[Part 1 of Dan Schwartz’s conversation with Rikki Farr appeared in Copper #56. As we concluded Part 1, Rikki was running for his life from Germany and ” I got out and met the boys (the Beatles), and put on some shows…”—Ed.]
D.S.: In Liverpool?
R.F.: In Liverpool. And I realized – I was looking at a book that had some of the early posters – and this was a little bit later, I started putting on some town halls, and they generally had a beer license; you could rent them really cheaply. You’d put up posters…
D.S.: Rent what?
R.F.: Town halls. You know. Like Macklesfield….you could rent town halls and put posters up in the city, which was illegal, but we used to do it. So we’d go to places and take out adverts in the local newspaper. There was no radio advertising because the BBC was the only radio station at the time.
D.S.: When did Radio Caroline come in?
R.F.: That came in with Ronan O’Rahilly, my dear friend, Ronan O’Rahilly. That came in later. That was an old fishing trawler that he took. Had to go three miles off. That thing was a problem, that boat!
D.S.: What about Radio Luxembourg?
R.F.: Radio Luxembourg was earlier.
D.S.: Oh! I used to listen to Radio Luxembourg.
R.F.: Luxembourg was before Radio Caroline, yeah. Well, of course, my dear friend, John Peel, who passed away a few years ago, and his wife, “The Pig” – that was his name for her, affectionately – but John and I were very close and did a lot of shows together. He had that lovely…
D.S.: Him doing the emceeing?
R.F.: No, John was the DJ. In his show, “The Perfumed Garden”, he was – his show was picked up by the BBC and he became hugely popular. But he would come on and play records at the Roundhouse, the Electric Garden, all sorts of places…
D.S.: Oh, I see.
R.F.: ..and the Floyd, King Crimson, Soft Machine…all of those bands at the time – this was where we had Liquid Land and we had cotton wool done in big fluorescent…being lugged around in giant balloons with naked ladies in the same balloons…body art…you know, it’s all coming back to me now, but it seems so long ago, but it was a very, very cool time.
D.S.: So—if you hadn’t met John and hadn’t become a promoter of concerts – what would you have done?
R.F.: I’d have been an actor. Because Joe Liverwood had a repertory theater in Lewis called Center 42. And I got recruited with this guy called Pete Wilson to join his repertory theater. And Bill Folk, who was actually the younger of the Folk Brothers, whom we did “The Other Way” with, Bill was at the Royal – he was with RADA – Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. And his school project was to choose a film about the Reformation when Henry decided to take all of the Catholic churches out of England, which was part of his desire to marry Anne Boleyn. When
Rome – when Pope Clement decided to turn him down, he said, “Well, then, I’ll be Pope of England.” So he re-wrote the Bible, and he had the Anglican church…
D.S.: ..and led to 400 years of strife?
R.F.: That’s right. And that led to Oliver Cromwell and the Pilgrim fathers…not to give a history lesson, but I’m fascinated by this, I love it..
…I actually went to the tree on the Isle of Wight where Charles hid and was captured on his way to France, and brought back by Cromwell and beheaded. Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads. And of course, that persecution led to the founding of the Pilgrim fathers who left and moved to America. They brought their diseases, their horrible attitudes…
D.S.: …and the relentless hysteria.
R.F.: Most people don’t realize that at Thanksgiving, that when the Huron Indians came out in the middle of that terrible storm and brought turkey and corn to these people who were basically a week away from death, and fed them, gave them blankets and comfort – they turned around, once they got healthy, and built their stockades, and started robbing their corn, giving them diseases, and as they say – the rest is history.
And when I see the cynicism and crazy crap coming out of the leaders of our country now, and they have no sense of where the bad immigration really was (laughs)…
D.S.: Make mythology great again.
R.F.: Exactly! So we digress…
D.S.: You probably couldn’t get into the country now. A rock n’ roller trying to come over here in ‘78? Against this government? I don’t think so.
R.F.: I have a letter that I’ve got in a box somewhere from Margaret Thatcher, who actually became a good friend of my mother and father, as he was a national hero. He had a column in the national newspapers, and a TV show, and he was much loved. Margaret Thatcher wrote me a letter, asking me to please come back. “We understand that you exiled yourself over what was an unbelievably unfair tax thing.” But you know, I love the sunshine. I had bought a beautiful house off of Toluca Lake. I had two children – one child here…
D.S.: And you started managing The Tubes.
R.F.: I was managing The Tubes and I was working with Jeff Beck. And my production company was emerging really successfully. I love America and I love Americans. I love this country. I’m very saddened by what’s happened on the political surface. And when I see this morning, this young kid with an AK…And I see these kind of guarded apologies to the parents of the dead children…but at the same time this sort of corner bubble of bad bile coming from the corner of their mouths that we must protect the NRA…and it’s this doublespeak – this mentally ill kid who’s been expelled, who’s already printed all this stuff out, able to walk into a school with an assault rifle. And nobody wants to take responsibility. Because there’s a huge wedge of people in this country…I don’t want to say necessarily that they’re Trump supporters, but it looks like there’s some synchronicity there – that approve of whatever it takes to bear arms. And you know…wait until you’re burying your child.
D.S.: When I lived in England, the police were not – when I lived there, there was a protest against the Vietnam War. In Grosvenor Square.
R.F.: Oh! I remember that! Yes!
D.S.: And the bodies…the protestors ended up dancing in a circle around the Square, arm in arm. And I thought, “Man – that would not happen in America.”
R.F.: Do you know how many murders there were in the United Kingdom last year? I think it was 62. You have more than that in a week in Chicago. It goes on and on. In Australia, when they did their ruling on the gun laws…
D.S.: You don’t have to convince me.
R.F.: I’m just sharing.
D.S.: Were any of those killings in England with guns?
R.F.: Knives. Predominantly knives. Predominantly knives or strangling. And most of them were mentally…very few of them were premeditated. But then, you have the Richardsons and the Kray Brothers, who I knew at the Marquee. They’d send deaf and dumb Ginger there to empty out our…
D.S.: Now this is worth talking about here!
R.F.: They would send…The Gunnell Brothers, who had the Flamingo Club down the road – they were hard cases. But because my father was Tommy Farr, and you know when you are a champion boxer, you know everyone from every walk of life, and the one thing you don’t do is: you don’t mess with the champion. ‘Cause he makes a phone call, and all of a sudden, you’ve got East and West and North and South and all sorts of things happening.
So I had a cloak of immunity from…and I was pretty tough myself. You had to, when you were running clubs in Soho…I remember sailors coming in with scissors to give everybody haircuts. And I garnered a reputation by picking up a mic stand and getting into a row. Actually holding them at bay on the pavement floor while the Navy police came and took them away. These are the things that got me a reputation for being a sort of hoodlum. But that was purely to protect my crowd; my kids in the club. We didn’t have big bouncers. We had a couple of guys at the door, but once you were in the club…
D.S.: You let Chas Chandler use the Marquee for Hendrix, didn’t you?
R.F.: No, no. There was a club I was associated with called The Bag Of Nails. It was on Carnaby Street. And I got the Bag of Nails to let Chas rehearse Jimi, Noel and Mitch. It was pouring rain, and my office was in Soho Square. The Marquee’s offices and the National Jazz Federation’s were in the same building. And we were managing or agents or both for The Yardbirds, Moody Blues, Gary Farr and T-Bones, John Mayall…a whole variety of different artists.
And Harold and Barbara, of course, ran that. I was the guy…what was I?…I was the guy who’d say, “I’ve seen this band, We’ve gotta have them!”, like The Action or The Heavy Metal Kids or The Sex Pistols. I was leading the wagon train looking for fresh water and green grass. And I loved it; it’s kind of like my role here. I just think of interesting ways to make music sound better.
So Chas called me, and you know he’s from Newcastle, so he goes, “Hey Eric. C’mon over and have a listen to this; c’mon.” I said, “Chas, it’s pissing rain.” And he goes, “No, you’ve got to come over.” So I put on my hat and coat and went out in the rain because it was just right across from Carnaby Street, and I opened the door, and BANG! I got hit by this wall of sound!
And I’m looking, because the stage was so small, and the ceiling was so low that the Marshall stacks were up to the ceiling. And Mitch, who’s not a big guy, was behind his drum kit, and you could barely see the top of his head with those massive 44” double Ludwigs. I just heard and saw it.
So they stopped playing, and Chas said, “Jimi, come over.” I had known Mitch and Noel, “Hey man, how are you doing?” Jimi came over, we met one another – and I loved him. And Chas said, “I’ve got a real difficulty in people believing in him. They think he’s a freak.” I said, “Ok. Well, let’s put some shows on. I’m having dinner with Robert Stigwood tonight, let me talk to Robert about it.” And Roger Forrester, who was working with Robert Stigwood and later became Eric Clapton’s manager for many years. And at dinner, I said, “You’ve got to believe in him.” And he said, “Well I’ve got some drinks in the saddle.” And my contribution to that was making sure we had a reasonable sound system, and Eric Barrett helped with that. And I went out next store to the Bitter Royal, to a little newsstand there, and bought a little bottle of Ronson lighter fluid – you know where this is going. And we had these things called “jobs worths”. You know, “That’s more than my job’s worth!” (laughs)
So we had this jobs worth trying to pull the asbestos curtain down cause it [Jimi’s guitar] was on fire, and I go, “No, no!” and he’s going, “That’s more than my job’s worth!” (laughs) And that was the start of it.
And the press, and Chris Welch from the NME [New Musical Express—Ed.]wrote this beautiful piece saying, “I’ve just seen the future of guitar music.” I was involved in his first show and, sadly to say, I promoted his last show, at the Isle of Wight. He was actually coming over to play for Eric Burdon, who had just joined War. They were going to play for Eric’s birthday, and Jimi was going to play. So we sent someone to find him, and when they opened his door, they found him dead. To me, there’s more to that story than what the coroner said.
D.S.: Really? So that gets to another question: Of all these acts -who’s your favorite?
R.F.: In terms of favorites…I had a very special relationship with Bob Marley. I had a very, very special relationship with Jeff Beck. I had a very special relationship with Peter Gabriel. And Steve Winwood.
D.S.: Special in what way?
R.F.: We became friends and I understood what they were trying to do. The reason you see all these awards is like – this concert here with Rod Stewart at Wembley – that was a concept that I had…I’ve never had an original idea. It’s always come from seeing something that I could adapt to what I do in music. And I saw – I was in Sweden, I was there with ABBA – I saw at the Gothenburg border – these two oil legs. And I thought they could support the roof on a stage. And I thought, well, we could do this as a concert in the round. And that’s still the record at Wembley to this day – Rod Stewart in the round.
D.S.: When was that? ‘95?
R.F.: Yeah. So I went to Rod, “Do you want to play Wembley in the round if we can get permission?” It’s like when I went to see Prince Charles to put the Oval Cricket ground with the Who and Mott the Hoople and Emerson, Lake and Palmer…or putting on Frank Zappa at the Royal Albert Hall and having him open up on the giant organ playing, “Louie, Louie.”
You know, I just love to break the rules. Well, not break, but disrupt, because things get so comfortable. This was the very first stadium show for Led Zeppelin. Peter sent Richard Cole to the Isle of Wight as I’d become a bit of a mental hermit. I’d fused all my brains on that event. Sent Richard Cole down to this little cottage I was hiding out in. So he goes, “Come on. Peter wants to see you. He wants you to put on Zeppelin. We’re ready for a stadium show.” I sat with the guys and I loved them. I knew them from the Yardbirds and other things. So I said, “Let’s do something different.” So Peter goes, “Nah, we’re a rock band.” So I said, “Peter, what do you think about doing it like a medieval fair?” ‘Cause they were using madrigals, like the intro to “Stairway to Heaven”…
D.S.: But this was way before “Stairway to Heaven”?
R.F.: Yeah, but they were already using a bit of madrigal sound, where they would go from the riffing to this, (hums celtic melody). So I said, “Let’s do a magical show with sword swallowers and fire eaters and trapeze artists.” We even had dancing pigs wearing policemen’s helmets. We just did crazy shit. God, it’s so sad that it wasn’t filmed or recorded. Peter really had a thing about..but that show was really magical.
D.S.: Peter had a thing about…?
R.F.: About the band being filmed or recorded. And that’s why there’s so little of what Led Zeppelin did, and that was, in fact, the genius of what made them so mystical. And unobtainable. When they announced the Led Zeppelin show at ‘02? Twenty million demands for tickets, worldwide.
D.S.: But do you have a favorite?
R.F.: Well…I do. Rod Stewart and I spent a lot of time together. Rod and I were very close, we were very good friends, we’d go on [inaudible] together, we’d go to World Cups together. We had a soccer team together; we were very, very close. I’ve seen him – I was one of his best men at his marriage to Rachel. We were very close, but with Rod – you could only get so close. Because he has – he barricades himself a little bit.
My brother? Gary Farr and the T Bones would sell out every club. They’d go to France. You can see behind here [gestures at photo] It’s very sad….I discovered Keith on Worthing Pier. There was a music scene in Worthing and he was actually working a summer job selling Wall’s ice creams. And we came down there – the T Bones had just finished “Ready, Steady, Go” and were playing Worthing Pier and sold it out. Three to four thousand people. We used to travel in [inaudible] in those days. It was our car of choice. There was lots of room and you could sleep. It wasn’t a limo, but it was kind of cool.
And as we were going in, my brother and I were going to get a bite to eat, and they had this piano. There was playing, but everyone was gone. I went, “Are you kidding me?” So we went in, and there’s this guy with the Walls striped things, and the little paper hat with Walls Ice Cream, just sitting there, playing the piano on the stage. It wasn’t tuned very well; the piano tuner hadn’t come yet. So Gary looked at me and we introduced ourselves. He goes, “I’m so sorry! I was just on my lunch break so I thought I might play some piano. I’m Keith Emerson.”
“What’s your favorite?” He said, “organ.”
And I’m like, “Whoa! Really? Like Graham Bond?”
So that night, we went to his house, he packed his clothes up, kissed his mother good bye, and we took this virgin boy to London. Two weeks later, we took him to Paris, he lost his virginity…
D.S.: What town was he from?
R.F.: Worthing, Sussex. Keith killed himself, as you know.
D.S.: The Nice’s bass player was also in the T Bones.
D.S.: No. Lee Jackson. I assume they met there.
R.F.: Yes, yes. Lee – he was from Newcastle. Gary had some great bands – from Nice to Ace – but you know, he got ripped off with some songwriting. Gary was quiet like my father, but don’t get on the wrong side of him. “There He Is” – that was the record he made at Muscle Shoals. He went up and said, “You owe me the money.”
He said, “Well, come back another day.”
Gary goes, “No, you’ve owed me this money a long time. I want it.”
“Ah..I’ll give it to you later.”
So he opened up the window and and hung him out the window by his ankles. Then he pulled him back in and got the money. Then the police were called, so Gary took off and wound up living in a cave in Portugal.
D.S.: How did he die?
R.F.: We knew – when he was signed to A&M, the wonderful Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert – wonderful people; dear dear friends of mine.
D.S.: I did that – you know, the huge Sheryl Crow album 25 years ago? Herb was involved in that.
R.F.: Really? Herb and Lainie – you just don’t know two nicer people.
So we knew – like my father, he had an enlarged heart. And it was very easy to deal with it, but he wouldn’t. It was just – he was born in the wrong era. He should have been born with a feather in his cap, a sword, a horse..I mean, he would do stunts on films like Salvador…he’d hang upside down from a helicopter taking shots of the tanks at the crossway. On Dances With Wolves, he was there on a side saddle.
D.S.: He worked as a cinematographer? I didn’t know that.
R.F.: Yes. And as a still photographer. And hugely popular with the directors, ‘cause he played the blues at night. He had an enlarged heart, there was medication for it – and he wouldn’t take it. He was so powerful – he would take a bike and ride to Santa Barbara and back. He’d do a 100 mile bike ride. He’d cook and …. Everything was larger than life. He’d sing and he’d play, and those that knew him, loved him. He had just done a movie with Gene Hackman called Hoosiers. About basketball. And he came back and found that his money had been overspent. I won’t go into details, but money had been overspent, and there was a furious row…and he went to bed. He’d actually had dinner with me the night before, telling me he wanted to change his life but he had to make sure his children were with him. And I said fine.
D.S.: Did you know what he wanted to do?
R.F.: Yes. He wanted to get his own place. He wanted to continue his photography but he wanted to make a new record. He wanted to play music again, but he wanted to change – his influences had been the blues. Sonny Boy Williamson once said to him, “I’m the real Sonny Boy! You’re the best white boy on the harmonica I’ve ever heard!” Gary played harmonica on Bob Marley’s records; he played really good harmonica. Live on stage – you heard Christine Keeler died the other day? Mandy Davis – these were all lovers of Gary back in the day. Women flocked to him. He was the Warren Beatty of Rock n’ Roll in London. (laughs) He out-Micked Mick Jagger, and Mick knows it. I mean, Lady Carinthia West was his mistress for four years. “Legs” West.
Gary was a real hot catch for the young ladies of London.
D.S.: I wonder – during the eighties, I was in a lot of social scenes with Carinthia. I wonder if maybe I met Gary?
R.F.: You’d know if you had. He sucked the air out of a room when he walked in. He had that sort of James Hunt charisma, because he was so good looking. When he came in, he was like this big lion on the prowl. I was a bit more gregarious. They followed me around like the Pied Piper because I was having fun, and at the time, I always had the drugs! (laughs) I was reasonably good looking, but my brother was the…
D.S.: I get it. There was something I’ve been wondering; I’ve seen the promos that Riva showed me – it gives a whole different explanation for your famous rant [at the Isle of Wight Festival, 1970—seen directly below.—Ed.].
R.F.: The rant is famous because – it’s funny you should say that, because you know who called me a few months ago? Murray Lerner [Producer/Director of Message to Love, the documentary film of the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.–-Ed.]. He said, “Rikki, I’ve got so much footage; I need to get together with you. I’ve got a whole new movie to make. And I kind of want to make it around you, because with so much going on…” And I said, “No, I want the Foulk Brothers involved.”
I get a lot of credit because I was the front man. I had the BBC over the other day over Leonard Cohen.[?] And going onto London, we got four BBCs. There was a lot of stuff going on. Let me tell you something. If you actually look at the editing, the editing is [inaudible] and tells you the story.
There were two things: a priest wanted to come on and raise money for people who had lost their money or couldn’t get home; and I was getting collections. And I said, “This is a good way for you to play up the subject of cancer. Put whatever you’ve got and send it to the fund.”
And I had the priest come on and talk. And he was a wonderful guy; they had people sleeping with them in the church; event in the graveyards and everywhere. Using the bathroom facilities, hoses, whatever.
And then there were the Maoists and the draft dodgers, who were just bugs – you can see them in the film.
D.S.: This is what I wanted to ask you about, yeah.
R.F.: “Music should be free! I was at Woodstock and music should be free!” Music was free at Woodstock only because…
D.S. …only because they got overwhelmed.
R.F.: Overwhelmed. Right. And the government forced us, up to down, because they knew people on the hill had saw them for free and they had that smirk, “is this anyplace you have to have a license for?” We had the site which is where the Alaway [?] is now. Beautiful site. Perfect for everything. But they wanted to kill us. You see, we’d beaten the nine assemblies in Parliament. And Sir Mark would not MP. He was a wonderful man. I got on TV every morning while this thing was building up – and there I was, giving my reasons. I was in leathers, you know, Indian garb…all that stuff in those days. And I’m on TV saying, “No! Why can 50,000 Boy Scouts go up to Bangham and sing Kumbaya but not listen to “Purple Haze: by Jimi Hendrix? This is just a class distinction.”
And they said, “Yeah, but you’ll get many more.” And I said, “Well he had 120,000 here for Bob Dylan. He brought millions of dollars to the Isle of Wight. He put on a beautiful event, which was love and peace, and the islanders want it back.” I mean, we found the people who were gouging, but they want it back. It was a wonderful event. I got Bob Dylan to come out of retirement. We had Joe Cocker introduce “With a Little Help From My Friends.” We had the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin.” The Who introduced “Tommy”…I mean, Marsha Hunt, Ravi Shankar…
D.S.: This is 1969?
R.F.: ‘69, yeah.
D.S.: When ELP introduced “Pictures at an Exhibition” – that was 1970?
R.F.: 1970, yeah.
D.S.: Ok. So ‘69…
R.F.: So in ‘69, we introduced The Band, who had a record called [Music From]Big Pink, which nobody had ever heard of, and it became a hit in England! And we had The Beatles there. And if Yoko had just shut up, The Beatles would have played. I had talked to all of The Beatles up at Saville Row. And I said, “Look – bring your amps, come on down, work out, rehearse, and play a couple of songs with Bob Dylan.” And they were up for it.
D.S.: All four of them? John too?
R.F.: John too – until Yoko said, “You could do yourself a lot of damage. You haven’t played live. You go out there…Stravinsky didn’t have to play live to prove he was a great writer.” “Oh…Yoko’s right. We can’t do that.” They still went down and jammed and played…
D.S.: Did she say that in front of you? 20
R.F.: Yup. Sitting cross-legged, on the sideboard. With a plastic lotus flower on her forehead. And I said, “Well…look – all of you have the sense of incredible respect and, to some degree, we all used to worship Bob Dylan. He’s come to the garden island of Partridge to play. I went to New York with Ray Folk and convinced him to come out of retirement after his motorcycle accident. He brought The Band; he’s bringing Richie Havens.This is going to be the who – I mean, Jane Fonda, Roger Vadim, everybody will be there.”
George, who was with Patti at the time, they all just played. They had their amps down there, because they were at a farmhouse, playing, and there was Remi Kabaka, Steve Winwood, Rick Grech, I mean, all of the musicians were down there, jamming all through the night.
D.S.: On the Isle of Wight? Including The Beatles?
R.F.: Yes! [to associate] Don’t you have a picture? Who was playing? It was John…
U.F.: It’s not an image that we own.
D.S.: That was there?
R.F.: That was taken at the farm. That’s the tennis court at the farm on the other end of the island, where everyone was staying. And at night, we had Remi Kabaka, Traffic, Rick Grech, Ginger Baker..everybody came there.
D.S.: Blind Faith was kind of born there too?
R.F.: Yes! And I’m like, “Don’t you just want to move those amps onstage and play?” And John was, “Oh no. Yoko’s right. We can go out there and make idiots of ourselves. We could turn out to be right monkeys.”
D.S.: Yeah, but that was what the Rock n’ Roll Circus was the year before!
R.F.: Yes. At any rate, that was then. He’s not here, but…and I was getting ready with Elephant’s Memory up in Canada, to get ready for him [Lennon} to go on tour with his film. He started my life in this business and I miss him. He was a man of many different…
D.S.: He wanted to go on the road with Elephant’s Memory?
R.F.: Yeah. That was the plan.
D.S.: Jim Keltner [ drummer in Elephant’s Memory and a zillion other bands/sessions—Ed.] is a very close friend of mine. He’s told me a lot of stories.
R.F.: Jim’s great, yeah. Send him my love. Call him up now. Tell him Rikki says hi. Is he still playing? Great drummer.
D.S.: Oh yeah. About the only drummer who works all the time, still. I could tell you some great Keltner stories, but not while we’re recording (laughs).
R.F.: I may have a few, too! (laughs) It’s amazing – I can never remember these names; if I could, I could write a book! But they only come when I meet someone like you, who just trigger names, and I don’t know where they come from. There’s some sort of cell back there that stores it all up. If you trigger, I start remembering names, places…it’s fascinating.
[The third and final installment of Dan Schwartz’s conversation with Rikki Farr will appear in the next issue of Copper. Thanks so much to Rikki, and special thanks to Christine McKibban at Riva Audio and Jim Noyd of Noyd Communications for arranging Dan’s chat with Rikki.–-Ed.]