Thursday, 14 June 2007

What a Nice time

Howard Marks aka Mr Nice aka Senor Nice made an entrance in The Roadhouse in Manchester on Monday night, shuffling onto stage, a suspisciouly sweet-smelling rollie in his mouth, looking like Ronnie Wood, only older and more craggy.

There's no doubt Marks' colourful life is a great read, his life from small town Wales to princely Oxford undergrad, via acid and connections with the secret service, doing massive dope deals into this country made him a cult figure.

His articulate rhetoric makes him a captivating speaker - he had us, 150 normally apathetic, slouched-shouldered stoners eating out of his hand, his voice grand and slow, glasses perched on his nose, unleashing a passionate, deep Valley accent, which rose to a gravelly bark and fell to a gentle lilting whisper.

The premise for this one-off show - an cunning move which The Roadhouse should be applauded for - was to talk about the impending smoking ban, which comes into place on July 1st this year (a date in many friends' diaries, currently puffing their way through 20 Royals in the local boozer). The ever charming Mr Nice gallantly admitted that "I'd never even fuckin' thought about it till the management asked me to speak yurr".

He delivered a hastily assembled but erudite lecture on the history of tobacco, tongue firmly in cheek throughout. By the end of this half-hour monologue, full of myth, dope stories, inventive and poetic language, we'd come to expect nothing less than brilliance from Mr Marks, philosophy scholar and raconteur extraordinare.

In 1550 Jean Michel Nicot made a grave error, Marks revealed, in choosing to import nicotiana tabacum - the most common form called tobacco - back to Paris, shipping tons of seeds and leaves from Portugal and the Americas.

There is a more potent genus of the plant, which contains twenty times as much nictotine in its leaves. If Nicot had travelled south, to Argentina, he would have discovered nicotiana rustica, a variety of the plant which is closer in its effects to LSD than its distant cousin.

Rustica is still a ritual drug employed by shamens in southern Argentina, used to commune with the spirits through smoking huge pipes or cigars. The plant is also used in medicine, prescribed for tiredness and hunger supression, making it an ideal companion for farmers tilling the slopes or walking the huge distances to markets.

It can also be used as an enema, and the smoke is often exhaled over patients to aid recovery.

The ethnogenic banter continued: Marks swiftly moved on to his own experiences, moving from lecture to stand-up monologue.

The real meat of the performance came here, as we learned that when the biggest dope dealer in British history left his maximum security prison, his first, mad thought was to do another job: "It'd be the biggest surprise in the fuckin' world! They'd never expect it."

So he inspected opportunities and found a wonderful loophole in Swiss law; it wasn't illegal to grow cannabis, only to consume it. Cue a montage of fields, no, forests of lush green weed, growing legally on Swiss soil, thousands upon thousands of plants, some up to 8 feet high.

"I bought an alp, basically. Then another......Every little alps. Ha ha."

I'd never seen anything quite like it. The gear was shifted in an audacious fashion, sold as a sleeping aide through a internet company. Kilos of cannabis were stuffed into pillowcases and sold for around £5,000 (allegedly). A good market price, I feel. The company also made money selling cannabis oil to Anita Roddick's Bodyshop:

"They asked us for five litres of cannabis oil with the THC removed. I don't know if you know this but you have to grow a ton of weed for a litre of oil. So we just grew five tons. I can't quite remember what happened to the leftover THC....."

Whatever the event, Marks' name was in none of the company accounts when the case eventually and unsurpisingly came to court.

When the floor opened to questions, the floodgates opened. Here's a selection of the best:

What's your favourite drug other than cannabis, and is there a drug that you haven't tried?

I like coke and E, I'm not much into acid, but some of my kids take that on a fuckin ecstacy comedown. Christ. Err......hang on, let me see.......well I'm careful about ketamine. That's shafted me royally a couple of times. Other than that, there's probably thousands of variations of American prescription drugs that haven't been passed my way. I've had DMT 4 or 5 times. I prefer it to acid, it's a natural substance, you know, we produce it when we dream. I think that it's very important. It can be, in the right circumstances, the interface between life and death.

Drugs are supposed to affect your brain in terrible ways. How do you think they've affected yours?

Positively; wonderfully. The very fact that we have receptors in the brain for these drugs to latch on to, suggests that they're part of our evolutionary make-up: people were meant to take drugs, and have been doing in almost every human society since their conception.

What will your next book be about?

It's a travel book, mainly. It'll be called Tripping, if some of you clever lot get my double meaning. Well, I can't carry on about getting of my tits until I'm 80, can I? It's funny, my legitimate front for a lot of dope deals was a travel agent, so I'll be coming full circle in a lot of ways. I'd love to write about Jamaica, that's the best destination on earth: Rastas, rum and reggae.

Do you ever get the munchies?

Of course I get the fuckin munchies. My favourite are Sugar Puffs. They're fuckin great. My wife always makes puts breakfast out for our kiddies for school. I come down at 4 in the morning and bosh the lot.

Who's your favourite drinking/smoking partner?

Well, Shane McGowan has to be up there. He's the only man I've ever seen being carried into a pub. Fully sparked out, straight up to the bar. That shows real dedication, you know?

Howard Marks. Legend and inspiration. We salute you.

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