10,000 Psychedelic Trout
(The following interview is an updated version of a commissioned piece that I did for Stone Garden magazine in April 2012. At the time outstanding legal issues prevented its publication)
“I'm going to prison, definitely.”
Brian Jones is a looming silhouette blotting out the midday sun. Six foot seven and slightly-overweight, dressed in a black shirt that has recently come into contact with a very dusty surface. In the beer garden of The Plough and Bucket, in his home village of Elsing. he hunches over a picnic table, the brim of his straw hat partially eclipsing a half-drunk pint of Harold Antler ale.
“I'm pleading guilty. My brief reckons I'll get 18 months for contaminating the water supply. They've dropped the manslaughter charges. Even if they hadn't I'd have contested that. The old biddy who drowned had advanced dementia. She had a history of leaving her home and wandering off. There's absolutely no proof that anything I did played a role in her death. If the family are hoping to get some money out of me then good luck with that because I don't have any. Personally I think they're guilty about not keeping a closer eye on her. In their heads, if they're not to blame then somebody else has to be.”
He chews thoughtfully on a slice of pork pie, savouring the flavours.
“I've got a mate banged-up in Blundeston. He says the bacon inside is terrible.”
From the early 1970s up until 1987, Jones was the self-styled sonic high priest of the experimental drone collective Sophic Yoke (occasionally re-monikered Sophic Yolk – “Those were the albums that I recorded with Rupert Mota,” he explains).
“I saw myself as an Aleister Crowley figure. By the time I was 14 I was performing basic summoning rites. I could sometimes divine the near future. My parents were both killed in a car accident when I was 21. I dreamt that it would happen the week before, right down to the fine details.
“After I inherited their farm I sold all the cows to the dairy down the road and turned it into a sort of commune. There was an enormous barn on the property. I spent 8 months practically living in there, constructing a system of pipes and valves that would amplify ambient noise into a sustained drone that would reverberate across the countryside. Most people couldn't handle it for more than a few minutes – the sound would get inside their heads and give them hallucinations.
“The few people who could stand it became part of the Sophic Yoke Collective. We saw ourselves as neo-druids communing with the earth and the outer planets. We would take LSD and play shows that lasted for days. The longest I stayed awake was nine days in a row. Occasionally the police would turn up but they never stayed for very long; with the exception of one young sergeant who never went back – they thought we'd kidnapped him but he was a willing convert!
“The live shows were what we did best. The recorded album format didn't really work for us until Rupert started taking hours of tape and editing it into something that would fill 20 minutes on a side of vinyl.
“One of the benefits of having the same name as one of The Rolling Stones - even though by the time we got started he'd already been in the ground three years - was that people would turn up at the farm – some very beautiful women would turn up - expecting me to be him! It was completely natural to their way of thinking that he'd faked his own death in order to relive himself from the trappings of fame and fortune. I would say to them: 'Come inside. Why not come upstairs with me and we'll talk about it.' You know, free love. It's all good.
“Did I ever consider changing my name? Nah. I suppose I could have started spelling it as 'Bryan' with a 'Y' like that Ferry bloke in Roxy Music. I was credited on a couple albums as 'Brain' Jones. It caused me a bit of bother with the PPL. They thought we were different people and held on to his royalties. All seventy pounds of them.”
backwards7: “What made you want to move back into farming?”
“By the 1980s the farm wasn't really a going concern. We grew certain crops, if you know what I mean. There was a very large lake on the property. One night I was having a quiet smoke. I thought: 'It's time for me to engage in one of the cliches of landed rockstar-dom and start a trout farm.'
“You know in the 80s when suddenly there was trout on the menu at every restaurant in London? Well, that was down to me. I had a man who would drive around the capital collecting orders.
“Is it possible there was an element of coercion? Well, you've obviously done your research, you tell me. Dennis Tiller – that was his name - had ties with the Breckly firm in Soho but, scout's honour, all I did was fill the orders as they came in.”
backwards7: “The end of that decade saw a sharp decline in your fortunes. Didn't you go bankrupt?”
“People assumed, because of my lifestyle, that I was some kind of hippy burnout who had forsaken all ties with material possessions. The truth is that I had a large portfolio of stocks and shares. Probably around £2 million invested in total. I used to meet with my accountant every month for an update. Then October 19th, 1987 - Black Monday – rolled over the horizon. It's small potatoes compared to what happened with the banks a few years ago, but it wiped me out financially. I lost the whole lot. Everything.
“Anyway they were going to repossess the farm. I wasn't selling any trout at the time - my supply chain had broken down. I had been dosing them with small quantities of LSD. If you give a shoal of trout acid they go absolutely mental for about five minutes then they calm down and float upright at a 45 degree angle in a very strange way, almost like they're mediating. Watching them like that used to calm me down too.
“Well, one night I just thought 'fuck it.' I raised the sluice and sent 10,000 psychedelic trout up the river Wensum, decimating the local wildlife if you believe the tabloids. Somebody in The Daily Mail claims to have seen them attacking a family of swans. There was a ridiculous story in The Sun about them crawling up onto dry land.
“The thing that I didn't take into consideration is that animals hunt on the river. People fish in the river, so a lot of those trout got eaten. Some people did end up tripping without knowing why. If you walk along the banks of the Wensum, even now, you can still see all these weird murals that appeared out of nowhere in the weeks after I let the fish go. Mandalas on brick walls and old anti-aircraft bunkers from the Second World War painted by people who were clearly high as kites. They probably came up to Norfolk to paint the landscape and then quite literally ended-up painting the landscape!
"Around that time a senile old lady who had a history of seeing her dead husband's face reflected in bodies of water strayed into the river and drowned. And because of what happened after, that was somehow my fault.”
backwards7: “What happened after?”
“The environment agency tested some of the fish and found traces of LSD. The finger of suspicion briefly hovered over me but there was never any proof. Then a couple of years ago video footage was posted on YouTube of me dosing the trout and releasing them into the wild.
“I don't think I was grassed up. I think... The thing is I always had cameras going. After a while you forget they're filming you. When my stuff was auctioned off all of that footage was sold at auction. Eventually somebody must have sat down with a projector to see what it was.”
backwards7: “Do you have a plan for after you get out of prison?”
“The council have told me that I have to give up the flat when I go to prison, so when I come out I'll be back at square one. Except one of the advantages of seeing the world in 19 dimensions is that a square has far more potential and possibilities.
Sophic Yoke have a strong following in the US. There's a bloke out there who runs a record label who the bought the master tapes for some of my albums. He wants to re-release them on vinyl and maybe make some new ones from the unused material. There's still plenty of music people haven't heard.”
(Brian Jones died from a heart attack three months into a 14 month jail sentence.
During his incarceration he became a vegetarian.
A film starring Alex Siat is currently being made of his life)