Chapter 3 of Part 1
What was Nellcôte like? It felt like paradise. The gardens, the house, the cool people, the sea and sunshine. The music and of course the amazing food, courtesy of the chef, Gerard. There were big full-house gathering lunches of Cordon Bleu cooking where everyone sort of leapt in and helped themselves. Marlon had a few interesting eating habits as a very young toddler and Keith would defend his right to do whatever he wanted. Marlon would pick up a whole slab of butter and try to eat it, creating quite a mess. His other odd taste was for ants, which he’d pick off a leaf and of which there were many on the grounds.
Until we arrived at the Cannes film festival I had no real idea of how big was the storm around the eye of this particular hurricane we had flown into at Nellcôte, how madly famous our hosts were. Walking into the reception at the Cannes film festival was like walking into an avalanche of photographers – flash bulbs going off in our faces. Although alarming at first, it wasn’t a bad feeling and I imagine if you were a rock star you could very easily get used to it.
The Flight Over
The first clear memory I have of the flight over from London to Nice was at the check-in counter at Heathrow airport. Tommy was schmoozing with the airline attendant helping us. This was pretty standard fare for dad. Although I did notice that on this occasion he’d turned it up all the way. A huge smile appeared on the attendant’s face in response to dad’s winning grin which suddenly dropped as he turned to look down at me and noticed something around my neckline area. Apparently the masking tape he’d used to strap the couple of kilos to our bodies had come loose on mine and was riding up over the top of my sweatshirt.
Insisting I suddenly needed to take a pee dad hastily excused us from the check-in assistant and whisked my brother and me off in the direction of the toilets. Once there he reapplied the tape so that it was no longer visible above my neckline, thus ensuring it didn’t give the game away. We then made our way to the boarding area, got on the plane and took our seats. The flight over was uneventful and short. On landing at Nice airport, according to my brother, when going through customs and having our carry ons searched, Jake double bluffed the customs officer by asking him if he wanted to search us kids as well. I don’t remember that, but if true it’s certainly a funny detail. The next memory I have is walking through the airport and as we approached the doors Tom was rolling some 16mm film on his fancy compact film camera like a tourist. We passed through the door and there, outside the terminal, was a chauffeur standing beside a limousine parked on the curb. Along with Spanish Tony he would sell his stories to the tabloids in the late seventies.
I remember feeling a little taken aback, confused as to why we weren’t met by mum’s ‘friends’. If not by a group, at least by Anita – whom we knew from the rehab clinic in Oxford – maybe with her partner, Keith Richards. At this point I should add an important note, neither Keith nor Anita were aware of the logistics, of exactly how our father smuggled in the contraband.
It was only in the last couple of years that I figured out why: in case anything went wrong and we were busted coming in, it probably wouldn’t have been wise for one of the world’s most famous and notorious rock stars to show up at the airport to meet a party who were carrying contraband.
However, that feeling of impersonality at our reception at the airport, being met by a guy who seemed very different to our circle of freaks and friends – if not security, he was definitely ex-military – was soon swept away by what awaited us at the Villa Nellcôte.
As the limo drove through the open gate and around the circular drive -filled with lush palms and verdant foliage – there were two of the coolest looking people waiting in front of the huge iron and glass door to the most impressive villa imaginable, smiling from ear to ear while welcoming us like long lost family.
Once they’d welcomed us we were whisked upstairs to remove the bounty strapped to our chests and backs. Getting it off Jake took a little longer. Tommy offered him the choice of slowly and carefully or fast and get it over with quickly. Being more of a sensitive kid Jake chose the first option. After that we had a little look around, at the garden and at the kitchen which felt like Anita’s domain. I quickly figured out I was going to like it there.
When we went out Keith would always carry a little pocket-size notebook in which he would jot down lines, ideas and notes, even when he was in mid conversation in a bustling French restaurant. If he’d get an idea he’d pause, make a note and then pick up wherever the conversation had left off. Presumably these notes went into lyrics for Exile or were later developed into the Stones song book – ‘Goats Head Soup’ being the follow up album.
Apart from that, Keith would often take everyone out – as an entourage – either to swim and then lunch or to some upscale restaurants in the surrounding area for dinner. It was on those trips that I got my first taste of French seafood, like steaming bowls of moules marinières or white bait, which I can remember to this day.
Going out with the entourage for trips was something we kids looked forward to, particularly if it was in the large old convertible Pontiac where Keith would let us sit up on the backs of the headrests of the 50s chunk of Detroit metal and shout at the top of our little lungs as we passed through the coastal mountain tunnels, the sound bouncing off the walls. That habit of yelling out the sound of the oddly antiquated French police sirens was something we kids particularly latched onto and apparently stretched back to Keith’s time in Paris during the student protests of May 1968, when he observed and transposed the musical notes of the sirens and morphed that ‘music’ into what became the chords for the verse in ‘Street Fighting Man’.
Keith had started growing marijuana in the greenhouse as soon as he arrived, and because of the rate at which things grow in that climate, soon had to cut a hole in the glass roof to let the tallest plant stretch unencumbered towards the heavens.
My brother and I, although we didn’t smoke, became strangely adept at making any shape and form of joints for the visiting guests, and became known a ‘The Rollies’.
The Wedding in St. Tropez
Anita was a force of nature and disarmingly attractive. A little wild and naughty by nature, but most of the reported wilder behaviour was kept from us kids. It just seemed to be her M.O. Anita kept things interesting. That side of her character came out almost straight away when, as soon as we arrived at the wedding poolside party in St. Tropez, she nudged my brother and me and told us to follow and help her, which we did in tipping Chris Jagger into the pool, who was innocently reading his newspaper at the time. He looked so much like Mick then, I did wonder if we’d crossed the line. But thankfully everyone laughed.
The wedding ceremony itself was notable for a couple of reasons. As page boys, the role for Marlon, my brother and me was to wait for the appropriate moment and then each hand Bianca an oversized flower and kiss her. Jake did his bit, I did mine, but when it came to Marlon he refused to hand her the flower. I think because of the mixed feelings his parents had about the match, which as a very young boy, maybe no more then three years old, he must have picked up on. Sensing a need for action, I stepped up, took the flowers from Marlon and kissed the stunning lady for a second time. Conspicuously Keith wore the German officers uniform he found in the basement, from the period during the war when the Germans had occupied and some say been headquartered at the Villa. Looking now at the pictures of Keith it was no small statement.
Anita had a maternal side as well, which she showed to us kids and the guests at the villa. Fairly soon after arriving we were wandering back to the car, from a dinner out along the beach in Cannes as the light was fading. Marlon and Jake were walking along the pavement behind the adults, who were chatting away happily as the kids played with these ripcord little plastic hot rod toys we’d picked up, pulling them off and shooting the cars up the road. I was having fun wandering barefoot along the beach, not noticing how dark it had gotten, when I stepped on something unbelievably painful and let out a screech. It was a sea urchin and the tide had swept a bunch of them up onto the beach all around me, but by then it was too dark to see them. Tommy told me to stand still while he made his way down to the beach and carried me out of the urchin minefield.
Back at the Villa Anita took charge and boiled up a huge pot of water which, oddly enough, she filled with garlic – she had a minor obsession with garlic which is a natural antibiotic – apart from the claim Spanish Tony made that she used to sleep with it to ward off vampires. I didn’t know anything about that although at the time I thought the huge steaming cauldron of water and the copious amounts of strong smelling garlic was a little odd. Strange or not, as she held my foot over the steaming mixture, the broken spikes of urchin needles eased themselves slightly out of my foot and then were removed by Anita with pincers. There was no infection, which presumably was the point of the garlic.
Sticky Fingers was the record most on the record player at the time. Keith would get sent huge boxes containing the latest records and some back catalogues of releases from what must have been his label at the time, Atlantic Records. According to an interview I did a while ago with Robert Greenfield about his book The Last Sultan, a biography of Ahmet Ertegun, there was a big gathering at Nellcôte to celebrate the signing of Rolling Stones Records to a distribution deal with Atlantic Records just before Mick and Bianca’s wedding party.
Among the handful of albums Keith pulled out of the hundreds and would stick on replay were: The Leader of the Pack, by the Shangri-Las and The Allman Brothers album recorded at Fillmore East. I love Southern rock and Allman’s slide on Layla, the Muscle Shoals Sound and the culture it all sprang from, but I must confess, whatever Keith and the critics heard in that Allman Brothers Record went right over my head.
The Heart of any House is the Kitchen
After Keith and Anita, the first person to actually arrive at Nellcôte was the chef, Gerard Mosiniak, whose mother was friends with the caretaker. The caretaker asked his mother if Gerard might be interested. Gerard had just come off a seasonal gig in the Alps when his mother suggested the work to him and being a rock fan he jumped at the chance.
The assistant cook, Gros Jacques, was brought in from the local region when it became clear that because of all the additional guests the workload was too much for one cook to handle. Later in the season Jacques became the chef after Gerard left. Gros Jacques – who was a heavy guy – was also the direct connection to the Cowboys, a Corsican French dealing outfit from Marseille. Tommy would later regularly go and score from them.
Not long after the Cowboys showed up things began to go missing, the first and most brazen of which was Keith’s Zephyr boat. Down at the small private landing jetty of the property Keith kept two boats. Besides the Zephyr he had a small Chris-Craft, initially called Amanda, which he infamously changed to Mandrax by removing and resequencing letters. The boat, a small but elegant Chris-Craft, was mistakenly labelled as a Riva because of its classical wooden design and looks.
Bruce Byall and the Rockets over the bay.
Keith was gracious to everyone, but there were a few people whom he held in particular affection, ones you could tell he really really liked – people like Gram and also Bruce Byall. One of the early arrivals Bruce was an American sound and light engineer who’d worked on the production at Woodstock. Apart from being a genuinely likeable guy and slightly eccentric – he slept in a Teepee on the grounds – Bruce endeared himself to us kids and to Keith by bringing with him a gift of unusual fireworks, a collection of huge custom made rockets from the States. Keith found that particular fun and they served as a sort of house-warming ceremony when a small group of us set them off one night down in the garden, firing them carefully over and across the bay towards Villefranche, where we often had dinner. Keith rarely gave off dark or mixed vibes, the exception may have been his mixed feelings at the time about Mick’s wedding to Bianca, although now he denies he ever disliked Bianca. Someone who’s very hard to anger, unless you cross a red line and if you do – you’ll really know it.
The personalities within the Stones were a little different than they may have appeared from the outside. For instance, although he enjoyed his spliff and there was always a lot of pastis and wine, Keith was pretty focused and driven about work and the business of the Rolling Stones which is making music and, to an extent, their image. Everything seemed to revolve around that, although in the eye of the storm he was also a great host and at least half, if not more, of the glue binding the band together.
Everyone has a go to story they seem to hark back to and bizarrely, Keith’s was the time he almost electrocuted himself while carrying an amp onstage in the rain. The sheer force of the shock and how far it launched him from the offending amp seemed to amuse him.
Mick Jagger and Bianca
We weren’t particularly close to Mick, he and Bianca seemed to come and go like royalty, maybe on a cloud or, more exactly, a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. He did once, however, spot me eyeing his car and welcomed me into it to take a look at the singles record player inside. It seemed like magic to me at the time, you slipped a single in and somehow it played music while you sat in complete luxury in white leather seats.
A great guy. He once turned up at Nellcôte and completely out of the blue gave me a table tennis set. No one else there was thinking like that at all. I think it must have been his birthday, although it might have been Mick’s, but it certainly wasn’t mine, as we left Nellcôte long before the end of November.
Mick Taylor and Rose
Bizarrely Rose now produces Christian music somewhere in Northern France and was featured in a French magazine article with Gerard Mosiniak.
My father, brother and I went on a road trip to visit Mick Taylor and Rose in the country. They had a new baby and at the time seemed much more calm and down to earth than the Nellcôte crowd. But it just goes to show, you can never judge a book by its cover. According to Rose, who had to drive Mick down to the sessions at Nellcôte, unbeknownst to anyone at the time they were both using smack and ironically she had no sense that Keith was using at the time. Thought he was only smoking dope and drinking tequila.
We made a trip out to visit Bill Wyman in his house in the country. As nice as he was, the most notable feeling I can remember coming away with was that I was shocked that he was living with two girlfriends at the same time, both Swedish and very good looking.
Nellcôte was a weekly parade of unusual and interesting people showing up at the front door. Journalists like Robert Greenfield and others, arriving from all parts of the world, usually in cars which we turned out to admire. Like through the closet in the Narnia books, people magically materialised at Nellcôte. In the middle of the circular driveway, inside the overgrown fauna I hid and smoked my very first cigarette, gien to me by chef Gros Jacques who, unlike Gerard, was probably not a good influence and was open to and into everything. That first French fag, a running gag and wordplay Anita never seemed to tire of using, caused me to throw up violently and feel dizzy, a sensation which I oddly enjoyed, although I didn’t try to smoke again until I was into my double digits.
Robert Greenfield, the Rolling Stone journalist, who came to interview Keith and later wrote a book about our family, the Webers, called “A Day In The Life”, turned up having rented a convertible stick shift at the airport. Never having driven a manual car before he drove the whole way to the Villa in second gear, with a trail of French drivers cursing him all the way from Nice. Much later, in the 2000s, my brother and Robert – who saw Jake on TV – got together and formulated plans for what would become ‘A Day In The Life’. The plans were to sell the script as a movie, although in my opinion it was not great. It felt like the characters were changed to create a two dimensional representation of the people involved and possibly a hero and some less sympathetic characters to make it stand up as a story. I will get into this in greater detail at a later date.
The only person I got a genuinely spooky feeling from was a visiting doctor who made weekly visits to give Keith and a few other guests vitamin B12 shots. We were told this was to keep them healthy. I suppose this doctor sensed my feeling towards him. I would hide as soon as I became aware of his presence in the house. He noticed this and although it sounds bizarre it initiated a game of hide and seek where infuriatingly he more often than not found me hiding behind some curtain. He would throw his syringes like darts at my feet, although he never actually hit me. Freaked me out properly. And even then I was unsure about this story of injections for vitamins, although it may have been true.
There was other genuine mischief going on in and around the house which we kids were not really aware of. Keith had discovered old vials of morphine, which the Germans who had occupied the villa during the war had left down there with other bits and bobs, including the old SS uniform which – presumably as a statement – Keith wore to Mick and Bianca’s wedding.
Although Keith claims he wasn’t using anything that serious earlier on at Nellcôte at least until he and Tommy got their bodies tangled up on a go-karting incident on a day out, I find it hard to imagine Keith wouldn’t have tried a few of those morphine ampoules, however old they were, before Dominique and Spanish Tony threw them into the sea for fear that they’d poison someone.
The go-karting incident was a pivotal one in dad and Keith’s relationship. While returning from a trip west up the coast Keith noticed and pulled into a motorway side adult karting track. Different to kids tracks these were proper fast racing karts. The rest of the cars followed suit and once we’d all parked Tommy and Keith agreed to a race. They went at it and after a few laps around the track their wheels touched as Keith was trying to overtake Tommy’s kart. Keith’s kart flipped and he was dragged along the asphalt until his back was raw meat at which point, holding Tom at least partly responsible, he asked our father to go to Marseilles and score something stronger to ease the pain. I think at this stage they had already exchanged words about Anita, words to the effect of: ‘For someone who claims to be a vegetarian, Tommy, you certainly seem to be helping yourself to my meat’. Although it must have hurt like hell, Keith made not a whimper in the journey home in the black 69 Pontiac Camaro. It was extraordinary.
Eric Clapton apparently now runs and operates a rehab clinic. Although a separate enterprise, so does Polly Parsons, Gram’s daughter.
Eric stayed at Nellcôte for a couple of weeks around the time of Mick and Bianca’s wedding. He stayed in his room for most of the time, in a bad way, asking for drugs. A state he’d apparently been in for at least a couple of years, ever since he’d recorded and played Layla, his magnum opus, for Pattie Boyd. Most people know the story but less her reaction: on hearing the song Pattie was speechless, she apparently just left the room without saying a word. This, Eric says, was the start of his heroin habit.
Back to Nellcôte and the virtuoso guitarist being locked away in his room experiencing withdrawal. Keith and the old man, Tommy, exchanged words. Keith being of the opinion that it was Eric’s problem and to let him deal with it.
Never in need of much of an excuse to procure drugs, meet a great musician or help a person in need for that matter, Tom went to Marseille and scored, presumably through the contacts of Gros Jacques, the hired helper for the head cook Gerard Mosiniak.
Eric was thus saved from cold turkey or, depending on your view, pushed further down the road in his heroin addiction. Unfortunately it didn’t cause him to magically appear from his room and start socialising with everyone or jamming with Keith, which was the secret wish of a lot of people in the Villa.
Arrived in a desert ready Land Rover with all the bells and whistles and his girlfriend who lived locally and who would drive around the bay topless in her extended Riva speed boat, like Lady Godiva. The Riva had a front cabin and, apart from being thirty foot long, looked just like a speedboat. The model and I think also a future ‘Bond girl’ certainly made an impression.
Prince Stash was a good friend of Brian’s and arrived in a spanking new racing Corvette smelling of new Detroit interior. Gerard who, because he was the chef, enjoyed a certain access to everyone and an awareness of their habits said that Stash had a diet of cheese, milk and cocaine.
Recording Sessions in the Basement
Watching the band and engineers set up the recording sessions in the basement was like a movie or to be more precise like a trip into the great unknown. It took a lot of trial and error to place people, players and mics in different parts of the dark basement and it was as fascinating and alien like they were exploring new territory. There was only audio and no visual communication between the truck and the players in the basement, which could lead to occasional comical results. On one such an occasion the engineers had set up Bobby Keys and Jim Price to record in a small room down there, which apparently had decent acoustics for recording horns, when the recording was interrupted by a grinding noise. No one could figure out where it was coming from. The engineer, Andy Johns, came on the talkback system asking what that awful noise was. ‘Huh, not sure what that is’ responded Jim Pryce. ‘Oh, don’t worry!’ piped up another voice, presumably Bobby Keys, ’It’s just Jim Pryce crushing his nuts’. Everyone fell about laughing.
Once they started, watching Keith lay down his guitar parts was something to behold. It had probably taken any number of lucky technical events, being in the right frame of mind and planets being aligned, for Keith to actually be in front of the mic’s with tape ready to roll. There were also technical issues, such as not having sufficient ampage to power the 24-track mobile truck, which meant the engineers jacked into the electricity cables running along the coastal railway tracks that ran parallel to the exit road from the villa.
The climate in the basement was hot and humid which created another obstacle to overcome. No sooner would Keith start playing, with us getting all excited, than he would have a fit and curse the guitar for slipping out of tune. This happened first with his Gibson SG which to me as a kid looked impossibly cool and seductive in Keith’s hands. But there were more guitars that had their tuning acting up, so that in the end it was clear that the humidity was the problem. The other guitar he used a great deal for those sessions was his Dan Armstrong, a see-through plexiglass guitar.
The heavy intake of drugs at that time probably fed paranoia and affected staying on top of things like security at the Villa. The front door was often open. Anyone could have walked in and taken the guitars or walked down the path to the jetty and made off with one of the speed boats. And there were troublemakers in our midst, the problems weren’t just imagined. Something or someone seemed to be the source of a lot of trouble in the house and at the time it drove Keith a bit up the wall . It seemed hard to pin it on anyone specifically. It also seemed unfair that it fell to Keith to sort it out, as he had a fair amount on his plate with the work at hand, his real job, which, with Mick, was really about making music and coming up with a new record, no small feat.
Eventually the air of suspicion became too much and Keith and particularly Anita, who was the hostess and MC of the villa, had had enough and kicked the Cowboys out of the house, but not before a number of guitars had disappeared, which left a seed of suspicion in everyone’s mind about the place. It felt a bit like a whodunnit movie which never resolved quite satisfactorily.
Within Tommy and Anita’s nocturnal escapades lay a knot of important and complicated relationships. It seems they’d first laid eyes on each other when mum and dad took a holiday trip to the South of France where they met Anita and Donald Camel. Keith loathed Camel as he felt he was pushing over the line and manipulating Anita and Mick to have an onscreen affair during the bath scene in ‘Performance’. It was during the filming that Keith, going up the wall thinking of his best mate, his girl and this manipulative director, wrote ‘Gimme Shelter’ – with all the impending threat of the times, the protests, the Vietnam war and the fast approaching end of the innocence of the flower power generation.
It might be argued that Tom and Anita were peas in a pod. They were both incredibly decadent and impossibly good looking who members of the opposite sex found it hard to deny anything. Within that were the interesting avant-garde values of artists which Mick and Keith adopted and which seemed to be left over from people like the Pre-Raphaelites where ideas and philosophies of freedom got tangled up in reality with a web of confusing love with desire and just taking what you want when you want it. All of that seemed to be at odds with the theoretical, idealistic and at the time ultimately frowned on crime of ‘owning someone, man’ or viewing an individual as a piece of property and not letting them do what they want. And so that was present with Anita and Tom, but also was there for a while between Mick and Keith because of Anita, since the filming of ‘Performance’.
Anyway, at that earlier meeting with Anita, Tom states their attraction began. Although they were with different partners at the time and nothing untoward happened.
Burning the candles at both ends caught up with Tom when driving back from a night out gambling in Monte Carlo. Tom fell asleep at the wheel and broke an arm driving along those cliffside roads, through tunnels, along the coast back west from Monte Carlo to the Villa early one morning. Luckily that time there were no real casualties and no real French police sirens coming out of the tunnels to lock him up.
Somewhere in there lies the fault line along which counterculture arguably lost its way by the opposing and hypocritical nature of the philosophy of freedom, with little thought of the consequences.
Heard the News Today
The night before I heard the news about mum passing Gros Jacques had given Jake and me our first beer, a tiny can of Heineken. It made me drunk, I felt quite tipsy. Brown Sugar was on and we were dancing around as usual. I fell into the fountain somewhere out back and dad was not amused. He didn’t look like his usual happy smiling party self at all. I didn’t think anymore of it until the next day when we came back from an outing to the beach and dad told us the news.
There’s a bit of a blackout in memories for a couple of weeks. We were knocked sideways and not happy at all, as was the overall mood in the house.
After we left Nellcôte Tommy would tell us that certain songs were either dedicated to or written for us. ‘Tumbling Dice’ Mick often sang as ‘Tommy, the tumbling dice’, although he says he wrote it after a conversation with the chef. ‘Meet me right outside, if you’ll be my partner in crime’ and the gambling references would seem to be very Tommy in nature. ‘All Down The Line’ he said was for me because I loved cars and in particular Keith’s E-Type. But it actually came from a demo initially written during a session in London, I believe at Olympic studios. It’s hard to say where songs come from exactly, they’re from a place where songs are already written – which explains why some parts of songs come from the air.
Whatever the issue was between Jake and Keith, whether it was Jake following the cameras around or being a bit too needy, some attention seeking issue came to a head and Keith threw him out of the house one afternoon. That’s when I came across my brother and father in a silent funk under a dark cloud outside the front door. Whatever it was it takes a lot to piss off someone like Keith; to be exiled from exile is a whole other realm of exiledom. Although it didn’t last long with Keith. I asked them what had happened and Tommy shrugged, ‘Jake upset Keith ’. But wouldn’t say any more. I gathered later that my brother had been following Keith around with a series of irritating ‘but why is the sky blue’ type of questions, which kids often do. But even that struck me as too slight to make someone like Keith angry enough to chuck him out of the house.
Although for years I projected the mood in the house after mum’s passing to Shine a Light, according to the records it was in fact originally written and recorded by Mick Jagger and Leon Russel at Olympic Studios in 1968 as a tribute to Brian Jones and then called ‘Get a Line On You’. That version wasn’t released until years later in a Leon record. The lyrics however were uncannily similar to mum’s passing: ‘Saw you stretched out in room ten two nine, with a smile on your face and a teardrop in your eye’.
At some point the band had a major meeting at which the various grievances and frustrations were aired: the endless partying, never starting on time, coming in from miles outside – and during which it was decided to try and focus. After that meeting the band tried to do a bit of streamlining, but I doubt they ever fully succeeded.
Tom and Jake and I took off into the mountains to a little chalet jointly owned by Michael Taylor, an old racing and property dealer friend of dads. There we kids brushed up on our reading, mostly in French and mostly with our young noses buried in the tales of Asterix and Obelix and Tintin. It was not a great time for our father or to be around him. His temper was short and I think maybe he felt he’d messed things up. Although it wasn’t the first time mum had tried to take her life. Then Anita joined us for a while in the valley and Jake and I went to the local school for a time, although Tom later said he felt Anita was clearly out of his league. I’m not sure I bought that, but at some point she did go back down the valley of the route Napoleon to Nellcôte and her life with Keith, the father of her son Marlon. Tom fixed up the ancient Citroën van which had been lying around and bought an old Peugeot. With him blaming himself, heartbroken about mum and never having been paid for the coke we brought over, we couldn’t stay for long.
Stash stayed in the house until winter when Keith and Anita had long gone, exiled from France. He swears it is haunted and that perhaps because of its history as the former Nazi headquarters in the South of France no one was ever totally at peace or completely happy while living at Nellcôte. I think we did experience some happiness there, although mixed with everything else, sadness, creativity, and not a little dark awareness of the madness of growing up.
Post Script – Mum
The time at Bowden House, the rehab clinic in Oxford where Mum and Anita become close, I covered in an earlier post/instalment – Part II – that sort of sets up how we came to be at Nellcôte. After mum left the clinic she went to live with her sister Jenny and brother in law, Alan Ponte, in a village called Ardeley in Hertfordshire. There she regularly visited a doctor and was on quite a lot of medication to get well mentally. The doctor’s diagnosis was ‘drug induced schizophrenia’. It seems on the day she took her life she visited the doctor who, according to our uncle Alan, she persuaded to give her a large amount of sleeping pills which my uncle said was absurd because mum had already tried to take her life a number of times and was a suicide risk.
The policeman who found mum in the small hotel room, laid out in her green Lebanese gown, apparently broke down in floods of tears on the phone to our uncle, saying he’d ‘never seen anyone quite so beautiful in my life’.
Although I never expected her to come out to Nellcôte, much less all the talk of a real reunion, because my parents had by then been divorced for some time – the news that she’d passed came as a shock. Ardeley is where she was later buried in the grounds of the local church. It’s also the village where my brother and I went to school for a year or so, after we returned to England in 1974 and before we went to Summerhill, when the old man was falling off the wagon and Alan and Jenny ‘rescued the ragamuffins’. With them we lived in the same old castle where I can still remember waking to find mum one Christmas filling our stockings. In that room, the Peacock room – always mum’s favourite bird – I remember asking her about a picture of a knight slaying a dragon and saving a maiden. ‘Who is that?’ I asked. ‘That’s St. George and the Dragon’, she said. ‘I want to be like him when I grow up’. ‘Ok’, she said’ your secret name will be George and Jake’s will be Michael after another saint’. My brother and I were never baptised as kids, although it was arranged. When the priest showed up to baptise us, on learning of our unchristian middle names – mine is Herculese and Jake’s is Talisan, he refused to conduct the ceremony because our names were pagan.
Below is the very end of a ten page letter Puss wrote to Tommy from Glastonbury, in an effort to reconcile the two before their divorce in 1969.
NOTE: On the photographs and photographers – with thanks to Dominique Tarlé. Both my brother and I were a little surprised at how many shots of Jake and how few of myself were in what finally appeared as the limited edition photo book Exile. In my brother’s own words, at a dinner we had with our aunt in LA, ‘It was strange. I always remember you as the happy smiley kid, Charley.’ Maybe beneath the smile, subconsciously I sensed the chaos and threat surrounding our family and was carrying that, which Dominique captured. It’s hard to say. But a lot of my childhood shots do show up like that.
Charlotte Rampling and The Hippy Trail. ‘An Unusual Life, by C. Weber
Chapter 2 of Part 1
During this period we’d make regular trips in Tommy’s Mercedes SE out to a rented field in the countryside with a greenhouse in the centre. Inside the greenhouse, with its broken panels of glass, were marijuana plants, resin covered hash pressing tools, boxes of tape and oozing packages of the dope Tom had brought in from Afghanistan.
Looking back now it seemed like the whole of London, or at least our entire circle of friends, had been taken over by some new wild endeavour or business venture and it wasn’t all just about contraband either. There were the musicians, like Hendrix, Traffic and the Beatles; there were the film people, like David Putnam and Charlotte with her blossoming career. There was radio Caroline, the brain child of a friend, Ronan O’Rahilly. He was more part of the Chelsea set which gathered at the Casserole restaurant on the Kings Road – slightly more wealthy and upscale but not much. The real makers and shakers seemed slightly less wild and not quite as heavily into experimenting with drugs, although from what I could tell, everyone seemed to indulge at the time. Ronan also occasionally dabbled in film and had produced ‘The Girl on a Motorcycle’ which, while it featured Alain Delon, seems to have consisted almost entirely of pouting shots of Marianne Faithful … on a bike. There were other friends, like the producer Denny Cordell and his kids, Barney and Tarka, who we’d have play dates with before they ended up plastered over the record cover and film of the ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ project.
The Pressing Plant in the Country
During this period we’d make regular trips in Tommy’s Mercedes SE out to a rented field in the countryside with a greenhouse in the centre. Inside the greenhouse, which had broken panels of glass, were marijuana plants, resin covered hash pressing tools, boxes of tape and oozing packages of the dope Tom had brought in from Afghanistan.
A friend of mine, Peter, who came from that exact same slightly wilder set within hippy culture, was someone I later would become very close to and looked forward to seeing whenever Tom went round to see Malcolm to score or sell, which I usually hated. On those occasions Peter regaled me with tales of how his father had developed a million pound business importing real hair wigs from the east, although his father had no idea about accounting and when the taxman called Malcolm laid out all his receipts for the year on a giant floor and tried to get on top of his newfound responsibilities. It seems that was how fast businesses developed back then and for some, conversely, also how fast a number of them folded.
One fine day after we arrived in the field, knowing how much I loved cars, dad asked me if I would like to have a go driving the Mercedes. I of course jumped at the chance and, although me ‘driving’ really meant just steering the car around the field for ten minutes sitting on dad’s lap while he controlled the pedals, it was about as much fun as a kid like me could have imagined. There is also a famous instance where Tom strapped a tree sized bunch of marijuana to the roof of the Mercedes, to transport to London. He then drove it through town, saying ‘No one will notice. They’ll think it’s a Christmas tree!’.
Dave Barry. The Other Side of the Law. London 1969
As chaotic as it was, my childhood was fascinating and there were certain characters I wanted my son Beau to meet, to know about that strange world, particularly Dave Barry, an underworld leader known as the Lord of the Manor of Queensway who, although likeable, was a fairly serious guy and the head man who fronted the money and organised the distribution of the hash our father smuggled from Afghanistan to the UK. My father had a system for this, which was to return via various circuitous connecting airports to cover his tracks. The worst airport for smugglers was apparently Frankfurt.
On this trip I visited Dave’s old neighbourhood and went to his mews house in Queensway and rang the doorbell to see if he might be in. I was surprised to get no answer. Not a good sign. Dave was always in, because it was from there that he ruled the roost. However, I gathered from one of the neighbours, washing his car, that he was in hospital for an operation, although nothing too serious. I explained I was the son of Tommy and an old friend of Dave’s. He said Dave would probably really appreciate a visit from me and told me the name of the hospital. I parked the car at the horrendously expensive London rates and my son and I made our way into the seething mass of people and floors which make up Charing Cross Hospital. Exiting the lift several floors up, we asked an attendant where we could find Dave Barry, a family friend recuperating from an operation. The attendant directed us to a ward on our right and as we entered the ward we located Dave in the bed by the window. We approached him – he was sleeping upright, with his thick farsight glasses, his hair tightly cropped. His mouth was slightly open and as I spoke his name to wake him, a little bit like he’d been expecting us, Dave said ‘Hello Charley’ and smiled.
The gangster scene was thriving in London in the mid sixties, when I was born. Although the old man wasn’t mixed up with the Krays we did grow up knowing Dave Barry. Dave was a great guy and we used to visit him and his two kids often in his little mews house. However, he was the real deal, an ex-boxer from the East End, who mixed with actual villains with a proper code of conduct. Tom was never exactly one for following the rule book, which on several occasions got him into trouble with Dave.
Dave Barry was a charming friend of the family and at the time we kids had not even a hint of his prominence or his somewhat fearsome reputation amongst a disappearing generation of old school London villains.
On one occasion Tom was caught out taking too much of the imported goods for his personal use and was beaten up quite badly by Dave on the street outside our house in Pimlico. Fortunately I was then still a baby and too young to realise. It seemed the beating was necessary, because being outside the law, the villains’ code of conduct has to be stricter than those operating inside the law. Otherwise an operation might collapse, or that’s the theory. Rightly or wrongly, that seems to be the rationale behind the strict enforcement of punishments.
The London to Sydney Car Race
Around this time, while my brother and I were away with mum, Charlotte and my father travelled to the East to pick up a damaged London to Sydney Mercedes works rally car and drive it back to Europe along the hippy trail. Of course my father filled the car with hash and even though they had papers from Mercedes they made it through the border crossings and past highly suspicious customs officers by the skin of their teeth.
The journey was epic and started out in November of 1968 with us on a motorway outside London seeing off Mike Taylor – an old racing friend of Tom’s – in the red works Mercedes 280 SE at the start of the London to Sydney Ralley. He was racing with an accomplished driver, Ireland Innis, and they got as far as Australia, but most of the Mercedes team was forced to retire due to mechanical problems or accidents. One of the cars was ditched in Kabul.
For motor racing fans, the details of who started and finished the race and where are below: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_London%E2%80%93Sydney_Marathon
Mike Taylor asked Tom if he’d be interested in driving the famous red beast back to Europe. Our father, seeing an interesting opportunity to use the Mercedes and its label for smuggling, jumped at the chance and Tom and Charlotte flew out to retrieve the car from Kabul. Tom’s connections in Afghanistan were quite developed by then, although I sense many of them came through his edgier partner in crime, Taffy, who ran a darker kind of operation involving female couriers who slept with guards. Tom’s style was a bit different and seemed to bring the two into conflict, which at some point culminated in Taffy pulling a gun on Tom and Tom laughing at him and calling his bluff.
Tom’s Afghan contacts supposedly were tribal chieftains and members of the royal family. He took his goods out there in trade, a lounge of suitcases full of rolling papers, and exchanged them for as much hash as he could pack into the works Mercedes rally car. His logic was that no customs officer would question, much less strip down, a works rally car made by the most important auto manufacturer of all time.
Initially the theory seemed to work, especially at the borders in the east, but as they got further west the customs officials became more and more suspicious. Until, after several 24-hour nail-biting and excruciatingly close customs inspections, although nothing was found, Tom decided to take the majestic red Mercedes out to the woods and with a gargantuan effort managed to burn out the engine so that it would have to be shipped the rest of the way back to the UK, with all the contents still inside. Tom and Charlotte must have been exhausted by the time they got back to Hugh street. By that time Mum, Jake and I, I think, were on the road back from India, via Greece, Patmos and the Princess Islands near Istanbul.
Gaucín, Spain 2006
I made my way up the winding road into the mountains towards Gaucín to meet with Susie Fenton, an old family friend who’d met her husband, John Fenton, on the couch of our old house in Pimlico. They’d long since divorced and John had been a music producer among a group of friends and cousins connected to Neil Aspinal, who began as the road manager for the Beatles and ended up running Apple, their record and merchandising company.
A lot of things were on my mind. Dad had just passed away and on the surface what I was looking for were any details about mum and dad’s early life before my brother and I were born. The specific brief for the project was to demystify mum, to learn about her and gather stories. In my brother’s words, maybe we’d mythologised her because we’d lost her so early. All of this was to go towards a documentary that my brother and I would make, although in fact it went towards research for the book ‘A Day in the Life’, which a famous rock historian and music journalist has written about our family. In the back of my mind was also something else: the question of paternity my father had brought up when I visited him on a trip back from Turkey where I was living and working, mostly as a commercials editor, around 2002.
Before driving to Gaucín I spent the night with Baba, Tom’s half sister. There, catching up over dinner, I was interested to learn more about mum’s and our father’s early years, dad’s fascination with gambling while growing up and a period when he was running a gambling den in London, before he met mum. Also the time he spent in Jamaica, Nassau and Cuba, where I gather he did some racing and where he was on the roof of a casino when Castro’s forces took the city. I told Baba about the question of paternity which had come up a few years before between my father and me.
As I drove into Gaucín, I was impressed by the scenery. I passed a huge gated entrance to an estate on my right, which I noted. Although I couldn’t say why exactly. Running a few minutes late, I bustled into the café which was perched on the cliffside and from where you had a view of Gibraltar, mountain tops and the valleys which spread out beneath.
‘Susie, how are you?’ She looked well and, sipping a latte coffee, she was the only person there, at a table overlooking the view.
We sat down and exchanged pleasantries. ‘I’m sorry to hear about your father. How was the funeral?’
I explained we were trying to connect some of the dots in our parents’ history and would appreciate it if she could tell us anything she remembered about their younger days. The running gag being that anyone who really lived through the sixties properly was unlikely to remember much of anything.
Susie recounted the story of how she met John Fenton and another of her running down the road holding on to my brother’s and my hands as she sang ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ to us. I told her about the odd development that had come up regarding my paternity. She said that John had long suspected that their older son, Julian, was Tommy’s, because he looked like him. Susie said it was a ludicrous idea and it wasn’t true at all. But this line of chat interested me on a deeper level. We talked about Camilla Van Gerbig, who was the connecting point between Susie and me. She was the daughter of the American godfather Jake went out to live with after Summerhill, around the time Tommy hit the skids. Camilla was a huge reconnection for me when I came back to England from the States. We had connected through Mo, our old nanny from Aberdeen, who looked after Camilla and her brother, Christian, for a while. After Camilla and I spoke on the phone, I received a long letter from her saying how interesting our short conversation had been and that while I was looking for information on who exactly our mother was – her mother Sarah had also been great friends with mum, although part of a slightly less wild and experimental set, more into booze and a bit of weed than anything too far out, like our crowd was – she was looking for any information about who her father Peter Van Gerbig had been. So it was decided we would try to help each other out.
Susie continued ‘It was such a great time and we were all so happy and free. Not like your generation which seems a bit lost’.
‘What do you mean?’ I said.
‘Well, there’s Christian Van Gerbig, sort of wandering around the world. I mean, I’m not sure if your generation knows what it’s looking for?’
I bit my tongue to stop myself from saying : …. Because you lot were all so busy hopping in and out of each other’s beds we don’t really know who our parents are …. Instead I said ‘I know what I’m looking for. I’m looking for the Irish guy Donald Newman, who Tom said I look like and who lives somewhere in Spain’.
She choked on her coffee, lowered her cup into the saucer and pulled her expensive sunglasses back and over her perfectly highlighted hair, ‘Newman? You don’t mean the property developer Donald Newman, do you?’.
‘Yes, Newman, Don Newman‘, I said, ‘Why, do you know him?’
She gestured broadly with her arm, sweeping across the valleys below. ‘He owns half the property around here. Some developments, couple of golf courses. I think he’s trying to make an airport up here’.
‘That’s the guy’.
‘You are kidding me’.
‘No I’m not. You wouldn’t happen to have a contact for him would you?’
‘I have a number for his assistant, an architect’.
Unbelievable. I took the assistant’s number as the ‘out of tape’ sign flashed up on the little Sony handy-cam I had been using to record my research interviews.
‘He owns the large gated villa on the approach to Gaucín, you can’t miss it’.
Small world, this guy sounded like the last of the Freddie Lakers. Armed with this startling new information – we’d been trying to track him down for four years – I thanked Susie and drove back to the airport to catch the evening flight to London. During the flight I remembered a telephone conversation I’d had with Dave Barry, around 2004. I was living in in L.A. and although I was busy, the paternity issue obviously had been bothering me – after all, that sort of thing is about identity. To that end I’d called Dave, who Tom said was in contact with the Irishman and asked him if he could tell me more about the guy. All I knew was that he was an old boyfriend of my mother’s and a business partner of my dad’s in a property venture called Jamaica Homelands.
When I put the question to Dave on that day, he said the following:
‘Are you happy, Charley, I mean are you well?’
‘Fairly well, Dave’, I said. ‘I’m working, editing and recording music out in L.A.’.
‘Well then,’ said Dave, in his thick gangster cockney accent, ‘Don’t rock the boat!’.
A little background on our editor, Petra Schmidt.
Petra tells me we met at Summerhill years ago when, standing behind her while we were watching a school play, I complimented her on her rose scented perfume, which apparently I said reminded me of something my mum used. More recently Petra Schmidt appeared on my radar about ten years ago, shortly after the publication of Robert Greenfield’s book about our family, A Day in The Life (2009). At the time Petra commented on a FB post I’d made about a period I spent in a rural part of Ibiza in the 90s. The gist of the post was about a place where I lived for several months, San Juan, in the north of the island, which was very relaxed in contrast to the huge clubs and wealthy party life going on in Ibiza town. This isn’t to say the travellers and locals didn’t enjoy that side of life on occasions, mostly at the weekends. In San Juan we were surrounded by artists, freaks, drug dealers, and even a Panorama documentary producer and other film makers.
A seeker and a traveller, Petra herself came from society – her Dutch father co-wrote the Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations in New York, where Petra was born. When she was five her father died of a heart attack and she was taken back to Holland by her mother. Whatever the reason Petra became a rebel, later she would experience a wilder side of life, of edgy boyfriends, possibly like Tom, my father, or in her case her husband Michael who was also a smuggler.
Petra responded to my FB post, saying that she thought we had similar backgrounds, although the island she’d spent a great deal of time on and really considers her home, was Formentera, which I believe is a little more natural and quieter, but perhaps not unlike north Ibiza in the 90s.
It turned out she was right, we do have a great deal in common. Her daughter Ruthie and I had gone to A.S. Neill’s Summerhill School together, but in different years, Ruthie being a year or two younger. Petra definitely seemed to be a part of that truly alternative hippy tribe. She’d travelled out to Turkey and Afghanistan around the time my father was smuggling from there and was in India with Ruthie in 1969, around the time my brother and I travelled there to meet mum and her Lord friend, who – as far as I could tell – always seemed to have other women around.
More than that, Petra had read Robert Greenfield’s book and related to the people, particularly some of the more spirited women of that time, like mum. She shared my reservations about the way in which mum was depicted, and more generally of how women of that period are treated and often marginalised or written about in books. Petra, who has a whole story herself, some of which I hope we’ll get into in this book, is also very much one of those rebellious and free spirited women from that period of radical social change.
Specifically Petra related stories of how friends of hers from that period would be labeled psychotic and then institutionalised for the explicit purpose of their children’s father’s family gaining custody of the children.
Hugh Street Studio and Charlotte Rampling
A genuinely talented actress and a stepmother figure from childhood, we lived together in a bustling little commercial studio in Pimlico at the end of the sixties, after mum and dad had separated. Apparently one day mum returned from Glastonbury where she had been tripping on acid, convinced that she should try and repair her relationship with Tom, only to find him in bed with an American girl in the master bedroom of the house in Pimlico.
The memories of Hugh Street and Charlotte are mostly all positive. On the 20th of June, 1969, the night of the moon landings, I stayed up late and watched the coverage on TV, occasionally peaking up at the moon through the large studio bay window and on the same evening watched Charlotte being interviewed by a late night talk show host. It was a changing world.
We travelled together with Charlotte to Italy and while she shot a film we hung around the set, which I loved. The director of the film put me on his knees and played hand games like: here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.
The Italian landscape whistling by while we were in the backseat, the film director playing with me on his knee and the taste of cantaloupes, for some reason I remember well. Looking at Charlotte’s filmography I would guess the film to have been The Damned and director to have been Visconti.
According to Charlotte’s film agent at the time, Maggie Abbot – a sort of super agent with ICM and someone I met in the mid-noughties in L.A. – the real reason for her increasing number of bookings on French and Italian films was the result of a specific attempt by Maggie to steer her away from her increasing involvement with Tommy and his smuggling which her agent saw as a potential threat to Charlotte’s burgeoning film career.
One final memory of Hugh Street is of my brother and me playing upstairs together on the mezzanine. Tom and Charlotte were out somewhere, but there was a knock at the door and mum peaked her head around it and said hello. We lit up to see her, but in retrospect it was strange that she didn’t ask us to come down or hug us, as she must have missed us. ‘I don’t want to disturb you, I just wanted to leave this for your father’, she said and left the red Gibson ES. She presumably must have wanted to see us all together. It was more than a little strange.
After Tom’s funeral in 2006
My brother flew back to the States for work commitments and we agreed that, for the purposes of gathering material for what we then thought would become a documentary about mum, dad or both, I’d stay in Europe a few weeks longer and snoop around old childhood haunts in London, like the former site of the Flying Dragon, mum’s old health food café in Worlds End on the King’s Road. I’d then fly to Spain to interview a few people who were relatives or friends of the family, particularly Susie Fenton, the ex-wife of John Fenton, a music producer who had worked with Procul Harem. It was turning into an interview fest with platinum blondes on the Costa del Sol.
Back in England – Gathering Research Material
When mum and dad divorced in 1969 the house on Cambridge Street had been sold and Tom and Charlotte moved into the studio on Hugh Street, around the corner. After Tom’s passing, I swung by Hugh Street and rang the doorbell. To my surprise it opened and from behind the door emerged the familiar face and figure of a well known British stage and screen actor. A little taken aback by how surreal it felt, I said: ‘Hi, you don’t know me but my name is Charley Weber, I used to live in this place when I was a boy’.
‘Oh you must be Tom Weber’s son. I met him a couple of years ago. I’ve heard a bit about you all’. I explained I was researching a documentary and that Tom had just passed. He kindly asked me in and let me view the upstairs studio where we lived with Charlotte Rampling. The place was a lot smaller than I remembered. I told him about an early birthday party Tom and Charlotte had thrown for me there, they’d obviously put a lot of thought into it, at the age of four I had been given a drum kit, of all things. Not any old drum kit, but one of Ringo Starr’s, which Tommy had been offered as payment in kind for a drug debt. At the party we’d projected Laurel and Hardy films in the spot where we sat down and chatted now.
I walked down to our old terraced house on Cambridge street in Pimlico and located the familiar pub at one end, but because all the houses looked identical couldn’t for the life of me from my memory place the exact door of where we had lived and what had been our two tone mod little house, with the owl in the fenced off garden. Looking up at the first floor window, I could recall the sound of the scrap metal guy on his horse and cart passing by and calling out for old metal and furniture, which for some reason had frightened me.
I stopped by Chester Square, but it looked like our old house was now the consulate for some third world country. This was the square Tara Browne drove me around in his famous Lotus. No mileage in knocking on that door, heavy cameras and security everywhere. Looking at the house, I wondered how we got it, I think Tom pulled a fast one on a property developer friend, John Green. I know that after owning that house Tom never owned a house again. And that his getting rid of it, Tom said, was something to do with a lot of taxes he owed the state. He had taken the advice of Taffy to sell up and go travelling.
From then on we were sleeping on couches at friend’s places. The beautiful Vogue model Roe in Battersea Rise, we stayed with her for a bit. I still remember Roe, my father, brother and me visiting Zeppelin offices and picking up Roe’s stuff. Jimmy Page and the retinue at their offices looked a bit shocked at the reality and suddenness of it all. It was like a changing of the guard. In retrospect I’m not sure if it was a totally fair trade. The Weber boys in exchange for Bonham, Plant and Page or at least the one she was dating. I’m guessing that it was Jimmy.
A Passage to India
My mother was institutionalised for a few months, around 1969. This was after her sanity slipped on a trip back from India, where we had flown as unaccompanied minors on Air India to meet her, an Irish man (the one who couldn’t be named for legal reasons in Greenfield’s book, A Day in the Life) and an amazing guru called Dr. Bindu.
Dr. Bindu was a well known local holy man in the mountains north of New Delhi. He was a school teacher and was in charge of an orphanage. The kids ran around happily in the playground of his school where we met him. When I was introduced to him, he smiled, shook my hand for what seemed like a beat and asked ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?‘ Without much hesitation, a confident four year old, I said ‘I want to be a racing car driver like my dad’. He looked at me thoughtfully for a moment and said ‘You will not be a racing driver, you will be a writer’. Knowing that people respected this man as holy, I was more than a little crushed by this news.
Since the day mum and us two boys had joined dad on a grandstand after he won a GT race in some lethal contraption, smiling from ear to ear, with a wreath around his neck and spraying us with champagne, I’d never seriously entertained becoming anything else.
Mum started behaving erratically on the trip back from India. She’d become disillusioned again, this time with her Irish lord boyfriend – I don’t know, but suspect he might be in the running as another who could be my biological father. The trip home to England took us via Istanbul and an extended stay on Büyükada in the Princess Islands. An island I remember from many years ago as having only horse drawn carriages for transport. Curiously it is also where I had my last flat in Istanbul in 2016, around the time the coup took place and I decided it was time to return to the UK.
Mum’s mental health took a particularly bad turn for the worse after she fell and hit her head on a rock at the cave of St. John the Baptist on the island of Patmos. She started having visions and once, seemingly on a whim, swam stark naked out to another island in the middle of the night. The authorities brought her back to us. This was when we were very young kids, asleep back at the hotel room.
When we returned to the UK her mother picked us up in her little Morris and reprimanded mum for being so much trouble. After some time we think the family resolved that she needed to be sectioned. All of which was extremely complicated emotionally, as I think her elder sister – who was far straighter than mum and also somewhat jealous of her – was the one who drove her to the clinic in Oxford and left her there.
Visiting mum in the institution it was a terrifying environment to see her in. When we entered her private room a woman we’d never met before leapt up and yelled ‘Marlon, Marlon!’ and tried to grab Jake. It freaked us out, my father, brother and me. It was Anita Pallenberg, mum’s room mate who, because of his blonde hair and her not having seen her son Marlon for a while, had mistaken Jake for her boy.
In retrospect we learned some lighter stories about the partners – Tommy and Keith – climbing up the drainpipe and into the window to visit the girls in their room, seemingly with all kinds of illicit substances, although that was one of the reasons the ladies were in there in the first place, to kick pretty serious habits. On one occasion, Keith was reported to have climbed in the window with a first pressing of ‘Sticky Fingers’, to the sounds of which which they all partied.
But how out of it exactly one has to be to not to recognise your own kid, I can only imagine. It must have been a combination of heavy medication and the young mother, Anita, obviously missing her baby.
I do know that while in there mum received electroshock therapy. I don’t know if Anita did – I doubt it. Meeting in the clinic is how Anita and mum struck up their friendship, which we suspect also developed into a romance. Knowing Anita’s naughty nature, one can’t help but imagine what might have happened in that room. This was also where Mum and Anita came up with the idea for Tom, our father, to smuggle cocaine out to the Stones in the South of France, where they would record ‘Exile on Main Street’ as tax exiles and where we joined them a year or two later.
The Isle of Wight, 1970. Donovan
Julian Leitch (son of Brian Jones) was adopted by Donovan when he partnered with Brian’s ex-wife. At the Isle of Wight festival my brother and I spent most of our time away from the adults, playing with Julian. We’d generally run around and get up to a bit of mischief. Not too much, just nicking pancakes from often slightly stoned traders, usually by sneaking under the canvas awnings of the food tents and, while their backs were turned, making our move towards a newly or nearly prepared crêpe.
We’d arrived at the Isle of Wight in a convoy of cars and bikes. Our aunt Lulu, Tommy’s half sister, was there and a bunch of people from the Cornish band of gypsies. Mark Palmer came on his Triumph and his best friend, I think his name was Nick, on a Norton.
Once there our crowd, which included Roe – a top model for Vogue and my father’s date at the time – all seemed to convene inside Taffy’s huge truck, which was the size of a house and opened to the side. A proper festival vehicle. This was the truck Taffy traded the GT40 for. Sitting on her lap, at some point I became completely absorbed in the beauty of Roe and for some reason tried to kiss her on the lips. The room laughed and Roe smiled and said, ‘Not that kind of kiss, Charley’.
At some point, while hanging around with him backstage, Julian pulled us out in front of the crowd. It was a shock, there were around two hundred thousand people and they seemed pleased to see us. This for his step-dad, Donovan’s, performance of a song he’d written for Julian, called ‘How Much Can You Pee When You’re Only Three’. The crowd cheered and the roadies brought microphones and stands. To be honest, as Jake and I had pointed out several times when Julian had brought up the idea, we didn’t know any of the words. Although much more exciting, it felt a bit like visiting church when you have to pretend you know the words to some hymns and you sort of wing it and try your best to sing along. I presume Julian did know the words and just didn’t want to be the only kid out there while his father sang a song to him about peeing in front of huge crowd of hundreds of thousands of strangers.
One of the best performers in the festival, to my mind, was John Sebastian from The Loving Spoonful, whom I really liked. Somehow I spontaneously wandered off from Jake and Julian and sought this singer out in his dressing caravan after the show. He was gracious and we chatted briefly. I said I liked his music a lot. Then he showed me his guitar case, which was full of hundreds of different kinds of rolling papers that he’d gathered from all around the world: liquorice ones, dollar bill ones, peace sign ones – to me it was a bit of a treasure trove.
Hendrix was also there and played, but it was just so so, his performance. People said the sound was really bad and that was the reason. Although I was just a kid, I’m not sure if Jimi was becoming depressed on a deeper level, for some reason.
Jimi and Sgt. Peppers – ‘An Unusual Life’, by C. Weber
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. Recorded interview audio and original music underscores interesting periods, people and episodes in 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
‘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 of the same name as the record. He did this in a new business partnership 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 orchestral recording session – they let anyone at the recording session shoot freehand – and then edited the resulting footage themselves.
Walking 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 to produce the Magical Mystery Tour film, which they seemed more keen on doing, as it was a new project.
Tommy was crushed and even though he had everything in writing, returned the advanced funds to the Beatles. 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 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 – and barely able to remember the lyrics – which was funny.
Also at that concert, shot at the Olympia Exhibition Hall in 1967, 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 ‘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 Lot of Love’.
As a note to that section of film: the Ford GT40 which Tom ‘owned’ for a while was in fact stolen by his often 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 then 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 roll his eyes 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. Reinterpretation, voice and instruments by C.Weber
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.
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.
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 and version of our childhood lives. Alt-Generations will be more of my perspective and recall, 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, most notably between him and Keith Richards. In my interview with Joanna Harcourt-Smith she also noted that he ”did at times have dark moments”. Many of us, including our Scottish Nanny Mo, Joanna Harcourt-Smith and I, didn’t completely recognise Robert’s somewhat generous, 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 an unthoughtful little ruffian – which curiously was not in the penultimate edit I was forwarded.
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 idea is also that the browser can select a background soundtrack to play, while s/he is browsing the content.
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 the 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 he could never figure out why. Apart from being a room mate of his and an ex-boyfriend of mum’s, that is. Thus, at 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, at all.
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 driving trip 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 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 into a warm bath, along with his baby 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 the side-coming vehicle, an act which saved the life of his female companion at the time, 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 already 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 behind the doorway in which he stood the voices of a number of young and seemingly happy ladies could clearly be heard. Occasionally one of the ladies would flitter across the room behind the Irishman, in and out of our view, as mum and this man exchanged heated words, but he wouldn’t let us in. Afterwards, obviously somewhat bereft, mum took us to the cinema where we watched the then just released film, ‘Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid’. I held her hand throughout, or she held mine, although mesmerised by the actors, music and story, with its odd love-triangle at the heart of the film.
Third Memory – Boy in The Picture
I must have been about four years old when, one night climbing up the ladder to the platform bed or 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 for one last reunion, 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 – of around £100k – than he gave all the proceeds away to us, his three sons.
Us 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, trying to settle into a new school or if dad was out of it, dealing or using.
He is a 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 Gem 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 and punishing boarding school called Halibury. In the school they shaped children into the tough young men needed to fill the ranks of soldier/administrators of the empire and particularly the East India Trading company. Which, in some way, Tom’s grandfather on his mother’s side, Evelyn Weber, was involved in. 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, when Tom was sober – which for long periods seemed a test for him – he 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.
While my brother and I would be 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 – Susan Anne Coriat – 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 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. Christopher Gibbs describes mum. A famous art-dealer, Chris 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 mum. 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 salt and pepper horse, Jerusalem Artichoke, right through the annual fair at Padstow, which gave the locals something to talk about.
In contrast to Dad’s friends, who were motor-racing, 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 onto acid one weekend out at Redlands and Frances Travers, mum’s work friend at The Flying Dragon and, like Christopher Gibbs, one of the Gipsy travellers living on the grounds at Eliot Castle.
Her crowd all hung out at her health food café in the World’s End, “The Flying Dragon”, and later moved down to Cornwall to live in Gypsy 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. Mo 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. Strange music was coming from the living room. 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 – 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, 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, although 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 caravan of gypsies, living off the land. Mark Palmer had a huge model agency in London as well as a 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 he sounded like 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 caravan – meaning many caravans, not just one – of gypsies 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.
There were a lot of horses, home cooking and the smell of baking bread or lentils wafting out of windows and doors that were barely attached. Mum had a white stallion called Jerusalem Artichoke, on which she famously rode clad solely in wreaths of flowers through the annual fertility fair at Padstow in Cornwall. She also 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 a country road to a 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 living in, so they took my brother and me back to London on that same day. Considering how unconventionally we – Charlotte, my father, brother 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.