Graham Reid | | 3 min read
The British counterculture movements from the late Fifties onwards have been difficult to define and comprehend from our geographical, political and social distance.
The decade up to the Rolling Stones' ambiguous Street Fighting Man simply blurs into images of CND protests, poetry events, Richard Neville and the Schoolkids issue of Oz, Tariq Ali, Michael X, the Grosvenor Square marches and more.
Somewhere in there are Yoko Ono's art pieces, Pink Floyd, Maoists, Vanessa Redgrave and others.
The Seventies brought together feminists, anarchists, the hard left, animal rights activists, Rock Against Racism and many more under the broad banner of punk and post-punk.
Punk's greatest legacy perhaps lies not in the music but in the DIY (Do It Yourself) attitude which saw groundswell movements find much in common with others who felt disenfranchised and so began forming often unlikely alliances.
Then there were the drugs.
And the discussions in pubs around Baader Meinhof, the Red Brigade, neo-Nazis, skinheads . . .
There has also been a lot of humour in British counterculture, and certainly a healthy dismissal of the ruling classes or those who would pontificate from the House of Lords, their baronial mansions, on the BBC or from the pulpit.
Television programmes like This Is The Week That Was Was (TISWAS) refused to take these pompous buffoons seriously.
So you can draw a line from The Goons and David Frost through Oz and Private Eye to Monty Python, Viz and beyond.
Even within the hardcore protesters there was humour (check the banners carried during Trump's visit) and there's footage of Mick Farren of the Deviants talking about going to huge anti-war demonstration outside the US Embassy in '68 at Grosvenor Square . . . but the band wondering whether they should get along or just to go the pub.
For anyone looking for a readable, insightful, enjoyable and well illustrated peak inside the morphing British countercultures, The Generalist Archive is an eye-opener.
The key figure behind it is John May and he has written a blog for the The Generalist for 16 years. He has also written 18 books, was a freelancer at the NME ('75-'82) as “Dick Tracy” and “has had lunch with Henri Cartier-Bresson and Al Gore, tea with William Burroughs, been in a dubbing studio in Mayfair with Steven Spielberg and in a milk bar in Modesto with George Lucas – just a few headline encounters from hundreds of great audio interviews”.
His freelance journalism has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian/Observer, The Telegraph, The Sunday Times and numerous magazines including The Face, Wired and Co-Evolution Quarterly.
And he's a poet and painter and musician and . . .
Who better then to guide you through this left-field and underground history?
The introductory pages to the extensive site alone are worth looking at for the sheer diversity of the images, and there is contact link if you wish to go further.
You might still not be able to make greater sense of the diffuse and sometimes disparate threads of British counterculture and the related arts (was the Bed Peace event political, humour or a publicity-seeking waste of time?) but you will be better informed and certainly entertained by making the effort.
Check it out.
THE GENERALIST ARCHIVE WEBSITE IS HERE