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John 'Hoppy' Hopkins - Taking Liberties

Among many remarkable pictures in this essential retrospective of London’s 1960s counter-culture’s snapper-in-residence, there’s a wonderful study of the editorial team behind International Times, the era’s alternative bible. In it, eleven people huddle together behind a cluttered desk. Among them are poet Jeff Nuttall, the Traverse Theatre’s spiritual guru Jim Haynes, the era’s chronicler Barry Miles and, unrecognisable, the late Glasgow-born playwright Tom McGrath, then IT editor. Here were people who, judging by the brim-full-of-confidence, touchy-feely grins, genuinely felt like they were changing the world.

This spirit spills over everywhere throughout the inaugural show in Street Level’s new home on the ground floor of the Trongate 103 complex. All the usual suspects are here; a scowly William Burroughs, an uncharacteristically chipper Alexander Trocchi in front of a ‘Fuck Communism!’ poster; a euphoric Allen Ginsberg outside the Royal Albert Hall prior to the seminal 1965 poetry love-in; and a doe-eyed and lovely Marianne Faithful.

Beyond such swinging scenesters, though, Hopkins takes in CND’s Aldermaston march, tattooed bikers looking like they’re auditioning for Kenneth Anger, and the move from Trad revivalism to Free Jazz thunder at Ronnie Scott’s and other dives (and featuring the most short-haired study of pianist Keith Tippett ever). ‘Cooper’s Sky Dance,’ meanwhile, lays bare a derelict London awaiting liberation, but which we now know made do with urban regeneration instead.

Hopkins’ largely unseen archive captures a crucial flash of history, as do the accompanying collected covers of IT, in all their idealism, innocence and gloriously naïve faith in the hippy ideal. ‘Punk Is Dead’ declaimed the February 1977 issue beside a picture of Red Army Faction pin-up, Ulrike Meinhof. Future cosmonauts of inner space take note. Hippy capitalists like Richard Branson may have changed the world in a completely different way to those imagined by IT, but an all-join-in aesthetic has prevailed. Street Level itself has been a cell of underground activity, while a new generation of avant-provocateurs can learn much from the ideas behind the iconography of the six-year period immortalised here.

Street Level, Glasgow until 7th November

The List, September 2009

ends

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