Two names that come up frequently when I’m looking at the real hip scene of the 1960s are Malcolm Drake AKA Grainger and Trina Simmonds. Their names even appear from time to time in print but to date the semi-official historians of the London counterculture have singularly failed to get to grips with what they and their scene were all about.
Alan Semple, who knew Trina Simmonds in the early sixties, told me that before she met Grainger she’d been partnered up with another London streetwalker called Kay, and that this pair were as likely to roll johns as do the business with them. Indeed, they’d steal anything of value punters were foolish enough to let them lay their hands on, and the items they filched ranged from money and cheque books to booze. Semple met Trina and Kay in 1961 when they stopped his car late at night on Kensington Church Street. They asked him if he had a bottle opener and when he replied he had one at home, the two flat-backers got into his motor so that he could drive them to his pad. Together they drank the wine Trina and Kay had swiped from a drunken john, swapped life-stories and became friends. Semple told David Seabrook the same story I got from him, and the recently deceased true crime journalist incorporated it as background material into his book Jack Of Jumps; but Seabrook didn’t supply Trina’s surname and apparently didn’t know it, and as a result he seems to have missed her walk on role in media coverage of the later Gail Benson murder too. As far as I can ascertain, Trina was born on 31 December 1941.
Other people, and in particular ex-junkies who’d rather not be identified, know considerably more about Grainger and Trina than Semple (who was only acquainted with Trina before she met Grainger). These sources say Grainger studied pharmacology at a northern university, but didn’t complete the course. After working on the dodgems in a seaside fun fair in the summer of 1961, he moved down to London from Bradford. Grainger discovered pot in London in the autumn of 1961. He smoked reefer and took amphetamines until mid-1962, when he graduated to junk. Grainger wrote a lot of poetry in the early sixties but didn’t succeed in getting anything published. He wanted to be a professional writer. He fathered a son in either very late 1961, or early 1962 (no later than the spring) but no one I’ve been able to dig up knows what happened to the child, or the mother’s name. It has been suggested that I may be Grainger’s boy; while this strikes me as possible, I view it as improbable. My mother’s on-off relationship with Grainger, who she was living with when she died in 1979, appears to date back to at least the mid-sixties; but I’ve never been able to ascertain whether it began as early as 1960 or 1961. By the time Grainger’s love child was born (as I’ve said, possibly me), he was dating Liz Cook – she was then a drama student and later became Brian Barritt’s lover.
According to my anonymous sources, Grainger and Trina met through the junk scene in 1963, at a chemist’s shop, or alternatively in a doctor’s waiting room. They were both registered users. Trina had a pad in Queensway when Grainger first knew her. Kay disappeared soon after Grainger and Trina became an item. Grainger dabbled with acid in the mid-sixties, and settled in the Grove at that time, but even in the nineteen-seventies he was still working with the insights and assumptions that came from the earlier beatnik scene. He was not a full on acid head or hippie, he was formed by the beat traditions of junk and bebop. He adapted to countercultural changes but in the hippie era was an elder. When he was first in London, Grainger talked up the work of writers like Trocchi and Burroughs but didn’t know them personally then. He got close to Trocch, and heavily involved in his drug dealing scene, after meeting Trina in 1963.
Some of this can be confirmed by chasing up drug stories carried by the British press in the early sixties. Grainger suffered what looks like his first bust in the spring of 1962 which led to the headline ’5 Idle Chelsea Men Had Hemp’ in The Times of 24 April that year. This story describes Grainger as 22 years-old and unemployed. Busted alongside him were his flat-mates Robert Osbourne Morgan, John Beaumont, Charles Terrence Westwood and Selwyn Paul Eva. After he was informed that Grainger aspired to being a poet, the magistrate announced: “That is a nice job for the evenings and getting up in the morning to see the sun rise.” The beak was not impressed with the defendants ‘long hair’ and seems to have viewed them all as worse than work-shy, ranting after reading a report on Beaumont: “…your philosophy is that work has to be avoided at all costs. You have almost a religious faith in being able to exist without earning any money…” The court case apparently caused a sensation at the time, with Grainger and his friends being dubbed ‘the kids who couldn’t give a damn’ by the tabloid press (which was, of course, only too happy to pay them for their story).
There are reports of a second bust in the summer, which graced The Times under the headlines ‘Premises Dens of Iniquity’ (6 August 1962), ‘Indian Hemp Youth Gets Six Months’ (11 August 1962) and ‘Probation for Girl In Drug Case’ (18 August 1962). Subheadings to these stories included: ’11 Men and a Woman on Drug Charge’, ‘Syringes Found’ and ‘For a Bit of a Kick’. Most of those busted lived at the time in bedsits in Regents Park Road, including Grainger and Robert Osbourne Morgan. Like Morgan, John Beaumont who earlier in the year had been busted with Grainger in Chelsea, was up before the beak on a repeat offence; this time he’s listed as being of no fixed address. Grainger was sentenced to three months in jail. After this he apparently felt little inclination to compose poetry, telling acquaintances that he lived poetically and therefore thought it best if lesser talents were left to write it.
Fast forwarding into the 1970s, Grainger and Trina arrived at Michael X’s Trinidadian commune in November 1971 and left roughly one week after the murder of Gale Benson who died on 2 January 1972. It isn’t entirely clear whether or not Grainger and Trina knew about this homicide prior to the discovery of Benson’s decomposed body; among other things, there is an ambiguous passage on pages 93 to 94 of Charlie and Mike Phillips’ literary and photographic memoir Notting Hill In The Sixties that might be taken as intimating they did. Benson was the privileged daughter of a former British Tory MP, she dug the black power message and somehow got herself killed. Her death generated headlines and among the more lurid of them was ‘Two Loves Of Black Power Girl’ which graced the front page of The Sunday People on 27 February 1972. This article claimed Benson had been a heroin addict and was in love with both Hakim Jamal and Michael X. Benson provided exactly the type of horror story reactionary journalists loved, since despite a privileged upbringing and society wedding, she’d wound up dead after immersing herself in the hippie and black power scenes.
Most commentators ignored the claim made in the Sunday People that Benson was a heroin addict, and instead their credulity was revealed when they portrayed Grainger and Trina as naive hippies, or even a writer and his girlfriend, rather than a pimp and prostitute who had a perhaps undeserved reputation as ruthless junkie survivors. Indeed, early press coverage of the murder, such as ‘Trinidad Death Victim May Have Been Buried Alive’ in The Times of 29 February 1972, report local police as being concerned to discover the whereabouts of Grainger and Trina who are described as a missing English man and woman. Grainger is (mis)identified as Mr Granger, while Trina appears under her married name of Mrs Pashley.
Trina is said to have been a frequent companion of the murdered woman, and the inference in early press reports (before she’d been located back in London) is that the authorities were worried about her and Grainger’s safety and well-being, since they too might have been killed. While Trina in particular was apparently deeply shocked, shaken and upset by Benson’s murder, she and Grainger concealed their feelings in court, where they claimed to have seen nothing untoward during their stay at the commune. Of course, court statements along these lines are exactly what one would expect from such junkie survivors regardless of what they actually did or did not see; the trial was widely reported in the British press and it was imperative that their peers did not perceive them to be grasses, since this would have made their lives difficult and Grainger’s activities as a drug dealer untenable, thereby cutting off a major source of their income. Grainger and Trina’s perception of the commune when they were resident there may have been exactly as reported in court; on the other hand, Trina’s apparently hysterical outbursts to acquaintances upon their return to London might be taken to indicate this was not the case.
Denis Browne who knew Grainger and Trina in the early 1980s told me in 2002:
“Grainger’s favourite saying: “I’m a healer not a dealer.” I scored off Grainger for years up until my last bust in 1984. I’ve had no contact with him since then. Grainger and Trina feature quite a bit in a late seventies biography of Michael X. The main “message from Alex” they took to Trinidad was an once of smack. For the commune hospital, of course. Even among serious junkies G and T were regarded as a pretty ruthless pair of survivors. Grainger could be a total bastard, especially when he took speed, but was generally okay with me – I had a bit of extra cred, having been introduced by Alex Trocchi and found Grainger great company on a good day – a sharp, no bullshit kinda guy. Rare among long-term junkies. Trina was just like Fay from Cain’s Book (Trocchi’s autobiographical novel) – a totally ruthless junkie who’d “suck the last fix out of your arm” – she generated an endless series of hustles, scams, rip-offs and marathon psychodramas round at their place – a poky thirties council flat in Elephant and Castle when I knew them – which tended to spoil things.
“I didn’t know Grainger in the days when he roamed the Grove in a hooded purple cape, but I do remember him talking to me about your mother. What I can recall is that he was incredibly cut up about her death and seemed to feel a lot of guilt and self hate about what had happened – this would have been about 81/82 – a few years after her death. Grainger was a fair bit older than most of us who’d hang out round their place. I reckon he’d be in his mid-sixties now.
“Grainger was from Leeds and definitely had the hard-bitten Yorkie vibe about him. Wiry/wired kind of guy, small beaky nose and hooded eyes gave tortoise-like impression. He’d often seem somnolent in group situations but his mind would be blazing all the time. When the speed/Trina paranoias weren’t in full effect and if you could get him on his own, he could be great company. Alex Trocchi wouldn’t hear a word against him.
“The time when he rapped about your mum came about because I got frozen in round at his flat one particularly cold Xmas (81?82?) for about three days. Trina had gone back to her folks in Gateshead after a real spectacular: suitcase over the balcony when Grainger found she’d nicked a load of his private stash of diamorphine amps.
“In one account of his early days he said he’d trained or qualified as a pharmacist before the sixties kicked in During another long session he told me how he’d been part of a wild traveller gang who travelled around the North, vaguely connected with putting on funfairs etc., “I lived like a fucking animal” he recalled with no pride. Then he’d discovered first acid and then smack – in the days when GPs were able to prescribe class A’s and things were a bit of a free-for-all. A golden age of junk – when I got into smack a few years later – when the regime had changed from heroin maintenance to methadone reduction – we felt really pissed off and cheated that we’d missed out on the ‘good times’, I’m sure most of the Trocchi stories in circulation come from this time. It might help explain the vibe around in your mother’s time when some fairly hardcore drug use really wasn’t considered that outré
“If I had to try to liken Grainger to someone you’re familiar with I’d tentatively suggest John Lennon. Similar mix of contradiction maybe. I was reading something last night about Lennon’s drunken arsehole in LA period in the mid-seventies – and how generally given he was to drunken destructiveness – compared to the received image of the guy. Grainger had the same kind of caustic vibe as Lennon. “I’m a healer not a dealer” could almost be a Lennon lyric. Another favourite Grainger saying: when declining to give someone gear on tick – as experienced by yours truly – “No-one wants to pay for drugs they’ve already taken.” Hard but one of the truest things I’ve ever heard…”
I’m told by those that knew Grainger in the sixties that the Michael X episode changed him dramatically and very much for the worse. Likewise, the same sources tell me Grainger and Trina were only very loosely together for much of the seventies, and lived in separate pads for extended periods. In the very early seventies there was a sex scene going on with Grainger, two girls, one dark, one blonde, and a black guy. The fair girl may have been my mother Julia Callan-Thompson. Grainger and Trina only got back together on a full time basis after my mother’s death.
There are a number of stories in circulation about my mother’s death, and these vary from the claim that she was murdered by an obsessed john to the less sensational suggestion that she died from an accidental heroin overdose. Only the latter rumour need concern us here, since Grainger features prominently in it. The story runs as follows.
In the late-seventies my mother was having a down period. However, at the very end of her life she got a job in a clip joint. The manager had employed her before but was wary of her smack habit, so she’d had to convince him she was clean in order to get the job. Since it isn’t easy to land a hostess job at the age of 35, my mother really felt she was on the up again. She had just done cold turkey in the US, but once she was back in the UK with Grainger, she wanted hits to help her relax after she finished work. Grainger made these up from his personal stash, and although Julie was living with him as his common-law wife, he charged her for the gear. He told friends he exaggerated the size of the hits he was giving my mother, because lying to her about this kept her straight enough to do her clip joint job (it also meant Grainger had both more money and more junk).
On the night my mother died, Grainger had sold a lot of gear and used all that was left over himself. Therefore there wasn’t a shot for my mother when she got in from work. Desperate for a fix, my mother went and scored street heroin from Brian Barritt. She bought the equivalent of what she thought she’d been getting from Grainger, not knowing he’d exaggerated the size of the hits he’d been giving her. She shot up before going to bed. My mother woke Grainger in the night to tell him she couldn’t breath and needed help. He told her to go back to sleep, which is what he did. When Grainger woke up in the morning my mother was dead in bed beside him because she’d overdosed. Grainger proceeded to clean up the flat, removing all needles and other signs of drug use. When he called on his near neighbour Brian Barritt, he was visibly upset and in a panic. Grainger had broken up with Trina to get back together with my mother, and since he loved her, he was completely cut up by her death – for which he felt he was in some ways responsible.
Without some form of corroboration, it is impossible to know whether or not there is any truth to the story I’ve just related. Regardless, since Grainger may be able to throw some light on my mother’s death, I am keen to collect further information about him; and if he is still alive to speak to him. I can’t find any west London hipsters who have seen Grainger since 1986; five years ago I called several times at a flat in south London where I believed Grainger was living, but the man resident in the property wouldn’t answer the door and it is now occupied by someone else. Although my mother had many lovers, ultimately only two were really significant to her, Grainger was one and Bruno de Galzain the other. And to wrap up, while Brian Barritt can be contacted easily enough, he has to date refused to speak to me about my mother and her death. If you have anecdotes about Grainger and Trina, you can – of course – add them to this by leaving a comment.
Addendum: On 22 February 2010 I received an email from someone Grainger and Trina befriended during the post-Ladbroke Grove phase of their lives. It included the following: “Grainger died in February 2000. He had contracted Hepatitis C many years previously no doubt as a result of very liberal heroin use in the 60′s and 70′s. I think he was unaware that he had it until early 1999 when he fell seriously ill with cirrhosis of the liver. I went to his funeral in Elephant & Castle. Trina has moved to Newcastle upon Tyne and is living with her mother.”
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!