A new exhibition and book The British Underground Press of the Sixties brings together the iconic covers of International Times, Oz, Friends and Frendz, Gandalf’s Garden, Black Dwarf and Ink for the first time in a dedicated book, along with comic books, original ads, graphics, posters, and flyers. Fractious, challenging, and highly controversial, these titles not only caught the spirit of the times, they are also a guiding light for the ‘zines of today. The publication is timed to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love and the beginning of British counterculture.
While IT revolutionised the editorial direction and style of mainstream newspapers, OZ soon brought to the attention of thousands the psychedelic art scene
In a time when telephones were rooted to the spot and radio and TV was controlled by the state, the only way for alternative points of view to reach others was through the medium of print. Which was why, in 1966, Barry Miles and John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins decided to start a newspaper. They called it International Times and launched IT in October 1966. It was the first British underground newspaper and began a news media revolution.
After IT came Oz, and then Friends (which became Frendz), Gandalf’s Garden, Black Dwarf, and Ink. While IT revolutionised the editorial direction and style of mainstream newspapers, OZ soon brought to the attention of thousands the psychedelic art scene, employing artists and designers who used vibrant colours, materials, and ideas to create posters, clothes, light shows and art installations.
Importantly, IT, and Oz in particular, not only gave precious column inches to the developing underground music scene, but they also provided the spaces and events for bands such as Pink Floyd, Soft Machine and Tomorrow to perform. IT was launched with London’s first big ‘Happening’ at the Roundhouse, at which the Floyd and Soft Machine appeared; and Hoppy opened the UFO club in Tottenham Court Road, where Soft Machine and Pink Floyd were the ‘house’ bands.
The championing of the alternative music scene by IT and OZ inspired mainstream publishers to create magazines similarly dedicated solely to the emerging music scene (such as Sounds) or to reposition existing titles as alternative papers (such as the NME and Melody Maker).
Without the British underground press of the 1960s, there would have been no countercultural underground, no psychedelic revolution: Miles, Hoppy and IT were instrumental in taking the emerging psychedelic scene out of the underground and onto the streets. Miles was a close friend of Paul McCartney and shared records, books and publications from the US with the Beatle, who subsequently shared them with his band.
The exhibition, The British Underground Press of the Sixties, to be held at James Birch’s A22 Gallery in Clerkenwell, is the first time that every single edition of every significant underground publication dedicated to counterculture has been put on display. The accompanying book is the first time these covers have been brought together in print, and also includes a history of the underground press written by Miles.
The book is published by Rocket 88 and will only be available via www.britishundergroundpress.com and the Rocket 88 website. Pre-ordering before July 21 will enable buyers to get a discount on the purchase price, and the chance to have their name printed in the book.
There will be 100 limited edition copies of the book, which will be housed in a bespoke case, and will include original copies of a single edition of IT, a single copy of Oz, and a 1971-issued poster of Janis Joplin, originally created for IT on the occasion of her death.
Barry Miles is an English author known for his participation in, and writing on, the subjects of the 1960s London underground and counter-culture. Miles has published more than 50 books, among them the best-selling biographies of major counter-cultural figures William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Frank Zappa and Charles Bukowski. His first autobiographical book In the Sixties: Illustrated is also published by Rocket 88. He lives in London and France.
James Birch is an art curator and gallery owner. His long-standing fascination with the British Underground Press and a large collection of related printed material and ephemera form a large part of the exhibition that this book accompanies.
Image: British Underground Press covers, L to R: International Times 27, 8 March 1968; OZ 28, May 1970; cOZmic Comics 4, 1972
The British Underground Press of the Sixties 28 September – 4 November 2017 A22 Gallery 22 Laystall Street London EC1R 4PA Opening times: Thursday to Saturday, 12 – 6 pm, or by appointment