THE UNICORN BOOKSHOP

Bristow's links to Brighton's Unicorn Bookshop.

  

Bill Butler set up the Unicorn Bookshop and press in Brighton around 1965. By 1974 Butler decided to concentrate on publishing and the Unicorn moved to Wales until Bill's death in 1977.

Butler said about himself: "I am a bibliomaniac, I liked to read books, steal books, write them, sell them, publish them." 

A draft of the Unicorn catalogue made by Roy Pennington is getting up to about 100 books and posters. The first book under the Unicorn imprint was 'Flight of Quetzalcoatl' translated by Jerome Rothenberg. More  followed, including works by Jeff Nuttall and the famous marijuana cookbook "Leaves of Grass". The Unicorn was also known for the 'Survival Scrapbook' series.

Butler struggled with the values of alternative culture and is quoted (probably taken from Attila, the mimeo paper of the shop)  in "The Underground and Alternative Press in Britain" (John Spiers, 1974) as talking about community shops....

"They are a select few who were able, through having money to buy shops and spend the rest of their lives living off other people, under the mask of providing an 'alternative service'. Just what kind of service is that? Why does macrobiotic food cost twice the price of the synthetic garbage sold in supermarkets? Is it an alternative.....Can bookshops claim to be 'alternatives'? The books don't cost any less, the same percentage of profit goes to the manufacturers, which doesn't change anything.

Nobody has ever touched the problems of finding different ways of working in this town....There are no alternative means of earning enough to live on, or finding different means of shelter.

The only time something valuable appears, something which lasts, it always seems to be run by people who aren't heads.....If people wish to go on and perpetuate the myth of the 'community', they at least should provide the fabled alternatives: practical methods of finding direct acess to shelter, clothing and food without relying on the death culture. It might be more honest, if they don't wish to involve themselves except by idle talk, for them to admit that 'community' is nothing but a collection of elitist cliques. You might as well realise that if you don't do anything about saving the culture / society / planet we live in or on no-one else will. To dream of 'community' is real is far easier though, so don't expect anything to change.

The community should admit it is a central part of the Death Culture - that it merely plays slightly different games to the society it talks about replacing. Admit that at the present level of activity the very word community does not help, except to stoned dreams and coffee-table, rush-mat gossip. ARE YOU A PSYCHIC LEACH?"


I think I probably am a psychic leach. But, Butler summed up a few things qiute neatly: How he was interested in a really alternative lifestyle and hence the Survival Scrapbook series. The move to Wales to create a commune was also the next logical step. These desires to go to the next level of independence were widespread amongst the counter-culture and influenced many. 

The Unicorn was busted in 1968 and an obscenity trial threatened to bring the shop to its knees. It was because of this that Bristow's created the Cyclops magazine. It  was the Unicorn Appeal issue and profits would be sent to help with the court case. 

Bill Butler contributes to Cyclops as does Richard Cupidi and Peter Riley.

Peter Riley was happy to get a copy of his poem and wrote: "I'm glad you wrote to me about this because "Kinder 1957" is, or was, a "lost" poem. Until I received your email I had no copy of it here and no record of its publication - and now I have both!" He goes on to say that the poem was written in Hove in 1968. He says "the Unicorn in Brighton ws a regular refuge, and I was at most of the trial."

Mr Cupidi was kind enough to write on receiving copies of his poems : "A surprise visit from that dreamtelling we call our past. After Unicorn I went on to found the Public House Bookshop which had connections with most of the independent / alternative bookshops including Bristow's." 

So, an initial connection was established beteen the two bookshops via the obscenity trial. But the other Norwich connection is Jeff Nuttall,  his Journals (1968) and Love Poems (1969) were published by the Unicorn. The Journals are quite Norvician and can be explored on the Nuttall pages. Man Not Man was also published by Unicorn but that was much later in 1975.

Interestingly, Marc Bolan is included and his Tolkeinesque poem predates the collection 'The Warlock of Love'.

Jeff Nuttall contributed to so many of the small press publications and his network was international. His influence in Norwich was profound and Tim Sillence was an acolyte of Jeff's. Tim appeared to try and get published by the Unicorn as a description in the Bristol based small magazine Imprint says: "TIM SILLENCE lives in Norwich, holds readings with Jeff Nuttall and has a collage novel with Diz Willis and Nuttall appearing shortly - '8.15 murders' also his own book TOMBOLA WORD CHART (Unicorn books) out soon". 

Whether this book was published is doubtful but there is something about the Tombola in another publication. But that's another story told on the Sillence pages...

It was Tim who said in 1970 when he was interviewed for the Norwich based Evening News: "I was in Brighton looking around and I found the Unicorn bookshop and I thought it would be a good idea to open a book shop like that in Norwich selling small magazines and out of the ordinary things in the arts". 

The Cyclops magazine ran for four issues and the Brighton connection was kept with John Upton sending a drawing. 


Brighton poets were also published in the Norch magazines. The success of the Cyclops magazines were built upon with two Cyclops events. An artice about the first event from the university magazine Mandate says it will be at the UEA barn and "either Bill Butler or Richard Cupidi from Brighton may come if they are not appearing elsewhere".

The second Cyclops event had John Upton & the Brighton Head and Freak Show advertised.

Although the connections between Brighton's Unicorn Bookshop and Norwich's Bristow's were limited, they were important. It appears that they were one way (ie: from Brighton to Norwich) but there may be more undiscovered stuff in the Unicorn's Attila magazine and squirrelled away in archives. See my blog post for more on that!