"LADY" JUNE'S title was purely honorary, a mutation of the function for which for a time she was best known in London: landlady to many of the capital's more creative musicians.
In this role it was sometimes overlooked that she was one of the city's great catalysts, albeit at an underground hippie level; an inveterate thrower of parties, she spent her time in the late 1960s and early 1970s at Vale Court in Maida Vale inadvertently running what the musician Daevid Allen described as "London's premier smoking salon". "She was ferocious in the mornings until the first joint arrived: she'd hover over you with a wet cloth demanding that you clean the stove." At a birthday party that June threw there for her closest friend, Allen's wife Gilli Smyth, Robert Wyatt fell from a window, breaking his back.
It was when she finally moved permanently to the artists' community of Deya in Majorca, in 1975, that June fully came into herself: as much of an artist as any of her London tenants had been, a great British eccentric and cosmic prankster on a par with Lol Coxhill and Viv Stanshall. The last five years saw a period of almost unparalleled productivity that will climax in an exhibition at the La Residencia hotel in Deya that opens tomorrow.
"I think she found what she was looking for," said the musician Kevin Ayers, another of her tenants, who wrote the music for and produced her 1974 album Linguistic Leprosy. "She had been involved in fashion and didn't really like it. She had a longing to be an artist - at whatever cost - and discovered that in Deya."
Lady June was born June Campbell-Cramer in Doncaster in 1931. Her father, who had made money in fashion retailing, took her to Majorca as a teenager and she fell in love with the island. After working as a photographic model in London during the 1950s, June moved to Palma, continuing the same career.
One day she met Daevid Allen and the troupe of artists and musicians who were to become the Absurd jazz-rock group Gong. "We all felt we'd known her from before we met," remembered Allen. A close friend of his was a Frenchman called Michel Albert, the radical son of a right-wing general, "a gorgeous-looking guy, living in Deya, who spectacularly was trying to paint his acid trips. He became one of the loves of her life."
Moving to Deya, June also started painting, putting on the first of a series of exhibitions always characterised by surreal humour, which also emerged in her poetry. Deya was ruled over by the poet Robert Graves. "To live in Deya you had to have some sort of satisfactory relationship with him," remembered Allen. "Robert was very tolerant of June, and she hung out with him."
"Everyone got on well with the Graves family," recalled Ayers. "Lady June was part of the poetry scene at the theatre club. She liked being in a place where you could go to the beach and flirt. And be around people who were painting or writing."
Lady June always had a tendency towards hedonistic consumption of alcohol and soft drugs. Lynne Franks, who has a home in Deya, recalls June remonstrating with her daughter for smoking cigarettes. "Give them up. Take up joints - that's what I did," she told her in all seriousness. Her fondness for excess was often a way of overcoming a chronic shyness. "She smoked and drank a bit too much," said Pete Brown, the musician who wrote the lyrics for many songs by Cream. "She had a minor stroke a couple of years ago. She would work hard, get a bit wired, and that combined with smoking and drinking was not too good. But her paintings continued to be terrific and so funny. And she was always such a great spirit."
Three years ago she was part of a spectacular Deya poetry evening with Roger McGough and Brian Patten. But Lady June's most achieved performance was herself: she succeeded in turning her existence into living art, bristling with humour. Last year's Hit and Myth record was an emotive work, bolstered by her habitual wackiness. In recent months she had been completing Rebela, an autobiographical record with contributions from much of the Gong camp, as well as Lol Coxhill, Pete Brown and Galen Ayers.
Tomorrow's opening at La Residencia in Deya will go ahead; the sculptures and paintings will not be complemented, of course, by her performance art and poetry. Somehow you have the feeling Lady June would not be too worried about that. "This event is so well organised," she told Frances Graves last week, shortly before her fatal heart attack, "that it doesn't matter if I drop dead."
June Campbell-Cramer (Lady June), artist and musician: born Doncaster, Yorkshire 3 June 1931; died Deya, Majorca 7 June 1999.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies