Monday 13 March 2023

Rediscovered USA regional Brucesploitation entry Blood And Steel (1990) directed by Mark Swetland

I only learned of the existence of Blood And Steel when it was announced  SRS were issuing it on DVD. At the time of writing it still doesn’t have an Internet Movie Database entry despite this revival. Presumably that will be fixed soon but it shows how obscure this flick is. Blood And Steel was the working title for Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon and this film, swiping that, is dedicated to Bruce Lee.

Shot in Buffalo, New York, the opening looks more like a regional horror with a woman in a swimming pool having her throat cut. Then a guy gets killed slasher style. Writer, director and star, Mark Swetland - playing himself - is the brother of one of the victims and he goes after the killers. The death of Swetland's screen sister at the get-go in this movie appears designed to resonate with Bruce Lee’s sister - played by Angela Mao - committing suicide to avoid being raped by the bad guys early on in Enter The Dragon.

Swetland gets a lead via a photograph that a martial artist from a local dojo is involved in the murder of his sister. So like Bruce Lee busting up the Japanese dojo in Fist of Fury (Chinese Connection in the USA), he lays waste to this martial arts school with his kung fu skills.

Ransacking the fight school’s office, Swetland gets a lead to an industrial company. Turns out both operations provide cover for drug dealing. The industrial company invokes the ice factory in Bruce Lee’s The Big Boss (Fists of Fury in the USA) which is a front for an illicit drugs operation. Meanwhile the bad guys hire an outside fighter to take care of Swetland - just as Chuck Norris is called in by the gangsters in Way of the Dragon to deal with Bruce Lee.

The stakes escalate as Swetland attempts to free his kidnapped girlfriend, He defeats the martial arts killer hired to take him out in what looks like a school hall with a stage - guess there is no equivalent of Rome’s Colosseum in Buffalo, the venue for the Bruce Lee/Chuck Norris fight in Way of the Dragon (although in reality and glaringly obviously mostly shot on a Hong Kong film set).

As the film is sprinting toward its finish, Swetland gears up in a yellow jumpsuit like Bruce Lee in Game of Death and besieges the bad guys' HQ. Of course, Swetland triumphs, avenging his sister’s death and freeing his girlfriend. Imagine an all American college jock who is also a Bruce Lee super fan acting out his hero worship by trying to role elements from five Little Dragon flicks into a single script which he also directs and stars in, and you'll have a pretty good handle on this movie.

The martial arts and action stunts - some involving motorcycles fights/chases rather like those added to Game of Death after Bruce Lee's death - are surprisingly good for an American no budget flick. Swetland’s Bruce Lee muggings during breaks in the fights are too restrained - he's too much the good guy college jock to indulge in nose thumbing levels of cockiness, although that has proved in the past to be a sure-fire route to Brucesploitation schlock of the first water.

In terms of content this would make the core of the Brucesploitation genre as I theorised it in my book Re-Enter The Dragon. However being core is also dictated to a degree by being known to Brucesploitation enthusiasts since genre is socially negotiated - and because it isn’t, Blood and Steel slides back into being part of the periphery. That could change but there’s a shortage of groovy seventies stylings on show here - it was made a decade too late - and I'd say this film will ultimately prove to be of more interest to those who dig American regional film than martial arts fans.

Monday 14 November 2022

The Bastardizer Polishes A Turd by Chus Martinez (Cripplegate Books, November 2022)

Chus Martinez has junked the discredited literary tradition of actually writing original material. They thought that with such great shit out there in the experimental and transgressive fiction worlds, they’d just hi-jack stuff that grooved them. So Chus gets their point of view over by re-arranging old schlock without the hassle of slaving long hours over a computer keyboard. Students of anti-literature will probably have long words for this kind of cut-and-paste book and they’ll invoke everything from isms to hauntology. I would describe it as ripping the piss.

The story, as much as there is one, is about some old pornographer being harassed by a copyright enforcer and being kidnapped by hot young women. But don't worry, there isn't too much conventional narrative and before you know it, Martinez has lost the plot and digressed into providing a discography of records that promote conspiracy theories about JFK.

Lots of paragraphs I recognised - especially the utterly depraved and filthy depictions of sex  - but often I couldn’t name the source. Even using the helpful “You Have Been Reading’ list on pages 128-135, I remained flummoxed about where some of the material originated. But then a lot of what’s referenced at the back are records and TV shows. Given The Bastardizer is the most important novel about copyright since the Berne Convention was foisted on the world, infringement in left field rock and roll plays a big part in its body odour boogie. The message to the man and on copyright is ‘burn, baby, burn’.

Of course Martinez is always getting into deep trouble for their plagiaristic antics and threatened with lawsuits. But any 142 page book that finishes with the words ‘A5 Paperback 128pp’ has got to be a winner! You couldn’t make it up and Chus certainly didn’t because they ripped it off! Each section is standout, since Martinez takes virtually every piece of avant-garde and pornographic trash you ever wanted to read, edits it down to a bite-sized chunk and re-uses it. Genius.

On the face of it mocking a load of famous literary works is a juvenile thing to do - but as burlesque it works a treat!  The Bastardizer is essential reading. I ought to know, I published it and I wrote the introduction - although this initial section was plagiarised from one of my books without my permission, so perhaps I should sue! You ought to buy this novel while it is briefly available, since once some uptight literary estate takes it out of circulation, it’ll be a gold-plated and unbelievably expensive collector’s item!

Use this link to find the cheapest place to buy the book that disappeared up its own arse and returned to tell the tale!

Friday 30 July 2021

Lynne Tillman, Alex Trocchi & Me

I got asked to blurb the UK reissue of Lynne Tillman 's first book Weird Fucks a couple of days ago... which reminded me of what happened when I first attempted to obtain a copy....

A month or so after first meeting Lynne at a party in NCY in the spring of 1989, I was in Paris to interview Ralph Rumney about the Situationist show at the Pompidou Centre for Art Monthly. Rumney asked me if there was anyone in Paris I wanted to be introduced to and I said I'd really like to meet Gil J. Wolman, who I knew he knew. We just went around to Wolman's because he didn't have a phone but sadly he was out. Rumney suggested we try Jim Haynes who lived nearby, nice guy but hardly as exciting to me as getting to meet the man who'd made L'Anticoncept. We caught Jim at home and at that time he was making various literary works available by photocopying them individually when people asked for them. Weird Fucks was one of those books. I asked Jim to make me a copy of Lynne's novel and he looked around for the art work but couldn't find it. Embarrassed he'd mislaid the originals of the book I wanted, he insisted on giving me a copy of his autobiography Thanks For Coming published by Faber. It seemed like a day of disappointments with first not getting to meet Wolman, then not getting Lynne's book. However, later when I examined Thanks For Coming I discovered it reproduced a page from International Times that included a photograph of my mother at Alex Trocchi's 1969 Arts Lab event State of Revolt. Years later I discovered that Lynne organised the State of Revolt shortly after graduating from college and then moving to London..... So I unknowingly left Jim Hayne's pad with a little bit of Lynne's and my own family history crossing 20 years earlier.

Wednesday 16 June 2021

Stewart Home Interviewed By Life Can't Wait

MIKE: What writers and books inspired you to become a writer ?

HOME: It was never my plan to become a writer. As a kid I read a lot but I was much more into rock and roll and in particular glam rock than the idea of being a writer. At the start of the seventies my favourite band was T.Rex but I liked most glam stuff as long as it had a decent stomp from Sweet through to Iron Virgin. I’m old enough to remember when Rebels Rule was getting some heavy radio play and at the time I couldn’t believe it didn’t become a hit and Iron Virgin disappeared. The couple of years before punk was a bit of a desert as far as new music went -  so I went backwards into northern soul coz I knew a lot of people into that but also British mod and what became known as freakbeat, I was listening to earlier Pretty Things and Downliners Sect in 1975. Back then I didn’t realise my taste in northern soul was very mod orientated, more Twisted Wheel than Wigan, I only found out about those distinctions later. I got into punk in the summer of 1976 after seeing the Pistols on So It Goes, and immediately discovered Nuggets and all that USA porto-punk - I knew Lou Reed’s solo stuff from the seventies but the Stooges, Patti Smith, Flamin’ Groovies and MC5 were all new to me as a 14 year-old in 1976. But punk wasn’t nearly as popular at my school as northern soul and then jazz funk for the hipster kids, or disco for those that just followed the charts.

As far as writers from that era go there were a whole raft of pulp writers doing everything from horror to youthsploitation but if I was gonna pull out one key influence it would be the Mike Norman hells angels books that I first read when I was 11 or 12, around the same time I was getting into kung fu films…. I was also reading a lot of Michael Moorcock but more Elric titles than Jerry Cornelius, I read Moorcock’s more experimental stuff later.Of course loads of kids I knew read The Rats by James Herbert around 1974/5 that and the skinhead books were probably the biggest sensations in my milieu at the time. A lot of the white boys at my school were also into Sven Hassel but I didn’t like nazi shit so I didn’t read them and neither did the girls (although many dug stuff like The Rats). Some of the African and Afro-Caribbean kids at my school also read those books but the Muslim kids who made up about 25% of the pupils weren’t interested in any of that stuff at all  There’s an interview with Mick Norman, his real name was Laurence James, on my website, coz the first four books he wrote are really important to me and he was also the editor for the earlier Richard Allen skinhead books. Sadly he died 20 years ago but I was glad I got to know him at the end of his life.

MIKE: You seem to always have some kind of project on the go, are you type of person who struggles to take it easy or is it a case of stay busy to pay bills ?

HOME: I just like doing things so I don’t really like to take it easy. I don’t think making money is a good motivation for doing anything other than a 9 to 5 work, although its great if my stuff makes a few bob and I can continue to avoid a regular job…. But I’m curious about many things including exercise systems and I never have the time to try our all the fitness regimes that fascinate me coz generally I can’t set aside more than a few hours a day to workout, although on the odd occasions I’ve gone on a sports holiday and done 6 or 7 hours a day of training I’ve really enjoyed it but of course you have to mix hardcore strength and cardio with gentler stuff like stretching, it would be counterproductive to spend that much time on nonstop weightlifting for a week or two!

MIKE I first read you back in 93, 94 Red London & No Pity but have not kept up with all your work through the years, what books of yours would you reccomend to people new to you ? 

HOME: There is a lot of variation between the different books and which to recommend would depend on someones’s interests and tastes. No Pity and Red London were part of a cycle of early books riffing on youthsploitation fiction - of those books the last Slow Death really puts a polish on what I was doing but in some ways Defiant Pose is my favourite and I think it has the single best scene, one where the Houses of Parliament are burned to the ground while the main character gets his cock out and recites an incendiary revolutionary tract. But it was 69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess that got the attention of the literary types as it’s more experimental and shows my interest in writers like Alain Robbe-Grillet and Ann Quin. I’m very fond of Tainted Love which is fiction but closely based on my mother’s life once she came to London when she was 16 in 1960 - she was working with the likes of Christine Keeler as a hostess at Murray’s Cabaret Club before I was born, then involved in the early LSD scene but sadly died of heroin overdose in 1979. She packed a lot into her short but incredible life. I did her story as a novel so as to avoid problems with certain people who were still living but most of what’s in it is true. I had to change a few things around to avoid libel problems as that one came out with a corporate publisher.

MIKE: I absolutely loved She's My Witch that I read around Xmas time , I think it's my favourite book of yours of ones I have read, can you tell us a bit about it ?

HOME: That came out of observing what was happening to people who’d been going to punk and garage rock gigs for a long time but I simultaneously wanted to do a story similar to my mother’s but for a generation down. So rather than coming to London from South Wales like my mother, the main character Maria has come to London from Valencia - it’s the same trajectory as my mother but a woman from my generation rather than the previous one. So instead of modern jazz and beatniks, the subcultural interest is punk rock. And there is an involvement with witchcraft rather than Indian gurus. I didn’t make a big thing out of it in Tainted Love but one of my mother’s favourite books was the BDSM classic Story of O by Pauline Réage AKA  Anne Desclos. So while in Tainted Love my mother does high class hostessing, as she did in real life, Maria in She’s My Witch is a former dominatrix. Over the years quite a few woman who’ve worked as a dominatrix have told me they like my fiction, so I’ve got to know a few. Recently I’ve been making art with Itziar Bilbao Urrutia, who as her name implies is from Bilbao and for a couple of decades has been the premier suspension bondage dominatrix in London. But I wrote the first draft of Witch before I met Itzi. The end of the story also parallels my mother’s life, Maria dies from a heroin overdose.

In some ways Tainted Love and Witch addresses something that few punks wanted to deal with back in the seventies, which is how close a lot of what we did was to the earlier freak subculture, so I wanted to draw that out with stories of two lives a generation apart. I also thought it was interesting to address albeit obliquely the Ruta Destroy Valencia party scene of the post-Franco period. There’s not much about it in English and it was nice to start to correct that. I was just struck going to punk and garage gigs in London a decade or so ago by how many people from the Iberian peninsula I met there who’d moved to London and who’d gone to all those amazing clubs to the south of Valencia back in the day. Of course there are loads of other subcultural scenes from that and other times which have been ignored. Just before I left school in 78 a few of the kids in my year who’d been very into northern soul were getting into the Britfunk scene and were moving over to being jazzfunkateers - that whole thing was huge around the same time as punk in the UK but its been largely ignored too, so it was nice to see a piece about it by Alexis Petridis in The Guardian last week.

MIKE: You edited Denizen of the Dead book which was great fun if you dislike gentrification,  were you happy with that ?

HOME: When I originally had the idea for Denizen of the Dead I thought I’d do a novel based on these luxury investment blocks that are being built all around me and across London. But on reflection it made more sense to do an anthology with different writers because it was meant to be a form of protest and that should be collective. Novels are a lot easier to get attention for than short story collections but I think I made the right decision to do an anthology. I’m really happy with the book and I particularly like the fact it has the sigil spells in it, I worked with some witches to do a protest called Hex In The Park against gentrification in east central London in 2017 and when I said I was doing the book they said I had to have a spell against Neo-liberalism in it and they’d do it. That wouldn’t have happened if I’d just done a novel on my own, so I’m pleased it panned out the way it did. Also if London had been gentrified in the late-seventies like it is now, we’d have never had those huge punk rock and Britfunk scenes, there just wouldn’t have been the venues for them. Lower property prices do an enormous amount for creativity, gentrification kills it. There’s some film of Hex In The Park on my YouTube channel:

MIKE: I just started 9 Lives of Ray the Cat Jones, your latest book, tell us a bit about that ? 

HOME: Many of my books are entirely made up but like Tainted Love that is based on a true story but done as fiction because it wasn’t possible to get to the truth about everything to do with my mum’s cousin Ray Jones. There are a lot fo criminals in my family but Ray is the most famous one. I hadn’t intended to do a book about him but I was talking to the writer Paul Buck one day and he said he didn’t believe the story about my relative’s escape from Pentonville although he’d included it in his book The E-List about prison escapes. The version of the story Paul had came from Mad Frankie Fraser and I thought it was bullshit too, so I asked Paul why he hadn’t researched the incident. Paul said he didn’t know how to do that but I did, so I went back through old newspapers and of course it turned out the Frankie Fraser version was a pretty stupid exaggeration of a very successful escape.Another interesting thing about Ray was he was a burglar with left-wing views when most London criminals leaned to the right - maybe that’s because like my mother he grew up in South Wales and came to London as a young adult. Anyway I found the books about crime in London in the 50s and 60s which mentioned Ray pretty fictional, so I figured I’d do the story as a novel. I had a fair bit of true material to work from including Ray’s own outline of his life alongside newspaper reports of his court appearances going back to the early 1940s. I thought it was a story that needed telling. It originally came out in 2014 but it was soon out of print, so it’s just been reissued. There aren’t too many books about class conscious cat burglars so I’m proud to have done one.

MIKE: How have you coped with lockdown? Has it affected you much in terms of promoting your work, or has it been more of a pain to your social life ? 

HOME: Worst thing about lockdown has been not being able to go out and do talks and readings coz I’d pick up money for that and sell a few books at the same time. Not being able to go out in person definitely has a negative effect on book sales, so that’s a downer. And of course I miss all the beautiful people I used to encounter at garage gigs too! I’ve got a foldout weights bench and a load of weights, so I’m happy enough at home because I can workout - glad I got all that stuff cheap over the years coz lockdown really made exercise equipment expensive. My view of lockdown was it was an unfortunate necessity to halt Covid, I just think the UK government handled it really badly, they should have acted sooner and been stricter so that we didn’t have to endure such long lockdown periods. Johnson and his cronies really need to be held to account for how badly they handled things, and those most directly involved in stupidity like the Eat Out To Help Out scheme really do deserve some form of punishment. It seems like they were more interested in corruptly handing out money to their posh mates than our welfare.

MIKE: What five albums would you grab if house was on fire?  As you are a writer would you grab any books as well ? 

HOME: Coz I’ve not been getting to any gigs due to the pandemic I’d go for all live albums right now…. which wouldn’t necessarily be the case in other situations. So in a soul groove Aretha Franklin Live at Fillmore West and Major Lance Live At The Torch, Punk rock would have to be Jayne County Rock 'N' Roll Resurrection (Live 1980) and the Adam and the Ants In Bondage 1978-79 bootleg, for the live 1978 Marquee set included on it. I saw the Ants a load of times at the Marquee in 1978, as well as at other places but never saw them after the last appearance of the old Ants at the Electric Ballroom at the end of December 1979. They really were the best band regularly playing London back in 1978/9, so it’s a real shame there aren’t better recordings of some of those songs! Final album would have be to be a toss up between Slade Alive and Hawkwind’s Space Ritual, which ever came to hand first but both are great examples of post-sixties but pre-punk rock and roll. Books? I’d have to save my sixties hardback and paperback copies of Terry Taylor’s Baron’s Court All Change - he was the inspiration for the narrator of Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes and was an incredible guy and friend of my mum. Baron’s Court is about early mod culture at the end of the fifties/beginning of the sixties straight from the horse’s mouth and published in 1961. it’s also the first British novel to mention LSD!

MIKE: What are you working on currently ? 

HOME: Well as I can’t go out to get inspiration it’s a lockdown novel about a guy going crazy in his one bedroom council flat in Islington…. while practising ninjitsu on Zoom and watching a load of old ninja movies. I’ve got another book called Art School Orgy finished but that has some legal issues so may be hard to get published immediately. Had the same problem with Denizen of the Dead, publishers really don’t like any risk of legal action even if it’s pretty unlikely. I’d like to be making some films too but that will probably have to wait until I can work with others on them, once we’re on the other side of the pandemic.

MIKE: I read something about Joe England saying you inspired him, does it feel good to be passing the torch so to speak, not that you are coming to end of career ? 

HOME: Always nice to be told you’re an inspiration but especially by someone whose work grooves you! We all need to get ideas from somewhere, we’re not creating in a vacuum. I got a load of inspiration from other writers too, so yeah the torch has to move on…. although I’ve no plans to stop writing for the time being I may shift to more non-fiction for a while. My last non-fiction book Re-Enter The Dragon: Genre Theory, Brucesploitation and the Sleazy Joys of Lowbrow Cinema came out in 2018, so it would be nice to follow that up with another film book…. but then my love of martial arts and exercise might also lead to some more sport orientated titles too.

This interview original appeared as a Facebook punk post.

Thursday 3 June 2021

Nigel Ayers On Stewart Home's 2020 Novel She's My Witch

She’s My Witch by Stewart Home (London Books 2020)

This novel tells the story of a social-media driven romance between a Spanish Witch and a London born fitness instructor, in London between 2011 and 2014.

It moves through a background of the physical space of London, but more importantly through a re-imagined London-scape of memories, dreams, and reflections. The couple’s relationship is shaped by overlays of legends and patterns and archetypal characters from the lovers’ fascination with shlock music and exploitation cinema. 

The narrative is punctuated with a sequence from the Swiss IJJ Tarot deck, in numerical order, each chapter is headed with the image of a Major Arcana Tarot card. It begins with The Fool and ends with the World. 

In his lecture about the Tarot, Carl Jung noted that “man always felt the need of finding an access through the unconscious to the meaning of an actual condition, because there is a sort of correspondence or a likeness between the prevailing condition and the condition of the collective unconscious.” Jung’s experiments with divination were intended to accelerate the process of “individuation,” the move toward wholeness and integrity, by means of playful combinations of archetypes.

In She’s My Witch, the playful archetypes come from popular fiction, the dominatrix, the fitness coach, the ex-skinhead - and their reminiscences of Screaming Lord Sutch; the Angry Brigade and the Valencia Rave scene. As in a lot of Home’s previous fiction, the plot is constructed around pulp archetypes, rather than individualised characters.  For each reference there is an “occult” element. The themes are of “otherness”: the underground world of secret knowledge that permeates an understanding of the hidden; the unofficial secret histories where identities are fluid, genders are blurred and shapes are shifted. 

The witchcraft operates in a specific set of dates and times – a contemporary folk history post Rave and pre-Brexit - when social-media began to become paramount in shaping social interactions and bewitching collective unconscious.  

As the mystical psychologist and filmmaker, Alejandro Jodorowsky, puts it, "the Tarot will teach you how to create a soul."

Stewart Home She’s My Witch ISBN 978-0-9957217-4-6 (2020) London Books Paperback £9.99

This book review by Nigel Ayers first appeared in print in The Enquiring Eye: Journal of the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic, Issue 4, Autumn 2020. The magazine can be bought online here.

She's My Witch by Stewart Home can be bought online here.

Other reviews of She's My Witch included those at 3AM Magazine, The Morning Star and 3.16 Magazine.

Monday 31 May 2021

Stewart Home Interviewed by Spanish Magazine Bruxismo In 2021

B. From what I've heard, the English literary press is a little afraid of you. What was their reaction to the publication of Tainted Love?

H. I’ve got the press cuttings somewhere but I’d have to look them out. The book that really made a difference to perceptions of me as a writer was 69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess, which was my seventh novel. Tainted Love was my ninth novel but I was doing non-fiction books as well, cultural commentary on anti-art movements and punk rock. Before Dead Princess I just had a reputation as a troublemaker among literary types but when that book came out I got praised for having a subversive grip on literary form. Tainted Love is one of only two books of mine that was sold in English through a literary agent, so it was on a corporate publisher Virgin. I don’t think people were really expecting to find me on that type of publisher or to do a book based on my mother’s life. I don’t remember much about the reviews but I do remember my agent saying Virgin had done a really good job of publicising the book which made me laugh. I don’t think their press department knew what to do with me but they got some radio coverage on the BBC and even sent a new PR girl they’d hired to take me to the radio station… that was unusual too because I was used to going and doing those things on my own rather than than having someone from the publisher to hold my hand. Of course it is nice to have someone looking after you every step of the way but it isn’t necessary. Anyway all the coverage the agent liked I engineered from my own contacts which were pretty good by that time, and of course because the press came through me it was positive. But even today I think a lot of literary types are still frightened of me - and also puzzled by some of my friendships with other writers because they don’t understand what I have in common with say Lynne Tillman or Chloe Aridjis.

B. I can imagine many were surprised to read that Tainted Love's main character is your mother, Julia-Callan Thompson, although it's not exactly biographical. How much of the book is true, and how much is fiction?

H. As far as I can tell it’s mostly true, the fictional element comes from me writing it in the first person as my mother to tell the story, although she is renamed Jilly rather than Julie because I’m treating it as fiction. About 20 years ago I did a lot of research into my mother’s life and talked to everyone I could get hold of who knew her and was willing to chat. It was difficult to get people to go into any detail was her sex work, although it was obvious to me she’d been doing that. Her friends mostly didn’t want to talk about that aspect of her life but I forced the issue with a few of them. With a lot of people I had to keep going back to them to get fuller stories, and of course in some instances it looked to me like they or their partners were also doing sex work but I wouldn’t challenge the sometimes utterly unbelievable tales some came up with to show this wasn’t the case.I was interested in my mother and not bothered about getting to the bottom of her friend’s lives.

I spent years trying to get hold of Terry Taylor and when I finally did he was much more frank about my mother and sex work for the simple reason that I was, as he put it, hip enough to appreciate her. Of course there were variant versions of stories about my mother and instances where different sources or even the same source at different times told contradictory tales. I often had to make critical judgements about what was and wasn’t true, on the whole those weren’t hard calls as some sources were obviously more reliable than others. I also had my mother’s diary, address book and some other papers that all helped. I’ve put some non-fiction about my mother and that probably gives a good idea of how I arrived at the version of her life-story I used in the novel. There was an enormous amount of research involved. In terms of the non-fiction about my mother maybe a good place to start is with The Real Dharma Bums ( and to then move on to 2 Ladbroke Grove Hipsters of the 1960s ( Those are about the two great loves of her life. That said, I’m not claiming to be right on every detail of her life.

B. The novel portrays London's subcultures of the sixties in a different light to the usual – less sugar-coated if you will. Do you think that people often view the different subcultures of that era as having little to no correlation, when the reality was rather the opposite?

H. I think the problem is that people like things they can recognise and so they want a familiar story and recognisable names. But if you actually examine the historical evidence things turn out to be very different to the fairy-tales that are told again and again. That’s obviously in terms of drug culture to take just one example. When I was looking into my mother’s life I knew she knew Terry Taylor and I knew he’d been the real-life inspiration for the main character in Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes. Since Terry had written a book Baron’s Court, All Change I thought I should read it and was really surprised to discover it was a lost classic about the birth of British mod culture. Now the standard understanding was that stylish mods took amphetamines and the sloppily dressed kids were into dope. But in Baron’s Court it’s the other way around and Terry obviously knew the score on that and was giving an accurate albeit fictional description of those scenes. Terry, my mother and various other characters were also connected to Victor James Kapur. Back then the story was Operation Julie in the 1970s was the first big acid bust in the UK. Talking to people from my mother’s circle I got to know about the big bust of Kapur’s two London labs in 1967, although no one I spoke to could remember the name of the chemist and I had to chase it up in old newspaper stories (which weren’t hard to find). When I finally spoke to Terry Taylor, he of course remembered Kapur and was able to name him, but I’d identified the chemist from press reports by then. I brought the story of the UKs first major acid factory bust back into circulation in an essay I did for the book Psychedelic Art, Social Crisis and Counterculture in the 1960s edited by Christoph Grunenberg and Jonathan Harris in 2005. Subsequently it was taken up by Andy Roberts in his 2008 book Albion Dreaming: A Social History of LSD in Britain and has subsequently spread further. So now anybody who knows anything about UK acid culture knows Operation Julie wasn’t the first major manufacturing bust but for about 30 years that fairytale was the dominant story in the media at least.

That said you can go to other areas of British subculture and discover the dominant stories about them aren’t true. For example the idea that the skinhead cult started in the east end of London in 1969. Anyone who cares to look at photos of the Hounslow mod/skinhead band Neat Change can see a couple of members of this group were west London skinheads before they broke up in 1968, and their singer Jimmy Edwards told me they were skinheads in 1966! No one was much interested in that until I put an interview with Jimmy Edwards on my website in 2010 alongside some pictures of the band which I got from their guitarist Brian Sprackling, I don’t think they’d been published before I put them on my site, they certainly weren’t online. Since the band broke up in 1968, it’s obvious they adopted the skinhead look before then and probably by 1967 and at a stretch in 1966 as their singer Jimmy Edwards claimed. Whatever way you look at it there is clear evidence there that there were skinheads in west London before 1969, so skinhead didn’t originate in east London in the last year of the sixties as is so often - and completely wrongly - claimed. I only had small versions of the photos on my site but a few people picked up on what I’d done and reused them larger elsewhere (as I had bigger versions from Brian). The original interview I did with Jimmy Edwards is here, sadly he’s not alive any longer:  <>

So the history of these subcultures is totally mythologised and most people don’t understand much about their real evolution. They are more closely connected than many of those involved in them want to admit. In the late-seventies, I’d switch continually between punk, mod, rude boy and skin styles - I couldn’t see the point of getting hung up on just one. Some where less fluid in the adoption of subcultures but. minority were like me. One of the reasons my book has the title Tainted Love is because when I was at school I had a friend whose older brother worked in a factory and would come home while I was hanging out with his sibling. In the mid-seventies a lot of the kids at my school were into boot boy culture which had evolved out of skinhead and suedehead, and although we were down south a lot of the boot boys were also into northern soul. My friend’s brother really liked northern tunes and in the mid-seventies Tainted Love was considered a hot northern soul spin, although obviously later it became too well known to be considered very cool on that scene. Anyway, my friend’s brother would come in from his factory job and put on a record and drink a cup of tea before going to tinker with his motorbike or whatever, and the record he put on most often was Tainted Love. The older brother had been adopted so I always associated that tune with kids who’d been separated from their mothers. But one of the oddities about my friend’s brother was that apart from northern soul, he was really obsessed with the prog rock band Greenslade, so aside from some northern tunes, I first became acquainted with a some of the more obscure progressive rock bands because of him too.

B. In the book you state; "Anyone who thinks you can understand the history of London in the sixties by looking at the lives of Mary Quant, Twiggy, Bailey and The Shrimp, Mick Jagger, Michael Caine and Terrence Stamp, is sadly deluded". Could you elaborate on this?

H. History from below is always more interesting than the stories of so-called ‘great’ men and it usually is men, although I’ve quite consciously pulled out the names of some well-known women from the sixties. There’s a much more interesting story to be told about the sixties than that to be found in the memoirs of the more prominent sixties figures and those who are impressed by them and write about that decade as if it consists only of them. That’s partly why I wanted to tell my mother’s story but as fiction, because biography and autobiography always and already is fiction. I also remember the sixties since I was born at the start of the decade and for me it wasn’t all about The Beatles, I remember waiting for the bus to go to school when The Beatles broke up and some of the older kids were really cut up about it but I didn’t give a damn coz I wasn’t into The Beatles. In terms of media the sixties for me was much more about spy flicks and TV shows and stuff like that. I really used to love The Man From UNCLE, I used to stay up late to watch it when I was five years old. So there isn’t just one sixties, there are many sixties that people experienced in London, and even more variations of the sixties experienced around the world. Nearly a decade after I did Tainted Love I wrote a book based on the life of my mother’s cousin Ray The Cat Jones who was a well-known burglar who made a front page headline grabbing escape from Pentonville Prison in London in 1958. He was a lot older than my mother and his life covered a longer time period, but in my book he encounters my mother’s world in the sixties and seventies and its completely alien to him and his experiences. His sixties is very different to my mother’s sixties. But again it’s a history from below and while The 9 Lives of Ray The Cat Jones is a novel and fictional, it’s probably truer to life than vast majority of ghost-written criminal autobiographies.

B. Lots of celebrities appear, though many of them in very questionable situations. The John Lennon and Brian Jones cameos come to mind. Weren't you afraid of getting into legal problems?

H. I have my mother’s address book and John Lennon is in it alongside a lot of other pop musicians and cultural figures, there are an incredible number of well known people in there - but I found the lesser knowns more interesting to research. One publisher rejected the book because they didn’t like the stuff about Lennon which is as far as I can tell pretty true to life. I thought everyone knew Lennon could be a complete arsehole. However there were no libel issues with Lennon because the dead aren’t protected by libel laws and he was dead long before I wrote the book.

There were two other figures I wanted to include from the pop scene of the sixties but both were still alive when I wrote the book - and still are now - I’d heard stories about them and my mother but couldn’t use them because they are rich enough to sue and in England the libel laws are about protecting protecting the rich not the truth. One of them is nearly as well known as Lennon so including him would have been a huge risk and probably no publisher would have taken the book if I’d insisted he was in it. So Brian Jones was a substitute for these two figures and he behaves like Brain Jones - I read several books about him to get a grasp on that - rather than those he is a substitute for.

If you read the pop picker sections of Tainted Love and look at Robert Frank’s Cocksucker Blues documentary of the Rolling Stones 1972 US tour, then you’ll see how you might re-read the film to make it as true to life as my writing. There’s a woman presented as a groupie but she’s a junkie and to me looks like a pro. My impression is the managements and record companies preferred professional sex workers to groupies because they didn’t expected to be treated as special or for some kind of lasting relationship to develop, so they were generally much less trouble than groupies. As a result pros would be put in for the band by those working with them because it was considered safe, and of course a lot of sex workers used drugs and would deal them on the side, so it was all handy. That’s not to say the pop star in question necessarily knew they were dealing with a sex worker because they weren’t the person parting with dosh for the service.

Eckhart Schmidt’s 1982 movie The Fan doesn’t deal with the pro side of things but it’s a fictional exploration of just how badly things can go wrong with when a pop musician sleeps with a fan. I see fiction as a much more direct route and honest way to get to the truth in terms of individual lives than biography and especially autobiography where you couldn’t substitute Brain Jones for those who are still alive and protected by wealth. Another figure I didn’t put into Tainted Love because they were living when I wrote the book is Sean Connery. My mother claimed that the Bond actor paid for a good time with her when she was working as a hostess at Churchills in Bond Street in 1964. Of course, the fact my mother said this doesn’t make it true but since it would be hard to prove one way or the other, it would have been tempting to use if Connery had died younger than he eventually did. That said, there’s more evidence for the pop musicians than the actor.

B. The novel's timeline reaches the end of the seventies, with counterculture already fully amortised as a mass phenomenon. In your view, was it a failed revolution or just a by-product of the birth of the late-capitalist consumer society?

H. Elements of the counterculture were revolutionary but it wasn’t revolutionary across the board, in fact it was quite a mixed bag but under capitalism we all reproduce our own alienation. I do think en bloc it was more than just a a by-product of late-capitalist consumerism, although the latter is characteristic of parts of it. But there’s also a danger of fetishising the sixties and overlooking the flappers and cocaine frenzies of the twenties, or the Zoot boys of the forties.

B. The use and abuse of drugs is a recurrent theme in the novel and, for that generation, was more than just a hedonistic escape. The use of illegal substances is probably more widespread today than ever but detached from these countercultural or psychedelic values. What do you think about drugs and their relationship with counterculture?

H. Drugs were absolutely crucial to the counterculture, alongside sex work they financed a lot of it but of course they were more than that since there was a deep interest in expanding consciousness in parts of the beatnik and hippie subcultures. That’s one of the things missing from the straighter parts of the revolutionary milieu, the understanding that mature communism isn’t just about the return at a higher level of the anti-economic forms of primitive communist societies but also about reclaiming the characteristic modes of consciousness of such social forms, which we could say is characterised by shamanism. I’d agree drug use is more widespread today and also largely detached from a psychedelic desire to expand consciousness. My most recent novel in English She’s My Witch addresses that in an oblique way, since the main character Maria is into both occult modes of consciousness and drugs but they are separate pursuits to her in a way they were not for my mother in the sixties. She’s My Witch is very much an attempt to take a subcultural life-story that is similar to my mother’s but a generation down so it is punk rock and witchcraft rather than beatnik jazz and Indian gurus that fire Maria’s imagination. Despite my mother coming from South Wales and Maria in Witch from the mountains to the west of Valencia, they both end up in London and die prematurely from a heroin overdose. The style of the books is rather different but thematically they are very much linked but with the crucial different that in the earlier one an interest in drugs and expanded states of of consciousness are linked in a way they are not in the more recent novel.

B. Paradoxically, drug usage was utilised by the authorities to justify repression and abuse. The toughest parts of the novel are those in which police officers appear.

H. It was very hard to get out of my mother’s friends how badly she was abused by the police. Terry Taylor had left London and wasn’t in regular touch with her when that was happening, so I had to get it from other people. In Tainted Love I’m recording what I dragged out of people since they weren’t too willing to tell me. But I don’t think that level of abuse will surprise anyone whose been at the sharp end of London policing. Strangely at the end of September 2020 one of the most notorious of the bent coppers as far as the London counterculture goes, Norman Pilcher, put his name to a book called Bent Coppers: The Story of The Man Who Arrested John Lennon, George Harrison and Brian Jones, I haven’t bothered to read it because while he tells of corruption all around him, he now claims he wasn’t involved in it, which is a blatant lie. Nearly 20 years ago I asked to speak to one ex-cop who’d lodged a blatantly false report about my mother. He refused to talk to me but I hope I made this retired thug feel uncomfortable. I would have done the same for others if I could have got hold of them. I assume they’re mostly dead now.

B. Tainted Love was published over 15 years ago. Do you think the sixties still have something to teach us?

H. Every age has something to teach us, so of course the sixties does too. As Marx famously said: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

Interview by Alejandro Alvarfer. A slightly shortened version of this interview can be found in issue 7 of Bruxismo which at the time I of posting it here was still available for sale from the following link.

Sunday 3 May 2020

Review of Class Power On Zero Hours by Angry Workers Collective

Class Power On Zero Hours by Angry Workers Collective (Angry Workers Publishing 2020).

The core of this book describes working conditions in Bakkavor’s food processing factories in West London, then moves on to describe how a Tesco distribution centre operates. The opening 100 plus pages are used to set the scene, then there is the central 180 pages, finally after a curious detour into 3D printer manufacture - and leaving aside an appendix - the last 50 pages deal with the question of revolutionary organisation. Cut into the descriptions of contemporary labour and class exploitation is much useful analysis and historical material:

The food and drink industry is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, accounting for 17% of the total UK manufacturing turnover, contributing £28.2bn to the economy annually and employing 400,000 people. And while a lot of fruit and veg is imported, the shelf life of freshly prepared products (FPP) means that outsourcing this work overseas is not possible. All the FPP found in the chilled section of our supermarkets comes from UK factories. Page 136. 
People in Britain buy around 3.5 million ready-meals a day, which easily makes it the leading ready-meals market in Europe. Working hours are some of the longest in Europe, which perhaps explains the demand. Page 139. 
Bakkavor is one of the biggest UK food companies you’ve never heard of. You’ve probably got a Bakkavor food item in your fridge, but you wouldn’t know it because their name won’t be on the packaging. They employ around 17,000 people across various sites in the UK and source 5,000 products from around the world to supply the largest supermarkets with their own-brand products - from salads, to desserts, to ready-meals and pizzas. Pages 147/148. 
Bakkavor has an ageing workforce, the majority in the 55-64 age bracket. The next biggest age group was workers aged between 45-54, fewer again in the 35-44 age range. I think this was a huge factor in the docility of the workforce in general, even when the union was ramping up its activity. There was an aversion to risk, a palpable fear of going on strike, and a resignation that only comes with living a hard life with few victories. That isn’t to say there weren’t some older workers who were up for the fight. Page 155. 
A toxic culture of disrespect pervaded the factories… All the stress and bad vibes  understandably had a negative impact on peoples’ mental and physical health. One guy dropped down dead in the smoking area. Another guy, a night shift hygiene worker, died in his late forties. A mild-mannered Polish guy from the maintenance department had a psychotic episode and climbed onto the roof, sobbing in front of his workmates. A young office worker who everybody ignored even killed himself. Others had strokes and panic attacks and were taken away by the ambulance, which came with depressing regularity. It wasn’t just that they were old or smoked, although of course those were factors. I think it was also the type of work and toxic culture that drove people to their limits. Page 178.

The poor working conditions at Bakkavor, bad pay and struggles to improve it - alongside the unhygienic methods of food production - are described in detail. The switches from more objective analysis to an utterly subjective position and speculative assertion are sudden and frequent. Some might see this as a weakness but it is actually the book’s strength. It’s a rhetorical device designed to give those who haven’t done these jobs a feeling of insight into them and a sense of empathy with those depicted in the book. Likewise if you have been employed in the industries described you might be drawn to a conscious embrace of the book’s wider analytical perspective in part due to a sense of identification with the text’s more subjective turns. Even even those who have not worked in these industries - or on some other factory floor - will recognise the social relations depicted from shops, offices and other places of employment.

In short Class Power On Zero Hours is worth reading for its central sections about food production and distribution. The opening and closing parts of the book may resonate with some but were less than thrilling to me. I found the initial section about west London especially tedious and almost gave up when I read the following sentence on the first full page:

Nobody on the London left had even heard of Greenford, not surprising due to its status as a cultural desert, in zone four on the Central line. Page 7.

I don’t know - and don’t care - if I’d count as part of what Angry Workers configure as the London left but I’d not only heard of Greenford, until lockdown I was going through it once once a month on my way to an extended training session the martial arts club I belong to has in South Ruislip. Likewise, I have two friends - one born in the same south-west London hospital as me - who work for Ealing council (pest control and a desk job); for those who don’t know, Greenford is part of the borough of Ealing. While I passed through rather than went to Greenford and Park Royal growing up, I spent plenty of time back then in Hounslow which isn’t so far away.

Ultimately the claim that ‘nobody’ was familiar with Greenford reveals Angry Workers’ contact with the working class across much of London when its members first arrived here to have been rather limited. Other things they say point to the same conclusion. On the basis of what the collective writes it would seem that many of those they hung out with in London before moving to the city’s west were students who’d come here to take university courses and who saw themselves as on the left but were clueless about about the place they’d relocated to. The text makes it clear Angry Workers went to great efforts to connect with the working class in west London, but leaves the impression they are still disconnected from it in other parts of the city.

The assertion that Greenford has cultural desert status appears obnoxious, racist and anti-working class: clearly not positions Angry Workers would want to be associated with even if what’s quoted above might be (mis)read as linking them to views of this type. Bourgeois distaste for proletarian culture - sometimes expressed with the absurd assertion that the working class don’t have a culture and exists in a ‘cultural desert’ - can be found among parts of what Angry Workers seem to be describing as the London ‘left’. What ‘the left’ is and whether 'liberal' elements who want to transform everyone into a bourgeois subject are part of it might be seen by some as open to debate, although not by me. In odd places Class Power On Zero Hours lacks clarity in its verbal formulations but on the basis of the entire text, a generous guess would be it is the views of reactionaries who wish to demean working class immigrant communities that are being invoked in the statement about Greenford’s cultural desert status rather than the Angry Workers collective itself believing this to be the case. That said, anyone who was born in the west or south-west of London or who has spent much time there can safely skip the early parts of this book. It is uneven but there is more than enough in its main section to make it worthwhile reading if you’re consciously engaged in class struggle: or even if you're not, yet!

Finally, I really liked the solid pink inside covers of the book, so much so that I’m almost tempted to overlook the fact that this publication really cries out for an index. I’m unlikely to read the whole book twice but it would have been helpful to be able to find the parts I’m going to want to access again easily with an index.