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London Free School

Back to fast and loose (my dead gallery)





"After Trocchi compered the 1965 Albert Hall beat poetry happening (featuring Ginsberg, Logue, Horovitz, etc) the next key event in the history of the British underground scene was the London Free School. Inspired by American free universities (and the Victorian Jewish Free School in Spitalfields), largely via John Hopkins again, this proto-community action group was described as an ‘anarchic temporary coalition’ of post-Rachman housing activists (like George Clark, Richard Hauser, Rhaune and Jim Laslett-O’Brien, Bill Richardson and Andre Shervington) and the new hippy generation. To varying degrees of involvement these numbered; Hoppy, Michael, Pete Jenner, Andrew King, Michael Horovitz, Graham Keen, Neil Oram, Jeff Nuttall, Mike McInnerney, John Michell, Dave Tomlin, Felix de Mendelsohn, Julie Felix, Joe Boyd of Electra Records, the jazz writer Ron Atkins, the Warhol star Kate Heliczer, Harvey Matusow, the Beatles manager Brian Epstein and RD Laing.
At the inaugural meeting on Elgin Avenue the group announced that ‘the Free School
hoped to run some local dances, carnivals in the summer, playgroups for children, street theatre, and so on.’ Hoppy told me it was “an idea – it lasted for a few months and so many interesting things came out of it… it was one of the myriad things that went down in those days.” In his ‘Days in the Life’ interview he called it “a scam”, and “an idea that really shouldn’t be inflated with too much content, because there really wasn’t too much content.”

His main co-hort, Pete Jenner, the LSE economics lecturer-turned rock group manager, described it as either the first “public manifestation of the underground in England”, or hippy dogooding that amounted to little more than “a couple of sessions in some terribly seamy rooming house of Michael X’s.” But it started Notting Hill Carnival; at any rate, as explained by Jeff Nuttall in ‘Bomb Culture’;
‘Ultimately the Free School did nothing but put out a local underground newsletter
and organise the 2 Notting Hill Gate Festivals, which were, admittedly, models of
exactly how the arts should operate – festive, friendly, audacious, a little mad and all
taking place on demolition sites, in the streets, and in a magnificently institutional
church hall.’
In the actual London Free School building – 26 Powis Terrace/Hedgegate Court (a property of John Michell’s, opposite David Hockney’s studio) – by all accounts not very much happened apart from band practices in Dave Tomlin’s psychedelic basement.

Tom Vague