The history of the burgeoning counterculture in Britain often centres around London, with underground magazines and newspapers such as Oz, Frendz and the International Times being identified as the alternative press of the day. Although London was a countercultural epicentre, the existence of Grass Eye and Mole Express in Manchester illustrate the countercultural movement in the North. Mole Express was a left wing, grass roots publication founded in 1970 that followed on from Grass Eye which had folded due to financial difficulties. Originally entitled Moul Express, the publication had a shifting editorship and contributor base but Mike Don, the founder and editor, remained throughout the 57 issues until its dissolution in 1977. The left-wing community newspaper combined a hyper-local Manchester focus with a wide consideration of national and international issues such as The Angry Brigade Trials, solidarity with Black Panther in the U.S. and more. The publication contained local news, political opinion pieces, lists of numbers and addresses for community aid and a host of music related writing. Don describes how the early Moul Express had an anarchist, situationist orientation, with the ‘What’s On’ Page being entitled ‘The Spectacle’, obliquely referencing the theory of the Situationist International. Later the publication moved towards promoting local community action and support for broader left-wing causes.
Sold at the music venue Magic Village and alternative bookstore Grass Roots, this countercultural publication contained local news such as fights, articles about communes, poems by the then unknown John Cooper-Clarke, interviews with bands such as Sun-Ra, recipes for how to ameliorate the effects of tear gas, lists of suspected undercover police vehicles, advice for what to do in case of arrest, and the current prices for LSD. One recurring section in the early editions entitled ‘DOPE’, detailed recent drug busts and warnings for locations to avoid scoring due to risk of arrest or fines. Many of the pieces were anonymously contributed or submitted under pseudonyms, however Don recalled that Factory Records, Martin Hannett and several members of Angry Brigade were active contributors. Mole Express reveals the day-to-day ongoings of the early 70s counterculture in Manchester, the emerging music scene, the drug culture, and the political attitudes of left-wing alternative Manchester residents. Some editions appear with the tagline ‘Manchester’s Other Paper’ signifying Mole Express’ position as the countercultural publication of the region; however, Don describes how its influence is varied. With an impressively long print run for a countercultural publication, archived editions of Mole Express provide ‘a fractured – and rather grubby- window to the Manchester of 40-odd years ago’, however to many contemporaries it remained relatively unknown.
Digitally archived editions of Mole Express can be found online at the Manchester Digital Music Archive.