Mick Farren: Musician and writer who played a leading role in the UK's counter-culture

It will no doubt serve as a piece of modern cultural mythology that Mick Farren "died as he would have wanted", collapsing onstage on Saturday night at London's Borderline, playing a gig with a reformed version of his 1960s group the Deviants, a concert that he had been advised not to go ahead with on medical advice. More accurately, performing the show only underlined Farren's personal philosophy of unassailable professionalism and a ceaseless work ethic that led to the publication of 23 novels as well as 11 non-fiction volumes. Backstage at the Borderline he may have been plugged in to an oxygen mask, but audience members would be unaware that he was returning to it between numbers.

Mick Farren, a man with a warm heart, an abundant wit and a great mind, was a leading player in the UK's counter-culture, a prolific writer, musician, activist and cultural commentator. He was born in Cheltenham, his family later moving to Worthing in Sussex, where he attended Worthing High School for Boys. In 1963 he moved to London to study art at St Martin's. "Sunday-supplement graphic design had been my masterplan," he wrote in Give the Anarchist a Cigarette, his 2001 autobiography. Moving to Ladbroke Grove in search of cheap accommodation he discovered a bohemian world of West Indian shebeens and marijuana. His ambitions changed.

Editing IT, the underground newspaper, Farren became something of a legend in his role of king of alternative Notting Hill. "Within the hippy hierarchy I was Tony Soprano," he said recently. "I had my own little army. But only for good!" At the time a hardcore Maoist, in alliance with his friends Hawkwind, for whom he later contributed lyrics, he helped tear down the fences at the August 1970 Isle of Wight festival (he memorably described the event as "a psychedelic concentration camp"). The previous month he had set up the far more counterculture Phun City festival, outside Worthing: security was provided by his Hells Angels associates. When that year he released Mona, his first solo album, it came with an Angels' endorsement.

Thanks to his alliance with Detroit's countercultural rockers MC5, who played Phun City, Farren became de facto leader of Britain's White Panther Party; in this yippie guise he was among a score of subversive stalwarts who in 1970 invaded the set during an edition of the prime-time David Frost Show. "We thought Frost would be cool and up for a debate," he told me. "Instead he just closed the programme down." Charged with obscenity in 1971 as co-publisher of Nasty Tales, an underground comics anthology, Farren won the Old Bailey case, representing himself.

By 1974 Farren was working for the New Musical Express. He edited the music paper's Thrills section – "I wanted Thrills to be a cross between the Daily Mirror and National Enquirer" – championing bizarrely scandalous stories, frequently related to the weight problems of his hero, Elvis Presley. "Many years later, in New York City," he wrote in his autobiography, "a psychiatrist would ask me, 'So you wanted to have sex with Elvis Presley?'… This was idiocy. 'No (you damned fool), I wanted to be Elvis Presley… I didn't realise until years later, but I was the only product I wanted to promote."

In July 1976 Farren wrote his famed "The Titanic Sails at Dawn" think-piece in the NME, predicting the takeover of punk; almost 10 years previously the Social Deviants (later the Deviants) had pre-empted this movement: formed in 1967, their approach was best represented by their song "Let's Loot the Supermarket", a tune at odds with the then prevailing hippie themes.

By 1977 the likes of Joe Strummer would be found seated on the floor of Farren's Ladbroke Grove flat, eager for advice, as Farren scribbled on an A4 pad, working on The Feelies, a sequel to his 1976 science fiction novel The Quest of the DNA Cowboys, pausing to take in scenes from Kojak or The Sweeney on his then unimaginably huge colour TV. Later in 1977 Farren managed to set fire to that flat, the consequence of an unextinguished joint tossed into a wastepaper basket.

Inspired by punk's do-it-yourself ethos, Farren returned to the recording studio in 1978, releasing a further solo album, Vampires Stole My Lunch Money. At the end of that decade he moved to New York, marrying, and writing for the Village Voice. When the marriage ended he moved to Los Angeles. Drawn into the world of screenwriting, he worked frustratingly on a Che Guevara biopic. "I mentioned a scene in Clint Eastwood's Hang 'Em High. The studio executive had never heard of it. It's not exactly Kurosawa, is it?" His life in LA was not immune from tragedy: his live-in girlfriend committed suicide.

Clearly blessed with an iron constitution that would permit him to stand tall in hedonistic sessions with his friend Lemmy, bad health finally caught up with Farren some five years ago. He returned from Los Angeles – "It's a bit like a large Eastbourne" – to the UK to avail himself of the NHS.

Suffering from emphysema, and assorted complications – 18 months ago a non-cancerous tumour "as large as a cricket ball" in one of his lungs had been eradicated by antibiotics – Farren not only refused to give up on life but seemed to increase its pace. He put together the new version of the Deviants and played regularly, while over the last 12 months he had had three further books published: Road Movie, a startlingly surreal and poetic pulp fiction novel; Black Dogs Circled, an exemplary collection of 18 poems; and, most recently, Elvis Died for Somebody's Sins but not Mine, subtitled "A Lifetime's Collected Writing".

Michael Anthony Farren, writer, musician and activist: born Cheltenham 3 September 1943; married firstly Joy (marriage dissolved), secondly Betsy (marriage dissolved); died London 27 July 2013.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

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
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week