I see now that most people were just living these
really ordinary little lives while we were madmen
riding this incredibly psychedelic whirlwind. It seemed
very normal to us to be smoking a lot of pot and
flying around very late.
Paul McCartneyLennox Gardens
DURING THE THREE YEARS HE LIVED AT WIMPOLE STREET, PAUL GOT TO know not only Jane's circle of friends but Peter's friends as well. Perhaps the most important among them was John Dunbar, who was to be his initial conduit to what can loosely be described as the London avant-garde scene. It was through John that Paul met the art dealer Robert Fraser, became involved in starting Indica Bookshop and Gallery, and was introduced to a demi-monde of writers, jazz musicians and junkies. John and Marianne Faithfull's flat was a gateway to an alternative London life. Paul: 'There used to be certain places where you could light up a joint and not be frowned on: Brian Jones's place, Robert's flat, Miles's house, my house, John Dunbar's. This meant you could go there for the evening and just generally hang there, and 29 Lennox Gardens was one of those early formative little pads.'
During the time Peter Asher and his singing partner Gordon Waller were still at Westminster School, Gordon had a girlfriend called Jenny Dunbar, one of identical twins. Through Gordon, Peter got to know Jenny and her family, who lived in Bentinck Street, just two short blocks away from Wimpole Street. Jenny and her sister Margaret had an older brother, John, who had gone up to Cambridge to study natural science, changing to history of art for his final year. Peter and John found they had similar interests in film, art and music and soon became close friends. Being virtually next-door neighbours, they saw a great deal of each other and John got to know Peter's family. It was not long after this that Jane first met Paul when the Beatles played the Albert Hall. John Dunbar remembers her walking round to his parents' flat in Bentinck Street and telling him that she'd been out with Paul. Jane was only seventeen and seemed thrilled by this new development in her life.
John was a frequent visitor to Wimpole Street, and Paul soon got to know him. John's world was studenty and intellectual, something to which Paul had always been attracted, but John was also very cool - that was the word in the early sixties. John's preference in art was for Duchamp, Dubuffet and the School of Nice: Yves Klein, Arman, Cesar. He liked Christo's wrapped objects and Arman's boxes - the cerebral end of modern art. His musical taste ran to Beethoven's late quartets, Chicago blues and the post-bebop jazz improvisations of Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. Having studied science at Cambridge as well as art, he was able to make connections between subjects that seemed at the time to offer remarkable revelations. There was no question but that John was hip. Paul was intrigued
John Dunbar was born in Mexico of a Russian mother, Tania, and a Scottish father, Robert. He spent his infancy in Moscow, where his father was posted during the war. His father had graduated from the Royal College of Art and after his spell in the foreign service set up the London School of Film Technique in Covent Garden, which at that time was the only place in Britain to teach the techniques of filmmaking. John grew up in an artistic, slightly bohemian household which gave the children self-confidence and encouraged them to be creative: John's older sister Marina became an architect and later built her own house, and after breaking up with Gordon Waller, Jenny married the American poet Ed Dorn and went to live in Colorado. John himself graduated from Churchill College, Cambridge, and began writing a regular column of art criticism for the Scotsman.
In different circumstances, he might have entered the academic world, but at this point in the sixties there were other powerful forces shaping up. John saw little of value happening in the art world, with only a very few galleries prepared to take risks and show work that was truly experimental or subversive. At Cambridge he had discovered soft drugs, though in the early sixties these were confined to a handful of students, usually those, like John, who also had in interest in progressive jazz and the literature of the Beat Generation. John was a charming, slightly vague character with a fondness for blue pinstripe suits with waistcoats and black horn-rimmed glasses. He wore his wiry black hair long to his collar in the fashion of the time and spoke a meta-hipster argot, partly of his own making, in which most nouns were rendered as the word 'scene'. He had a distinct twinkle in his eye and greatly enjoyed female company.
One day in March 1964, John arrived at 57 Wimpole Street with a schoolgirl called Marianne Faithfull. She had wide sensuous lips and looked out from under long silver-blonde hair. Her mother was the Baroness Erisso von Sacher-Masoch, an Austro-Hungarian aristocrat whose great-uncle was Baron Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the author of Venus in Furs and from whom we got the term 'masochism'. Marianne's father was Dr Glynn Faithfull, a psychologist who lived in a Utopian commune in Oxfordshire. For Marianne that weekend in London with John was memorable:
It was the first weekend I had sex, the first weekend I met one of the Beatles, and the weekend I got discovered. John took me to meet Peter Asher, who was John's great friend. And that's how I met Jane and met Paul. He was incredibly good-looking and obviously a great beau.
I was in Reading, at school, and I'd met John at the party after the Valentine's Ball at Cambridge. And John and I fell in love. Then John invited me up to stay with his parents in Bentinck Street, so I got on the train in Reading and came up, and I was seventeen and obviously, I guess, very very pretty. John was giving me a very good time, I mean, this was my London boyfriend, my first boyfriend at all, at all! And we had a very nice time and I met Paul McCartney that weekend at the Ashers'.
It was a huge great big house in Wimpole Street, the biggest house I'd ever been in in my life apart from my father's, which was a commune. And one family lived in this house, plus Paul McCartney. I was just stunned by it all. And I remember asking John, did Paul and Jane have sex? He just looked at me like I was stupid and said, 'Of course they do!'
In the evening we went to this party, at Adrienne Posta's. I was just speechless by then. Peter and Gordon had just done 'World Without Love', and I remember when we went in with Peter and Gordon there was a whole group of girls there. It was one of those parties with the Stones there and Andrew Oldham must have set all this up. And as we went in they thought John was John Lennon and I was Cynthia. And I went 'Wow!' Very pleased about this! Not knowing that once I got into this party I was going to be discovered by Andrew, which is what happened.
PAUL: 'I knew Marianne directly she came out of the convent. I'd met her at the Ashers' house so I'd see her there socially. She was such a pretty, virginal little thing. Then I remember reading an interview with her and she said, "I want to experience anything and everything," and I remember thinking, Ooh, hold on now, Marianne. Come on, girl - straight out of the convent to anything and everything?'
But Marianne was to get her dreams; and it was Andrew Loog Oldham, the manager of the Rolling Stones, who got them for her. He recognised that her looks would go a long way in establishing her as a sixties pop icon and had enough experience in record production to know that echo chambers and double-tracking could build even the most imperfect voice into something good enough for a pop record. 'With a name like yours you should be making records,' he said, and within six weeks she was in the studio.
At the party for the actress Adrienne Posta's birthday, Marianne had fleetingly met Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, whom she dismissed as 'vulgar and spotty'; however, it was to Mick and Keith that Andrew Oldham turned to write a song to launch her career. Legend has it that he asked them to write a ballad for a convent schoolgirl: 'I want a song with brick walls all around it and high windows and no sex.' The truth of the matter is that Mick and Keith already had a song called 'As Time Goes By' and all they did was change the title to 'As Tears Go By'. It was a curious choice for a seventeen-year-old girl to sing because the lyrics are written from the point of view of an older woman, but with Marianne's beauty, Oldham knew he had a winner.
Marianne herself recognised that her fabulous looks helped. Looking back, she now describes her own appearance on Juke Box Jury as like 'an angel with big tits'. It only took a few TV appearances to make her a star. 'As Tears Go By' reached number nine in the charts and even made 22 in the Billboard top 100.
Meanwhile John Dunbar was happily hitch-hiking around Greece, unaware that anything had come of Marianne's poppy weekend in London. He arrived back in the country to find her face all over the music papers and Marianne with money to spend, indulging her taste for luxury. She had made a new set of friends while John was away, but she went back to him, despite his cynical dismissal of the pop scene.
A feature of the music business then was to capitalise on chart success by going on tour, the opposite of today's practice where a tour is used to promote a record. Marianne went out on a series of typical pop packages. On the first she starred alongside the Hollies, and she had an affair with Allan Clarke from the band. This was followed shortly by the Gene Pitney tour, during which she and Gene Pitney had an affair which reached the gossip columns.
Her next tour was with Roy Orbison, but her affairs had unnerved John Dunbar and in a grand romantic gesture he took a train to Wigan, the next port of call for the Roy Orbison tour, found Marianne and proposed to her on Wigan pier. She accepted. Marianne wrote: 'I saw myself as a good girl and suddenly I was being very promiscuous. The convent girl reappeared. I started to think I was a bad woman, a whore and a slut. I'd better get married and then I'd be good again.'
Marianne had moved from her mother's house in Reading to a spacious flat at 29 Lennox Gardens, off Pont Street, in Knights-bridge. The living room overlooked a semicircular private garden of mature trees. Marianne bought a beautiful formal dining table, silverware and elegant wineglasses. Everything was done properly and in the best of taste. Harrods was, after all, just around the corner.
Her second single did not do well but Marianne's third, 'Come and Stay with Me' again put her in the top ten, reaching number four in March 1965. There seemed every reason to think that her career in pop music was going well. As far as John Dunbar was concerned it was all frivolous rubbish and she should enjoy it while it lasted before going on to a more serious career in acting.
John and Marianne were married on 6 May 1965 in Cambridge, where John had still to take his finals. Peter Asher was best man and the guests included Peter's girlfriend, the singer Millie Small, Gordon Waller and Jennifer Dunbar and many of John's student friends. Paul was absent, busy filming Help! Marianne was eighteen and already three months pregnant. She and John spent their honeymoon in Cornwall.
The flat at 29 Lennox Gardens soon became a regular hang-out for John's friends, most of whom were scroungy students with nowhere to stay, and in the beginning it was a meeting of two distinct worlds: that of the elegant Knightsbridge pop star and her circle of arrangers, producers, publicists and music-business friends; and John with his scurrilous counter-cultural gang of beatniks, artists and drug takers. There was always someone in the living room, reading the art magazines or slumped in the corner rolling a joint; blues, jazz or Indian music coming from the huge speakers. Marianne: 'There were very few friends of John's that I could even talk to or relate to, that weren't completely mad. The only one I really liked was Mason Hoffenberg. I don't know why I loved Mason so much, I just did. He made me laugh. But Sandy Bull and John's artists were dreadful.'
Mason Hoffenberg was the wisecracking American hipster who co-wrote Candy with Terry Southern. A junkie, he stayed at Lennox Gardens for months, delivering long Lenny Bruce-style raps filled with hip talk and wonderful weird humour for his supper. (Ringo would later star in the film of Candy, playing the Mexican gardener.) Another long-term house guest was Charlie Moffett, the respected new-wave drummer from Fort Worth, Texas, who spent 1965-66 touring Europe with his old schoolfriend Ornette Coleman.
Another regular in the living room was Taff, a get-away driver friend of John Dunbar's, who was very impressed with Paul's Aston Martin DB4, which he always referred to as the 'D-B Far-Out'. Once, when Paul was visiting Lennox Gardens, Taff borrowed it to collect Marianne Faithfull from the airport. The police clocked the car doing over 130 mph on the way out, and over 120 on the way back, but were unable to catch it.
For Paul, in 1965, this scene presented another alternative lifestyle, as different again from the Asher household as the Ashers' had been from Jim McCartney's little suburban house in Liverpool. He spent a lot of time there.
PAUL: My main recollection of Lennox Gardens is a rather chilling thing, being at John Dunbar and Marianne's house when one of their friends came around who was a heroin addict. And we are in the corner smoking a little bit of pot here. And he is over there, and suddenly he pulls out a big red rubber tube thing and he tightened his arm up, putting a tourniquet on. And he's tapping, and he's got needles and he's got spoons and he's got a little light. And I'm going, 'Uhhhhhh!' You get the kind of shock of horror through you, I thought, 'My God, fucking hell! How did I get here? I'm in a room with a guy who's shooting up!' He had a big rubber tourniquet, which smacked to me of operations. I'd always been fearful of red rubber as a kid. And me mum was a nurse, so enemas and things, it was all red rubber. Very frightening sort of thing to me, not pleasant at all, that shit. We couldn't look at him.
Then next week I said, 'What happened to Sandy?' John said, 'He died.' He was dead the week after. That really ended the period, heralded the end really for me. You've got to be very confident of yourself, because otherwise the peer pressure to take drugs is impossible. Let's face it, you're meeting a lot of really groovy guys, man, in the rock 'n' roll world. These are groovy dudes. And, 'What, you don't do this? What are you, not as old as us? Or you're not as hip or something?'
JOHN DUNBAR: I was probably kidding. I do remember that Sandy nearly died. What he would do is, in those days you could get this National Health coke from John Bell and Croyden which was totally utterly pure, like if you spilled some it took like ten minutes to settle, each flake would flutter down, it would be like all over the room. And also when it's finished, it's actually not finished, it's all over the glass phial. You just wash it out and shoot it up. And he totally OD'd and I remember it was really unpleasant. He was in really bad shape, on coke. Fixing, mainlining an overdose of coke. But he didn't die.
The incident made a lasting impression on Paul, but the scene at Lennox Gardens was not all about sex and drugs.
JOHN DUNBAR: We talked a lot about the music, all of the time. We used to play stuff and record stuff. Old blues, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, all the old blues blokes. Most of them were dead then, let alone now. John Mayall was around a lot then, who was also totally into that blues stuff. His dad had a huge collection of blues records in Manchester in the fifties. Mason lived there, six months, maybe it only seemed like that but he lived there for a while. Shaun Philips, Donovan, Marc Bolan, he was called Mark Feld then, everybody who was around came around.
Paul would often bring music with him when he arrived at Lennox Gardens.
I used to prepare tapes in the Ashers' house. I used to have a couple of Brenell tape recorders I got through Dick James's son. I used to experiment with them when I had an afternoon off, which was quite often. We'd be playing in the evening, we'd be doing a radio show or something, and there was often quite a bit of time when I was just in the house on my own so I had a lot of time for this. I wasn't in a routine. I could stay up till three in the morning, sleep through till two in the afternoon, and often did. It was a very free, formless time for me. Formative yet formless. I didn't have to be up for the baby, at that time there was none of that. So I would sit around all day, creating little tapes.
I did one once called 'Unforgettable' and used the 'Unforgettable' - Nat King Cole - 'Is what you are ...' as the intro. Then did a sort of 'Hello, hello ...' like a radio show. I had a demo done by Dick James of that, just for the other guys because it was really a kind of stoned thing. That was really the truth of it. You knew you'd be round someone's house later that evening and if you had an interesting piece of music, it would be quite a blast, whether it be Ravi Shankar or Beethoven or Albert Ayler, as I remember being quite into him too.
In 1995, Paul used this same idea as the format for a radio series called Oobu Joobu - inspired by Alfred Jarry's character Pere Ubu - that he made for the American network Westwood One. In the promotional video for the series, Paul explained, 'We started off by getting hold of a few favourite records of mine, and looking for out-takes and rehearsal tapes from some of the recordings we'd done. After saying some silly things into the microphones, we finally edited the whole thing down into what you're going to hear as Oobu Joobu - which we think of as wide-screen radio.'
Some of Paul's earliest experiments in 1965 were made by running the tape backwards, a technique he used almost immediately on Beatles songs.
PAUL: After the 'Unforgettable' thing I got into tape loops. I would do them over a few days. I had a little bottle of EMI glue that I would stick them with and wait till they dried. It was a pretty decent join. I'd be trying to avoid the click as it went through but I never actually avoided it. If you made them very well you could just about do it but I made 'em a bit hamfisted and I ended up using the click as part of the rhythm. I would put them on and overdub on them. There was a superimpose head on the machine that you could take off. It normally wiped everything that came through in order to make room for the new recording, but if you took it off, it didn't wipe. With a loop you had to work very fast. You couldn't review what you'd done because every time it went through it recorded again. Even if there was no new sound it would record an invisible layer of silence, so the quality was going.
I worked out a few rules for it; if you wanted something to remain, you had to do it last. You couldn't have your good idea first. If you wanted background sounds, this was okay because they would fade back, get quieter and quieter and quieter. And you had to know when to stop. Very like painting.
I used to make loops mainly with guitar or voices, or bongos, and then I'd record them off on to this other Brenell so that I had a series of loops. It would start with a thing that sounded like bees buzzing for a few seconds, then that would slow down and then an echo would kick in and then some high violins would come in, but they were speeded-up guitar playing a little thing, then behind them there would be a very slow ponderous drone. Quite a nice montage sound collage. The guitar would sound like seagulls. They were great little things and I had great plans for them, they were going to be little symphonies, all made with tape loops done by van-speeding the tape. I'd run the whole thing off my Brenell onto a cassette. That's when I compiled it all together. Then I would take this finished tape over to John Dunbar's. We used to have those little Philips cassette recorders that had just been invented, and we found that you could plug them into the regular stereo system with the big speakers. This little thing would ran for five or ten minutes and then I had some Julian Bream music after that, 'Courtly Dances' from Benjamin Britten's opera Gloriana, which is a great guitar piece, and that would go a good quarter of an hour. I'd be like a DJ. So it was like a fucking album! And these were wild, pretty wild moments, we used to play them endlessly.
And you'd light up a joint and maybe have a glass of wine or something, and that was it, you were off for the evening. It was our equivalent of going to the pub. And you would just sit around on bean bags or nice comfy armchairs. Bean bags I think was the order of the day, great big bean bags! You'd listen to the music, and talk a bit, and maybe listen to it again, and so on. And so that was what we used to do.
I was into a lot of those things, which was very strange because I was at the same time known as the cute Beatle, the ballad Beatle or whatever. I hate to think what I was known as. John was the cynical one, the wise Beatle, the intellectual. In fact at that time it was wildly in reverse. John would be coming in from Weybridge; he'd sit and he used to tell me he was jealous: 'God, man, I'm so fucking jealous!' He had to break free - which is what he did, later.
Sometimes the company assembled in Lennox Gardens would experience a great urge to make music. Since most of them were non-musical and therefore restricted to percussion instruments, all of Marianne's gleaming copper-bottomed pots would be dragged in from the kitchen and used as bongos. The ensuing cacophony was usually held in shape by at least one person able to play guitar or at least keep time on one of the few proper instruments in the flat.
Another favourite occupation was playing wineglasses: wetting the rims of wineglasses and rubbing them gently to produce a clear ringing note, which could be changed by putting different amounts of liquid into the glass. Five or six people could produce some beautiful slow variations, sitting on the floor, stoned as could be. Several years later Paul made the track called 'Glasses' on the first solo McCartney album using this method.
Paul was always on the lookout for new techniques; new ways of making sounds, particularly those which utilised unorthodox sound sources. Paul: 'Stockhausen used to use those kind of techniques a little bit and he had a thing called Gesang der Junglinge, which was my big favourite plick-plop piece of his.' Stockhausen's electronic composition Gesang der Junglinge was written 1955-56, and brought together both sung notes and electronically produced ones into a single sound, exactly the kind of new idea that Paul could work with for the Beatles.
PAUL: I finally had time to allow myself to be exposed to some of the stuff that had intrigued me for a long time, since my mid-teens really, when I'd started to read about artists' experiences and that kind of culture, an inquiring culture. I might have just been reading about Madame Blavatsky or Andre Breton, whatever it was, all these strange little strands, but it started to awaken in me the sense that this kind of bohemian thing, this artistic thing was possible. So I used to take a lot of time for those pursuits, because it was so well balanced on the other side with straight Beatle stuff. And it was nice for this to leak into the Beatle stuff as it did.
One evening in August when Paul was visiting Lennox Gardens, Marianne told him that she planned to record 'Yesterday'. They had a long discussion about how she was going to treat the song and she explained that her producer and musical director Mike Leander had plans for an elaborate orchestration using a large chorus. Paul kept pointing out that since the Help! album had been released on 6 August, a number of cover versions of 'Yesterday' were already in the works and warned her that the most important thing was to get her version out before Matt Monro released his.
Paul was keen for Marianne to have a hit with 'Yesterday', both because she was a friend and because he had made a vague promise to give her a song, on which he had not yet delivered.
I knew Marianne so it was natural that I would be asked to write a song at some point. I did write a song but it was not a very good one. It was called 'Etcetera' and it's a bad song. I think it's a good job that it's died a death in some tape bin. Even then I seem to remember thinking it wasn't very good. There was always the temptation to keep your better songs for yourself and then give your next-best songs to other established people, so when it was someone like Marianne, who at that time was a newcomer, those people would tend to end up with fairly dreadful offerings of mine.
I suppose, thinking back on it, after 'As Tears Go By' maybe they were looking for more sort of a 'Yesterday', something more poignant, more baroque. I probably thought, well, this is really all I've got at the moment. I'll send it round and hope it's all okay, and maybe they'll put a baroque thing on it and that'll make it okay. She probably did 'Yesterday' because they figured, Well at least it's better than 'Etcetera'.
Paul went to Marianne's recording session at Decca studios but doesn't remember if he contributed anything to it: 'Those kind of sessions tended to be off duty for me. So I might be in a little bit of a party mode and just sort of swinging by a couple of sessions that evening.' Marianne certainly wouldn't have welcomed outside suggestions, even from a Beatle.
When Paul came down to my sessions and would say 'Why don't you do this?' or 'Overdub that' or 'Do it backwards,' I would look at him and I wouldn't say anything, but thinking, How dare you come down to my session and say ...? He came down to quite a few of them. And I took his suggestions sometimes, but somewhat grudgingly ... Because I wasn't a generous, easy-going person. I don't like people coming down to my sessions telling me what to do!
Marianne's version of 'Yesterday' was finally released on 22 October 1965 and Paul did all he could to promote it. Granada Television had proposed a big-budget fifty-minute television special called The Music of Lennon and McCartney, featuring Peter and Gordon, Billy J. Kramer, Cilla Black and other top stars famous for singing their songs, with the Beatles themselves introducing the acts and miming to 'Day Tripper' and 'We Can Work It Out'. Marianne: 'Paul really helped me by putting me on the thing that the Beades did with Granada. It was really great, because he started it off.' Paul began the song alone, sitting on a stool, strumming his guitar and singing, then after a half-minute the song faded into Marianne's version, complete with choir and orchestra.
Marianne was eight months pregnant with Nicholas and in those days it would have been considered shocking to see a pregnant woman on television, particularly an entertainer. In what was probably a historic first, Paul insisted that she be allowed to go on the programme - though the cameras filmed only her head and shoulders or angled views from above. Marianne: 'It was very very nice of him and it was one of the things that really brought me into all that world. But Matt Monro had the hit.' Nonetheless, Marianne's version charted at number 36.
After Marianne gave birth to their son Nicholas on 10 November 1965 at the London Clinic, her mother, the Baroness Erisso, began to spend more and more time in Lennox Gardens. Marianne, her mother, Nicholas and his nanny Maggie would be busy with the baby in the kitchen and bedroom, while at the other end of the corridor, John and his friends were taking LSD, smoking pot and hanging out in the living room. Marianne: 'There was a complete split, with my mother and the nanny and one life going on, and then there was all this other stuff. It was extraordinary, it was as if the two didn't see each other.'
John and his friends were actually engaged in serious discussions. Since John was disillusioned by most of the art galleries in London, he had decided to start one of his own. He talked about it for some time but now it was actually going to happen. He, Peter Asher and a bookseller called Miles were going to start an experimental bookshop and gallery and call it Indica. It was going to blow everyone's minds.
John Dunbar, Peter Asher and Miles were confident that their new avant-garde art gallery and bookshop would be a success because there were so few outlets for new and experimental art and literature in London. In the mid-sixties, only two bookshops in London carried little mimeographed poetry magazines, small-press publications and the works of disestablishment poets: the Turret Bookshop, which Bernard Stone operated from a tiny room on Kensington Church Walk and which focused on British poetry; and Better Books, a large Charing Cross Road bookshop owned by Tony Godwin, the legendary editor-in-chief at Penguin Books, which concentrated more on obscure Beat Generation writings and art. Better Books held poetry readings and screenings of avant-garde films by Bruce Conner or Kenneth Anger and experimental an installations and 'Happenings' in the basement. When Godwin announced that he was going to sell the shop to Hatchards, the staff feared that all this would come to an end. The manager of the paperback department, Barry Miles, the author of this book, usually known simply as Miles, decided to open his own shop. Paolo Lionni, a friend of the American poet Gregory Corso, introduced him to John Dunbar, who he knew was thinking of opening an art gallery.
In September 1965, after a dinner at Bianchi's on Frith Street, John and Miles decided to combine forces since they had similar interests in art and literature: John was well read in the Beat Generation, which was Miles's speciality, and Miles had studied painting at Gloucestershire College of Art. John approached Peter Asher for the start-up capital since Marianne, very sensibly as it turned out, said she wouldn't lend it to him. The three of them formed a company called MAD (Miles, Asher and Dunbar) Limited to run the venture. Peter lent John and Miles £600 each and put in £600 himself. With this meagre amount, Indica was started.
John began scouting for premises and one night, at the Scotch of St James Club with Marianne, he noticed that the building next door was for rent. Number 6 Mason's Yard consisted of one large square room on the ground floor, with a small office taking up one corner, and a larger gallery space in the basement which extended out beneath the pavement. Meanwhile Miles was buying stock for the new bookshop, concentrating mostly on American small-press imports, books by Beat Generation writers and more serious avant-garde literature, since they had not the resources nor space to carry a full range of literature. The books were delivered to Wimpole Street, where Mrs Asher gave them the room next to the music room in the basement to organise the stock while the gallery-bookshop was prepared for opening.
Paul was the bookshop's first customer. He would sometimes go down to the basement at night and browse among the piles of books to find something to read, leaving a note for them to be put on his account. Anselm Hollo's And It's a Song, Ed Sanders' Peace Eye poems, Drugs and the Mind by DeRopp and Gandhi on Non-Violence were Indica's first sales, a selection which gives a good indication of Paul's interests at the time and the range of the bookshop's stock.
Meanwhile the bookshop had to be shelved and the gallery painted and carpeted. Wood was ordered from Phillip Weisberg's timber yard on Goodge Place and John and Miles, having no vehicles of their own, arrived to pick it up in Paul's Aston Martin. Weisberg wrung his hands in mock despair. 'I just don't understand you lads. You spend hours complaining about the price of four by two, wasting my precious time, then you arrive to collect it in a car that costs three years' wages? Wassa matter with you? Whose car is that? Why doesn't he buy the wood?'
Back at Mason's Yard, Ian Sommerville, William Burroughs's ex-boyfriend and collaborator on his books Nova Express and The Ticket That Exploded, was installing a ring main for the lighting and power. Meticulous to the point of mania, he carefully sanded the battening, then painted it red, white and blue before attaching it to the wall beneath the shelves where it would not, in any case, be seen. It was several days before Ian appeared with any actual electrical wire. He was accompanied in his work by Ian Whitcomb's 'You Turn Me On (Turn On Song)', repeated endlessly on his Philips cassette machine, rather as Andy Warhol would play 'Sally Go Round the Roses' by the Jaynetts while he painted.
Ian was living with his boyfriend Alan Watson in William Burroughs's apartment at Dalmeny Court, Duke Street, St James's, virtually overlooking Mason's Yard, and Alan would often drop by to see Ian. Alan had bright-yellow hair of a rather unnatural hue and wore tight hipster pants, cut so low that they were little more than two legs with a belt. He would sashay across the yard, hand on hip, blowing kisses at the workmen engaged in building the new Cavendish Hotel which backed on to the yard from Jermyn Street. The workmen would play football in the yard during their tea breaks and Alan would call out gaily, 'Score a goal for me, boys!' They enjoyed the joke and whistled and hooted back at him. Alan worked in the canteen at Scotland Yard and would dance on the tables for the enjoyment of the constabulary. He and Ian had a stormy relationship with their host, Burroughs, who was still in love with Ian despite having left him for a prolonged visit to New York the previous year, having given no indication that he was coming back. For Burroughs, living with Alan had its ups and downs: he was a good cook but he also played opera constantly, which was not one of Bill's favourite forms of culture. Paul was to get to know Ian and Alan quite well when Ian acted as the tape operator for a demo studio that Paul built.
The poet Pete Brown also joined in the labour, hammering and painting, uttering his inventive curses - 'By St Enid's toenail!', 'God's teeth!' and the like - as he hit his thumb or jabbed himself. He originally became involved because he was keen on the idea of a bookshop that held poetry readings. However, it was soon obvious that this one was not just another version of Better Books. Pete: 'I would be painting away and look over my shoulder and there would be Paul McCartney sawing wood.'
Pete was secretly lusting after Jane Asher, who also dropped in from time to time, and he even wrote a screenplay for her perusal. Over the weeks Pete arrived later and later, to appear eventually only half an hour before lunchtime, murmuring hopefully, 'Any chance of a spot of nosh then?' before everyone retired to Gus's cafe, a worker's cafe on the opposite corner of the yard which sold some of the worst food in London and was patrolled by the largest and greasiest black cat anyone had ever seen. Later in 1966, after working with Graham Bond, Pete teamed up with Jack Bruce and wrote the lyrics for 'Wrapping Paper', 'White Room', 'Sunshine of Your Love', 'I Feel Free' and a number of other hits for Cream, which enabled him to form his own band, Piblokto.
Jane donated the shop's till. It was Victorian, a long oblong wooden box with a small window set in the top to write on the till roll. As a little girl she used to play shops with it. The bookshop opened in February 1966, and at the end of the first year's trading the till roll went to the accountant along with the paying-in books, but the accountant reported a tremendous discrepancy between the two. It turned out that one of the accountant's assistants had carefully added up all Jane's childhood purchases which filled the first half of the till roll: 6 eggs £1.12.6d; 1 loaf of bread 1/6d ... all written in Jane's childhood hand. John and Miles refused to pay for the accounts and the accountant issued a writ against them; Indica's lawyer, however, advised calm and prudence and tapped his nose knowingly. Sure enough, the next week the accountant fled the country, leaving a trail of debts.
On one occasion the shop was overwhelmed by Beatles fans. Paul and Jane rushed into the shop, slamming the door behind them, and scurried downstairs to the gallery. Seconds later a mob of fans and tourists pressed themselves against the windows, staring in as if everyone inside was a caged animal. Paul and Jane had been at a nearby store buying coloured thread for a dress when a crowd gathered. Though they walked quickly, the crowds grew alarmingly and they were out of breath when they arrived. They ordered a cab to take them to Albemarle Street, their next destination, less than two blocks away. When the black cab arrived, the driver muttered, 'I thought it was someone like you lot. Anyone else would have been able to walk there.' Thereafter, John whitewashed the window to prevent people from staring in until the bookshop was open.
Paul would put in a day's work whenever he had time, mixing the 'green gunge' needed to fill in holes and cracks in the plaster, sawing wood and painting the walls with white paint. This caused Peter a slight discomfort because he sometimes used Indica as a venue for interviews in order to give the shop publicity; there were often surrealistic tableaux of young female interviewers seriously asking Peter his favourite colour and what colour hair he preferred in girls ('fair' when interviewed by a Scandinavian magazine, 'black' when the interviewer was Japanese), while at the same time their eyes kept straying across to Paul, who would be winking or raising his eyebrows at them behind Peter's back as he sloshed paint on the wall and 'The Turn On Song' blasted out and book reps and John's artists all vied for attention.
Paul helped draw the flyers which were distributed to announce the opening and even designed the wrapping paper. He kept it a big secret. Peter was consumed with curiosity because Paul had locked himself in his room for two days and wouldn't let anyone in and was acting in a most mysterious way. He had drawn a typographical design based on the name and address of Indica with the lettering crossing like the Union Jack. He sneaked the artwork out of Wimpole Street and gave it to a printer to make 2000 sheets as wrapping paper. It was not until the shop was about ready to open that he arrived and presented his surprise gift. 16 magazine in the USA ran a photograph of it and the shop was inundated with letters from American Beatles fans wanting sheets mailed to them, usually enclosing American stamps, which were of little use.
Meanwhile in the basement gallery John carefully carved and polished a wooden banister rail, laid brown hessian ex-Ideal Home Exhibition carpeting and prepared a series of mixed shows to give the public an idea of the type of work Indica intended to present. A good example of the kind of bafflement he had to contend with is seen in Jonathan Aitken's 1967 book The Young Meteors, in which Aitken describes visiting one of the group shows at Indica and seeing, among other things, the work of Barry Flannigan, Takis, and Christo's wrapped objects:
One establishment that makes no attempt to woo the provincial buyers is the way-out Indica Gallery ... it is run by 24-year-old John Dunbar, a Cambridge graduate, who has rilled the gallery with the most bizarre paintings ever to be described as 'art'. Handbags, lumps of cement, pieces of machinery, and odd scraps of miscellaneous bric-a-brac all glued together on a canvas and priced at £200, is the sort of thing one finds on the walls of Indica. Equally strange is the proprietor himself, Dickensian gold-rimmed glasses perched precariously on the end of his nose, his face covered by enough spare long hair to weave a carpet ...
The first proper exhibition at the gallery was by the kinetic-art 'collective' the Groupe de Recherche d'Art Visuel de Paris, featuring neon sculpture, light boxes and Op Art constructions by Francois Morellet, Le Parc, Garcia Rossi, Sobrino, Stein and Yvaral. It opened on 4 June 1966. Julio Le Parc's work was influenced by fairgrounds and circuses; he made distorting spectacles and hand-held mirrors that warped the reflection like a fun-fair hall of mirrors. One of his works was displayed outside in Mason's Yard: a set of unstable black wooden boxes. When you stood on them they wobbled alarmingly like precarious stepping stones across a stream. One morning, Westminster council dustmen mistook them for rubbish and carted them away, never to be seen again.
While the Indica show was on, Julio Le Parc won the prize for painting at the Venice Biennale. He fainted, and Indica found itself launched into the limelight by actually having a show of the Biennale winner mounted at the time.
John returned from Venice and set about dealing with the professional art world. One day an overweight American walked into the gallery. 'I'm a big American art collector,' he said.
'I'm a little English art dealer,' John giggled.
The prices for Le Parc's work seemed low and rather arbitrary. Only after John sold a few did it turn out that Julio had put joke prices on the pieces - £10 on one work - not for one moment expecting John actually to sell any of them.
The word spread, and people began to show up to see the shows and buy books. Miles was sent a sticker by the Mac Meda Destruction Company, an underground surfer gang, members of the Pump House crowd who hung out at Windansea Beach in La Jolla, California. How they ever heard of Indica remains a mystery. The enclosed note said, 'Put this decal in your window, and Tom Wolfe will come and see you.' They put the sticker on the window, and about a week later, Tom Wolfe walked in the door wearing his trademark white suit and high collar. When told he was expected, he was astonished. He had spent time with the surfers, and his essay 'The Pump House Gang' would be the title story of his second book in 1968, but he didn't even remember telling any of them he was going to London. However, there he was, obviously drawn to Indica by the magic sticker. No one else seemed in the least surprised.
One afternoon in late March 1966, Paul arrived at Indica with John Lennon. John wanted a book by what sounded like 'Nitz Ga'. It took Miles a few minutes to realise that he was looking for the German philosopher Nietzsche, long enough for John to become convinced that he was being ridiculed. He launched into an attack on intellectuals and university students and was only mollified when Paul told him that he had not understood what John was asking for either, and that Miles was not a university graduate but had been to art college, just like him. Immediately friendly again, John talked about Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, laughing about his school magazine the Daily Howl: 'Tell Ginsberg I did it first!' Miles found him a copy of The Portable Nietzsche and John began to scan the shelves. His eyes soon alighted upon a copy of The Psychedelic Experience, Dr Timothy Leary's psychedelic version of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. John was delighted and settled down on the settee with the book. Right away, on page 14 in Leary's introduction, he read, 'Whenever in doubt, turn off your mind, relax, float downstream.' He had found the first line of 'Tomorrow Never Knows', one of the Beatles' most innovative songs.
Ken Weaver, the drummer with the Fugs, sent Miles a copy of their first album, The Village Fugs, from New York. Paul wanted to hear it and, since Indica had no record player, everyone followed Paul into Mason's Yard to the locked entrance of the Scotch of St James nightclub located next door to Indica. After a lot of ringing and banging, the manager was roused; he protested that the club was closed, but was unable to refuse a Beatle, whose presence in the club at night guaranteed good business. The club looked very seedy in the daytime. There were no windows, but the bare light bulbs used to light the place up for cleaning revealed just how flimsy and tacky all the furnishings were. The Fugs album was placed on the DJ's turntable, housed in an old carriage, and the discordant lyrics of 'Slum Goddess from the Lower East Side' and Tuli Kupferberg croaking his way through 'Supergirl' filled the club. 'My God! What's that filth?' yelled the manager, shocked that Paul would want to listen to such smutty lyrics, but Paul was amused. Afterwards, whenever pushy tourists called upon him to sign an autograph, he wrote 'Tuli Kupferberg', the name of the Fugs' percussionist.
Paul's own taste in art and literature veered towards the proto-surreal. In art he was attracted to the dream landscapes of Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Delvaux and Salvador Dali and he admired the paintings of Max Ernst, but it was the work of Rene Magritte that gave him the most pleasure. The Surrealists had always acknowledged a debt to the work of the turn-of-the-century playwright Alfred Jarry, and in literature it was Jarry's work that struck a particular chord with McCartney. While driving to Liverpool in his Aston Martin in January 1966, Paul had heard a BBC Third Programme production of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Ñîñu (Ubu Cuckolded). 'It was the best radio play I had ever heard in my life, and the best production, and Ubu was so brilliantly played. It was just a sensation. That was one of the big things of the period for me.'
Not long afterwards, in July 1966, Bill Gaskill revived Jarry's Ubu Roi (King Ubu), first staged in Paris in 1896, at the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square. The director, Iain Cuthbertson, cast the veteran vaudevillian Max Wall in the lead. Though he was fifty-eight years old, it was his debut in the straight theatre and one of the most successful examples of the Royal Court's experiments with casting across traditional 'legitimate' borders. The young David Hockney designed the sets and costumes. Paul and Jane were not very excited by the production, though Jane thought the idea of Max Wall playing the lead was inspired. Paul preferred Ubu Ñîñu to the better-known Ubu Roi and even began to consider staging his own version of it and writing music for the production, an idea he still entertains. He read more Jarry, particularly his writing on the subject of 'pataphysics - the French art and literary 'science' created by Jarry and described by Eugene Ionesco as 'anarchy raised to the level of metaphysics'. It was an early form of Surrealism, which is why Paul was attracted to it. Famous 'pataphysicians included Marcel Duchamp and Jean Dubuffet, and Jarry had a profound effect on the Theatre of the Absurd writers Raymond Queneau, Boris Vian and Ionesco, though membership of the College of 'Pataphysics itself was generally used as an excuse for elaborate banquets rather than any artistic ventures.
Paul's interest was sparked first by the radio play, then the stage performance. His antennae were out and after reading a number of Jarry's play scripts Paul had taken enough from Jarry to utilise him in his work with the Beatles; not in a big production number, which might puzzle or mystify people, but in a subtle reference. Miles had recently been made a member of the College of 'Pataphysics and awarded the Ordre de la Grande Gidouille for "pataphysical activity'. The rock band Soft Machine held the Chair of Applied Alcoholism for the English Isles and there were a few other members of the College in Britain but it was not exactly a well-known literary movement.
PAUL: Miles and I often used to talk about the 'pataphysical society and the Chair of Applied Alcoholism. So I put that in one of the Beatles songs, 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer': 'Joan was quizzical, studied 'pataphysical science in the home ...' Nobody knows what it means; I only explained it to Linda just the other day. That's the lovely thing about it. I am the only person who ever put the name of 'pataphysics into the record charts, c'mon! It was great. I love those surreal little touches.
That gesture summed up Paul's approach to the avant-garde and the ways in which he chose to incorporate the new ideas he was encountering into his work with the Beatles.
PAUL: That was the big difference between me and John: whereas John shouted it from the rooftops, I often just whispered it in the drawing room, thinking that was enough.
In the programme for Paul's 1989 World Tour, Paul wrote:
John's ended up as the one that's the avant-garde guy because he did all that with Yoko. Well, actually quite a few years before he'd ever considered it, when he was living out in the suburbs by the golf club with Cynthia and hanging out there, I was getting in with a guy called Miles and the people at Indica. I used to be at his house a lot of nights, just him and his wife, because he was just so interesting, very well-read. So he'd turn you on to Burroughs and all that. I'd done a little bit of literature at school but I never really did much modern. I find this very interesting because it's something I realise I didn't put around a lot at the time, like I helped start International Times with Miles, helped start Indica Bookshop and Gallery where John met Yoko ...
Barry Miles and his then wife Sue were living at 15 Hanson Street in the middle of London's garment district, a five-minute walk down New Cavendish Street from Wimpole Street, into another world. Hanson Street now is a very mixed neighbourhood but then it was in the centre of a working-class Jewish quarter, mostly made up of the women who worked in the sweatshops scattered throughout the area. Whereas Paul's Aston Martin was inconspicuous in his part of Marylebone, in Hanson Street it attracted considerable attention parked outside the kosher butcher across the street.
Miles and Sue first met Paul in August 1965 at Wimpole Street when John Dunbar, Peter Asher and Miles started Indica and began to assemble the stock of the bookshop in the basement of the Asher household. After a day's work unpacking and cataloguing books, Miles and Sue would join Peter in his room at the top of the house and sometimes stay for dinner. At some point during their first meeting with Paul, Sue Miles mentioned that she had just made a batch of hash brownies using the recipe for 'Haschich Fudge, (which anyone could whip up on a rainy day)' (sic) in the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. Alice, who was Gertrude Stein's lover, enthused over the fudge: 'it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies' Bridge Club ...' she wrote. She was given the recipe by the painter Brion Gysin, who neglected to tell her you had to bake them. Sue, who later became a professional chef, did bake hers. The next day Miles came home from work to find Paul sitting on the work counter in the kitchen, talking to Sue, nibbling on a brownie.
Flat 8, on the second floor, looked rather like student accommodation: walls painted white, covered with paintings and collages, furniture rescued from the street or bought second-hand, including an impossibly hard chaise longue, a large wooden work table that doubled as a dining table, and four French cafe chairs, obtained from Pete Townshend's mother, who dealt in antiques. The flat was filled with books, with a heavy emphasis on the Beat Generation: Allen Ginsberg had stayed there that summer when he had appeared at the Royal Albert Hall poetry reading and was followed shortly afterwards by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Miles introduced Paul to the work of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg and lent him copies of Evergreen Review. The discussions ranged from 'pataphysics to Buddhism and drugs.
Most of the records in the flat were avant-garde jazz - John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman - and works by Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Luciano Berio, Morton Subotnick and other electronic-music composers. Paul particularly liked Albert Ayler's free-form tenor-saxophone playing: sweeping screams and wails which helped define the nascent Black Power movement. He bought some of Ayler's albums for himself and enjoyed the puzzled look on George Martin's face when he put on Spirits or Bells and filled the room with Albert's honks and squeals. William Burroughs's spoken-word album Call Me Burroughs was a great favourite for late-evening listening when people were stoned; Paul heard Burroughs's cold, flat Mid-Western voice reading from The Naked Lunch before he saw the book.
The discussion often focused on the nature of music and the possibilities of electronic music and random sound; the way boundaries were being tested in jazz by Ayler, Coleman, the saxophone chords of John Coltrane and the orchestration of Sun Ra; the musical environments being created by Terry Riley and Steve Reich, and the wide-ranging experiments of the French musique concrete composers Pierre Henry and Pierre Schaeffer in the late forties and fifties who were producing sound collages.
PAUL: We sat around. We got wrecked together. We discussed all these crazy ideas together. We put down these lines of research together. I'd come home from an exciting crazed sort of think meeting with Miles, a stoned think tank, which was great fun and I'd love it and I'd be very enthusiastic about all these ideas and I used to tell John about this stuff. I'd spew 'em all out the next day. John would say, 'Wow, wow, wow! Well, why don't you do that? Why don't you do that?' I remember saying to him I had an idea for an album title, Paul McCartney Goes Too Far. He said, 'Fantastic! Do it! Do it!' He always wanted me to do that.
I remember one of our ideas was to master two pieces of music on to a record, have two albums on one record, and all you would do in the future was switch out one of them with your brain. You'd say, 'I'm not listening to the Beethoven, I'm listening to the Beatles,' but they would be both going on. So this was ... cheap, cheerful, good value for money. You had to have the mental control to be able to switch one of them out ... Last night it happened, my album Paul Is Live was playing and Neighbours was on the telly, and the two playing together totally reminded me of the sixties! Linda said, 'God in heaven, that's terrible!' and I said, 'I rather like it.'
On 24 February 1966, Paul went with Miles and Sue to hear the Italian electronic composer Luciano Berio, then a lecturer at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, give a talk at the Italian Cultural Institute on Belgrave Square. Paul had heard Berio's Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) (1958) at Miles's house. On it Cathy Berberian, the American mezzo-soprano, reads the beginning of Chapter 11 of James Joyce's Ulysses and Berio's music consists entirely of this reading cut up, superimposed, speeded up, and reduced to loop tapes which sometimes spin so fast they sound like a tree full of starlings. No instruments were used. Paul was more interested in the idea and approach than in the actual piece.
At the lecture, Berio played a tape of his new piece Laborintus 2 (Un Omaggio a Dante), which develops certain themes in Dante's texts, combining them with biblical texts as well as the work of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and Edoardo Sanguineti During the intermission, Paul was able to have a few words with Berio but the Italian embassy staff clustered around so closely that serious conversation was difficult. The meeting may have sparked Berio's interest in the Beatles since, not long afterwards, his wife Cathy Berberian released an album called Beatles Arias in which she gave full glorious operatic treatment to such numbers as 'Here, There and Everywhere', 'Help!' and 'Ticket to Ride'. Berio also made some settings of Beatles material which were sung by Les Swingle Singers, the French choral group whose work varied from popular songs to the most difficult of experimental music.
Of all the modern composers Paul encountered during this period, John Cage had the most influence on him. Though he didn't hear a great deal of the music, the ideas behind the music were a frequent subject of discussion; and you don't actually need to hear 4 '33 " to get the gist. This notorious 1952 composition for piano lasting four minutes and thirty-three seconds contains no notes at all but is divided into three movements designated by the closing and reopening of the keyboard lid. The piece is silent, except of course for the sounds made by the audience themselves - coughs, sniffs, breathing - and the ambient room sound, distant traffic, air conditioners, police sirens. It was the ultimate demonstration of Cage's belief that all noise belongs to the realm of musical sound and that even sounds not intended by the composer are perfectly legitimate parts of a composition.
In Silence, Cage reprinted a 1957 lecture entitled 'Experimental Music' in which he said:
Try as we may to make a silence, we cannot. For certain engineering purposes, it is desirable to have as silent a situation as possible. Such a room is called an anechoic chamber... a room without echoes. I entered one at Harvard University... and heard two sounds, one high and one low. The engineer in charge... informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation and the low one my blood in circulation. Until I die there will be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music.
Since all and every noise was equally eligible for use in a musical composition, Cage and his accompanist David Tudor began to introduce unorthodox sound sources. At a lecture by John Cage given at Columbia Teachers' College in March 1959, David Tudor introduced several radios as noise elements, randomly spinning the dials to make short bursts of broadcasts or static to augment his piano. One record, the 1959 album Indeterminacy, was often on the record player at Miles's place when Paul was visiting. On it Cage reads ninety stories accompanied by David Tudor on piano and electronic sounds which sometimes drown the voice completely.
John Cage's leading disciple in Britain was the composer Cornelius Cardew. A professor of composition at the Royal College of Music, Cardew spent two years as Karlheinz Stockhausen's assistant, working with him on a huge orchestral work, and had worked with John Cage and David Tudor in Europe, where he had prepared a version of Cage's Fontana Mix for guitar. It was at one of Cardew's free-form performances with AMM, early in 1966, that Paul first heard Cage's theories put into practice.
AMM was probably the most experimental group of the sixties, consisting of Cornelius Cardew on piano, cello and transistor radio, Lou Gare on tenor saxophone and violin, Eddie Provost on drums, xylophone and other percussion, Keith Rowe on electric guitar and transistor radio and Lawrence Sheaff on cello, accordion, clarinet and transistor radio.
A musical happening was already in progress when Paul, Miles and Sue finally found the unmarked basement room at the Royal College of Art where AMM held their weekly sessions. In addition to conventional instruments there were tape recorders, signal-generating equipment, electric tools, drills and electric toys which were allowed to run loose or to vibrate in a controlled environment such as a steel tray. There were whistles and a siren. There was no division between performers and audience, all sounds constituted part of the piece being performed, whether they originated from the members of the group or the audience of a dozen or so people sitting on the floor. Every scratch, honk, chair squeak and bump was received with the utmost attention. There were no melodies and no rhythms. Sometimes there was nothing to listen to except silence. As new music promoter, Victor Schonfield wrote, 'An AMM performance has no beginning or ending. Sounds outside the performance are distinguished from it only by individual sensibility.'
Cardew did not touch the keyboard of the piano; in fact, he rarely even touched the exposed strings of the piano. Most of the time he sat on the floor by one of its legs, which he occasionally tapped with a small piece of wood, his head inclined to one side, listening intently.
From time to time Paul contributed by running a penny along the coils of the old-fashioned steam radiator that he was sitting next to on the floor. After the intermission, he used the penny to tap on his pint-glass beer mug. The atmosphere of the performance was one of exceptional seriousness with an almost painful degree of attention to sound, lacking humour in every sense except for the half-smile on Cardew's face.
Paul didn't find the performance musically satisfying, but neither did the participants, who said afterwards that it was not a good evening. Paul observed that obviously the existence of such groups, challenging all normal concepts of the necessity for time signatures, rhythm and melody, was important and said, 'You don't have to like something to be influenced by it.' Whereas John Lennon would have probably felt that they were putting him on, Paul understood their serious purpose but told the organiser Victor Schonfield, 'It went on too long.'
It quickly became apparent that it made more sense to separate out Indica Bookshop from Indica Gallery. One of the reasons for being in the St James area was to be among the other galleries, and it did not do the work justice to expect visitors to go through a crowded bookshop and down to the basement to see the art. Besides, the large crowds which gathered for art openings also had a tendency to steal the books. In the summer of 1966, Indica Books moved to new premises at 102 Southampton Row, near the British Museum and all the Bloomsbury bookshops, allowing the gallery to take over the ground floor of the Mason's Yard property. There was room in the back of the bookshop for a gallery annexe, and one of the first shows there was of musical sculpture by the Freres Bachet, which all the Beatles attended at one time or another.
The bookshop was huge and when Miles and his old friend John Hopkins - usually known as 'Hoppy' - decided to start an underground newspaper, to be called International Times (IT), the unused basement of Indica Books seemed the ideal place for the editorial office. The paper soon ran into trouble financially and Paul suggested to Miles, 'If you interview me, then you'll be able to get advertising from record companies.' Rather than do a conventional interview, Miles just taped an afternoon's conversation at Paul's house, during which they discussed fame, spiritual matters, drugs and electronic music. It was transcribed and printed as a straightforward question and answer in the best Warholian tradition, with no introduction or summing-up. It was picked up by the underground press syndicate and reprinted all over the world, from the San Francisco Oracle and the Georgia Straight to obscure underground outfits in Sweden and Holland. 'You should go and do one with my friend George,' said Paul, and so George Harrison became the second person interviewed by IT and devoted his entire interview to discussing Hinduism and Zen. Pop stars liked the straight Q & A interview presentation because press interviews at that time were mostly paraphrase with very little direct quotation and their words were always changed to suit the purpose of the journalist. IT gave them a vehicle to state their views.
Paul was correct in thinking that interviews with musicians would enable IT to get record-company ads, but the paper was still broke and often unable to pay the printer or its staff. Paul helped out financially, and was thanked by being given a credit in the staff box under the name of 'Ian Iachimoe'. This was the 'secret' name that Paul suggested his friends use when writing to him to make their letters stand out from all the fan mail. It was the sound of his own name played backwards on a tape recorder. He even used it himself: the original manuscript of 'Paperback Writer', which was written in the form of a letter, ends with 'Yours sincerely, Ian Iachimoe'. Paul was happy to lend a hand in laying out the paper and there was one evening when Paul, together with the Beat poet Harry Fainlight, took time out before dinner to draw a half-page psychedelic ad for Indica Books in order to meet the printer's deadline the following morning. It was published in issue 16. Such were the times.
One thought to emerge from sitting around stoned in Miles's flat was how great it would be to have access to all the experimental work going on, to be able to hear poetry readings and free-form concerts on record. Paul felt that it would be a good idea to have a small demo studio available for poets and avant-garde musicians to record their work; that if these people were given access to recording facilities, then a lively exchange of tapes would happen. Poets in Liverpool would be able to hear the latest developments in beat music from London, and vice versa; rock musicians could send their work in progress to fellow musicians in the USA, and so on. The idea was that some of the most interesting tapes could be released on a cheap-label album, possibly monthly like a magazine. It was just one of the many projects that later helped inspire Apple; this one, in particular, was realised with the launch of the Zapple label two years later.
Rather than jump right in with a studio and staff and enormous costs, Paul proposed that he set up a basic recording unit and see how it went from there. Even the most basic facility needed premises, however, and someone to operate the equipment. Miles suggested his friend Ian Sommerville as an ideal tape operator for the project. Paul had already met him a number of times when Ian installed the electrical wiring for Indica in Mason's Yard and suggested meeting to talk about it. They got together in Miles's flat in Hanson Street in the early days of spring 1966, and in the course of a pleasant evening Ian explained the principles of free-floating equations and the mechanics of producing hallucinations using flickering lights. Paul said Ian was clearly the man for the job and that he would buy the necessary equipment and find a place to accommodate it.
Ringo had a flat that he was not using at 34 Montagu Square, on the corner with Montagu Place, just a few blocks from Wimpole Street. It was a converted ground floor and basement in a Regency terrace five doors from Anthony Trollope's old house. French windows opened to a small yard at the back and the flat was reached by narrow stone steps leading from a gate in the iron railings on the street, making it self-contained. Paul rented it from Ringo to use as a studio.
Ian went to Teletape, a hi-fi shop on Shaftesbury Avenue, and bought a pair of Revox A77s, a pair of huge Revox speakers, a small mixer, microphone stands, a selection of microphones, an editing block and a stock of tape, charging it all to Paul. The equipment looked slightly incongruous in the flat, which Brian Epstein's interior designer, Ken Partridge, had decorated in early-sixties camp pop-star style with purple watered-silk wallpaper, silk curtains and lead-streaked mirrors.
Ian and his boyfriend Alan quickly moved into the flat and established themselves. Though Paul had not expected this, it did make sense as the studio was most likely to be used in the late evening when anyone else would have gone home unless specifically booked. This way people could just make a quick phone call and drop by. It became another of the 'little pads to hang out in'. John Dunbar, Christopher Gibbs, Robert Fraser, Miles, the film-maker Antony Balch and others were frequent visitors and, though many a stoned evening was recorded, very little in the way of avant-garde experiment was actually put on tape. Aside from Paul himself, William Burroughs probably used the studio more than anyone else, conducting a series of stereo experiments with Ian known as the 'Hello, Yes, Hello' tapes.
Ian Sommerville was a mathematician, thin and birdlike with high cheekbones, pale parchment skin and a nervous habit of running his fingers through his hair that made it stand on end. He had been William Burroughs's boyfriend for most of the sixties, living with him first in the Beat Hotel in Paris, where he had used his scientific training to help Bill and the painter Brion Gysin develop their cut-up technique. This had originally been a way of composing new texts by cutting up old ones and randomly juxtaposing them to find new word lines and associations. Ian helped them to apply the same method to tape recordings and film.
In those days everything was recorded reel to reel. They began by using Brion Gysin's Uher tape recorder. 'I did a number of experiments with that,' said Burroughs, 'lots of them with Ian Sommerville following Brion's experiments, all sorts of cut-ups, musical cut-ups and sleep recordings. They weren't supposed to be works, it was not an art proposition at all.'
Bill and Ian experimented with backward tapes and superimposed recordings made at different speeds upon each other. A second tape recorder enabled them to overdub as well as just drop in new material. Together they developed something called 'inching' in which the tape was manually pulled across the tape heads while recording or overdubbing material. Ian bought a throat microphone to use in recordings of subvocal speech; music and other non-text material was introduced. They became adept at laying down a backing track: a BBC Third Programme lecture or a recording of room conversation made a good base to superimpose upon. Bill would read fragments from his texts or from newspaper reports, or drop in random extracts from different radio broadcasts.
Paul was interested in all this because it tied in so neatly with the tape-loop experiments that he had been conducting with his Brenells. Burroughs's cut-up tapes became another of the new elements that ultimately contributed to Paul's input in the music of the Beatles: to the eventual use of fragments of radio broadcasts, animal sounds and the other collage elements which occur throughout the Sgt. Pepper period. For now, though, he used the studio for other things.
PAUL: In our conversations, I thought about getting into cut-ups and things like that and I thought I would use the studio for cut-ups. But it ended up being of more practical use to me, really. I thought, let Burroughs do the cut-ups and I'll just go in and demo things. I'd just written 'Eleanor Rigby' and so I went down there in the basement on my days off on my own. Just took a guitar down and used it as a demo studio.
WILLIAM BURROUGHS: I saw him there several times. The three of us talked about the possibilities of the tape recorder. He'd just come in and work on his 'Eleanor Rigby'. Ian recorded his rehearsals so I saw the song taking shape. Once again, not knowing much about music, I could see he knew what he was doing. He was very pleasant and prepossessing. Nice-looking young man, fairly hardworking.
PAUL: Occasionally Burroughs would be there. He was very interesting but we never really struck up a huge conversation. I actually felt you had to be a bit of a junkie, which was probably not true. He was fine, there never was a problem, it just never really developed into a huge conversation where we sat down for hours together. The sitting around for hours would be more with Ian Sommerville and his friend Alan. I remember them telling me off for being a tea-head. 'You're a tea-head, man!' 'Well? So?'
This was rich, coming from Ian, who told Miles that when he was living with Burroughs in the Arab quarter of Tangier, he slept on a pillow stuffed with finely chopped marijuana: 'No twigs, just the leaves and flowers. It was as soft as feathers. That perfume is the best sleeping pill, man, you have such beautiful dreams and it is a joy to wake up to that smell.'
PAUL: 'William did some little cut-ups and we did some crazy tape recordings in the basement. We used to sit around talking about all these amazing inventions that people were doing; areas that people were getting into like the Dream Machine that Ian and Brion Gysin had made. It was all very new and very exciting, and so a lot of social time was taken up with just sitting around chatting.'
In the end nothing came of it. No one used the studio to make tapes, largely because Ian got it into his head that he was working exclusively for Paul and put off everyone else who approached him for studio time. Paul took one of the Revoxes and gave all the remaining equipment to Ian. Ian moved out and the flat remained empty until December 1966 when Ringo let Jimi Hendrix, Chas Chandler and their respective girlfriends stay there for three months while they looked for a place of their own. Jimi trashed the flat by throwing paint at the walls while on acid, so Ringo had it painted white. His next tenants, John and Yoko, finally gave Ringo's landlord legal grounds to terminate his lease. In October 1968, a well-publicised police raid led to the pot conviction that would later cause John so much trouble in obtaining his American green card. Ringo's lawyers worked out a deal. Paul, John and Yoko, Jimi Hendrix and William Burroughs: 34 Montagu Square clearly qualifies as a candidate for one of the blue marker plaques that the City of Westminster fixes to buildings of historical interest.
Paul's life was not all avant-garde music and drugs; at the same time as investigating Luciano Berio, he was learning about the blues. This he did through the blues veteran John Mayall, whose group the Bluesbreakers was a training ground for the likes of Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor.
PAUL: John Mayall's was another hangout, not very often, but a few times after a club he'd still be around and we'd go back to his house. He was a blues DJ, fantastic collection. I think his dad had been into it and passed it on to his son. John would sit me down in a good position for the stereo - 'Can I get you a glass of wine?' - and you'd get cooled out there and sit back in the chair, and he literally would DJ it from his corner; banks of records. He first played me Â. Â. King. 'Have you heard this one, man? This is great, you know, Â. Â. King.' 'No, who's he?' 'Oh, you haven't heard? Oh, let's check out BB.' It'd be great stuff, live recordings of BB and girls screaming in the audience, like the Beatles. He was playing beautifully, very early and precise, exciting electric guitar. So John would play you some great great blues; Buddy Guy he'd play a lot. Then he'd play me some early Eric Clapton stuff, which was: 'God, it's amazing!' You could really see where Eric was getting some of the stuff from but Eric was making his guitar sound like a violin. It was a great education.
Paul first met the art dealer Robert Fraser in the spring of 1966, at John and Marianne's apartment in Lennox Gardens. This was shortly before Robert and John went to the Venice Biennale together, for which they were planning their joint strategy. Fraser represented Harold Cohen, who was one of the five young British artists to be shown at the British pavilion. Paul listened to their art talk and was impressed by Fraser's ideas. In the course of a few more encounters Paul and Robert became rather unlikely friends. Robert was a nervous Old Etonian homosexual with a fantastic eye for art. He was also a heroin addict. Paul was interested in art but was mainly attracted to Surrealism, which was not one of Robert's strong points, though as an art dealer he was happy to be of service.
Paul visited Robert's gallery and would often drop by his flat to see who was there and what was happening. Robert was a superb host; he always mixed the latest drinks, had the best drugs, and a room full of interesting people. Through Robert, Paul entered the world of art; he met Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Peter Blake and Richard Hamilton and, in the course of listening to their conversations, he learned a great deal about art appreciation. Paul: 'The most formative influence for me was Robert Fraser. Obviously the other Beatles were very important but the most formative art influence was Robert. I expect people to die so I don't feel a loss but there's a vacuum where he used to be.'
Eton had given Robert a halting, rather arrogant, aristocratic stutter and he was ramrod-straight from his army days. During the sixties Robert was thin and dapper, his black hair brushed back in a modified Elvis Presley cut complete with long, thick sideburns. Black thick-framed glasses threatened to overbalance his slender frame and he wore suits with trousers so impossibly tight that he had to bend almost double in order to pull the wad of notes from his pocket to tip the doormen at clubs. In 1967 Cecil Beaton described him in his diaries as having 'the usual pallor, the five-o'clock shadow, the tie badly in need of a pull up, and hair'. Though in later years alcohol and age brought the fleshy jowls of his father to his face, his characteristic lopsided smile remained.
Robert Hugh Fraser was born in London in August 1937 and grew up at 67 Cadogan Place, an elegant six-floor townhouse in a Regency terrace in which his parents lived until he was nineteen. His father, Lionel Fraser, was a self-made man who rose to become one of the leaders of the City of London financial establishment. Lionel Fraser was a golf-playing, teetotal Christian Scientist. He also had an interest in writing - his autobiography All to the Good was published in 1963 - and, more importantly, he was an art lover. In 1958 he joined the board of trustees of the Tate Gallery. His wife shared his interest and after Lionel's death in January 1965 she continued to serve as head of the Friends of the Tate Gallery.
Robert first showed his rebellious nature at Fan Court, a residential prep school near Chertsey in Surrey. When he was eight years old, his mother was telephoned by the anxious headmaster asking her to come at once. Robert had somehow obtained a paperback of Willie Gallacher's The Case for Communism, and was calling in such eloquent terms for the downfall of capitalism that he was having a profound effect on his fellow pupils. He had produced his own pamphlet, Communism v. Capitalism, which contained such phrases as 'The noose tightens round the capitalist's neck' and 'Capitalists have nothing to offer but further security to the upper classes'. Mummy talked him out of it and he willingly surrendered his copy of Gallacher.
In 1950 Robert joined his older brother Nicholas at Eton; his name had been put down the day after he was born. His best friend there was Christopher Gibbs, a man of impeccable taste who was to become that rare thing, a trend-setting antique dealer. He and Robert had much in common. Christopher: 'Robert was already firmly established in the raffish side of Eton life at the time I got there but we discovered each other soon after and I remember him coming to see me. "I'm told you've got some drawings by Sir Edwin Landseer in your room," was Robert's opening gambit. Which I think I did have, for some odd reason, but anyway we became friends.'
Robert's insight and unconventional reasoning in the field of art developed rapidly. On his wall at Eton he had a reproduction of a Monet and on the back was Robert's appraisal, written at the age of fourteen, of why this was an important picture. But Robert and Eton were not a good match. As Robert's father delicately put it:
For some boys school is like the Elysian fields, for others it is a perpetual trial and a drag. This probably sums up the different sentiments of our two sons. Nicholas went on to King's College, Cambridge, whereas Robert, having to do National Service, was posted to the Grenadiers as a guardsman. Finding the Brigade unwilling to adapt itself to his personal idea of discipline, he was commissioned to the King's African Rifles and served a cooling period in Uganda with that first-class African regiment.
Robert later claimed that his sergeant in Uganda was Idi Amin, who during his presidency of Uganda snacked on human limbs stored in his refrigerator.
It was Robert's mother Cynthia who supported his desire to become an art dealer. First he learned the essentials of the business at one of the auction houses, then he went to work for the Wildenstein Gallery in New York, where he was first exposed to the latest trends in both modern art and drugs. Christopher Gibbs: 'He always had a nose for the scene, so to speak, always knew what was going on and a relentless pull towards the slightly seamy. He was always amused by all kinds of rascals and I suppose that his sex life became much more rich and varied through America.'
He returned to Britain in April 1962 and formed a liaison with a young French art dealer called Michel du Warenne. Warenne was dark with very short hair and Latin good looks. He had known many artists but, more crucially, he knew a lot of old ladies who had known artists. Warenne's specialty was in distracting them with flattery while spiriting their Max Ernsts out of the door. Robert began to spend a lot of time with him in Paris.
Robert opened his gallery on 15 August 1962 at 69 Duke Street, just a few blocks from his home. The Robert Fraser Gallery was one of the most interesting of the new wave of purpose-built commercial galleries. It was designed by Cedric Price and had blank walls, with no mouldings or skirting to distract the eye.
His taste at the time was still moulded by Michel du Warenne. Christopher Gibbs: 'When Robert started his gallery in London, Michel Warenne was very much around, very much directing him, and Robert was getting rather impatient with this "flitty frog telling me what to do...".' It was du Warenne who persuaded Robert to open the gallery with a Jean Dubuffet show. Robert's parents were among his best customers and through him made some very serious purchases, including Matisse, Magritte and Max Ernst, Odilon Redon, Peter Blake, and modern American artists such as Ellsworth Kelly and Andy Warhol. Robert exhibited the work of Bridget Riley, Clive Barker, Derek Boshier, Peter Blake, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, Cy Twombly, Arman, Yves Klein, Wolf Vostell and Matta, often giving them their first British shows.
Robert moved to an apartment at 20 Mount Street, on the second floor above Scott's Oyster and Lobster Bar in Mayfair, and set up his salon. The large, sparsely furnished living room was used as an adjunct to the gallery and contained several large day beds in silver-lacquered wood with writhing marine beasts carved at each end. There were some grand black leather chairs from Italy with silvered backs made from interlaced branches. Christopher Gibbs: 'Some of these things had come from Michel Warenne, who was obviously crazy about Robert. Robert treated him with a certain contempt and roughed up these splendid gifts. He would paste a drawing on to the black leather or stick a few Christmas decorations on it.'
The walls were white for displaying paintings but the lighting was subdued: paintings could be lit with halogen lamps (the latest thing) but there were also Tiffany lamps and candles. Robert was constantly adjusting and orchestrating the lighting as he stalked about the room, laying out the most fashionable cocktails or Nepalese Temple Balls hashish. There was always plenty to drink and lots of grass. A passage led to the bedroom, bathroom and a kitchen where Robert's silent Moroccan manservant Mohammed spent his time, though food was generally delivered by the Chinese take-away.
At first Robert frequented the gay Soho scene, centred on Muriel Belcher's Colony Room club, where his friend Francis Bacon held court, and the Rockingham Club off Shaftesbury Avenue, which was the only truly gay club in London at the time. He got to know Lionel Bart and the Soho theatrical scene and they all came to Mount Street. Then, in 1964, a fashion model introduced him to the young photographer Michael Cooper.
Robert Fraser wrote about him when he died:
Michael was the first 'pop' personality that I had met and he was very strong in showing me the direction that I should take in developing the gallery. He brought my attention to the fact that photography was an art. Like a lot of photographers, Michael had this feeling that his mission in life was to be a film-maker rather than a photographer, and he did have some great ideas. He had a very high opinion of himself. At every level he thought he was God's gift...
Through his friendship with Michael Cooper, Robert began to move into a hipper, younger, more drug-oriented world. Christopher Gibbs: 'Michael Cooper was a very important formative influence because Michael was very bored with all these old steamer people and rough boys and such. He thought it was not interesting, so, they were kind of disposed of... and on would come the new lot, new people who were doing things in movies, music...'
Part of the new lot was Paul McCartney. He remembers it well:
It was a big posh flat. There would always be a bunch of various friends around, as there were at John Dunbar's, and people I didn't necessarily know, who would be from the upper classes, not from our group. There might be Lord Londonderry, someone like that, and there were Bonham-Carters. There were a few of these sort of people with double-barrel names who I would say 'Hi' to but they were generally tripping or a little bit too out of it, actually, for my liking. I liked to sit and giggle and get a bit stoned and then go home. They wanted to stay the week - often. For me, at that time, the limit was joints. Later it moved to coke, but that was later, shortly before Sgt. Pepper. I was introduced to coke through Robert, who was messing around in the upper echelons of drugs, including heroin.
By 1966 the crowd at Robert's included a complete cross-section of the London scene; everyone from Sid Caesar, the American comedian, then famous for the film It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, to the screenwriter Terry Southern, then in London for the making of Casino Royale. Keith Richards, Brian Jones and Anita Pallenberg could often be found lounging in their crushed velvet and antique lace on Robert's day beds. Photographers, artists, musicians and old school friends sampled Robert's drugs and disported themselves upon his antique rugs. School chums included the Ninth Marquess of Londonderry, who played drums at Eton and whose wife Nicolette was one of the last debutantes to be presented to the Queen.
They all gathered at Mount Street, in the kind of social mix of East End photographers and West End aristocrats that so characterised the sixties. As far as Robert was concerned, background didn't matter as long as the person was someone special. Christopher: 'Robert was a "principal only" person. He wasn't interested in people who were appendages of somebody else. He really wasn't interested in the also-rans, people who were quietly going along doing something. They had to have some sort of star quality, even if it wasn't visible, it had to be something there.'
PAUL: I didn't necessarily know everyone there but I was one of the crowd and I would just sit with whoever I knew, in my corner of the room. With Robert's thing of course there would be gayness. But there was no open gayness, if there was to be gayness it would be a quiet phone call that Robert would go and take in the bedroom or something. That was one of the good things, actually, because I knew he was gay and he knew I wasn't gay so we were quite safe in our own sexuality, we could talk to each other. Actually I remember one of the most touching conversations we had was about his mum and dad. I said, 'My mum died when I was young but I think my dad's great. He's a real fine man and I've got a lot of respect for him and I'm not ashamed to admit it.' Feeling slight peer pressure as I did admit it. And he said, 'Well uh uh uhg. I feel the same way about my mother. I love my parents!' and we had a little moment where we both admitted we loved our parents, which then was not the kind of thing you did. I don't think I ever had it with the Beatles, it certainly was not a common thing.
Robert clearly orchestrated his evenings to ensure that guests like Paul didn't encounter anyone or anything that might alienate them: for they were, after all, potential customers as well.
CHRISTOPHER GIBBS: Robert was a sort of catalyst figure to all those people. He netted them and it was fairly effortless. They were well ready to be netted and they thought it was great fun, or sensed it was the hippest scene around and things would be revealed which were quite unfamiliar territory and very intriguing and all that, and I don't think they were disappointed. Also I think Robert did try and sell them things, too, and I certainly think Paul bought some very good things from him.
Paul saw a lot of Robert during 1966 and in the period leading up to the release of Sgt. Pepper in 1967.
PAUL: The way Robert lived, which became the way I lived for a couple of years and which I now figure for a rather aristocratic way of life, would be that he'd ring early in the day and say, . 'What are we doing for dinner tonight?' It all hinged round dinner. Once he'd had dinner fixed, then he could fill in the rest of the day. It all worked around the event. Robert generally liked to eat down Chelsea: King's Road, Fulham Road area. The San Lorenzo, the Trattoria.
As well as dinner or hanging out at Mount Street, Paul would often put in an appearance at the gallery. 'Once I got to know Robert, a nice thing would be going to the gallery and helping install an exhibition. Just sit around and smoke a bit of pot while somebody else was installing the exhibition. Helping. Play a little music for him. At Indica we did a lot of that too and a lot of fun we had.'
Through Robert Fraser, Paul got to meet many of the artists and film-makers who passed through London, one of whom was the leading New Wave Italian film-maker Michelangelo Antonioni, director of L'Avventura, La Notte and L'Eclisse. Paul: 'I remember the word around town was "There's this guy who's paying money for people to come and get stoned at some place in Chelsea", and of course in our crowd that spread like wildfire. It was Antonioni. He was doing Blow-Up and everyone was being paid, like blood donors, to smoke pot.' It was April 1966, and Antonioni was using Christopher Gibbs's exquisite apartment on Cheyne Walk, overlooking Chelsea Bridge, as the set for his orgy scene. Beautiful long-haired people in tattered lace and velvet sat around on Moroccan cushions, leaning against medieval tapestries and carved screens as Antonioni, out-of-place in his light-blue Italian suit, tried not to destroy the atmosphere with his lights and cameras.
Christopher took Antonioni round to visit Robert Fraser at a time when Paul happened to be there.
He was just there at Robert's one evening. And Keith Richards and myself just happened to be there, and I’d brought some little home movies of mine. I used to have a projector that would flick pictures very slowly: click, click, click. So instead of 25 frames a second, a cat would just move flip, flop, flip, and we'd play sitar music or Beethoven or Albert Ayler, who was a great favourite. It was very very slow but it created a hypnotic mantra kind of effect. I showed Antonioni these movies and he was quite interested. They lasted about quarter of an hour, it was really a five-minute flick but we showed it so slow.
The Beatles used to rent their own film projectors so that they didn't have to brave the cinema crowds. Robert was fascinated and immediately picked up on the idea.
PAUL: It was a showbizzy thing which came from more the Hampstead crowd. You'd rent a movie from a movie house and you'd have an evening for your children, 'We're showing Jason and the Argonauts tonight.' Ringo used to do it a lot, every night he'd just hire a movie. Robert rather liked that and turned it more into an art thing. So he would hire Bruce Conner's A Movie, Kenneth Anger, he'd pull in the harder West Coast stuff. I liked it, it was very liberating.
In September of that year, Robert had his first serious brush with the law. He put on a show of collages and drawings by the American pop artist Jim Dine, assisted in some cases by Eduardo Paolozzi. But a retired general from Weybridge, making his way down Duke Street, found that by peering through the window of the gallery he could just discern a collage of a graffitied gift-wrapped penis, one of Dine's comments on Swinging London. The outraged general went to the police and the gallery was raided. The police removed twenty-one Dine drawings and closed the exhibition. Robert was prosecuted and appeared before the Marlborough Street Magistrates' Court charged under the Vagrancy Act on the grounds that the Dine exhibition could be seen from the street. (The Vagrancy Act was designed to stop veterans from the Napoleonic Wars from displaying their wounds on the street as beggars.) In court Robert was unrepentant. Detective-Sergeant Beale, who led the raid and brought the charges, claimed to have been shocked and outraged. Robert replied, 'I'm certainly not bothered by the opinion of a tuppeny-ha'penny policeman. I consider these pictures to be as pornographic as Cezanne.' He was fined £20 with 50 guineas costs. The notoriety of the Jim Dine case only gave the gallery more cachet.
In October 1966 Robert put on an exhibition of multiples by Richard Hamilton of Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum in New York. Paul helped hang the show and bought one of the pieces. He also arranged for John Lennon to come to the opening, which was possibly the first time that Robert and John met. Several years later Robert was to show some of John's work.
From the day it opened, the Robert Fraser Gallery had been a critical success but there were always problems with money. Robert had always depended on someone else's money or bank guarantee, and the gallery stock usually belonged to someone else. There were always a lot of things on consignment as it would have been impossible to survive on selling from a monthly solo show. The big problem was that Robert rarely paid anyone so he was always having to find new people to borrow stock from. His artists suffered the most and many of them left him because he did not pay them for work he had sold.
CHRISTOPHER GIBBS: The thing one never remembers about Robert is that he was capable, on a fairly regular basis, of doing the most terrible things to you. Anything that was to do with money, you'd be screaming and biting your lip and rolling about on the floor and saying, 'I'm never going to see this creep again!', and then three months later you'd have completely forgotten the crime, which hadn't been cleared up, it was still there. There was a litter of corpses all the way through one's relationship with Robert. Quite amazing things he used to do. And he would look at you, if you asked him to pay, look at you very startled and outraged, you know.
Paul was one of those Robert touched up for money from time to time. 'I'd lend him a bit of money here and there and he wouldn't give it me back. He was a bit notorious with money, Robert.' The artist Brian Clarke, who would be Robert's best friend through the late seventies and eighties, also had financial run-ins with him:
There's a lot of artists think that Robert was a crook. And I know better than a lot of people about this because Robert and I did more deals than any of his other artists ever did. And he always intended to pay, but sometimes he didn't get round to it. I should have seen the writing on the wall the first night Robert took me for dinner. He took me to Soho and we were walking past a restaurant when a Chinese chef ran out into the street in Gerrard Street with a cleaver and he pinned Robert by the throat against the wall. He held the cleaver over him and said, 'You don't pay me my money, I split your head!' Robert pushed him out of the way, grabbed hold of me by the collar and said, 'Leg it!' and we went running down the street. Then finally we stopped and Robert said, 'He must be mad. I've never seen that man before in my life.' And I believed it! And of course it was just one of many restaurateurs that wanted to kill Robert.
He was terribly grand. He told me the proudest moment of his life was when he got his first chequebook and issued all sixty cheques in twenty-four hours and they all bounced. He was so cavalier with money and it did get infuriating.
The money went on boys and an expensive heroin habit. Robert had been hooked since 1965 and, like many junkies, was keen to get others to try it. There was a lot of heroin around at the time, both on the aristocratic Chelsea scene and in the rock world. Pure heroin was available on prescription in Britain and there were doctors all over Mayfair who were happy to prescribe. Heroin jacks cost £1 each: cheap unless you were getting through twenty a day, as Robert was at the height of his addiction. (The average wage at the time was £15 a week.) It would have been impossible for Paul not to have been exposed to it.
PAUL: I was very frightened of drugs, having a nurse mother, so I was always cautious, thank God as it turned out, because I would be in rooms with guys who would say, 'Do you want to sniff a little heroin?' and I would say, 'Well, just a little.' I did some with Robert Fraser, and some of the boys in the Stones who were doing things like that. I always refer to it as walking through a minefield, and I was lucky because had anyone hit me with a real dose that I loved, I would have been a heroin addict.
Robert Fraser once said to me, 'Heroin is not addictive. There's no problem with heroin addiction, even if it is addictive, you've just got to have a lot of money. The problem with heroin is when you can't pay for it.' Which of course is absolute bullshit! You're a junkie, of course you are. This was the way he put it to me and for a second I was almost taken in but then my northern savvy kicked in and said, 'Now don't go for all of this. This is all very exotic and romantic but don't go for all of it.' There was always a little corner, at the back of my brain, that 'knock! knock! knock!' on the door - 'Stop!'
A lot of his friends messed around with heroin. A lot of his lords and ladies were heroin addicts and had been for many many years. And give Robert his due, he knew I wasn't that keen. He knew I wasn't a nutter for that kind of stuff. So I did sniff heroin with him once, but I said afterwards, 'I'm not sure about this, man. It didn't really do anything for me,' and he said, 'In that case, I won't offer you again.' And I didn't take it again. I was often around it when they'd all be doing it. They'd repair to the toilet and I'd say, 'I'm all right, thanks, no.' One of the most difficult things about that period was the peer pressure to do that.
In 1965, Paul had begun looking for a place of his own in central London. One of the problems was that he wanted a freehold property, whereas much of central London was only available on long leases, at the end of which the building reverted to the landowner.
I'd looked at a house in Chester Terrace, because with the Beatle money I could afford a good big house. Well, I got blocked there by Jack Hylton, who said, 'We don't want this kind ... the fans'll be around all the time.' The irony of it! A bloody bandleader saying, 'We don't want 'im here. We don't want musicians, trash, cabaret...' But he was right. There were fans. So I looked at the other end of Regent's Park where Harold Pinter had a house. It was great looking at all this amazing real estate. It improved my knowledge of London buildings.
So when I moved it was to St John's Wood, but it was in the middle of London, I still was enthralled with London. London to me was the setting for all the Dickens I ever read. St John's Wood was where they dropped off their mistresses in their carriages. I loved the sense of history and so I was eager to stay there, to be near the theatre, to be near everything. Really the only reason we moved to the country was to bring the kids up.
He found a three-storey Regency house in Cavendish Avenue, hidden away behind Lord's Cricket Ground in a quiet residential street with an original Victorian pillarbox which leaned at a slight angle at the corner. The old queen's monogram was thick with official red paint. The house was set back from the street, protected by a high wall and large black metal gates. There were steps leading to the front door, which was flanked by columns. To the side was a garage for Paul's cars: the Aston Martin and a souped-up Mini with black windows and a wide wheelbase.
Paul bought the house on 13 April 1965 for £40,000. He hired John and Marina Adams to fix up the place. Marina was John Dunbar's elder sister, and her and her husband's first job as architects had been the carpentry in Peter Asher's room. Paul loved Wimpole Street, so it was only natural that he would use the same people, people that he knew. 'It was the strangest briefing I've ever had,' said John Adams. 'Paul said he wanted to have the smell of cabbage coming up from the basement, which was obviously something he associated with the Asher house.' Though he was a millionaire, he was unused to spending money on something like property and initially wanted to spend only £5,000 to do up the house. In the end it cost £20,000 and his greatest extravagance was the Victorian streetlamp he had installed in the front drive.
Work on the house took much longer than expected but eventually, in late March 1966, Paul was able to move in. His possessions were brought over from Wimpole Street and as a thank-you present for having him live there for two and a half years, Paul had the outside of Wimpole Street decorated.
Wimpole Street remained very much the model, and in the beginning, Cavendish Avenue had a similar feel to the Ashers'. John Dunbar: 'There was a kind of salon round at the Ashers', there were three kids, and they had a lot of people around all the time. Cavendish Avenue was kind of like Wimpole Street. Obviously with a lot more room and it was Paul's own place.' At Wimpole Street he had never been able to entertain his friends in privacy, or reciprocate when people invited them to dinner except by taking them to a restaurant. Paul began life in Cavendish Avenue with a series of dinner parties and people round for lunch or afternoon tea.
Tea, with sandwiches and a large cake, was served by the housekeeper in the living room, a light, airy room taking up the whole back of the house. French windows opened on to a terrace and a flight of stone steps led to the long, tree-filled garden. A low bookcase ran along one wall to the open fireplace and the wall above it slowly filled with Magrittes and eventually housed one of the two drum faces made for the Sgt. Pepper cover; the one Paul has differs slightly from the one eventually used. An enormous prototype videotape recorder, one of five given to the Beatles and Brian Epstein by the BBC for them to try out, stood next to an experimental BBC colour monitor. A few hours of colour television each week, on one channel only, was introduced in Britain in July 1967 0ust in time for that year's Wimbledon - Paul's Aunty Jin came to stay and though he offered her Centre Court tickets to Wimbledon, she preferred to stay home and watch the tennis on colour television). Paul liked to tune it away from the two available channels to receive colour static.
In the corner near the French windows stood a tambour, an Indian drone instrument. In his storage room in the basement there were wooden statues, great carved bedheads and other items picked up when the Beatles made a three-day stop-over in India in 1966 on their way home from Manila. Next to the tambour was the Takis sculpture made from two aircraft wing lights welded to tank antennas that Paul bought from the Takis show at Indica Gallery in November 1966. Paul: 'People used to think it was a burglar alarm. We used to call it Peter and Gordon because one was a red light, and the other with a white light was a bit taller.' The lights clicked on and off at intervals. It was part of a series known as Signals which utilised industrial objects and forms. To turn mechanical and military paraphernalia into objects of beauty had a particular appeal to the anti-materialistic, anti-military sixties generation. The transformation of military uniforms into the psychedelic costumes of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or the dragoons' jackets of Jimi Hendrix came from the same sensibility.
The wall opposite the fireplace had a built-in floor-to-ceiling bookcase containing two record players, tape equipment and a concealed movie screen which would appear magically from the top of the unit in the best James Bond style. Unfortunately the screen nearly always stuck and had to be pulled down manually, and one of the record players was inevitably broken.
PAUL: The stereo didn't work, all our stereos never worked, I remember going to see Jimmy Page, the kind of guy you think, He'll have a great stereo, and his was broken. We were all so flaky. Once one wire came out, that was the end of it. I had electric curtains upstairs in the bedroom, but they were like a Hornby double-O train set, not at all like James Bond which it was supposed to be. They've got a lot to answer for, those James Bond films. My Aston Martin's another.
Also on the ground floor Paul installed an open-plan kitchen and a formal dining room dominated by a huge round steel-faced wall clock.
PAUL: The clock in Cavendish Avenue is the great big one from outside the Army and Navy Club in Pall Mall. I saw it in What's On, which always used to have an 'Antique Corner'. It was on view at Philips auctioneers. And I liked it and had a place made in the wall for it. My thing was that it had just come from one of those big gentlemen's clubs, and in the sixties that sort of stuff was breaking down. We were sweeping it out of the way. So it was something from another era. The clothes became like that too. Biba, uniforms, the vestiges of Empire. It didn't worry me that the Empire was crumbling. I thought it was a good thing. I was very pleased to see all that old regime get out. It was just, wow, I can actually have a clock that has seen that much history! And it's lovely. It's a big one, it's much too big for the room.
Above the fireplace hung a Monarch of the Glen commissioned from the British pop artist Peter Blake. The Beatles first met Blake through the photographer Robert Freeman who did the sleeve for With the Beatles, and Paul asked Robert Fraser, who represented Peter, to get him one of Peter's pictures. Peter asked him what kind of picture he wanted, because he had done various kinds of paintings, but Paul just said he wanted 'a sort of key one'. They talked and Peter asked Paul what his favourite picture was. On a recent visit to Scotland Paul had bought an old brown picture of Highland cattle in a stream and Peter half-joked, 'You ought to have a nice stag with that, like Monarch of the Glen or Stag at Bay.' Paul agreed.
Peter traced the original of Sir Edwin Landseer's Monarch of the Glen to Messrs John Dewar & Sons Ltd, whisky manufacturers, who have used it in innumerable advertisements. Landseer was Queen Victoria's favourite painter and Monarch of the Glen was originally conceived as part of the decorative scheme for refreshment rooms at the House of Lords. When this fell through, it spent fifty years in private collections before Thomas Dewar bought it in 1916. Peter made a more or less straight copy of it; a rare example of his use of an entire image, rather than collaging different pop elements. In the corner, using his signature stencilling, Peter wrote 'After "The Monarch of the Glen" by Sir Edwin Landseer. Peter Blake 1966.' Later he received a postcard from Paul saying, 'Picture is nice but the lettering is not - would you take it off?' but Peter refused.
PAUL: I didn't like the lettering which he put in the bottom corner, I thought it was such a good painting it stood on its own. I thought this rather spoiled it, having to say 'After Sir Edwin Landseer' but of course it's the Pop Art, it's what makes it Pop Art now. It's possibly the best bit of the painting. And I've since said to him, 'Well, you were completely right, of course. I was stupid.' I just never had seen that before. I'd never commissioned a picture before. That's the truth of it. It's beautiful, and he did a fantastic job, took forever and ever, as he does, but it was fabulous.
There was a large dining table with an antique lace tablecloth, which was always beautifully set with all the appropriate cutlery, but it had a plastic salt cellar and pepper shaker in the centre. Paul owned silver ones but insisted on using the cheap ones, mainly to annoy the housekeeper, Mrs Kelly, and her husband, who had previously worked for gentry and let it be known, not very subtly, that they regarded their new position as a step down in the world. The husband had initially attempted to continue his role as gentleman's gentleman by laying out Paul's clothes each morning until Paul made it abundantly clear that this was not required. Every time they set the table the silver cruet was laid and each time Paul replaced it with the plastic one. Paul fired them for selling their story to an Australian magazine.
The window on the staircase still had its original glass from the 1840s and gave quite a distorted view because the glass was so uneven. Paul insisted that the glass remained untouched when the house was renovated. The master bedroom had a large walk-in cupboard behind the bedhead and was very luxurious.
On the top floor, in what were originally the servants' rooms, Paul had his den, the music room. The music room had a hessian wall, a sixties design fad very popular at the time. With its accumulation of bongos, drums, guitars and other instruments, it became one of the main hanging-out rooms in the house. There were microphones and a Revox A77 tape recorder which Paul used to produce a long-drawn-out echo that made even the stoned bongo playing of his non-musician friends sound terrific. It was here he wrote many of his best-loved songs, seated at the piano, gazing out of his window over the front yard to the big black double gates. 'Penny Lane', 'Getting Better' and 'Hey Jude' were to be written in this music room, and it was here that Paul and John worked on many of the songs for Sgt. Pepper, John pacing restlessly round the room in his dirty white sneakers or the two of them laughing uproariously together. It was also where people sometimes just hung out of an evening.
A large chrome Paolozzi sculpture called Solo dominated the music room. Paul had bought it from Robert Fraser and he lent it to the Royal Academy for their major Pop Art retrospective in 1990. The Scottish-Italian artist Eduardo Paolozzi, one of the leading figures in the British Pop Art movement, had a previous connection with the Beatles: he taught Stuart Sutcliffe painting at Hamburg State Art College in 1961-1962, after Stuart left the Beatles to live with Astrid Kirchherr. Paul is still in touch with Paolozzi, who is occasionally to be seen at Paul's parties.
One day Paul mentioned to Miles that he wanted the door of the music room's built-in cupboard painted with little scenes in the panels and a decorative border. Miles proposed his friend Peter Simpson as the ideal artist for the job. Paul and Pete reached an agreement and a week or so later the door was delivered to Pete's studio. He spent months on the work, applying layers of gesso and polishing it with a shark's tooth in the correct Renaissance manner before painting each panel in exquisite detail. Pete could not be hurried.
An upright piano painted in an exploding psychedelic rainbow by the design team of Binder, Edwards and Vaughan, stood by the window of the music room. Paul: 'It was a Knight piano that I had them paint, a small upright; they have a short string length, they're more like cabaret pianos but they're very easy, the best of that type. So they did my piano, which is still my magic piano.' Paul had a replica of it made and painted which he used on his World Tour of 1990-91. David Vaughan met Paul through the Guinness heir Òàãà Browne, who offered to take him round to Paul's and introduce him. 'What's he like as a person?' asked David. 'He's the most intelligent man I've ever met,' Òàãà told him. They drove over to Cavendish Avenue in Tara's Buick 6, which Binder, Edwards and Vaughan had painted in psychedelic colours. Paul was very impressed by the car and suggested that they might like to paint his upright piano.
David Vaughan had seven years of art college behind him, finishing up at the Slade School of Art in London. David: 'From a very early age I could see angels wrapped round doorways. I wanted public art, mosaics, courtyards with statues, a longing for something that was different from the stark reality I was brought up into; which was absolutely nowt. No culture.' He was a fervent believer in community art so rather than producing easel paintings for the few, he concentrated on customising cars and furniture, painting murals, designing wallpaper and fabrics. 'I wanted to use paint to break down the establishment, that's how we saw it.'
He immediately tried to involve Paul in his plans to redecorate all the youth clubs in the north of England with psychedelic murals. David: 'We had a few rows about it. He used to lecture me, he said, "The trouble with you is that you came down here fighting." I said, "I didn't." He said, "Yes, you did. And about that piano. When will it be ready?'" The piano took a while to customise because it had no back on it. They had to make one from plywood and prepare the surface before painting it with a sunburst. Paul missed his piano and tried to hurry them up.
DAVID: He said, 'I want that piano for tonight.' I said, 'Well, it's ready but you won't be able to use it tonight.' He said 'Why not?' I said 'Because it needs retuning. We've just put a back on it.' 'Ah. Good thinking, good thinking.' He give us a few points for that. So he got his piano back. It was £250. I said, 'It'll be about 300 quid.' He said, 'I've heard that one before!' I said, 'I'm not trying to rip you off just because you've got some loot. I'm just saying, the original quote was without the back. That'll be a bit extra, that's all.' He wouldn't let anybody take advantage of him, and he knew if anybody was trying to pull the wool over his eyes.
David became a frequent visitor to Cavendish Avenue, initially with Òàãà, then, after the latter's death, alone or with his children. Paul liked children and would sometimes take David's daughter Sadie to nearby London Zoo. Once, when Paul and John Lennon were working in the music room, David took them a cup of tea. David: 'I can still picture the pair of 'em, the look of astonishment on their faces when I walked in with a cup of tea, because nobody ever thought, "Well, these two poor buggers might need a brew." Nobody thought of them like that...' Despite David's attempts to involve Paul in his plans to change the world, Paul obviously enjoyed his company. He even lent him the keys to his sheep farm in Kintyre, bought in 1966 at his accountant's suggestion as a retreat from the pressures of stardom, and told David to take his kids there for a holiday.
On one occasion Robert brought Andy Warhol and a group of his friends over to visit Paul at Cavendish Avenue. Paul: 'We watched Empire, which is something like three hours of one building, which is pretty tough going - it's a good job we were into pot because we couldn't have handled it otherwise! It was one of his very long films. It went on. In fact, if I had seen that coming I would have probably said to Robert, "Oh no, don't let's see that one. Have you got anything else?'"
Paul had been warned that the film would require two projectors so he hired an extra one. He was also told that they must start at exactly the same time, but Andy just casually turned one on and then the other. To Paul it seemed that it didn't really matter if they were in synch.
He was just showing 'em any old way. It was daring but it was laborious to watch. Very very boring. Endlessly boring. I must say it was not a great evening out. The people in the room being bored with you and Andy being enigmatic at the back of it all.
It was nice to have Andy there. He was a very shy, quiet guy. I got the impression he didn't want to say too much in case it came out stupid. I hate to say it but it created an air of incredible mystery. He seemed like a nice bloke. I remember we had dinner at the Baghdad House in Fulham Road. The great attraction there was they let you smoke hash downstairs because it was Baghdad and everything, so we sat around a table and had yoghurt and honey and various Iraqi things.
Mick Jagger often called at Cavendish Avenue and it was Paul and Mick who often checked with each other to make sure that the Beatles and the Stones didn't release a new single within the same few weeks, which would have split sales and jeopardised both their chances of reaching number one. After Marianne Faithfull left John Dunbar in January 1967 to live with Mick at Harley House on Marylebone Road, just across Regent's Park from Paul's house, they would often come to visit Paul together.
MARIANNE: We would go and see them a lot, but I don't remember him coming to us. Mick always had to come to his house, because he was Paul McCartney and you went to him. Paul never came to us. I was always very curious about how Mick saw him, how Mick felt about him. It was always fun to watch. There was always rivalry there. Not from Paul, none at all. Paul was oblivious, but there was something from Mick. It was good fun. It was like watching a game on the television.
Mick was one of the people who spent time hanging out in the music room upstairs. Paul: 'I believe I turned Mick Jagger on to pot in my little music room at Cavendish Avenue, which is funny because everyone would have thought it would have been the other way round.' It made Paul part of a lineage connecting the sixties youth movement with the American Beat Generation of the forties and fifties; a noblesa of potheads descending along the hipster tradition: Mick Jagger was introduced to pot by Paul McCartney, who was introduced to pot by Bob Dylan, who was introduced to pot by Al Aronowitz, who was introduced to pot by Allen Ginsberg, who was introduced to pot by some Puerto Rican sailors in a brothel in New Orleans in 1945.
Mick and Paul discussed the idea of a jointly owned recording studio for the exclusive use of the Beatles and the Stones. At the time it was a great idea which everyone liked, but putting the idea into reality was another matter and it was quietly forgotten. The Stones would later buy their own mobile studio to record their endless tours, and the Beatles eventually built their own studio in Savile Row, but by the time it was finished, the group had broken up. Paul never used it and John Lennon was living in the USA, never to return.
One of the first things Paul did on moving in was buy an Old English sheepdog puppy. He called her Martha, and she became the inspiration for one of Paul's best-loved songs. She grew huge, with tangled hair.
PAUL: Martha was my first ever pet. I never had a dog or a cat at home. My parents both went out to work, which was why we couldn't have any, even when one terrible day they were giving away free puppies! Just a hundred yards away from where we lived. We came screaming home, my brother and I, 'They're giving 'em away! We can get one if you tell us now, we can go and get one, we've chosen the one we want!' They said, 'You can't have one, son. Me and your mum go out to work and it wouldn't be fair on a dog.' 'We'll look after it, we'll do it.' 'You're at school.' 'Well, we'll come back at lunchtime. Surely?' 'No, no, no.' Crying crying crying. We just couldn't understand because they were free! We could understand not buying one because we weren't that well off, but passing up a freebie puppy! He was quite firm about stuff like that and I suppose he was right.
Paul drove out to get Martha from Ann Davis, a breeder in High Wycombe. The dog was like a huge tangled ball of wool and kept bumping into things because her hair covered her eyes until they tied it up in ribbon. Paul: 'She was a dear pet of mine. I remember John being amazed to see me being so loving to an animal. He said, "I've never seen you like that before." I've since thought, you know, he wouldn't have. It's only when you're cuddling around with a dog that you're in that mode, and she was a very cuddly dog.' Paul has had Old English sheepdogs ever since, and keeps three at his house in Sussex.
Martha spent a lot of her time snuffling after Thisbe the cat. In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, a group of Athenian workmen - the 'mechanicals' - led by Bottom the weaver, attempt to stage a play called Pyramus and Thisbe. The Beatles performed a short extract from this play within a play for the Jack Good TV show Around the Beatles in May 1964. John played Thisbe, Paul played Pyramus, George was Moonshine and Ringo appeared as Lion. Thisbe was to feature in a number of Paul's home movies, peering round doors and jumping down steps; she was soon joined by three more of her kind.
PAUL: I had a litter of cats called Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Jesus ran off, Joseph stuck around for a long time, and Mary had kittens. We put the kittens in this little box and I remember me and Brian Jones stayed up all night, looking at the kittens. I got the word 'God' from three symbols on the side of the box: one of them was a moon, the G; Î was the sun, and the star was like the D. And somehow it read, 'God'. I had this live-in couple called the Kellys who would wake you up early in the morning like everything was just going normally and we had just stayed up all night and it was like, 'Go away please!' It was just amazing because we were actually watching what went on. Instead of saying, 'Oh yes, we've got kittens, ain't they marvellous? There they are, cuddly cuddly, now I'm going to go and do something important,' we took five hours with these kittens. Now they call it 'Stop and smell the flowers'. They say you should do more things like that in a stressful life.
By the time they moved to Cavendish Avenue, Paul and Jane were growing increasingly apart. In October 1965 Jane had joined the Bristol Old Vic and was deeply involved in her career as an actress. She spent most of her time in Bristol, leaving Paul free to enjoy London as a single man. The majority of Jane's friends were in the theatre. She did not take drugs and clearly felt increasingly alienated from Paul's drug-taking friends. The relationship hung on, in part, because they were apart so often: if Jane was in a play, Paul would not see much of her unless he attended a performance, and Paul himself was often out of town, touring with the Beatles or at late-night recording sessions, television recordings, official receptions and other Beatles activities. They really only saw each other properly on special occasions like holidays - skiing in Klosters in March 1966 just before moving into Cavendish Avenue, and in November on safari together in Kenya - when they would reaffirm their relationship; but the underlying trend was apart.
PAUL: During that period with Jane Asher I learned a lot and she introduced me to a lot of things, but I think inevitably when I moved to Cavendish Avenue, I realised that she and I weren't really going to be the thing we'd always thought we might be. Once or twice we talked about getting married, and plans were afoot but I don't know, something really made me nervous about the whole thing. It just never settled with me, and as that's very important for me, things must feel comfortable for me, I think it's a pretty good gauge if you're lucky enough. You're not always lucky enough, but if they can feel comfortable then there's something very special about that feeling. I hadn't quite managed to be able to get it with Jane.
It was not until he had his own house that Paul began collecting art. Robert Fraser took an active role in building Paul's collection. Paul: 'I was very interested in Magritte and Robert was interested in my interest in Magritte and he said, "Well, I know this gallery owner Iolas who's his dealer in Paris."' So, some time early in 1966, Paul and Robert flew to Paris. They checked into the Plaza Athenee on the Avenue Montaigne in the heart of haute-couture Paris, one of the most fashionable and snobbish hotels in France.
Going on a trip with Robert caused a few comments from Paul's friends.
PAUL: Because he was gay, it raised a few small-minded eyebrows and funnily enough, one or two of them were from within the Beatles: 'Hey, man, he's gay, what you going off to Paris with him for? They're gonna talk, you know. Tongues are going to wag.' I said, 'I know tongues are going to wag, but tough shit.' I was secure about my sexuality. I always felt this is fine, I can hang with whoever I want and it didn't worry me. I mean, we didn't share a room or anything.
I love Paris. I can always go to Paris, it never alters for me, it's my student dream. I'm an artist if I go to Paris; the smell of Gitanes, the women with hair under their arms and the way they've kept the buildings. I can get into all my fantasies.
Alexandra Iolas was an old friend of Robert's from the Paris gay scene and had arranged a small dinner party in their honour at his apartment above his gallery on Boulevard St-Germain.
PAUL: Robert and I went over and had a very pleasant time. Iolas was a very urbane Parisian, a very nice man. There were a couple of other people there, including an older woman, it was very social. Just French friends of Iolas.
He had a couple of Nicholas Monro's free-standing sheep which you used to see in houses in the sixties; people used to have them as sculptures. He had a couple of those and, also by Monro, he had a whacking great rhino, a full-sized rhinocerous, it was a cocktail cabinet. He would open the rhinocerous's side and serve drinks, and we would all go, 'Hah, hah, very funny!' It was like a talking point. And after dinner and a couple of drinks, we wandered downstairs, where the whole place was just full of Magrittes. I was in seventh heaven. He was Magritte's agent and I had my pick of Aladdin's cave. Now being a sensible lad, I only chose two oils. They were about 30 x 40, decent-size pictures, the most expensive of which was £3,000.
I bought a big oil called Gloria, which was an upturned carp. When you look sideways at it it looks like a big hooded figure with one eye but when you look the other way at it it's a carp, it's a fish, in the shadows inside a castle keep and outside is the sky and clouds where we all want to be. I bought another, called The Countess of Monte Cristo, which is a painting showing a painted bottle alongside two ordinary wine bottles, very Magritte, very Surrealist. I didn't know he painted actual bottles themselves till much later so I thought this was just a joke, the girl is on the bottle. A bottle came up at a studio sale. Paul Simon bought one, I know because I've visited him and seen it.
I wish I'd bought more now but the ones I got were very good. And then over the years I've started to get this and that. It was lovely, lovely to be able to look through them all and looking back I remember I saw Ceci n'est pas une pipe (This Is Not a Pipe), one of the new series, which I nearly bought. I liked that a lot. It was the first time I'd heard of it. I liked the whole idea, 'This is not a pipe.' 'Why?' 'It's a painting of a pipe.' 'Oh yes, of course!' That's one of the big things I got from him.
My view now is that he was probably the greatest of the Surrealists. At the time I thought he was damn good but that there were more important Surrealists, but now I don't think there are. Who is there? De Chirico? Dali? I personally don't like their stuff quite as much. Of course we were very into all the legends: how Magritte painted from nine until one and then had his lunch. Robert went to see him with Michael Cooper, and the greatest photograph of Michael Cooper's is of the bell push. It just says 'R. Magritte'.
Magritte died in August 1967 and was survived by his widow Georgette, who in the mid-eighties held a series of studio sales. At the final sale, Linda bought a mixed lot, including Magritte's old double-sided easel, as a Christmas present for Paul, who had started painting himself in 1983. It came with a few blank canvases, some brushes, his palette and a small painting table with a drawer and a shelf. There was an old paints box full of wedges for stretchers, tubes for tablets which originally contained cortisone and other drugs he needed but which he had re-used to store tacks and paperclips. There were even boxes of charcoal labelled 'tres mîu', 'dur’ and 'tres dur' in his distinctive cursive hand. Somehow Linda managed to keep it a secret until 25 December.
Paul was delighted.
It was lovely. I use the easel. It was very intimidating the first time, massively intimidating. What was most intimidating was putting one of the canvases on the easel; a beautiful linen canvas with a beige-coloured back whereas I'd mainly used white Winsor & Newton canvases. This was a more pro canvas. A Belgian canvas. I felt I had to paint guys in bowler hats or roses filling rooms or something. Then I thought, What would he have wanted? He would have wanted me to use it. Go to it, my son. Paint it! So I did one of my comic characters and painted away and felt great about it. It got over the block immediately.
I've got his spectacles too. I've recently had the spectacles mended because they are so fabulous, just round horn-rimmed spectacles. I mean, they themselves are icons. And you know what? They work great if I'm ever having trouble with fine print. I was warned by the optician to come back when I was forty-seven. I have been fighting it, I can still read without glasses, but if it's Middlemarch, there's an awful lot of words on that page. Or the fine print on certain shampoo bottles, then I have to either borrow Linda's specs or go to Monsieur Magritte's, which work perfectly. It's quite trippy because I'm such an admirer of his.
Magritte was to provide one of the images that are for ever associated with the Beatles.
PAUL: It always seems to have been summer. All the memories seem to be of gardens, leaves in full bloom, grass very long, flies in the air, things humming. And I remember one of those times. I was out in the garden at Cavendish Avenue with a camera team filming Mary Hopkin and we were down by the folly at the bottom of the garden when Robert arrived and was let in by the housekeeper. When we came in he'd gone, but the big door to the garden was open and there on the table in the living room, Robert had propped a Magritte against a vase. A Magritte painting of the big green apple which we were later to use as the Apple.
Íàçàä ê îãëàâëåíèþ
That's where it all came from, this one painting; a big, beautifully painted green apple in a frame. And written across it, in his beautiful Magritte writing, on one of his lovely brown backgrounds, it says, 'Àu revoir.' Robert knew I'd want it, knew we could come to an arrangement about the money, and he just propped it up there and left. That's conceptual! That's cool. He knew it was safe. He knew we were out there and he didn't want to disturb us, so that was probably Robert's greatest conceptual deed. I still remember the glee of walking in and going, 'Yeah!' That would be a magic moment in anyone's book.