ONE OF THE DEFINING VOICES of ’60s British counterculture was silenced permanently on July 27 when Mick Farren suddenly passed away. Performing at London’s Borderline with his band The Deviants, Farren collapsed onstage much to the shock of the audience and his bandmates. He was transported to a nearby hospital but failed to regain consciousness.
Born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on September 2, 1943, Farren moved to London and became a lynchpin of the burgeoning mid-‘60s Ladbroke Grove scene. A melting pot of beatnik influences, emergent drug culture, insurrectionary spirit, and libertarian ideology, the area spawned such street-rock heroes as Hawkwind, High Tide, Tomorrow and The Pink Fairies as well as The Deviants – the latter releasing their debut album, Ptoof!, in 1967 which prompted comparisons with The Fugs and Frank Zappa. The band split two years later, with Farren embarking on a solo career in 1970.
Here he is, in typical, establishment-baiting form on the David Frost Show that very year…
Sporting his distinctive afro, Farren cut a charismatic figure whose deep love of music, wry sense of observation and writing flair saw him secure a gig at fledgling The International Times.
His energized prose would later appear in the pages of the NME, in which he championed original rockers like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent, his hero Bob Dylan, and the emerging punk movement (the latter in a piece headlined ‘The Titanic Sails At Dawn’ in June 1976 which called for a back-to-the-roots return to raucous rock’n’roll).
This vigorous writing style also animated several books, including his acclaimed autobiography, Give The Anarchist A Cigarette. Published in 2001, it allowed him to laugh in the faces of those he’d so enjoyed antagonizing the first time around.
In the mid-‘90s, Farren wrote for MOJO. His work included a feature about the rise and fall of The Deviants in issue 71 of the magazine. In that seven-page piece he once again offered a deeply personal, self-deprecating view of the world he’d inhabited in the ‘60s as well as his own impulses and influences. One particularly telling paragraph reads as follows:
“I've never admitted it before, but I guess at root, I'm a writer, and The Deviants were born as a literary concept. As a young lad in 1965-6, inundated with Kafka and Burroughs, Bob Dylan and Charlie Mingus, early Pete Townshend guitar solos and Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, I was obsessed by a less than tangible but high apocalyptic notion of an art form of total assault. I needed a medium that fully expressed the near insane rage that I carried round with me. The narrow confines of post-Profumo Merry England just begged for all-out cultural vandalism. I had tried painting it, I tried writing about it, but I knew the missing factor was the immediacy of an atonal rock’n’roll tsunami of howling noise. I fantasised it sweeping all before it in a hurricane of raw electromagnetic power. (Yeah, right.)”
Having lived in the US for much of his later life – where he counted the likes of the MC5’s Wayne Kramer as a friend and collaborator and wrote a weekly column for LA’s City Beat – Farren moved back to the UK in 2011 and established his Doc 40 blogspot where he continued to rage against The Man until the end.