‘A Catalyst, perpetrator and champion a rebellion, and experimenter in the arts and society’ was how the poet Michael Horovitz described him in an obituary.

Now a new exhibition at Manchester’s John Rylands library is to shed light on Jeff Nutall, a pivotal figure in the 1960’s counterculture.

We may think that the phrase ” a global village” is a twenty first century concept based around our societies digital connectivity, but it’s roots go back fifty years to the 1960’s where relying on the old fashioned methods of print and speech, an international underground culture emerged connecting writers and artists through an interconnect world of self published magazines, posters and books.

At its centre in the UK was Jeff Nuttal, born in Clitheroe in 1933, poet, painter, publisher, sculpture, actor, performance artist and musician, a huge contributor to this underground network, advocate of experimentation, anti commercialism and defiant of censorship.

The John Rylands was given his vast archives of writings, letters, magazines following his death in Wales in 2004, and in what is truly a groundbreaker exhibition for them, curated Janette Martin, Douglas Field and Jay Jeff Jones.

The visitor will be introduced to the world of antiuniversity, cut up technique, where sections of prose are cut out and then randomly mixed, happenings, Trocchi’s sigma and situationism which argued that the quality of life had been debased through consumerism.

Prepare to be shocked, this exhibition is not recommended for children, and as Janette told us, some of the material couldn’t even be shown to adults.

“Now cut out the bullshit and let’s get down to business” he tells Gershon Legman, editor of New York Beat and Hipster Magazine, Neurotica

“What are you doing to stop the invasion into Britain of every little rotten fake poet and drug pusher”

In 1963, he brought out the first issue of a little magazine called My Own Mag, a Super Absorbant Periodical, printed on a mimeograph at the school where he then worked duplicating machine with its pages produced from stencils.The copies were then circulated around to a small group of friends. The magazine ran for sixteen issues becoming one of the leading publications of the International Underground movement, and became part of the mimeo revolution.

The magazine attracted the eyes of the underground, William Burroughs, Dougkas Blazek, William Watling, Carl Weissner and Alexander Trocchi and they would write for it, Burrough’s had his own section in the magazine, given an opportunity by Nuttall to publish his most experimental types of writing,  while others wanted Nuttall to write for them.

The symbolism of this being fifty years since 1966 is one of the reasons why the Library choose now to put on this exhibition.

“A lot of things happened in 1966 says Jay Jeff Jones, it was really the beginning of the underground movement in the UK. “As Pink Floyd were playing at Notting Hill in events organised by John Hopkins, Jeff was getting the people together to perform the People Show.”

What sort of man was Jeff, ” a notably energetic, imagination and risk taker ” says Jay. He appealed to the movement for it was itself based on risk and adventure in a society that then had a lot of boundaries when it came to people’s interaction, both socially and politically.”

Jeff would soon withdraw from the London counterculture which he believed was becoming too personalised and headed North to Yorkshire, continuing his crusades, but become more active than ever as a practioner, artist and writer which the archive at the John Rylands testifies to.

One of the main things that a visitor to the exhibition will take away is surely is the extent of his work as a collaborator and his generosity of spirit and will hopefully rewrite the idea that the International Underground was American influenced, indeed Nuttall’s  work surely puts him and Britain at the forefront of that underground movement, rather than being merely an imitator.

Off Beat: Jeff Nuttall and the International Underground. 8 September – 5 March 2017 John Rylands Deansgate


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