The turning point in Larry’s life, which ultimately led him from California to London and from the L.A. scene to Soft Machine and the Canterbury Scene, took place in 1965. Remembers Larry :
Mike McClellan had his accident – he was driving back from a gig, fell asleep in a big van he had, rolled in and rattled around in that thing and really scrambled his brains – he was bad ! His motor functions were very much disabled for a long time. We went over to see him at his mother’s house after he’d gotten out of hospital. He was trying to play the fiddle and he was pretty spazzed. It was sad. But he’s fought his way back over the years, he got married and had a kid and stuff. But back then it was a shock to us all – he was one of the guys, and it really took him out of things for several years. Then I lost touch with him, because I went to Pasadena City College for two years, then I went up to UCSB in Santa Barbara and graduated in ’65.
The course of Larry’s life in his early twenties was highly unusual among his generation, according to McClellan :
Many of us were in awe of Larry because he finished his college in 4 years, like one is ‘supposed to’ ! He did two years at Pasadena City College, and went on to the University of Santa Barbara and finished two years later. Then he went to Europe and did many crazy things, which you probably know better than I do ! He wasted his life after he graduated, while Sandy and I and some others did some of that before we graduated college – took me ten years to get a BA because I kept hitch-hiking around North America !
Indeed, in 1965 Nowlin left California, beginning what would turn out to be a decade living in Europe.
I and a bunch of other hippies got on a bus and drove around the country and ended up in New York, then went up to Vermont and kind of hung out between New York City and Vermont for a while. And then one day I got on an Icelandic Airlines plane flying over to Europe – landing in Scotland, actually. It didn’t cost much, I remember. I wasn’t too clear about what I was doing, to tell you the truth. I had a guitar, went over with a guy I’d met in Vermont, and then we bought a motorcycle in Glasgow, and ended up broke in London. Then we went to Paris and froze our asses off in Paris for part of the winter in some “flop house” with a tubercular guy coughing all night next door. Then we went down to Spain, and hung out in Spain for a while, mostly in Ibiza, where I would end up spending a lot of time, as chance would have it.
This is when fate intervened and Larry crossed paths with the Canterbury Scene in exile…
I was over in Majorca, visiting, on some occasion during that period, in early ’66 or somewhere around that, and there I met Daevid Allen [and Kevin Ayers], the guys that ended up being in the Soft Machine, who were there, I think, on holiday. I don’t remember exactly where we met, probably some club. I don’t know why, but for some reason, they said, ‘Oh, why don’t you come and join us ?’ I think we met through Jane Alexander, actually.
Jane Alexander was to be a pivotal character in the events which followed. Aged 23 at the time, Larry had met her in Majorca not long after arriving, and they’d begun a relationship. Beyond this, she was an interesting character in more ways than one. Explains Nowlin :
Jane was the daughter of a British Army general, Henry Alexander. She, I seem to remember, worked for Chris Lord, whom I met a few times. Lord Brothers Tours were cheap flights for working class Brits to go on holiday. They had started in Yugoslavia, on the Dalmatian coast, where Chris had spent some time as a student, and of course Majorca and the Canaries and all these other places that got in the ‘tour package’ map. I think he was an East End rags-to-riches guy – drove across the Sahara desert in a Range Rover with his girlfriend, and his hair turned from grey to brown again after that – or so he said !
I was later able to correspond with Jane Alexander, who set the record straight on a number of Larry’s memories :
I never worked for Chris Lord, he was a personal friend. I was working for Mike Jeffery. I had worked for him previously at the office of Anim, 39, Gerrard Street, as his PA. What happened then was, Mike needed a DJ in Majorca. He’d opened a discotheque, The Toltec, in El Terreno, Palma. I was bored with London life and wanted a change.
I couldn’t resist asking Jane if she knew whether any of the stories around Mike Jeffery (most famous, of course, as Jimi Hendrix’s manager), his ‘unusual’ business dealings and alleged links with the MI-5…
Probably exaggerated. However, Mike had met my father when he was in military intelligence – my father was a general. I do know that Mike was very tough about money, tough with Jimi from the start. “Hey Joe” was n°1, and Jimi was waiting to see Mike in the office… He told me that he’d seen a jacket in a shop that he liked, but he had no money to buy it. I told him to get the money from Mike … he did ! The last time that I saw Jimi, in Majorca – I’m vague about the year -, he told us that Mike owed him a lot of money and that if he didn’t pay up, he didn’t want to do the next US tour.
Had she met either Daevid Allen or Kevin Ayers before Larry met them ?
I met them around the same time. They were living in Deya. Daevid rented a house there with Gilli Smyth and her daughter. Robert Graves was living just outside the village. A lot of people rented houses there, mainly in the summer – artists, painters… A pleasant place to be in those days !
At one point they all went off to London with Wes [Brunson], who was backing them. I was still working as DJ at the Toltec. Wes was as nutty as a fruit cake ! He was very spaced out and flying high, he was very elated and dripping dollars ! He loved the idea of backing a pop group, etc., and living the “scene”.
Kevin and Daevid had recently befriended Larry, so he was a logical candidate for a position in the proposed band :
They already had the house in Kent. I’m not sure why they needed a guitarist, but they said, ‘Hey Larry, won’t you come along ?’