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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The UFO! Underground Freak Out!

A short walk from the tube trains at 31 Tottenham RD in London was a place that transcended time and space, some say. It had formerly been the Blarney Club, an irish dancehall for the rowdy at heart.When Hoppy found it, he knew it was the right place for his new underground club. John Hoppy Hopkins and Joe Boyd collaborated together to open a new club, cause they needed some extra cash. They didn't know the mammoth purpose this club was destined to serve. It was a vehicle for the counterculture as well as an iconic place where artists, photographers, musicians, and freaks could mingle and the London Underground was launched. On December 23, 1966 the doors opened and the Pink Floyd and Soft Machine played amid the swirling lights and the first all night gigs or Night Trippers. It became the epi center of the counterculture movement for London and possibly, the world for the next nine months.The UFO left a deep imprint on art, music, film, and even politics. Dubbed the first psychedelic nightclub in England. "It was a great location and had all the new talent to die for!" Hoppy remembers. The night trippers were from 10~6 a.m. every Friday night. It allowed you enough time for a good trip and hop a tube train home. As you enter the building there was a very wide staircase still bathed in opulent thirties style. As you went down into the club there was a snow machine set up over the doorway and the swirling lights had a trippy, hypnotic effect that was disorienting like being in a heavy snowstorm. At the bottom of the steps were the heavies who took the bread and tickets. Lots of people sat on the steps and chilled out or rapped to one another between the bands sets. Once you went in it was a very large, long ballroom that could easily hold a few hundred people. It was literally underground and a basement, but it had a groovy laissez~faire vibe going on. The stage was low and small because it had originally been built for irish jugbands. There were two ceiling fans and a large shiny silver ball hung in between them. It had adorned the room since the twenties. They had imported their own psychedelic furniture and decor. Things like large penises stood in the floor. The colorful bubbly lightshows added to the psychedelia and the strong smell of incense made it like home. There was a technicolor strobe which threw out pulsating lights. There were blacklights and half naked girls painted in day glo paint and as they walk by a blacklight they would burst into living color. It was a home for expirimental groups, mixing media, lightshows, music, theatrics, and anything avant~garde!. One or two bands played a couple of sets. Poetry was read, it was the time of the beat poet who rymed a story to light taps on a bongo drum. Political points were made as well. Artists came in and filmed or did various things. Yoko Ono ferried UFO'ers back and forth to a hotel and filmed them walking across a revolving table bare assed. The outcome was titled "Bottoms". Peter Whitehead was introduced to the Floyd by Jenny Spires and he filmed them at Sound Techniques Studio for his "Tonight, Let's All Make Love In London". The Floyd swilled down a fifth of whisky and got mightily stoned and ripped it! There were many musicians who frequented the club. Some stopped in after their gigs at 3 a.m. to see what was going down and jam awhile. The club was a hang out for Hendrix, Townsend, McCartney, Clapton and a few others who came to see what Syd was up to. Hendrix was heavily influenced by Syd's guitar style. In between bands and their sets were the latest records played on a turntable in their entirety by DJ Jack Henry Moore. . There were 4 upright WEM speakers, one in each corner of the room. Chinese Cartoons on 16 mm were shown and as Hoppy put it, ravishing to the tripping eye. Avante~Garde films were also shown and the projectors often swung round so as to keep the crowd moving. They served UFOOD in one corner, veggie and rice type food with no alcohol!. The UFO was known for its groundbreaking lightshows by several artists. Peter Wynne~Willson (still doing lightshows and stage today), Mark Boyle and Joan Hills (the Boyle family today), Jack Bracelin (owned a nudist camp and known for his Sensual Laboratory Lights), Dermont Harvey (projected 3~D liquid projections onto helium filled balloons), and Joe Gannon (16 year old tech whiz who later produced the Mary Tyler Moore Show) were the magicians of light for the club. There were different light shows in each corner of the room. A scaffolding was built to house all the lightshow that trailed across the stage and walls. Joe and Pete did these particular lights and Mark projected from a scaffold in a corner on a muslin cloth which bathed the stage. Pete set up lanterns at the foot of the stage and they casted "spectral" shadows on the backdrop. He alternated switches and flashed lanterns in sequence, creating rippling stroboscopic shadows. Pete went on to be the Floyd's lightshow designer, and Joe Gannon was their first light engineer. Russell Page was their helper. Anthony Stern and Adam Richie took famous photographs there that are still on display today. John Esam as well as Edmond Wolf filmed at the Iconic club. Art was a major topic there also. The first handbills were printed up on Hoppy's offset machine and featured Pete Townsend's girlfriend Karen with a wavy Night Tripper legend printed across her face. Michael English said "it was the first poster I did for the underground before I teamed up with Nigel". A second handbill feautured Barrett in silhouette, onstage at All Saints. A lifelong partnership was born between Nigel Waymouth and Michael English there. They are Hapshash and The Coloured Coat. One album was produced by Hapshash that totally captured the spirit of UFO and it featured The Human Host and the Heavy Metal Kids. Brian Jones, Jenny Spires, and some of the future members of Spooky Tooth and a few assorted freaks did a free for all titled H.O.P.P. Why? . It was released on red vinyl. Hapshash posters mirrored the underground style with wild bright colors, quasi mystical style, and arcane philosophies. There was a turbulent and paranoid time in the freak community when the fuzz sent informants around into suspected drug dealers apartments and parties as the IT warned.. The UFO was a rallying pointand starting point for free speech. The International Times or IT was busted on obscenity charges and even Hoppy got busted. There was a Free Hoppy Movement that went down and some very influential people tried to change the laws and free him. There were demonstrations where a large number of freaks carried a coffin with Harry Fainlight inside from Fleet Street, for a long procession that took several hours to reach it's destination at Portobello Road. After nine months of operation the UFO's fame grew great and wide, deep like outer space!. It became way to overcrowded and things got too heavy so the doors closed on the end of a very hip place. Today is the time of the rave clubs, never again will be one so avante~garde as the UFO. Bookmark and Share



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