I´ve been seeing the name, and some of the writings of, Arthur Moyse in issues of Peter Good´s "The Cunningham Amendment" for a few years now. Then one day I received with a letter from Peter a page of artwork by Arthur from an old issue of "Anarchism Lancastrium". I liked it so much that I figured the best way to find out more about Arthur was to conduct a brief interview with Dr. Good (by post, of course). Peter was kind enough to pass my questions on to Dave Cunliffe and David Peers, two other acquaintances of Arthur. Some responses were omitted as information was repeated by more than one interviewee.
When & how did you first come into contact with Arthur Moyse and his work?
Peter Good: I first came across Arthur Moyse from reading his columns in Freedom from the early 70´s onwards. He wrote brilliant reviews and commented on the many art exhibitions he was invited to. I was in awe of this extraordinary writer and sent him a copy of Anarchism Lancastrium. It was the start of thirty year´s correspondence and many joint publishing ventures. I only met him once. I travelled down to London. Drank a bottle of cheap Spanish sherry with him in Freedom Bookshop then proceeded on a day time pub crawl up and down Whitechapel High Street. He was one of the very few people I know who could drink me under the table.
Dave Cunliffe: In the late 50´s Arthur was already a legend in London bohemia. As a naïve provincial teenager I bought a copy of anarchist Freedom paper at Hyde Park Speaker´s Corner. He was doing exhibition reviews for them and contributing cartoons. Shortly afterwards I chance happened on some of his water colors and then the great man himself. He was then regularly holding court to a mixture of libertarians and intellectual low-life in various pubs and cafes. Anarchists, transvestites, drug dealers and gangsters hung on his every word.
David Peers: I first came into contact with Arthur´s work through Freedom. I lived in a succession of small towns, street-selling a variety of anarchist magazines. I met Arthur at a couple of conferences. I only knew him in person after I moved to London in 1976 and became an editor for Freedom.
Did Arthur ever publish his own publication or did he solely contribute to the magazines of others?
PG: Arthur often published a spoof flyer for a magazine called Zero One. A single sheet of art work and some tantalising titles that hinted at lurid exposures of fellow comrades and London artists.
DC: Mister Moyse was a prolific self-publisher of broadsides, posters and cartoons. He initiated one magazine in the late 70´s called Magazine. I don´t think it ever made a second issue. In the 80´s he was responsible for a well publicized journal called Zero One, which never actually existed. Before long, this was selling on specialist book collector´s lists at ridiculously expensive prices. Obviously some unknown entrepreneur was coining in on Arthur´s considerable reputation.
DP: Mostly contributed to others. He did have his “publication” Zero One, comprising only a front cover (and his Zero One Gallery – the toilet at Freedom Press).
What brought about Arthur´s interest in anarchism & “underground” publications?
DC: Mister Moyse was born in Ireland and his navy father died young. His working mother and Irish grandmother brought him up in Shepherds Bush. They were solidly conservative. Expelled at 14 as unmanageable, Arthur´s serious education was mainly listening to the articulate socialist orator Tony Turner. A factor that initially brought us two together was a mutual friendship with the New York beat poet, and Fugs group front-man, Tuli Kupferberg. Tuli published Birth Press and I was bringing out Poetmeat, with the novelist Tina Morris. Alternative magazine publishing was then changing from ink and spirit mimeo to offset litho. As all good artists, Arthur adapted to reproductive technological change. He altered his drawing methodology to include more lines and dots and less solid density. The underground press then used smaller offset printing machines with only a few rollers and consequent difficulty with large areas of solid ink. This was the start of a definite recognizable Arthur Moyse drawing style. William Burroughs used to say that his true audience was those readers who championed the mimeo (stencil duplicated) underground alternative press of the 60´s. Arthur shared this view and often told me that the greatest scourge of literature was the glossy expensively produced funded magazines that nobody much ever read.
Did Arthur ever formally study art or writing?
PG: No. Entirely self-educated. He spent much of his childhood in the public libraries.
DC: Thankfully, to my knowledge, never.
Who were some influences on Arthur´s art & writing & his thinking in general?
PG: He described his work as “slightly-filthy observations in the manner of Hogarth”.
DC: Arthur had a varied and diverse artistic influence. From surrealism to seaside postcard cartoon imagery. His writing was largely spontaneous stream of consciousness and then some occasional editing down into traditional paragraph and sentence construction. He left spelling alteration to those editors who were so inclined. Arthur was an avid reader of everything at hand and available, but very much his own thinker.
DP: He enjoyed anything quirky. He was always critical of the conventional art scene, despite enjoying the circuit of gallery openings.
Any personal anecdotes about Arthur that you´d like to share? Something that sheds light on his sense of humor or his generosity?
PG: Arthur was recklessly generous in his work. One would come across his work in hastily produced mimeographed zines that were never going to see more than two issues. Arthur freely gave his work to the world. He is the only artist I ever knew who would respond within days of a request for artwork or prose.
In the early days of Britain´s commercial television, London ITV put on a programme about London eccentrics. Arthur duly appeared as the press spokesman for the “Flat Earth Society”. His first question came from a cynical interviewer who began by showing him satellite photographs of the earth alongside time-delayed photographs of the stars. “What have you to say to that, Mr. Moyse?” “D´you know,” replied Arthur, “I´ve never looked at it like this before. You´re absolutely right of course.” The interview was never broadcast. I promised myself that if I ever heard a politician give a similar reply to an interviewer then I would start voting. I never have.
DC: Arthur was never absent when it all went down. From throwing bricks in Cable Street to walking past his transport colleagues in the company of early Gay Pride marchers. Arthur was personally hard-core heterosexual, but always ethically consistent and remarkably courageous. When Breakthru magazine was banned from the celebrated Betterbooks Charing Cross Road Bookshop (then staffed by underground luminaries Miles, Cobbing and Harwood), Arthur held a one-man protest outside. Editor Ken Geering had unfairly attacked Samuel Beckett, but such censorship was always to be resisted. Mister Moyse managed to regularly upset most of the trailblazing celebrated cultural and political elite.
In WW2 days he attempted to stop some maltreatment of local prostitutes during the Allied liberation of France. Generally, he´d enjoyed a good war. Fucking the colonel´s wife; pissing and bathing in Buckingham Palace kitchen sinks. Later he´d emptied a bottle of piss in Red Square to show his deep contempt for oppressive Warsaw Pact regimes. Tooling himself up for the infamous Destruction in Art get-together --- ready to inflict mayhem on the assembled middle-class poseurs and cultural vultures, should any living animal be misused or abused. As a bus conductor he was often rolling on the ground with aggressive late-night drunks.
My favorite Moyse anecdote is his successful placement of anarchist literature in a Soho porno-shop. Inevitably the friendly libertarian manager was incarcerated and replaced by a disinterested heavy-duty minder. “I´ll be back with the boys”, threatened Arthur. Apprehensively returning to the shop later, with a brick in his pocket and without any kind of backup. Luckily, the now worried tough paid-up in full and even managed a donation to the cause.
In the late 50´s he regularly held guru court to a colourful following of bohemian eccentrics, malcontents, transvestites, drug dealers, gangsters and cerebral dropouts of many kinds. He dropped his knickers for Yoko Ono´s bum film. In 1964 he had started “to seek out from the walls of the places of suppression, the confessionals of the public lavatories and the locked drawers the rhyme and the prose that the authorities of the Church, State and Public Opinion always seek and succeed in suppressing.” Review mailings of his July 1965 book were intercepted in the mail and a series of police raids, confiscations and years of harassment followed. As poet Jim Burns put it – “I live in a strange world, / the Blackburn police at every corner, / if they can´t get me one way, / they´re out to get me in another.” Mister Moyse´s textual collage The Golden Convol- vulus eventually had me, as its publisher, in the dock. Ray Gosling penned his court performance. “A large, round, bald pated, jolly – he´s a bus conductor on London transport route 73 – fast talking, much the Londoner. This was the first time he´d spoke in public. Yes, he was an artist, and a writer, and a labouring man. It was him that had done the drawings on the covers. Him that had written the introduction. He was talking so fast the Assistant Recorder kept stopping him for the shorthand girl was falling behind. Arthur Moyse went on about how his mother had scrubbed and cleaned and done out for the rich. He harped on his working class background. He was no long hair beatnik, no juvenile. He was like the jurymen.”
By the 70´s Arthur was one of my insider deep-throats, revealing the secret foibles and hidden history of many prominent London anarchists. Such information was used by me in the iconoclastic prankster Anarchism Lancastrium. Mike Waite quoted John Sutherland that “…for the youth-radical press of the middle and late 1970s, sexual offensiveness was not any more a legitimate weapon. Indeed, the new opinion formers like Time Out, the Leveller, or City Limits took a severely puritanical line against ´sexist pornography´…” and concluded that “In this context, Anarchism Lancastrium´s failure or refusal to recognise what had changed, and its continued use of exhuberant and self-consciously provocative statements, ´which would never have stood up to feminist critique´, was bound to lead to serious trouble.” The retrograde prudery of some 70´s authoritarian feminist tendency was a Monty Python PC that only amused Arthur Moyse. Individualist libertarians rarely tolerate ´opinion formers´ of any kind. They are generally free spirits who think for themselves and make up their own minds. Mister Moyse was very much his own man.
My most cherished Arthur Moyse memories include his whiskey lubricated fatherly lectures. Repeatedly warning me of hidden agendas in the mainstream Peace Movement. Patiently counselling me not to be conned by Vatican City´s Irish chapter. Slowly coming out of a deep (skull fractured) coma to see his splendid dog Patch, smuggled into Intensive Care in a voluminous overcoat. His seemingly studious and successfully executed plans, during early Blackburn visits, to eat at my mothers in order to avoid our ´Northern potato eaters diet.´ “Get a fucking meat pie inside you, Dave.” Randomly tuning into an 80´s late night TV discussion on WW2. There was Mister Moyse, in full pro-war flight. As the night wore on and the booze was camel drunk, he answered every question with a personal mantra chant. “Boum! Boum!”
I read about the controversy surrounding Arthur´s homemade last will & testament and the forged signatures in Global Tapestry Journal. Any update on the situation?
PG: In his 80´s Arthur had L3,000 – “saving up for old age”. He made a will dividing L300 up between 10 people/organizations that included a young woman with severe learning disabilities, one or two old comrades, and L300 for Freedom to host a booze up with his posthumous compliments. Alas, for reasons probably relating to his growing sense of confusion, he witnessed the will himself with the forged signatures of Dave Cunliffe and Peter Good. Whoops! At this point a far-removed distant cousin – despite Arthur´s claim to having not one single living relative – came onto the scene. He brought the legal guys in and the will was (rightly) declared void. The cousin stopped communicating with me.
DC: I´m extremely confused about the outcome of this. It would seem that the estate probably went to a distant cousin, who didn´t, to my knowledge, enact all or part of Arthur´s will. Yet, it doesn´t seem as if this cousin is in possession of all of Arthur´s creative output.
DP: I´ve no idea. I stopped asking. There is a nephew, appointed as executer. He had never met Arthur. I helped sort out the flat. I know nothing since then.
“Once in every while there flows into the stream of our minority culture a poem, a book, a song or a painting that holds and excites the imagination…. And the answer is never to return for we can never recapture those moments of sweet glory when a new window was opened in the walls of night. For, if we try, with ageing hands, to grasp those past moments we will find that we are left with leaden prose, a canvas of mild interest, a song that jingles or a poem whose content is forgotten among the forgettable debris of the past…. Yet it is we who have failed, for excitement in new-found trivia is part of the joy of youth and the beliefs and the ideas that we have chosen to discard come newborn in the nascent questing mind. But then we find it and once more a writer wins our praise, a song holds our lack-lustre interest…. no matter what waits for us beyond the foreseeable frontiers of our physical and mental universe, we must always advance into that unknown, for to halt is to die and there are no doors to be unlocked within the grave.” -Arthur Moyse, circa mid-sixties
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Peter Good publishes The Cunningham Amendment: Journal of the East Pennine Anarcrisps. “Inciting Revolutionary Acts of Joy and Irreverence in a World Increasingly Weighed Down By Sterile Bureaucracies”. Send a donation for the latest issue to: 1005 Huddersfield Road, Bradford BD12 8LP, West Yorkshire, England.
Dave Cunliffe publishes Global Tapestry Journal. Poetry, prose & photography. Send $5/€5 for the latest issue to: Spring Bank, Longsight Road, Copster Green, Blackburn BB1 9EU, England.