Black Sun Light Circus (London)



Vince Dunn (Dec'd)
Wil Coleman

Hi Pooterland,

You ask me some questions. Well, my memory ain’t what it was – it was all a very long time ago – but prompted by your request I got in touch with an old friend from those times for more information – and it all comes, as they say, flooding back.

All far, far, too much to note down.

But I’ll do my best, keeping it brief.

I got into doing Light Shows in late 1968 I reckon. The ‘how’ bit is more complicated.

I’d (perhaps foolishly) dropped out of college in 1967 and through a friend, Tom Bennison at college (we studied town planning) met Ken Harrison who has gone on to play a big part in my life.

Tom played drums, and there was a whole bunch of talented musical folk there back then, some of whom have had successful careers in music.

Anyway, Ken was in the business of setting up a band, Tom on drums (as folk musicians, around 1964 I think, Ken and Paul Simon together performed gigs in folk clubs around London).

Ken knew Vince Dunn (another huge back story there!) who was a kind of wild genius trapped in the everyday business of a tediously workaday world.

He’d worked as an engineer at Rank Zerox (then quite cutting-edge) and was a whizz at all things both electrical and mechanical – making stuff, repairing stuff. In the 60s he was involved in the music scene, working with bands and inventing and making effects pedals and the like (all pretty new stuff back then).

Plus proto Light Show kit like portable battery-operated strobe lights.

So I met Vince through Ken, and me, being a bit ‘arty’, seemed to him to be the right person to team up with in order to fulfil his dream of creating a Light Show.

He was a bit older than me and really took me under his wing. He and his wife, Pat (they had two young children, too) marvellously had me live in the front room of their little terrace house in North London (partly dismantled motor bike[s] out the front – another Vince ‘thing’).

Music was the thing that drew us together – that and the drugs. Important to both of us back then. (Not now, not for many a year, I better say!)

Music was what shaped our approach to the Light Show because we had nothing much to go on apart from that.

The kit we used had to be transportable in Vince’s car to wherever there was a venue that would have us – two converted Kodak slide projectors (plus I seem to remember a couple of spares), inks, oil (wish I could remember what kind) and acetone.

Heat the whole thing up (Vince had removed the cooling fans from the projectors – they got fantastically hot) – project it onto some suitable surface, and lo and behold you’ve got yourself the beginnings of a Light Show.

Along the way we played around with coloured acetate filters among other things, and Vince was always very proactive in what I think of as ‘hand flapping’ in front of the projectors to get another strobe-like effect (one often not much liked by musicians it had to be said).

Oh, the name – Black Sun Light Circus. Now it sounds very ‘unacceptable’ in that the Black Sun bit seems to have all sorts of black magic-y, even nazi-ish associations. But we were innocent of all that and we just loved the slightly spooky-ish, druggy look of the name.

I can’t remember where we did our first gigs – probably the London pubs where bands – the thing then being so-called blues bands – did their stuff of nights.

This brings me to another important person in this story. Count Simon de la Bédoyère, aka Simon Stable.

I won’t say a lot about Simon Stable here (you’ll find plenty online), and I don’t know how Vince got to know him, but for sure, Simon was crucial in getting us into places we might not otherwise have got.

He and his ‘Stable Diet’ – a huge stock of LPs – many of them imported – you could call him a ‘disk jockey’ I suppose, though that does really fit his ‘counter-culture’ persona very well.

Another terrific character – kind and decent too – sadly, like Vince and many others, no longer with us.

Through Simon (I guess) Black Sun got regular gigs (weekly or more I can’t be sure) at The Temple club, in Wardour Street, London, from some point in 1969.

I can’t remember the names of any band in particular, but a brief trawl on Google will bring up plenty of names.

(Sorry, but I’m running out of steam at this point.)

There was also (again with Simon Stable) the 1970 Isle of Wight festival (I seemed to think we were also there in 1971 but am more likely mistaken).

Black Sun Light Circus plus Simon Stable Diet were to be found in the Tent City, should you have gone looking for them back then.

And there was at least one gig (without Simon this time) at London’s Round House, though for the life of me I can’t remember anything more than that about them.

There was also a gig, early 70s, also without Simon, we did for a sex magazine (a misnomer – though I can’t remember what it was called – because aiming to be more a liberatory mag for middle class swingers) near Cambridge, which was fun as you might imagine. And again, venues in pubs with often obscure bands.

Another highlight was The Assassination Weapon, a kind of theatre piece based around a J D Ballard short story, at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1969.

I won’t go into detail here, for it is all there on the ICA website.

One thing to note: I’ve found a lot – even most – of the material online for this whole period, is deeply unreliable,

I guess due in part to the unreliability of the memories of oldies like me. The info about IOW festival is only patchily reliable (they get the name of our lightshow wrong), and that on the ICA website is in many ways deeply confused.

The Temple website is a bit better, but not wholly to be trusted. But hey ho, it was all a long time ago and I am far from convinced that my memory is anything to be trusted.

It all rather petered out in 1972 as people’s lives changed and everyone got to move on to other things – being footloose and fancy-free ceased to interest us.

A couple of other things:

  1. A trawl through your fantastic website serves to correct a memory of mine: I'd said we used Kodak slide projectors, but now when I look at your tech section, I'm sure they were Aldis projectors, easily convertible to Light Show use (replace nice slides of Mum and Dad with fillings of nasty messy ink etc between sandwiches of 35mm glass and add heat!)

  2. Vince and I were joined on occasions (at The Temple, in the main) by another young man (like me, probably 22/23 yrs) whose name and identity have completely escaped me.

    But he had a rather wonderful 'machine' that slotted into a projector. I'm not sure how it worked, but it had sort of layers of coloured glass that were rotated by hand and gave all kinds of nice moire etc. effects.

    It's one downside was that, being of two or three layers of coloured (and textured??) glass, it cut out a lot of light from the projector so the images were always rather dim and likely to get lost amidst everything else going on.
    A shame, because it was really quite special.

If ever he reads this, my heartfelt apologies for forgetting him - and looking back I wish I'd made more effort to know him better.

There's a whole lot more, but I risk ending up Ancient Mariner-like speaking to a whole lot of people who won't know what they hell I'm going on about -

Kindest regards
Wil Coleman - November 17th 2022

Black Sun Light Circus (London)

November 1969

Black Sun Light Circus (London)