In the beginning there was Rock n Roll. The 1972 Wembley Rock n Roll Show
My friend Dutt, who I met in the basement of Carnaby Market, imported Indian fabric for Michael Rainey's wife Jane Ormsby Gore. He had opened a shop at 430 Kings Road, Chelsea called ‘Hung on You’ and had run into financial problems. Dutt took over the lease for a short time before it ending up with Tommy Roberts and the name changed to Mr Freedom then Paradise Garage.As the ‘Forest Gump’ character in all this, I stayed upstairs for a short while with my trusty mattress on the floor looking directly at ‘The Worlds End’ Pub opposite. (The window was at floor height...interesting)
At the back of Paradise Garage, in 1971, Malcolm McLaren sold his Rock memorabilia and in September that year, Great Alternative Stores took over an empty greengrocers shop at 12 Great Western Rd, W9. It took me until December 11th to open what the locals called the ‘hippy shop’ as a lot of work had to be carried out inside.
It finally opened three days after the birth of our daughter Dolly in nearby St Mary's Hospital, Harrow Rd and, following the tradition of the day, I had been disposing of a sack of stinking rotting potatoes from the basement of the shop, rather than attending the birth. Denny Fletcher, a friend from Liverpool told me to ‘just open the doors, and stop fussing about getting things ready. It worked and we sold something that afternoon.
We stocked ‘Student Magazine’ for Richard Branson who had an office above a taxi garage in Woodfield Road, just around the corner. Our friend Allison was his PA and when he asked her if she knew a plumber to fix a toilet in his barge at Little Venice, she recommended Denny. The resultant sinking of the barge did not endeer ‘those hippies ‘ to Richard but we did get an invite to ‘The Manor’ for the release party for Tubular Bells in 1973.
Back to that basement. Malcolm got a concession to sell his Rock memorabilia at the 1972 Wembley Rock n Roll Show. This was the first big music show at the stadium and it was a bit of a revival for Rock. The ‘British Invasion’ had occurred in the USA and the original Rock musicians had had to take backstage while the young English musicians had taken over covering their music. After a couple of successful concerts in the US, Wembley was talked about as a revival for the originals.
True to form, GAS were only asked to ‘do some shirts’ the week before and in the days before computers (1972 Pong, the first video game) the designing and printing was done by hand. We found some newspaper images of the stars and from these we based hand cut stencils to produce the screens that were used to print them onto black tshirts. To hold the shirts, they were stretched over boards and laid on a print table made from two 8 x 4 sheets of ply. This was then covered by underlay and a canvas cover stretched over the top
Printing onto black fabric has always presented a problem, even today with direct to garment printers as the ink has to be laid on top, resulting in a harder ‘hand’ than printing onto a light substrate. In 1972, in the basement, we used large quantities of French chalk, mixed with the binder and then printed through a wide silk mesh with a well rounded squeegee.
The print then had to be air dried before the paraffin element in the binder was cured by using a domestic iron..(I love the smell of paraffin in the morning).
We were late in delivering to Wembley and, having worked through the night on three nights running, I turned up at the stadium and was confronted by an angry Malcolm. He said he couldn’t sell them so I let him have them on sale or return. It was only watching a Youtube clip from the 1972 concert just now, that I realised that he did sell them. Anyone out there remember buying any?. I never got the ‘return’ but I understand that they did contribute in a small way towards the continuing success of Malcolm and Vivienne Westwoods move along the fashion ladder (Chuck Berry at Bonhams) and an example turning up in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Good to know that all four designs can now be bought on our Great Alternative Stores website, reproduced on the very latest DTG printer and where the white print looks great and has an excellent soft….ish handle with no smell of paraffin.
Heinz was singing at the time I delivered but the effects of paraffin, no sleep and the prospect of explaining myself on the deal I had done resulted in my early retirement. I wish I had stayed to watch Chuck Berry close the show. My mates told me they tried to turn him off as his set over ran but he was able to continue with the threat of a riot from the crowd. Great times, revisited by the Gas Man now. From the basement to the cloud……..sans paraffin