More from year 1966
February 23 or 24, 1966
Jan 28, 1967
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On this day, Paul McCartney attended the opening celebration of the Indica book store, owned by John Dunbar, Peter Asher, and Barry Miles. Paul supported Indica and helped to draw the flyers to advertise Indica’s opening, and he also designed the wrapping paper.
In April 1966, Paul McCartney brought John Lennon to Indica. During this visit, John bought a copy of “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based On The Tibetan Book Of The Dead“, which inspired him for his song “Tomorrow Never Knows”.
From The Guardian, November 5, 2006:
London, spring 1966. In the unlikely surroundings of St James’s – more accustomed to bowler hats and bearskins than new art – a cultural revolution is in progress. Indica, the happening experimental art gallery that is the brainchild of 22-year-old Cambridge graduate John Dunbar, first opened its doors last year. Tonight, it’s showtime. ‘Swinging London’ starts here. The private view has attracted all the right people: Dunbar’s wife Marianne Faithfull, Paul McCartney and his girlfriend Jane Asher, Eric Burdon of the Animals, photographer Gered Mankowitz, producer Michael White, John Pearse of the King’s Road clothes shop Granny Takes a Trip, a pretty boy called Mark Feld who’s about to change his name to Marc Bolan, beat poets, art critics and the in crowd. William Burroughs hates parties but stuck his nose in for a few minutes before retreating to his flat round the corner. The flamboyant art dealer Robert Fraser, in his tight pink suit, and various Ormesby Gores and McKewens represent high society’s hip vanguard. The classes are colliding, having fun, taking lots of drugs and using the energy from the social bustle to create art of many kinds.
Guests spill out into the yard with their glasses of white wine. Later, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate will tap on the window for a gossip. And in a matter of months, John Lennon will arrive in a chauffeur-driven Mini at the behest of John Dunbar, who thinks his friend should see the work of a young Japanese artist called Yoko Ono before her show opens.
‘It was a wonderful time,’ declares Marianne Faithfull today from Paris, in her rich rock’n’roll contralto. ‘The opening night of Indica was complete chaos. Everyone was trying to get the place ready – John, Barry Miles [who ran the bookshop side of Indica], Paul McCartney, Jane Asher, our friend David Courts, so many people … but nobody had thought to clean the lavatory, which was, of course, filthy. I remember I was wearing a beautiful dress and very pale tights, and there I was, on my hands and knees, scrubbing the loo. Because of John, I was very much a part of it all, and I’m so proud that I was.’
In pop-cultural terms, Indica (its name, wouldn’t you know, taken from Cannabis indica), which opened and closed within just two years, is up there with the Sex Pistols’s gig at the 100 Club or the opening of Damien Hirst’s Freeze. You only had to be there to feel artistic, forward-thinking and cool. John Dunbar’s exhibition list is pored over by modern art anoraks – he pushed the boundaries of art in Britain, preparing the ground for the YBA explosion in the early Nineties and the diversity of work made and shown here today. Miles’s bookshop was the hub of the underground scene. (He later ran Zapple, the spoken word division of the Apple label, and became a music journalist and biographer.) […]
Indica Gallery was a counterculture art gallery in Mason’s Yard (off Duke Street), St James’s, London from 1965 to 1967, in the basement of the Indica Bookshop. John Dunbar, Peter Asher, and Barry Miles owned it, and Paul McCartney supported it and hosted a show of Yoko Ono’s work in November 1966, at which Ono met John Lennon.
Indica Books and Gallery
Miles had been running the bookshop and alternative happenings venue Better Books but with new, more traditional, owners arriving, had been planning to open his own bookstore/venue. Through Paolo Leonni, Miles met John Dunbar who was planning on opening a gallery, and with John’s friend Peter Asher as silent partner, they combined their ideas into a company called Miles, Asher and Dunbar Limited (MAD) to start the Indica Books and Gallery in September 1965, as an outlet for art and literature. They found empty premises at 6 Masons Yard, which was in the same courtyard as the Scotch of St James club, where John Dunbar was living with his girlfriend Marianne Faithfull, when he discovered the place. The name chosen for the bookshop/gallery was a reference to Cannabis indica.
Yoko Ono and The Beatles involvement
At the time, Paul McCartney was dating Asher’s sister Jane Asher and living in the Asher family house at 57 Wimpole Street. He became involved with the emerging underground culture in London, and helped set up the bookshop and gallery. He was the Indica bookshop’s first customer, before it even had premises; he would look through the books at night that were stored in the Ashers’ basement and leave a note for the books that he had taken to be put on his account. Artists such as Pete Brown also helped in the renovation of the Indica. Jane Asher donated the shop’s first cash till, which was an old Victorian till that she had played with as a young girl. McCartney helped to draw the flyers which were used to advertise the Indica’s opening, and he also designed the wrapping paper.
McCartney encouraged fellow-Beatles member John Lennon to visit the gallery. On 7 November 1966, Lennon attended a preview evening of Unfinished Paintings, a conceptual art exhibition by Yoko Ono that ran from the 8th to the 18th of November. Co-owner John Dunbar had seen Ono’s performances of Cut Piece at the Destruction in Art Symposium in September and invited her to make an exhibition for Indica Gallery. On seeing it, Lennon initially liked the artwork Apple and was impressed by the interactive Ceiling Painting/Yes Painting, which he found very positive. While Lennon and Ono claimed that this was the first time they met, this is diputed by Miles and others.
In 1966, the Indica bookshop was separated from the Indica Gallery, and moved to 102 Southampton Row in the summer of 1966. The bookshop was opened on the site of an old and established bookseller and exporter called William Jackson Books Limited. Jackson’s had decided to concentrate on the export side of its business and sold a twenty-year lease of the retail bookshop to Miles, Asher, and Dunbar. The name of the bookshop was promptly changed to INDICA Books. Chris Hill and his wife Jo, who owned William Jackson Books, had taken a flat above the shop on Southampton Row and ran the export business from there. It soon proved to be a popular venue for the INDICA Books team and the royalty of the ‘swinging sixties’ that were associated with them. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were visitors to the flat and on one evening, in 1966, they rehearsed a song they called “Mark I” in the flat. The song was later recorded at the Abbey Road Studios as “Tomorrow Never Knows” and included on the Revolver album.
The International Times newspaper was started in the basement of the Southampton Row bookshop. […]
Paul at that time was probably more avant-garde than the other boys. We always think of John as being the avant-garde one, with Yoko and so on; but at that time Paul was heavily into Stockhausen and John Cage and all the avant-garde artists, while John was living a comfortable suburban life in Weybridge.George Martin – From “The Beatles Anthology” book, 2000
Peter [Asher] put up the £2,000, which is how much it cost to get a lease, stock a bookshop and do all the building work on an art gallery. While the gallery-bookshop was prepared for opening, the books were delivered to Wimpole Street. Paul [McCartney] was the bookshop’s first customer. He would stometimes go down to the basement at night and browse among the piles of books. Anselm Hollo’s & It Is a Song, Ed Sanders’ Peace Eye poems, Drugs and the Mind by Robert S. de Ropp and Gandhi on Non-Violence were Indica’s first sales, a selection which gives a good indication of Paul’s interests at the time.Barry Miles – From “Revolver (2022)” book
Indica Gallery was run by John Dunbar, who had been art critic for the Scotsman. I met him through an American poet, Paulo Lionni, who I’d given a reading at Better Books, though John thinks we met at the Albert Hall Poetry Reading that summer. John wanted to open his own gallery and I was looking to start a bookshop, it seemed like the ideal combination. Anyway, with the addition of John’s great friend Peter Asher, we started MAD, Miles Asher and Dunbar Ltd, to run Indica (which was named, yes, after Cannabis Indica.) The gallery is probably still remembered for just one show, Yoko Ono’s first European show that John Lennon turned up to when we were still hanging it.Barry Miles – From Indica Gallery | Miles (barrymiles.co.uk)
I don’t want to sound like Jonathan Miller going on, but I’m trying to cram everything in, all the things that I’ve missed. People are saying things and painting things and writing things and composing things that are great, and I must know what people are doing. I vaguely mind people knowing anything I don’t know.Paul McCartney – From “The Beatles Anthology” book, 2000
People were starting to lose their pure-pop mentality and mingle with artists. We knew a few actors, a few painters, we’d go to galleries because we were living in London now. A kind of cross-fertilisation was starting to happen.
While the others had got married and moved out to suburbia, I had stayed in London and got into the arts scene through friends like Robert Fraser and Barry Miles and papers like the International Times. We opened the Indica gallery with John Dunbar, Peter Asher and people like that. I heard about people like John Cage, and that he’d just performed a piece of music called 4’33” (which is completely silent) during which if someone in the audience coughed he would say, ‘See?’ Or someone would boo and he’d say, ‘See?’ It’s not silence – it’s music.
I was intrigued by all of that. So those things started to be part of my life. I was listening to Stockhausen; one piece was all little plinkplonks and interesting ideas. Perhaps our audience wouldn’t mind a bit of change, we thought, and anyway, tough if they do! We only ever followed our own noses – most of the time, anyway. ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ was one example of developing an idea.
I always contend that I had quite a big period of this before John really got into it, because he was married to Cynthia at that time. It was only later when he went out with Yoko that he got back into London and visited all the galleries.Paul McCartney – From “The Beatles Anthology” book, 2000
It’s something I realise l didn’t put around a lot at the time, like l helped start International Times with Miles, helped start Indica Bookshop and Gallery where John met Yoko. Was big buddies with Robert Fraser and was very into Magritte. So I had a very rich avant-garde period which was such a buzz, making movies and stuff. Because I was living on my own in London, and all the other guys were married in the suburbs, they were very square in my mind, and they’d come in, and come into my pad where there’d be people all hanging out and weird sculptures and stuff and I’d be making, piecing together little films and stuff.Paul McCartney – From “The Paul McCartney World Tour” book – 1989
Why did rock stars like Pete and Paul McCartney get involved with IT, UFO and the counterculture scene? What did Pete personally do to help?
It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that Macca got taken hostage as I did, but in his case by his partner Jane Asher. I know that her brother Peter was involved in some way with John Dunbar. We were all part of what we thought would be a new London intelligentsia. In the end it was just a group of young pop stars with extremely pretty girl friends. I can remember one gathering – I think it was at an art opening for Simon and Maryka – where George Harrison was talking about Krishna, Macca about legalising marijuana and Eric Clapton and I were with the artist and lyricist Martin Sharp talking about the Oz Trial. I don’t think I helped at all, but Macca did. He gave money when Hoppy was arrested, and later for the Oz trial I believe.Pete Townshend – From Pete Townshend and the London counterculture | The Great Wen, 2011
The Who then went off on a very long tour supporting Herman’s Hermits, and while we were away there was a widely reported hippy wedding in Hyde Park, Michael McInnerney married Katie, and Karen was there, and in many of the photos. There is also newsreel film of Karen dancing with Barbara Allen and Hoppy. Mike McInnerney worked with Hoppy and Miles on IT. Karen was right in the centre of the hippy scene, and knew a lot of the leading faces of the time. Through her I met Joe Boyd, the producer of The Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention, and Barry Miles and his wife Sue (who was a terrific restaurateur), and Hoppy. I also got to know John Dunbar [Marianne Faithfull’s first husband] and met the other founders of the Indica Bookshop in Southampton Row at a party with the Beatles, but I never went to the shop. The way I remember it is that Paul McCartney was the chief patron of Indica from the Beatles and the pop scene at large. He was passionate about legalising marijuana, and came close to being arrested for some of the things he said. As far as I could see, marijuana and LSD were what the politics of the times revolved around. There may have been more, deeper things, but I never saw much sign of it at the time. Vietnam was big news of course, but sadly not to me. More of my myopic tendencies later.Pete Townshend – From Pete Townshend and the London counterculture | The Great Wen, 2011
Last updated on November 22, 2023
"With greatly expanded text, this is the most revealing and frank personal 30-year chronicle of the group ever written. Insider Barry Miles covers the Beatles story from childhood to the break-up of the group."
We owe a lot to Barry Miles for the creation of those pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details - a day to day chronology of what happened to the four Beatles during the Beatles years!