Only Freaks in the Village
An extract from 'In Search of Smiles'
The following extract is taken from the biography In Search of Smiles: LSD, Operation Julie and Beyond by acid historian Andy Roberts. It describes Smiles getting back into the acid dealing game and settling in the Welsh village of Llanddewi Brefi. In Search of Smiles is out now and available here.
Sitting in The New Inn in Llanddewi Brefi one day in early 1974 Smiles was surprised to see Russ Spenceley, his old London acquaintance and LSD supplier, walk into the bar. Spenceley was in Llanddewi Brefi to visit Lance Cutler (who had gone with Smiles to Amsterdam in spring 1972 and had left the Hornsey Muncher with a further 1,000,000 microdots which were never paid for, losing Smiles his connection to the Microdot Gang). The two men were pleased to see one other again, Spenceley explaining he had recently bought a remote cottage in Maesycrugiau, 18 miles southwest of Llanddewi Brefi. This was a serendipitous meeting for Smiles, because he knew Spenceley was still involved with the Microdot Gang in London. Being careful not to let Lance overhear the conversation Smiles asked Spenceley, ‘any chance of getting back into the acid?’
Spenceley considered the request; the arrangement would certainly benefit him because the property he had bought was a ruin requiring costly renovations including a new roof. Selling LSD in quantity to Smiles, who he trusted implicitly, would provide Spenceley with another, much needed, income stream. Spenceley agreed, and Smiles ‘started to sell lots and lots of LSD.’
While Smiles had been out of the acid-dealing loop significant events had taken place within the Microdot Gang. Kemp and Todd had continued to argue, Todd wanting to pay Kemp less than previously per 1,000 microdots, but also wanting Kemp to consider further LSD production runs. Kemp refused the price reduction but agreed to make more LSD; if he retained control over the tabletting. Unable to resolve this fundamental clash of cash vs ideology, in the spring of 1973 Kemp and Todd parted company and did not meet again until remanded after the March 1977 arrests. Kemp was restless though and wanted to continue to make LSD on his own terms so in early 1974 he contacted Paul Arnabaldi and asked him to invest in this project. Arnabaldi agreed. Following a road trip through England and Wales in search of a suitable property in June 1974, they bought a large house at Plas Llysyn near Carno in mid-Wales in which to build an LSD laboratory, 50 miles or so northwest of Llanddewi Brefi.
The third Windsor Free Festival, held in Windsor Great Park was held on August Bank Holiday 1974. It was the largest British free festival to date. Over 10,000 people attended and the event was awash with LSD, distributed freely or cheaply. The authorities were horrified a large drug-fuelled event should once again be taking place in ‘the Queen’s back yard’ and on Bank Holiday Monday festival-goers were woken at dawn by hundreds of police who vigorously and brutally cleared the site, a presager of the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985.
The amount and availability of LSD at Windsor hadn’t gone unnoticed by the police and as Detective Inspector Dick Lee, newly appointed head of the Thames Valley Drug Squad, worked his way through reports from that and other festivals in 1974, he could see that demand for LSD was outstripping supply. He examined LSD seizures from festivals in previous years and found its use was increasing far beyond the numbers of LSD users believed to exist in Britain. To discuss this problem, Lee arranged a meeting with the recently established Central Drug Intelligence Unit (CDIU), whose brief was to collate information about illicit drug use and disseminate it to the Metropolitan and regional police forces. He left the meeting puzzled; the CDIU denied having any information about the increase in LSD use and distribution. This denial made no sense to Lee, who reasoned the growing demand for LSD and the increase in numbers of LSD seizures required a source of supply. He wondered if this source, an illicit LSD laboratory, was based in Britain.
It’s worth stating here, that if LSD was as harmful as the government and popular media wanted the public to believe, then why were people gobbling tens of thousands of doses every week and coming back for more? Why were people extolling its virtues, and why was there a growing subculture based around the drug and its effects? These are questions the authorities chose not to address, either with scientific study or reasoned argument. Rather, as the increasing police and state intervention in LSD culture (which culminated in Operation Julie) showed, the Establishment did not like what they saw . They began to take actions they hoped would dismantle the transient, hard to pin down lysergic subculture busy permeating all levels of society from royalty (as we will see) to the hardcore hippies trying to live out their dream society of Albion via the free festivals.
The initial consignment of acid from Spenceley was of a few thousand doses and the quality was excellent. The price was good too, and Smiles was able to easily sell them on at a fair profit. ‘When I first got back into dealing with Russ, I think they were costing me £150 per thousand and I was selling them for £160 a thousand. They suddenly shot up to £170 a thousand and I was doing them at £180. Then they went up to £190 a thousand and Russ said they are going to go up again, so I said ok, what I’m going to try and do is absorb any future price rises so I whacked the price up to £270 a thousand and they never went up again. Well, they did, to £200 a thousand. So in the final analysis I was buying for £200 a thousand and selling for £270.’ Smiles could often sell 100,000 microdots or more a week. ‘The LSD was coming from London, down to me in Wales, I was distributing it. It was mostly going back up to London and then throughout the world, apparently.’
At first, the LSD wasn’t handed over directly from Spenceley to Smiles. Spenceley would show Smiles a particular location and say the LSD would be buried, for instance, by the fourth tree in that location. The reasoning was that by doing the drops this way only one person at any time could be caught dropping off or picking up the packets of LSD. Smiles, not one for overcomplicating things, thought this was ‘fucking nonsense’ and told Spenceley it would be far easier if they just met in pubs. A simple telephone code was devised in which different pubs were allocated numbers so both parties knew where to meet and anyone overhearing the conversation would be no wiser as to what was going on. In retrospect though Smiles wished he’d had a more sophisticated code such as that used between Henry Todd and Leaf Fielding. When they were arranging meetings they would agree on a specific time but would carry out the transaction twenty-four hours earlier to confuse anyone listening in. It wouldn’t be long before someone was!
The profits Smiles was making from LSD gradually increased to the point where he had more money than he knew what to do with. Mary [his partner] too acknowledges they had lots of money coming in but, ‘I never felt like I was rich. I still carried on an ordinary life, looking for the cheapest beans and that sort of thing. We did have some nice things but we didn’t live a flash life or anything like that. I mean we didn’t even have a car.’ Money, despite what the police and courts believed, was not the primary reason for Smiles dealing acid; it was for the sheer pleasure of turning people on, and for the psychedelic party lifestyle it facilitated.
Smiles didn’t come from a social, educational or professional background which equipped him with the desire or skills to invest money wisely for the future. For Smiles money was just something which oiled the machinery of having fun. Indeed, he refers to the money he was making at that time as ‘fun coupons’. Any surplus, over and above the amount needed for day-to-day living and the pursuit of fun, allowed Smiles to generously support his friends in the local village community. ‘Some weeks I was making £7,000, a lot of money in those days and of course I didn’t know what to do with it. I really didn’t and I spunked most of it just going out and having fun, buying drinks for everybody in the village. We would frequent local hostelries and I’d buy drinks for everybody all night. It was a great boost to the local economy!’
Smiles wasn’t trying to buy friends or favours, though that may have been a by-product of his largesse; rather it was just his way of sharing what he had and by doing so making less well-off people happy. He was keenly aware that work in rural mid-Wales was scarce and poorly paid, often temporary or seasonal, and many poor and elderly lived hand-to-mouth on welfare benefits. With his profits Smiles was able to commit, ‘various small acts of kindness where you saw a need. We knew people who were struggling so we’d leave money through the letter box. We knew an alcoholic, we’d leave a bottle of whiskey on his doorstep, various behaviours like that.’
While the villagers in Llanddewi Brefi unquestioningly benefitted, some people wondered where all the money was coming from. Smiles was such a larger-than-life charismatic character that people were beginning to mythologise his daily actions and it’s easy to understand why. To the police and the local Welsh community hippies were usually dirt poor and scruffy yet here was a prosperous and generous one. The police believed they knew where Smiles’ income came from, but the Llanddewi Brefi villagers were mystified. Large-scale LSD dealing was outside their area of experience so they had to invent a story which fitted Smiles’ character, wealth, and generosity. Long after he’d left the village, and to his great amusement, Smiles discovered that before the police raid many Llanddewi Brefi villagers believed he was either a bank robber or a pornographer!
Idle speculation aside, the locals didn’t really care where Smiles’ money came from. As far as they were concerned he and Mary were firmly embedded in village life and contributed generously to the local economy. More importantly they were liked by almost everyone in the area. Since the 1536 Act of Union, use of the Welsh language was banned, and it was not introduced in Welsh schools until the mid-20th century. It was still the main language spoken in and around Llanddewi Brefi, and Welsh culture was strong, but work was hard to come by and young people were leaving for the cities to seek work, education, or just for the cultural opportunities offered by large conurbations. So there was already an element of anti-Establishment, specifically anti-English Establishment, feeling in the area. But once Smiles had proved by word and deed that he genuinely wanted to be part of the community and to contribute to it financially and socially, the locals really didn’t care about the source of his money. In retrospect though it all made sense to them.
Recalling Smiles and Mary’s time in Llanddewi Brefi one woman, a teenager in the mid-1970s, mused, ‘we were quite naïve really. I suppose, looking back, it should have stood out: a guy with an English accent, velvet jacket and bell bottom trousers with a name like ‘Smiles’. They didn’t hide themselves either. Smiles would often be in the pub, lighting his cigarettes in the pub with £20 notes.’ She, like many of the others, also remembered Smiles’ constant unconditional generosity, ‘one time he got talking to a man from the village who told him he didn’t have a TV. Then next day he went and bought him one.’
Acceptance by the village meant that Mary’s daughter Becky, now five years old, had no problem fitting in at the local school. Smiles and Mary had been trying for some time to have a child of their own, and in early 1974 their efforts bore fruit and Mary fell pregnant, which made them incredibly happy. It’s hard to convey the depth of joy and pleasure Smiles and Mary felt when living in Llanddewi Brefi, having seriously intense psychedelic and hash-fuelled fun as often as they and their friends wanted, raising a child and bringing a new life into their rural sanctuary.
In Search of Smiles: LSD, Operation Julie and Beyond is out now.