Brian Barritt: Counter-culture writer who collaborated with Timothy Leary

The writer Brian Barritt was a lusty, Pan-like figure who sat at the heart of the counter-culture for over 50 years. A friend and collaborator to such notables as Timothy Leary, William Burroughs, Alex Trocchi and Youth of Killing Joke, he was particularly active in the Beatnik, psychedelic, Krautrock and rave scenes.

Brian Sydney Barritt was born in Coventry in 1934, and his early childhood shaped by the Blitz. Part of the roof of his home was lost during a bombing raid, while his school was destroyed, interrupting his early education.

His education ended when he left Broadheath School in Foleshill, Coventry at 15. He worked briefly at the local Jaguar factory, where he upholstered seats on the Jaguar XK120s, before he joined the Merchant Navy. His late teenage years, spent in ports and brothels from Japan to the Cape of Good Hope, included a little gun-running and the start of his life-long love of opium; these years, he later claimed, were his real education.

Barritt then joined the British Army and served in The Royal Warwickshire Regiment as an infantryman, seeing service in Cyprus and Northern Ireland. He spent time in the notorious Colchester detention centre after being court-martialled for falling asleep during a gun battle in Cyprus. Nevertheless, he left the army with an honourable discharge and received the General Service Medal.

In 1958 he moved to London, finding a home among the burgeoning Soho Beatnik scene. He became an artist and specialised in large, expressionist paintings. Much of his work from this period is lost but one existing piece, 1962's Self Portrait With Orgasm, is believed to be the oldest surviving example of British acid art.

Barritt was introduced to LSD during this period by the Scottish Beat writer Alex Trocchi, author of Cain's Book and Young Adam. As the drug was then unknown in the UK and they had no knowledge of dosage or potency, he and his partner Paula injected the whole shipment in one go. It was an experience that he never really recovered from, but one which turned him into a lifelong psychedelic evangelist. He became one of the fabled "Cosmic Couriers", a group who distributed LSD around the world – not for profit but because they believed it was their spiritual duty. Barritt smuggled great quantities of LSD behind the Iron Curtain on the grounds that "I thought it would do a lot of good, you know?"

In 1965 he hitched overland to India and Afghanistan. Returning to the UK a year later, he was arrested when the cannabis sewn into his waistcoat was discovered. The judge took one look at his dishevelled appearance and remarked, "A glass of brandy and a good cigar would never do that to a man." He was jailed for four years.

His first book was written in jail and smuggled out in fragments taped to the underside of his penis which were then passed on to visitors while the guards were looking the other way. These were assembled by his publisher Dave Ball into Whisper, a book that received high praise from William Burroughs and others. After his release, Barritt travelled to Algeria to meet Timothy Leary, the High Priest of the psychedelic Sixties and, in the words of President Nixon, "the most dangerous man in America".

Leary had escaped from an American jail with the aid of the terrorist organisation the Weathermen and was being sheltered in Algiers by the Black Panthers. The pair became close during Leary's years on the run, co-writing Confessions of a Hope Fiend and working on a theory of consciousness that became Leary's "Eight Circuit Model". Leary considered Barritt to be a "genius."

In 1972, under the protection of an exiled French arms dealer in Switzerland, the pair were introduced to Krautrock and collaborated on Ash Ra Tempel's Seven Up album. He went on to work with a number of Krautrock bands, particularly in the more blissful sub-genre of Kosmiche Musik. A recent history of Krautrock described his involvement as "unfortunate" because the "innocent bloom of Krautrock's youth had been corrupted by the arrival of Leary and his depraved orgiastic LSD merchants."

He moved to London's Ladbroke Grove in the 1980s where he met Youth, from Killing Joke and The Orb, who introduced him to the rave scene. His autobiography The Road of Excess, was published in 1998 and was followed by The Road to Tir Na N'Og, a manual for "psychedelic archaeologists".

In 2003 his only daughter, Bella, was killed in a car accident. She was 19.

Barritt remained active until the end. In his final year he worked with the artist Flinton Chalk on a granite sound sculpture and published a near-unpublishable science fiction sex comedy called The Nabob of Bombasta. He is survived by his stepson, David Downey.

Brian Sydney Barritt, writer: born Coventry 29 November 1934; one daughter, deceased, with Liz Elliot, and one stepson; died London 30 January 2011.

Suggested Topics
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier leaguePlus updates from Everton vs Palace
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Sport
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
News
peopleActress tells men: 'It's your issue too'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam