He was talking to me but I wasn’t hearing. At the same time, he was slowly transforming into a skeleton, as the tap dripped louder. I told him that I had to leave.
Later I found myself walking along the highway in the direction of Blackpool. A car stopped and a man with a deep voice offered me a lift. I got in; the driver was a big man with enormous hands. He introduced himself and told me that he was a school teacher. I could not speak; my words didn’t make any sense. I managed to tell him that I was stoned; I think he understood because he said that he would make me a cup of tea when we arrived at his house in Blackpool. He continued to make frivolous conversation but I was in my own head. The words just droned in the background. We arrived at his house and he invited me in. I followed him into the lounge and sat down in front of the fire. The man brought the tea and then asked me if I had ever played horses. I said No and the next thing I know is that he suddenly jumped up and pulled me onto the floor. He then sat on top of me say “Come on boy, Giddy Up”. I freaked; pushed him off me and immediately left his house. I found my mother’s flat just as the sun of the day was awakening. I went straight to bed and fell asleep; the party was over.
Next afternoon I phoned the boys and they came to pick me up and we returned to London. On the way back, they told me that the party never got started. We all agreed that acid was more of a personal drug and frightening if taken amongst strangers; for on acid one becomes so perceptive to the truth, it is impossible to pretend.
Anna and I stayed with the “Purple Haze” for a few weeks. I would occasionally work the smudge with Tony. One day whilst I was in Soho, I met a man by the name of Danny. He was in the unusual position of having a flat on Shaftesbury Avenue. I say unusual because Shaftesbury Avenue was the main street of the theatres and restaurants. It was exceptionally unusual to be able to rent a flat in that street especially for the £13 a week rent that he told me that he was paying. If one could find a flat somewhere on the fourth or fifth floor above the restaurants, shops, theatres or offices; one would expect to pay a very high premium and rent. These flats were ideal for the prostitutes; they would simply fix a little card on the street level door saying something like ‘Model available. Top floor’. The prospective clients understood the cryptic messages.
Danny took me to his flat on the fifth floor; it was just across the road from the entrance to an hotel and a large shoe shop. I thought to myself as I looked through the window, how interesting it would be to live there. One would surely get to know all the secrets of London’s West End. Danny lived alone in the two roomed top floor flat but he had financial problems brought about by his addiction to heroin. He could not even afford to pay his rent and so I agreed to pay him £150 to take over the tenancy.
A couple of days later, Anna and I moved into our new home. The flat had a small trapdoor in the ceiling above the bath. On closer inspection, I found a loft which was full of dirt and pigeons. The small door from the loft to the long flat roof, which ran the whole block, was totally rotted away. The building was obviously very old. I set to work cleaning the accumulation of pigeon droppings and fixing a new door. Soon I had a nice big workshop with a private outside area right there in the heart of London. The whole of the block from Wardour Street to the entrance into Soho was mine. This was the equivalent size in area to a football pitch right in the heart of London.
I went into the belt and studded wristband business up there above the centre of London. I manufactured leather goods. Anna went to work at the ‘Playboy’ club as a Bunny Girl. As my flat was so central, I always had visitors and so I decided to sell hash to my friends. I felt quite safe dealing dope up there. I had an alarm fitted to the bottom door, five floors below. My friends would phone me before their visit and I would be waiting on the roof to see if they were followed. I kept the dope in a disused loft of a pub at the end of the block just in case I got raided. After my friends had paid for the dope, I wrapped it up in an old piece of paper and then threw it into the yard at the back of the flat. They would then retrieve the dope after they had left my place. This way, they could not be caught with the goods as they left my place.
I sold the leather goods on my own doorstep. Occasionally, the police would try to charge me for illegal trading and so when I saw them approaching, I simply closed the door. Eventually I sold my goods by hanging them from the roof on a fishing line out of reach of any obstruction; to be lowered when a customer wanted to buy. This worked by sending Anna down to street level and she would point out to any interested punter and ask them to choose one of the designs. When they had made their choice, she would signal to me up on the roof and I would lower their choice from the fifth floor down to street level.
Many of my new friends told me of the extremely successful pitch on Carnaby Street. I had passed it many times but never taken much notice. I decided to go and take a closer look at what they were selling. As I arrived at the pitch, I noticed a huge guy wearing a bowler hat. He had a full long red beard and was wearing a kimono over a pair of old jeans and had knee length leather boots. At first I didn’t recognise that it was Paddy.
The pitch was selling various items such as Hippy Bells, heavy metal pendants, peace signs, Ban the Bomb signs and badges, ankhs, swastikas, Maltese crosses, crucifixes and signs of the zodiac; all were on heavy metal chains. There were also finger rings to match. The goods were displayed on black velvet lined boards. At the sides of the boards were the Che Guevara posters and the Bob Dylan bootleg records.
As I was looking at the goods, the police began to arrive. The big guy came forward to move everybody away. It was then that I recognised my old pal, Paddy. I was delighted to see him but he was not happy to see me. He was wary of me; he was obviously making a lot of money and had no time for old friends, especially his old partner in street trading. I found out why later. It seems that John had been working with him again but only long enough to pick Paddy’s brains and then to try to compete with him.
Paddy had sent his boys to beat John up and burn his van full of stock. John in his desperation had turned to heroin and was temporarily living in a drug-taking commune in Golders Green. It was here that L. Ron Hubbard the founder of ‘Dianetics’, better known as Scientology, visited us at my request to teach and to attempt to persuade John and the others to stop taking amphetamines and just keep to their normal doses of Huff 'n Puff 'n Stuff.
It was obvious that Paddy wanted nothing to do with me at that time. I didn’t try to persuade him. I saw the speed at which he was selling his heavy metal pendants, rings and especially the small bells and so I planned to cut myself a piece of that cake and sell the same things. A couple of days later, I passed by Paddy’s pitch again. He was not there. There was a young boy who I recognised as the brother of one of my old sellers. I bought one of the items that were on display and then I went to the street of wholesalers to buy a stock of the same articles. The only supplier, an Indian Sikh, refused to sell any of the stock to me. It was obvious that he had plenty of stock because whilst I was there a new delivery arrived. I asked the delivery man where he got the goods and he told me that he was the ‘caster’ [manufacturer]. I asked him why the wholesaler wouldn’t sell any of the items to me. He in turn asked the Sikh. This put him on the spot and so he told us that his best customer, Paddy, had given him a photo of John & me and told him that his shop would be burned if he sold us any goods. The caster, Joe Navarro, thought it was ridiculous and so he told me that he would sell me the stock direct from his factory on the outskirts of London. I arranged to visit him.
On my way home, I met another old friend that gave me John’s address and so I went to visit him. He lived in a big house next door to the Synagogue in Golders Green. There were about eight other people and a few children living together. They were all in a dreadful state. One of the girls was full of sores and bruises from injecting herself with a dirty needle. One of the men had lost an arm and a foot for the same reason. John was in bed asleep. I tried to wake him up but it was impossible. The girl told me that he had run out of horse [heroin] and so had injected himself with a quaalud [methaqualone]. The girl went on to tell me that he would be awake about midnight as they were expecting a visit from Dr. John Petro the ‘night tripper’.
I went out and bought some groceries for everyone and when I returned I prepared a big meal for them all. Dr. John arrived at 12:30 and ‘Blue’ the girl, managed to wake John. Dr. John injected everybody and then went on his way. I saw ‘Blue’ pass some money to him as he slipped out through the door. Some months later I read in the newspapers that this ‘Doctor’ had been arrested for contravening the Dangerous Drugs Act.
I tried to get John to leave that house and come and join me but he told me that he was not ready to face the violence yet. I left him to it but felt that I now had a good reason to teach Paddy a lesson.
I went to visit Joe Navarro the caster. I bought up his entire stock of heavy metal. The large designed pendants were ideal for me to copy in leather. As I was working with that material, I knew the possibilities. I took a trip to the local scrap yard and bought an old iron fly press which had previously been used for stamping out metal. It weighed a ton but with patience and the help of a block and tackle, I managed to pull it up onto the roof. I then bought twenty full cow hides which I then soaked in a solution of Potassium Permanganate. I used the best metal pendants as a mould and then I stamped the pendants onto the leather. When it dried, I cut out the design, attached a leather thong and hey presto I had an exclusive best seller. It cost me a fraction of the price of the metal pendants and was much more durable and commercial for the hippy market.
I then set about making my display boards, eight in all. I employed several boys, loaded up my van and set off for the Carnaby Street area. I set up my pitches all around the area and one of the pitches was just up the street from Paddy’s pitch. I marked up my prices on each item just that little bit cheaper than Paddy’s prices. I left Anna’s brother to look after that pitch and on my return a few hours later, I found Michael stood in the midst of the splintered boards. The metal pendants were all broken but the leather goods had survived. Michael told me that Paddy had gone berserk and attacked the pitch like a mad bull and then stamped on all the jewellery.
I looked up the street and there was Paddy. This was the showdown. I walked up to Paddy’s pitch with a grin on my face. I knew that Paddy was really a coward. He stood in front of his pitch as I put the boot in. He fell to the floor screaming for mercy and clutching his throbbing balls. I told him that I was not childish enough to break up his pitch and before I walked away I told him that I was now in the wholesale business and I could supply him with all his own designs in an unbreakable material – genuine leather.
I first met Cassy, my Pakistan friend, whilst I was unloading my jewellery in Kensington market. He and his wife had just rented a small stall and were the first to sell Indian trinkets, incense etc. Cassy asked me to give him exclusivity on my items. I mention this now because Kensington market became the main fashion centre for the hippies and Cassy became the biggest and most successful wholesaler in England trading under the name of Cha Cha Dum Dum.
It was at this time that I first met an up and coming star, Freddie Mercury. He was selling ladies Victorian dresses from a long wheeled clothes rail at the door Kensington Market. Freddie had heard that I had many musical contacts due to my previous businesses in the nightclub trade and he would constantly try to persuade me to be his manager in an effort to give his budding career a boost.
About the same time I met another family, long to be friends: Helmut, his brother Rob and wife Sue. Helmut had a printing press and was involved in the publication of an underground newspaper called the International Times [I.T.]. The International Times was first launched on 14th October 1966 at the Roundhouse, a converted railway engine shed in Chalk Hill.
Sue and Robert were in the Tie 'n Dye business and children’s suede shoes. They were also street traders, selling their gear on Bayswater Road and Green Park. These areas were legal trading grounds for artists.
Helmut gave me the idea of buying my first second hand London Black Cab. They were only allowed to stay in service as taxis for a ten year period but during that time they had to be kept up to a high standard; even in their last year. When they were retired they were still in very good condition but because of their age they could be bought very cheaply. The advantages of using the black cabs were that the police did not make problems for minor traffic offences and one could park almost anywhere. They were ideal for carrying the pitches and stock and on top of that they could turn round in their own length; in fact the perfect street trader’s vehicle.
Whilst I was buying my first cab from the London Cab Co.; I met four Scots boys who were also buying cabs. I got talking to them and they told me that they had a few pounds of hash for sale cheap. I agreed that I would meet only one of them that night to buy a couple of pounds. That evening I got ready to go and score. I had arranged to meet on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue which was only a couple of minutes away from my flat. Before leaving, I loaded my imitation pen tear-gas gun just in case. On my arrival at the meeting place, I recognised one of the Scots lads sitting in the driving seat of a black cab. As I approached, he told me to get in the cab, which I did, then he started to drive saying that he was just pulling into a side street, adding that it was safer. As the cab came to a stop, the other three Scotsmen jumped in. One of them had a gun in his hand and as soon as I realised my predicament, I released the clip on my pen; which was already in my hand. The gas pellet exploded into their faces and I heard them scream out loud as the tear gas burned their eyes. They were temporarily blinded and defenceless. I simply pushed them to one side, keeping my eyes closed and feeling for the door handle; I opened the door and got out and I quickly closed the door behind me. I saw the back of the driver as he ran down the street. I also left in a hurry, and once again in the safety of my own flat I made a mental note to be more careful in future.
Sometime later I heard a knock on the door my flat, which was five floors up in Shaftesbury Avenue Soho London. When I opened the door there were the four Scotsman. The same one had his gun in his hand, and pushed me in to my own flat, and asked me for the money. I felt behind my back where I had a large brass slide projector. I picked it up, swung round and threw it into the face of the gunmen at the same time jumping to one side and beating another two. The fourth one opened the door and ran, but we were five floors up and he fell all the way down the five stairs. The other ones followed suit as I kicked them down. And I made another mental note to be more careful who I opened the door to in the future. From then on I always kept the key tied to a string, and only after recognising the person down below through the window I would lower the key to the front door, and unlock the door to my flat.
My pitches were doing quite well, even though a couple of my workers had disappeared taking with them their entire stock and takings, but on the whole I was well in front. Anna was still working at the Playboy Club at night and so I was free to get on with my work well into the early hours of the morning. I would usually pick Anna up about 3am.
One night I noticed a Japanese man sitting in the shoe shop doorway across the road from my flat. He was dressed in a knee-length yellow woollen blanket; around his waist he had tied a rope and even though it was quite cold, his feet were bare. I could see quite clearly with my binoculars that he was making wire jewellery and so I thought to myself "Aha, a new line". He was obviously doing well as he sat there in the doorway with his pliers in his hands, turning normal, cheap galvanised wire into intricate coils and twists and then mounting these together to form exquisite necklaces, bracelets and rings. His display boards were at his side on the pavement. They were simply two pieces of hardboard covered in velvet and about the same size as an artist’s portfolio. Pinned to the boards along with his creations was a small hand written sign which read “God loves all men and women”.
I was intrigued as I watched the people stop to kneel down in front of him and always buy something. As I continued studying this man, I realised that he had hair, which was touching the ground behind him, raked back into one long pigtail. He also had a long beard and his eyes were slanted upwards. He was obviously Chinese or Amazonian or something similar but definitely oriental looking.
I decided to take him a cup of tea and get to know him better. As I approached him I noticed a boy sitting several feet behind him in the same doorway; he was also making jewellery. The boy was obviously not English; his hair was pitch black and his eyes were exquisitely attractive. On his head he was wearing a large black beret, the kind normally worn by Spaniards. His clothes were simple and as I approached he looked up briefly from his work and gave me a welcoming smile then dropped his eyes once again to his work.
Hugo introduced himself and his new apprentice Juan Carlos. I apologised for only bringing one cup of tea and offered to go for more. Hugo told me not to bother as they were about to pack up for the night. I told him that I was also an artist and invited them up to my studio for a smoke and chat.
Once in my flat sitting down by the fire and sharing a big joint, I found out more about Hugo & Juan Carlos. Hugo was a South American Indian whose people had been wiped out by religious fanatics whilst he was still a child. He had been brought up by the church and had studied the history of the Bible to the extreme. As he sat there before me, cross legged on the floor, I listened in earnest to his incredible stories. He referred always to himself as ‘Jesus’ and spoke of his intimate affairs with the various disciples as if he was remembering some past life. As he spoke he looked me in the eyes. I felt compelled to hold the stare and felt ashamed with myself when eventually I had to blink.
As I watched and listened, I imagined that I saw a halo of light around the figure before me. When he spoke he used his hands to elaborate on certain details. I saw in the centre of his palms the healed wounds of what I presumed must have been from the nails that were used to crucify this man sometime before. I sat there listening and occasionally asking questions. Always the answers were delivered with such ease as if it was he that had lived the life that he spoke of. The night passed on so fast when suddenly the phone rang; it was Anna. Did I realise that it was 3.30am? No I didn’t. I excused myself and asked if I could give them a lift anywhere. I gave them a lift to their one-roomed flat in Kensington and then I went to pick up Anna.
The next night, Hugo and Juan Carlos came up for another visit and so did Anna’s sister Monica. I told Hugo of my idea to use his designs to emboss into leather. He thought it was a great idea and made plenty of designs for me. I went to work immediately, stamping the design into leather belts and pendants. I was now building up my stocks for the forthcoming music festivals.