Saturday, April 28, 2012

Christine Bott - LSD Scapegoat

In 1977 Christine Bott and her partner Richard Kemp were busted as part of the Operation Julie case. They had been manufacturing LSD on a massive scale in the area around Tregaron in remote west Wales. They lived for a time at a cottage appropriately named Penlleinau which means Headlands. Bott was originally from Suffolk and qualified as a GP after graduating from Liverpool University. When she moved to rural west Wales Bott indulged her twin passions of ingesting LSD and goat breeding. From goats’ milk she used to make cheese and yoghurt. She was a fully paid up member of the Goat Society and even entered her animals in competitions at local agricultural shows. Stella and Petra were her favourites. In July, 1975, at the Aberystwyth Agricultural Show Petra was awarded first prize for best goat. The above photo appeared in the Cambrian News. Two years later when Operation Julie broke it was published in newspapers and magazines throughout the world. Mostly the photo appeared sans goat, as editors were just interested in grabbing a recent head-shot of the unlikely drugs queen. In 1978 Christine Bott was sentenced to 9 years in prison for her part in the manufacture and supply of LSD. It was, in most people’s view, an extremely harsh sentence. The fact that she was an unapologetic advocate of LSD didn’t help her cause. She was even seen carrying a copy of Timothy Leary’s Politics of Ecstasy during her trial. She ended up serving about four-and-half years before being released in 1982. Since then she has maintained a very low profile and is believed to be living in Ireland. The above photograph is the copyright of one of Wales’s foremost snappers, Raymond Daniel. However, as I understand it, the actual picture was taken by his wife, Olwen.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Dafydd Iwan Wired

Wirephotos are wonderful relics from the pre-digital age. I think it is the combination of photographic image and text that does it for me. There’s a certain glamour to them that has something to do with speed and distance. When the wire service was introduced in 1935 by the Associated Press (AP) it revolutionised photographic-journalism because it meant that images could be transmitted down the telephone line. Foreign desks in particular would make use of its trans-global possibilities. Associated Press and United Press International are the most famous American news agencies. In the UK there is Reuters and the Press Association. Agence-France Presse, in France, is the oldest news agency in the world. This AP wirephoto (sent from Cardiff to New York) is from 1970 and shows singer and Welsh-language activist Dafydd Iwan on his release from Cardiff prison. The text reads:

(NY-Feb.6) AGITATOR RELEASED FROM PRISON—Bearded pop singer Dafydd Iwan, chairman of the Welsh Language Society, stands with his wife, Marion, and baby son, Llion, as he talks to newsmen on his release from prison at Cardiff, Wales, Friday. He was released after serving three weeks of a three-month sentence. He was arrested and imprisoned for refusing to pay $134.40 in fines and costs for defacing English language road signs in Wales as part of the Welsh Language Society’s campaign for equal status for the Welsh language. (AP Wirephoto by cable from Cardiff) (hrm61413pw) 1970.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Carmarthen

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's seminar at Bangor University was one of the great pop cultural moments of the 1960s. Attended by The Beatles, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Donovan, the Daily Mirror dubbed the train that took them there in ’67 as 'The Mystical Special'. At the time The Beatles were flirting heavily with eastern mysticism and in particular Transcendental Meditation. Photos and footage of the musicians in the north Wales town show them kitted out in ethnic garb and garlanded with flowers. For his part the Maharishi understood perfectly that an association with the band would massively boost interest in his Spiritual Regeneration Movement. According to the rock'n'roll guru, harmony achieved through spiritual regeneration would end wars and lead to universal love. The visit took on even greater significance for Beatles fans when news arrived that Brian Epstein had overdosed on barbiturates at his London flat. He wasn't a great fan of the Maharishi and the group went to Bangor against his wishes. Six months later the Beatles were in India at the Maharishi's 15 acre ashram on the banks of the Ganges where they got down to some serious spiritual regeneration. Eventually, however, they got bored of meditating, chanting and being pestered for financial contributions so they returned to the UK.

What's often forgotten is that the Maharishi's seminar in Bangor wasn't his first visit to Wales. Without any celebrity musicians in tow his two week Transcendental Meditation course held at Trinity College Carmarthen in the summer of ’66 was an unheralded affair. Nevertheless 200 acolytes from all over the world turned up to follow his programme. They spent six hours a day in deep meditation. Of the 200 seekers of a higher consciousness only one person was actually Welsh. She came from Penarth and had only decided to attend after seeing the Maharishi being interviewed on television.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Datblygu Trideg

It’s not every day that one attends an exhibition in a waffle establishment. Datblygu Trideg is currently on view at the Waffle Coffee Shop (63 Clive Road, Canton, Cardiff). It celebrates in records, cassettes, tee-shirts, photos, flyers, video footage and other pop cultural memorabilia the 30th anniversary of Datblygu – one of Wales’s most important and influential bands.

Formed in 1982, Datblygu (which means Developing) placed themselves in opposition to both Thatcherism and Welsh cultural conservatism. Until that point the Welsh-language music scene had encouraged unity but Datblygu wasted no time in giving Wales’s sacred cows (Chapel, Eisteddfod, Welsh-language media) a good kicking. Naturally this put them at odds with the establishment.

Singer and lyricist David R Edwards emerged as a highly charismatic presence and focal point for the band. His idiosyncratic vocal delivery conveyed irony and anger in equal measure. Most often compared to Mark E Smith of The Fall, Edwards’s lyrics are actually less cryptic and more coherent than those of the Mancunian. Even today Edwards’s image is used as a symbol of cultural rebellion, manifesting itself in stencil grafitti and other street art in the capital.

Datblygu sprang not just from the cultural margins but the geographical periphery too – rural Cardigan. It is ironic, then, that this exhibition is situated on the fringes of Pontcanna, home of Cardiff’s urban, Welsh-speaking, media class. The area contains, no question, both the bourgeois targets of Edwards’s ire and those who have been inspired by him.

Victoria Morgan of the Waffle Coffee Shop is the sister of Patricia Morgan who joined the band in 1985. The exhibition consists of her own collection of Datblygu-related material and artefacts donated by band members and fans. I’ve long been an advocate of celebrating in imaginative ways Wales’s often marginalised pop cultural heritage so, for me, Datblygu Trideg is a delight. The ready availability of appetising food and good coffee is no bad thing either.

*A more expansive and visually stimulating appreciation of Datblygu Trideg can be found at Lowri Haf Cooke.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chris Madoch

One current Welsh poet/writer whose work I enjoy very much is Chris Madoch. His poetry, which often explores the gay experience, is delivered in a knowing, declamatory fashion, and with considerable wit and skill. Is there a canon of explicit gay Welsh poetry? I’m really not sure – maybe Chris Madoch IS that tradition. Perhaps he is our very own John Giorno or Allen Ginsberg. I don’t know if the soi-disant Queer Messiah is on the Welsh literary circuit but he would certainly enliven it, and deserves a much wider audience.

*The Sports Shorts Quartet by Chris Madoch is intended for adult audiences only.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Chainsaw Song

If you suffer from castration anxiety or if a woman armed with a power tool causes you to feel a bit nervous, then perhaps you should avoid Exit_International’s Chainsaw Song. The rest of us, however, can enjoy its perverse delights. As the title hints their new single is the tale of lady maniac running amok with a chainsaw. Taken from last year’s spunky debut album, Black Junk, this is the most radio-friendly and dare I say it commercial sounding track from that collection. It’s a fine song and has already earned them some UK-wide airplay. The trio are currently featured in Kerrang! magazine where they are pictured brandishing a burning six-string guitar. The band, of course, famously abjure the use of that particular instrument, preferring instead the novel approach of an all out twin bass assault. In the Kerrang! piece the band reveal that they are recording new material and promise to up the weirdness ante for the next album. Nice.

*Chainsaw Song by Exit_International is released next month on Undergroove Records.

Philip K Dick and Henry Vaughan

Philip K Dick dug Welsh metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan. You’d have thought he’d be more into Vaughan’s brother, Thomas, who was an alchemist and mystic. But no, it was Henry whom Dick regarded as a key influence. In an interview for the Daily Telegraph in 1974, he confirmed: ”I’ve always been much influenced by the 17th-century metaphysical poets like Donne, and especially Henry Vaughan.” In Dick’s last published novel, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982), he even includes a stanza from Henry Vaughan’s poem, Friends Departed, in the text:

Either disperse these mists, which blot and fill
My perspective still as they pass:
Or else remove me hence unto that hill,
Where I shall need no glass

Henry Vaughan is buried in the churchyard of St Bridget's Church, Llansantffraed, Powys. Philip K Dick is buried at the Riverside Cemetery, Fort Morgan, Colorado, alongside his twin sister Jane. Both writers were, of course, twins - another possible reason why Dick was a fan.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Arthur Machen and WH Davies

Here's an interesting image of Welsh author of weird fiction Arthur Machen (left), and WH Davies (right) who penned Autobiography of a Super-Tramp. Two of Gwent's most famous literary sons pictured together. The photo was taken in 1937 in Newport before a special luncheon in honour of Machen who was celebrating his 74th birthday.

Machen is one of my favourite Welsh writers of all time but oh his politics! In 1938 about 100 prominent British authors were canvassed on the subject of the Spanish Civil War. The vast majority came out in favour of the Republican cause. Machen, however, was one of the exceptions, he wrote: "Mr Machen presents his compliments, and begs to state that he is, and always has been, entirely on the side of General Franco." Oh dear...