Saturday, 24 October 2015

Psychedelic Britannia, Hippy Dreams and Prole Reality

Psychedelic Britannia was on the box last night, featuring lots of youths out of their boxes on LSD, naturally. I laughed loads but loudest when a gang of Mods were asked what they thought of The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream event at Alexandra Palace in '67.
Journalist: "Did you come here to enjoy yourself this evening?"
Mod: "Yeah an' I 'aven't."
Journalist: "What did you expect?"
Mod: "Summat better than this."

Priceless. So the divide between the 'Summer of Love' which supposedly (techni)coloured everyone's lives and the reality is clearly demonstrated. Mods, once the only real act in town, the sharpest, most forward-looking movement, are rendered obsolete, suited and booted into the history book of youth culture. As Roy Wood of The Move said, "I don't think it (psychedelia) meant a great deal to the people of Birmingham". Read Birmingham as any town outside London, or most working class people as having a Birmingham state of mind and you wouldn't be far wrong.

Not wishing to impose too strong a class divide on the scene, it's clear that many musical front runners were not proles; The Beatles being one notable exception. Mod and its ethos of clean living, looking good and the dosh required to maintain it demanded that The System was adhered to as in having a job; the better paid, the better you would look. 

The Hippy look didn't require much effort, other than the psychological shift to openly display your disgust with The System by sporting beads, long hair etc. In the socio-political sense, Hippies were right, or wrong, depending on your attitude towards industrial society. The hard-nosed 'realism' of Mod? Or the anti-establishment dream of Hippy? Were Hippy ideals anathema to the working classes because they saw things as they really were and had no illusions about changing them? Or did they lack conviction, reading material and drugs that would tip the balance from mere survival/acceptance to active change and dropping out?

Lurking in the wings in '67 were soon-to-be Skinheads, emerging a year later like shock troops sent by The Man to stomp on the Hippy dream. Perhaps The Man and his system did inadvertently create the brutalised bootboy. Whatever the reason for their existence, they were a 'bad trip', a psychotic reaction to the mantra of peace and love. 

Hippy was over by the time I became a teenager. Being working class, we were 'tripping' on Bowie's lyrics whilst dancing to Glam bootboy heroes Slade and the sound of Black America just like the Mods before us. Those too young to have been original Hippies were into Genesis (formed at Charterhouse School - every education tells a story) and Yes. Poor souls, they missed the boat by a generation but probably still dropped out for a while with nothing but Tales from Topographic Oceans as consolation. Still, their music was serious and deep, unlike ours. Their soundtrack would be hailed in Rock history as important and progressive, but we had Stevie Wonder's Innervisions. Perhaps Bowie and Roxy Music provided common ground but I rarely got to speak to middle-class kids. We were fenced off from them, literally, the Royal Latin school being next door to our Secondary; the 'clever' kids on one side, us 'failures' on the other. 

My history would dictate that despite a wide-ranging taste throughout the 70s I couldn't handle 'psychedelic' music. British youth culture wasn't that old (barely 20) and we only knew forward movement through the changing scenes. I did like a lot of (heavy) Rock, perhaps because it mirrored my basic intellect. I didn't realise, of course, that by embracing a Led Zeppelin riff which channelled the blues I was forging a connection with the downtrodden proletariat of American history. Or, I could say that I did know because I feel the need to justify being so captivated by a Jimmy Page riff. 

By the time Punk happened it was too late to start embracing early Pink Floyd even if I'd wanted to; they were banned. Flowers weren't worn in your hair, they grew in dustbins and we were those flowers. But with every genre now available at the click of a mouse it's easy to reassess and discover. Consequently, it took me almost 40 years to find out I could enjoy Pink Floyd. Yes, even after Punk was long gone and pre-internet I still resisted. Today I'll happily attend The Grand Vizier's Garden Party before setting the controls for the heart of the sun. 

Psychedelic Britain still means nothing to me regarding most of the music but I did enjoy the documentary. Through my love of William Burroughs I respect his biographer Barry Miles and can relate to the Hippy disgust with much of The System. Don't tell anyone, but perhaps I'm a closet Hippy after all...

My favourite 'psychedelic' records...

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