Jeff Nuttall lives!

Candida Clark Ann Drysdale Adam Horovitz
28 April 2004

Rebel polymath and cultural agitator, author of Bomb Culture (published in that tumultuous year, 1968), and a jazzman extraordinaire. Hard-drinking, lyrical, puckish and sublime, a rare (these days, increasingly so) embodiment of William Blake’s “everything that lives is holy”.

Jeff Nuttall’s Wake is available on paper, and as a CD, from New Departures. For more information, visit www.connectotel.com/
, or write to bricolage92@

He was the author of over forty books, and co-founder of The People Show, with Mark Long, in 1967. His friend and fellow in high jinks, Michael Horovitz, describes him as having a “landscaper’s eye, improviser’s ear and benignly sensuous imagination”, comparing his vision to Dylan Thomas, and his rhythm to Charlie Parker.

He died at the age of 70, on a Sunday, leaving the Hen and Chicks pub in Abergavenny, south Wales where his ten-year running jazz spot had become legendary. In his foreword to the celebration of Nuttall’s life, Jeff Nuttall’s Wake on Paper, Horovitz cites William Burroughs: “Jeff Nuttall touches his words.” He may also prove to have touched not just his own but subsequent generations with (in his own words) a “faith that, given liberation, the human spirit would predominate.”

When Jazzland celebrated the life of Charlie Parker, the cry went up: “Bird Lives.” Just so: Jeff Nuttall Lives.

Here, his friend Ann Drysdale remembers; the poet Adam Horovitz elegises and we publish two of Jeff Nuttall’s poems.

To join the celebration of Jeff Nuttall, come to St. John’s Church, Waterloo Road, London, 1pm-3pm, on Labour Day - Saturday 1 May 2004

Jeff Nuttall: a personal memoir, by Ann Drysdale

“Personal memoir? Drysdale, you ****, when did you ever write anything else?!” That was what he would have said if he’d been looking over my shoulder as I wrote this title. And I would have grinned.

My longest, latest contact with Jeff Nuttall was as chairman and later president of Scriveners, a writers’ collective based in Abergavenny, Wales, where he lived for the last few years of his long and tumultuous life.

Jeff Nuttall (photo: George Perkin / New Departures)

He will be remembered elsewhere in cherrystones – as poet, painter, teacher, actor, musician, journalist, biographer and, in his day, fearless activist. To some he was Bomb Culture, to others Robin Hood’s Friar Tuck, to some a critic, to others a clown. We Scriveners knew him as a witty, often kind and occasionally bloody-minded colleague, fellow-writer and friend whose charismatic presence always lifted our group beyond the ordinary and sometimes threw it into confusion. When he died, the group made a donation to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in his memory. “It was” said somebody “the least we could do”. Which it was. And I looked across the table with the grin forming and found no eye to catch.

That’s what I miss about Jeff; the shared celebration of the accidentally inappropriate, the patently absurd.

One of my most graphic memories of Jeff was a reading at Rhymney library here in the South Wales valleys. Jeff performed a monologue about a worm called God and I read a factual piece about castrating pigs. Neither was well received. Afterwards we went to find a pub, stomping along, one foot in the gutter, reciting The Hound of Heaven, each amazed that the other knew it by heart.

It was the accumulated literature in our heads that formed the early common ground between us - the belief that reading is essential to writing, though Jeff found my work overly literary at times, just as I found his undisciplined and “difficult”. We were each aware of the other’s self-indulgences.

Other common concerns became apparent. Jeff too was appalled by the current control of lifestyle by media pressure, the cult of greed, of the measurement of progress through a pre-determined succession of meaningless purchases. He cared about the inequalities imposed by prejudice of all kinds but understood that the accepted easy answer - the attempt to redress the balance by “positive discrimination” (a concept which is demonstrably nonsense) is a far more terrible injustice.

His deep-seated hatred of the feminist movement was something that made many people think of him as a misogynist. This was far from the truth. He hated “ists” of all kinds and his blustering on the subject - “all you need to take to an interview nowadays is a bit of burnt cork” - was more a manifestation of his belief in the basic dignity of the individual, in the intrinsic rightness of the causes that all officially imposed attitudes belittle.

The World's Best Jam (Jeff Nuttall / New Departures)

The World's Best Jam (Jeff Nuttall)

He was widely known as a bon viveur and it would be unfair to deny that drink sometimes made him difficult. He was not an abstemious man and was well aware of the risks he took. He sometimes spoke of death, always in terms of its untidiness and irony; he died listening to jazz with a glass of wine in his hand.

Jeff was in the habit of taking things deliberately out of context, so as to point out discrepancies and possibilities. The results were sometimes exasperating and often hilarious. I wish I had had the chance to show him two lines that had been arbitrarily extracted from his oeuvre and posted on a website dedicated to the Alexander Technique. Alas, now all I can do is hope he has found an echo of them somewhere:

          “Then hold my hand a bit,
          I’ll give you gold where we are going now.”

It is the least I can do.

Long live Jeff Nuttall, a poem by Adam Horovitz

“…as long as ‘global politics’ fester in lies and pea-brained Hollywooden mega-violence, it is bollocks to them and long live Jeff Nuttall.”
(Michael Horovitz)

In scribbled light crawling through sharded trees
                    long live Jeff Nuttall
          In salty jokes dropped like olive branches from a crow’s beak
                    long live Jeff Nuttall
     In the creep and pounce of progress, biting under the fur of the future
                    long live Jeff Nuttall
In the distilled image, the refracted word
                    long live Jeff Nuttall
          In the arms of the triple-whisky goddess
                    long live Jeff Nuttall
      Nestled in the shadowy bosom of Blorenge
                    long live Jeff Nuttall

Jeff Nuttall: two poems

Suicide Note

Float me into no-more. Feathernest me into home again.
Raise me when I’m blown for –
To and fro in the roaming rain.
Join me with the known core.
No blame. I’m strong and sown and sane.

Jeff Nuttall’s poems are from Jeff Nuttall’s Wake on Paper, a multimedia tribute by his friends and dedicated to his loved ones.

Halifax Railway

Bestowed the teeth on an ambitious jaw,
Bestowed ambitious jaws on an ingenious skull,
Bestowed an army of Tykes (twenty pints a day)
Brawling under the company banner – Lancashire and Yorkshire –
The scopping jaws in action – ten-hour day.

Spat the carbone and sulphur into night fires,
Massed the moorland dark around the coalgas lanterns all along the vale,
Blew a keen blade of male invention through the blasphemy of Wesley’s
Surely laughed like an unthrottled furnace
When Queen Victoria offered up her thanks.

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