Being born in 1951 meant that I spent my entire teens in the 60’s ... not a bad time to grow up!
The Arts, particularly in music, were going through a very welcome revolution in Britain and America.
I had almost 3 years at Art College 1968/70 and towards the end blew my hard earned £200 on the car of my dreams... a 5 year old Mini Moke which was very cool and trendy but also very underpowered and freezing cold in a North of England winter.
Our art college annual dance (known as the Art’s Ball) held at the Winter Gardens ballroom Blackpool was headlined over the three years by Deep Purple, Free and Pink Floyd a decent lineup for a college gig!
Foreign travel was a newly acquired luxury for just a few folk and in those days the furthest any of my friends or family had travelled was just across the channel.
There was no such thing as students “going travelling” halfway across the world as a rite of passage. Money was very scarce and airline tickets were with national carriers and not “no frills airlines” as they did not exist at that time. Consequently airfares beyond Europe were beyond most people’s reach.
Music (playing acoustic guitar) and the 60’s lifestyle had a hold of me at that time and as the music scene moved from London to the west coast of America then a desire to follow and visit California grew inside me and I started saving for a trip to the USA.
I did not know anyone that had been to the U.S. and had little or no guidance on what to expect.
By late 1971 I had worked towards developing our first move into Art & Graphic supplies at Granthams in parallel to our established sign making business and had helped to nurture our new Letraset dealership starting to supply Fine art and commercial graphic arts equipment to both individuals and corporate customers across Lancashire.
I managed to save enough to pay for a ticket to New York by the cheapest possible method in those days... Loftleider were the Icelandic carrier and the cheapest route was via Reykjavik (Iceland). I earned just over £8 per week and the return ticket cost £65.
I flew from Prestwick airport in Scotland to Reykjavik on Saturday 28th February 1972... The flight was delayed by 8 hours, which meant that I missed my onward connection to N.Y., and had to spend the night on an airport bench. Not the best start to the lone star adventure. I had another 6 hours waiting in the airport in Iceland and eventually reached John F. Kennedy airport in New York over 24 hours after leaving the U.K.
On setting out into the streets of NY I was struck by the expertise of the street graffiti artists, which at that time was far more developed than in the U.K.
I could not help but admire the skills and styles let alone the situation placement of their art form and tags.Wall Artists spray paints such as the hugely popular Montana Gold range did not exist then and the street artists/vandals made do with whatever paints they could get their hands on.
I visited the biggest art supplies stores in central Manhattan that I could find.
I felt proud that British manufacturers including Winsor & Newton and Daler Rowney were well represented and I was somewhat perplexed as to why the U.K. manufactured Professional Artists materials were retailing at noticeably lower prices than in the U.K. at that time.
That experience encouraged me to try to make the highest quality Art/Graphic materials more affordable through our own shops ... a feat which included many pressured conversations with the main U.K. manufacturers, accompanied by a commitment to reach higher volumes by us.
I also briefly visited two of New York’s main Art Galleries and was almost offended by the huge range of European Classic art that had been removed from their native shores by extraordinarily wealthy American industrialists who had loaned them to the city galleries.
I had always been a fan of Andy Warhol’s art work and was excited to feel the buzz
that existed in the dives and joints of New York’s Greenwich Village at that time ...
A buzz so often referred to by the in-crowd that surrounded the Arts/Music scene on Manhattan.
Lou Reed’s “ Transformer “ album was notably typical of the time and the place.
I had a desperately low cash budget and eventually found the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan to enquire about a student Greyhound bus 30-day USA travel pass. I spent much of my cash on that ticket but it allowed me to travel anywhere in the U.S. for up to 30 days.
I was somewhat naive as to just how big America is especially when travelling on a shining silver, yet relatively slow, Greyhound. We pulled out of N.Y. with Philadelphia as the next stop. I expected a typical hour or so’s journey but the first stop was some 200 miles on. I began to realise the sheer scale of the journey before me and settled in for my first night on the back seats of a Greyhound.
I progressed slowly towards the Midwest via Indianapolis and St. Louis. Some nights sleeping in bus stations, some nights on buses and some nights in the luxury of $5 hostels.
I joined the original Route 66 Highway on leaving St. Louis and distinctly remember gazing at the Playboy jet (owned by Hugh Hefner) and it’s bunny girl logos sat on the tarmac at St. Louis airport as we passed by on the bus. His mode of transport being somewhat different to mine... No doubt his bedtime companions were also somewhat different to my fleeting verbal relationships on the back seats of the buses and hostels!
I was relatively cool about my own security, which I would now say was a little fool hardy.
Credit cards were hardly heard of and I certainly did not possess one. I carried dollar bills secreted in various parts of my clothing and anatomy supplemented with old-fashioned travellers cheques.
I did witness theft first hand when in Salt Lake City Greyhound terminal but it was no more serious an incident than I had experienced in Blackpool on more than one occasion as a boy.
I may well have just been lucky but most people I met on the buses had never spoken to an English person before and I was treated like a rare curiosity with a very unusual accent.
The bus travellers seemed to possess very little knowledge of the world outside of their own state in those days. I was asked if I had ever met the Queen or any of her family. One passenger asked if we had any electrical items in our homes!
Journeying onwards and so often gazing across the slowly changing landscapes witnessed the Eastern states disappear behind me and the Wild West begin to unfold.
The flat agricultural belts of the Midwest grew not only different crops to the East but different attitudes amongst the people. The Midwest was classically big skies and very conservative attitudes, especially to my shoulder length hair and strange European accents
Their young men at that time had short back and sides haircuts and wore soiled farming overalls and not the weird and wonderful collection of Euro style items of clothing that I travelled/lived in.
There was a unwelcoming suspicion of strangers amongst the Midwesterners so well portrayed in the classic “Easy Rider” movie starring Peter Fonda accompanied by the unique sounds of Jimi Hendrix (If 6 was 9), Steppenwolf(Born to be Wild) and The Byrd’s (Eight Miles High).
I felt less comfortable and more inclined not to hang around too long so pushed on westward, after short stop overs, towards Tulsa and then Oklahoma City.
Route 66 wound on to Amarillo Texas and the artwork and wall art turned decidedly Native American in look/feel and message. Even the shades and colours had a desert bleached look about them.
Colour palettes in the town galleries art pieces very much reflected the naturally occurring landscapes consisting of sand, red rock and cactus and enormous deep blue skies.
On one occasion I had two native American sat across from me on the Greyhound dressed in several items of native American clothing and looking like something out of a western movie. When one of them glanced and noticed me looking at them he just raised his hand and said “How”! (native American greeting).
Continue reading about the journey across America and back in 1972.
Listen along with Mark in the 70's:
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