Micky, we hardly knew ye …

Miles Charles Shaar Murray Mick Farren Chalkie Davies

Herewith the full original author’s-cut text of the piece I wrote for The Guardian after my old pal Mick Farren fell off his perch … written within 24 hours of the bombshell. The pic, recently unearthed by Chalkie Davies, shows Miles, me, Micky and Chalkie in Brighton,summer of 1976. 

If you gotta go, go now … or else you got to stay all night. Mick Farren was a lifelong writer in a full spectrum of disciplines and a former political activist who became a living banner for the psychedelic left, but fundamentally he was a performer at heart. Late in life, he had reunited his ’60s cult band The Deviants and returned to the stage which was as much his true home as the writer’s chair he had occupied for the previous four-decades-and-change. Only weeks away from what would’ve been his 70th birthday, he died a true performer’s death: onstage at a crowded club on a Saturday night with applause still ringing in his ears. I nearly went to that show. I’m glad I didn’t, and was thus spared seeing someone who’d been a friend for over forty years die before my eyes.

If Micky had been the singer he wanted to be — Elvis, Gene Vincent, Jim Morrison — or even a ‘non-singer’ whose style captured the listener the way Bob Dylan or John Lydon did, his writing may have remained a sideline, or been confined to the composition of lyrics. As it was, it was his writing — journalism, polemics, criticism, poetry, fiction, autobiography, social history, manifestos and much, much more — which became his voice. And certainly he cut a dashing and charismatic figure in the London underground and rock and roll worlds of Ladbroke Grove and te West End from the late ’60s until he relocated to the US at the end of the ’70s: all leather and denim and silk and studded belts, topped off with mirrorshades and Afro and a spectacularly broken nose; part biker, part urban guerrilla, part rock and roll dandy.

Even at the height of the ‘Summer Of Love’, there was nothing ‘flower-power’ about Micky: no-one could have been further from the stereotype of the mumbling indolent hippie than he was. Farren represented hippie’s militant wing; he was a whirlwind of activity, a cauldron of ideas, some of which actually worked. He became part of the editorial collective of London’s fortnightly underground paper International Times (IT for short) and ultimately its editor, performed with The Deviants (essentially, a punk band almost a decade too early), organised demos and gigs (where, if he wasn’t performing, he’d nevertheless be onstage delivering his inimitable rabble-rousing revolutionary rants) and co-published the underground comic Nasty Tales which, in a less-publicised parallel to the OZ Trial, was prosecuted for obscenity and led to him (successfully) defending himself from an Old Bailey dock.

Above all, he was smart and funny, impressively well-read, endlessly fascinated by all aspects of popular and boho culture, a sparkling conversationalist and a world-class raconteur. It seemed blindingly obvious that when the underground press collapsed in the 1970s, that Micky should join other former outlaw journalists like me and Nick Kent at the New Musical Express where, sheltering under the umbrella of IPC, we’d continue the mission of fun and subversion by other means, only now to a much wider readership. During the second half of the ’70s — before, during and after punk — we shared an office (not to mention similar tastes in coiffure, eyewear, music, politics and stimulants of choice), and no-one could rationally have demanded that the universe supply a more congenial and entertaining deskmate.

Inevitably, we lost touch during his US sojourn, when he lived first in Manhattan and later in LA, seeing each other only during his occasional visits to London. He’d always been a chronic asthmatic, never far from his inhaler, and it was ultimately serious health problems which brought him back to live in the UK. Quite simply, under the US healthcare system he couldn’t remotely afford the treatments he needed, but which were available to him here via the NHS.

Last year I saw him perform with The Deviants at London’s Borderline. Now massively overweight and perched on a barstool at stage-centre, he seemed sluggish at first but then the old fire returned … but backstage, after the show, he was in a wheelchair with an oxygen mask clamped over his lower face.

For some months, our mutual friend Chris Salewicz has been trying to coordinate a reunion between Micky and our old buddy Wilko Johnson, still rocking the blues in the face of terminal cancer, but their various schedules and medical needs have frustrated his efforts. Now it’ll never happen.

Nevertheless, Micky died, like all good rock and roll cowboys, with his boots on. And his shades.

For my review of Give The Anarchist A Cigarette, Micky’s 2001 autobiography of (mis)adventures in 1960s/70s London, give it some clickage here