Wednesday, May 18, 2011

John Travolta You Are A Superstar

I’ve mentioned deceased Tiger Bay singer Gene Latter previously on this blog. He released about a dozen singles in a variety of musical styles during the ‘60s and ‘70s but never quite cracked the big time. There are always plenty of his records on YouTube, some of which are quite collectable, particularly amongst Northern Soul and Mod aficionados. I’ve even heard talk that a Gene Latter compilation album is in the pipeline though, as yet, I’ve seen no actual evidence of this. Latter also ‘discovered’ and managed Britain’s first mixed-race band The Equals, featuring a teenage Eddy Grant. They had a monster smash hit with Baby Come Back. Anyway, the above YouTube is his last single (that I’m aware of), a novelty disco record from 1978 called John Travolta You Are A Superstar. Despite the title it’s not completely crap. Actually it is not at all bad and his voice was obviously still in fine fettle at the time of this recording.

Swansea Fruit Flies on Acid

At the University of Wales, Swansea, in 1972 strange experiments involving LSD and fruit flies were carried out. Basically scientists were trying to discover whether taking acid caused long-term genetic damage. They were particularly interested in the potentially harmful effects of LSD on the children of addicts.

Obviously testing human beings was a complete non-starter so fruit flies, with their simple genetic make-up and conveniently short life cycles, were used instead. The insects were fed sugar and porridge, heavily spiked with pure LSD. They were also injected with the drug via micro-syringes. Apparently the hallucinogenic didn’t prevent the fruit flies from flying but they had “wandered around quite stoned”.

The results? Scientists found that there was some evidence of long-term genetic damage in the fruit flies. However the doses they had received were massive compared to what your average hippie would ingest. Humans, they concluded, wouldn’t suffer any genetic defects whatsoever. Taking acid, therefore, is not going to result in you having mutant children.

*If you were involved in the LSD experiments at the genetics department of Swansea University in 1972 under the direction of Professor J A Beardmore get in touch - I would love to know more.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wales Visitation

on this blog I have mentioned Allen Ginsberg's trip (I use the term advisedly) to Capel-y-Ffin, in 1967. It was there that the Beat poet-turned-hippie guru ingested LSD and under its influence wrote the poem: Wales Visitation. In this YouTube he reads it out on American telly.

*Note: this poem is sometimes referred to as Wales, A Visitation.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Gladys Frost v Howard Hughes

Gladys Thomas Frost from Swansea had a bone to pick with Howard Hughes - he owed her about £10m quid. Mrs Frost believed that she had been cheated out of a family inheritance in the form of a trust fund set up by her great grandfather David Thomas. He had emigrated to the US from Neath in 1839 and amassed a vast fortune in the iron industry.

Mrs Frost reckoned her share of the fortune had gone to Howard Hughes who was also a descendent of the Iron King. So convinced was she of her claim that in 1959 she sold her Swansea home and moved to New York to fight her case in the courts. US lawyers were paid to investigate the Hughes connection but trustees of the fund would not allow her claim. After three years she returned to Wales completely penniless.

In 1973 it was reported that multi-millionaire Hughes, now a neurotic, unkempt, long-fingernailed recluse, had moved into the Inn on the Park Hotel in London. Gladys, along with her steelworker husband, travelled to London from Swansea to picket the hotel. She carried a placard bearing the message: 'HOWARD IF YOU REPUDIATE MY STATEMENT THEN SUE ME AND THE TRUTH WILL OUT (see pic).

She wrote letters to Hughes. In one she said: "Please see me. I have come all the way from Swansea." But hotel staff denied that he was even on the premises (he was actually in a suite on the ninth floor). In the end they promised to forward her notes to Hughes's bankers. Mrs Frost said: "I'm obviously disappointed not to have met him face to face and given him a piece of my mind. But the trip wasn't wasted. I am hoping now that he will be so shaken he will be shamed into getting in touch." He didn't.

Howard Hughes died in 1976. Inevitably there was a great deal of interest in who would be the beneficiaries of his will. Mrs Frost unfortunately didn't receive a single penny. She died in 1982. A year later the much contested $2.5 billion Hughes estate was split between 22 of his cousins.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Sŵn Magazine

This is the cover of a Welsh-language music magazine called Sŵn (Noise). It ran from 1972-74. Other notable defunct Welsh-language music zines are Asbri (Vivacity) (1969-78) and Sgrech (Scream) (1978-85). All are rich sources of musical info and contain some great pictures. Sgrech for example has some fine shots of Geraint Jarman looking an absolute dead ringer for Brian May; and an extremely young Gruff Rhys balancing a cymbal on his head in a band called Machlud. Many thanks to Huw Jones for the Sŵn scan.

Ifor Thomas

Ever heard of Welsh photographer Ifor Thomas? Me neither. It transpires, though, that he was a key figure in the post-war history of British photography. Thomas, along with his wife Joy, established the influential Guildford School of Photography in 1946. That establishment was renowned for its innovative teaching methods, and it was there that Thomas pioneered the notion of photography as a fine art. Amongst the students that he inspired was brilliant Observer snapper Jane Bown. Thomas's approach to photography can be traced back to the Bauhaus. Before WW2 he had taught at the Riemann School in London which had had its first incarnation in Berlin, where it was staffed by former Bauhaus teachers. Former pupils of Ifor Thomas - Rita and Jack Tait - are currently archiving his work with the assistance of the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. A major Ifor Thomas exhibition is planned, with potentially, a documentary film and book to follow. If you have any info, anecdotes, etc relating to the life of Ifor Thomas you can contact Rita Tait at 'bronyddrt at'. The above photo is the copyright of Rita Tait.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Cerith Wyn Evans and Kenneth Anger

You can count the number of avant-garde artists from Llanelli on the fingers of one finger. Cerith Wyn Evans is the sui generis individual in question. Here, he is pictured with bad boy underground filmmaker and author of Hollywood Babylon, Kenneth Anger.

Cedric Morris

I must confess the main reason I like Swansea artist Cedric Morris is because he was a fop with cool hair. He was certainly no stylistic innovator. Nor was he a genius with a prodigious talent. In fact he ended up becoming an artist after attempts to join the army, and later to become a singer, failed. He even endured stints as a dishwasher and bellboy in New York.

In 1918 he met Arthur Lett-Haines who would become his lifelong companion and lover. Lett-Haines was married at the time but he soon ditched the missus and the two young gentlemen went to live in Cornwall. In 1920 they re-located to Paris where they mixed in the same circles as Hemmingway, Marcel Duchamp, Nancy Cunard and Man Ray. For the next 5 years Morris learnt to become a painter studying at the Academies Moderne and La Grande Chaumiere. Before long he had established his own painting style.

Following successful exhibitions in London in 1925 and 1927, Morris and Lett-Haines moved back to the English capital, setting up a studio in Great Ormond Street. They became a fixture on the London arts scene and were famous for hosting dazzling parties. However, Morris hankered after the country life, as he wanted to pursue his keen interest in horticulture. In 1929 he and Lett-Haines leased Pond Farm in Suffolk, giving up their London studio altogether a year later.

Morris turned Pound Farm into a rural idyll, developing the gardens in spectacular fashion. He would soon attain an international reputation as a plantsman and would even have flowers named after him. But Morris never forgot his own roots. In the thirties he regularly visited Wales on painting trips; initiated a touring exhibition of Welsh art; and taught at an arts centre in Merthyr Tydfil. He also joined the Labour party, moved by the plight of the people in the south Wales Valleys during the Depression.

In 1937 Morris and Lett-Haines opened the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, at Dedham. When the building burned down two years later the school was re-established at Benton End. Its two most noted students were Lucian Freud and Maggi Hambling. No house-style prevailed at Benton End - artists were instead encouraged to pursue their own vision. Lessons took place outdoors amongst the wandering peacocks and cockatoos. There was also much dancing to Latin-American gramophone records.

Cedric Morris died in 1982. He is most remembered for his flower paintings and portraits. Above is his portrait of the artist Lucian Freud completed in 1940 and which is now in the Tate collection.