Chapter 1 of Part 1
By instalments, growing out of one family’s experience at the centre of the countercultural movement of the sixties this autobiographical section features chapters and episodes in flashback to various pivotal, unusual and interesting times and people. It is in three sections: childhood; family and early adulthood; mature adulthood.
This part of Alt-Generations is in web-book form. It includes text, video and images. My intention has long been to use original music to underscore certain interesting periods, people and important episodes of my surreal life. Unusual not just in childhood, but also in living and working in several countries, the U.S.A., the UK and Turkey, mainly as freelance visual editor.
Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper’s
I didn’t meet Hendrix until the Albert hall in ’69, when my father Tommy introduced my brother and me to him before the show, backstage. Jimi hoisted me up on his shoulders and ran around the dressing room with me. And then, presumably too excited to contain myself, at some point during the performance I ran onto the stage and whispered something in his ear. Who knows what I said. It could have been a song request or maybe I asked who was his tailor. What exactly it was remains a mystery.
The black and white photo of that stage encounter only showed up for me at Christmas of 2013 when Yazid Manou, a French music publicist for Sony music and a photo-sleuth, contacted me on FB. I was blown away, of course. The picture is now in the Handel and Hendrix museum, at 23 Brook Street in Mayfair, along with some blurb on my father.
‘Watch Out for Your Ears’, featuring Jimi Hendrix, Traffic and the Animals. An extract from the film produced by our father, Tom Weber.
Sgt. Pepper’s was a huge deal culturally and musically, but it also had special significance in our young lives.
Our father Tommy secured a contract from the Beatles to produce any film released with the same name as the record. He did this in a business venture with the guys who shot and edited the original clip for the song ‘A Day in The Life’.
Tom had met and got along with the two editors who’d put that together and who agreed to his suggestion that he produce the film. He then met with ‘the boys’ and they also agreed. I think the Beatles liked the methodology the two editors had used for the Day in The Life clip, which was to leave 16mm cameras throughout the studio during the orchestral recording session – they let anyone at the recording session shoot freehand – and then edited the resulting footage themselves.
Coming out of the Apple offices Tommy couldn’t believe his luck. That is, until he received a call shortly afterwards from John Lennon and Paul McCartney saying that the Fab Four needed the money they’d advanced him to make the Pepper’s film returned in order for them to produce the Magical Mystery Tour film, which they seemed more keen on doing as it was a new project.
Tommy was crushed and returned the advanced funds to the Beatles, even though he had everything in writing. I’m sure not many people can claim to have done something like that. I myself think it was a mistake. Being too soft or nice is a trait for which some of us, like Tommy, often have a weakness.
However, John and Paul said he could still make a film using the music. They gave him the synch rights for that purpose, as a gesture. But without the lads in the film it wasn’t a project of the same scale. While still smuggling, Tom did start putting a film together, called ‘Watch Out for Your Ears’, with other artists and friends performing songs in concert. Most notably his new party friend Jimi who opened the performance pieces tearing into a rendition of Sgt. Pepper’s in his inimitable style, which was brilliant, barely able to remember the lyrics, which was funny.
Also at that concert, shot in Olympia in ’67 I believe, were Traffic and the Animals performing sets which Tom shot on multiple 16mm cameras. Along with these in the final edit of the film were montages of cosmic Hindu deities and characters set to Joe Cocker’s rendition of ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ and a further section of film featuring a pouting Charlotte Rampling, who was living with us at the time, writhing across the hood of a Ford Mustang. These were intercut with footage of various GT racing cars tearing around Brands Hatch. There was a Lola and also a Ford GT40 and all of this section was set to the music of Led Zep’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’.
As a note to that section of film: the Ford GT40 which Tom ‘owned’ for a while was in fact stolen by his more dangerous partner in crime, a dealer and smuggler called Taffy, who later sold the GT40 for a huge live-aboard truck. The story goes Tom and Taffy went to view the GT40 and Taffy asked the seller if he could test drive the Le Mans winning car and never came back!
Watching that film on endless occasions in a little screening room at a post production house in Wardour Street, a film production hub in the UK, is how I became obsessed with Jimi Hendrix. I’d become immediately affected as a toddler on seeing Jimi perform in the film. It was a bit like possession, I’d fling my head back and fourth to the music. The editors and Tommy would laugh and my brother would cringe and feel embarrassed at a younger and wilder ‘thing’, a sibling who’d come along and – it seems to me in retrospect – who had taken away a lot of the attention and time from the adults. A common psychological dynamic between younger and older brothers.
Angel by Jimi Hendrix is one of many reinterpretations of period pieces of music I’ve recorded and for the project. In later chapters I look forward to going more into Alternative, Post Rock, Punk and Electronic music.
Some of you will notice the title of the Beatles song is also the title of the book Robert Greenfield wrote about our family. Not a book that I or many people who knew us at that time would recommend as an accurate portrayal. Essentially the book puts forth Jake’s recollection of our childhood lives. Alt-Generations will be more of my perspective, with more sociology and psychology in the mix, a lack of which I suspect may have been part of the problem with Greenfield’s book. Although, to his credit, Greenfield did try to balance some of this out and incorporate a few more of my points of view, most notably that my brother at times could be a little difficult, which occasionally caused rifts between him and some of the artists in our childhood, especially between him and Keith Richards. Many of us, including our nanny Mo and Joanna Harcourt-Smith, didn’t completely recognise Bob’s slightly generous and angelic portrayal of my brother in the book. But there are two sides to every story, as we know.
There was a strange and to me an oddly manipulative transformation of the characters in the final edit of the book. I was edited to come off like a little thug and not very thoughtful, which curiously was not in the penultimate edit I was forwarded.
In a general sense we’ll get into some of the seemingly more universal psychological dynamics between siblings, mostly their rivalries. I have a nice interview with a family psychologist. I’ll try and keep it light but also not miss the essence of the rub and the interpersonal dynamics in families, particularly our cousins, who had a very similar dynamic. We’ll look at great feuds like the Gallagher brothers and the de Havilland and Fontaine sisters – and compare notes, especially amusing ones.
Sound and Music – and the E-Biography
Along with text and written chapters are playable documentary audio extracts which the reader can select while browsing chapters. It is hoped to reinforce the authenticity.
Without getting too personal a number of chapters will compare a few key life stages over three generations of fathers and sons – those being myself, my father and my son. Simple comparative life stages include: birth, family, education, work and marriage.
The concept is also that the browser can select a background soundtrack to play, while s/he is browsing, which ought to be at a background level so as not to interrupt the browser’s experience of the narrative.
I was born on November 25th, 1964, in Holland Park Nursing Homes. I was a ‘blue baby’, had mottle all over my skin and barely survived. That much we do know, although no record of the exact time exists as the nursing homes burnt down not long after.
My mother was Susan Anne Coriat Weber and my father was born Thomas Einer Arkner, in Denmark in the late 1930s. After the war, when my grandparents separated, my father and his mother moved back to England, her homeland. He later took his mother’s maiden name, Weber, which became our family name.
He was in and around the hospital at the time of my birth, but too high to remember the time of day. Also there was an Irish business partner of my father’s. For many years Tommy couldn’t figure out why he was there. Decades later, when I was working in Turkey and visited my father in Rugby where he was living at the time, I walked into the living room and he turned white and looked like he’d seen a ghost. ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked him. Tom said that I’d just reminded him of an old business partner of his, an Irish guy, now a property dealer in Spain, who had been present at my birth, although Tom could never figure out why. Apart from being a room mate of his and an ex-boyfriend of mum’s, that is. Thus, around the age of forty, my world was turned upside down and I was forced to get my head around the idea that the man whom I’d always presumed to be my biological dad in fact might not be.
The first song on the radio I remember hearing. ‘That’s interesting’, I thought. ‘I like it!’.
First Memory: Tara Browne – the man who inspired Lennon to write ‘A Day in The Life’
My earliest travel memory as a kid was a trip by car to Tara and his family at their country house in Ireland. My father and mother bundled us two boys into the back of the Mini Cooper and drove there, the ferry taking us across the water to the Emerald Isle. Many of my earliest memories are of being tucked in the back of that car, bouncing up and down so our heads would hit the roof while my old man, usually in a rush, took us somewhere, dropped off a friend at an airport or in this case took us to see Tara, ‘The Irish Prince’, as he was often referred to in the circle of London poets and freaks.
An heir to the Guinness family and Irish, he was much loved in those circles for being a bit of a rebel but also a man of exotic heritage. When Tara later came to visit us at our London house in his Lotus, seeing my eyes light up, he took me for quick spin around Chester Square where we lived at the time.
He seemed completely unaffected. When we arrived at his house he bundled us kids, along with his baby, into a warm bath and then put us in front of the fire, having wrapped us in oversized sweaters. Tara was very normal, very cheerful, young and sadly remembered as the guy who inspired the song ‘A Day In the Life’. Presumably a little worse for wear he drove through a red light and realising his mistake swerved to take the full brunt of a side-coming vehicle, an act which saved the life of his female companion who was in the passenger seat.
Second Memory – A Trip to Dublin
My mother, brother and I flew out to Dublin to meet an Irishman who seemed to be one of mum’s big loves. This would have been in 1968, I believe. Bizarrely, as we touched down two of the tyres of the aircraft burst and though it was nothing too serious the plane had to be evacuated. I think mum was a little shaken when we checked in and bedded down for the night in the Dublin old-time guest house.
The next day with us kids in tow, mum went to a house and rang the doorbell. An unremarkable man of medium height with shoulder length hair answered the door. He was clad in a Lebanese velvet kaftan not unlike one of mum’s and inside the house the voices of a number of young and seemingly happy women could clearly be heard. Occasionally one of the women would flit across the room behind the Irishman as he stood in the doorway, in and out of our view, while mum and this man exchanged heated words – he wouldn’t let us in. Afterwards, obviously somewhat bereft, mum took us to the cinema where we watched the recently released film ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’.
Third Memory – Boy in the Picture
I must have been about four years old when one night climbing up the ladder to the mezzanine where we slept in Hugh Street I noticed some family photographs stuck to the wall by the wooden ladder. Tommy, our father, would often do this. Stopping to look at them for a minute I was curious about one and asked one of the adults – Tommy or Charlotte Rampling, who was living with us at the time – ‘Who is that boy in the picture?’. ‘That’s you!’ they replied, laughing. Before then I’d never had a sense of who I personally was in the physical world. I felt happy though to be that kid, as the boy in the picture looked like a positive and not unattractive person.
DEATH of a FATHER
In the Summer of 2006 our father, Tommy Weber, passed away from cancer of the pancreas. My suspicion is that he knew he was not long for this world at least a year or so prior to his passing. I suspect this for a number of reasons. Firstly, the passionate desire he had for all his sons to be together at his youngest son, Buddy’s, wedding to Angie in the last year before he passed. Jake and I, living respectively in Malibu and Palm Springs at the time and unaware of the reason behind the urgency of his pleas to be at the wedding, were unable to oblige the old man and our younger brother. Secondly, he was incredibly generous in the last year or so of his life. No sooner coming into a small inheritance from his mother, Pamela’s, estate – around £100k – than he gave all the proceeds away to us, his three sons.
We three brothers and my son Beau carried Tommy’s casket into the service, after which the mourners entered and took their seats. We each then read something or gave a small speech for our father, as the refrains of ‘Kinder Days’ – a song I’d recorded and written recently on the west coast – faded away. Tom had always been my biggest, sometimes only, music fan.
My Brother and I
This picture was taken in 1968.
So who exactly were my family? I will try and describe them for you.
My brother was the more careful one, not as wild by nature as mum, dad or me, although he became much more confident in his teenage years. We definitely had each other’s back while travelling, going to school in Denmark, France or Spain and when dad was out of it, dealing or using.
He is one year and three-quarters older than me, born on the 12th of March 1963. He was not bad as a sibling, pretty helpful and fair, but a slightly picky and finicky older brother which I gather from interviews and research is not uncommon in older siblings.
We’ve always been a similar height and weight, but very different natures and looks – which does pose the question: are we of the same father?
Although close while travelling, Jake and I would fight for hours on end over the smallest things, but neither could get the upper hand until finally we’d apologise, sob and make up.
Tommy, our father, was definitely the extrovert. Unnaturally good looking, he was a risk taker. He was very warm and social. He liked to race cars and do anything that seemed impossible at a time when anything seemed possible. He was wild, generous and big-hearted, but became overly chemically explorative during the 60s and then heavily addicted in the early seventies – a Viking rebel.
Above is a rare shot of Tommy actually racing. I found it on the Marcos website. Marcos was a collaboration between the Lotus designer Frank Costin and Jem Marsh. The car was built of wood and went like the clappers. Although not very big inside and difficult to climb into Tommy thought of it as a Spitfire with four wheels.
Tom was taken at a very young age, around five years old, from Denmark – his birth country – to England and put into a strict boarding school called Halibury. In the school they shaped children into the tough young men needed to fill the ranks of administrators of the empire and particularly the East India Trading company. In which, in some way, Tom’s grandfather on his mother’s side, Evelyn Weber, was involved. He owned a successful trading company with real estate and offices in the city and the docklands, for which Tommy was being raised to enter as a clerk and presumably, at some point, work his way up into management.
While my brother and I were growing up and attended schools in different countries, dad would tell us about his rebellion against the cruel British culture and the public school, into which he felt he was rudely displaced from what he described as the far warmer and more natural people and culture of his childhood in Denmark. There in this big estate, Hald, now a retreat for writers, he liked to get messy with the animals and work on the farm.
When Jake and I were dealing with the difficulties of being outsiders at some new school in France, Spain or Denmark and challenges like language, making friends or dealing with bullies, Tom would tell us how he once whipped the headmaster with his own cane and slept with the cleaning ladies.
Tom went from that public school to the air cadets. Flying was the second big love of his life, after the first, which was his home country Denmark.
However, Tom was colour blind and bad luck meant that one day in training, when he was carrying a doctor on a routine approach to land in France, his passenger became suspicious when Tom failed to notice a red light flashing in the cockpit. He was busted. And so, according to the old man, naturally he took up the next most dangerous thing, motor racing. Which of course mum hated.
Between that time and when he met my mother in the early sixties, he worked for a while as a clerk at his English grandfather’s import and export trading company at the East India Docks.
But that life and work was too cut and dried for Tom, who ever since his removal from Denmark as a kid rebelled against everything and everyone. So his grandfather had to let him go and Tom put away the bowler hat and umbrella and opened a small gambling den from his private flat in the West End, before marrying mum and having us two kids. We grew up in a small house in Pimlico.
Mum was the introvert. Attractive and more of a true seeker or hippy. But more on her next time…
Mum was something of the introvert among us, the dreamy one – not unlike me. I was slightly extroverted as a child, but became less so in adulthood.
Mum was poetic, her head in the clouds a bit, a spiritual seeker and I guess a proper hippy of the time, like the people in her circle of friends. A famous art dealer, Christopher Gibbs supposedly turned many of the Stones entourage onto LSD. Like Keith Richards he lived on Cheyne Walk and he frequented ‘The Flying Dragon’, the health food café mum opened in World’s End, Chelsea, around 1968, after her marriage to my father began to fall apart.
Like all boys I had an extremely close relationship with my mother. She raised Jake on her own before I came along on November 25th 1964. At that time it was decided she needed help and she advertised in a national paper for a nanny. Mo, nineteen years old and from Aberdeen, answered the ad and she and I also became very close. Mo and Jake didn’t get on. I’d often sleep in Mo’s bedroom at the top of the house, beneath the imposing poster of her teenage hero, George Best, which Mo had plastered to the ceiling above her bed.
There are a bunch of revealing anecdotes about mum. Once clothed only in flowers she rode her white stallion right through the annual fair at Padstow, which gave the locals something to talk about.
In contrast to Dad’s friends, who were motor racers and property or other kinds of dealers, mum’s friends were an arty crowd: Mark Palmer, the Queen’s godson who owned a popular modelling agency; Christopher Gibbs, a celebrated gay Chelsea antiques and art dealer who supposedly turned Jagger and Keith Richards on to acid one weekend at Redlands and Frances Travers, mum’s work friend at The Flying Dragon and, like Christopher Gibbs, one of the gypsy travellers living on the grounds at Eliot Castle.
Her crowd all hung out at her health food café in the World’s End and later moved down to Cornwall to live in gipsy caravans on the estate of Lord Eliot. The caravans were spread around a broken down old house on the grounds of Eliot Castle in Cornwall, not far from where I now live. We stayed there for a bit with them. They baked good smelling bread and did little more than live simply off the earth and, I guess, contemplate nature until they got bored and moved on.
George Harrison was a good friend of mum’s. They were not that dissimilar in nature: slightly introvert, poetic and seekers, spiritually speaking.
When George came to visit our home in Pimlico I was woken in the middle of the night by a pinch from our nanny Mo. She was in a state of some panic and told me I had to go downstairs and interrupt the grown ups who were playing records and smoking their ‘funny cigarettes’ in the front room. As I rubbed my eyes she frantically related that there was a Beatle in the house, George Harrison, and she needed an excuse to meet him. I was to go down and tell mum I’d had a nightmare, she would follow and whisk me away from the adults – thus saving the day – but not before locking eyes with George.
I would later learn it was during this meeting that Tom played for George Harrison some music he had brought with him from Afghanistan, which George then took away and used in parts on his first solo project ‘Wonderwall’.
One night, towards the end of the break up of the Beatles, another Beatle came round for dinner with his new, very quiet, Japanese girlfriend. Mum cooked a big meal but we kids had to go out for some yoghurt as apparently that was all the girlfriend ate. As the night wore on and mum took us off and tucked us up in bed she made my brother and me promise the strangest thing, which was that we would never take drugs. Honestly, I’m not sure we knew what exactly drugs were at the time but we duly promised that to her before she closed the door and rejoined the adults.
In the clip below George talks about drugs, heroin in particular. At some point both mum and dad would become addicted. Knowing what I know now, I suspect psychological as well as undiagnosed mental health issues had a lot to do with those addictions.
Living With the Band of Gypsies at Castle Eliot
Port Eliot Castle. Where they have the writing and music festival in the summer.
This is where we lived for a while – on the grounds, not in the castle. With mum, Mark Palmer and his band of ‘gypsies’, living off the land. Mark Palmer had a huge model agency in London as well as his band of travelling freaks – when he was not touring music festivals with his best mate. Mark drove a Triumph and his inseparable best mate, who he toured the music festivals with, drove a Norton.
From Mark Palmer’s 60s modelling agency – publicity shot
I never met Jago Eliot, but it sounds like he was a fascinating guy. He died fairly recently, in 2006. He was initially a street performer and became a successful club owner. His father, Peregrine (Perry) Eliot, was very much part of the group of freaks which included art dealer Christopher Gibbs and Mick Jagger. This was roughly the group that was at Redlands when it was busted. Although Jagger didn’t stay with us at Port Eliot he hosted the band of gypsies in their caravans on the grounds of his estate before he presumably got fed up with it and they moved down to Port Eliot. Perry let us all stay in a derelict old house on the Eliot estate where I can attest we lived very simply.
Mum used to make things like fruit salad with rose petals and nuts, but as a kid I couldn’t stand nuts in food. I still can’t. There were a lot of horses, home cooking and the smell of baking bread or lentils wafting out of windows and doors. Apart from her white stallion, called Jeruslem Artichoke, mum had a pony called Bilbo Baggins which they’d hook up to a cart with us kids in the back and which then would set off to go a mile or two down the country road to the corner shop. There my brother and I would tumble out, buy a fix of cornish ice cream and Bilbo would take us back to the old broken down house on the estate.
A few months into this unconventional way of life our father came to visit with his glamorous girlfriend, Charlotte Rampling. According to Frances they were slightly shocked at the conditions we were all living in, so they took my brother and me back to London on that same day. Considering how unconventionially we – Charlotte, my brother, my father and I – lived in London, at Hugh Street, in one large room with a mezzanine bed above a commercial photographer’s studio, I still wonder why.