January 25, 2010

Ben Cartland at 101 St. Stephen's Gardens. Memories of David Aragon.


TEB's fan and blessed witness of London Sixties underground, David Aragon (see a photo of him around 20) 
has sent me some memories of his old friend Ben Cartland:
"In 1968, when I was 16, I left my parents' home in Somerset, England, and took off for Notting Hill Gate, London, to join a friend of mine who had gone there to pursue the hippie dream, and the 'Summer of Love'.
I found him living in a hippie commune at 101 St Stephen's Gardens, not far from the Portobello Road and Ladbroke Grove. St Stephen's Gardens is long gone - pulled down and rebuilt, as I discovered when I tried to revisit there many years later.
There were many people living in that house, and it was a great place to be at that time. For me, at 16, it was a new world, and exactly where I wanted to be.
Apart from my friend Keith (known to all as 'Scorpio'), I also knew George Firsoff, later very active in the movement to free Stonehenge, and quite well known. George was the son of Axel Firsoff, a famous astronomer who lived in Glastonbury. I grew up in Wells, very close by. George had a degree in philosophy from Oxford University, I believe, and was also the author of a book about the hippie movement called 'Spring of Youth'. Eccentric, extremely intelligent, and a good person, he became interested in the psychedelic experience, and spent a lot of time looking into it. George died in 2004, but if you google his name you will find pictures and tributes. As well as knowing him in London, I spent time at his parents house in Glastonbury, and met his parents. They were always interested in what George was doing with his life, and would have conversations about his experiences. Liberal parents, lovely people.They never minded all us hippies turning up there!
Also living at 101 was the infamous Sid Rawle. He lived in the basement there for a while, and was always a larger than life character. Later he went to Wales, where he set up Tipi Valley - another hippie commune which became famous in the media.See him interviewed on YouTube, and also playing a part in the movie 'Winstanley', about the early Digger movement in England. When I first met Sid, he belonged to the 'Tribe of the Sun', and later formed the 'Hyde Park Diggers'. When I had no money, he gave me copies of International Times to sell on the streets of Notting Hill Gate.
The Third Ear Band connection is that Ben Cartland, original viola player with the band, also lived in the house at the time. I remember Ben very well, we were friends for a brief time and he made a big impression on me. I remember him playing the guitar as well as the viola - and also the violin, I think. At the time I may not have known the difference between a viola and a violin. Because of Ben, I became interested in the violin (I still play) and in raga music.
I remember him one day telling me he was trying to work out how to play ragas on the guitar, and playing a few things when I was in the room. I also remember being introduced to Ravi Shankar's music by Ben, who was a big fan. I have a clear memory of sitting and listening to a Ravi Shankar album with Ben, and him picking up the album cover and kissing it in a reverential sort of way.
I remember Ben as being tall, with very long hair, barefoot and dressed in green velvet trousers. He was a gentle guy, softly spoken, thoughtful and spiritual by nature, and a great musician.
Earlier than this, Ben had also played guitar in an early version of Tyrannosaurus Rex (later T.Rex) with Marc Bolan. This was before I knew him. I did meet Marc Bolan on another occasion, in Glastonbury in about 1969, when Tyrannosaurus Rex played Glastonbury Town Hall. A memorable gig! A group of us sat right on the stage, and I sat right next to Marc (you could do that sort of thing in those days!)
Ben's girlfriend at the time was Pam Price, who lived in the basement of 101. She was an artist and had done a series of very intricate pen and ink drawings based on the life of the Buddha. She used these to help me through a particularly intense psychedelic experience I put myself through, and I always remember her kindness on that occasion, and that we struck up a good friendship for a while. On many evenings, the whole house would gather in her room. We would stay up most of the night, getting high and listening to music. Lyn Dobson, who later played soprano sax and sang with the Third Ear Band, was a friend of Pam's. He was sometimes a visitor to the house, and I remember him being there on more than one of these all-night basement sessions. At the time he belonged to something called the 'Tribe of the Sacred Mushroom', I seem to recall.
I never got to see the Third Ear Band at that time - and by the time I did, Ben was not with them. I saw them at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969, and again at Yeovil Technical College,Yeovil, Somerset in the early 70s. During the Yeovil gig, as the performance progressed,the whole band seemed to me to be levitating several inches above the stage. I remember this clearly, and I wasn't under the influence of anything (apart from the music) at the time! It was an extraordinary experience - the music so beautiful,hypnotic and trance-inducing.
The last time I saw Ben was at The Arts Lab, Drury Lane, London, in the very early 70s. He was wearing shoes by then, had a new girlfriend with him, and we chatted for a little while. I'm really pleased I now have a copy of the National Balkan Ensemble recording, basically an early version of the Third Ear Band, which has Ben playing on it - a good way to remember him". 


no©2010 Luca Ferrari

5 comments:

  1. I see you mention Lyn Dobson as being in the Tribe of the Sacred Mushroom- wasn't that Lyn Darnton, or were they the same people? I'm very interested in the Tribe of the Sacred Mushroom and would welcome info from anyone reading this blo- you can get me at meugher@googlemail.com
    Happy Trails
    Andy

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  2. Hi.
    When I'll hear Lyn by phone I will ask him, just to have a confirmation of it....

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  3. Hmmm .. maybe I have got the wrong Lyn, or maybe they are the same person! It was a long time ago ... but I see there is a Royal Festival Hall event mentioned where Lynn Darnton is linked to the Third Ear Band.Interested to hear what Lyn Dobson has to say about it, Luca! (Does HE remember being at 101 St Stephen's Gardens?) David Aragon

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  4. I stayed with Sid when he had bedsit on the first floor of a house in Ladbrook grove... that would have been '65 I think. One day a Canadian walking down the street shouting 'help' was invited up to tell of his troubles. Sid helped him out with £60 tied to one end of a coathanger, and half a pound of butter on the other... Those were the days...

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  5. David I want to thank you for your memories of St. Stephen's Gardens. It is a rainy California day today & I decided to do a search for my old boyfriend Ben Cartland. I was saddened to find that he has died. The same thing happened last year when I looked up my old friend George Firsoff. You mentioned Pam living in the basement when you were there so that must have been right after I left the basement flat in the summer of '68. I followed a love affair to Spain & when that was over came back to London in the fall of '68 which is when Ben and I got together. We spent a memorable 6 or so months together & stayed in touch until I returned to the states in the mid 70's. He was a sweetheart of guy, very soulful, I have nothing but good memories of him. St. Stephen's Gardens was indeed a great place to spend some time. So many people passed through that house. You write at some other place on this blog about Joyce and Dick. Joyce (pre Dick) used to visit us and cook up stews of garden greens to keep us healthy. She had a little baby named Jason. Later she had another baby named Jupiter. She was an intrepid character always on the go. I remember Lynn from the Tribe. He used to come to stay (the Tribe was in Suffolk I believe). I remember his long beard & his calm presence. Are you still a friends of Scorpio's (Keith)? In the post London years I lived on a farm in Wales. George used to come visit me often with his daughter Emi in tow. I remember his parents so well because they were so welcoming which was unusual for the times. Thanks so much for your memories. Dana Leigh

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