Helen Donlon returns to the scene of Britain’s countercultural revolution
in the company of the woman at the centre of it,
the author of  Groupie and A Chemical Romance Jenny Fabian

“She hung out with Syd Barrett and the other long-lost beautiful poets and psychedelic heroes, a warm patchwork of Albion faces that vaguely haunted the England of my childhood . . .”

See extracts below from A Chemical Romance by Jenny Fabian


Helen Donlon:
After the end of the 2008 summer season in Ibiza, and the annual publishing trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair, I wound up at the London International Film Festival, with my dear friend Jenny Fabian. Jenny had become a cult figure in the late sixties and early seventies after writing Groupie (1969), a thinly-veiled autobiography of her life in the underground with London’s counterculture. A life reputedly consisting of days stoned on acid and mandrax off the King’s Road, nights at the Speakeasy, the Roundhouse and UFO. Draped in Thea Porter and vintage victorian dresses, she was a scribe for Harpers, reporting on her world, her friends. The counterculture as it was happening. She hung out with Syd Barrett, and the other long lost beautiful poets and psychedelic heroes, a warm patchwork of Albion faces that vaguely haunted the England of my childhood.

I knew almost all there was to know about Groupie already, having been part of the publishing team who reissued Groupie in 1997. On behalf of the publishers, Omnibus Press, I threw her a midsummer’s day party at London’s Union Club. We solicited the freaks and bypassed the media, except those we knew who ‘got it’. Putting together the guest list, the press list and the invitation which we designed together on a hot afternoon in Ann Barr’s Notting Hill flat, with a parrot called Turkey watching us, was the first of many creative and sometimes herbally-enhanced afternoons we would spend in each others’ company over the years to come. We imported jpegs from ancient happenings, and agonised over invitation copy (we settled on ‘Groupie: The Resurrection. Leaves no turn unstoned.’)

It wasn’t the first time we had met. I had read a paperback copy of Groupie as a teenager and longed to grow up and join this world of her story. Our first meeting came some years later over coffee at the legendary Dino’s, an old style Italian café in South Kensington which had featured in Polanski’s masterpiece, Repulsion (1965).  Later we joined Johnny Byrne, her co-author on Groupie, and long-term friend and ally through the countercultural currents of the late sixties and seventies. I was already familiar with Johnny as a TV writer (Doctor Who, Space 1999, All Creatures Great and Small, Heartbeat) and our unforgettable first lunch as a threesome set me unexpectedly on the path to being a writer. In fact, the mutual love Jenny and I share for cinema (not least of all our utter fascination for the world of David Lynch) and the olympian encouragement Johnny always gave me in my writing, eventually led to me dedicating my recent book on David Lynch to them both, and indeed to me becoming a film critic at all.

Our new ‘unexpurgated’ edition of Groupie was to feature a witty and incisive introduction by Jonathon Green.  He had also ‘been there’, at just 20 years old in 1968, and had meantime become established as Britain’s leading authority on slang.  He’d also written Days In The Life, Voices from the English Underground, 1961-71.  In his new introduction to Groupie he made a list of all the Fabian-coined words in the original edition which have since entered the OED after appearing in print in Groupie for the first time.  Jonathon invited us to lunch at Soho’s Union Club and, despite only stopping for a glass of wine I left 15 minutes later having booked the place on the spot for the launch party, and also having decided to become a member.

Last April Johnny Byrne died after a brave struggle with a serious illness. He and Jenny had just completed what is to be their second book together. Before finding a suitable publisher, I wanted to talk to Jenny again about the life that has always been the primary inspiration for her writing. For Groupie, of course, and for her second book, A Chemical Romance [1971; see extract at the end of this article], which had come out shortly after the first edition of Groupie. I wanted to hear again about London as it was for that short time, the London I dreamed of in my own youth.  And about Ibiza.  So I asked her to talk about some days in her life of the times back then.

Jenny Fabian:
I’ll try and remember what it was like in that rather enjoyable limbo between acceptance of the book (Groupie, first ed.) and actual publication, before the publicity shit hit the fan of my life.  I’d been living with the group Family in a rather grotty house in Lots Road, or sometimes crashing out in one of the spare rooms at Cranley Mansions, this enormous flat that belonged to Thom Keyes, who had already made the big time with his novel All Night Stand.  Cranley Mansions was like hip intelligentsia central, Thommy was very conscious of status, and although I’d always been part of his set before Groupie, I was now regarded as more than just a groovy chick to have around, I was someone who was going to be published, a respected criterion in his eyes.  Johnny  [Byrne] too was a floating visitor at Cranley Mansions, he had been living there, but Thommy had these methedrine-fuelled purges from time to time, and Johnny had been expurgated some time back,  so although he was often around at Cranley Mansions, and just as often crashed out there, he was based at Abbey Road in the house of bed-sits where the whole thing had started, where Thommy had pounded out All Night Stand in a messy room with hundreds of Fanta bottles stuffed under the bed.  (Spike) Hawkins had taken me there long before the conception of Groupie.   Hawkins was ensconced at Cranley Mansions, one of the few people Thommy would allow to abuse his hospitality because he was so brilliantly funny, and Thommy would encourage him to perform for the late-night audiences of groovers sunk deep into the velvet sofas.

Hawkins had just written a play called Adolf’n’Eva, which he would act out playing all the different parts.   There was a long list of cool people who had sat on those sofas, including various movie people, like Roger Vadim, Peter Zorrof, Yul Brynner, Christian Marquand, Frank Simon, Roman Polanski and Donald Cammell.   The wonderful Arrighi sisters were favourites of Thommy, they once dressed up as drummer boys and danced on the tinted glass table, and then there was Jenny Agutter, plus a smattering of other starlets whose names and careers are long forgotten.  There was a rumour that Francesca Annis had graced Thommy’s fur-lined bed, but that could just have been Thommy’s fantasy.   He had this ghastly Female Fuckability Chart.  But my favourite of all the movie people was Melvin Abner Fishman who had the best stories from the dark side of the movie business, from Hollywood to Cinecitta, he’d hustled his way round international filmland in his bid to make Steppenwolf, a cult novel of our generation.  He had the fastest wit of anyone I’ve ever known.

Another regular at Cranley Mansions was Steve Abrams, the Jungian parapsychologist and Legalise Pot organiser.  He was a pivotal figure on the scene, and would come bursting in with the latest bulletin from the radical frontline.  He was highly entertaining in an overpowering way, could talk the hind legs off a donkey, and was tall, thin, pigeon-toed, and untidy, resembling a long, badly rolled-joint, with large goggle eyes that peered through smudged spectacles.

It wasn’t all glamour and swanning off to the Arethusa or Meridiana.  I still had my underground existence to maintain, the existence that had given me all that material for Groupie.  At the time the book had been accepted for publication, the Family were on tour in the States, and I’d received a letter from Tony Gourvish, (Grant in Groupie) who was managing them at the time, that there’d been a bust up because Ric Grech had left to join Blind Faith and thrown the tour into turmoil.  It was because I was alone in the house that I was spending more time at Cranley Mansions.   Tony G. wrote in his letter I had to find somewhere else for him and Roger, the lead singer, to live, so with my new-found wealth of a considerable advance on the book, I got this posh flat in Exhibition Road.  Over the next six to nine months, waiting for the book to come out, I gave up my job at Middle Earth while at the same time my relationship with Gourvish fizzled out, and he and Roger moved out and Dr. Sam Hutt and his girlfriend, Sarah Lee-Barber, moved in.  I was getting used to not having to work, lying around in a timeless and stoned existence, at the same time starting a new relationship with Tony Howard, who was a key player in underground group management, as well as manager of the Speakeasy, where, as he put it, ‘we only let people in who are cool.’

I was not as dedicated in my relationship with Tony Howard as perhaps I should have been, for he was a decent fellow; but I was determined to live out the slogan ‘the personal is political: make love not war’ or, to put in another way, if I fancied someone I would go after them, not because I didn’t care for Tony, and in fact I was honoured to be with him, for he was much sought after, but more because I felt I still had something to prove.  Like I had the right to fuck around just like the guys did.   I suppose all this is leading up to the fact that as often or not my day would start with some strange guy in the bed beside me whom I’d pulled the night before in the Speak.  Or I’d be surfacing in Tony’s big comfy bed watching him getting ready to go into work – he was full of the Protestant work ethic, for which I greatly admired him.  I often wondered why he put up with me, as my life had become relatively pampered since the large advance for Groupie.  Or I might find myself creeping out of Cranley Mansions before Thommy realised I was there and order me to bring him his Rice Crispies.  Wherever I was, I was usually suffering from some kind of a hangover.

If I was in my new flat I often went to the hairdressers before calling in at Shel Talmy’s office just off Knightsbridge.  I had a guy called Paul at Smile who looked a bit like Robin Gibb and was very patient with me as I was always wanting to change my style.  It was great having a new head of hair to start the day with.  There was a lot of pre-publication interest in the book, and in me, and I’d started doing the occasional interview.  In the beginning Shel, who was our agent, sat in with me, I liked having him there, he was like a father figure to me, and the fact that he was blind and yet you’d never know because he wouldn’t use a stick or anything, and wore these cool shades, made him like a super-hero.   He’d produced some great records like My Generation by the Who, but he had a reputation for being a tough guy to deal with, which in the beginning gave me confidence, but later was to prove a hindrance.  So after an interview, or just checking out how much money was coming in from all those foreign rights that were being sold, I’d maybe return to my flat to get high and decide on my next move.  As the brain started to kick in, I’d think of an idea that might interest Queen magazine (about to become Harpers & Queen in 1970) where my good friend Ann Barr now worked (I’d been in her department at the Daily Telegraph magazine before leaving to work for Middle Earth).  Ann was a staunch believer in my work, and gave me my first break into the glossy magazine world, later putting me forward to Willie Landels when he became the editor of Harpers & Queen, and I wrote all sorts of things about the underground scene for them.  It was easy for me to bang up pieces about what was going on, like the changing fashion in clothes and music, because I was around the scene all the time.   When I was working at Middle Earth I was in the office in Holland Park, Princedale Road I think it was just near the Release office and also close to Mike McInnerney, the psychedelic poster designer.   It was a small world, the underground scene, and my interviews were just like casual conversations which I wrote up with added ‘gusto,’ to coin a phrase from William Hazlitt.

Lunch wasn’t really something I went in for, mostly it was evening that we ate out, and if I hadn’t gone out to eat by ten I’d eat down the Speak, where they did a great peppered steak and it was free for me because I was Tony’s chick.  If I was around Soho in the afternoon after visiting Queen’s office I’d maybe drop in at Thea Porter’s in Greek Street, and order one of her wonderful velvet waistcoats (I’m actually wearing my favourite in the pic. of me and Johnny, though you can’t see the beautiful beading).  Thea Porter was the upmarket boutique in Soho where the beautiful people and musicians with a few quid got their kaftans and flowing jackets, the real thing, made to order in material Thea brought back from the East.  Otherwise you went to Quorum, or Granny Takes a Trip, or the Antique Market.  I liked Jenny and Ulla’s stall in the King’s Road Antique Market the best, and there’d always be interesting people looking at the clothes and talking to the girls.  It amused me to see Roger Daltrey trying on a shirt covered in tulips and I wondered what he thought he looked like.  Thinking back, of course, I wonder what we all thought we looked like.  Dressed in old-fashioned clothes, the pre-Raphaelite look was a favourite, lots of velvet, wild hair, button shoes from Annello and Davide, billowing cloaks…a defiant statement: look at me, I’m different, I’m not grey like the rest of the world, and the times they are a’changin’.


Helen Donlon:
After the second coming of Groupie in 1997, Jenny moved back to London and began writing for MOJO magazine and the Guardian.  Musician/filmmaker Darryl Read cast Jenny in his Syd Barrett homage, Remember a Day.  Our social groups became intertwined as we fetched up in favourite boltholes such as the Chelsea Arts Club, the Union Club and various on and off the map locations, like The Horse Hospital, ICA, NFT, The Poetry Library and Filthy McNasty’s. We were all around for any Beat/freak-related events, with our friend Carl Stickley ever-present, his faithful cam recording everything for his archives.  Like when Ken Kesey brought the London Beats out of hiding for a rare appearance at Filthy McNasty’s, and when Jonathon Green launched his sadly-cursed All Dressed Up at editor Dan Franklin’s house.  When David Gascoigne delivered a rare poetry reading at a house near Regent’s Park one Sunday morning.  For the 24 HourTechnicolour Dream Revisited at the ICA, organised by Stickley and Syd Barrett freak Malcolm Boyle.  And when Marek Pytel and Jimi Tenor laid on  an outstanding impro soundtrack performance for Peter Whitehead’s cult film The Fall at the NFT.

Jenny and legendary filmmaker, author and Royal falconer Whitehead were old friends, and he was now the subject of a fictionalised biopic that Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit were putting together (The Falconer, 1998).  Marc Atkins, who had worked on the film and with Sinclair on several other projects was also around a lot (his beautiful, eerie photograph of Christchurch in Spitalfields hangs in my house in Ibiza).  His talented girlfriend Francoise Lacroix also starred in The Falconer and is on the cover of A Chemical Romance.

I started working with Whitehead on his esoteric novels, and we’d spend long days all together in his country retreat, where he kept original film of the first ever recorded Pink Floyd sets, early Stones and Nico pop videos, and photographs of Paul Auster, Gloria Steinem and Tom Hayden during the Columbia University occupation of the 1960s, as featured in The Fall. Whitehead had also made the film of Wholly Communion, the poetry gathering at the Albert Hall in 1964, partly helmed by the British bard Michael Horovitz. Horovitz himself was also still at large, hosting bookshop readings and events, and soon to be receiving an OBE for his services to poetry.  It was at one such event that I attended with Jenny that happened to be in a very unorthodox estate agents in Hampstead that I met the agents who were to find me my future Hampstead Heath loft; my last, perfect London bolthole before I left for Ibiza.

Another character in the mix was Richard Herland, the American producer whose Steppenwolf (1974) had starred Pierre Clementi, Max Von Sydow and Dominic Sanda. Herland had co-produced Steppenwolf with Mel Fishman, mentioned by Jenny above. Between us we managed to get a full house for the long out of circulation Steppenwolf in 1998 at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studio. It was a full moon and the night was full of surprises.  Through Herland’s connections at the University of Hollywood, Jenny introduced me to the man I was to spend the next three years with (mostly in the upstream Hampstead loft). My best friend from California showed up not an hour before the evening began, and I ran into a poet and translator I had met once on a visit to Poland, and who now turned out to be staying with Marc Atkins and to be on his way to Cambridge the next day for the annual poetry conference, which I was also attending.  Synchronicity seemed to spill over from the sixties into my life.

The re-issue of Groupie brought many excellent reviews and Jenny was now thinking about getting a publisher interested in re-issuing her second book, A Chemical Romance.  I wanted to pitch it as the first novel about the counterculture in Ibiza, and we immediately found the right publisher in Jim Driver of the Do Not Press.  The deal was sealed during the London Book Fair over a pint of real ale in a local pub.   A Chemical Romance, also thinly-veiled autobiography, picks up where Groupie leaves off.

Jenny Fabian:
I was looking for a change of scene because the pressure of being the author of the scandalous Groupie was getting to me.  Fame and fortune don’t necessarily bring health and happiness.  The circuitous daily grind of waking up with either a druggy hangover or a random rock musician, sometimes both, was losing its appeal.  The trek to the hairdresser’s, the banal interviews, the listless afternoons spent getting spaced out on cushions listening to the latest formless riffs of spaced out musos, deliberating whether to drop acid to liven up the evening which usually ended up going down the Speak . . . and so on.  There must be more to life, thought I somewhere in the ultimate curlicues of my mind.

Looking around me there seemed to be movement away from the Big Smoke.  As rock musicians became rich and starry, they bought places in the countryside.  Communes started to flourish, especially in Wales – not an idea or a place that appealed to me.  When I returned from a surreal book launch in Germany exhausted by bratwurst and coleslaw I found my flat mates had been casing the scene in Ibiza, and were extolling the advantages of sun, sea and the simple life.  Goat bells tinkling on the hillsides, reclaimed shepherds’ huts lit by candles, a kind of prelapsarian existence amongst others of a like persuasion (loads of dope, natch, to enhance the fantasy).   Here I could escape the hassles of agents and publishers, the paranoia of walking down the London streets in clothes that said ‘bust me’.

Helen Donlon:
Fabian followed in the footsteps of others from the underground music scene who had made their way over to Ibiza during this period.  Daevid Allen and Kevin Ayers were here.  Can recorded Tago Mago as an homage to the tiny island off the eastern coast. Nico, whose mother had lived here for a long time, was a frequent visitor.  It was where Nico came unwittingly to die eventually, just after she’d managed to start brightening up after years of drugs darkness in Paris.  But back in the 70s, it was still a playground, and the acid candle was burning bright.

Jenny Fabian:
So, inspired by Dr. Sam Hutt (a.k.a. musician Hank Wangford) and Sarah Lee-Barber, who had gone on ahead to find a suitably remote hermitage on a hill, I took off, equipped with shades, a bikini and some Jesus sandals.  I flew in, night flights, tiny little airport.  The first time Sam met me, the second time I was returning to resume my affair with Neal Phillips, a legendary traveller/doper/scribbler.  My memory of that first drive is cloudy.  Through the darkness I could have been going anywhere, and the shepherd’s hut on the hill was a dark shape without, primitive within, earth floors, whitewashed mud walls, no doors, just low archways leading into different little corners.  The next morning, although it remained shadowy inside the hut, outside the sun blazed on a hillside unspoiled and apparently deserted, although goat bells could be heard tinkling in the distance.   Nothing like the green and pleasant land I’d left behind, far less lush, dry yet covered with a brittle kind of grass and lots of scrubby bushes.  And so bright.   It was like stepping into a Biblical landscape without the robed figures, we were the characters in the story now.  A new, purer kind of civilisation, simpler values, so I thought.  People who had stepped off the acquisitive roundabout with a common purpose, to live a less corrupt kind of life.  And the locals, they seemed so friendly, always welcomed us at the bar, smiling benignly, and glad of the trade.

Helen Donlon:
While this is still true of today’s locals and their generally harmonious relationship with guests, I started imagining Pink Floyd and Barbet Schroeder in the port, heading off to record the soundtrack to Schroeder’s film More (1969) over in Formentera.

Jenny Fabian:
Sam and Sarah introduced me merely as Jenny, their friend.  If it came out later, which it sometimes did, that I had written Groupie it didn’t necessarily carry the same cachet as someone who had just come back from Nepal having gone native with the nomads for several months.   Girls with wild eyes who had passed through customs with prophylactics stuffed with nose-powder up their snatches were celebrities on this scene, guys who had suffered time inside for dope-related offences were the heroes.

Drugs were of all-consuming importance to our group.  Exploits of carrying dope from the Far East were like dispatches from the front line.  The sense of danger gave an edge to the idyll.  If on first impression Neal looked like a prophet from the mountains, and in one sense he was, he also carried the baggage of having been incarcerated in foreign prisons, the kind of places that leave scars on the body and the soul.   And to trip inside one of these prisons hardly bore thinking about, but trip they did.   It was what you took and how you handled it that counted in the Ibizan community of freaks, and to shake your reeling head at the smoldering cones being endlessly passed round classed you as an inferior head.  Red Bart was one of Neal’s favourite people, he flew in from time to time in his Lear-jet, never took to the sky without acid in his blood, always laying out lines of coke from his little Chinese box.   Rock stars trying to recover from burn-out like Syd Barrett, who had made the Ibizan pilgrimage, were regarded sympathetically, but without particular reverence.

On my second arrival at the island I was not met, but somehow made my own way on foot to Neal’s house, which was up a long hilly track off the main road that went from the airport.  I remember struggling up the dusty red path in my espadrilles  and walking in to find him prostrate with toothache.  It was not a particularly successful reunion, especially as this time instead of wanting to escape celebrity I was on the run from a difficult relationship.  I thought going back to Neal would cure me of my new ‘amour’.    Neal was depressed and broke, and complaining that the town was loaded with plastic tourists who got drunk on port, ‘missing the point completely, whatever it was’.   Neal was in a permanent state of waiting for Godot, in the shape of money, to arrive at the post office, but observed that this manifestation was as slow as Samuel said it would be.  He kept talking about moving on, to Tangiers, Kabul, Katmandu.

A Chemical Romance is rather a touchy subject, because after Groupie, Johnny and I had intended to carry on with our writing partnership.  But arguments about the film rights, and pressure from Shel Talmy, our scheming agent/publisher, drove a wedge between us.  So many people worked on prising us apart, telling me it was my talent as a writer that had made Groupie so successful, and nobody seemed to believe me when I said I would never have written the book without Johnny.  It was Johnny’s idea, and he gave the book structure, encouraged me to keep going, and insisted that it was good enough to be published.  I started off doing it for a laugh, but when it all came to fruition the success went to my head, as well as the vast quantity of drugs I was now taking.  By the time I got down to writing A Chemical Romance we had moved to the country, five of us, and a difficult situation developed in the house which drove me even further away from Johnny.  I was having a serious relationship with someone with whom I shared the top floor of the house and for the first time I was not prepared to unburden my innermost feelings to Johnny.  In fact, I started to withdraw from him, and avoid his scrutiny.  When I broke it to him that I would be writing the next book alone, it must have been very hurtful to him.  The guilt that flickered across my mind from time to time was soon displaced by my obsessive love for the man I was hooked to.   I would drop anything for him.  At the same time I had to maintain my cachet by continuing to be a ‘famous lady novelist,’ as Thom Keyes (who also lived in the house) liked to describe me.  This nameless lover insisted I should not write about him, so I confined my story in A Chemical Romance to events that happened mostly before I met him, about a girl who found fame not all it was made out to be, her carryings-on in Germany and America, and who dropped out to go to Ibiza, and consequently found that was not all it was made out to be either.

The most difficult thing about writing A Chemical Romance was that my nameless lover often hurt me by sleeping with other women, and one of these was my friend Sarah Lee Barber (Alice in A Chemical Romance) and I found myself writing about our previous relationship when I had been so fond of her, while now actually hating her.  I felt betrayed, which was probably what Johnny also felt about me (although in a different context, let me state we were never lovers).  My lover and I had adjoining rooms, and I would often be banished from his inner sanctum to my own small cell, where, in between sobbing with self-pity, I thumped away at the typewriter and A Chemical Romance.  Perhaps it helped to maintain the small amount of sanity left in my life.  At least it helped to pay the rent.

The second time I came to Ibiza Sam was over on Formentera, a more extreme and ascetic type of living space, he was having a scene with someone, and Sarah, staying behind on Ibiza, was up a hill somewhere with one of her Lancelots.  Neal had just come back from Formentera, he’d been dropping sunshine at Henry Wolfe’s, and told me there had been full moon incantations, but as usual, ‘there will be no recovery, no return.’


From A Chemical Romance by Jenny Fabian

(extracts reproduced by kind permission of the author)

A shaft of sunlight lit my room in the morning, and I opened my little wooden shutter to let in as much as possible.  Atmos was drawing water from the well, which had to be used as sparingly as possible.  After cornflakes we bumped our way down the hazardous dirt track that led to the main road and I could feel the sea in the air that blew in my face.  The beach they used was small and perfect, and although I didn’t really want to meet anyone until I had an inconspicuous tan, we were soon surrounded by some of Atmos and Alice’s new friends.  It seemed as if they knew me already, and after a couple of days I could have been there for months.

When we’d had enough beach we drove to the old town for provisions and meetings. There was something of Central Park on Sundays about the bars around the Old Port, though the crowd of freaks that well-outnumbered the natives and straight tourists were the strangest and most exotic I had yet been amongst.  My eyes couldn’t move fast enough to take in the highest vogue of true freak fashion that moved from table to table.  Wildly ornate or starkly simple, everyone made their own charisma through their clothes and presentation.  The conversations boggled me as much, for I had no adventures to compare with these intrepid international pilgrims.  The guys were stoned-out business men in the black market of pleasure, talking a paranoid code of deals and rip-offs, frayed nerves and freak-outs.  And the chicks were more than chicks, working the same business in their own way.  Daphne from Texas with hair like Jean Harlow had just finished working as a physiotherapist in New York where she found she could treble her wage by giving head.  Pollen Cassidy had just returned from a two-year jail sentence in Turkey and I’d never have guessed the persecution she’d been through.  Destiny Jones had been living 12,000 feet above sea level in a magic cave of stalagmites with a group of Afghani tribesmen who had pierced her nose with a golden ring.  Germaine Greer should get her bicycle out.

Atmos had left Alice and me at the house the next day and I dropped a little acid.  I sat on the flat grassy roof with Alice, who soon noticed she was picking up on my high.  My secret thoughts had nothing to do with this time and place, but I needed to know hers to feel the way of things on this island.  She had found herself drawn via Atmos into a couple of experiences with chicks that had just seemed the easiest thing to do at the time, and not without a sweet kind of pleasure.  But she found the situation less interesting without his presence, for her feelings were still mixed enough to need his guidance.  She had also had her own sexual coups; one nameless random freak had picked her up on the back of his horse, abducted her back to her house, and galloped off into the night after loving her.

‘It was very Arthurian,’ she said ‘and I also got turned on to a couple of musicians.’

‘Who were they?’ I asked.

One was a young cat who played these really moody songs.  We just sat and held hands, but that’s cool, we didn’t need to make it that time. I’ll see him again.  He knows you.’

‘Have I slept with him?’

‘I don’t think so.  He didn’t say much.  And the other was a huge spade drummer who gave off this incredible power through his drums, and even when he wasn’t playing you could feel it.’ She sat up and raised her hands in the air and her little tits pointed straight at me.  She widened and rolled her eyes and tried to make me feel it. ‘I was very high and wanted to submit to him.  I followed him outside and when he looked at me I was helpless and could only stare into his dark, dark eyes.  He knew and I knew, and I guess we didn’t need to know anymore.  So I went back inside.’

‘You’re turning into me,’ I said.

She paused to work it out. ‘I can dig it,’ she said slowly. ‘I really get off on good music. But you’re not turning into me, are you?’

‘I can’t find anybody to turn into,’ I said.


‘When we need a shower we go to Travers’ place,’ Atmos told me. ‘He’s got a proper house the other side of town.’

‘Oscar sent him a chick once,’ I remembered, ‘and wrote about him in his book. What is he?’

‘He’s an International Situational Manipulator,’ said Atmos.

‘Like all the guys here,’ said Alice, ‘only he’s been at it longer.’

‘I don’t see why I should like him at all,’ I said. ‘I don’t want to be manipulated.’

‘Yes you do,’ said Atmos, ‘you’re dying for it.’

‘You’ll like him,’ insisted Alice. ‘He’ll make you laugh.’

‘That’s all right then,’ I said, to apologise for my defensiveness.

It was evening when we drove to Travers’ place, which was far more central.  The house had tiled flooring and electricity and had been lived in for some time.  There was a sleepy-eyed chick called Dormadina staying there who said Travers was out visiting.  We took our showers and sat around while she stumbled out her problems to Atmos, who couldn’t have helped even if she’d been able to listen. Before we left the bead curtains rattled dramatically and an extremely exotic figure stepped into the centre of attention.  She was very tanned and dressed in leather slave-gear, sandals laced up to her thighs and lots of chains that jingled commandingly.  She stood imperiously just inside the door and looked at us.

‘Hi Spangle,’ murmured Dormadina to herself.

But Spangle’s eyes were concentrating on Atmos and Alice and I could feel a heavy triangle in the air.

‘Hello,’ said Alice feebly.

Atmos went over to her and kissed her lightly on the cheek. Then he drew her towards me.

‘Spangle, this is Tiptree,’ he said with courtesy.

‘Tiptree, Spangle.’

She nodded at me then stared at him challengingly.

‘Well, what’s happening?’ she demanded.

‘You look great,’ said Atmos, giving her a look of appreciation.

‘Actually, we’re just off,’ asserted Alice. ‘We came to see Travers.’

Spangle flashed her eyes at Alice briefly. Then she turned back to Atmos.

‘So nothing’s happening,’ she said. ‘How about a lift into town?’

The conversation was artificially light until we dropped her outside the health restaurant.  Bumping our way back to the house Alice gave me her version of the night with Spangle.  Atmos drove silently, and my attention was mesmerised by his manipulation of the road.  There was a note pinned to the door of the house.

‘It’s from Travers,’ said Alice, squinting at the writing with the torch.

‘He came to visit us and…’ she paused to decipher the message, ‘and he wants us to go on a yacht tomorrow with someone called Great Dan.’

‘Maybe that’s the name of the boat,’ suggested Atmos.

There was a lot of hanging around the next day before we finally stepped off land and Travers still hadn’t arrived.  Great Dan was a minor millionaire of large proportions who fancied a bit of freak company. There were quite a few of us already on board, and he was impatient to leave.  I felt disappointed at missing Travers again until Atmos shouted ‘Here he comes’ and I saw two figures hastily approaching the boat.  I recognised Spangle and I wondered if somehow she was his lady.  She didn’t look quite as stunning today and smiling past her I saw Travers.  I hadn’t expected him to have a beard, but his eyes twinkled blue and his hennaed hair glowed like a halo round his head.  He swayed his lean body across the gang-plank, laughing at the excitement of it all and nearly dropping the basket from his shoulder.  He was breathless and amazed at catching us still there and looked around the cabin eagerly to see who we were.  Atmos introduced me, and as we reached to shake hands the boat rolled and we missed each other.


Time passed and so did our money, and we both knew something had to be done.  Travers started plotting all kinds of schemes and informed us how careful he had to be in his position.

‘They’re watching me all the time you know,’ he said one night when we were walking through the old town.

‘Who?’ I asked.

‘CIA, FBI, Interpol, they all know who I am,’ he said.

‘But they don’t mind, do they?’ I asked, anxiously.

‘Of course they do,’ he said, ‘I’m a political refugee. But there’s nothing they can do about it because I know too much.’

‘Then you’re safe,’ I said.

‘That doesn’t mean I don’t have to be careful,’ he said.

He quickened his pace and looked round impatiently as I fell behind.

‘Why aren’t you wearing shoes?’ he demanded. ‘Do you want to get stopped by the fuzz?’

‘For not wearing shoes?’ I asked incredulously. Nudity on the beach was one thing, but bare feet were hardly promiscuous.

‘They’ll use anything they can think of.’

He waited impatiently as I struggled into my cactus sandals.

‘Did you see that guy come round the corner behind us?’ he asked. I looked round but there were all kinds of people milling around.

‘Don’t look round,’ he said. ‘He won’t be there now.’

‘Do they know that you know?’ I asked, as we scurried along.

‘I should hope so,’ he said. ‘If they blow it I’m going to fly over New York in an airship and bomb the Statue of Liberty.’

‘Not if you’re locked up.’

‘They won’t do that again. I’ve got too many people on my side and political martyrs can be embarrassing.’

We reach La Tierra night bar and sat in a dark corner. I wasn’t surprised at any type of person that Travers knew, and didn’t think twice about the two guys in touristy-type clothes who greeted him. Lots of freaks dress straight to be anonymous at the right moment, and I presumed these were a couple of dealers.

Only one of them spoke, and not in English. Whatever it was, Travers spoke it to, and when they left they bowed to me politely.

‘And who do you think they were?’ Travers asked triumphantly.

‘Friends?’ I ventured.

He laughed scornfully.

‘Didn’t you recognise the language? They were from the Greek Drugs Squad.’

‘What did they want?’ I asked.

‘Just checking,’ he said, ‘just letting me know they knew I was here.’

He seemed to be enjoying it all in a disturbed kind of way, but I found it all extremely surreal.  The gentle, carefree Travers had the dangerous glint of a hunted man.  Was he so dangerous?  Or were they?  This was a side of him I’d lightly assumed without realising. He’d been in prison, more than once.  He was what my parents called a criminal. If only they knew, what would they think?  Myself, I thought nothing.  I could only feel a detachment that had something to do with sorrow.  I was sad because again I didn’t know anything more than confusion and didn’t like the world at all.  And I knew there was something I had missed, some trick of vision, and I knew I had to find it.  If nobody else’s vision was quite satisfactory, I’d have to invent one of my own.  I needed to be alone again to do some research on my mind. The hustle and bustle of travel would be too distracting for me to understand anything, and I’d probably get lost externally as well as internally.  I needed my spot, my cocoon with books and music and a soft bed and my sleeping rag.  Travers would find me when he was ready and maybe I’d go with him somewhere.  He understood so easily and I loved him for it.

‘I’m just running away for a while,’ I told him.

‘No blame,’ he said, ‘I’ll play with you again, won’t I?”

‘Of course,’ I said.

I gave him my last butterfly t-shirt.

‘What a pretty moth,’ he said.

‘Mothballs,’ I laughed and flew away.



Extracts from A Chemical Romance reproduced by kind permission of the author


Photo Credits

1.Jenny Fabian, copyright Jeremy Fletcher

2.Groupie, copyright Omnibus Press

3.A Chemical Romance

(The Do Not Press), cover photo of Francoise Lacroix, copyright Marc Atkins

4.Jenny Fabian and Johnny Byrne in Hyde Park

5.Jenny Fabian, Johnny Byrne and Sam Hutt

6.Jenny Fabian, copyright Gabe Naseman


More articles by Helen Donlon:

– on female sexuality in Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia  and Body Double

– on film director Philippe Garrel and his circle


– on the Ibiza opening season: a view from the middle of the world’s most famous clubland.

and more…


Brief Blog:

Jenny Fabian, the only child of sporting legend Howard Fabian and his wife Vivian, spent her formative years at a boys’ public boarding school before attending Francis Holland C of E School for Girls.  She married twice and had four children. After dropping out to become a so-called “unrepentant child of the sub-culture”, she dropped further out to work with horses and greyhounds.  She returned to the normal world about 2000 and now lives in London.  She has written for theGuardian, theObserver, Harper/Queen, Mojo, Uncut, Field, Wisden, and has contributed to various anthologies.