Jeff Nuttall was the polymath – poet, artist, jazz-cornetist,
anarchist, and sculptor who wrote the insurrectionary tome
that defined the 1960’s counter-culture, ‘Bomb Culture’…
Jeff Nuttall, manic polymath – poet, artist, and jazz-cornetist is dead, he’s joined the horn-section invisible. Which is tough. Because I always intended getting around to an interview-piece with him, at some time, when I located space-and-time to do it. Now it’s too late. I did bump into him on several odd occasions, always respecting his fiercely diverse energies. First time was probably the ‘Ilkley Literature Festival’ event way back in the early-1970’s where he does an esoteric lecture-thing about aspects of Aleister Crowley-groupies. I was just starting out, baffled, and totally in awe of him. Afterwards, I stammer out how much I love his book ‘Bomb Culture’ (1968) – which I did, and still do, and he peers down imperiously at me from the podium and utters ‘oh yes?’ A solid very corporeal presence, tousled Dylan Thomas Celtic hair flared up against the light. Challenging, provoking more. So I venture that I admire the ‘Early Lobster’ graphic-strip he was doing for the ‘Styng’ counterculture newspaper at the time, and he looks down at me from the podium and says ‘oh yes?’ And I slink away completely defeated, deflated. He was intimidating. I was intimidated…
The Nutt’s ‘Bomb Culture’ is still here on my shelf, it provided an art-anti-art ideological A-to-Z and brain napalm to me circa 1971. His exploded visceral black-ink straight-razor cartoons were essential cultural programming for the time. I saw his gigs, encountered him slumped-drunk one Tuesday in ‘The Cobourg’, a now-torched and vanished trad-jazz Leeds pub, while he was senior Fine Arts lecturer at the Polytechnic. He pursued life merrily and to the full, and drank with not always discreet dedication.
‘Bomb Culture’ is incendiary. A path through art’s subversive parallel universes. Both psycho-autobiography, manifesto, and exercise in style. The cover of the Paladin paperback edition has a ‘Sgt Pepper’-style collage cover, centred around a naked Allen Ginsberg. Behind him, fanning in an arc, are Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, Marilyn Monroe, Brian Jones, Andy Warhol, William Burroughs, Spike Milligan, Timothy Leary, Jack Kerouac, John & Yoko, Jimi Hendrix, Vivian Stanshall. The essential, if unintentional shapers of the culture Nuttall defines. To strum the pages takes you through counter-culture history like clicking through a particularly hip search-engine. His range of references is impressively wide, each one fiercely opinionated.
For example, the Marquis De Sade anticipates dismemberments that the avant-garde will inflict onto formal classical art, annihilating the European aesthetic traditions. And it keeps doing it. Its conduits are the Futurists – ‘the strenuous pantheism of technology’, the Dadaists, Fauves, Bebop, Abstract Expressionists. Nuttall’s heroes are Picasso, Tristan Tzara, ‘the psychopathic genius of Charlie Parker’, Lenny Bruce, William Burroughs. Art is the spirit of perpetual revolution, ‘an explosive planted straight into the human subconscious to blow it off course.’ He notes, with approval, an anonymous 1968 Sorbonne graffiti proclaiming ‘Imagination Has Seized Power’, feeding the spirit of this continuity into ‘my own constructions’ of Action Painting, found-objects and ready-mades shot through with ‘overtones of social comment.’
In his flaring visionary perception, art is the wild-mercury force of perpetual opposition. Because art is ‘irrational in its nature, it can only be irrationally understood.’ He argues that ‘the economic structure works towards stasis centred around the static needs of man,’ but ‘culture, being the broad effect of art, is rootedly irrational and as such is perpetually operating against the economic workaday structure of society.’ Investigating origins, he writes that ‘morality was the province of church and hierarchy, the prime weapons of control and power,’ but ‘at the end of the eighteenth-century religion got caught out.’ It was around that time that ecclesiastical ritual was identified as ‘authoritarian hierarchies which defended exploitation and oppression in terms of the divinity of the social order. For man to be free, god, king, and the pope had to be dethroned.’
Yes, no argument there, but wait, if all morality is the province of the church, must all morality be dethroned too? Must all morality be extinguished in exactly the way that the ‘heads of the French divine authorities dropped into the basket?’ That’s probably too literate an interpretation. Can’t a form of morality exist without the superstructure of religion to enforce it? Surely, a more human morality can be rationally constructed without the superstitious imposition of cosmic deities – can’t it? Maybe back then in revolutionary France, the likes of the Marquis De Sade – newly liberated from divine totalitarianism, had an excuse, but not now after generations of free-thinking enlightenment. Nuttall would say that’s to argue logic and reason. Which is counter to his intuition. Art does not flow that way. To be pure, like jazz, it must be extemporised at the moment of creation, without precedent or consequence. That, too, is a kind of morality. But for Nuttall, it’s more about fierce gesture than parsing minutiae.
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Jeffrey Addison Nuttall was born in the Lancashire town of Clitheroe, on 8 July 1933. It was the place where 4’ 3” variety-comedian Jimmy ‘The Clitheroe Kid’ also started out. But for Nuttall and younger brother Anthony, there were richer memories of growing up in the small village of Orcop in the remote Herefordshire valleys where his father became schoolmaster. Despite his impatient adult energy-rush, he allowed space for sentiment, affection for cheap working-class culture, and the half-forgotten half-remembered music-hall entertainers of his childhood, ‘Chatterbox Annual’, Frank ‘King Twist’ Randle and Albert Sandler’s BBC ‘Palm Court Orchestra’.
It was as a ‘frustrated’ twelve years old schoolboy, at war’s end, that his own art-story starts out by defining a clear distinction between two events, VE-day – ‘Victory in Europe’, which ends a global conflict with conventional weapons. Business as usual. And VJ-day – ‘Victory over Japan’, which ends in nuclear flashpoint that transfigures the world, for ever. As Timothy Leary explains it, the detonation of the first A-bomb was a ‘fire-break in history’, after which nothing could ever be the same again. Nuttall was alive, on the temporal faultline. And it constitutes a shift in perception, something felt on a cellular level even when not articulated. There in the advance tremors of the newly existential mindset he sees in hipsters such as Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, the Saint-Germain intellectuals, Norman Mailer’s ‘The White Negro’… and even the thuggish violence of the Rockers. Their dumb insolence is an intuitive response to impending apocalypse.
‘Bomb Culture’ is Cold War on the permanent brink of hot-button ignition. Two corrupt world-system superpowers armed to the teeth in thermonuclear brinkmanship. Shallow capitalism that reduces individuals to passive consumer units. Arthritic Soviet state-surveillance Communism ruthlessly crushing all dissent. Meanwhile, he attends various art schools, notably Corsham and the Bath Academy of Art. Lurch-forward to age twenty-two, and Nuttall is married to painter Jane Louch, working in a school and living in a cottage. He was nineteen, she was his twenty-five year-old tutor at the Hereford School of Art when they married. In November 1956 he hitchhikes back from a trip to London, to hear the shock radio-news about Budapest, as Soviet tanks crush the fragile Hungarian uprising. He donates ten-shillings to the protest-fund. He’d done National Service at Catterick, now he awaits the reservist call-up papers – which never come, that would have taken him off on Britain’s imperial venture into Suez.
Instead, Nuttall plays his cornet as part of the 7 April 1958 Aldermaston CND march, ‘against the death-wish.’ When the marchers eventually are brought up sharp to confront the barbed-wire perimeter of the nuclear launch-site ‘they didn’t walk in and smash it up, as some more realistic marchers had hoped.’ Nevertheless, there were gains – in a sense of generational solidarity, in that ‘they did discover that they were not alone.’ Christopher Logue was also on that first march. He was jailed as a ‘political prisoner in all but name’ for refusing to accept a court order to desist from demonstrating. Yet within a space of years Nuttall already considered the protest marches to have devolved into toothless ritual. To him, it was evident that more urgent direct-action was required as impending extinction seeped into popular culture all the way from ‘Dr Strangelove’ to Barry McGuire’s “Eve Of Destruction”, from Peter Watkins docu-drama ‘The War Game’ (1965), to the Kinks ‘I don’t feel safe in this world no more, I don’t want to die in a nuclear war…’ (in “Apeman”). Fuelling his sense of urgency.
Ever spoiling for a scrap, ‘a verbal bully’ according to Jeff Cloves, Nuttall never probes gently where a sharp jab will suffice. He treats the Labour Movement with sneering derision, scorns their union representatives, as well as their Angry Young aspirational Working-Class intellectuals. He ridicules the cosy-minded liberal left-wing intellectuals such as Ewan MacColl, or Pete & Peggy Seeger for being faithful to the ‘pathetic fallacy’ of placing issues before instinct so ‘mind and passion were robbed of any real authenticity and morality was consequently devitalised.’ He arrogantly condemns them for having ‘constructed a left-wing romanticism based on that patronising idealisation of the lumpen-proletariat that only the repressed children of the middle class could have contrived.’
For him, there’s no future. No future. Which renders all past theoretical structures, axioms, reference points, values and belief-systems void. Marxist and Socialist alike. ‘The only firm political ground for art’ is anarchism. The only art possible is the art of the absurd, of disgust, of transient self-destruction. All that exists is the sensations of now. The first unfiltered instinct is always best. Immediate. Intuitive. The creative impulse, above everything. The only lodestone is a vague and shifting hipness, a Beat art-mysticism. Direct action is the only action that counts. To hell with the consequences. Now. Now is all we have. Now is all that matters. Art no longer has the luxury of decades, or centuries to embed itself into culture. All it has is the moment. Celebrate the now before it vanishes into thermonuclear oblivion. The destination is the journey itself. Nuttall’s vision is a politics of ecstasy, a state of art-led permanent revolution.
In 1962, on a night-train from the ‘Salzburg Seminar In American Studies’, he decides CND has failed, symbolically ripping off his badge. Approaching thirty, impatient for something to start, living at 37 Salisbury Road in Barnet, he’s already accumulated seven unpublished novels (including ‘Chunky Palace’), with hundreds of big paintings and sculptures piled up in his studio. He reaches out, responds to an activist letter in the pacifist ‘Peace News’ (dated 13 July 1962), through which he meets Peter Currel-Brown, then through him Greek-Cypriot artist Criton Tomazos. Meanwhile, sound-poet Bob Cobbing is working at a nearby school as a French teacher.
It’s Cobbing who provides encouragement, and mimeograph-duplicates Nuttall’s first foray into ‘My Own Mag: A Super-Absorbent Periodical no.1’ (November 1963) – a four-page foolscap typewritten ‘paper exhibition in words, pages, spaces, holes, edges and images.’ He utilises ‘nausea and flagrant scatology’ in the form of a long Keith Musgrove poem “Piece Of Puberty” and his own ‘Perfume Jack’ picture-strip. Unlike the then-conventional mainstream cartoon, his energetic vortex of sketches and lines are seldom restrained by the neat confines of the frame, they explode in dripping smearing excess into each other and across the surrounding page. Even as you gawp, the grotesque shock-factor of visceral content spikes deep into your retina as merely another device to jolt reaction from the complacent space-time he’s marooned in. An intellectual revolt, but also an insurrection against the timid stultifying conformity of hung-over 1950’s conventions.
Against the odds the ‘Mag’ goes on to run for seventeen issues, through to September 1966 by which time Jeff’s relocated to Norwich and it’s grown to twenty-pages, costs just one old penny, and includes philo-delphic work from Charles Plymell and William Wantling (all issues are archived at www.realitystudio.org ). ‘My direction was towards the aesthetic of obscenity’ he editorialises, and as early as no.2 (December 1963) – subtitled ‘An Odour-Full Periodical’, the mag is attracting contributors as luminous as William S Burroughs and Anselm Hollo. There’s a Dave Cunliffe strip – ‘The Thirty-Second Put-Down Of Two Literary Gentlemen’ splashed through the all-British no.10 (December 1964). Tracts of Burroughs’ ‘Dead Star’ are in no.13 (August 1965), with Allen Ginsberg, Miles, Michael McClure and Brian Patten. All of these names were – importantly, not yet what they would become. The mag’s very-limited distribution nevertheless sets up connections and kicks-in introductions across the fragmented elements of what would become the arts-underground. People working largely in isolation, doing outsider art, drawn together in recognition of their shared contra-gravitation. Defining what would be.
Peter Whitehead’s jaw-dropping flashback ‘Wholly Communion’ (1965, Lorrimer Films) was recently re-screened on TV, retrospecting the 11 June 1965 ‘Albert Hall Poetry Fest’. It is recalled as a day ‘of pot, impromptu solo acid dances, of incredible colour, of face and body painting, of flowers and flowers and flowers.’ A girl dances to the rhythm of Allen Ginsberg reading on-stage, Harry Fainlight declaims a poem on LSD (‘an immensely charismatic figure… a flaming angel of the damned’), a gruff Alex Trocchi is compering, Adrian Mitchell reads his powerful anti-Vietnam diatribe “To Whom It May Concern”, there’s also Pete Brown, Mike Horovitz, and Nuttall himself (dressed in blue paint). All is grizzled beards and monochrome intensity. Nuttall eulogises that ‘London is in flames. The spirit of William Blake walks on the water of the Thames.’ Watching the film now provokes thinking, could this happen again? Who’d they put on? Of course, the performers who were ingredients of the original event weren’t stellar then – part of its status is retro-perspective. But a comparable cast of incendiary Bardic luminaries doesn’t readily suggest itself.
In honesty, Nuttall’s own poems are not easy. Not always obvious. With few neat hooks to draw you in, or comic punch-lines for sugar-coating. He offers instead a sheer muscular energy uncoiling in a continuity of fleshy images. Man. Woman. Penis (‘in my pocket, my snake is a separate mover, my snake a usurper’ – the ‘only thing that, lacking bone, needs blood to stand up’). Vagina (‘an ancient thing… the deepest cave… the ultimate tunnel’). Flesh. Blood. Reproduction. The ‘pink knot clitoris’ through ‘thickets of guilty hair’ (“Hide & Seek”). Reduced down to the ‘ancient permanence’ of their most primal identity, as glimpsed in the grotesque archetypal Celtic sheelaghnagig on a Herefordshire church (“The Whore Of Kilpeck”). Beneath all human facades of dignity, decency, art, morality, is the moist flesh, the squidgy intestines, the messy-earth animal-reality. Uncertainty. Death.
Within ‘my usual barrage of assonance and alliteration…’ there is scatology, wilful obfuscation and verbal clowning. Creating a sense of mystique ‘I welcome ambiguity, only when it promotes the visibility of the poem itself, in terms of sound dynamics and composition.’ Striking a pose, in “I Stalk With The Razorblade Cranes” he writes of ‘the lunatic is in my skull’, very much like a future Pink Floyd lyric. He announces ‘I am hardly at all concerned with direct verbal/syntactical ‘meaning’’, yet when he does, as in his poem about the schoolmistress outraged by pupils canoodling in tight jeans, he’s perhaps setting up the issues a little too easily? The prim spinster schoolmarm is too obvious a target, in the Totteridge staffroom where ‘electric fire room fug and half-smoked fags, draws out the dank sour mould of menopause.’ Nuttall puts himself on the side of the kids, secretly approving their teen heavy-petting. Their youthful sex. Coming over as a slightly lecherous figure?
‘My driving force has always been a weird sense of duty’ he explains, ‘I have always felt that I must find some way of loving a world and a life which perpetually horrifies me. This leads from the pastoral mood into the difficult areas of s/m and absurdist humour… imagery and technique are, then, tools for me in this mandatory celebration.’
New exploratory tools arrive during the arctic-bitter winter of 1964, when William Burroughs arrives on a fourteen-day London stop-over. They’d corresponded. Nuttall had published Burroughs in ‘My Own Mag’. So he visits him at his Bayswater Hotel where the author of ‘Naked Lunch’ (1959) radiates a presence that ‘cut across me like a diamond’. I, too, recall that cool, almost imperceptible handshake. Burroughs speaks elliptically, shyly, and ‘dealt in clues and hints, never in explanations.’ There’s a pale junk-sick boy there, along with Anthony ‘Tony’ Balch the film-director of ‘Towers Open Fire’ (1963) who’d run into Burroughs (& Kenneth Anger) at the Paris ‘Beat Hotel’. An early advocate of the fruitful collision between art with horror and exploitation, Balch would die in April 1980. Together, the group bring out Nuttall’s worst ‘roaring boy’ contrarian instincts, provoking him to clumsy jibes ‘about queens and drag shows’ with him ‘half-determined to be as gauche and butch as possible,’ to Balch’s ‘hilarity and embarrassment’. This narrative, although exaggerated through Nuttall’s perspective, retains maybe a casual relationship with the truth.
Together, the mismatched crew go out to the drabbest egg-&-chips cafés along the Queensway, and ‘Old Nutty’ gets more than a little bit pissed and abusive. He slyly confides there’s always ‘a disengaged observer in my brain who never gets drunk but always watches for fun.’ A self-knowledge that whatever seemingly spontaneous confrontations he throws up, even as ‘thoughts rattled across my brain like disconnected bursts of machine-gun fire, the snide bastard in me watches me for kicks.’ It’s only later, two short months after the meeting, that it dawns on him, and he ‘got’ what Burroughs was attempting. The understanding ‘was like the Earth opening under your feet.’
After the Burroughs/Brion Gysin model, Nuttall began exploring the cut-up potential that would continue to inform his method, deliberately disrupting linear narrative while throwing up intriguing new random text-configurations and unexpected meanings. ‘The future was present in the subliminal cross-column readings, shuffle-ups, cut-ups, the chain of consciousness, the Jungian racial subconscious through which Artaud communicated with the so-called dead – rational communication comes nowhere near this area of mind.’ In the Dada-spirit of automatic-writing, hypnosis and auto-suggestion, it becomes a cerebral game, breaking down texts in order to scrutinise its relationship to consciousness. Exploring the recurring narratives that shape literature and culture, designed to amputate the authorial voice from the creative process, while yielding results of often startling originality. Putting the high-art idea of the Great Writer thoughtfully composing his Literary Masterpieces, carefully arranging his vocabulary and arsenal of punctuation, under the cosh, as thoroughly – and in exactly the same way as Abstract Expressionism swept away figurative art.
While in one art-continuum he exhibits his work in ‘Gallery One’ with ‘Group H’, at ‘Centre 42’ and the ‘Gallery Angela Flowers’, in another Nuttall perpetrates stunts and happenings in ‘a development of the aesthetic potential in the leavings of Dada.’ Performing a fake disembowelling with other members of the sigma arts group in the Charing Cross ‘Better Books’ basement, where Bob Cobbing was by-then manager (‘Sigma: A Tactical Blueprint’, May 1965). He co-founded, and appeared as part of the enduring ‘People Show’ experimental theatre company (from 1966), in connection with Jim Hayne’s Art Lab, then the ‘UFO’ club, spreading out into spontaneous improv-performances all across the country. ‘The great thing about the plot of this show is that everybody in the show has got a different notion about what the plot is…. it can go anywhere – I hope, the day the People Show knows where it’s going is the day I’ll be bored with it.’
What defines the word ‘underground’ probably came into being in New York around 1964, and irradiated outwards. Inhaling on its way an air of concrete and sound poetry (Cobbing), Jeff Cloves, John Latham, ‘the best of the English Beat-imitators’ Derek Roberts, Martin Bax (of ‘Ambit’), Alex Trocchi… in league with a proto-internet of duplicated-mag interconnections, ‘Moving Times’, ‘And’, Carl Weissner’s ‘Klactoveedsedsteen’, Mike Horovitz’ ‘New Departures’, Dave Cunliffe’s ‘Poetmeat’ (‘they charge Dave Cunliffe with publishing obscenity for gain’), and from the US ‘Yugeni’, ‘Big Table’, ‘Kulchur’ (‘although printed from type, and therefore reliant on a backer’), Ed Sander’ mimeo ‘Fuck You Press’ and the bedrock City Lights and Grove Press. Plus Doug Blazek’s ‘Olé’, and Ed Dorn’s hand-cranked ‘Wild Dog’. If orthodox publishing is the villain responsible for keeping verse caged in elevated academia – the ‘prerogative of literacy’, preventing oral poetry from being the mass commodity it had been in medieval times, the typewriter Molotov-cocktail duplicator-underground, Pop lyrics and spontaneous guerrilla readings are the antidote, liberating it from its ivory tower, ‘freed to the limits of language’. ‘All things coming under my senses quivered with crazy potential.’
What’s all this to do with nuclear angst and CND? Because it’s the spiritually bankrupt Death-Culture that begat Hiroshima, Budapest and the imminent atomic armageddon global-extinction event. The Thanatos-Trip is a deep sickness, a collective-suicide death-wish propelled by buttoned-down uptight fear, alienation and closed-in repression. The need to shatter the somnambulistic fatalism that’s plunging the planet over the annihilation-precipice makes liberation more than a natural right. It’s an urgent necessity. To poet Jeff Cloves, Nuttall was a ‘messianic teacher and catalyst, armed with brush, typewriter and cornet he set out not just to change the world, but to save it’. Protesting ‘there is no moderation in this corner of life.’
So how to combat that bleak social-mindset, how to ‘transform the mental climate of our society’? Through the various agit-prop subterfuges that Nuttall terms Andre Breton’s Marxist-Surrealism, to rupture and smash a ‘political correction through the dislocation of prevalent moral attitudes’ by using psychedelic drugs, by ‘breaking the deadlock of our destructive sickness’ via the Reichian orgasm, and through shock-&-awe art-provocation tactics. Which makes art and poetry more than just today’s consumer luxury hedge-fund investment, but a vital species survival-tool. ‘A cure for the Squares.’ An invisible insurrection. ‘The cultural revolution must seize the grids of expression and the powerhouses of the mind.’ Art must be of itself. ‘The danger, indeed the sickness, was the subjection of art to morality.’ Trusting intuition, Nuttall scorns all attempts at control – ‘art lives when values melt and present a situation of opportunity instead of certainty.’
As the decade draws to a close, and Nuttall already in his mid-thirties, he’s an integral part of art-insurrectionary counter-culture consciousness, through his presence in ‘Oz’, ‘It (International Times)’ as well as regional press ‘Styng’ – all tied in through the pulp-manifesto that is ‘Bomb Culture’ itself, tying its diverse strands into a kind of context of intellectual outsider-tradition. Nuttall does the remembering for us. If ‘Bomb Culture’ itself is flawed, it’s skewed because it was overtaken by the events he was attempting to shadow. As he notes, between completing the manuscript in Autumn 1967, and penning the preface the following Summer, the counter-culture world had changed, and changes seemed limitless. He was cliff-hangered by the insurrectionary explosion as ‘young people, under various pretexts, made war on their elders’ in ‘a sea of coloured shocks.’
And yes, there’s some psychedelic consciousness-expanding gobbledygook that’s very much of its time. For Nuttall makes an unconvincing Hippie. Yet he saw windows of opportunity in its pell-mell global-hypercolour culture of acidheads, phony visionaries, revolutionary bums and peace-freaks, in the ‘trendy frissons of the subculture’, to assert his own dialogue. As always, he works through arguments, discussions, plans, debates, schisms, madness, exhibitions and ego rivalries. If The Nutt’s ‘Bomb Culture’ was the highest point of his career-arc, a magnesium-flare lighting up all it touched, providing an art-anti-art ideological A-to-Z and brain napalm to me and everyone else circa 1971 – with implications I’m still working my way through, the revolution it proclaims mutated into newly unlikely forms, receded, counter-attacked through Punk, diversified in new paths. The CND he so dramatically quit has periodic revival-surges as new Cold War brinkmanships take the world to the edge. Until the Berlin wall comes down, and the USSR implodes…
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‘Bomb Culture’ is still there on my shelf. Still a blueprint to reprogramme expectations, to reinvigorate and fine-tune attitudes. Yet, five decades on from his declaring Year Zero, we’re still here, inconveniently the thermonuclear End of the World didn’t happen. Against expectation, the bombs have not fallen. The last B52 of the Cold War has been dismantled. Despite Nuttall rendering all past theoretical structures, axioms, reference points, values and belief-systems void, Marxist and Socialist alike, we who survive have nevertheless needed some kind of dualistic yes-no, good-bad, right-wrong, left-right moral litmus to guide us through it all. A truer secular morality, grown beyond the need for a superstructure of religion to enforce it.
Despite his aversion to committees he served as Chair of the National Poetry Society (1975-1976), and as lecturer at Bradford College of Art he served on the Yorkshire Arts Lit Panel where he supported my own ‘Eight Miles Higher’ publishing ventures. A rearguard action against the ‘slow disillusionment’ of what he terms ‘swingback’. In 1981 he became head of fine art at Liverpool Polytechnic. As an actor he could be seen in some forty movies and TV shows. He was Friar Tuck in a 1991 ‘Robin Hood’ with Uma Thurman and Edward Fox. Mr Wilson in ‘All Creatures Great & Small’. Rossiter in the ‘Bring Me The Head Of Arthur Daley’ episode of ‘Minder’ (1994). As Club Owner ‘Percy Murray’ in ‘Scandal’ (1989), the film about the Profumo affair. A lusty Landlord in ‘The Fortunes & Misfortunes Of Moll Flanders’ (1996). Dr Arkon to Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond in ‘The World Is Not Enough’ (1999). As well as an episode of ‘Holby’, and an eccentric Lord in ‘Auf Weidershen Pet’. All strong character parts. He was a strong character. How they square with his art, I don’t know. Maybe because ‘I am not a rock, why should I be rigid?’ But they were fun to do. And they fund ongoing art projects.
Some many years later I witness him again, at his confrontational September 1990 art-exhibitions in ‘Lumb Bank’ Halifax. The ‘Jeff Nuttall Retrospective 1950-‘90’ is a sensory Blackpool Golden Mile of perverse and diabolical delights in a labyrinthine multi-unit ex-Mill complex – where his garish vivid paint-jobs trail-entrails through the ‘Dean Clough’ Gallery. ‘Ah – the hands of a genius, the breath of a drunk, and the touch of a dog’s tongue.’ From ‘Saturday Dance’ (1950), gouache, watercolours, linocuts, ceramic and mixed-media. His ink-drawn ‘Christ Figure’ is a penis. And he still outrages. A woman Fem-activist just wanders in, and is so outraged at the perceived sexist excess of one of his pieces – ‘Interiors: Suit-Case Stuffed With Torsos & Body-Parts’ exhibit, as ‘incitement to violence’, that – while I watch, she simply hefts it from the wall, walks out carrying it, and vanishes. Even as Nuttall is in mid-tirade, oscillating between perhaps amusement, and calculating the publicity value, against the loss of this painting. As earlier he’d bragged how work by Burroughs ‘and myself’ were confiscated by the police from Indica Bookshop, as a rite of passage. I don’t intervene, just observe.
A startlingly good exhibition. Sad and disturbing in equal parts, for Nuttall’s continuity is made up of huge absurdist energies, a life-affirming sensuality reeking with reality, yet hung over into a time of cultural somnambulism and blandness. I come out abuzz with the stuff, psychically re-charged, fine-tuned and ready to re-paint Yorkshire with new spectrums. He might have been sometimes mistaken, he might have been frequently wrong, but his energies are awesome. During his final years he shifted to the Celtic hinterland of Abergavenny, Monmouthshire where, inevitably he gravitated a writers collective around himself, and gave ‘chapter and verse’ of its meetings text-format in a lengthy essay to the ‘Observer’ (19 December 1993). He died on a Sunday – 4 January 2004, while leaving the ‘Hen & Chicks’ Pub where his Trad band had played lunchtime sets replicating his lifelong love of ‘blood-curdling music, full of gutbucket growls, glissandos and unadultered whorehouse lechery’.
Shall I tell you a secret? You must come close, bend very close, you need your ear to the ground to catch Nuttall’s contradictions. His very bones throb with gusty thoughts. He is fleshily corporeal and easily roused. Antagonistic, with a combative, confrontational alpha-male challenge that searches out weakness in potential rivals, based not on any of the regular status criteria, but a vaguely indefinable shifting measure of hipness. Contempt for, and a shit-radar for phoneys, poseurs and soft-left liberals. ‘Global Tapestry no.29’ published a taste-tingling posthumous Jeff Nuttall section, with Jeff Cloves catching Nuttall’s magnificent contradictions exactly as I remember them (‘flamboyant, effortlessly witty and an instinctive mimic’), as well as all that additional shambling anarcho-chaos elsewhere in the issue, seemingly untouched by the corrosion of years.
I met Nuttall. I felt considerably honoured. I think I said so. I meant to (Nuttall said these things about Burroughs). Elsewhere, in correspondence, poet Pete Faulkner also volunteers memories of meetings with Nuttall, more intimate than mine ever were. But then again, Pete is far prettier than I ever was.
We need awkward oddnesses like Jeff Nuttall. His loss diminishes us all…
Jeff Nuttall, manic polymath – poet, artist, and jazz-cornetist is dead, he’s joined the horn-section invisible. So Greg Corso is also dead. Adrian Henri’s no longer around either. It’s strangely unsettling. What’s going on? Is this just subjective Old Farticus-whinge yeah-yeah, or are we really becalmed in a corrosively bland time-zone? Where’s the insurrectionary anger, stupid surrealism, agit-anarcho-politico and ludicrous energy-levels of the Poetry Underground Presses roaring out of the 1960’s, or the Ranting Punk/Industrial xerox-zines of the 1970s/80’s with their insolent black cut-ups? Where are the magazines feeding off/plugging into the Animal Rights, anti-Global/Capitalism Movements? Where’s the trans-European multi-cultural kiss of shiny new century newness? On websites? On social media? If it’s out there, I’m not seeing it…! or is it just me?
‘POEMS I DON’T WANT TO FORGET’
(8 July 1933 – 4 January 2004)
1963 – ‘POEMS’ Jett Nuttall & Keith Musgrove
1963 – ‘THE LIMBLESS VIRTUOSO’ by Jeff Nuttall & Keith Musgrove
1963 – ‘THE CHANGE’ by Allen Ginsberg. Published by Jeff Nuttall through the Writers Forum. Written on a train in Japan, the poem records Ginsberg’s realisation that meditation, not drugs, can better assist his enlightenment. To Nuttall it is ‘a poem whose colossal importance has scarcely yet been realised’ (in ‘Bomb Culture’)
1964 – ‘ROCK POT (ROCKPOT)’ Privately Printed 4to 16pp xerox style sheets. A poetry magazine featuring tough, raw poems by class 4C (‘Produced By 4c’) of an unnamed Yorkshire secondary school where Jeff Nuttall taught in 1964/1965. He was effectively editor (although not named). Contributors from the class of 1964 include Sonia Tofton, John Sterry, Fred Wonfer, Jennifer Johns, Gina Larkins, Keith Law and Dougie Tyldesley
1965 – ‘SON OF ROCK POT (ROCKPOT)’ by Jeff Nuttall (Privately Printed) 4to. 16pp xerox sheets. A follow-up featuring poems ‘Produced By 4c… from the class of 1965’ including Terry Allsopp, Robert Burgess, Darylin Foskett, Helen Tyler and Stephen Dummer. In his editor’s note Nuttall writes ‘More than ten years ago... Allen Ginsberg wrote a long poem about his generation called ‘Howl’… ten weeks ago...the Who made a record about their generation (which is, more or less, your generation) which consists largely of stuttering. In these poems 4C have borrowed the forms and techniques of Allen Ginsberg to put words where the Who could only stutter’
1965 – ‘POEMS I WANT TO FORGET’ by Jeff Nuttall
1966 – ‘COME BACK SWEET PRINCE: A NOVELETTE’ by Jeff Nuttall (Writers Forum)
1966 – ‘PIECES OF POETRY’ by Jeff Nuttall
1966 – ‘PEACE NEWS (2 September)’ issue includes Jeff Nuttall’s essay suggesting public shock-events as new CND strategy
June 1967 – ‘THE CASE OF ISABEL AND THE BLEEDING FOETUS’ by Jeff Nuttall (Turret Books Hardback, London 85469-048-4) 8vo, pp 63. Limited to 500 copies. Novelette, features the poem “In The Park” later collected in ‘Penguin Modern Poets no.12’
1967 – ‘SONGS SACRED AND SECULAR’ by Jeff Nuttall
1967 – ‘TURRET POETS READ’ Jeff Nuttall with George Macbeth & Kevin Crossley-Holland (Turret Books, London) Tall narrow 8vo (12.5cm x 28cm). Illustrated wraps. 1pp of stiff paper folded into three
1967 – ‘THE LAST TIMES Vol.1 No.1: Fall’ (edit Charles Plymell). Tabloid counter-culture newspaper featuring two Jeff Nuttall illustrations
1968 – ‘PENGUIN MODERN POETS no.12’ Jeff Nuttall with Alan Jackson & William Wantling (Penguin Books)
1968 – ‘BOMB CULTURE’ by Jeff Nuttall (MacGibbon & Kee Ltd, Paladin Granada Paperback edition 1970) Richard Neville writes that Jeff ‘compassionately if inaccurately, chronicles the rise and fall of British Conscientious Objection, with its beery, bearded, Jelly Roll Morton atmosphere, where characters lurch about ‘ill with anxiety about the bomb’, dizzily establishing Golders Green committees for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons… duffle coats and CND badges symbolised a new generational identity. For the young, being sad about the Bomb was fun’ (in ‘Playpower’, Paladin paperback)
1968 – ‘JOURNALS’ by Jeff Nuttall
1969 – ‘LOVE POEMS’ by Jeff Nuttall (Unicorn Books, Brighton) 4to. Illustrated wraps, bound with string. 26pp-unpaginated. Limited edition of 100
1969 – ‘MR WATKINS GOT DRUNK & HAD TO BE CARRIED HOME’ by Jeff Nuttall ‘a cut-up piece’
July 1969 – ‘PIG’ by Jeff Nuttall (Fulcrum, 85246-016-3) poem sequences ‘how long can they lock out the blood/ stop its seep through Woolworths floorboard vanishing railway lines’. William Burroughs writes the introduction, ‘Nuttall is one of the few writers today who actually handles his medium. He moves pieces of it from here to there using the repetition techniques of recurring themes in music… Jeff Nuttall touches his words’ (‘touches’ intallicised)
December 1970 – ‘JEFF NUTTALL: POEMS 1962-1969’ by Jeff Nuttall (Fulcrum, 85246-057-0)
1970 – ‘OSCAR CHRIST & THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION’ by Jeff Nuttall. Fiction (Writers Forum)
1971 – ‘WRITING FROM LEEDS POLYTECHNIC’ Edited by Jeff Nuttall (Art And Design Press, Leeds) Contributors Include Liz Bland, George Szirtes, Ken Wall, John Willis pp 52. Fourteen illustrations
1972 – ‘THE FOXES’ LAIR’ by Jeff Nuttall. Fiction (Aloes)
1975 – ‘FATTY FEEDEMALL’S SECRET SELF: A DREAM’ by Jeff Nuttall (Jack Press, 461 Huddersfield Rd, Wyke, Bradford)
1975 – ‘THE ANATOMY OF MY FATHER’S CORPSE’ by Jeff Nuttall
May 1975 – ‘MAN NOT MAN’ by Jeff Nuttall (Unicorn Bookshop, 85659-022-3), the preface reads ‘in ’68 the revolution failed…’
1975 – ‘THE HOUSE PARTY’ by Jeff Nuttall, Fiction (Basilika)
November 1976 – ‘SNIPE’S SPINSTER’ by Jeff Nuttall (Calder And Boyars, London, Hardback 7145-108-90) 8vo, 119pp. An attempt to kiss goodbye to ‘Bomb Culture’ in picaresque novel form, of the London of the ‘Middle Earth’ club, and ‘IT’, of Drury Lane and Better Books, the songs poems and books – each afforded its own footnote
April 1976 – ‘OBJECTS’ by Jeff Nuttall (Trigram Press, 22 Leverton St, London NW5. 66pp, 85465-047-4) Chris Cheek writes ‘his earlier work spat from the page with a lacerating edge of neurosis, frenziedly scratching all itches and breaking against rational structures. This new collection oozes into far, far mellower patterns than ever before and seems rather wistful by comparison’ (‘Oasis no.16’) ‘Sunday Times’ finds ‘an impressive gain in development and control’
1976 – ‘SUN BARBS’ by Jeff Nuttall (Poet & Peasant Books)
1977 – ‘COMMON FACTORS, VULGAR FACTIONS’ by Jeff Nuttall with Rodick Carmichael (Routledge & Kegan Publ), an investigation into popular arts. Ray Gosling calls it ‘a compilation of our pleasures in pictures and words from that England George Orwell introduced into the essay and Donald McGill onto the postcard…’ (‘New Society’)
1977 – ‘AMBIT no.69’ magazine includes Jeff Nuttall’s Play ‘Meadowgrass Writhing’. He also contributes poems to no.26 (1965/6), no.48 (1971), no.58 (1974), and articles to no.79 (1979). He’s also in many other magazines, including ‘PRISM’, ‘LONG HAIR’, ‘BULLETINS FROM NOWHERE’, ‘NORTH’.
1978 – ‘KING TWIST: A PORTRAIT OF FRANK RANDLE’ by Jeff Nuttall (Routledge Keegan & Paul, October). A personalised biography of the Music-Hall comedian, ‘very very funny man’ and one-time rival of George Formby – ‘A Jewel On The Nation’s Arse’, which is also the story of Nuttall’s own research as he pieces the portrait together by talking to Randle’s acquaintances, friends, colleagues and relations. ‘What emerges is a beautifully-recorded analysis of the ways in which working-class values are expressed in popular entertainment and are thus ritualised by it’
1978 – ‘THE GOLD HOLE’ by Jeff Nuttall. Fiction (Quartet, hardback, 2119X, £3.95) ‘Sunday Times’ says that it ‘reads like a cross between William Burroughs and Dylan Thomas, with the sad dementia of sex cushioned within the reassuring rhythms of an old dispensation. ‘The Golden Hole’ itself is a pregnant metaphor for a whole range of sweaty passions, kinky gestures and violent obscenities in which the text is submerged’
1978 – ‘THE PATRIARCHS’ by Jeff Nuttall. Fiction (Beau & Aloes, Arc Publications) 40pp, Limited edition of 300 with Nuttall illustrations. A package tour of the spiritual life of the mid-pennines, from the Ilkley Arts Festival to the ‘sudden crags that define England out of the female sea as stance defines man out of the womb’
1978 – ‘WHAT HAPPENED TO JACKSON’ by Jeff Nuttall. Fiction (Aloes Books, 48pp) Thinly disguised autobiographical novelette. Sex, guilt and jealousy in and around Leeds. Good standard Nuttall prose, though not his best
1979 – ‘GRAPE NOTES, APPLE MUSIC’ by Jeff Nuttall (Rivelin Press) poems in three parts, ‘Prayers’, ‘Strategies’ & ‘Visitations’. Edition of 500 copies
1979/1980 – ‘PERFORMANCE ART’ by Jeff Nuttall. Memoirs of The People Show, plus original scripts in two volumes (Calder). He includes a Rose McGuire drawing of a train of cartoon elephants and two dripping penises with the legend ‘piddly biddly boo who are yoo’, which was sketched ‘to spur the author’s imagination’, he interprets it by ‘walking stiffly along the kerb on tiptoe with my cheeks full of milk. Every few yards I spurted a splash of milk out onto the pavement’
1981 – ‘5X5’ by Jeff Nuttall with Glen Baxter, Ian Breakwell, Ivor Cutler & Anthony Earnshaw (Edit: Asa Benveniste)
1982 – ‘MUSCLE’ by Jeff Nuttall, his tenth volume of fiction
1982 – ‘MANUSCRIPT CORRESPONDENCE ABOUT MUSCLE’ by Jeff Nuttall. Two long signed letters (one handwritten in 1976), to a Ken and Julia mainly about sexual politics arising from a controversial piece by Nuttall in the periodical ‘NOT POETRY’ titled ‘Muscle’. They mainly concern the political incorrectness and abusive strain seen by this couple in Nuttall’s writing – particularly in a lowlife comedian in the story called Terry Bunn who is more Les Dawson than Lenny Bruce. Nuttall’s spirited responses indicate he was trying to deal with ‘the pathetic error of sexual aggression’ but he still regards feminism as ‘potentially destructive as Nazism’. Ken and Julia’s letters are also present in this small archive. Plus a short handwritten signed resume and a typed/corrected page from an earlier work in progress (1976)
1987 – ‘VISUAL ALCHEMY’ by Jeff Nuttall
1989 – ‘THE BALD SOPRANO’ by Jeff Nuttall. A prose-portrait of jazzer Lol Coxhill
1989 – ‘THE NEW BRITISH POETRY 1968-‘88’ (Paladin) with Nuttall’s ‘I stalk with the razorblade cranes, my pinhead reeling / wing power in the white light…’
1999 – ‘ART & THE DEGRADATION OF AWARENESS’ by Jeff Nuttall (Calder Publications)
2002 – ‘WEASEL’ (Jack Press)
2003 – ‘JEFF NUTTALL’S WORK: SUPPER MOVES UNLIGHT VIPER – AN ILLUSTRATED LECTURE’ (Writers Forum)
December 2003 – ‘SELECTED POEMS’ by Jeff Nuttall (Salt Modern Poets, 264pp) introduction by Roy Fisher
2004 – ‘JEFF NUTTALL: A CELEBRATION’ edited by Robert Bank & Tony Ward (Arc Publications, ISBN 1-904614-08-6, £10 from Arc, Nanholme Mill, Shaw Wood Rd, Todmorden, Lancashire OL14 6DA Tel: 01706-812338)