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Friday, March 4, 2011

Pink Floyd London Free School

Pink Floyd London Free School

March, 1966 saw the founding of the London Free School, a kind of underground Citizen's Advice Bureau and loose-knit quasi-university started by London School of Economics lecturer Peter Jenner and freelance photographer John "Hoppy" Hopkins. An eclectic group of students, activists, poets, musicians, and would-be hippies, they met informally in the basement of 26 Powis Terrace, in Notting Hill.

The London Free School was a community action adult education project inspired by American free universities (and the Victorian Jewish Free School in Spitalfields). The organisers have been described as an ‘anarchic temporary coalition’ of the old guard New Left and CND housing activists from the Rachman days and the new beatnik/hippy generation. The former included George Clark of the Notting Hill Community Workshop, Richard Hauser (who ran a community scheme after the 1958 riots), Rhaune and Jim Laslett-O’Brien, Bill Richardson of the Powis and Colville Residents Association, Andre and Barbara Shervington.

To varying degrees of involvement, the hippy contingent numbered John Hopkins, Michael X, Courtney Tulloch (IT), Lloyd Hunter, Peter Jenner (who was just starting to manage Pink Floyd), Joe Boyd of Electra Records and UFO, Andrew King, Michael Horovitz, John Michell, Julie Felix, Jeff Nuttall, Mike McInnerney(Tommy artist), Graham Keen (IT), Neil Oram (The Warp), Dave Tomlin (IT), Felix de Mendelsohn (Children of Albion), Nigel Waymouth of Granny Takes a Trip, John Essam, Alexander Trocchi, the jazz writer Ron Atkins, the Warhol star Kate Heliczer, Harvey Matusow (the McCarthy witchtrials saboteur), R. D. Laing and ‘the Belsize Park shrinks’, Emily Young, Anjelica Huston and Pink Floyd.

According to Jeff Nuttall, ‘Ultimately the Free School did nothing but put out a local underground newsletter and organise the 2 Notting Hill Gate Festivals, which were, admittedly, models of exactly how the arts should operate – festive, friendly, audacious, a little mad and all taking place on demolition sites, in the streets, and in a magnificently institutional church hall.’ Despite this opinion, the formation of 'The Notting Hill Neighbourhood Service'(one of the first centres to offer drugs and legal advice in London),the Notting Hill Carnival,the International Times and the UFO Club all emerged from the brief life of the LFS.

The 1966 Notting Hill Fayre and Pageant, or the London Free School Fair, was a weeklong series of events, following the traditional English carnival format, as more accurately portrayed in the Bedknobs and Broomsticks knees-up than by most Carnival historians. The pageant on Sunday September 18 featured a man dressed as Elizabeth I and children as Charles Dickens characters (pictured on Tavistock Road), ‘musicals’, and a Portobello parade consisting of the London Irish girl pipers, a West Indian New Orleans-style marching band, Ginger Johnson’s Afro-Cuban band, and Russell Henderson’s Trinidadian steelband from the Coleherne pub in Earl’s Court, followed by a fire engine.

Eventually, Jenner's London Free School began publishing a community newsletter, and needed to raise funds to support it. The vicar of the nearby All Saints' Church (in Powis Square--not Powis Gardens, as advertised) allowed community groups to use the church's meeting hall for events, so it was here the London Free School hosted a concert 'happening' called the Sound and Light Workshop. The first such event was on September 30, 1966, and featured a performance by The Pink Floyd. The mimeographed handbills also advertised the light projection slides and 'liquid movies'.

The first Sound and Light Workshop was a success, and it subsequently became a regular Friday-night event, even as the London Free School faded away. The Marquee Club's "Spontaneous Underground" shows in early 1966 may have been the Floyd's first exposure to something approaching steady work, but it was at the All Saints Hall that the band really began to develop a serious following. The group had played there nearly a dozen times by the end of the year.

The All Saints Church Hall concert, was a show performed by the Pink Floyd in September 1966 and it was one of their earliest major concerts. The performance took place as a charity gig in aid of the London Free School and newspaper - International Times. Much of the setlist consisted of material that was never released on either a single or an album. Many of the songs are either bluesy instrumentals, or the Syd Barrett inspired space rock jams such as Interstellar Overdrive. Some of these tracks would later appear on the bands debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. These concerts would become a mainstay of the bands early gigs, eventually resulting in them becoming the house band.

Pink (unknown)
Give Me A Break (Man) (Bo Diddley)
Stoned Alone (Barrett) (Later became Candy and a Currant Bun)
I Can Tell (Samuel Smith)
The Gnome (Barrett)
Interstellar Overdrive (Barrett, Waters, Wright, Mason)
Lucy Leave (Barrett)
Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk (Waters)
Flapdoodle Dealing (unknown)
Snowing (unknown)
Matilda Mother (Barrett)
Pow R. Toc H. (Barrett, Waters, Wright, Mason)
Astronomy Domine (Barrett)

Just as the London Free School first started sponsoring the Sound and Light Workshops in order to fund its community newsletter, UFO was first started to help fund the International Times, which was losing money rapidly. It was the idea of Joe Boyd, a representative of Elektra Records and yet another prominent underground figure, to move the Light and Sound Workshop from All Saints' Hall to a larger downtown space to accommodate the crowds. Boyd and John Hopkins rented a dance hall on Tottenham Court Road called the Blarney for two successive Fridays. "If it works, it works; if it doesn't, its just two gigs," Hopkins told Nicholas Schaffner years later.

As Pink Floyd released their debut album ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, featuring their All Saints hall set, the Notting Hill People’s Association made the first attempt to forcibly open the gates of the Powis Square gardens; followed up by a direct-action picnic in the Colville Gardens square. During the summer of love, the second Rhaune Laslett ‘Notting Hill Festival’ was incorporated into the Notting Hill Summer Project community workshop. This was a more serious version of the London Free School, organised by the People’s Association in All Saints hall – which became the People’s Centre. The NHPA also produced the longest running local newsletter, the People’s News. The summer of love project mostly consisted of research for George Clark’s housing survey of the Colville and Golborne slum areas, which student volunteers paid to carry out.

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