Along with the late Andy Pittaway I was the other editor of Country Bizarre magazine and, a little later, the follow on Country Bazaar magazine. I am so pleased to know there are people out there still interested in what we did (thank you Su!) which was a real labour of love, and would be very happy to be of help with any info about the magazines. For the record, I am currently writing a novel, working as a gardener, and in my spare time, teaching tap dance. It’s a wonderful world!
All good wishes,
My friend James Oldham originally put me onto Country Bizarre, a great lost magazine of the early 1970s. He had been told about it by his in-laws and said there was also a book, The Complete Country Bizarre. I tracked a copy down and soon fell under its spell and went off looking for background information and original copies. I Googled in vain. I hit brick walls. It was gone and it was forgotten.
And then, in September last year, CBTR reader Su Scotting wrote in asking if we knew about Country Bizarre. By now we had the website, and so spurred on by Su’s enthusiasm, I thought I would renew my search. I posted our correspondence on CBTR with a request that if anyone knew anything further then please get in touch. For a month nothing happened and then… a gentleman by the name of David Baker wrote in and put me in touch with Brett Pittaway, son of the late co-founder Andy Pittaway. This in turn led to me finding the letter that starts this post in my in-box one morning.
Bernard and I met up, drank tea and talked Bizarre. Here follows the first part of an interview that I conducted with him at the end of last year. The second (and final) part follows tomorrow alongside a digital reproduction of the very first issue of Country Bizarre from the Spring of 1970. I was lucky enough to find a full set of the magazines, every one in mint condition, and we plan to archive them on the site for viewing and downloading. Issue Number Two will follow next Monday, the nine others on consecutive Mondays after that.
JB. Firstly, when we met, you gave me a brilliant quote and I only got part of it. You said that, ‘Jazz is your… tap is your… nature is your….”. Any chance you can fill in the gaps?
BS. “‘Jazz is my heartbeat…tap is my pulse…nature is my soul.”
You and Andy met at a holiday camp. Which one? Was there an age difference?
“1970 at Warners Woodside Bay Holiday Camp, Isle of Wight. No age difference.”
How long before you met again? Had you kept in touch? Was the meeting completely by chance?
“Three months. No. By chance on a train – Charing Cross to Welling (Kent). Andy had finished College, I had just started.”
Where did you both study? What did you both study?
“Myself – Goldsmiths College of Art (Textiles BA degree), Andy – Maidstone School of Art (Fine art).”
How did your conversation lead to “let’s start a magazine”. What was the motivation?
“Andy had wanted to do an alternative rock magazine – I thought there were already enough of those and suggested an alternative eco mag, something we both felt stongly about. We brain-stormed over several days and I came up with about half a dozen possible titles – we chose Country Bizarre. “
How would you describe your relationship? Did you immediately inspire each other?
“Andy always said we had a kind of ‘marriage’, that I was his moral conscience. Actually we were both like brothers to each other, like the brothers neither of us had.”
How influenced were you by the underground press?
“To begin with, just the idea of the UP was inspirational. Then as we began to be really involved in Country Bizarre and had communication with every other editor(s) we were heavily influenced by just about everybody, particularly the more locally produced publications.”
Country Bizarre is very unique. Coming from a time of quite extreme politics when everyone spoke rather loudly – anti-war, women’s rights, free festivals, free love, civil rights – you spoke your politics in a somewhat quieter voice. In one of the magazines, you used the term ‘the gentle revolution’. Just how political were your motivations? Was there a CB manifesto, did you want a revolution, or was it simply a love of nature and natural history that made you do the magazine?
“We never thought of ourselves in anyway ‘political’ in the sense that we think of it now. Although we identified with all the struggles and movements going on at the time we were principally concerned with the environment – again, not a political angle but one that reached back in time to an age where people had a real cultural identity with the land – to the customs, festivals, ceremonies, country arts and skills that seemed to us to be disappearing in the modern world. We had no manifesto as such, it was whatever turned us on really – we then passed that on and hoped others found it enlightening too.”
Your ‘call to arms’ was actually pretty radical. I love the non-violent – and mischievous – nature of your ‘seed bombing’ campaign. Could you tell me more about that please? Do you see a similarity with so called ‘guerilla gardening’ today?
You told me an interesting story of seeing a boarded up row of town houses near to college, and how you broke in and spent time in the gardens. How did you feel when the bulldozers moved in?
“I personally was fanatical about trying to save anything and everything that was under threat, whether it be wild flowers, trees, beautiful buildings, wildlife. Andy and I often bought trees and gave them to people to plant in their gardens – big forest trees at that. Or we would go round getting tree preservation orders on iconic trees we thought might be under threat. I was always trespassing in the gardens of boarded up houses, digging up plants and moving them on somewhere safe. Seed bombs – yes that was a fun thing to do, but I also collected seeds and grew stuff up to pass on, still do.”
Who else shared your views? Had Friends of the Earth started? Had Richard Mabey’s ‘Food for Free’ been published?
I loved the whole wild food thing and spent ages compiling an article we published in one of the Bizarres. Then out of the blue we received Richard’s ‘Food For Free’ and I was mortified to find his compilation was far greater than ours. He was really nice though, he said ‘Here is the book based on your article,’ which of course wasn’t true seeing how he was/is such a respected authority. If I remember Friends Of The Earth had just started but we didn’t have any connection (I was really a Greenpeace man).”
(the interview concludes tomorrow, when you can also read issue one of Country Bizarre).