Worthing and I didn’t get off to what you might call a great start.I was five years old, and already a little odd, while Worthing was part of the New England, and soulless post-war council estates were pushing out to the east and west, warehousing thousands of baby boom kids with absolutely nothing to do but watch the traffic lights change colour or, alternatively, listen to Elvis Presley on Radio Luxembourg, and fantasise about what it might really be like on the rest of the planet. I spent my days at Vale Primary School, and then Worthing High School for Boys, where I found myself busted for hijacking the Musical Appreciation Society to play Eddie Cochrane and Jerry Lee Lewis in the lunch hour, and a second time for having a copy of Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in my desk; something our psychotic Plymouth Brethren headmaster – who liked to organise morality searches of our juvenile property – categorised as pornography.
But not all was bad – Gene Vincent and Johnny Kidd and the pirates, featuring a teenage Mick Green on guitar, as a double bill at the Dome Ballroom, creating a legend that the stomping on the floor became so intense that plaster was falling from the celiing on the punters a floor below in the cinema, and the coppers, maybe smelling unconscious insurgency, were nine deep as the audience stumbled out onto the seafront afterwards, arch-Teds from the Durrington estates and ton-up greasers from Littlehampton and Horsham.
I was moving on, first to the art school on Union Place across the street from the Connaught Theatre, posing as a baby bohemian, in coffee bars like the Arosa and La Cassita, but also swilling pints of mild in the back bar of the Fountain, and risking a kicking from the same rockers who had been there for Gene and Johnny. And the off to London to join the Revolution, with a moment of gleeful revenge at a chaotic festival called Phun City, and a conspiracy to bring the MC5, The Pretty Things, and the Pink Fairies to a damp field north of Angmering, while the local gentry put down their gin and tonics for long enough to call their solicitors and serve injunctions. It all ended with the forcible eviction of a bunch of freaks who might decide to camp there all summer, while we, the organisers, made good our getaway, on the lam, one jump ahead of a constabulary that wanted to hold someone responsible.
I didn’t go back to Worthing for a long time after Phun City. In fact, I drifted further and further away – London, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo – but still received reports from Lemmy and Larry Wallis that Worthing had become a great place to play, and heard about the Worthing Workshop and a thriving counter culture. The last time I returned, I knew things were going on, but my mother was dying and I had no chance to check them out. So this isn’t just about unfocused nostalgia.
The very fact that I am writing this for Revolutionary Arts Worthing Creative Conference, and maybe – if the stars can be manipulated into the right configuration – I might even get to perform at an upcoming arts festival. All those years ago it would have been unimaginable, but possibilities are everything, and this trip down memory lane is really designed to demonstrate just how far we have come in three and some decades, and how all the high times and hard struggles actually did achieve something. Maybe it wasn’t the Utopia we wanted, but a vibrant creativity has been planted and nurtured, Worthing has moved a hell of a long way from watching the traffic lights change colour, and restless children no longer need to seek their dreams on some other part of the planet.
Mick Farren, Los Angeles, 2005 – for Revolutionary Arts