Friday, 24 January 2014

Hapshash and the Coloured Coat - Dragons and Magic(k)

The V&A holds a copy of the 1968 magazine Albion with a front cover designed, according to the catalogue entry, by Michael English, one half, with Nigel Waymouth, of Hapshash and the Coloured Coat (see my previous blog about UFO Coming.)

Albion front cover - designed by Michael English
It is an interesting design and, indeed, an interesting magazine. There are photographs of Stonehenge and the main article was written by John Mitchell. It deals with UFOs and messages to us from the ancient past, linking to Alfred Watkins' The Old Straight Track and Watkins' discovery ('discovery'?) of ley lines which he suggested link ancient sites in straight lines across England. John Mitchell also wrote an introduction to a paperback edition of The Old Straight Track in 1970.

The Albion cover, whilst identified as by Michael English alone, is typical of a Hapshash and the Coloured Coat design. The central shield-shaped unit has a broad border so typical of Hapshash and the Coloured Coat designs and the whole page contains signs and symbols which feature in many of their posters. Two UFOs for starters: UFOs featuring so strongly not only in Hapshash and the Coloured Coat designs but in those of the other great artist of the psychedelic English underground, Martin Sharp, and they also feature as the major underground club for which many posters were designed. Examples of Hapshash and the Coloured Coat designs featuring UFOs:

Welcome Cosmic Visitors


UFO Coming

Several UFO Club posters
The front cover of Albion in a fascinating design: at the top is a scroll bearing the name, below that is a chalice/grail surmounted by seven stars and below that is a symbol I do not understand of an inverted axe whose handle is in bloom, surrounded by the Elf language symbols designed by Tolkien for Lord of the Rings. To the top right of these symbols is an ancient magic circle L'Operation des sept esprits des planetes taken from an eighteenth century manuscript:

 user posted image
As well as bearing twelve crosses and the Christian terms alpha and omega, this contains the Latin formula Dominus adjutor meus which means The Divine Lord is my helper. Additionally is the term Agla which is, apparantly, a kabbalistic acronym. Clearly the magical and grail-lore environment is set. Which is exactly in line with Michael English's views and wishes: in 3-D Eye he is described as creating:

     ...a graphic style embodying (a) balance of mysticism, symbolism and exoticism typical of the counter-culture... Its inspiration derived from a multitude of sources which appealed on philosophical as well as aesthetic grounds. The art nouveau curve...mingled with art deco sunrises, Hindu symbols, Japanese and Islamic decorative motifs, the dream visions of Bosch, Blake and the later Surrealists...

In the same book Michael English puts it this way:

     At the same time I was fascinated by the sinous yet romantic shapes found in Mucha's posters and the work of Beardsley and Rackham. Meeting Nigel brought this to life; I responded to his romanticism. All the Underground posters are packed with secret signs, prehistoric forms and flying saucers. We believed and adopted anything that contradicted the rational world: our science was rooted in alchemy and black magic. Sexuality too was a strong force and there is a lot of that happening in the posters. Dragons and pubic hair!

Well we really have many of these features on the Albion cover. The border and framing is reminiscent of Alphonse Mucha, as is the woman's flowing hair and the roundel around her head. See for example Mucha's Zodiac
Zodiac by Mucha
which also has two roundels at the bottom corners. The young, naked woman lies back with her right hand on her crotch and her right breast prominant, a fabulous dragon crawling towards her. She lies on roses and mistletoe - supposedly the Golden Bough of the Aeneas legend and famed as the title of Frazer's famous book - which was sacred to the druids. A sword - an Arthurian echo? - lies across her stomach and in the background, silhouetting the trees is an art deco sunrise (or sunset.) Behind her are several symbols: the roundel at her head, a holed roundel bearing more Elvish script, a pentagram, a circular representation of the Glastonbury Zodiac, a roundel appearing to be a shield bearing a snake and, finally, a roundel holding the triangle of the all seeing eye. Just about everything is there from Michael English's description of the Underground posters, everything except pubic hair.

The image that struck me most, though, was the dragon: it seemed to be the same dragon that appears on the Hapshash and the Coloured Coat poster of Jimi Hendrix at the Fillmore Auditorium which I had bought back in 1968. In fact the two are very similar and are essentially mirror images of each other. Below I show the two next to each other then, on the right, the Albion dragon reversed for comparison.

Three dragons
It can be seen that the dragon heads are different but otherwise they are much the same in terms of posture, wing shape, arms and spikes down the neck. Interestingly, both dragons are placed close to the all seeing magic eye.

Finally, I was looking at Willy Pogany's illustrations for Parsifal and was struck by the illustration titled No Medicine May Heal Amfortas' Wound. 

The body's posture is so similar to the woman's on the cover of Albion, there is even a sword.

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