I’d busied myself assembling a collection of virtually everything Psychic TV had ever done. Working back from the psych-pop of “Godstar” and the eclectic Live Albums Series to classic albums like “Force The Hand of Chance” and “Dreams Less Sweet” as well as more, ah, experimental/conceptual records (like a ballet soundtrack!). I completely immersed myself in the philosophy behind the records too, corresponding with various industrial outposts and of course PTV’s ideological wing: Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth.
It all seemed much more open-ended than other belief systems on the market, such as anarchism. And if truth be told it satisfied the neural needs which I’d developed during a lifetime of churchgoing. I found it all fascinating, but I’d never really got to grips with the finer details or met anyone who was attempting to put all this stuff into practice in their lives.
What were they like, these people you saw at gigs with all the mad occult tattoos? In my head they all lived lives of uncompromising orgiastic excitement. And I didn’t, obviously.
Then one day another mailout from TOPY HQ dropped through my parents’ letterbox. I scrambled upstairs with it before they asked me too many questions.
It was a flyer. A flyer for an event. It used some graphics from a recent Vague Magazine cartoon which good-naturedly took the piss out of TOPY (a homage to “Apocalypse Now” set in Hackney, with Genesis P-Orridge as Kurtz, naturally). This suggested a sense of humour lurking in the Temple, which was encouraging. Maybe they weren’t slavish cultists, maybe there was something in this?
There was no mention on the flyer of Psychic TV or the P-Orridges, which also interested me. Perhaps TOPY actually had a life of its own after all? Or was this just a cunning ploy to lure the gullible in? I didn’t really give a toss either way. I was going up to London to meet some sinister sex-magickians and that was that.
The venue was a specially procured squat in Holloway. I got off the train at Kings Cross and walked all the way up the Caledonian Road, I was that hyped up.
When I reached my destination about an hour later there were about 30 people milling about with shaven heads, combats and occult jewelry. It was dark. The street was lit by flickering flames from a burning brazier. It was like a scene out of Jarman’s “The Last of England” and I fucking loved it. But I was on my own and everyone else seemed in deep conversation.
Luckily I was put out of my social embarrassment by a kind soul who came up and proffered me a welcoming smile and another flyer from amongst a pile he had hidden inside his jacket:
I grabbed it with some excitement and probably gabbled away with about a million excruciating questions.
The flyer revealed that the venue had been abandoned because the police and fire brigade had taken too much an interest – they had actually contracted someone to demolish one of the building’s walls. This had undone weeks of preparation, but the resourceful old moles in TOPY had come up with another venue with a day to spare. I was told to get to Old Street and await further instructions.
I headed to Holloway tube station, eager to get to the main event. I found an equally earnest young man there, also covered in Psychic TV badges. Neither of us really knew what was going on, but we paired up and headed to Old Street together. I’d never heard of Old Street before. The tube station was deserted. But someone had sprayed a trail of psychick crosses to lead our way…
Outside the tube station, Old Street itself was also completely deserted. Seriously – a lot has changed in the last twenty years! There was literally nobody around and it was really dark. We followed the graffitti trail and carried on sussing each other out, chatting musical trivia ten to the dozen. The new venue seemed to be a massive warehouse. Which was also completely deserted and dark.
We found a pub called The Glue Pot and cautiously opened the door, not knowing what to expect – who the fuck comes to a pub in a deserted dark grim area of London? Did they like freaky industrial fanbwoys? If not, could we make it back to the tube OK? Luckily for us, the pub was also pretty deserted, except for half a dozen earnest young men with all the right insignia sitting around a table.
We sipped our well earned pints with some relief and bonded over tunes, gigs, weird ideas. Nobody there was actually involved with TOPY bar one older guy who I think had come down from Manchester. He seemed sound, as did everyone else.
After a few pints we headed over to the warehouse and were greeted by a squatter who I can only describe as resembling a Dickensian urchin – head to toe in dirty black rags, his face obscured by soot. He tried to sting us for an “entry fee” significantly higher than what we expected, so negotiations began in earnest.
There were a few people lounging around in the warehouse but it was mainly empty – the main mob from Holloway and/or Hackney was yet to turn up. It was the first squat I’d ever been in and curiosity was compelling me to have a wander. My traveling partner came along. The place was massive. Someone had sprayed “Foetus Art Terrorism” on one wall in huge black letters. It was, we agreed, a pretty awesome space.
We headed into yet another cavernous room with a low ceiling. At the other end of the room was a disheveled crusty. With an iron bar. The crusty started moving slowly towards us, brandishing the iron bar. Every time he passed under one of the strip lights he smashed it with the iron bar. Behind him lay darkness, in front of him – us.
He got closer and closer – smash, smash, smash went the lights. Glass on the floor. Quickly exchanged whispers between two virtual strangers.
Run? Fight? Stand rooted to the spot, gawping? We went for the latter option.
So there we were – stood in a cavernous dark room with iron bar man in front of us. There was a pause. He muttered something incomprehensible and carried on walking. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.
After that episode we decided to rejoin the main group, which had swelled in numbers. Scott Nobody from Psychic TV was around, as were some familiar faces from gigs. Some nice conversations were had. It turned out that the squatters were nothing to do with TOPY, which was something of a relief. Once again people seemed OK – impassioned and a bit eccentric, but they had their heads screwed on, for the most part.
I left before things kicked off properly – so I guess I wasn’t so far out that I wanted to miss the last train home. And I think I’d really turned up to check it out and talk to people rather than get down in an impromptu drumming ritual, so it was job done for me. The tube back to Kings Cross was deserted. I was buzzing.
20. Psychic TV, Spacemen 3, Hiding Place. Astoria, Sat Apr 30 1988.
So the Old Street happening wasn’t a gig, but it was the backstory to the Psychic TV Astoria bash which took place a week later. There were a few familiar faces there, so I had a bunch of people to hang out with. It was shortly before the proto acid house “Jack The Tab” album came out, so I remember a few of our number grumbling about the new direction. Which is funny, because we were all supposed to be about boundless experimentation and throwing off the shackles of conformity. But some people didn’t like deviating from the template too much.
I happened to love the Jack The Tab album anyway. As I’ve previously said, it did good things to my head – conjuring up an alternative reality where clubs were even greater and freakier.
I probably bought one of everything from the merchandise stall again. I used to enjoy wandering around St Albans of a weekend wearing a Psychic TV t-shirt and grimacing, so I needed to stock up.
I’m sure I enjoyed Spacemen 3. But I suspect PTV blew them away, because I remember this as being one of the best times I saw them.
The gig was released as part of the same Live Album as the Finsbury Park one. So I can tell you that it began with Genesis P-Orridge informing the crowd that Alex Sanders “The King of the Witches” had died earlier in the day so that the concert was dedicated to him and his battle to make witchcraft legal in the UK: “But the WAR goes ON!”
It’s a lot less “acid” than I remember, which is yet more proof that my memory of these things is much better than actual recordings of the events. Possibly because my recollection of the sound is more accurate, but more likely that my brain enhances both the sound and the other, social, aspects of what happened.
The gig ended with a long percussive freakout, a stage invasion, and large amounts of nudity. I’d come a long way since Howard Jones.