‘Mole Express’, an introduction & celebration

September 2021

Written for the launch of the Manchester Digital Music Archive’s online exhibition of back issues of the underground newspaper ‘Mole Express’ (September 2021).

The musical and spiritual home of the Manchester freak scene at the end of the 1960s, was the Magic Village, a venue founded by Roger Eagle who had formerly been instrumental in the success of the Twisted Wheel. He’d left the Wheel, impatient to move on musically, inspired by the likes of Captain Beefheart.

In a dark cellar on Cromford Court (now buried somewhere under the Arndale Centre), the Magic Village hosted emerging progressive bands including the Groundhogs, the Edgar Broughton Band (several times), and Van Der Graaf Generator (one of their first ever shows).

The opening night in March 1968 featured Jacko Ogg & the Head People (the band included CP Lee and Bruce Mitchell in the line-up). Across town at the Twisted Wheel, the scene that was evolving into Northern Soul was fuelled by amphetamines, but in the world Roger was now connected to the drugs of choice were hashish and LSD.

One of Roger Eagle’s most intriguing concepts was to invite to Mike Don to set up a stall selling underground newspapers in the Magic Village every Saturday night. Mike was a music fan, a friend of Roger’s, who had started street selling Manchester University’s alternative newspaper Guerilla on the steps of the Student Union.

In Britain in the last years of the 1960s and the beginning of the following decade, the pages of underground newspapers like International Times, Oz, Frendz, and Ink! reflected and shaped news of a newly emerging counter-culture of non-conformity, drug use, and – as ‘hippie’ turned into ‘yippie’ – oppositional politics. Anti-Vietnam War campaigns were a constant preoccupation, second only to information about drugs, their side-effects, and how to avoid getting busted.

According to Mike Don, the kind of people who would go to Roger’s club buy International Times, would have called themselves as “freaks”. We also discussed freaks who enjoyed underground music and were also politically engaged; this seemed to be Mike’s chosen sub-division; he identified himself alongside other “acid-head lefties”.

Mike’s involvement in the underground press moved up a level following a conversation with one of the Magic Village’s regular attendees, a young man called Chris Dixon who had started an underground paper called Universal; with the input of several other people – including Mike Don – this became Grass Eye. Mike didn’t last long on the editorial group but wrote for it on a fairly regular basis, including reporting on Anti-Apartheid protests when the South African team played in Manchester in November 1969.

At the end of 1969 Grass Eye folded, temporarily, because it was short of money. Over the next few months, a couple of people who’d been working on Grass Eye, Sue Lear and Steve Curry, began planning a new paper, called Moul Express. They contacted Mike and asked him to be a part of it.

The very first issue of Moul Express was published in May 1970. Running through the sixteen black and white pages is a list of who the paper was “Written by and for”. The list includes ACID-FREAKS AGITATORS ANARCHISTS ANGELS APPRENTICES ARTISTS ATHEISTS BLACK PANTHERS COMMUNARDS DEVIANTS DOSSERS DRUGTAKERS DROPOUTS FLATEARTHERS HIPPIES HOMOSEXUALS INDIANS MAD BOMBERS.

The name changed to Mole Express after six issues. The final Mole Express was published in 1977; fifty-seven issues in seven years. Coverage of race in the early phase included more on Anti-Apartheid, plus solidarity with the Black Panthers in America; later issues went to war against the National Front. Education was always a battleground. Housing was a major concern in the first few issues of Mole; and stayed close to the front of the agenda throughout its publishing history. In 1970 there was anger over the way the Council had denied the local community a meaningful voice when they delivered their “slum clearance” plans in areas including Moss Side and Hulme.

Early issues featured an article on Sun Ra and interviews and news from local bands including Greasy Bear (the line-up included CP Lee and Bruce Mitchell post-Jacko Ogg & the Head People), and, through its history, cartoons by the likes of Peter Kirkham, Bill Tidy, and Tony Husband. Issue 4 included a poem by John Cooper Clarke, possibly his first published work.

The content was eclectic, passionate. In 1974, in one of the first books to document the underground press in Britain, Mole was said to provide “an exceptional picture of alternative arguments in action in Manchester”.

The Magic Village closed at the beginning of 1970. During the Summer of 1970, Mole kept readers updated on the goings on at a venue in Manchester called Mr Smiths, where the team from Grass Eye had been running an event they called ‘Electric Circus’ every Sunday.

Mole also gave news of DJs around the city who played progressive music; less than a handful, basically. At Oceans 11, a venue that had previously been Birch Park Skating Palace, Tuesdays were recommended (they were hosted by DJ Chinese Pete). The paper also recommended Auntie’s Kitchen on Bow Lane, off Clarence Street. Adverts for weekend nights promised “Underground Sounds”, “Freak lights” and “Exotic dancers”.

The bigger, London-based, underground papers had an international outlook, but weren’t much interested in goings-on elsewhere in the country. Mole Express embraced the chance to be hyper-local; one report details how two men were arrested at the Plaza curry house on Upper Brook Street after police surveillance from the house opposite. The arrested men were both waiters from the café, identified in Moul as ‘Manny’ and ‘Basho’.

Manchester interests jostled alongside international issues. Moul issue 4 included a page devoted to explaining and celebrating the Weather Underground (a network of leftists which had declared war on President Nixon, the US Government and big business after state troopers had killed four unarmed Anti-Vietnam protesters at Kent State University in May 1970). The Weather Underground are the vanguard, Moul declared; “the spark that will create the situation that will lead to total revolution”.

Moul Express had a take on the General Election of June 18th 1970; explaining to readers that refusing to vote is the only course to take, called for ”active sabotage”, dropping cigarette butts into the ballot box, writing-in votes for Edgar Broughton. “There is only one way out. FUCK IT UP. At the very least spoil your ballot paper. Vote YIPPIE! Vote for the All-Night Party.”

After the Magic Village, Roger Eagle began to promote shows at a former boxing and wrestling stadium in Liverpool – Moul sent a reviewer to the first of these, which featured the Edgar Broughton Band, Kevin Ayres, and the 3rd Ear Band. Roger’s Stadium gigs frequently had advertising space in subsequent issues.

As with all magazine archives, the advertisements in Mole Express are as intriguing as the editorial content. Examples include the Black Sedan record shop on All Saints, Grass Roots Books (where Mike Don worked daytimes), gigs at UMIST and the University Union, On the 8th Day, and Gold Seal (a second-hand jewellery, clothes and record store near the Plaza).

As I describe in my small format book ‘All You Need is Dynamite: Acid, the Angry brigade, and the End of the Sixties’, political attitudes were hardening in many parts of the world, not just the USA. Revolutionary leftist terror groups were active in Germany and Italy by 1971.

In Britain, the Angry Brigade were responsible for dozens of bomb attacks on various properties (including banks, the homes of Tory Cabinet ministers, embassies, and army recruitment centres) . The mainstream media complied with instructions from the authorities to censor news of these incidents though, leaving the underground press to hint at what was happening. Mole Express seems to have very good sources among anarchist and leftist groups. On one occasion, the paper reported two violent actions carried out locally, including a petrol bomb attack on a police car on Northern Grove, close to Withington Hospital, and an attack on an electricity sub-station in Altrincham.

Mike Don recalls that at least two Angry Brigade members lived in Moss Side for a while prior to arrest in London which broke the back of the organisation; and that they contributed to Mole. This episode in Moss Side I investigate in my book at length. Most articles were anonymous, so it’s hard to confirm who authors were, although we know the music coverage contributors included Roger Eagle and Martin Hannett.

As Mike Don said in 2018; “Early Mole had been ferociously anarchist, even Situationist… but by 1975 the material was local and investigative”. Favoured issues included Town Hall corruption, further problems in education and housing, and a need for community action. “It’s about time we got together and made our city liveable in” one writer demanded.

After his time staging gigs at the Stadium, Roger Eagle, booked bands into the Liverpool club Eric’s, which became an inspiration and a catalyst for Liverpool’s glorious post-punk scene. He later took over the International on Anson Rd in Manchester; that same venue where Chinese Pete had wowed the progressive music fans in 1970.

Mole was influential on at least one of the prime movers behind the Manchester fanzine City Fun; Liz Naylor described it as “’the greatest magazine ever’.

Mike Don died in May 2021. This Manchester Digital Music Archive celebrates his work – it’s an incredible resource and a fascinating insight into the 1970s, in Manchester and beyond.


Dave Haslam ‘All You Need is Dynamite: Acid, the Angry Brigade, and the End of the Sixties’ is available to buy here.

The Manchester Digital Music Archive online exhibition of back issues of ‘Mole Express’ can be viewed here.