The Albert Hall’s Summer of Love

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I plead travel and work keeping me busy and under the radar.
But I’m about to surface. This Saturday, I will be a guest on Loose Ends (Radio Four 1815 and BBC iPlayer thereafter – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08n1ybh) talking about the Sixties and various related up-coming events. For example, on Tuesday May 2 at 2130 at the Albert Hall* (up in the Elgar Room, not the big hall…) I will join a few other ‘60s Relics to present the Pink Floyd / Alexandra Palace / 14-Hour Technicolor Dream film by Peter Whitehead. That’s the one with John Lennon on LSD wandering around staring at the lights and his not-yet-met future wife Yoko cutting the underwear off a beautiful girl in a bit of performance art, as well as close-ups of Syd Barrett improvising in the studio on Interstellar Overdrive.
Then on May 14 @ 1900, I make my first visit to Spiritland, the new hi-fi sound-bar in Kings Cross (http://spiritland.com/) for an evening talking about Nick Drake with Peter Paphides. Peter has a special place in the story of Nick’s posthumous career – he was one of the first journalists to write an extended appreciation of Nick’s music (in Time Out).
And finally, on July 3, I will be back at the Albert Hall to present the film “Jimi Hendrix” that I co-produced back in 1973. It includes those iconic Jimi moments such as setting fire to his guitar at Monterrey Pop, Star-Spangled Woodstock and throwing his guitar down for the last time at the end of a great Isle of Wight set. It also has memorable interview moments such as: Pete Townshend talking about Eric Clapton asking him out to the movies so they could share their anxiety about how much better Jimi was than they were; pre-London girlfriend Fayne Pridgin recounting how Jimi spent the grocery money on an lp by someone she’d never heard of (“Bob Dylan? Who the fuck is Bob Dylan?”); and Little Richard explaining how Jimi’s playing “made my big toe shoot up in my boot!”
In advance of the Friday taping, I’ve sent the Loose Ends producers on what is probably a wild-goose chase. In 1968, I took part in a Radio 4 discussion on the subject of the “Cultural Revolution”. Besides me, the panel included Frank Kermode, David Sylvester, Jeff Nuttall and one other whose name escapes me. If they find the tape, there won’t be many scintillating highlights, however. This is due to the fact that the panel blew all its spark and energy during an explosive pre-taping lunch. In those days, they served you cocktails and food at 1230 in the bowels of Broadcasting House. When the rubber chicken and peas arrived, there was a conspicuous empty chair with David Sylvester’s name on it. Sylvester was a respected art critic and curator, a champion of Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud.
A quarter of an hour into the lunch, Sylvester arrived, sweating and nervous, hauling a fat leather briefcase bulging with notes and papers. His seat was between me and Nuttall, who had helped provoke the student strike at Hornsey College and was the author of “Bomb Culture”, a popular text for the 60s underground that attacked most received notions of what constituted art. Nuttall was, in short, David Sylvester anti-matter.
About five minutes after taking his seat, while I was talking to Kermode across the table, Sylvester suddenly knocked Nuttall out of his chair with a haymaker right hand. Cigarette ash, gin and crockery splashed across the table and fell onto the floor. The two were quickly separated and the producer ushered Sylvester out of the room. After a stunned silence, we resumed eating our chicken.
When the producer returned and announced that Sylvester was very contrite, apologizes to everyone and accepts the fact that he could no longer take part in a discussion to which he had been very much looking forward. Nuttall immediately asked where he was: “in the pub around the corner” said the producer. Off went Nuttall. Half an hour later, as we were heading upstairs to the studio, Nuttall and Sylvester appeared, slightly tipsy, arm-in-arm. What could have been an edgy argument about art and culture became a polite love-fest and, as I recall, not particularly interesting radio.
What does it say about the state of our culture today that there is as much chance of fisticuffs between members of the Loose Ends panel as of QPR becoming the dominant football club in West London. Sic transit Gloria mundi, I say.
*I avoid the word “Royal” on republican grounds