October 14, 2016

Less than a week after Cheltenham, I attended the Manchester Literary Festival where Iain Sinclair and I were in conversation, chaired by Doug Field, on the subject of the origins of the London sixties counter-culture, with a particular focus on the work of Jeff Nuttall. It was held in the extraordinary Victorian Gothic cathedral-like John Rylands Library and had mounted an exhibition of manuscripts and publications of Jeff’s there, including a hilarious letter by Jeff to poet Harry Fainlight and a few issues of his My Own Mag, the first cut-up magazine to be, itself, damaged and cut-up [holes in the page, burned edges, and one issue cut into eight and stapled to a backing page so you could read all the pages in cut-up form. It was important because William Burroughs was a regular contributor and ran a three-column newspaper-style text in many of the issues. In the end, Iain and I sort of agreed that Jeff was more of a precursor of the underground scene than an actual member of it: for a start Jeff hated rock ‘n’ roll, couldn’t see the rebellious or revolutionary value in it. His music was the trad jazz of twenties New Orleans and he sometimes honked away on a battered cornet to prove it. He also was opposed to drugs. He liked to sup his pint in a public bar surrounded by drinkers in flat caps. As he put it, ‘I’m for physiodelics not psychedelics’ and he hated the advocates of LSD and marijuana. The conversation was stimulating, as it always is when talking to Iain and we had a full house. Next day I saw my sister Jen for lunch who took me to Canal Street, the wonderful gay neighbourhood that I had not previously visited.

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