howard marks

Howard Marks, Middlesbrough Town Hall 11/11/10 (mr Nice But Average!!)


There is no question that Howard Marks has had a colourful life. The 64-year-old has been an Oxford student, a teacher, a drug dealer, a drug smuggler, a best-selling author, an award-winning newspaper columnist and a raconteur. The man who allegedly once controlled 10 per cent of the world’s hashish trade is now, by his own admission, ‘an established anti-establishment figure’, so much so that a film based on his 1996 autobiography Mr Nice is in production with Rhys Ifans in the lead role. The films promoters are sponsoring the tour. Early on in the set Howard plays us a clip as part of his contractual obligation.

Tonight’s spoken word show at Middlesbrough Town Hall begins haphazardly. First, Marks’ microphone isn’t working. Then, there’s no sound with the accompanying video (Marks has brought a compilation of news clips about his numerous arrests). When he gets started he tells the crowd that upon his arrival to the Boro he rang up an old mate who he knows with good gear to get him stoned. The crowd cheer “I’m completely wankered” he says. I bet you a fiver he says this every night of the week and gets the same reaction.

For someone who has gone straight, the Welshman certainly likes to revel in his past crimes. Marks boasts about the 43 aliases, the 89 phone lines and the 25 companies it took to run his drugs empire. He brags about his gangster connections. He speaks for 15 minutes about how he once grew enough grass to cover a Swiss mountain range. I must admit that when he showed us all the slide show of said mountain range even I was impressed! It was covered in green and I mean covered.The said slide show was accompanied by Elvis Presley singing Green, green grass of home! (Get it?) The audience love it, but for me I found it all a bit dwelling on past glories. We are in 2010, Mr Nice came out in 1996.

In probably the most interesting segment for the non-converted, Marks talks about how Elvis Presley and Bob Marley were both part Welsh (Elvis’s ancestral surname was ‘Presili’; Marley’s biological father hailed from Wrexham). It’s fascinating stuff, but it goes right over the heads of the assembled weed aficionados. They want more banter about dope, and they get it.

Marks wheels out stories about judging a reefer contest in Amsterdam (he got stoned in his hotel room for a week), selling skunk-filled aromatherapy pillows in Switzerland (where only physical consumption is illegal) and offloading cannabis oil with the THC taken out to the Body Shop (to be used in its hemp cosmetics line).

In the second half, Marks focuses mainly on the hypocrisy of the government in imposing a smoking ban whilst happily allowing other health hazards to continue, such as cars driving at dangerous speeds. He doesn’t consider that it might be possible to be against both smoking and speeding, and he isn’t likely to be challenged by anyone in this crowd.

At the end of his set, there follows a short question and answer session, which is pretty dire, mainly made so, by the clientele in the audience asking stupid questions like “should cannabis be legalised?” I mean come, on this is hardly the right question to ask Mr Nice! What sort of answer did you expect? When he does answer, saying “of course,” etc. The audience again clap and cheer. Another member of the audience asks him if he has any regrets and before Howard has had a chance to reply he starts clapping like a sea lion.

Marks is a compelling character, but the fact remains that he is most famous for smuggling hundreds of tons of drugs around the world, often in association with the Mafia and the IRA. It’s hard to accept that no one has ever come to any harm because of him.

To sum up, not a bad night out, he is interesting no two ways about it, but my advice would be first read his book and then rent out the film when it goes to DVD.

Mr Nice is on general release at cinemas from 8 October 2010.

By Andy on November 4, 2010

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