Peacenik Pixi Morgan was at the vanguard of rebel society: Nomad, musician, protestor and punk, pagan. Christopher Stone sheds light on a bonafide fire starter, the frondeur spirit of nonconformity which characterised his existence now permeating coffeehouses and hipster hangouts throughout the land.
Interview by Saira Viola
He was very young when he left home, sixteen years old, and at the moment I can’t give you an explanation for why he did. It’s one of the things I will be investigating as I write the book. I do know that he was living in a squat before he moved in with Steve and that he had recently been in the news for saving a bunch of old people from a fire in an old people’s home. That tells you a lot about him. He was already very brave and very spontaneous even as a youngster, characteristics that grew with the years.
‘Pixi gravitated towards music, was completely self taught and became a highly revered and accomplished singer and musician. Can you tell us about his musical influences and if they inspired his way of life at all?
I asked Steve Andrews to answer some of these questions for me, as he knew Pixi in the early days. This is what Steve says:
He used to play my Dylan and Leonard Cohen albums over and over and added some of their songs to his repertoire later. Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee” hints at Pixi’s traveller lifestyle. I remember him doing an energetic version of Cohen’s Diamonds in the Mine.
Pixi used to say he could play any song with three chords but he learned far more than that and evolved his own style. He was inspired by the singer-songwriters but became more of a travelling minstrel, which was the title of one of his own songs.
What I can add to this is that all the songs he chose to interpret, as well as his own songs, all had a deeply emotional, autobiographical, often pagan element to them. So he did a great version of Solid Ground by Dougie MacLean, which is a lovely song in itself, but to me, having heard Pixi sing it at many a protest, in many a pub garden after some pagan moot, Pixi’s version will always be the definitive one. But there’s one line in it, “My Father’s they have said these things… the joy that shared friendship brings,” which characterises Pixi to perfection. “The Joy that shared friendship brings.” He meant that. It was his secret mantra. He was someone who could give everything to his friends, who was comfortable with emotional intimacy, who was loyal and honest and completely up front with those he chose as his friends. It’s a rare quality.
All of his songs were autobiographical in some way, even when they were other people’s songs which he was interpreting. So there’s a lovely song by Richard Thompson he used to sing: Beeswing. Again, it’s Pixi’s version that is the definitive one to me. Even though Richard Thompson’s is more musically accomplished, Pixi’s in much more heartfelt, much more real. It’s about a woman traveller:
Oh she was a rare thing, fine as a bee’s wing
So fine a breath of wind might blow her away
She was a lost child, oh she was running wild
She said “As long as there’s no price on love, I’ll stay.
And you wouldn’t want me any other way”
You see, he’s singing about himself. He’s the Beeswing in the song. He’s the one “so fine a breath of wind might blow her away, the lost child, running wild etc”. To Richard Thompson, that’s just a story he made up. It’s a good story, well told and well executed. But to Pixi, it was himself, so he took those lyrics to heart and made them absolutely his own, to the point where they are almost achingly poignant.
‘Nomadic culture has always been part of society, a way to screw the system before it screws you, was this a conscious political decision do you think on Pixi’s part?’
Yes, I think it was. But it was also part of the ethos of our time. Pixi was a latecomer to this. It all goes back to the Free Festivals, to Windsor and Stonehenge, which were deliberate exercises in experimental anarchy. The guy who started the Windsor festival, Bill “Ubi” Dwyer, was almost a card-carrying anarchist, a psychedelic anarchist as my good friend Wally Dean puts it. I think that’s as good a definition of the ethos as you can get: anarchy informed by psychedelia. Pixi was born in the 60s, in 66, so he was a mere baby during the first Summer of Love, but by the second, which was based around Rave, he was in his 20s. So he took to that. He was around Glastonbury for the so-called Harmonic Convergence and was one of the Rainbow Warriors at that time, nothing like he ended up, dressed in rainbow colours and “Love-Bombing” people. So it was political and spiritual at the same time. What I realised about him is that he lived his whole life as an act of resistance: as a deliberate exercise in a sort of cultural guerilla warfare. He was on the front line throughout most of his life: a traveller, a protester, a busker. Even in his final form, which was barely distinguishable from an alcoholic street person, a tramp, I think he made a conscious decision. He went right to the bottom, right to the depths, in order to highlight the presence of humanity in those places. He never lost his empathy. He never lost his connection to people. He was always a person dedicated to love. So, yes, it was political, but not in a theoretical way. In a deeply humane, deeply spiritual way.
‘How would you define a new age traveller vis a vis Pixi?’
See above. The new age travellers arose out of the free festival scene of the early 70s. The movement was reinforced by punks in the later 70s, the so-called Rainbow Punks, of which Pixi was one. During the Thatcher era there was a concerted attempt by the establishment to smash all resistance to their colonisation of our Culture. This is the irony of the story. The Thatcher government took on the Miners first, and then the New Age Travellers and effectively broke them both. It was very violent. She did this using a sort of cod-patriotic rhetoric, about British values and the rest, while selling us out to the corporations. She destroyed heavy industry and the culture and skill sets that went with that – the Miners and the Miner’s Union, being the prime example of that – and replaced it with a service economy. And then she destroyed the Traveller’s movement, which, in part, was a deliberate attempt to find a deep-rooted traditional culture of these Islands, and to express that.
‘There is a romanticised notion about life on the road, starry serenades at dusk, fresh water skinny dipping at dawn and the glorious freedom of going where you want when you want. For most of us that heroic freedom is just confined to idle daydreaming in between snatched tea breaks and everyday domestics, what does it take to live like Pixi did?
I think it’s very hard, especially in this culture, where all of the little nooks and crannies of freedom have been blocked off. Literally. So the ancient Bridleways and Droves which criss-cross the landscape have mostly been blocked, with mounds and ditches or big lumps of rock, or gates that only allow small vehicles entry. They all used to be open in the past. But, you know that “romanticised notion about life on the road, starry serenades at dusk, fresh water skinny dipping at dawn and the glorious freedom of going where you want when you want” was exactly what Pixi and his peers aspired to, and, to some small degree, managed to achieve. That was why they had to be destroyed. Isn’t that what we all want? Or those of us with nomadic tendencies at least. And there were always compromises which might have been made: like travellers buying bits of land up and down the country and being allowed to travel from spot to spot. Or adapting some of the Droves and Bridleways and Green Lanes, which have been used by traditional travellers from ancient times. See, this is how the notion of property is so skewed. If you buy a bit of land it becomes yours. You can buy a bit of land and never live on it, but it is yours in this culture. You can also squat on land and after a number of years, if no one else claims it, it will become yours. But when travellers have been using land from time immemorial, for Fairs and gatherings, like the Tan Hill Fair in Wiltshire going possibly to neolithic times, because they don’t “own” the land in the modern sense they can find themselves banished from their own culture. That’s what’s happened to the travelling communities, both of the traditional, and the new age kind. Most of them live in houses these days, often against their will.
‘There seem to be two dominating points of view on the great mythological hero of the open road, who is lionised in fiction and the arts and on celluloid: one is the great adventurer rolling through society, emblematic of individual freedom and free love, and the other is that of a dysfunctional, selfish non conformist who skirts responsibility and doesn’t want to contribute to society by moving out of the system. Do you think Pixi would agree?’
I think not only would Pixi agree, he would admit to being both at the same time. He was certainly a hero of the open road, as you put it, as I hope to show in the book. But he was also a dole-scrounger who hung out with the other dole-scroungers drinking cans of Special Brew on the benches in Glastonbury High Street giving the hard-working citizens a hard time. He used to sing this song: “Eat, drink and be merry, it’s Giro day again,” which he sometimes used to change to “eat drink and be lairy.” But, again, I think that Pixi deliberately chose to be in that place, with the fuck-ups and the outcasts and the lost souls and the people who had been abused. I think he was one of them but he had this incredible capacity to communicate and to build bridges which made it possible for him to translate that culture into terms us house-bound people could understand. That Giro Day song was an example of that. It was tongue in cheek, self-satirising, but it made you understand what the culture was like. The point was, everyone would wait till their Giros came, and then they’d ALL have a party. It was a sharing community, as well as an outcast community.
‘Do you think people who choose to live as Pixi did are now demonised and criminalised by conventional society and the media?’
‘Can you tell us how Pixi changed the negative perceptions associated with some peoples’ view of his lifestyle?’
Pixi was Pixi. He was absolutely unique. You couldn’t not like him. Everybody loved Pixi. If they knew him, they loved him. He gave from the heart. So, towards the end he looked like a tramp. He was a tramp, to all intents and purposes. He had bad teeth. He stank of booze. He was rarely clean. But a few minutes in his presence and you would love him. There was a light in his eyes, a sort of fire, which spoke to you beyond mere words.
Someone, a music promoter friend of mine, told me a good story which illustrates that. So he was on Glastonbury High Street, it was his birthday, and he was drunk. He was always drunk, but he was drunker than usual on this day. And my friend the music promoter was there, with a friend of hers. Pixi came up to her and, asked her for a snog. “Go on, it’s my birthday,” he said, and she reluctantly agreed. Well, he was Pixi. She’d known him for years. Even in that state people couldn’t resist him. And after allowing him to give her a good, tongue-laden snog, her friiend, who didn’t know Pixi, was disgusted. “How could you do that?” she said. “With that dirty old tramp?” My friend the promoter, didn’t say anything. Later they were back at my friend’s flat. “Go on,” said her friend, “let’s hear some of your recordings of the local talent.” So my friend put on Seasons, by Pixi, and after it was finished her friend was raving about it. “Wow, that’s beautiful, what a voice, I could fall in love with a man with a voice like that. Who is it?
“It’s that dirty old tramp I just snogged in the High Street.”
There’s a lesson to be learned in that, I’m sure.
As to why my friend never represented him for his music: he was way too chaotic for that, she said.
‘Pixi , sadly succumbed to the demon of alcohol, do you think this is more prevalent in nomadic societies where access to treatment is not readily available?’
Pixi struggled with the drink, it’s true. We all used to meet up at various pubs at various times of the year for the pagan festivals, and Pixi would always be the life-and-soul. He could sing for hours at a stretch and never repeat himself, fuelled by the drink in part, but also by the sheer staying power of his talent. So that’s how everyone knew him, the life and soul, everybody’s favourite busker, but we didn’t see him in the inbetweentimes, when it was just him, on his own. I didn’t even realise he had a problem till I went to stay with him in his house. Yes he lived in houses at times. This was with his last wife, Lynne, during the most sustained period of domesticity in his life. He’d been drinking ginger wine, and I went out and bought a bottle of whiskey to go with it. Pixi soon collapsed, because he’d been at it all day, but me and Lynne stayed up and chatted and finished off about a third of the whiskey. And then, in the morning, Pixi got up and we all sat round and drank coffee, and Pixi picked up the whiskey and put a shot in his coffee. That’s when I knew he had a problem. Seasoned drinkers who want to carry on drinking know its not a good idea to take it in the morning. But Pixi always did. Usually Special Brew. He was one of the Brew Crew. They’ve changed the recipe recently, but it was absolutely devastating stuff: 9% proof, almost as potent as wine, said to have wormwood in it. He did desperately want to get off it, he made heroic efforts to, but he couldn’t. It was that life-and-soul thing that everyone expected of him. It became a trap which he couldn’t escape. He was catholic about his drug use, meaning he’d take almost anything and everything. He was a true psychedelic gypsy, and took all of the psychedelics, but drink was always the easiest to access, and he could always make money and have a good time just by turning up at a pub and starting to play. It became a lifestyle in the end, and it killed him. I think he knew he was going to die young. His songs are full of references to death. Like Look at the Coffin and Sam Hall, about a hanging. Look at the Coffin was played by Dave Sangar, one of his best friends, at his funeral, which was the best funeral song I’ve ever heard. It turned the funeral into a celebration, as Pixi would have wanted it to be.
‘Do you think the contemporary counterculture scene is in fact a new form of conformity?
Don’t know much about the contemporary counterculture scene I’m afraid. You tell me: is it?
‘In view of the political and legal challenges new age travellers face, do you think it’s feasible to try and follow Pixi’s lead?’
One day it will be, I truly believe that. I believe that either we’ll have to adopt new and sustainable ways of living, of the sort that Pixi was always experimenting with, or we’re fucked as a species.
‘You’re penning a biography about Pixi, why do you think he’s such a pivotal figure in the counter culture/new age traveller movement?
Not sure how pivotal he was. He was just a man, a good friend of mine, someone I loved, who carried love in his bearing and in his being and who is a lesson to me because of that, and I want to tell people about him. Also his loss has been devastating for a lot of people and I want to allow them to have their say. I want to offer my talent to the community, as Pixi did, with his singing. Everyone deserves a voice. Pixi had his, and it still reverberates through the songs he recorded, but some of his friends need to have their voices heard too. He had such an effect on us all. He wasn’t the greatest luminary in the counter culture. I think he may have been legendary amongst the traveller community. But this is the point, to me. We live in a world and in a culture which diminishes us. We are made to feel like we are nothing. But deep down, under the layers of cultural accretion, of accumulated negativity, there’s a true authentic being in all of us. Pixi lived his authenticity to the maximum. He became legendary even when he was still alive. As a writer, part of my job is to sing the praises of those who deserve it, to help to make legends, and no one deserves it more than Pixi.
‘As we witness a growing tide of dissatisfaction with governments and corrupt corporations, what do you think we can learn from Pixi’s value system?’
It was love and friendship first. But he was tough. He could fight. He could defend what he believed in. It was funny, because he was a skinny little beggar really. That’s one of the reasons the drink killed him. He just didn’t have the physical capacity to process the poison. But I saw what he was like with people who crossed him. When we were in Tintagel for the launch of my book about the Loyal Arthurian Warband, there was this Cornish Nationalist who started to become threatening to all of us. Pixi was over the table and at him in half a second, that fierce light in his eyes, fists clenched. It was like the guy was being attacked by a wolf, albeit a skinny one. He literally ran away.
Pixi lived is life in the moment, in the now, giving it absolute commitment. He was spontaneous, fervent, a real live-wire as the cliché has it. He acted straight from the heart, in defence of what he saw as sacred: the land that we live on, and the community he was a part of. It wasn’t airy-fairy love he practised. It was full-blown, deep-down, elemental love, unconditional, incorruptible, like a fire. He was a revolutionary, a revolutionary of the heart. It wasn’t some theoretical revolution which he only talked about and expounded at meetings. He lived it, in his relationships with people, in the ways he chose to live his life, in the magic he created around him, in the way he affected the lives of all of those who were touched by him. I never saw him on a demonstration or anything like that. But he was there at Newbury, chaining himself to trees, that kind of thing, putting his body on the line for what he believed.
‘There is an increasing intolerance to those fleeing war and civil unrest , in Europe and most notably in America as voiced by GOP front runner Donald Trump what do you think Pixi’s reaction would be to Trump?
I think he would have laughed at Trump and then got on with his life. Pixi was never impressed by politicians anyway, let alone buffoons like Trump.
‘And finally ending on a blossom of positivity what’s Pixi’s favourite song of all time and why?’
I don’t know. Pick any from his playlist. He sang all of his favourite songs. One of my favourites is one of his own songs which went by a variety of titles, If I Was a Russian or The Purple Song, amongst others. This is Pixi at his most playful, as we should all remember him.