Not so much Rage Against the Machine as Slightly Peeved the Taps Won’t Work
Geoff Gilbertson, co-author, with Anthony Roberts, of the seminal 1980s conspiracy book, The Dark Gods, has died, age 67.
It’s true that I hardly knew him. I met him once, in the 90s, when we went out to the pub and got drunk together, and then again about four years ago, when he helped me find a website designer. After that I would see him maybe two or three times a year, although he rang me up several times a week. The conversations were always brief and often bizarre. I have to admit that I didn’t always answer the calls.
Nevertheless I think I have an important part to play in Geoff Gilbertson’s story. He told me that the night we went to the pub was the last time he remembered being happy.
Geoff was born on the 2nd May 1950 in Pembury, Kent. His father, John C. Gilbertson, had spied on the Nazis in Bonne, in 1936. He was a linguist and spoke over 30 German dialects. After that he served in Bletchley Park.
John died early and Geoff and his two older sisters, Isolde and Mary, and his twin sister, Jill, were brought up by their mother, Nanette, who struggled with a debilitating physical condition. This became a bone of contention in later years, when Geoff “dropped out” and became a hippy. He was considered to be the black sheep of the family.
Nevertheless he made a strong impression on his young nephews, Mark & Paul Duffield. To them Uncle Geoff was the living embodiment of an alternative lifestyle, doing things on his own terms.
He once took them out in a car that was so rusted that there was no floor in the back. They could see the road skimming by underneath as he drove. He had a house in Glastonbury that was leaning so much with subsidence that the furniture had to be nailed to the floor, and he once swapped a car for a loaf of bread. Such things made a strong impression on their young minds. He was their favourite uncle. If you needed money, he would give it to you, even to the detriment of himself.
He was always in love with someone, although it was usually unrequited. He gave his money away. He travelled through life like a holy fool, making everyone fall in love with him, and he turned many heads along the way. Wherever he found himself he would find a new friend.
According to everyone I spoke to, he blamed the illness that dogged his later years on the writing of the Dark Gods.
It was the ultimate conspiracy book, predating David Icke and Dan Brown by more than a decade. The basic contention was that there was a malignant force in the Universe, undermining humanity at every turn, which the authors attempted to delineate using a variety of sources: from myth, from fiction, from folk story and from history. It was said that the Dark Gods influenced the Stranglers in the making of their 1981 concept album, The Gospel According to the Meninblack.
Geoff told friends that he came under sustained psychic attack after its publication. He had a minor breakdown, and spent some time recuperating in a Monastery. Later he told people he no longer believed many of the things he had written.
In the 90s he became a website designer, and was named website designer of the year by the Guardian. He was very computer savvy and ahead of the curve when it came to tech stuff. Meanwhile he was researching for a new book to counterbalance the Dark Gods hypothesis. He used to walk around with a plastic lizard in his pocket. He said he wanted to reclaim the lizards from David Icke.
This was at Megatripolis, the legendary underground London nightclub which flourished at the height of the Rave era. Geoff took an active part in this. He was known as “Cyber Geoff”, and brought his enthusiasm and his encyclopedic knowledge to the mix, hosting talks, compering on stage and lecturing at the “Parallel Youniversity”, the Megatripolis educational project.
One of his friends from this time, Lucy Wills, thought that Geoff might have had Asperger’s Syndrome.
She said, “Many of the things that made him so special, and also made his life so difficult at times, very much fit in with the new, emerging understanding of this condition.”
It was possibly this that made him neglectful of his health. He didn’t eat properly. He wasn’t grounded. His head was so full of esoteric and occult things, and he could talk for hours on UFOs, but he was lost on Planet Earth, living off junk food and snacks. As his friend, Wayne Sturgeon, put it: “He was so heavenly minded, he was of no earthly use.”
According to Tom Eveson, who illustrated the Dark Gods, he was not like your generic, straight-out-of-the-factory human. He had no protective armour. He was incredibly – impossibly – sensitive. He was this very big guy, Tom said, but with a lot of feminine characteristics. There was none of that male ego competitiveness you get with most men. He meant the best for everyone.
Tom met Geoff when they were both attempting to sell prints to the same cafe owner at the same time. This was in Bristol. Later Tom took some prints round to Geoff’s house. It was this large Georgian property in Hotwells, a hippy commune. There was a cafe downstairs which was open all night, and Geoff went down to work behind the counter, leaving Tom in his room. After awhile Tom noticed this strange smell emanating from a cupboard. It was foul: “a demon smell, like it had come from the bowels of hell,” Tom said. He opened the cupboard and there was a sudden rush of oxygen into the cupboard and an intense ball of flame, which set light to everything. Tom rushed downstairs to alert everyone and the fire brigade was called. This must have been in 1977, because there was a Fire Fighter’s strike on, and it was the Army in their Green Goddesses who turned up. The house burnt down and Tom lost all his prints.
He read the Dark Gods three times to get an idea of what it meant, so he could do the illustrations. It chimed with thoughts of his own about the possibility of some malign force governing everything. Later he changed his mind about this. “We don’t need any help fucking ourselves,” he said.
Geoff travelled a lot and it could be years between one meeting and the next.
There had always been an edge of paranoia about him. He talked a lot about UFOs, past lives and conspiracy theory, and other fringe stuff. But in 2008 Wayne Sturgeon met him again and Geoff told him he was being abducted by aliens and having sex with Diana Ross on an alien spaceship. He became agitated and defensive when Wayne expressed reserve. “You’re one of them!” he said.
After that he disappeared. There were rumours that he had died. He was found vagrant in France and deported and ended up in a mental hospital near the Quaker Centre near Euston. Wayne used to go and visit him. He was in an awful state. He could hardly talk. He’d become infantilised, and spoke in a strange, high-pitched voice. He would come to visit Wayne at his house and Wayne said that even his seven year old daughter was more mature than Geoff. She would lead him around by the hand and help him to do things.
Ah yes: that voice! It was unlike anything you’ve ever heard. When I first heard him speak, on the phone, I had no idea who I was talking to. I thought it was some mad woman ringing me up. It was like this high-pitched twitter. Other people have described it as demented, even sinister. James Hamilton, for whom Geoff had designed a website in the 90s, said it sounded like he was trying to talk to angels.
It went along with his walk, waddling along like a wooden toy, with his palms turned out, and this look of startled bemusement on his face. He was probably on a lot of psychiatric drugs by this time.
James says he blamed his later paralytic psychosis on a skunk joint he took at the Rainbow Centre in Notting Hill in the early 2000s. He said Geoff spiralled inward after that and became very withdrawn, although the inward mood was interspersed by spontaneous bubbles of absurd optimism, equally worrying in its own way.
He said that Geoff never told him he had cancer.
Not that it was a secret. He used to say, “I’ve got cancer but it’s OK because I’ve got good friends.” He was supposed to be going into hospital for an operation, but then declined the treatment. He said, “well I’ve got to go sometime!”
This was the reason that his death came as a surprise. People knew he was ill, but were expecting him to go into hospital soon. But it’s a measure of his essential good nature that even then, when he knew he was going to die, he remained cheerful, coming to friends house just a few days before and offering to help her carry her bags up the stairs.
He died on the 24th October 2017. The cause of death was “malignant neoplasm of the sigmoid colon and ulcerative colitis.” Cancer of the colon, in layman’s terms.
His last words to Wayne, sent via text message, were: “Father healed me.” Just those three words, without any explanation.
You could say that Geoff’s life was a failure. He was immensely talented, almost a genius, but none of it ever came to anything. He was an excellent guitarist, an accomplished artist, a decent writer, a great researcher and a voracious consumer of obscure facts. Later he was a successful web-designer, way ahead of his time. He could have had a brilliant career, had he been better supported with his health issues, and the psychosis not allowed to take over.
But while it’s true to say that he never achieved any personal success, he was definitely an inspirational figure, and a catalyst for many other people’s creativity.
More than anything there was an incredible sweetness about him, a real generosity of spirit. He believed that the world was a beautiful place, and he helped others see it that way.
I wish I could take just one last phone call from him, so I could wish him goodbye.
He is survived by his sister, Isolde.
Hi ChrisComment by Rick Parker on 6 January, 2018 at 2:34 pm
I saw your publication of Geoff’s obituary in the Guardian today.
I was a friend of Geoff’s when I lived in the Bristol area in the 70s.
I used to visit him at his flat in Wells at the time where we would chat and play guitar together. We sometimes visited a cafe in Glastonbury after we had climbed to the Tor and meet friends of his like a guy called “Scorpio.”
We played as a duo in a few pubs in Bristol at the time – a mixture of his (more superior) original songs – “Francesca” being I think our favourite, and mine.
I agree totally with all your observations. Geoff was definitely “off the wall,” but a lovely guy who never bore malice and would help anyone he could afford to.
He tracked me down and called a few years ago out of the blue with that high pitched voice and I only believed it was him when he started singing one of my songs down the phone…35 years after I last saw him, and I visited him a couple of years ago at St Mungos, the homeless charity near St Pancras, where he had a room and was catered for in what seemed to be a caring environment. He still had his old Martin guitar which must have accompanied him throughout his life.
Whilst saddened at Geoff’s death, I was pleased to see he had made it into the Guardian’s obituary page thanks to you, and to find out much more about his life.
Feel free to contact me if you want to.