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Mick Farren 1943-2013

Mick FarrenMick Farren collapsed and died on stage at the Borderline in London on Saturday night while singing with the latest version of his band, the Deviants. After three decades in New York and Los Angeles, he had spent the last few years back in Britain. Here’s a tribute by his old friend and NME colleague Charles Shaar Murray, and here’s my obituary, both from today’s Guardian.

I knew Mick at the end of the ’60s and the beginning of the ’70s, which was probably his best time, and I always enjoyed his company. I’d first clapped eyes on him in Nottingham in 1967, when an enterprising friend of mine organised the city’s first (and only) “happening” at the Rainbow Rooms, and booked the Social Deviants — as they were then called — along with a projector and a print of Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising, a bubble machine and the bits and pieces to make a rudimentary light show. How cool we were, suddenly transformed from mods into hippies! I bought a Tibetan love bell and gave my friend Paul Smith, then managing the men’s floor of a boutique called Birdcage, 25 shillings to get his tailor to make me a royal blue kaftan with floral braid. It looked fine until I tried to dance and discovered that the arm-holes had been made so small that I could barely move. So much for letting it all hang out. (Having some sense of history, I kept the garment; it made a second public appearance in True Brit, the exhibition devoted to Paul’s work at the Design Museum a few years ago.)

The photograph above is taken from the back of the dust jacket of Mick’s excellent memoir, Give the Anarchist a Cigarette, published by Jonathan Cape in 2001. It was taken by Barrie Wentzell, the Melody Maker‘s staff photographer, and it records a round-table discussion at the MM‘s old Fleet Street offices, probably in 1971. The discussion was being moderated by Michael Watts, who has his back to the photographer, and our much-missed colleague Roy Hollingworth, on Watts’s left. Neither of us can remember who the hippie on Hollingworth’s left is. That’s Farren next to the unknown person, with Sandy Denny opposite him at the top of the table (no, it’s not Sandy Denny: see Comments). On Sandy’s left, wearing a cap, is Robert Wyatt. On Robert’s left is another person whom neither of us can identify. We can’t remember what the subject of the discussion was, either. Maybe someone out there can help.

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7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hi Richard. I’d say the ‘hippie’ is certainly Daevid Allen and that’d likely be his partner, Gilly Smyth rather than Sandy Denny.
    Daevid and Wyatt were recording ‘Banana Moon’ about this time…

    July 31, 2013
  2. At the moment the consensus seems to be that it’s (clockwise from top right) Gilly Smyth, Robert Wyatt, promoter Michael Alfandary, Michael Watts, Roy Hollingworth, Daevid Allen and Mick Farren. Nobody’s yet suggested what they were talking about.

    July 31, 2013
  3. “..Right then, first, over throw the senile oligarchy and while you’re out, get me 20 Woodbines and a box of matches..”

    July 31, 2013
  4. Maurizio Comandini #

    Hi Richard,
    you say “I knew Mick at the end of the ’60s and the beginning of the ’70s, which was probably his best time,”. Isn’t this true for almost any musician/artisti living in that era? I mean the late sixties/early seventies period of time being the best period as far as their artistic production is concerned. I have not found someone who did poor albums in that era, and then good albums in the mid-eventies till now period… If a time machine will ever surfaces I know how to point it, as far a s ‘time slot’ is concerned. ;-)))

    Maurizio Comandini
    music writer from Italy
    (we met in another era in Porchester Hall, at John and Eve McLauglin gig) I was sitting in the center of the front row, just next chair to Robert Fripp and Ian Wallace.) August 26th, 1971.

    August 6, 2013
    • Nice to hear from you, Maurizio. That was a fascinating gig at the Porchester Hall. I guess you’re right about the late (actually I’d say mid-) ’60s/early ’70s, but it’s a point I’m always reluctant to make because it seems so patronising to people born into later generations. But if you pushed me, I certainly agree. On your time machine idea, though, I wouldn’t mind being carried back to the late Forties on 52nd Street… Cordiali saluti, Richard.

      August 6, 2013
      • Maurizio Comandini #

        Richard, have you heard the Columbia double LP called The Guitar Album (issued in 1972)? It contains one track by Eve & John McLaughlin recorded in Town Hall, NYC, just 12 days before the Porchestr Hall gig. Do you know of a private recording of the Porchester Hall gig. Pictures? I only have a scan of the article you wrote the following week for Melody Maker… At the end of the concert I went to talk with Johnny Mac and his lovely wife. Bob Fripp and Ian Wallace were there too. I asked John some very silly questions… (the brand of the guitar strings he was using or something like that, I feel very sorry about that ;-))). I’m almost sure you were there, too, in the after concert gathering around John…

        August 19, 2013
  5. Paul Tickell #

    Richard, I’ve only just caught up with this, but imagine you must have looked a bit like John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas in your kaftan!… Alas, I never saw the Social Deviants but did have a brush with Mick Farren – or rather his Afro. I woke up one fine morning and to my surprise encountered him in the corridor of the student house I was living in at the time in Norwich (circa 1969). He’d crashed there after being invited back after a gig – I think by a fellow student of mine called Tim Phillips who was a very good guitarist.

    September 9, 2013

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