Dave Haslam: All You Need Is Dynamite: Acid, The Angry Brigade, and the End of the Sixties.
In-depth interview with legendary polymath Dave Haslam about his new book, All You Need Is Dynamite: Acid, The Angry Brigade, and the End of the Sixties, a time with more psychologically fervent implications than the gesture of selling a bouquet of superficial flowers in the name of psychedelia, would often allow us all to believe.
“There’s a value in itself in marginal, underground activity. Not just because it oppositional at that moment, but because it’s at that space where the future is written.” (Dave Haslam – All You Need Is Dynamite)
This is a book about war.
The war between people who dream and people who make decisions. People who kiss buildings with sticks of dynamite – the only means left of letting those in charge know that flowers wilt but explosives wilt limbs.
More specifically, it’s John Baker of Angry Brigade’s war.
It’s Moul/Mole Express founder, Mike Don’s war too.
A war between the underground and those who inhabit it; and everything else, the acid freaks and yippies against the blue meanies and the suited goon squad.
In fact, it still is…
‘These bastards are filling in even more cracks, I think it’s very difficult, it’s so much tougher being young now’ – John Barker.
The government is gradually grinding it down to nothing more than a pitiful pile of rock below the gaze of a microscope. Facts pertinent to now, as they were then.
The country is still a massive crack. It’s still tough being young. And the more, the cavity is pumped full of god knows what and why and to what end, the teasing schemes and other elaborate idealisms, the heretics and hysterics of Beatlemania as a psychological neurosis, sick and symptomatic of a special kind of 60s that spent too much time blinded and bound to the orgone energy accumulator: the baggage on our backs is the ball we are all chained to.
So who would strap a stick of dynamite to the fucking thing?
Or, how about four ounces of TNT that damaged a BBC van perched outside the Albert Hall, November 1970? Because that’s what the Brigade were about.
A hot-blooded, hard-headed act of lifting up the hemp skirt of the Greek Goddess Dike to destroy artifice and catalyse balance. ‘Balance’ where once, the great scales always seemed to be twistedly tilted against the favour of the few. Meanwhile, the powerful forever profiting from the misfortunes of those below, this non-existent ‘balance’ as a platform for despotic order to unfold.
The Brigade’s ensuing assault on the Department of Employment and Productivity was but another additional, demonstration to shake the blindfold away from the eyes of the easily led. A strategic and unforgiving demonstration of what measures will be taken for anarchy to charge forth in the same stance as altruism, mentioned in the same breath to achieve equilibrium… to get closer.
The newest addition to his latest Art Decades series, All You Need Is Dynamite is…well it’s dynamite. A tale where every turn of the page can’t come quick enough, a fascinating dance between different people with a shared panoptic view of the world around them; their surroundings laced with a taste of commodity fetishism and blood on the hands of its mad carpenters, economic dramatists, and cultural demiurges.
The Angry Brigade, a group of far-left urban terrorists thought of planning dozens of bomb attacks on industrialists and Tory cabinet ministers during the 1960s and 1970s. Inspired by Situationism to the existential extremes of the human being as a blank slate unto himself, and therefore, has no need, no requirement for the acquired accessories, pressures, and their following treasures that a week of work would wish to decorate us with. Ornamented in thick layers and encasements of dense chain which the radical templates for change according to the Brigade, saw a way to shatter each rigid link.
In this latest book, he discovers some of those charged with involvement with the Angry Brigade, one of a handful of urban terrorist groups taking the 60s into their own hands. The group had been located in Manchester for several months in 1971, taking us on a journey from their headquarters, a communal property located on Cannock Street, Moss Side, through the chaos unleashed when their antithetical attitudes to the ‘creaky trad-left’ ideologies and the BIG CON is another smile sold, another sly, sleight of hand waving a wand belonging to the capitalist magicians and Fromm’s ‘market characters’ populate the planet more than human beings motivated by emotion in a sane society register with any degree of sincerity and substance below the pulse.
Because it was antithetical to the fruitless labours of the common muck, where work reduces you to a piece of dirt, a piece of data in the strata of the night, a decimal:
TUBE-WORK-DINNER-ARMCHAIR-SLEEP-HOW MUCH MORE CAN YOU TAKE?
SAME THING EVERY DAY, ONE-IN-TEN GO MAD, ONE-IN-FIVE CRACKS UP
Says the graffiti gospel emblazoned in the Hammersmith and City Line according to King Mob, a Situationist cell living in London where the credits according to meritocracy in society is just another rung of the ladder, another bar on the prison, another step in on the Penrose Stairs or as Haslam nicely snaps ‘killing off the sparks of humanity.
Figures involved with a series of bomb attacks in Britain contributed to the underground paper ‘Mole Express’, a method of proving Baudrillard right, and exemplify Auden’s poetry, and break through to…the other side.
With publications such as Frendz, The Black Dwarf, International Times, Mole Express, and Grass Eye, the precursory print sold at the Magic Village Club, horizons organised around the work of Roger Eagle, future Eric’s founder that pumped blood into Liverpool by building its heart, but initially, a booker at the Twisted Wheel until his departure when it relocated from Brazennose Street to Whitworth in 1965. It was Eagle who allowed Mike Don to sell copies of underground newspapers, all acting as the go-to literature of this buzzy underground.
‘Mole’ had become a bible for local acid-freaks, yippies (Youth International Party), Situationist scholars and practitioners, plus supporters of the Weather Underground, Edgar Broughton Band, and attendees of the infamous ’60s happenings with their light-shows, performance-artists at the Roundhouse in London or all-night extravaganzas at the UFO Club on Tottenham Court Road.
Here, youth would explode and levitate to elsewhere when dosed with psilocybin and other hallucinogenic substances summoned from the genie’s lava lamp, soundtracked by the sonic mysticism of Soft Machine, Beefheart, Floyd.
Like the succession of essential Situationist texts before them (Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle or Vaneigm’s Revolution of Everyday Life), the underground papers of the time, like Mole, until it concluded in 1977, enabled the circulation of a crucial, illuminating guide to ‘an exceptional picture of alternative arguments in action in Manchester’ (Spiers, 1974).
They would implore youth to understand topics such as global politics, music news, drug busts, and community activity (John Cooper Clarke in Issue 4 of Mole, and a lovely little vignette about Jim Morrison and Mark. E Smith). They crept up through the cracks, igniting the imagination, “quietly unstoppable” articulates Dave Haslam, a detail he couldn’t counter the temptation to include: ”It’s a short format book, you’ve got all these big themes about Imperialism, Capitalism, Situationism. Why spend a paragraph about these kids getting expelled from grammar school? But I couldn’t resist it. That detail brings the book to life”.
An underground that was well aware of what it was, with the alternative press at the time, was no exception to how emancipated the counterculture felt when kicking against the grains of the government. Emancipated from the “metaphorical darkness” says Haslam, that coated Manchester’s post-war chimney-shaped lungs in the 1970s with degradation and despair. The number of derelict spaces and abandoned architectural designs increased, impacting on the mental wellness of the nation, but also, physical darkness, one of bricks and mortar, of blood and steel, was also a poignant stench carried on the air.
“Fanzines, magazines like Frendz, Mole Express, and International Times, there was something endearing about them.” he informs me. “They know they’re not commercial operations. They know they’re kind of at liberty to be honest, to not compromise, and be a bit daft.”
It’s hard to visualise a couple of hippies skipping through an expanse slum clearance, holding hands toward the chromatic rainbow, Oz as an advert on a billboard. Therefore, drawing on an extended and exclusive interview with John Barker of the Angry Brigade, Haslam investigates the emergence of their motivations, and actions, and wonders what current generations can learn from their story.
But what I learned, upon interviewing Haslam himself, interestingly, in turn, was actually, his own unique story to be told…
“When I put all these things together, it sounded like something out of a novel, made up.” he says.
I definitely see the connection between him and the characters in the books. All You Need Is Dynamite, with people like Mike Don or Roger Eagle expressing an alternative, personal piece of literary, artistic history for the underground is something Liz Naylor with City Fun and him with Debris when it started relished in. There’s more than just a hint or glimpse of Haslam in these pages, reflected in Mole Express and Frendz zines of the ’70s. In the book, he states ‘when it comes to art and ideas, I’m interested in the nonconformists on the fringes, the margins, the underground’. He’s essentially some kind of vicarious, voyeuristic character.
“I think there is something about me specifically, Mole Express, and alternative press at the heart of the story, of the scene.” says Haslam. “Reflecting the really interesting stuff that was going on, I do feel, in the quote that you read out, that there is so much value in the cultural margins. I say in Sonic Youth Slept on my Floor. I was never the sort of person to stay in at home on a Saturday night, watching TV. If I did, my head must be torturing me. Back then I remember being 16, and literally following provocatively dressed boys and girls around to see where they were going. Because I knew they were going to lead me to somewhere better than the Bruce Forsyth generation. And they did. So I’ve always been interested in that activity and Debris was my contribution. I suppose it has its strengths and its weaknesses. There’s a connection between Debris and the alternative press. The other connection is when I talk about, if you’re an idealistic person, living in a world you perceive as imperfect, what do you do? That sounds really basic. But that’s the kind of question I ask myself.”
And yet there is another question that he asks himself. “Is there also a political way of glimpsing or nurturing a better world?”
What of this world? It’s a world we are prone to see repeated and forever referenced. Yet it’s subjectively up to each human being how they reinterpret and reinvent the spinning of the wheel.
Personally, I call them the Concentric Circles of Love.
Because this is what they are. The notions of something which is sold to the public as pretty and shoved down our throats with subtle, subliminal force. Something wrapping itself around the spokes of the spiritual wheel and bursting with a brand of optimism so pure your eyeballs will itch. The first Circle was in the ’60s, Flower Power all the rage, the second in the ’90s with Madchester, Acid House, and Rave, smiley faces as the striking, symbolism of something undoubtedly important and unshakable influential, but also illusory, delusional, and deflates the more it expands in the shape of an ouroboros balloon with more than one string attached.
John Barker was a member of the Brigade, a primary proponent and champion, along with his peers at Cannock Street, of practical action that benefits the community linked to the roots below the ruse of corrupt, carnivorous capitalist constructs.
Sure, Situationism is a hypothetical strategy of escape, but statements will only get you so far. Dynamite, on the other hand, was seen as something that could increase your chances of initiating recognisable development for your fellow man (or, as Barker did, you could rip up your final exam paper as a totemic flicking of the flying Vs into the face of authority, its thumbs rupturing below the handsome, laughing anarchist staring down the barrel of the establishment).
Barker’s was a world of subatomic particles that compose the microcosm and stuff it cushions, all as one, all as whole, augmented by LSD. The doors of perception reconfigured to reveal the wizard behind the curtain with his eyelids surgically removed and his wrists chained an inch away from the computer’s keyboard on Magic Mountain. An ‘official world’ viewed in a ‘very cartoonish way’ says John of his usage of the drug, which in the ’60s was ripe to provide summery hues and pretty, geometric tesselations as the removable flat-pack puzzle pieces to an otherwise dark landscape, a common nightmare with demonic, ominous overcast as New Labour bulldozed down the country leaving terraced houses in Moss Side and Hulme as a flattened wasteland.
‘The establishment still ruled the country’, concludes Ray Davies, noticing the swing of things to be a con on grand proportions. Barker’s own work, one to reconfigure the violent vicissitudes of culture, was one premised on the ability to actualise and disassemble the materials of the modern world, until the woodwork is left a pile of neat, naked plinths on the floor, stripped of any individual description but symbolise so much struggle once the overarching architecture of the thing has been established as unassailable.
And the underground press penetrated this veil, this silky, glimmering, secreting veneer with action as the natural expansion of their internal motives.
“Mole Express, the newspaper, says it’s aimed at, Yippies, drop-outs, communists, anarchists, music fans, and so again, I felt like they’re my kind of people.” he states.
Keeping with this idea of events and historical happenings, lying dormant from decades ago but still pulsating and persisting and threading themselves through the narrative, the cycle of it all would include the Swinging Sixties, like a lot of the hysterical associations with every era, it was fronted with pretension. A million miles from street level, a different world was portrayed despite what was proclaimed to be occurring on the surface.
“In the book, I quote Ray Davies,” says Haslam, “who calls it a con. I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine called Jayne Casey, she’s a bit older than me, about the ’60s – living in Liverpool, so she was very aware of what was going on. She said it was so far from her existence, from her reality. In the 60s people were beginning to lose jobs, the British manufacturing industry was beginning to collapse, Enoch Powell in 1968 was stirring up fear about immigrants. There was a lot of stuff going on in Manchester, the slum clearances, in whole communities, losing their houses and being relocated. Traumatic. Yet our perception of the 60s is a decade of liberated people skipping down the street making free love to each other. So the book does paint a different picture than that.”
I return to the notion of the Concentric Summers of Love. That notion of continuous overlap, an everlasting linkage or seamless similarity of the apparent spirit of what colours and decorates culture. People were fascinated by the Summers of Love, a time of interest and activity and an opportunity for people to get involved and engaged following on from punk as the big bank, the Year Zero idea, but equally, and not to soil their impact and importance with people, but deluded by them too, loads of shit and violence.
There is a constant reality of inequality. No matter where you are or who. For me, that makes every success problematic. It’s only partial. Again, capitalism requires a conflict between winners and losers, that’s what the system is about.
So, in the book, when these idealists, optimists, hedonists, are caught in this imperfect world, when they’re out and about, that is when and why the unbalanced elements synchronise.
“In All You Need Is Dynamite, the hedonists and the music fans become politised.” continues Haslam. “Because they can’t help but be, because of the Vietnam war, because of the Soviets and the Americans having their button on the nuclear bomb, there’s a lot going on. There’s a moment. But 50 years ago, that generation, I do feel like there was a lot of idealism, asking a lot of questions, but in a way the questions are too big. Instead of saying things like ‘we should vote for this party’, they were saying things like ‘we need to get rid of consumerism, imperialism, materialism, work, exam grades’. I kind of like that feeling of that, we don’t want to change the world, we just want to create a different world, to be truly transformative and I love that. But it returns to that idealism. There’s no notion of ‘how do we enact it and how do we make it happen?’ And then, when they do try to make it happen you’re up against Richard Nixon, you’re up against the police force, you’re up against the mainstream press…”
I put it to him that he’s hit on the concept of the death culture of advance capitalism.
“The death culture of advanced capitalism was not going to roll over and die”, he agrees, “because you were listening to the Edgar Broughton Band. That’s in a way what drove that generation to up the stakes. To say ‘ok, we will still out grassroots, community, political activity and we will still do the demos’. But we’re also going to throw something else into the mix. We’re going to use violence against you. The times are urgent. You’re not listening to us. If we put a bomb under your car, then you’ll understand our seriousness and our challenge.”
That kind of definition of change is in the quote from the International Times about ‘a division in the underground between those who want to change their heads and those who want to change society’. You’ve got people who only posed as revolutionaries and rebels and anarchists and free-thinkers, and then you’ve got the collectives of people like the Angry Brigade and others who sought to create change and catalyse action, regardless of the trip that came along with it…
“In that alternative student movement,” he states, “there was a really wide range of different people and agendas. The Change Your Head Brigade, rather than the Change Your World Brigade, which in a way, actually prevailed.”
Because it was easier to drop acid than do something productive about your circumstance…
“At the same time, the other thing about that moment was how despite it appearing to be a defeated generation, in a sense that by 1970 you had Thatcher and the Angry Brigade in prison, for a lot of the alternative press it was all over. At the same time ideas were still percolating through that. The analogy would be, you had bands like the Stooges and Black Sabbath, I don’t think now we can grasp how weird and revolutionary their first albums were. And, yet 50 years later, Iggy is on 6 Music. The idea of that kind of music is still percolating through, always underground, always subterranean – I feel like the same with political ideas. If you look at the old issues of Mole Express, they’re talking about culture wars. They’re talking about politicians blaming longhaired people, leftist anarchists, students, and black people for causing chaos and being unpatriotic. There’s a culture war. They’re also talking about the deficiencies in the system. Homelessness was a big issue in that period. And what they called Ecology, what we now call the Environment. They had a lot of issues with oil companies, pollution, and so on. That idea of being of underground, marginal culture – I’m not just interested in it, because it’s underground and it’s marginal and more interesting than Saturday Night TV, but because seeds are being sown, in those moments, which later change the culture.”
These seeds eventually bloom into something useful and resourceful.
“Just because they’re not useful at that moment, or they’re marginalised at that moment, doesn’t mean they have no value and their time won’t come. It’s the spirit of it.” he says, “And I have seen that.”
For anyone interested in a history that has been hidden under the cultural carpet, All You Need Is Dynamite is a fitting acknowledgement of how intense the early ’70s was for people who believed in the agendas of Situationism applied to praxis as a springboard to activate the kinds of change, the kinds of shifts, they so fiercely sought.
And, a lot like the usage of LCD, to dismantle and untangle the world around them as one dictated and devoured by the mechanical tentacles of capitalism, working, through words, through union, through action as the pendulum of the sixties swings into oblivion, to reveal the true face and deliberately rear the ugly head, of the modern, industrial landscape, the ubiquitous consumer society and all that writhes beneath its lip and worms under the lid.
A highly enthralling, enchanting story, Haslam succeeds again in proving to us, kindred to the spirit of individuals like Mike Don, as ‘a single, somewhat bloody-minded individual determinedly keeping the flame’, that the leaders of the straight world, just as much now as then, will be sentenced and, with the literature tightened into a rope, lynched accordingly for their irrefutable crimes as tomorrow’s bright horizons loom, a line is drawn through the lies the times forced them, and force us, to snort.
But as they deconstruct the device that tightens its grip and sink its fangs into the necks of the benumbed and bemused, the advocates of this Great Refusal remove all walls, noticing the doors can be once again, in this case, blown apart, so much as pushed opened, to reveal another promising room.
All you need is dynamite, dynamite
Dynamite is all you need.
This is one star in Haslam’s constellations
This will always be Dave Haslam’s war.
Main Image: © Greater Mancunians.
Photo1: © Credit: Greater Mancunians.
Photo 2: © Chris Payne.
Ryan Walker is a writer from Bolton. His online archive can be found here.