British photographer and political activist John “Hoppy” Hopkins spent the 1960s documenting jazz, poetry, The Rolling Stones, Martin Luther King, the sexual revolution – basically everything that defined the decade. When he wasn’t taking iconic photographs, he was launching the legendary UFO club in London, with Pink Floyd as its resident band. Also, in 1966 Hoppy and friends founded the anarchist newspaper IT (International Times). Today he’s an activist for peace and for the circulation of information, and at 73 he’s still the best dressed guy in London.
Hello Hoppy. What motivated you to start IT?
In the early 60s there was a lot of experimenting going on, in all sorts of art forms, politics, sex and lifestyles. There was a lot of stimulus toward different ways of thinking, and I got to thinking about the politics of information. I saw it as a level of political activity that wasn’t to do with political parties, and wasn’t necessarily to do with the left or the right, but rather to do with freeing up information and seeing what happened. I, along with many other people at the time, felt that information should be free where possible, because the withholding of information is the withholding of power. This idea led to the beginning of the underground press, and the beginning of IT.
What information was IT providing people with that they couldn’t get elsewhere?
All sorts of stuff – from the price of drugs, to where the new experimental theatre was, to different ways to fuck and have a good time. Basically, all the peripheral things that straight society didn’t want to know about.
Did you get loads of hassle from the police?
Oh yeah, our offices were always under police raid. Underground papers were constantly being busted for obscenity, for printing pictures of naked people, people fucking, stuff like that. It broke the censorship laws of the time and the power holders in straight society didn’t like what was going on. They felt threatened. It’s like in today’s word, the establishment is threatened by the idea of terrorism, so anyone who looks like a terrorist is beaten up, thrown in jail or just generally fucked over. It was the same syndrome. The way society is controlled is largely through fear, as far as I can make out. That isn’t a very good way to organise society.
Is it correct to call IT an anarchist newspaper?
Well, the word “anarchist” tends to have two slightly different meanings. But yeah, I guess you could call it that.
Are you an anarchist?
Yeah, with a small “a”.
How did UFO come about?
In 1966, I was working as the secretary for the London Free School. To keep it afloat, I organised a benefit at the local church hall to generate some money, and these people called The Pink Floyd turned up and played. It was really interesting, so we decided to do it again the next week, and so on. Soon there were queues round the block. It became pretty clear that something interesting was happening, so my friend [music producer] Joe Boyd and I found a place in the West End to continue the club, and launched UFO. We opened with the Floyd.
In 1967, you organised The 14-Hour Technicolor Dream, with acts like Pink Floyd and The Soft Machine playing. Pretty much every kid born from then on wishes they were at that gig. What did you love about promoting events?
It’s interesting when people come together for social purposes, because it creates interaction and ideas get exchanged. I particularly enjoyed putting on the sort of event which is called a “happening”, where some things are planned, but some aren’t, so you never know quite what’s going to happen. The 14-Hour Technicolor Dream was supposed to be a benefit to pay for the legal costs of IT, after it got busted for obscenity. It turned out to be unexpectedly rich festival – a happening. Yoko Ono did a lot of happenings in the 60s. On the whole though, hers were really boring.
Dissed. Is it true that at the launch of IT at UFO there was a tower of acid sugar cubes?
I remember at the entrance there was someone with a big bowl of sugar cubes wrapped in tin foil. Whether there was anything in them, I just don’t know. Although the first acid trip I ever had was from a sugar cube wrapped up in silver foil.
Was it good?
Yeah, it was spectacular. The world was never the same after that. It altered the whole course of my life. You can’t go back after you’ve taken acid, you can only go forward.
What did you get out of it?
The ability to reconstruct my world view. Ha, that sounds a bit pompous. But when you trip, your frame of reference crumbles, and you become free of the constraints of your constructed identity for a few hours. And if you’re ready for it, when you come back down you can integrate any new realisations you’ve had back into your old life, which then changes it.
What was it like living through the summer of love? Did everyone fuck as much as they say?
I hope so. I was in jail for the summer of love. There wasn’t much love in jail, or sex for that matter.
Lame! You got put in jail for six months over a tiny bit of hash, right? It’s speculated that the harsh sentencing had something to do with your rising political power.
That’s one version of events. I did stick my head up above the parapet, politically. It was exciting times when IT and UFO started. There was a lot of stuff going on, and the establishment felt like they had to do something about it. I’m not claiming that putting me in jail was the answer to their problems – far from it. Plus, I was pretty careless leaving a block of hash by my bedside and getting busted.
In your opinion, was the political movement that started in the 60s a failure or a success?
That’s hard. To define success you have to start off with an objective. I don’t think everybody involved in the movement had the same objectives. In the 60s a lot of us were quite optimistic. We thought we could see society changing fast into what could be a better state. Looking back it didn’t change nearly as fast as we all thought. Change is really quite slow, and most of what happens gets lost in the memory of society. But there were changes made. People often say to me, “It was great in the 60s, wasn’t it? Where’s the underground now?” And my answer to that is: We are the underground! We may not call it the underground anymore, and there’s an awful lot of us now, but we are joined together because we are all people who want to be free of a corrupt government and a society run by greedy hooligans.
“LSD Meets CDN”
Initial portrait by Jamie Taete
See more images from Hoppy’s book, From The Hip, here.