Interview: Ibiza 1960 – Author Damien Enright Talks

 

We’ve all heard tales about “the good old days” in Ibiza, “before it got all commercial” blah blah blah. Not many of them stretch back beyond the infamous 1987 lads’ holiday that saw Oakenfold, Holloway and Rampling dance the night away in Amnesia to the eclectic sounds of DJ Alfredo, fuelled by some unbelievable gear. If you’re lucky, you may know that a few years before then, Wham! filmed their video for Club Tropicana at Pike’s in Ibiza, and maybe also you’d have heard about Freddie Mercury’s birthday party at Pike’s (the dwarves, the bowls of cocaine etc. etc.)

But how many people know that Ibiza was a hub for expats to indulge in music, sex and drugs as far back as the late 50s?

Damien Enright certainly does, because he was there – well, from 1960 anyway. His book, Dope In The Age Of Innocence serves as a great history lesson about the very beginnings of the world-famous party scene we know today, as well as telling the absurd tale of the drug-smuggling operation that made him Spain’s most wanted man. On Saturday he is taking part in a Q & A with Balearic legend Phil Mison (event info here), but I caught up with him beforehand to chat a bit more about Ibiza then and now, how taking acid defined the rest of his life, and just what it was really like to be a hippy before the term actually existed… 

 

When you arrived in Ibiza, was it how you imagined it would be?

It was actually beyond the scope of one’s imagination apart from, perhaps inklings that one had gained in reading Pirates On The Spanish Main or something like that as a child. There were children’s books like The Blue Lagoon where people were cast away on desert islands, but it was beyond the realms really.  I’d never been anywhere like that before. It was entirely unique in that, yes of course you could find Spanish fishing villages on small islands where people led laid-back lives, but in this case, the input of all of these very interesting, imaginative and hedonistic foreigners changed everything. 

It was like sort of the Casablanca of the mind! It was a totally unique situation where you had a very passive population who didn’t object to the foreigners doing pretty well whatever they wanted to do, and although there were numerous police on the island, they didn’t really interfere with the foreigners either [because Ibiza was politically opposed to the oppressive dictatorship of General Franco, the island was impoverished enough and tolerant enough to allow for a foreign bohemian community to flourish]. It wasn’t just the pretty Spanish fishing village where you could buy wine for next to nothing… you also had these crazies around, and that’s what really made it exclusive – and that’s what I did not expect.

 

So you hadn’t heard any vibes in London that bohemian folk were hanging out there?

No, not one, and this is the crazy thing! This is an important question – a very good question – I’m not sure I’ve been asked it before…. people at the time did not know about Ibiza, definitely not in London. There was a small quantity in New York who did because they would come on the $110 Yugoslav freighter from New York to Tenerife and they would wander up to Barcelona and then to Ibiza.

The reason that they probably showed up in Barcelona was because there was a jazz club there called The Jamboree which was run by a couple of mad, bad and dangerous-to-know Americans; and it was they who ‘began’ Ibiza…. it was Jack Hand and Peggy and Philly and so on who came over from Barcelona occasionally to get away from people who were after them to shoot them or at least extract the money that they owed! They would flea to Ibiza and Ibiza started with that very tiny group of people and so it was more Americans than Europeans who were the first small colony. 

Originally hailing from Ireland, Damien had settled in England with his first wife (“I lived in six or seven small towns in Ireland….. what there was to talk about in terms of interest in a small Irish town in the 1950s would bore you to tears”). 

He became a prep school teacher in London, teaching children of the great and the good. He and his wife then went travelling to Germany and while hitch-hiking were involved in a bad road accident. In the hospital when his wife was recovering, it transpired that she was pregnant with twins. They returned to England and pitched up in Slough; Damien resumed his teaching but his wife fell in to a deep depression soon after the twins were born. Damien decided to take action. He sat in Slough library and looked at a map and selected a few islands he might like to live, then went to the Spanish embassy where they recommended he went to Majorca. He pitched up there with his family, but soon they were bored with the “pressed shorts, bridge-playing expats” on the island, so when someone local recommended they try Ibiza, they got on the boat. 

He picks up the story:

I had been told there were foreigners there but I had been amazed to find the kind of foreigners…. there wasn’t a single person with pressed shorts.  There were all kinds of bohemian loony school; drank like crazy, argued like crazy and generally led a music and jazz kind of life. Jazz was pouring out of the only amplifier in the place which was the Domino Bar. The whole cult if you went to anybody’s house it was jazz jazz jazz… that of course added to the headiness of the scene.

Although you left from Slough, you were near London and you’d lived in London before…. London is a place of quite broad horizons – plenty of creative scenes anyway – so it was less about a search for creativity: you were after something more exotic basically?

Yeah – I wanted to travel. I use this line in the beginning of one of my books from the great Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’… "to follow knowledge like a sinking star beyond the utmost bounds of human thought". That particular poem is the most inspiring poem for a young man wanting to travel and to lead an exciting life. So I was a nomad – I had been brought up as a nomad.

The people you met in Ibiza… did you assume that because you shared their interests and their take on life that they were therefore fair, honest and generally ‘better’ human beings than back home?

I was just in sort of awe. I was pretty much the youngest apart from Chris, the guy who ended up saving my bacon when I was on the run, but everybody else was older. A lot of them were hardened; some of them were from New York; they were Jewish, they were cynical, they were funny, they were intelligent, but they were not sentimental beings. They enjoyed drinking, screwing, getting out of their heads and shouting and swearing at one another.  

There was a guy called Steve Seeley who had written a book… he was on the cover of TIME magazine. There was Clifford Irving who wrote the book Fake about Elmyr de Hory, the incredibly famous forger whose artworks are all over the world in the best galleries and they still don’t know which are his and which aren’t! There were ex-sailors; guys who’d washed in from the G.I. Bill who’d just stayed on and hung on somehow. There were bank robbers, guys on the run, artists, writers…

So was Elmyr De Hory on the island then?

Yes he was – he wasn’t there from when I first came in 1960 but he was certainly there in ’63, ’64, ’65… of course I departed in ’65!!

Ha ha, yes, we’ll get to that. So you’ve got all of these people you’re in awe of in Ibiza… why did you leave and go to Formentera?

I broke up with my wife and that absolutely broke my heart because I was only a kid, but then I got with my second wife and we’d still hang out in the Domino Bar… it was a wild and wonderful place… but somebody gave us some extremely good acid… and I only had really an inkling of what acid was. I had read Huxley’s Doors Of Perception. I knew it was a psychedelic and I knew it would take us to places we hadn’t been before.  

So we went out to our place just outside of Ibiza Town, 'Hanna' [the name he uses in the book for his second wife] put on some fine food, we waited very carefully; we made very sure that our daughter was comfortably asleep and that there was no danger – no people would come to the house – and we popped the acid and had the most unbelievably beautiful trip that we could possibly have had. I’ve always been very fortunate. I’ve only taken acid about ten times in my life but they were always glorious trips.  

So we had this wonderful trip and it was extremely spiritually orientated and Hanna was very spiritually orientated and I have always been a bit that way, and we just looked at one another and said: “What do we want in this place? We’re getting pissed every night, it’s not lifting us anywhere. Let’s go and do something completely new.”  

It was like sort of a vision that came to both of us like telepathy that this was a life we wanted to lead – a different kind of life. So we set off to Formentera with £12 in our pockets. We found a farmhouse, half of which was in ruins. Of course there was no electricity in Formentera; there was no running water, no toilets, you had a well outside the house… a beautiful domed, white well. It was out in the middle of nowhere… Formentera only had one road at the time and that was a dirt road.  

We found that there was about another half dozen houses on the island occupied by foreigners and they became friends and we lived there and we took acid another couple of times with them, and again they were beautiful experiences. So we were convinced in our original concept that it was possible to sort of live in a state of euphoria almost; not to come down.  However, we ran out of money! Then we had to go back to England and earn some more money. 

With his new-found friends ‘Rick’ and ‘Carlo’ (not their real names), Damien went back to London to earn some money from a traveller’s cheque scam, where they bought traveller’s cheques, pretended they had been stolen in order to receive a refund, but then cashed the originals in another bank. They all earned enough money to return to the Balearics and sustain themselves for a bit longer…

So your opinion on acid… you mention in the book you had a debate with your man Chris where he says “acid is a vacation, not a transformation” and at the time you disagreed with him. What’s your opinion now?

My opinion now is that acid in certain fortunate cases is a positive transformation and in unfortunate cases is a negative transformation and in some cases it doesn’t do anything either way. I was fortunate in that I believed myself that acid for me was a positive transformation. But I think you had to already have that inclination. I was interested in getting out of society and getting out of all this crap, and looking for ‘the truth’ as youths look for the truth. When I was 16, 17 years old, I was trying to read Jen-Paul Satre, or whoever I could come across that could take me in to another space. Acid reinforced what I already felt.  

Did you feel when living your simple and spiritual life in Formentera that you were stealing a march on the rest of society?

Yes, we definitely felt that we were leading the right life and that it was good for our child. This was all done with a very underlying morality. This is the funny thing about this: we could go up and we could scam traveller’s cheques but if somebody dropped their purse on the street we’d run up and give it back to them. We didn’t feel we were thieves and we didn’t feel we were criminals. Of course we were – we were ripping off American Express – but we felt American Express was so rich and we were anti-American and we were anti-establishment etc. We felt we were leading moral lives. We were not involved in materialism. We did not want to buy fast cars or fancy clothes – we just wanted to live. 

When Damien’s money ran out for a second time, he decided to take a road trip to Turkey to pick up some hash to distribute among his circle in Ibiza/Formentera in order to keep the dream alive. His book documents in great detail the chaos of the trip which ultimately ended in him miraculously escaping from what was the biggest drugs bust in Spanish history at the time; and then having to be smuggled back to Formentera on a boat where he lived in hiding for months, waiting for an elaborate escape plan to come to fruition. His partner in crime, Carlo, was apprehended at the border and immediately jailed.

Damien returned to Formentera to find that his wife had cheated on him in his absence and that the man who he thought was his best friend – given the false name of ‘Rick’ in the book – had formed an alliance with ‘Marvin’, the man who was cheating with his wife. Not only was he ostracised by the group; they went out of their way to question his own values by using cliched philosophy. This, combined with lying low for multiple weeks smoking hash, sent his mind into manic paranoia.  

The real genius of the book, in my opinion, is not so much the ‘Mr Nice’ element of Damien being an unlikely hippy drug lord, but it is the magnificent detail of one man’s mental implosion – literally locked away in a darkened room, shutters down, in hiding, constantly torturing himself with what he saw as the unjust and immoral behaviour of those close to him; which all brought in to question whether he’d actually found ‘the truth’ after all…

You say you found your “truth” after the acid; so when things went wrong for you – when you found that your friends had turned against you and you’d found that bringing back a load of hash from Turkey for everybody to share was not the best idea after all, did you feel that the dream was over? – that your original truth was flawed? Or did you simply feel that it was individuals within that truth that had let you down?

You’re spot on with the second conclusion there. These people were flaky. They were doing this California Dreaming thing like “hey man, let’s get out there, let’s read Ouspensky”. There was a crowd of bullshit artists, as Americans can be. Do you remember there’s a scene in that book where Hanna and I are taking acid?…

Yeah – those Americans burst in and do all of this dancing and chanting.

Exactly. I was always suspicious of those kinds of people… 90% of them Americans. All of this stuff about “hey man – we love you” etc. But I was very very surprised that Stan – that’s Rick in the book – and Nicole – turned. Nicole had an excuse that she was confused because her man was in jail, but Rick got in to opium and laziness.

Although you don’t say this explicitly, what I kept taking from the book was that I felt so much of what you described as ‘reality’ was in fact viewed through a particular lens, and that throughout the ‘60s your perspective was constantly changing. So your original judgement of these people who let you down – like Rick – where you assumed he was this profoundly trustworthy fella… this was formed through rose-tinted specs because you were ‘feeling the love’ at the time you first met him, albeit in not the same cliched way as the California Dreamers you mention. So although it’s clear he did let you down and turned on you, wasn’t a big part of the hurt because your judgement was actually false in the first place? He was on a pedestal.

Yes, that’s right. [In the beginning] Rick could be a really heartfelt and sincere guy… I really felt he was a great friend. But he was flaky. Even when we were doing the scams in London, although he was quite ballsy in some ways, you had to tell him exactly what to do like a child. But I guess Carlo would never have done that. He was more about zen. But that was a moral flaw in Rick, rather than a bullshit factor which it was with a lot of the Californians.  

There was a lot of hierarchy. There’s a friend of mine, a writer, called Peter Nichols who I actually taught and got him in to writing years ago… Peter was saying to me that I had, somewhere or other, caught “the dope hierarchy.” There was a lot of game playing amongst the more experienced dopesters or the people who belonged to a certain club, and they were generally Americans. They played games, they really did. You could find yourself extremely excluded from this inner circle of ‘hip hip’.

They were super hip. They got themselves in to positions where they could stand on their heads and that would be hip. There was that hierarchy going on and that sort of nastiness. People were particularly susceptible to this when they were high, and of course there was paranoia when people were high. Young girls would become acolytes of some asshole guru because you had to do this to be hip.

I’m glad you’ve said that because the other great lesson that people can take from the book was just how, whatever framework of society you live in, human beings are human beings. Despite the fact your set thought that they were hippies – although that wasn’t actually a term then – but let’s describe it as ‘they felt they were living this moral and worthy alternative lifestyle,’ and yet the same hierarchies and unfairness can occur as in conventional society. At what point did this really strike you; that not all was sweetness and light in this community?

I retained a healthy scepticism to a lot of this stuff at the time. I used to have slight disagreements with Hanna about this… she was gullible, always looking for something [to believe]. That’s why she fell in to the clutches of Marvin.  

This adoption of facile mantras was really not acceptable to me… I was suspicious always of God wallopers, doctriner people, people who preached philosophies. There’s a great line from the Baader-Meinhof gang, somebody said “we read all the books but only understood half of them” or something to that effect….. and then on that philosophy they acted. And again, this was all that stuff with Ouspensky, Huxley, Timothy Leary and all the rest… people read a bit and then started coming out and preaching a whole load of bullshit and then were actually admonishing other people by the raise of an eyebrow or by the tick of a lip that they were not acting correctly.

I guess that’s the general habit of the human race throughout time – to use history or eminent texts to reinforce whatever agenda they have in the present day. 

Yes yes, indeed. I was looking for the truth – I didn’t want the bullshit.  

Would you say there was more infidelity in that community at the time than in the real world?

Oh man… [he guffaws with laughter]… to a factor of a hundred!

So how did you reconcile that? You’re living this moral life – this alternative framework to the world you left behind – but everyone’s shagging about and wrecking each other’s relationships.

At the time I can’t say I was a faithful husband! I mean, first of all I was Irish! My brother and myself always felt that this meant that there were opportunities not to be missed. I mean nowadays I notice that all of my own sons are very very straight with their wives, and back then that would have been inconceivable.

You went back to Ibiza in recent years, but given you are still a wanted man, how did you do that?

I printed my passport in Irish!

I thought he was having me on. But in fact he successfully got a new passport in gaelic, and off he went…

So obviously, Ibiza has changed a lot since your day. In my research for this piece I googled “Domino Bar Ibiza” and the first thing that came up was an article by Irma Kirtz entitled “Ibiza: Paradise Lost”. So……  Ibiza: Paradise Lost… discuss!

Irma’s actually a very good friend of mine… she’s written some good stuff. I think; yes, paradise lost in a sense but Ibiza Town has been done up and is a very nice place, and it may be paradise for people who like that kind of style. The old idea of paradise where you could play the guitar in the middle of the main square and nobody would notice – that dusty old Ibiza – is mostly gone, but what replaced it I guess is a different kind of paradise.  

The tourist towns are absolutely different. I have this scene in the book where I’m sitting on the beach in Playa Den Bossa and there’s a jaunting car [a two-wheel carriage pulled by a single horse] passing by….. that beach stretched for miles with nothing on it. Now you can barely see the beach!  

But it’s not really a question of paradise lost, it’s more 'paradise of that kind' lost. And paradise regained too.… people get out there and listen to good music in Ibiza Town and it’s a very stylish town……… San Antonio’s another matter!

The bay still has some charm, but uptown from there, San Antonio is basically Blackpool with better weather… but I’m glad you’ve added some balance to the ‘paradise’ discussion. I felt that article was a bit too cynical. There are very garish elements to the modern-day Ibiza, but I get sick of people telling me “oh it’s not what it was in ’88” and then my own friends telling me “ah, it’s not the same as it was when we started going [2004]”…… I mean… every era has its claim. It’s a bit rich for people to say that in the era that they liked it, things should have just stood still for every year afterwards.  

I can gladly report that even in amongst the KFCs and the Pizza Huts and these daft luxury yachts moored up in the harbour, there is still some amateurish disorder. There’s a quite well-known DJ who evaded drugs charges on the island many moons ago who still has to be smuggled in on a speedboat during the night so he can play his gigs! I think your generation can still see some of the original spirit if they look hard enough.

Oh I’m sure.  There’s a couple of old mates of mine on the island… they were using kerotine… is that what it is?

That’ll be ketamine!

That’s it. And also I remember when I visited a few years ago I nearly doubled up laughing…… here were all of these old farts in a garage…. some doctor used to bring over once a month from Majorca this tank that looked like an oxygen tank…….. all these geriatric old shaggers sitting on chairs getting out of their heads on whatever that was!  Oh it’s still there!


 

Interview by Mike Boorman (follow him on twitter)

Damien will be speaking to Phil Mison about the tales in the book plus, no doubt, his numerous other travels around the world and scrapes with the authorities (the time between 1960 and 1965 that we touched on is nowhere near the half of it!).

Event page