Savage Pencil is the nom de plume of English music journalist and comics artist Edwin Pouncey, who was born in Leeds in 1951.
Edwin Pouncey has contributed to magazines such as Sounds, Forced Exposure and The Wire. He has illustrated record sleeves for bands such as The Fall, Big Black, Sonic Youth and Rocket From The Crypt amongst others. He was also the lead singer of The Art Attacks, a band he formed while studying at the Royal College of Art in 1977 with Steve Spear, another RCA student, and Marion Fudger, a member of the Spare Rib magazine collective.
The following interview was conducted in Edwin’s studio on the 24th March 2010.
Afonso Can you tell me about the Art Attacks, how they came about?
Edwin Art Attacks was a project, like an art project in a way. For me anyway, in my mind. There were people with aspirations for it to be a proper rock back, and go on and have a proper rock and roll career and everything, but I just found myself getting more and more dissatisfied with the whole idea of playing the gigs, deal with really terrible ghastly people who put the records out. And although I really loved the people I was working with, the passion, I don’t think we were that fascinated with what people were calling us either. They were calling us a punk rock band. I wouldn’t really say we were that, I was more interested in making words and Steve was interested in producing music from these instruments that he’d handmade, in the furniture department [of the RCA]. He made his own guitars. All of this was something that everybody else couldn’t care less about. All that people ever see is, you know, this punk rock phenomenon. And we were always saying we weren’t really interested in punk. Punk is a very limited music. It’s got this rush, this energy but it only last for two, three months tops and then forget it, really. When I had to return to the records, I always thought how dated they are in comparison with something like Led Zeppelin or something. I can listen to them over and over again, but punk rock was almost stamping it out there and then.
A Do you feel the same about bands like The Clash?
E Yes, awfully dated. London Calling is such establishment now. It’s like the establishment swallowed it all down, it’s not underground at all.
The bands that I think were really punk were the ones that are in Stewart Home’s Cracked Up Pretty High book. Those were the bands that were substrata, that weren’t looking for huge amounts of money from EMI, they were just soldering on, they were excited by the idea of being able to do it, and did it, and then faded away. On to the next project. I just found myself thinking “If I’m not really careful, I’m going to end up an alcoholic.” I was to the point were I was drinking Pernod and couldn’t sing anyway and falling off the stage. And I though, well, if I can’t even do what I’m supposed to be doing, why do it at all? I was just spiraling away from what I was supposed to be doing, my Art degree. So I packed it in.
A So is that why the Art Attacks ended?
E In a way. I didn’t want a future in it. It probably wasn’t good enough to have a future. Unless your heart is really in it, what’s the point? I was interested in my lyrics, and was really interested in working with Steve and Marion, and everybody else, doing this thing. It’s kind of interesting to do this kind of project. In my brain, the words I was writing were images, I was creating an image but by using words. I thought they weren’t so much lyrics as they were dadaistic poetry. I was trying to get more and more obscure, I wasn’t interested in yelling on about policemen, how horrible society is or any rubbish like that. I was more interested in telling stories, like writing a comic, a script for something. Neutron Bomb tells the story of this nerdy kid who doesn’t have any girlfriends and decides he’s going to make himself a neutron bomb. So he decides to set it off, and he wiped out everything but kept all the furniture in his parents’ house. So he then moved in with his girlfriend and lived there. That was the idea of that, wipe all the old stuff, all the old things that were holding him back, his parents and his miserable existence, just wiping it all away but still keeping this house with all the furniture in it. I Am A Dalek is about a real life event, when I left school and worked in a department store. They put me in a dalek suit and made me be a dalek. But that was mainly really about, which was a common theme throughout the punk movement, the fact that we were trying to find our own identity. You felt like your identity had been taken away from you and had been replaced by this robotic one. And all of the sudden, the robot inside started rebelling. That was really what that was about.
A That’s what interested you in punk?
E Telling stories, yes. Very very New York Dolls based, in a way. Rat City was mainly my thoughts about how revolting I thought London was, but how alluring too, I couldn’t really get out. I still feel the same, still looks like a rat city to me, but where else is there to go? But I didn’t really expect it to be taken to heart, or looked upon as being posed as wisdom or anything. It was just sheer entertainment.
A Did you know Pere Ubu at the time?
E No, I wish I had. Because these were the records I was really interested in. The UK scene I thought was pretty whack, pretty dumb really. Compared to what, say, was coming out of Ohio or something like that. Bands I really loved were Devo, Pere Ubu, all those sort of clay bands. You know, Ohio people like Tin Huey and things like that.
A Pere Ubu and Devo always get associated with punk, but they’re not really.
E No, it’s something else, it’s fantastic. I got those singles when they came out and I said “I don’t really want to listen to Subway Sect, I’d rather have Devo.” And I still have those, whereas all the other stuff I got rid of. I don’t really want to ever get back the Sex Pistols or Clash albums, I don’t really need them. I never felt that close to them, really. Although I really did like seeing the Sex Pistols live. I used to go down to the 100 Club to see them live when nobody was there. They would play there every week. That was part of the culture as well, suddenly you would notice this thing was happening, around 1976, you’d go to the West End and you’d notice some buzz was going on.
A You did a cover for The Fall in the 1980s, didn’t you?
E I don’t really know what to tell you about The Fall. I used to like them.
A So you don’t anymore?
E I don’t know. I don’t really listen to them anymore, really. I suppose it’s Mark E. Smith’s creation, so… I like him enough. Believe it or not, those are the records that I have kept. I kept my The Fall records. Got rid of all the other ones, but kept The Fall ones. I guess I was really honored to be asked by Mark to do that cover. I suppose it has become a sort of classic of its kind. They’re always referring to it, they use it on t-shirts without giving me any royalties. So somebody must like it. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that I was asked by Mark to do a cover and I thought that was fantastic. I was really pleased with it. I think he liked it.
A How did he find out about you?
E Because I think he read a strip of mine in Sounds called Rock ’N’ Roll Zoo. At one point I did a comic with him where he was being beaten by a skinhead and he says “why are you beating me up? I thought I was on your side.” And the skinhead replies “Because you’re different.” And he’s smacking him in the nose. And then on Dragnet, I can’t remember which track [Your Heart Out], Mark E. Smith sings “Don’t cry for me or Mexico, or Savage Pencil”. I thought that was quite funny. So I’m getting a name check on Dragnet, which is a massive honour.
A It’s probably one of their best albums.
E It is, I love that record. That and Grotesque. So then he saw this, and I suppose it stuck in his head. He thought it would be kind of funny if I did a cover for him. I think he said [imitating Mark E. Smith’s trembling voice] “I need drawings like monsterssss.” Or something like that. [laughs] So I don’t know if he liked it or not. I remember interviewing him for Sounds as well, it was a really good interview, we both shared our interest in H.P. Lovecraft and things like that.
A I wanted to ask you about the underground press. I know your parents owned a newsagent shop…
E IT never used to turn up there. It was never sold in newsagent shops. It was sold in head shops, hippie stores and campuses. Things like that.
A So it didn’t really reach that many people outside of London.
E I suppose I could have ordered it in. It might have appeared, but I doubt it. If my mother saw it, she would have torn it up into a million pieces. I would never have seen it anyway. I had to smuggle that kind of stuff in.
A Was IT well known at the time?
A But did your mother know about it?
E Probably not.
A So it was known amongst younger people, but it wasn’t really something parents would be aware of?
E I doubt it very much. At that time parents were scared of what was going on. You can imagine. They had come out of the war, they had done the best for their kids, they were trying to bring their children up in a proper way, and then they get to be teenagers and rebel against them and say “we don’t want your shit, your shitty war crap. Thanks a lot for saving the world, but fuck off. Now we’re going to grow our hair long and rebel against you and look like tramps. We’re going to overturn all your moral hang ups. And that will be it. Fuck off.” So you can imagine that they were a bit worried about that. It is kind of worrying, they thought they had put the world to rights, and we were unrighting the world again.
But I was never a hippie. I always considered myself a freak. Huge difference.
A Mick Farren always refers to himself and his friends as freaks, never as hippies. What is the difference?
E Well, you thought in a different way. It’s kind of going against that hippie ethos all the time. They would say “hey man, have a joint” and I would answer “no thanks, I’ll have a beer. Or a Nº 6.” You know what a Nº 6 is? It’s a stupid cigarette they used to sell. I remember this hilarious moment when this guy said “hey, you could roll our joints for us” so he gave me this big stupid lump of hash and I just put all of it in the joint and walked out. It was like setting off a bomb. [laughs]
A So is Mick Farren someone you consider a freak too?
E Oh yeah. Not a hippie at all. Free culture. You would think in a different way. You would listen to bands like Mothers of Invention, The Fugs and read poetry by Ed Sanders, things like that. And Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, even though he’s a bit hippie. But not too much. You wouldn’t read the Tibetan Book of the bloody Dead. It was a completely different trip altogether really. You were on this other underground level. And the hippies, just like the punks, were media fed. We would shun all that. Shy away from it. We were embarrassed by bells, and fucking flowers. Free love and rubbish like that.
A But the freaks and hippies are often put together.
E It definitely merged. I remember going to a gig in Holland and thinking “who are the hippies and who are the freaks?” It was the Deviants playing with the Pretty Things, a stupid band called Clouds and the Third Ear Band. I could never figure out if the Third Ear Band were hippies or freaks, but I decided they were freaks because they would just make this horrible drone noise thing that, if you were a hippie, you could sort of enjoy and chill out to, but it wasn’t really chilling, it was kind of nasty and witchy. So I decided they were pretty freaky. Someone showed me this poster the other day that had the MC5, the Pink Fairies, and Third Ear Band. I thought that was some mad bill. And that underlined the fact that Third Ear Band were freaks. But Farren… He did Phun City with the MC5, he organised all that. Along with Edward Barker, a brilliant cartoonist and an alcoholic. The Pink Fairies, they were not hippies, they were these wannabe bikers. I was really going for these guys more than for the stupid hippies. I didn’t want to listen to any bloody Melanie records. Or Scott McKenzie, or Beatles twaddle. I’d listen to the Rolling Stones, but I wouldn’t listen to Sgt. Pepper’s.
A What made you start publishing your own comics?
E I wanted to, I suppose. I felt like I should publish my own comics. If no one else was going to do it, I might as well do it.
A Technically, how did you do it?
E The first one I had it printed properly, at a printer. Then for the rest of it, I used guerrilla tactics. If I was doing freelance work at a magazine, when they would go home at 5pm I would just say that I had things to finish off, and I would stick my drawing on the photocopier, run reams and reams of copies of, staple them up and get them out there.
A Michel de Certeau called that “la perruque”, the tactic of using what is available to you at your work place to produce your own things.
E I always really liked the fact that these multi million pound corporation publishers were also responsible for putting out dirty comic books by me.
A Did you publish all your comics like this?
E Nearly, yeah. I used a mimeograph once. That was nice. And then we handscreened all the colours in it. But we got tired after about 20 copies, so only 20 copies of it exist. Some of these were based on how many I was able to get out of the machine before a cleaner walked in and found me doing it. So they could go from 50 copies to about 3. I had this idea that if I was a real publisher and this was your first edition, 3 copies would be your first edition and that would be it. And then you’d have to go into the second edition, but I wasn’t prepared to go into the second edition. So 3 copies would be what it was. The thing I used to do was to print books up. In Essex, I did this poetry thing and I hand typed all the poems, about 10 copies. I got the school secretary to type it up for me. Just because she said she would to help me out. I had them all hand bound in these silkscreened covers that I had done in the silkscreen department. There was this nice hippie guy working there, and he used to help me out with this stuff. He said, “Hey man, that’s really cool design, a big bat with swastikas on it.” [laughs] This was during the Three-Day Week period, when all the lights would go out after a certain time in the streets and in shops. They did it because Britain had gone broke, again, and they had to turn the lights off to save power. Everybody was walking around with candles, it was very Dickensian. Pretty nice actually. So I would linger on in bookshops, near the poetry department, and when the lights went off I would shove a copy in the poetry rack and leave the shop.
A Did you ever read Spare Rib?
E I did actually.
A Was it a publication you followed closely?
E To a point, yes. I felt very strongly attached to the feminist movement. I still consider myself a feminist. It was a bit weird because I’d go on marches and things, and everybody would look at me thinking I was probably trying to get in there. But it was nothing of the sort. I supported their cause. I thought women were being treated abominably. I didn’t really have any sort of camaraderie to my fellow males because I thought most of them were kind of stupid. All they would talk about was bloody football, getting drunk and vomiting in the street. And I couldn’t really get into that. But girls, I could talk to women about all sorts of things. So I felt close to them, and I still do, I still like the company of women a lot. Not on a sexual level, just because I like them as people. I was very into Germaine Greer’s writing, and I hated the stereotype that if you were a feminist you were supposed to wear thick glasses and have spots and a funny haircut, and be asexual. That’s how the press portrayed you. I thought that was wrong. Why shouldn’t you have the same rights as everybody else just because of you sex? And, really, it all started because it annoyed the fuck out of everybody else.
A How did you meet Marion Fudger?
E It was Steve [Spear, Art Attacks guitar player].
A Did you already know about Spare Rib?
E I didn’t, no. Not really. Although… I suppose I must have, because I was in the feminist marches in Colchester.
A Did you read the East Village Other at the time?
E Never saw it. I knew of it because it had underground comics.
A They were also doing their own publication.
E Yeah, that’s what we were trying to do, really. With the comics I was doing, I was trying to do that. Be an underground comics artist. That’s what I wanted to be. I read this magazine called Art and Artists that ran an underground comics special, that I had managed to buy from my mother. And that’s the only hold I had on underground comics. I’d never read an underground comic. It had a S. Clay Wilson’s fantastic picture of some sea monster that these pirates had caught. Thank god my mom never opened the thing, I would have never seen it. So when I saw it, I thought “this is really what I should be doing. I am an underground comics artist.” I made a vow. That’s what I was going to be. And then my parents would ask me what I was going to do, if I was going to stay in the department store, and I would say “probably not. I’m going to be an underground comics artist.” I thought they would be pleased. But they didn’t know what that I was. They thought it was stupid. But you know… I’m still doing it.
“At Spare Rib we were against the idea of experts — they came with the old format of journalism that we were trying to escape.”
— Marsha Rowe, The F Word, 31 January 2008
Marsha Rowe was the founder and first editor of Spare Rib, before it became a collectively run magazine.
Afonso How did Spare Rib come about?
Marsha I went to work for Deborah Rodgers, literary agency. That was part time. And it was at that point that someone called Michelene Wandor contacted me. She was married to Ed Victor, one of the people starting Ink, and she was poetry editor on Time Out. And I had heard terrible things about Michelene, as if she were a witch, but it was because she was involved in the very first women’s liberation movement, so what I’d heard was men’s versions. And she contacted Louise and suggested we have a meeting of women who worked in the underground press. And Louise mentioned it to me and I said yes. So Louise and I went ahead and organised one.
Time Out was seen as part of this underground press at that time. So there was Time Out, Ink, Friends, which was still going at that time, some women had done some things on Oz, IT… I don’t remember really, there must have been 20 women there. Everyone came. I knew most of them because of events and general gatherings, but I don’t think I’d met Rosie Boycott before. Rosie had been at Friends for a very short time by then.
At the third meeting I suggested starting Spare Rib, and Rosie said she’s do it with me. That was in November, and we then had a meeting at her place. And I asked “who can we ask? who else do we know?” So I knew Sally Doust from Vogue Australia — when I worked there she was Art Editor with Richard Doust, then he left to do another magazine and she was still there — and Rosie knew someone called Kate Hepburn, who was doing her MA at the Royal College of Art. She designed the logo, and she became the main designer on Spare Rib, and it was all part of her final year exhibition.
Sally had just had children, so she was only able to work part time, and she would often work from home. But Kate was there full time.
We asked a woman who’d done account things on Oz to be the accountant, but then she had twins. So another friend of Rosie’s, Rose Ades, came in to do accounts.
A Were Sally Doust and Kate Hepburn not involved in the meetings at first?
M Not at all. None of the women that started Spare Rib were from any of the small women’s liberation groups that there were in London at the time. There was at that time the women liberation workshop as a meeting area, and there a few women’s groups, but it was maybe 250 women at most. Very few.
Rose Ades was a student, just finishing. Marion Fudger, who came in to do advertising, we found her through putting an ad in one of the music papers. She’d been selling ads in one of these papers and was, again, a young woman disgruntled with her position. So no one was involved and I joined a political study group in which we read Marx and all those things, but I was the only one in the women’s group. And it actually took 4 years for everyone in the magazine to have a full commitment to the women’s movement.
A So at first they weren’t very committed to the political cause.
M Well, they were, but we didn’t know, there was no theory, everything was being evolved. So even writing… I wrote the first editorial, and thought “What on earth will I say?”
This was a change of consciousness by actually doing it.
I remember Richard Neville saying you just ask people you know. So this is what I did to get the first issues together.
A Were they people form the underground?
M It was a mixture. I did know Sheila Rowbotham who was publishing a book “Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World”. She was not famous in the way Germaine Greer was, but she was really the initiator of the women’s movement in this country. It was her idea to have the Ruskin History Workshop, the first meeting of women’s liberation. I knew her because she was with David Widgery, who was writing for Oz, and I’d met them at parties at Richard Neville’s. She was involved with someone else, another woman called Sally, and they were leafletting the night cleaners in London, trying to get a campaign to get night cleaners to have better wages and more security. She used to be on Black Dwarf and she had written for them saying “What are these men talking about”. That was her women’s consciousness moment. Men were outraged by what she wrote, they couldn’t get a handle on it.
I asked Michelene to write something too. But I just started talking like mad to everyone.
Then there was a Women in Media group set up. Time Out called this big conference in early 1972, January I think, on responsibility and repression in the media, something like that. And that had a lot of women speakers. It was about issues in Ireland and Vietnam, and whether the british press was giving enough freedom to these topics. Halfway through the morning women stormed the stage because it was male speaker after male speaker, and none of the women’s issues were being addressed. And I very nervously went on to the stage.
Out of that organisation, where women were saying “what about having flexible working” so you could encompass people of responsibility for childcare with working for television, they were saying very sensible things that are still being discussed. Out of that they started this women in media group and so there were women journalists and people working in television who had this group, and we then had a meeting with them and through that I met some journalists such a Bill Mooney who wrote something on women in prison a few issues later. I would find it very complicated, because I was very experienced in magazines but on the production side, and we were desperately trying to make our new life, as it were, and these women journalists had all managed to become journalists in that environment and they had a different way of talking and writing about everything. So, when discussing issues, sometimes they would write something beautifully, but often they would replicate old ideas. But we didn’t really know what the new ideas were. And that generated loads and loads of discussions. Plus, to get other articles, we just had to ask other women who’d never written before so it meant… I’m still learning how to write clearly.
At first, we didn’t even do proper introductions to articles. We wouldn’t say who had written the articles. It was my friend Lillian Roxon who wrote me a note suggesting we do introductions. She published the Rock Encyclopaedia in New York. She was the first to take rock music seriously. She was older than I was, she’s dead now, so she had had a tough time in journalism.
A Were you influenced by other magazines at the time?
M I was lucky in that because I was working in the underground press and thought of ourselves as a world movement, and sent each other all our issues and magazines. We began later to get the specific women’s liberation newspapers from America, and once or twice we used things from them, but not very often. The other influence on me was seeing that women in New York had taken over a magazine called Rat and they called it LibeRATion so Rat was in the middle, and they did it for 3 issues. And one of those women was Robin Morgan who became a feminist writer and poet. And that had been simmering away in my mind because I had seen that just a few months before and I thought “If they can do it, we can do it”. I think we saw those women in America as ahead of us. But then we’d all been influenced by the civil rights movement and the left was influenced by it too.
A What about magazines like Shrew?
M We bought Shrew. Shrew was published by a different women’s group every time. It was 4 women in the women’s movement and it’d been going for about 9 months. However, what we wanted to do was a magazine that would reach outwards, and have a dialogue with readers out there. We thought we’d been isolated from these sorts of political strands and wanted to do something different. Newspapers at the time had a women’s page. That was the whole of women’s life, that one page. The rest of the newspaper was so called “for men”. Ridiculous to think about it. Of course you read the news, but specific issues… The way I thought about it was that women read magazines, and if we wanted to attract women readers and have a dialogue about all this it had to be a magazine and it had to have the traditional elements of women’s magazines, like a beauty page, clothes…
A So you wanted to create awareness and you wanted to use these traditional forms as bait.
M Not bait, but because that’s where the readership would be and it worked brilliantly in that way. We would also publish lists of women’s groups, and women could get in touch with each other in that area. Often, Spare Rib was the only magazine or the only publication in a village or in a town that a women… I knew that my life had been completely changed by walking along the street and buying a copy of Oz from a news vendor.
Magazines, when I was young, were a way of thinking of another world.
Women’s liberation is about women like me. Not women who already have all the answers, or avenues for thinking about their lifes differently. At that point, a very small minority of women went to university or had further education. A lot of women in the movement had been inspired by the conflict between the fact that they had received further education but they went to work… So it was about changing the relationship between women and women and work, domestic life and childcare. It was very much about arts, and consciousness and imagination.
A Production wise, Spare Rib is very well done. Specially if you compare it to publications like IT and Oz. They’re a lot more amateurish in their production. Did you learn all that by yourselves?
M Well no. I’d been on magazines since 1964, so I knew about offset printing and the cheap way of doing this. But I also had the 2 years on Vogue as assistant to the production manager. I also had very specific ideas, since I’d been such a passionate reader of magazines, specially things like Queen and Harper’s, they were seen as the most sophisticated. I knew we couldn’t afford a huge fat magazine, so to stiffen it up was to have the news pages on different paper. I got that idea from Harper’s & Queen.
Then, to be seen to do something as well as a man, you had to do it twice as well.
For example, Oz came out when they were ready, when the new issues was together. It was totally irregular. And I though we had to be completely professional, we had to have proper distributors who will accept us, and we will come out on time, every month, and be a proper women’s magazine. WH Smith wouldn’t take us at first because of the whole Oz trials, but they did eventually.
This was the dummy, with the advertising rates
A Having a supportive man or husband, wasn’t very common at the time?
M I met a left wing guy, just after starting Spare Rib, and I though he could teach me all about politics. He was supportive, but he was also quite prescriptive. And because I was learning about socialism, I would sometimes, you know… There was an issue when I interviewed these women strikers, and I just put up a version of what he thought should happen. Which was terrible of me, appalling. And they got very angry. He was in International Socialists, now Socialist Workers Party. He’s dead now. He was all for shop stewards combining across the country to overthrow the… I don’t know, it was sort of revolutionary. It was revolutionary politics, I don’t think they meant to revolution at all, it was rhetoric really, but it was about changing power relations. It was a very different Britain in a way.
And I realised he was influencing me in a way, but I also felt that I was pushing things in Spare Rib because the others were not immediately involved in anything beyond the magazine. We all did go to women’s conferences eventually.
A Can you tell me a bit more about the sharing of tasks?
M At first it was just Rosie Boycott and me talking through the ideas for the magazine, and then we would have a weekly meeting and tell the others. Marion Fudger started to mutter a little bit that Rosie and I talked so fast that she couldn’t… We were all excited, and passionate, and we didn’t really think of them participating so much in the editorial because we were trying to do this professional thing. And then pieces started to come from America about collective work and there was the ethos of sisterhood and and there was also an ethos of not owning, of sharing… It was my suggestion to the women in the meetings to start the magazine, but I used to say “we”. I wrote the first editorial, but I didn’t sign it. Most of the pieces were from me originally, not all of them, because Rosie didn’t have so many contacts. I knew all the people to go to for raising money because of Oz and Ink, I never said it was me. So this is what we did, because we’d been so used to dominant leaders, so the idea of equality and sharing went to the extent that study papers for the conferences were often signed collectively, when ideas were being discussed.
So one came out about collective work, and I took this idea seriously and… Actually what happened was, around christmas time after the first issue, I went back to Australia for a couple of weeks to see my family, and I prepared one issue in advance. So when I came back I knew what was going to be there and Rosie wouldn’t be left alone. We appointed Rosie Boycott as assistant editorial or something similar. However, she didn’t actually take an editorial role in that way, for the content of the magazine, and I came back and there was nothing for the next issue. It wasn’t as if Rosie wasn’t quite as engaged. She will joke now that she was soft feminism. A couple of months later it led to a lot of disgruntlement in the magazine itself, I don’t think they felt that Rosie was there when I was away, in the way one had to be as an editor, and whilst I was away there wasn’t much prepared in advance. We just began to have separate meetings outside the office to discuss these things, very intense and exhausting meetings, and we had a vote and they appointed me as Editor, and Rosie as a News Editor. We tried to put a positive spin over it, we would expand the news section of the magazine, to have a women’s take on the news. And that was the way to publicise the anniversary issue. People would say “What on earth do you mean a women’s take on the news?” [laughs] I found that quite hard to answer at the time actually. But it worked, and there were more and more women doing things around the country, equal pay, all these issues.
But after about three issues of that, Rosie was just drifting away. She wasn’t really coming in. Our lives were turning inside out all this period. And I think she needed to find her own way. She started drinking a lot. She’s written since about realising she was becoming an alcoholic. None of us had realised this. So she was really drifting away, and more or less left soon after that end of the year. I was used to debating ideas with people and it didn’t really fit with the ethos of sharing with people, so I thought “Why not make into a collective?”
We divided up the subjects of the magazine, and it meant that everyone could have an integral role. So Rose Ades, who loved music, could stop doing just the advertising and she’d also become the music editor.
A So it was actually a conscious act, it wasn’t something that just happened?
M Oh no, I did it formally, by resigning as editor and forming a collective. And we worked out who would take what, and Rosie Parker would take Arts, can’t remember what Rose Ades took. We were already professionalising the magazine more, so we knew… Instead of just coming out of my head, what’s going to balance with that, what’s going to be an interesting issue, we had formal features. We’d always have a regular different main feature, and a different this column or that column. And I took work that I didn’t want to do, but I felt duty bound to take this issue of work.
A And what about the design of the magazine?
M Oh no no, that was Sally and Kate. But actually Kate had to leave, she was doing stuff for Monty Python and books, so we kept having to find new main designers who could work there all day. And actually, after four years, I think this woman called Anne Smith had a breakdown. So I had to design an issue once as well. And that was just the end of me actually.
But then we found the first designer who was consciously a women’s liberation person, I think we still weren’t using the word feminism. In those days, we associated feminism with the suffragettes, and academic feminism hadn’t really taken up yet. People were fighting for gender studies programs. It was just beginning, in 1975.
A But graphic design actually killed you. That’s funny. Was it that exhausting?
M Well, there were a lot of things. I’d been through the Oz trial, remember? And I also helped start Ink before starting Spare Rib. And starting Spare Rib was everyday of the week. Trying to find people to write things, going to meetings all the time, had to go to almost everything that was on in London. To know what was happening, to meet new women that could write stuff. It was absolutely fascinating, but at the same time we were doing mad things like multiple relationships, trying to not have jealousy. I was relating to two men, and they were relating to two women each. I mean, it was crazy, you look back and we were trying to remake ourselves anew, and it was all too much. [laughs]
We started off two colour. Blue and a deep Red. Looking back, it was blue for the boys, pink for the girls almost. Then we went into full colour, because we were persuaded by the distributors that that would help accept it and sell more. But it was far too expensive, so we had to go back to 2 colour.
A So you only went for full colour for about three issues?
M That’s right.
A This one is quite well known:
Every time I read about Spare Rib they show this magazine.
M Why do they do that? That’s Marion Fudger on the cover. She had really curly hair, but we were all straightening our hair in those days. That’s because he’s so famous.
A I find that the fact that you decided to become a collective, a conscious decision, I assume that a reason that arose from you just doing things in a very close relationship, but actually you started off copying this old model of an hierarchy with an editor and then you became aware of it and decided to overturn it?
M Yes. I mean I remember my boss Pat Mitchel, a wonderful woman at Vogue Australia, she was the first woman doing production in Australia and she used to have a lot of trouble sometimes with men in advertising who didn’t want to take her advice. She was a pioneer in her own way.
A It must have been really hard.
M She was lovely and I remember when she left in the evening she would said “bye children”, and it was sort of ironic. I said it once, leaving the office to Marion and Rosie and I could feel there was a “WHAT?”, they didn’t like that, and I wasn’t even thinking.
So, you know, we didn’t want to have secretaries, in fact that’s what everyone does nowadays with computers, you type your own letters, but because I fell so constricted into that role, we would all do our own correspondence, and filing although someone had to have the skills or be responsible to do something like accounts, we would all take the chores, so we took a turn each week cleaning the office.
A What I find most fascinating is that you decided to share all the tasks except graphic design.
M No, that did come in. Because those days it was still all cut out, big pasted up on boards, everyone ended up getting much more involved in what type size, headings and the images and what to chose.
A So there was an involvement in the design?
M Yes there was, but there was a person co-ordinating and making the final decisions. And everyone got to learn a bit but some people couldn’t do it. It was a skill, you have to be very good with your hands to do those paste ups and you have to have a flare for it, so it just couldn’t be easily collectivised. You still had people responsible for specific things, so right up to collective days, you had someone in charge with design, and someone responsible for music or features.
Your original question, you asked me about May ’68, before you started recording, to tell you the truth, ’68 passed me by. I was in Sydney and I saw these black and white newspaper photos of these Paris students, but I was very wrapped up in my life. I suppose I was at Vogue, I was wondering where my life was going because I loved working there and the people but it didn’t seem to have values to do with me. So actually it had no influence whatsoever on me.
A But when you came to London, did you feel like people were influenced by it?
M I didn’t learn about the influence of ’68 on them until I got to know them much better, and that was maybe two years after starting Spare Rib. I began to understand that so and so had been involved in the Agit Prop poster campaign and what that had been inspired on. The man I married, Chris Rawlence, set up something called Red Ladder Theatre Group, an Agit Prop theatre group, that is still going I think. It went round the country putting on plays. They did the women’s play, and I had taken my mother to see this play in the early days of Spare Rib, it was called “A woman’s work is never done” and it was funny, it was a good Agit Prop play, around the country.
A What was the relationship with your mother, with what you were doing?
M She quite enjoyed it, she had a laugh about it. But I really was this dutiful daughter, who wrote dutiful polite letters all the time to my parents, and never told them what was going on with my life. I did send them some Spare Rib issues, but we never discussed them, ever, and they never said anything to me about it.
A So you never really discussed the political issues with them?
M No, I left home to save myself in a way. I didn’t properly leave home until I was 21, but I sort of left at 18, 19, and they never came to visit me where I was. I pretended I wasn’t living with my boyfriend, we just lied, completely. I had a proper living as a dutiful girl and then this other life which was different.
A The fact that you never discussed these political issues with your parents, do you think it was because you were a woman?
M I was still probably quite angry, I wanted to go and have further education and they said no. I asked if I could apply to a scholarship to go to university and they said no, you have to go and earn money, you are going to be a secretary, that was it, there was no debate. So then I got a job at university as a secretary so I could go at night and pay for myself, but actually after a couple of years I just gave up. I was on Oz by then, and again it was all the time and I was with all these radical groups, there was underground filming beginning, we would put on our own discos, and I thought, “What’s the point?” All that seemed to me very dislocated too from the rest of everything, and also I couldn’t afford it, because I was also paying rent and everything. I mean, someone like Richard Walsh, who was the other person doing Oz in Australia, was putting himself through a medical degree by that time. His parents payed his fees, but he was working as a lift attendant to buy the skeleton for the course, because Oz didn’t pay anything. You had to work really hard.
A Was Spare Rib financially viable?
M There were lots of crisis. We would put on music benefits, I remember Joan Armatrading sang for us at the Marquis. Marion was brilliant about that. I think it was on our second year when we began to have music benefits. So it was always touch and go. But somehow it survived for over 20 years, but I guess after the Arts Council more money came in. I don’t know, because I wasn’t around and I didn’t like it so much. I didn’t even keep the issues, except the last issue. I felt so estranged from what I was doing by then.
A What happened, did a new team come in, or did someone from the old team take over?
M Gradually people would leave and join, Rosie Parker stayed a long long time, she was a wonderful stead fast person. Really terrific people. I left at 4 years, really, collapsed, basically, and by that time there was a terrific team, Alison Fell had joined and they were fantastic, and I knew if had been my baby it could now walk without me. And it could, and it did, and it was terrific. And people like Sue O’Sullivan, who was an american influenced by the civil rights movement, joined, and she was there a long long time, and she has done talks at the women’s library about it. So I had a loose connection for 10 years, because I was still writing of them, but I went to live in Yorkshire. First I went back to Australia, and I did the Anthology after 10 years.
So Spare Rib, we think of it as the daughter of the underground press. And none of those women in the women’s movement had anything to do with the underground press. A lot of women had maybe read Oz or something, but I don’t know, they never said so, and they wouldn’t have done this, because there was some other group of women who started something called the Women’s Newspaper, which was very like Shrew, black and white, they wouldn’t have appealed in a popular way or be on news stand or anything like that.
A What would you say that you took from the underground press, was it the self-initiative?
M That and the skills for how to run a magazine and what was involved and then, as I said, we wouldn’t have had the money if I hadn’t met all those people who supported Oz. Either they agreed as liberals to defend Oz at the obscenity trial, or they agreed to give money to start Ink Newspaper, because they too saw a need for a more radical, interesting sort of newspaper. The way newspapers are now, was a bit more like what we wanted something Ink to be. As far as I see it, most of the media has taken on most of the things we were trying to make happen then. It was a continuing in that sense, they were supporting another radical cause, even if they didn’t really know what they thought of this odd thing, these women’s liberation people, they were willing to put in 200 there, 400 there, you could buy shares. We set up a company and they bought shares. Rosie and I still officially own the name, Spare Rib.
A But is it just a formality, the shares?
M Yes, when it finally collapsed, I don’t even know what happened to the shares. I think no one got any money out of investing, I don’t think they expected to. It had to be formally closed, I suppose that all happened. They contacted me, and I could shoot myself in the head, right at the beginning we decided we were going to have minutes, so all this meetings, with all these passionate discussions were minuted, and I did not go back to the office and salvage those minutes, can you believe that? They’re gone! That would have been 20 years of incredibly history, they probably went into a skip. That’s how disengaged I felt from it. I felt really so estranged from what it had become at that point. There was a lot of hostility, the women’s movement became a fashionable cause over the ’70s, and then in ’80s and Tatcher and politics in this country swung around and there was a lot of hostility of no one. Feminism is a dirty word, now a new generation is picking up on these issues, and there seems to be a new interest. But it wasn’t to do with that, I just felt personally a long long way from everything.
A Do you feel the influence you’ve had?
M Well, no I didn’t, I never even used to talk to my daughter. I have a daughter who is now 30, married, about to have a baby. And I never used to talk to her in ideological terms, I thought if I just am me, she will be confident in herself.
It’s taken us several years to get over the ideas drummed into us at art school — like the idea of an artist having some magical quality — the creator. Deciding to work collectively is a way of challenging the idea of the artist as a self-engrossed artist.
See Red, interview in Spare Rib, issue 98, 1980
Spare Rib, launched in 1972, set out in its editorial that it intended to investigate and present alternatives to the traditional gender roles for women: virgin, wife or mother. It emerged out of the counter culture of the late 1960s as a consequence of meetings involving, amongst others, Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe.
I interviewed Marsha Rowe about Spare Rib here.
Even the last NHR Newsletter was guilty of joining the patronization and misrepresentation of women’s liberation, with the stale cliché of the “Grey-faced, shrill-voiced, bra-burning etc. cohorts of women’s liberation”.
Hazel K. Bell
— National Housewives Register’s Newsletter no. 19, Autumn 1975, pages 10-11.
Putting the Beatles back together isn’t going to be the salvation of rock and roll. Four kids playing to their contemporaries in a dirty cellar club might.
And that, gentle reader, is where you come in.
—Mick Farren, The Titanic sails at dawn, NME, 19 June 1976
Mick Farren was the singer of The Deviants, a proto-punk band formed in 1967, and edited International Times in the early 1970s. This interview was conducted via email.
Afonso My first question relates to your involvement in the International Times editorial team. I know you edited International Times on several occasions, but when I tried to find your name on the colophon of any IT, I wasn’t able to. I did notice, however, that some issues were mysteriously signed “Editorial Group” (like issue 66 of 10 October 1969). What was the Editorial Group?
Mick In the time line, I spent most of 1969 on the road with my band The Deviants. The Editorial Group — led I think by the typesetters — was the product of an internal coupe that put a bunch of psychedelic Trotskyites in charge for a few issues. They seemed to favor a Borg-style collective. It didn’t last. I became editor the paper in the summer of 1970 (after organizing Phun City) and remained for about three years until after the Nasty Tales trail at which I was a defendant.
A Some of those issues seem to be missing the colophon. It may be my ineptitude, but there doesn’t seem to be any mention of who the editor is anywhere on most of them. Was this deliberate?
M Not deliberate. Part was laziness. In the days of IBM typesetting and cut and paste layouts, mastheads were a nuisance. Edward Barker (cartoonist, IT art director) and I could lay out an issue of IT in 60 hours. If we had enough speed it might be 60 straight hours. Thus we didn’t screw around doing stuff like mastheads.
There was some bullshit “are we a commune or what” ideological debate — “don’t follow leaders” beware of personality cults. As the quality of work improved writers, photographers, and illustrators wanted their names on the their work and that seemed to cover it.
There was also a practical purpose to not naming the editor too noticeably. A copper’s first question is often “who’s in charge here?”. It was good to have the “I Spartacus” defense as an option.
A But it’s a nuisance previous (and following) editorial teams wouldn’t do without. So I would dare to say that, even though it may not have been conscious, it was a gesture born out of your distrust of a centralised authority.
Concerning the IBM typesetting system (was it the often referred to as the Golfball Typewriter?), would you say IT was specifically made possible by it? When did people realise the full potential of that technology for printing their own publications?
M You may be right about the lack of mastheads.
The IBM typesetter was a good deal more sophisticated than the golfball typewriter. It had a variety of fonts and could justify columns and all kinds of stuff. The underground press was definitely courted by IBM and used as a testbed for their products. (The machines went wrong all the time and radio repair guys rushed over to fix them 24/7). It had moved from letterpress to web offset and we were very involved in pushing the print technology as hard as we could. One example — when Felix Dennis was the driving force behind Oz, he even went so far as to design a simple attachment for the offset press that split the ink feeders and made rainbow colors possible. (Since Oz came out much less frequently than IT, they had more time to experiment, but we jumped on every new wrinkle.)
A Are these the rainbow colours you mentioned?
How did it all come together, the technology and your will to publish your own magazine? Was Richard Neville’s experience in Australia the main influence?
M That’s a very crude, early example. Later, ink feed splitting became much more creative and sophisticated.
This will probably get me into trouble, but Neville was not an influence. He was guy with a lot of charm and a flair for promotion, but he was not especially creative. Oz, which started publishing a few months after IT was originally designed as an Aussie, expat, Private Eye, and rather sneered at the counterculture until Neville had a change of heart. (Or followed a trend.)
The real motivation for starting IT and also pushing the tech was when we saw what was being done in the US. The yanks were maybe a year ahead of us and we could see the ground that was being broken by the visually gorgeous and ultra-psychedelic San Francisco Oracle at one extreme and the NY tabloid-raucous East Village Eye — that championed the Fugs, and ran Spain Rodriguez’s Trashman cartoon — at the other.
A Let’s talk a bit about your legacy. I don’t think we can do that without mentioning Spare Rib, which is often called the daughter of the underground press. I have the impression that a lot of the motivation to start Spare Rib came from the way women were treated inside the underground press. In a way, it was a reaction against you, even though it was also openly inspired by the movement you started. How was your relationship with it?
M Well, the women didn’t exactly make the tea at IT — we tended to drink beer anyway — but the guys were probably pigs. You really need to talk to Rosie Boycott or Marsha Rowe about Spare Rib. None of the women from IT were in on its launch so I was in no way an observer.
A Looking back now, the things you were talking about seem to only make sense if they were published by the ones who wrote it. But was this that obvious then? Was publishing IT and releasing Ptooff! yourselves a consciously radical gesture? Or did you simply do it because it was the only option available?
M The answer is both, and I think in equal measure. What we didn’t do was to modify what we were doing in order to be published in the traditional corporate way. The game — and the essential question — changed from “how far can we go and still be published?”, to “how far can we go and stay out of jail?”
The International Times (it or IT) was an underground paper founded in London in 1966. Editors included John Hopkins, David Mairowitz, Pete Stansill, Barry Miles, Jim Haynes and playwright Tom McGrath. Jack Moore, avant-garde writer Bill Levy and Mick Farren, singer of the The Deviants, also edited at various periods. It was was launched at London’s Roundhouse on 14 October 1966 with a gig headlined by Pink Floyd.
The paper’s logo was a black-and-white image of silent movie star Theda Bara. The founders’ original intention was to use an image of the actress Clara Bow because she had been known as ‘the IT girl’, but an image of Bara was used by accident and was never changed. The paper was forced to officially change its name to IT after legal threats from the Times newspaper.
The magazine was sold at gigs, raves and protests, and became a central force in social and political change. The ‘What’s Happening’ listings on the back page provided a noticeboard for the London counter-culture; it was a forerunner of Time Out, which launched the following year.
In April 1967, the police raided the paper’s offices; it was claimed this was an attempt to drive it out of business. IT held a fund-raising event on 29 April at London’s Alexandra Palace featuring Pink Floyd, Yoko Ono, Arthur Brown, Soft Machine, Tomorrow and The Pretty Things. The concert was documented by Peter Whitehead in the film Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London.
IT ceased publication in 1972, after being convicted for running contact ads for gay men, and again for a longer period in 1974, but merged with Maya, another underground publication, and was revived in 1975, continuing until 1982. IT resurfaced in 1986 into the 1990s. There have been a total of 209 issues. It was a contemporary of other radical underground London magazines, Oz, Friends and Ink.
Many people who became prominent UK figures wrote for IT, including feminist critic Germaine Greer, poet and social commentator Jeff Nuttall, and DJ John Peel. There were many original contributions from underground writers such as Alexander Trocchi, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg.
Read my interview with Mick Farren here.
‘Our front page is a found object,’ states the footnote. ‘We found it posted to the building that houses our offices.’ London pro-situationist group King Mob had posted the cartoon in a provocative gesture, now it was being detoured again and used as a front cover. It adds that the printers altered a swearword in one of the speech bubbles. The issue’s content includes a JG Ballard short story titled Why I Want To Fuck Ronald Reagan.
Bass player Marion Fudger would go on to work on Spare Rib and form The Art Attacks, along with Savage Pencil.
Just take for instance
a time of great depression
Fade out of reason
bad time’s in season
Don’t shut your heart out
Don’t cry your eyes out
Don’t cry for me, Mexico
Or Savage Pencil
I’m nearly healthy
And they try to take my eyes out
Friends try to work my soul out
But I don’t sing, I just shout
Heavy clout, heart out
Now here’s a joke
to cheer you up:
Old times no surgeon
Just magicians and dungeons
There they take your heart out
with a sharp knife
It wasn’t fake
They had no anesthetic.
That joke’s pathetic.
Just look at me
Too much speed
But very plain
You’re lucky, friend.
You’ve got one to take out
You know what I’m talking about!
I don’t sing I just shout
All on one note.
Sing, sing, sing, sing
Look at me, I just ding
Heart is out, out, it’s out
— The Fall, Your Heart Out
Feminist newsletter Shrew was set up in Bristol in connection with small groups of women meeting in the area.
The socialist ethic was evident in the magazine and in particular in the way responsibility for its production was shared. An early issue sets out how this worked, stating, “we decided that responsibility for producing the monthly newsletter should circulate among the groups, and that the chairman and agenda for the general meeting, and the month’s correspondence, should be provided by the group responsible for that month’s newsletter”.
Source 1 and Source 2
Rowbotham is a British socialist feminist theorist and writer. She was involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and various socialist circles including the Labour Party’s youth wing, where she was introduced to Karl Marx’s ideas. Soon disenchanted with the direction of party politics she immersed herself in a variety of left-wing campaigns, including writing for the radical political newspaper Black Dwarf. In the 1960s, Rowbotham was one of the founders and leaders of the History Workshop movement associated with Ruskin College.
Towards the end of the 1960s she had become involved in the growing Women’s Liberation Movement (also known as Second-wave feminism) and, in 1969, published her influential pamphlet Women’s Liberation and the New Politics which argued that Socialist theory needed to consider the oppression of women in cultural as well as economic terms.
Based in London, See Red (1974-c.1992) were a women’s screen-printing poster collective who set up with the aim ‘to combat images of the model woman which are used by capitalist ideology to keep women from disputing their secondary status or questioning their role in a male dominated society’.
Rosie Boycott is a British journalist and feminist. After working briefly for the radical magazine Friends in 1971, she co-founded the feminist magazine Spare Rib in 1971 with Marsha Rowe. Two years later she and Rowe became directors of Virago Press, a publishing company committed to women’s writing, with Carmen Callil, who had founded the company the previous year.
Morgan began publishing her poetry in the early 1960s (later collected in her 1972 anthology, Monster). In 1962, she married the poet Kenneth Pitchford. She soon became active in the anti-war Left and Women’s Liberation movement, and contributed articles and poetry to Left-wing and counter-culture journals such as Liberation, Rat, Win, and The Guardian.
She helped to create W.I.T.C.H., a radical feminist group that used public street theater (called hexes or zaps) to call attention to sexism. In December 1968, Morgan and other women staged a hex against both House Unamerican Activities Committee and the Chicago Eight; they argued that men in HUAC and the Chicago Eight played off of each other to portray the antiwar movement as the pet project of a few male “stars”.
Richard Neville is an Australian author who came to fame as a co-editor of the counterculture magazine Oz in Australia and the UK in the 1960s and early 1970s.
In late 1963 or early 1964 Neville, then editor of the University of NSW student magazine Tharunka, met Richard Walsh, editor of its Sydney University counterpart Honi Soit, as well as artist Martin Sharp. Neville and Walsh wanted to publish their own “magazine of dissent” and asked Sharp to become a contributor. The magazine was dubbed Oz.
During the life of Australian Oz Sharp, Neville and Walsh were twice charged with printing an obscene publication. The first trial was relatively minor, and should have been a non-event, but they were poorly advised and pleaded guilty, which resulted in their convictions being recorded. As a result when they were charged with obscenity a second time, their previous convictions meant that the new charges were considerably more serious. The charges centred on two items in the early issues of Oz — one was Sharp’s ribald poem “The Word Flashed Around The Arms”, which satirised the contemporary habit of youths gatecrashing parties; the other offending item was the famous photo (used on the cover of Oz #6) which depicted Neville and two friends pretending to urinate into a Tom Bass sculptural wall fountain.
Sharp, Neville and Walsh were tried, found guilty and given prison sentences. Their convictions caused a public outcry and they were subsequently acquitted on appeal, but the so-called Oz Three realised that there was little future battling such strong opposition.
In late 1966 Neville and Sharp moved to the UK and in early 1967, with fellow Australian Jim Anderson, they founded the London Oz. Most notable for the, then, longest obscenity trial in UK history regarding the publication of the Schoolkids OZ (May 1970) issue leading to the prosecution of Neville, Anderson and Felix Dennis, later overturned on appeal. London Oz ended in November 1973.
Phun City was a rock festival held at Ecclesden Common near Worthing, England from July 24 to July 26, 1970.
Organised by Mick Farren, the festival was notable for having no fences and no admission fees. It was not intended to be a free concert, but funding was withdrawn a few days before the event. Rather than canceling it, the organisers told the scheduled bands who turned up that they would have to give their services for nothing. Remarkably, most of the acts stayed on. They include the MC5, Pretty Things, Kevin Ayers, Steve Took’s Shagrat, the Edgar Broughton Band, Mungo Jerry, Mighty Baby and The Pink Fairies.
Pearce Marchbank is a British Graphic Designer. He designed several underground publications, including Friends and Oz, the latter having also seen him involved as a co-editor. This lead him to join Time Out to work on its identity and editorial structure.
Oz Magazine spread