It happened here: Hoppy’s Notting Hill interzone

 

As students took to the barricades in Paris in May ’68, John Hopkins came up with International Times 30, the Notting Hill ‘Interzone A’ map issue, inspired by a combination of William Blake and William Burroughs, the Situationist theory of psychogeography and local history. The ‘Interzone’ it cover features a Ladbroke Grove Carnival procession cut-up collage by Miles, incorporating some of the Coleridge King Mob graffiti and the Kensington mayor Malby Crofton. Inside Dave Robins’ local history report on ‘The Three Villages’ (Notting Dale, Portobello Road and Westbourne Park) is illustrated by King Mob’s ‘Dynamite is Freedom’ graffiti, a plan for the Westway Theatre off Portobello Road (on the site of the Portobello Green Arcade) and ads for the Hustler paper, the Word printers and the Family Dog shop – ‘posters, pipes, rings, skins and things’ – at 2 Blenheim Crescent. The fold-out and fill-in map, ordained with ‘God gave the land to the people’, duly became a fixture on Notting Hill hippy pad walls.

Hoppy described Interzone it as a cross between a marketing exercise and a revolutionary strategy:

I got all the data together from street sellers, the guy doing distribution and postal subscriptions, and plotted it all out on a map, and what I discovered was the main density of people in those days was like a fertile crescent. It followed the 31 bus route that runs down to World’s End, Chelsea, and came up through Kensington and Notting Hill to Swiss Cottage and Chalk Farm. We called it the fertile crescent – which is a phrase from archaeology, from Mesopotamia, and the centre of gravity of it was in Notting Hill. One of the things we understood then is if you want to take the territory you publish the map, that’s an axiom that really works. So we decided that the first place that we want to conceptually seize is Notting Hill – this is in 1968 – so we published a map and we called it ‘Interzone A’.

Somebody did some research about the 3 villages, Notting Dale, Westbourne Park and Portobello. The idea wasn’t local history, although I think you can call it that. What we tried to do was provide that information for people, so that they’d know when you walk along the street you’re treading along somewhere people have lived and walked along for hundreds of years. It used to be farms then it was a village. When you stand here imagine that this was a village – trying to help give people a sense of place in time which goes beyond the present. We got some old maps and we traced out the field patterns and we talked to people who reckoned they could remember what their parents and grandparents said going back a hundred years. When you do that your sense of where you are and what you’re walking on changes; it’s like the fields lie dreaming underneath sort of vibe.”

In Interzone it, Dave Robins grappled with the paradox of hippy heaven West 11 and concrete island Notting Hell, at one point concluding that ‘Notting Hill in its social aspects – housing and so on – is a huge grimy garbage heap, that is just waiting to get set on fire, like the kids at the adventure playground, and like my own garbage heap at home.’ As the GLC’s car-park plans for the 23 acres under the Westway flyover were discovered, he thought ‘the area could congeal into a genuinely depressed ghetto, people’s social and economic needs being overshadowed by the gigantic inhuman motorway. This is what happened after the building of overhead railways in Chicago and New York. Local politicians could seize the opportunity to turn Notting Hill into Britain’s first US style black ghetto (if it isn’t that already).’ On the other hand, he mused: ‘If the spans are given over to the community, the possibilities for further creative extensions to the children’s adventure playground already under way in Westbourne Park, are total…’

If you must vote, vote for playspace at the council elections… In the meantime, look forward to the Notting Hill Fair especially, a human bonfire of energy and colour. Don’t wait for the area to change – no change in a physical environment how ever great can ever change you. Instead dig the vibrations in and around Notting Hill, perhaps the only area in London where through the differing enclaves of experimental living, a free-form and ingenious communal life-style could really burst forth… In the 50s most young people who came to Notting Hill were students who only stayed for 6 to 9 months and then moved out. Now there are signs that a real underground community is alive, and especially in the village around Portobello Road, down to the Gate, each person will carry a fire in their heads despite (perhaps because of) the garbage, the ghetto poverty and the rest.’

Apart from the adventure playgrounds, law centres and crèches, what have the hippies done for us?

The most enduring legacy of the 1968 student revolution in Notting Hill was the graffiti. The writing on the walls, largely attributed to the Situationist King Mob group, included Romantic poetry by William Blake, Percy Shelley and Samuel Coleridge’s ‘A grief without a pang, void, dark, drear, a stifled, drowsy unimpassioned greif (sic)’, from ‘Ode to Dejection’. Most memorably, from 1968 through the 70s, hoardings beneath the Westway flyover on Acklam Road, alongside the Hammersmith and City tube line between Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park, were emblazoned with: ‘Same thing day after day – Tube – Work – Diner (sic) – Work – Tube – Armchair – TV – Sleep – Tube – Work – How much more can you take – One in ten go mad – One in five cracks up.’

InOnce Upon A Time There Was A Place Called Notting Hill Gate’, the Wise brothers (Dave and Stuart) noted that the Notting Hill graffiti predated the slogans of Paris 1968, but had to admit they didn’t have quite the same revolutionary effect. Mostly through the graffiti, the influence of the Situationists on the hippy movement rivalled that of the beat generation. However the Wise brothers dismissed the underground scene as ‘just another range of consumer goods, of articles whose non-participatory consumption follows the same rules in Betsy-Coed as in Notting Hill.’ In ‘Days in the Life’, Dick Pountain recalled how King Mob used to “terrorise” the International Times office with their critical posters.

Answers to the Hustler black underground paper’s ‘What is The Grove?’ psychogeography survey were: ‘The Grove’s just much groovier, way ahead of other areas… A square mile of squalor… A nice homey area, but needs cleaning up… A social dustbin (The Times)… Our own Notting Hill, signs of a real underground community (International Times)… A really dirty area, rats, bad housing, nothing for the kids… The streets are too bumpy and you can’t rollerskate… Notting Hill and North Kensington – areas of anarchy and flux… A splendid sleaziness, of the sort the British like to think of as Mediterranean… A transit area for vagrants, gypsies and casual workers’, and the definitive ‘It’s the sort of place where you have to be because you can’t be anywhere else.’

Hoppy recalled the 1968 Bit office in Kensington Park Road above a shop: “The shop was run by some friends of mine. He was selling button badges; circular badges which had all sorts of slogans. So my office was above the Badge Boutique.” This was the Head Shop, the first in the UK, at 202 Kensington Park Road, which had previously been an S&M brothel; subsequently became the first Rough Trade punk and reggae record shop, and is now the Mews bridal couture boutique. The Hapshash and the Coloured Coat (Michael English and Nigel Waymouth) psychedelic poster proclaimed: ‘Score it at the Head Shop’.

In the psychedelic phase of my interview, Hoppy said he wasn’t particularly inspired by LSD but remained true to the consciousness expanding cause, telling me: “You know what happens when you take acid, your conceptual framework gets sort of ripped apart for a few hours. I think really the acid wave hit in ’67. That was the sort of pharmacological background. That doesn’t mean to say that everybody who was doing cultural stuff was doing acid, but it’s certainly a factor. The combination of that and youthful idealism made a really hopeful scene. LSD didn’t arrive suddenly; it sort of trickled in during the first half of the 60s when a lot of young Americans in particular came to England, draft dodgers or whatever. The effect of the Vietnam war was actually to create a Diaspora of the cream of American youth, and they brought with them all their interesting habits, including LSD.”

Hoppy presented ‘The Death and Resurrection of it’ parade on Portobello Road, after the paper was first busted by the Obscene Publications Squad on March 11 1967, the day British psychedelia was launched with the release of Pink Floyd’s debut single ‘Arnold Layne’. This hippy street theatre, relic of tree worship in mod Europe, consisted of a coffin (supposedly containing the beatnik poet Harry Fainlight) carried on a ‘rebirth journey’ from the Cenotaph in Whitehall back to Notting Hill Gate on the Circle Line, and a procession through the market, with bongo drum accompaniment. In the picture from the ‘Some of it’ book a group of fairly short-haired beatnik/hippy types in capes and Paisley shirts are led by a black bongo drummer. At the end of the demo, it was symbolically resurrected in the human form of Harry Fainlight, resulting in several arrests, as Mick Farren took shelter in the Mountain Grill café at 275 Portobello Road, and there was a hippy shock horror ‘Sacrilege at the Cenotaph’ Sunday Mirror headline.

 

Tom Vague


This entry was posted on in homepage and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to It happened here: Hoppy’s Notting Hill interzone

  1. Cy Lester says:

    History of Notting Hill gets better with time. A sense of history is true time.

  2. Johnny Haddo says:

    the likes of Mick Farren, John Michell, Heathcote Williams, Arabella Churchill & George Melly have either died or are too old to care, that leaves Jerry Cornelius.

  3. Claudia Egypt says:

    Fascinating linking for those of us who were almost there, missed by a few years, and are still here. I remember Hoppy rollerskating around, even if it was bumpy at a time when a lid cost the same as as a week’s rental. Still riding the 31 Bus. Those americans were indeed the best, the ones who travelled.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.