Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Peanuts Club - a small part of Sixties counter-culture

Richard Wilcocks in 1964        Photo by Gordon Stevens
I have put up this memoir partly because there seems to be just a tiny amount of information about the club in books on the Sixties or online - I think it made a significant contribution to the counter-culture of the time - and partly because I would like you, if you were there, to share your anecdotes and observations. It is unfinished: after I have found a few more yellowing documents and retrieved a few more memories, I shall add to it. Perhaps you would like to put me right on something, or add something I missed. I am trawling things up from half a century ago, after all, and I did not keep much of a diary at the time. I would quite like to hear what you think even if you were not there. Email me here - wilcocks@ntlworld.com or use the comment facility at the bottom of this post.

Sixties Counter-culture
I do not remember exactly when I first set foot in the Peanuts Club. I would guess it was at some time in 1963, when I was eighteen and much involved, along with most of my friends and acquaintances, with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I lived in Romford, Essex, with my mother, who travelled to work every weekday at A. Jacobs & Sons in the Mile End Road in London. I was frequently in the big city as well, working in short-term jobs for various employment agencies as I marked time before applying to go to university, attending demonstrations and rallies in places like Trafalgar Square and listening to folk music, jazz or poetry in various pubs and clubs. One of these was the Peanuts.

The Kings Arms, Bishopsgate, East London
It was in the upstairs room the Kings Arms in Bishopsgate - the one that was demolished by developers that is, not the characterless replacement with the same name at the base of an office block - on the corner of Pindar Street just behind Liverpool Street railway station, just over half an hour from Romford. There was folk music on Saturday evenings, poetry and jazz on Sundays. You went straight up the stairs through the side entrance, paid, then entered a large room with a white sheet hanging at its end, behind the performers. On this was painted a large black ‘Ban The Bomb’ symbol, nowadays usually described as a ‘Peace Symbol’. Most, though not all, of the people there were supporters of one kind or another, and they came from far and wide. Most wore badges – often the CND one next to a black and white Anti-Apartheid badge. Stubs of candles dribbling wax, stuck in Chianti bottles, burned on each of about a dozen tables. The club dated from 1962, when the Labour Party leader, Hugh Gaitskell, had been booed and heckled at a May Day rally in Queen’s Park, Glasgow, after he had defended the Polaris submarine nuclear missile system, now known as Trident, based at Holy Loch on the Clyde.  He had described the hecklers as pro-Soviet “Peanuts”. The astronomically expensive subs are still based there of course, and have been in the public eye again recently (2021) because of the BBC police procedural mini-series 'Vigil'. Other badges worn included that of the Yellow Star Movement, an anti-fascist organisation allied to the 62 Group which had Jewish and non-Jewish members - occasionally, someone from it would stand up to invite people to travel to Ridley Road in Dalston to heckle the Union Movement (Mosleyite) fascists who tried to hold soapbox meetings there.

Jimmy Johns the founder
This had led to the formation of the club, at first just a folk music venue, by Jimmy Johns, a staunch CND supporter (and Vice-Chairman of the East London Society of Arts) who became its amiable compere. He was an effective organiser who could sing all the choruses, tell jokes, call for quiet (not always effectively) and introduce guests with appropriate panache. I sometimes sang well-known items (usually unaccompanied) on the Saturdays and read my poetry on the Sundays. Jimmy worked as an artist for some government agency which put out illustrated material making people aware of what would now be known as Health and Safety issues. His line drawings recorded various accidents: he once showed me a folder of some particularly hideous ones - accidents that is - all meticulous. A local man (born in Poplar), he lived not far from the club in Stepney with his wife Maria before moving to Writtle, near Chelmsford. 

Georg Buchne and Club Voltaire, Frankfurt
I was in a group with Jimmy which visited West Germany to join a march (‘Der Ostermarsch’) and rally in Hofheim, near Frankfurt in 1964, organized by the German equivalent of CND. We went on stage to sing at the concert afterwards as well. The visit had been suggested by a young German visitor to the Peanuts - Georg Buchne - who became fascinated by London's East End after encountering the plays of Arnold Wesker, especially 'Roots', which he admired. I stayed with Georg soon afterwards at his home in Darmstadt-Eberstadt where he lived with wife Else and son Ronnie - named after a character in 'Roots'. The following year in August and September, I stayed with Georg and family again, and with his help I researched and wrote an article on the (then) proposed German Emergency Acts (Deutsche Notstandsgesetze) which were fiercely opposed by a number of factions, including the German student movement. He took me to a new club in nearby Frankfurt which he considered to be the equivalent of the Peanuts. I was already in correspondence with one of its founders - Paul-Gerhard Hübsch - and had met him in Oberursel. It was called the Club Voltaire, and it is still there after all these years, described as 'a haven for poets, musicians, activists, and other liberal types'. I read my poetry and sang various songs there. 



Jimmy Johns and Oscar Tapper in elam, winter 1966 (issue 3/1)
Oscar Tapper and East London Arts Magazine
It was through Jimmy Johns that I met Oscar Tapper, who was connected with Toynbee Hall, a friend of Joan Littlewood, the author of a history of the Stratford Theatre Royal and founder-editor of the East London Arts Magazine. He was businesslike and eloquent, a large bear of a secondary school teacher who had been an actor. He volunteered his time for various causes, and wrote a play entitled 'Jack the Knife'. He commissioned me to write a poem and a couple of reviews for the ELAM magazine (though he was not particularly interested in the poetry performed at the Peanuts) and once introduced me fleetingly to Abraham Stencl (or Sztencl) who, I was told, wrote poetry in Yiddish and edited a magazine devoted to it.




The Peanuts Club on the Folk Circuit
As with most folk clubs, energy and nerve were the main requirements from those performing in front of the tables, and those sitting around them with glasses of beer were usually indulgently mellow, eager to sing along when required, which was encouraging for those who lacked confidence. Some of the singers and musicians were of the highest order. Most of the big names in the folk world passed through at some time. I shall mention a few. I remember a magical Saturday evening with the McPeake Family from Belfast (I have been singing “Will Ye Go Lassie Go” ever since), the deep, rich bass voice of Martin Winsor (“Johnny I hardly knew you”), the charismatic Redd Sullivan, an excellent cockney music-hall singer and sea shanty specialist, whose rendering of  “Green and Yeller – Henry My Son” was memorably hilarious and the ebullient Scot, Alex Campbell. The Peanuts was on the circuit, and all of the artists also appeared at other, more prestigious folk clubs like the Troubadour (where Winsor and Sulllivan presided) and Les Cousins of course. “We shall overcome,” was always sung at the end of the evening. The struggle for Civil Rights in the United States was in all minds, along with a fear of possible extinction caused by nuclear weapons.

Paul Simon and Kathy Chitty
Paul Simon sang at the Peanuts a few times, his sweet, earnest voice and American accent seducing his listeners into rapt attention. I remember 'Scarborough Fair' and 'Hello darkness my old friend' in particular, both specially coined for us in London, or so it seemed. He also sang at the folk club at the Railway Inn, in Brentwood, Essex, run by Dave McCausland and at the White Swan in Romford’s marketplace, which was run by Vince J. Docherty. I visited both of these on occasion, and knew many of the regulars well -– which included one Kathy Chitty, who sat behind the table at the door of the Brentwood club, a shy elf-girl taking admission money. Paul and Kathy fell in love, as is very well known. He would board the train from Liverpool Street after Peanuts sessions to get homeward bound back to Brentwood, where he lived with the McCausland family for a few months. It was the same one I took to return to Romford, which is on the way. Kathy now lives in Wales.

CND March from Aldermaston to London
Ilford Libertarians
Also on the way to Brentwood is Ilford. A contingent from that suburb patronized the Peanuts regularly, especially in 1966, some of them members of the Ilford Libertarians and readers of Solidarity, a loose group of mostly young men which was broadly anarchist, and which had made a name for itself by invading the local council chamber with leaflets on the futility of Civil Defence. 

Mike Osborne Trio
The poetry and jazz side of things began in early 1964, I am guessing. Alto-sax man Mike Osborne with either a trio or a quartet was more or less the resident, and Mike Westbrook turned up frequently to swell the band, sometimes with others. The dominant influence was Ornette Coleman, but certainly not the only one – Mike Osborne was an original. He was still playing at the Peanuts in the early Seventies. Band members usually included South African-born Henry Miller (bass), Alan Jackson (drums), John Mumford (trombone) and occasionally Lionel Grigson (piano). The poetry was added a little later, I think, given a substantial slot in the middle while the musicians rested. Poets were seldom officially booked – they just turned up – but there were regulars, including Jeff Nuttall, Tom McGrath, Bill Butler, Keith Musgrove and Heather Richardson. Bob Cobbing, George Macbeth, AdrianMitchell, Joe Shearns, John Moore, Calvin Hernton, Mike Horovitz and Pete Brown all contributed readings at various times. There were always chances for anyone to read, but as there was usually no microphone it could not be described as "open mic".

The Poets' Workhouse
In 1966, a loose organisation named 'The Poets' Workhouse' was formed which organised occasional special events, like for example the one on 29 May which was for Havering's 'Poetry One' group, consisting of Chris Briggs, Colin Fry and Tom Corbett. The only really large event organised by the Poets' Workhouse was not at the Peanuts but at St Pancras Town Hall on the Euston Road (now known as Camden Town Hall) on 25 April, when folk music, poetry and jazz all came together for a benefit gig - see the poster.

Poster produced by Housman's Bookshop

Stuart Bartholomew emailed comment (January 2020):

I actually appeared in the Poets House Rave at St Pancras Town Hall. Jeff Nuttall got me to ride the Greeves Scottish down the middle of the Hall whilst Mike Osbourne’s augmented band played with Mike Westbrook and John Surman on board. John Forster and I used to go to the Peanuts Club on Sunday evenings... Those were the days.



Professor Stuart Bartholomew  CBE DL



The outrageous Jeff Nuttall
Jeff Nuttall              Photo Layle Silbert
Jeff Nuttall I counted as a friend, and to a certain extent as an erratic mentor twelve years older than me: I was in awe of him, an energetic mass of joyful good humour, playfulness, amusing obscenity (depending on your definition) and word skills with an underlying deadly seriousness, a man who was naturally attracted to the outrageous. He drew, painted and sculpted, played the cornet and self-published, I was to discover. He was usually free with his (sometimes incoherent) opinions and words of wisdom, sometimes delivering fascinating diatribes on art and artists. He worshipped Picasso, was impressed by artists like Edvard Munch, Francis Bacon, Egon Schiele and Giuseppe Arcimbaldo, thought that the words of a poem are like musical notes, not much use unless performed, and that all artists should be active, engaged and absolutely honest, possibly even psychotic, resisting commercial pressures and generally opposing the Machine and the Establishment. Reading poetry was almost the same thing as playing a cornet.

He was annoyed at any attempt to categorise (he would say pigeonhole) his work, and described himself as an anarchist, but was not connected with any group, and did not refer to any anarchist theorists or historical figures like Kropotkin, though I believe he did some reading-up before he wrote the book he will be known by in the future - 'Bomb Culture' (1968). For him, the word meant that he was a wildly independent creative spirit. Jeff disliked folk music intensely, and asked me why I bothered with it. I did not mention that I also had a soft spot for opera, having performed with Essex Youth Opera a year or two previously, and that I had played the whole of Wagner's 'Siegfried' and Mozart's 'Magic Flute' on the record player at home, having borrowed the LPs from the library: that would have been so uncool.

Project sTigma
I wrote an article on the installation which Jeff contributed to - Project sTigma - in the basement of Better Books in 1965, and contributed to several issues of Jeff’s randomly extraordinary ‘My Own Mag’, once or twice unintentionally: he regarded any letter to him as a potential submission. I fell out with him for a short while at one stage because my youthful first love, Priscilla Beecham, was sufficiently attracted by him to leave me, shortly before the Commonwealth Arts Festival in Cardiff in September 1965 - see the paragraph below. Bill Harpe was the broad-minded organiser of this, and seems to have invited everybody he could think of. Jeff certainly spread the word, so I hitched down to Wales to join about twenty others sleeping on the floor of his allocated room in the Park Hotel. I remember a confrontation in a crowded Cardiff pub during which I attempted loudly to persuade Priscilla to stay with me, but she was attached to him for the next twelve years or so as muse, collaborator and lover, appearing with him in Performance Art pieces under the name Rose MacGuire after she moved to Leeds in the Seventies. I was living in Leeds as well, and was in touch with her, a kind of lost sister.

Tom McGrath
Tom McGrath I remember from intense conversations rather than from what he performed. After recently discovering the poetry of Rimbaud and staying in Paris for a while, I was eager to talk with Tom about the symbolists, Baudelaire and so on, about whom he knew more than me. He was an editor for ‘Peace News’ and published a few of my articles and poems, later joining the group responsible for ‘International Times’, before sickening of the London scene, where he had become hooked on heroin. He dumped the smack successfully and returned to Scotland, where he thrived.

Bill Butler
The tall, good-humoured Bill Butler always seemed to be amused by me – probably for reasons different to the ones I imagined. I connected him with Better Books on the Charing Cross Road, where I had first met him, the place where I had heard Allen Ginsberg read in 1965 shortly before the famous, hastily-convened poetry gathering in the Albert Hall. Bill was one of the managers of Better Books. I remember that he once recommended I should look into the work of William Carlos Williams, to extend my limited knowledge of American literature. On one Sunday evening, we both read friendly parodies of each other's work: he wrote one based on my prose poem 'Ham Sandwiches' which began "He comes! He comes with cracker crumbs!" It's a shame I did not ask him for a printed copy. Mine was entitled simply 'Parody for BB'. There were references in it to Icarus, falling from the skies and swans, which featured in one of Bill's poems. The reference to Icarus now seems like a sinister foreshadowing, because of Bill's terrible fall a few years later. Although current profiles of Bill describe him as an 'occultist' (he wrote a guide to the meanings of tarot cards in the Seventies) I never heard him speaking about anything in that area. He left the London scene for Brighton with his partner Mike to run the amazing, ill-fated Unicorn Bookshop in the same year, which stocked books and magazines unavailable anywhere else, and which was at the centre of a ludicrous but nasty obscenity trial in 1968, which cost Bill dear.

George MacBeth
The poet and BBC radio producer George MacBeth visited the Peanuts several times, and stood out, an Apollonian surrounded by Dionysians, unruffled. His work was sublimely well-structured, witty and formal, though he was unafraid of experimentation. He heard me reading and expressed his interest in one of my poems - 'The Yellow Peril'. I was invited to come to the BBC to record it for his show ‘The Poet’s Voice’ on the Third Programme (now Radio 3), which I did. I mentioned this to Adrian Mitchell, who gave me a kind of warning: “Do you know he’s an admirer of Gabriele D’Annunzio? He might just be a bit of a fascist.” In a library, I looked up D’Annunzio in an encyclopaedia, but could not find any translations of his poems. He might have been a bit of a fascist before his time, but George was certainly not one. Both Mitchell and MacBeth were amongst the performers in the Albert Hall in 1965. I read 'The Yellow Peril', retitled as 'Destructive Poem' at the Destruction in Art Symposium in September 1966. Yoko Ono was there as well: afterwards, she asked me what was destructive about the poem and I replied, “It’s about racism. That’s pretty destructive.” She seemed happy with that.

William Blake and Milarepa



I was recently reminded, by poet and music journalist Steve Turner, that I had organized a special evening, on Guy Fawkes Night in 1965, with the Venerable Sangharakshita, who was a Buddhist monk and a prolific religious poet. My contact with him was the result of a brief conversation with Allen Ginsberg, who knew him. He lived at the Hampstead Buddhist Vihara on Haverstock Hill. I spoke about William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience and he told me about the Theravada school of Buddhism as practised in Tibet. I decided that Buddhists seemed to be a bit like Quakers, of whom there were plenty in the peace movement. He chose to read some of the poetry of the eleventh century Tibetan yogi and saint Ujetsun Milarepa at the Peanuts, and I contributed readings from William Blake. It went down well.

The 1965 Commonwealth Arts Festival in Cardiff and the Vietnam Pig
This took place in the Jackson Hall and the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre. There were contributions from all three of the 'Mersey Poets' - Brian Patten, Adrian Henri and Roger McGough - from Al Kaprow, Jeff Nuttall, and from a 'happenings' facilitator over from Paris - Jean-Jacques Lebel, who was on a similar wavelength to Jeff. Lebel instigated an event which involved everyone bringing an object they had found in the street to barter for another one (I dragged a small tree along, which I found ready cut-down near some building works), but what I remember most clearly is the pig.

With the help of friends, he managed to borrow a large, black, Vietnamese pot-bellied porker from a zoo (what did he tell them?) and painted VIETNAM PIG in orange paint on its sides. It was somehow transported to a campus conference hall where it was put into a large cardboard box. Lebel was then asked to make a speech about the war in Vietnam and invited on to the stage. He said he was going to ask someone to speak for him, which was the signal for his friends to open the box. The pig shot out, running everywhere, squealing vigorously all the time, shitting, scattering chairs, jumping on tables and causing havoc. It escaped from the hall and then the campus, chased by people trying to catch it. It ended up by causing a traffic jam before it was rescued by the police and the fire brigade and taken home to the zoo. Lebel had made his point: the pig's squeals echoed the screams of the human beings under the napalm bombs dropped by the US Air Force in Vietnam.

Obviously, all of this is from my point of view, and I have inevitably left out people, incidents, references and much else. In addition, there were plenty of weeks when I was not there, notably when I was hitching around Europe and the old Yugoslavia. My connection with the Peanuts Club finished in the autumn of 1966, when I went up to Leeds to be a student at the University of Leeds.

I would love to read your memories - wilcocks@ntlworld.com

Mary Johns writes (June 2019):
Dear Richard,
First of all I want to congratulate and thank you for memorializing the Peanuts Club.  It appears you posted the pages 4th August 2016, just days before my father, Jimmy Johns, died.  He fell seriously ill in February 2016, and fought hard all the way to the end.


My mother, Sue, discovered your tribute to the Peanuts Club in the weeks that followed.  We have all stumbled on with life since August 2016, and have had to face other calamities, but there have been successes too, and joys to mark the way.  One of which was winning the campaign to keep the A & E department of Chelmsford Hospital open.  Currently they are rallying and marching to keep the Essex libraries open.  Andy Abbot, who is the main organiser, began attending Chelmsford branch Essex CND meetings and actions from the age of eleven.  He's a true stalwart.  The video (link below) is very moving , particularly towards the end where the children (who have been taken out of school that day by teachers / parents to protest) gather to sing.


I now live in London, minutes from the location on Mare Street, where my forebears, paternal grandmother, was born.  I'm hoping to make contact with Roland Muldoon, of CAST, & NATYs, to see whether he would be interested in Comedic / Satiric events to challenge the prosecution of Julian Assange.  The cultural world, but for a handful of individuals, is mute on this issue. Free speech, news gathering, publication, human rights and UK sovereignty are all at stake.  Yet the silence is deafening.

I was at the court hearing on the 14th.  It was shocking to see how frail, guant and lost Assange appeared.  Although he did his best to marshal his thoughts and refute the charges, his speech was painfully hesitant.  He has already endured seven years of confinement.  It is disgusting that a gentle, albeit hugely courageous intellectual is now incarcerated in a maximum security prison awaiting extradition.  

There needs to be a bold response.  Derision and outrage at this cruel process.  We cannot simply look on and observe, nor hold placards and shout, more is needed, far more. And I feel it must come from the arts, the musicians and the comedic artists in particular.  

We at least must try. All best wishes,

Mary. xXx


Mike Bartholomew writes (January 2020):
Dear Dick, I've been reading your Peanuts Club blog and congratulate you on documenting an important corner of the sixties counter-culture. My own memories go off at a tangent from what you've written, but you might be interested. I was brought up in London and was an active CND campaigner and lover of folk and jazz. I left London in 1963, and never, so far as I remember, went to Peanuts. But I was a keen follower of Mike Westbrook. When his big band, featuring Mike Osborne, John Surman, Malcolm Griffiths (trombone) and others was in full flight, it produced some of the most exciting jazz I've ever heard. A wonderful band.

My main reason for contacting you, though, is the Jeff Nuttall connection. I was in Barnet CND and Jeff lived in Barnet with his family, so I got to know him well - even though he was a dozen or so years older than me. (Maybe the same sort of relationship that you had with him.) I used to go to the Nuttalls and, as a working class lad from a completely culture-free background, was bowled over by Jeff, and by Jane, his hard-done-to wife. I was babysitting for them (they had 4 children) on the evening when the Cuban Missile Crisis reached its climax. We all thought we'd had it, although Jane was more composed.

I hitchhiked to Birmingham with Jeff to the Centre 42 opening festival. (It was a short-lived venture, sponsored by the TUC, to bring arts events to various venues). Jeff and I trudged from pub to pub where, in upstairs rooms, we saw Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale, with a parallel version by a Jazz group, and, later a big-band gig led by Tommy Watt. It was all good stuff, but somehow had no connection with the explosion of working class music that was coming from Liverpool.

Much later, when I moved to Leeds I made contact with Jeff again. He was starting one of his many bands and I joined as a guitar player. We had a residency at Parker's Wine Bar in the legal area of Leeds and played at various pubs all over West Yorkshire. Jeff was no Louis Armstrong, but he had a good sense of tempo and had a repertoire of wonderful tunes. I loved playing with him.

I lost touch with him again, but met him from time to time. One aspect of his output that has not, so far as I know, been recognised, is that alongside hiis wild painting, poetry, happenings and such, he was in touch with the English pastoral tradition. He ended up, towards the end of his life, painting watercolours of the landscape of the Welsh borders, where he was born. A mercurial, unforgettable character. I can see him now, ranting away at some wild event, but equally I can remember evenings at his house where he would read aloud from John Masefield's The everlastng mercy.

I'll not have told you anything that you didn't know, but your blog summoned up a few memories.

Best wishes
Mike

Paul Bowdidge writes:                                                                     20 Feb 2021
 I was in college in Portsmouth from 1962-65 and used to work in London during the summers as well as hitching up at weekends if there was nothing happening. I first heard of Peanuts on an Aldermaston march and it became a must go to place if I was in London. I was very much into the Committee of 100 faction of the ban the bomb movement and have many happy memories of Peanuts as somewhere to spend evenings with like minded friends and often slept on the floor of flat just off Cable Street, along with anybody who else who knew Barbara and needed shelter for the night. I remember seeing Paul Simon there (and also at the Troubador with a girl who has been my wife for the last 52 years) and Alex Campbell was a great favourite. I found this site after finding an entry in a 1963 diary about a fantastic night at Peanuts and was trying to think of the name of the pub...so Googled Peanuts/Bishopsgate. Great memories of the days when we were going to change the world......

Patti writes:                                                                                         2 Jan 2021
I went there several times with 5 other friends x I remember someone called Oil Drum Dave because he apparently lived in one. People used to bring their instruments and play x great times 
 
 
Rory writes:                                                                                       16 Nov 2020
Dear Dick, I'm amazed and very pleased that this site exists. I was thinking back to my early youth and typed "The Peanuts Club in the 60's" and there it was. I started going there when I was 15 in 1966, with my sister Maeve, who was a year older than me. The club was a major part of my world for some years. I remember Del Foley and the anarchists. They threw some good parties. I met my first serious girl friend there about 1972, Anya. We had a daughter, Honey. Thanks for putting this site up.
 
 
Mike T writes:                                                                                      21 Aug 2020
I started going to Peanuts about 64/65. I heard about it from marchers on CND rallies. Always enjoyed the singing, a performer knew they were good if the noisy crowd went quiet until it was time for a chorus!I thought Hugh Gaitskill said ' These people are nothing, they are just Peanuts'and that was how the club got its name.  I knew Jimmy well and even stayed at his house once or twice, sorry to hear of his passing. I also knew Ken May, both from Peanuts and other folk clubs and in Padstow. I helped on the door on occasion for both Jimmy and Ken. After a time I sometimes ran the bar for the club as well as on jazz nights and for the teddy boys club nights.The pub was run by Len and Sylvie Alfred who lived in with their daughter.
Anon writes:                                                                                            3 May 2020
It is so lovely to find this site. And to see the comment from Mary Johns. I was sad to hear of the passing of Jimmy Johns. I hold a very beautiful drawing of his, that was bought in London Fields, of London Fields in about 1900. Having been active myself politically, I was hoping to find some exhibitions of Johns's art, but so far unsuccessful. All the best. 
 
John Forster writes:                                                                               30 Apr 2020 
Mike Bartholomew's (see above) brother Stuart and I were, and still are very close friends. In 1964-65 we regularly went to Peanuts on a Sunday evening, having ridden there, he on his Capriolo and me on my Mobylette. We lived in different N.London suburbs, and so to us, two errant sixth-formers who met at a pretentious Grammar School, it seemed very different, alternative and daring. Some of the readings seemed really sharp and incisive, others more obscure. The music too, to ears more used to early Stones and the Mersey sound, was almost always challenging, but as with the poems, so frequently beautiful that we went again and again. What's more, we knew we were learning stuff! In September 1965 I left London and went to Cardiff Art College. I remember the Commonwealth Arts Festival very well. The Poetry readings were part of a massive multi-cultural event, with many nationalities represented performing plays, music and dance, as well as visual arts of various sorts. It was truly amazing. I was 18, and I remember an equally young, quietly spoken Brian Patten, weaving his spell on us all with his carefully honed turns of phrase, followed by the gentle humour and wonderful tones of Roger McGough, and then the more rambunctious Pete Brown and his dramatic delivery (who would have thought that in a couple of years he would be lyricist to the most famous rock trio in Britain, or fronting his own band, Piblokto, with the wonderful Chris Spedding on guitar). What a line up it's turned out to be that we were seeing, though none of us knew at the time. 
 
I remember one evening, after first the poetry and then the pub, we all trekked off on foot down to Tiger Bay to a tiny Cellar Club where the poets carried on reading and reciting until the early hours of the morning... wonderful. I was also at the event/happening in Cardiff with Jeff Nuttall and yourself. I, like you, picked up something on my way there... a big block of bitumen left by the side of a road repair site. It was about 20cms square, not quite a regular shape, very black and very glossy. There was a musician over from New York, called Phil Corner (maybe spelt Korner?), who is still known of and around in NYC, last time I looked. We all stood in a queue from the entrance to a long table where he was bringing a microphone into various sorts of contact with the objects presented. The resulting sounds were relayed around the hall on a PA sound system, at what seemed at the time, an unprecedented volume, especially if, like me, you'd been playing gigs with a band through a Vox AC 10. Various other things were all taking place at the same time, including a dishevelled Jeff N dancing on a table at one point. It was wild. 
 
In 1982/3 I came to be in Australia, in Melbourne, teaching Fine Art at one of the art schools there, and I had a show in a gallery called the Axiom. At the opening I saw a familiar face; Jeff N was there. He looked well-heeled and smart. He was over having been invited to another art institute to lecture. We spoke at length and reminisced about loads of mutual things, including all the above, and Mike and Stuart Bartholomew. It was terrific, all the better for being unexpected, and so far from home. But I couldn't spend the latter part of the evening with him, which I think we both would have liked. We spoke the next day on the phone and he flew out a couple of days later. I never saw him again.

 

16 comments:

  1. Thank you for this, loads of wonderful memories of the club and the people who were there. I was from the Ilford crowd and knew Del Foley and Ron Bailey.

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    1. Fantastic. Hi Richard and Phil. Its Ron Bailey here. I can add many memories over the next few days or weeks but for now just a note to say I've got some reel to reel tape recordings of the
      More soon

      Ron Bailey

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    2. Great to hear from you, Phil and Ron, after all these years! Send paragraphs of memories. This page can scroll down for a few more yards.

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  2. Fantastic. I will say more over next days and weeks. But for now - Hi Dick, Hi Phil. I still have some old reel to reel tape recordings of Del and I singing at the Peanuts

    Ron Bailey

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    1. Could the tape recordings be digitised into wav or mp3 files?

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  3. Around 1969-72 I used to get the train from Gloucester to London to go to the jazz sessions led by Mike Osborne, which I think were on Fridays. There was a blanket behind the stage with PEANUTS against a backdrop of badges. I ordered a half of bitter, found a table and settled in for the amazing music. Ozzie and Harry Miller and Louis Moholo were the core, with regular contributions from the likes of Alan Skidmore, Harry Beckett, Mongezi Feza, Marc Charig and visiting players like Noah Howard and Joachim Kuhn (there must have been a piano but I can't picture it). Amazing stuff. Then it was the milk train back to normalsville back in Gloucester!

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  4. hi Richard , I first went to Peanuts with Doug Bales around 1964. I think the resident singer then was Nick Harrison ? Doug used to go on CND marches also Nick Harrison. I went back in 1968. Went on to around 1978 when it closed . I played there several times . Also went to Jazz on Fridays with Ossie etc. Have cassette tapes of some nights from 1974. Great jam sessions , most of the Brotherhood of Breath used to be there some nights ,about 12 players. I remember Ken May who then ran it getting a piano up there for Stan Tracy to play ! The folk night always ended with a house party somewhere, sometimes did not know who or were it was , everybody just went ,and usually sang ang played all night. Went twice to Ron Baileys for New years eve party's in Leyton . Had Jimmy Johns in my car one time and he kept saying " would you do that ?" I said do what ? He wanted me to get a rock band together to start a rock night up there. But it did not materialise. Great times back then .

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    1. I could have met you in 1964, but what's your name? I remember one or two house parties, including one in Cable Street.

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    2. I only went there a couple of times mid 60's . I was a regular after 1968 till it closed in 78, so you would not have known me .

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  5. As you mentioned above I attended the Nov 5 1965 event. It was a big moment for me. I'd never been to a poetry reading before and hitchhiked to London with my mate Andy and spent the night in Soho before hitching back home. Your reading from Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience stirred something in me and made me want to do the same to others through poetry. I've since published four books of poetry and five poetry collections for children and have given readings here and in America. I've also worked as a journalist and author. Thanks Dick!

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  6. John Forster

    Mike Bartholomew's (see above) brother Stuart and I were, and still are very close friends. In 1964-65 we regularly went to Peanuts on a Sunday evening, having ridden there, he on his Capriolo and me on my Mobylette. We lived in different N.London suburbs, and so to us, two errant sixth-formers who met at a pretentious Grammar School, it seemed very different, alternative and daring.
    Some of the readings seemed really sharp and incisive, others more obscure. The music too, to ears more used to early Stones and the Mersey sound, was almost always challenging, but as with the poems, so frequently beautiful that we went again and again. What's more, we knew we were learning stuff!

    In September 1965 I left London and went to Cardiff Art College. I remember the Commonwealth Arts Festival very well. The Poetry readings were part of a massive multi-cultural event, with many nationalities represented performing plays, music and dance, as well as visual arts of various sorts. It was truly amazing.

    I was 18, and I remember an equally young, quietly spoken Brian Patten, weaving his spell on us all with his carefully honed turns of phrase, followed by the gentle humour and wonderful tones of Roger McGough, and then the more rambunctious Pete Browne and his dramatic delivery (who would have thought that in a couple of years he would be lyricist to the most famous rock trio in Britain, or fronting his own band, Piblokto, with the wonderful Chris Spedding on guitar). What a line up it's turned out to be that we were seeing, though none of us knew at the time.

    I remember one evening, after first the poetry and then the pub, we all trekked off on foot down to Tiger Bay to a tiny Cellar Club where the poets carried on reading and reciting until the early hours of the morning... wonderful.

    I was also at the event/happening in Cardiff with Jeff Nuttall and yourself. I, like you, picked up something on my way there... a big block of bitumen left by the side of a road repair site. It was about 20cms square, not quite a regular shape, very black and very glossy.
    There was a musician over from New York, called Phil Corner (maybe spelt Korner?), who is still known of and around in NYC, last time I looked. We all stood in a queue from the entrance to a long table where he was bringing a microphone into various sorts of contact with the objects presented. The resulting sounds were relayed around the hall on a PA sound system, at what seemed at the time, an unprecedented volume, especially if, like me, you'd been playing gigs with a band through a Vox AC 10. Various other things were all taking place at the same time, including a dishevelled Jeff N dancing on a table at one point. It was wild.

    In 1982/3 I came to be in Australia, in Melbourne, teaching Fine Art at one of the art schools there, and I had a show in a gallery called the Axiom. At the opening I saw a familiar face; Jeff N was there. He looked well-heeled and smart. He was over having been invited to another art institute to lecture. We spoke at length and reminisced about loads of mutual things, including all the above, and Mike and Stuart Bartholomew.
    It was terrific, all the better for being unexpected, and so far from home. But I couldn't spend the latter part of the evening with him, which I think we both would have liked. We spoke the next day on the phone and he flew out a couple of days later. I never saw him again.

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  7. It is so lovely to find this site. And to see the comment from Mary John's. I was sad to hear of the passing of jimmy John's. I hold a very beautiful drawing of his, that was bought in london fields, of London fields in about 1900. Having been active myself politically, I was hoping to find some exhibitions of John's art, but so far unsuccessful. All the best.

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  8. I started going to Peanuts about 64/65. I heard about it from marchers on CND rallys. Always enjoyed the singing, a performer knew they were good if the noisy crowd went quiet until it was time for a chorus!I thought Hugh Gaitskill said ' These people are nothing, they are just Peanuts'and that was how the club got its name. I new Jimmy well and even stayed at his house once or twice, sorry to hear of his passing. I also knew Ken May, both from Peanuts and other folk clubs and in Padstow. I helped on the door on occasion for both Jimmy and Ken. After a time I sometimes ran the bar for the club as well as on jazz nights and for the teddy boys club nights.The pub was run by Len and Sylvie Alfred who lived in with their daughter.

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  9. Dear Dick,
    I'm amazed and very pleased that this site exists. I was thinking back to my early youth and typed "The Peanuts Club in the 60's" and there it was.
    I started going there when I was 15 in 1966, with my sister Maeve, who was a year older than me. The club was a major part of my world for some years. I remember Del Foley and the anarchists. They threw some good parties. I met my first serious girl friend there about 1972, Anya. We had a daughter, Honey.
    Thanks for putting this site up.

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  10. I went the several times with 5 other friends x I remember someone called Oil Drum Dave because he apparently lived in one. People used to bring their instruments and play x great times

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  11. I was in college in Portsmouth from 1962-65 abd used to work in london during the summers as well as hitching up at weekends if there was nothing happening. I first heard of Peanuts on an Aldermaston march and it became a must go to place if I was in London. I was very much into the Committee of 100 faction of the ban the bomb movement and have many happy memories of Peanuts as somewhere to spend evenings with like minded friends and often slept on the floor of flat just off Cable Street,along with anybody who else who knew Barbara and needed shelter for the night. I remember seeing Paul Simon there (and also at the Troubador with a girl who has been my wife for the last 52 years) and Alex Campbell was a great favourite. I found this site after finding an entry in a 1963 diary about a fantastic night at Peanuts and was trying to think of the name of the pub...so Googled Peanuts/Bishopsgate. Great memories of the days when we were going to change the world......

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