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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Barry Miles - UFO

UFO

Frank Zappa called them ‘psychedelic dungeons’ and that’s pretty much what they were; nightclubs are invariably in basements because there is less noise leakage; in London the few sixties exceptions included the Ad Lib, on a top floor, and the variously names nightclub in the garden on top of the Derry & Toms building in Kensington where pink flamingos wandered among the punters. The UFO club – pronounced You-Foe – happened every Friday night from 10.30pm – when the Berkeley cinema on the ground floor closed and could no longer be disturbed by the noise – and 6am, when transport started up again. It was in the Blarney Club, an Irish dancehall at 31 Tottenham Court Road, complete with revolving mirror ball and a polished wooden dance floor. The only week UFO missed was when it was in use on St. Patrick’s night. The UFO club was very much the community meeting place, the village pump, where gossip about drugs, busts, art, gurus, meditation, UFOs, lay-lines, and where to get yellow crushed velvet loon pants was mixed with poetry readings, performance art, bemused German television crews, and psychedelic music. The drugs were provided by Manfred, a fat German acid dealer who sometimes gave away as many as 400 trips a night - but sold many more. John Pearce from Granny Takes a Trip and Michael Rainey from Hung On You were usually there to take orders for eye-catching paisley-patterned suits and the music was provided by the three regular house bands: the Pink Floyd, the Soft Machine and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown. After a few months the Pink Floyd grew too big and too expensive and only made one final return because Joe Boyd, UFO’s musical director, had had the foresight to make a long term advance booking.

The room was incredibly hot, overcrowded, and bathed in a continuous moving lightshow that reached every corner of the space and crept up the wide staircase heading to the street like some cell-dividing algae. The lightshow was primarily provided by Mark Boyle who first started at UFO with a solo lightshow as a performance but was persuaded by Hoppy, the club manager, to stick around and provide lights for the Soft Machine for a few extra pounds. Jack Bracelin who did the Floyd’s light show at the London Free School lit the back section of the room with his Five Acre Lights, named after the psychedelic nudist colony he ran in Watford - a number of caravans in a sea of mud and a club house featuring a ‘trip machine’ - where the Floyd once played a Guy Fawkes night gig. Bob Cobbing from the London film-maker’s Co-op showed films both experimental and Hollywood: Marilyn Monroe to Kenneth Anger; there were poetry readings, jugglers and each week another episode of David Zane Mairowitz’s interminable dramatic production The Flight of the Erogenous. People sat on the floor for the music or danced up front. When people sitting out on the staircase heard the introduction to ‘Fire’, Arthur’s theme tune, they scrambled inside to watch him make his entrance with his headdress on fire; you never knew when he would have to be doused in organic apple juice from Craig Sams’ macrobiotic rissoles stall, to put out his flaming hair.

The staff at UFO were the staff of the International Times (IT), which was one way of making sure they received at least some money each week even if Mickey Farren was tripping out as he tried to take the money and mistook his pocket for the cashbox. Pete Townshend would hand over £20 to get in, knowing it was going to a good cause.

The UFO audience were notoriously difficult to please; it was no good a group donning frilly shirts and green suede booties and hoping to pass; you had to be genuine or you were booed. The emerging underground scene caused some groups to experience molecular change: Tomorrow was formed early in 1967 when the In-Crowd - Keith West on vocals, Steve Howe on guitar and John Wood on bass - added Twink on drums. The sight of Twink wriggling along the top of the Marshall stacks like a snake, while at the same time reaching down and playing his drums, quickly endeared them to the UFO audience. More typical was the free-form jazz combo the Giant Sun Trolley, put together by Dave Tomlin from the UFO audience. There were records played, but again, they were not chart hits: the two key records guaranteed to get the crowd dancing were ‘My White Bicycle’ by Tomorrow and ‘Granny Takes a Trip’ by the Purple Gang. Purple Gang played UFO only once before their masked leader, Peter “Lucifer” Walker, disbanded the group in order to become initiated as a Warlock. Such were the times.

Miles

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