Indica Books 1965 – 1970

After we had been at Mason’s Yard for a bit, it became obvious that the gallery needed ground floor space and that the bookshop needed to be somewhere with passing trade. Fortunately John had met Chris Hill, who happened to have a bookshop on Southampton Row, one block from the British Museum. After some financial talk, and an injection of cash from Paul McCartney, we moved the bookshop to 102 Southampton Row and made Chris a director on MAD Ltd. The shop was 90 feet long so we only shelves the front half, not having enough money to buy enough books to fill that much space. I’m sure John was pleased to see us go: bookshops are inherently messy places, whereas art galleries are essentially white cubes, as clean and uncluttered as possible. At the gallery we had more display space in the back and at first, at least, the gallery used this for overflow exhibitions or for large works such as the Bashet brothers’ musical sculptures, inventors of the aluminium piano, the inflatable guitar and various other experimental instruments which also worked as sculptures. In 1966, when we had the show, Francois and Bernard also exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The drawback to all this was that the public adored them: they played them interminably until Ann, the shop manager, restricted the time allowed because it was driving her and Nick insane.

The bookcases were tall, the top shelves being used for concealed lighting and the shelf before for overstock. Joining the tops of the cases across the space was a ceiling made from strips of Mellonex, a plastic silver foil, like kitchen foil, that shimmered when the door was opened and people moved around and reflected the light. It was all very modern and, looking back, very sixties.

The shop had a large basement with a room off it where I had my office. In the back, accessible only from the entrance to the main building, were three more basement rooms, but they were very, very dark and difficult to access. We gave one to Alexander Trocchi for his Project Sigma, but he hardly ever used it. Similarly The Jeanetta Cochrane Theater, which was at the end of the street, rented another to house their script library, which was quite bulky, but we hardly ever saw them. In the main front basement, in October 1966, the International Times (IT) had its office, paying rent in the form of bundles of newspapers. They were there for a number of years, surviving a nasty police raid where every piece of paper including the phone books were seized, along with staff members’ address books and all the back issues. The raid was designed to put the paper out of business. The police kept everything for three months without bringing any charges – it was the corrupt Obscene Publications Squad we were dealing with – then they brought it all back in a lorry and threw everything down the stairs. People wonder why the hippies hated the ‘fuzz’; it’s because they were a bunch of fascist thugs who behaved as if they were in East Germany, knowing that the English middle classes would never believe for a minute that the police would do such things; ‘Evening all!’

The crumpled photograph of me standing in the window of Indica in 1967 arrived through the mail one day, with no envelope, no indication as to who took it or sent it. I must have been aware of it being taken but couldn’t remember. I liked it so much I used it as the cover of my In The Sixties book.