Rock Music was the life-blood of the sixties, the glue that held us together, a unifying force. It was not merely a soundtrack to be enjoyed, an entertainment or sounds to be appreciated; it was a philosophy to be discussed, a tribal anthem to identify with, a bold statement of uniqueness and difference.
As a generation it was a line in the sand between us and the older generation. They hated it and all it stood for (hedonism, fun, excitement, sex, wildness) and we loved it. It was ours. We were creating something the world had never seen before, at least not since the days of the dandy apprentices of Shakespearian times – a youth culture that separated us from the drabness and routine of the older generation. They were so boring and staid they might as well have been dead. But we were alive.
We had our clothes, our language, our style, our drugs, our philosophy – and it wasn’t at all concerned with earning money, securing a career, becoming qualified, buying a house, marrying and starting a family – it was about getting a girl, impressing your mates and having a lot of fun.
There were different clans – Mods/Rockers, Beatles/Stones, Chart/Obscure, R&B/Rock, Blues/Pop, Authentic/Plastic.
The excitement of it. I can remember rushing out to the record shop to buy the latest single by the Stones, Beatles, Pretty Things, Who, Yardbirds or Downliners Sect; putting it on the old dansette with the arm up and playing it a dozen times or replay until I’d absorbed every chord, note and word. Then flipping it over and doing the same with the B-side.
I’d scour shops and Radio Luxembourg for more obscure offering that I really loved – Like the Others, Paramounts, Measles or Bo Street Runner.
At school we would endlessly argue about the new releases and their merit, what would go up the chart and what wouldn’t. We’d parade our precious Blues albums, appreciated by a small cognoscenti, and arrogantly regard the Pop Chart fans with disdain. For us the jewels were the brilliant sounds that didn’t make the charts. That made them all the more precious. They were ours. Blues was authentic where Pop was plastic.
There were arguments about the Stones and Beatles that nearly came to blows.
As the sixties progressed so did the music. It became more experimental, varied and complex. It moved into a more adult orientated style. With Dylan’s poetry leading the way the words became more important. With the burgeoning underground the attitude became divisive. The commercial charts moved more from Pop singles to the more sophisticated albums.
It seems incredible to me that Revolver is fifty years old. How did that happen? I bought mine on the day of release and can still remember rushing home to put it on. I was sweating with excitement. I must have played it non-stop for days. There was so much to take in. Rubber Soul had been a sea-change but this was a revolution. Every track a gem and tracks like Tomorrow Never Knows so extraordinary that they blew my mind. It had everything. There was a hard edge to it, but light, bright songs too. The range was extraordinary. No other band had the ability to produce genius on such a diverse scale. From the electronic experiment of Tomorrow Never Knows to the haunting beauty of Here, There and Everywhere, the hard Rock guitar of Taxman to the foolery of Yellow Submarine. Then Good Day Sunshine, Eleanor Rigby with those strings.
The Beatles were experiments with instruments, arrangements, sounds and techniques in a way that had not been done before. They had taken on Brian Wilson’s production and taken it from Beachboy Pop to something else. It was the start. They were going to develop it even further. In many ways it was the coming of age for Rock Music.
It was fifty years ago today – the Beatles taught the world to play.
It is a bit different to the way music is consumed today.
I saw Ronnie featured on the One Show yesterday and it took me back.
Ronnie is releasing a book of his diaries from the beginning. He started off in a Beat Group called the Birds before moving on to the Faces and then the Stones.
It took me back to a small club in the town of Walton on Thames called the Walton Palais. It was where I saw my first two live bands – The Birds and the following week Them (With Van Morrison). It was the start of a life-time of gigging.
That first gig was the most magical night I can recall. The Birds were a revelation. The atmosphere was incredible and I was transported. I had never felt such excitement. I witnessed a knife-fight, sex on the stairs and one of the most pulsating evenings ever. It certainly whetted my appetite.
I wish I could say that recall seeing Ronnie but I don’t. What I recall was a bunch of thin, skinny guys up on stage with great Mod hairstyles, Cuban heeled Chelsea boots and suits who were producing the greatest sound I had ever heard. This was British Beat at its best. The chunky guitar riffs, the thumping beat and somebody was even flicking the lights on and off in time to create a rudimentary light show.
I was spellbound and smitten.
I was fourteen. They were great. I’ll never forget.
I wrote about all this and more in my book – ‘In Search of Captain Beefheart’ – It is the story of my life with Rock Music – a memoir of a search for that excitement!
Thanks Ronnie. I’ll buy that book. It might have an entry for that wondrous night.
Out in hippie-ville we had Hendrix, Cream, Doors, Country Joe & the Fish, Captain Beefheart, Love, Buffalo Springfield, Traffic and Edgar Broughton to keep us going. There were all-night gigs and free festivals. It was buzzing. The venues were cheap and packed and the vibe was positive.
There was ‘2001 a Space Odyssey’ and ‘Easy Rider’ at the cinema. We went to the Electric Cinema and saw Eisenstein’s ‘Battleship Potemkin’ and a number of French movies. Liz was in to culture and introduced me to a wide range of literature and films. She took me off to see ‘Ulysses’ and I thought I was going to watch some Greek epic! That’s how uncultured I was. But I was open to anything and my mind was a sponge.
In my free time I’d browse round the 2nd hand record stores, flicking through the stacks of albums looking for West Coast Acid, British Psychedelic or Blues, Chicago Blues, Country Blues or old Folkways albums with the cardboard sleeves. You’d strike up conversations with fellow freaks concerning bands, artists and must-haves. I still do it occasionally but the vibe is not the same, the albums are no longer a £1 and everything is either overpriced or crap. Even the car boot sales and charity shops fail to throw up anything interesting – or perhaps that’s because I have so much it’s hard to plug the gaps?
When I was at college I shared digs in London with my friend Pete, an English Literature student called Tony and a Dutch student called Hans.
We once received a letter addressed to Opher, Hands, Toe, Knee and Feet.
Hans was in the room next to us with a snore like a buzz-saw. We could see the thin partition wall vibrate.
Hans only ate sandwiches. There were two that he had mastered. Hans would cut cheese into thick wedges and place the wedges on bread. He would then either put an inch of tomato sauce on top or an inch of sugar, apply the top slice of bread and eat it with great satisfaction squirting tomato or spilling sugar everywhere. Cheese and sugar? I was never tempted to try it.
Hans had extremely slow reflexes. He would shake the ketchup bottle vigorously before applying it to the sandwich. On one occasion the top came off and Hans applied a line of tomato sauce up the wall, over the ceiling, down the opposite wall and back again.
That double streak of ketchup remained right through our tenure.
I often wonder what happened to Hans.
Was 1967 the best year ever for Rock Music?
I think it might be.
This was the year when the British Underground and American West Coast took off with Acid Rock and Psychedelia taking Rock into a new dimension! This was the year where there was an explosion of new bands and a great expansion in music styles, depth, lyrics and complexity. 1967 was when it all began – Rock grew up!
Look at the albums that came out in 1967. A lot of them were the first albums of major new bands, new sounds, now genres and experimentation.
Roy Harper – Come out Fighting Ghenghis Smith
Doors – The Doors/Strange Days
Velvet Underground – Velvet Underground
Canned Heat – Canned Heat
Jimi Hendrix – Are you Experienced/Axis Bold as Love
Cream – Cream/Disraeli Gears
Buffalo Springfield – Buffalo Springfield/Again
Country Joe and the Fish – Electric Music for the Mind and Body/ I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die
Byrds – Younger than Yesterday/Notorious Byrd Brothers
Beatles – Sgt Peppers/Magical Mystery Tour
Big Brother & the Holding Company – Big Brother & the Holding Company
Pink Floyd – Piper at the Gate of Dawn
Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac
Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow/After Bathing at Baxters
Love – Forever Changes/Da Capo
Mothers of Invention – Absolutely Free/We’re Only in it for the Money
Eric Burdon – Winds of Change
John Mayall – A Hard Road
Rolling Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Request
Captain Beefheart – Safe as Milk/Strictly Personal
Yardbirds – Little Games
Phil Ochs – Pleasures of the Harbour
Leonard Cohen – Songs of
Albert King – Born under a Bad Sign
Traffic – Dear Mr Fantasy
Incredible String Band – 500 Spirits of the layers of the Onion
Nice – Thoughts of Emmerlist Davjack
Grateful Dead – Grateful Dead
That gives you a flavour – What other year could boast such a range of great albums? With all those brilliant debuts?
The Sixties Underground Rock venues – The Toby Jug
Back in the sixties when Rock music was king of the culture and all possibility prevailed there were a plethora of clubs in London and its surrounds.
I lived in London and had access to it all. London was the place to be. It was where everything was happening. There were so many venues catering for the full spectrum of music and so many bands. Every night of the week was a quagmire of decisions. We were utterly spoilt for choice. Each week I would get the NME or Time Out along with my copy of IT and peruse the gig list. It was overwhelming. I usually went to around three gigs a week and two of those were Harper gigs. But Roy played with a lot of other people and I managed to meet a number of brilliant bands through Roy Harper concerts. He certainly did not confine himself to the ‘folk’ circuit. Roy described himself as a one man Rock ‘n’ Roll band and that’s how he treated it. Not only did he perform with the likes of Ralph McTell, John Renbourn, Ron Geesin, John Martyn and Al Stewart but he also appeared alongside bands such as Free, the Bonzos, Nice and Pentangle. Just by following Roy I picked up on a lot of the best of what was around.
Those were heady days for heads, freaks and denizens of the alternative world. You would meet up with old and new friends. These were the days when you could tell a friend by the length of his hair and the clothes he wore. This was the new society. You would cross a road to say hi to complete strangers and indulge in debate about music and social events. They were the days of quiet revolution.
One of my favourite venues was the Toby Jug at Tolsworth. It was a big old pub with a large room at the back. That was the scene of a weekly Blues club. The term blues was used very loosely. They had bands as diverse as Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin and Captain Beefheart.
My favourites were always Fleetwood Mac. That band always rocked. I thought the brilliant rhythm section created by McVee and Fleetwood really allowed Pete Green and Jeremy Spencer to let rip. They were two or three bands in one.
Liz liked to dance and so we used to find space at the back and give it some energetic prancing.
What was good about the Toby Jug was that you had the room to dance but could also get near to the stage to watch the performance. For 25p you were able to see Ian Anderson play flute while standing like a stork on one leg, or watch Jimmy Page churn out those riffs. That was the place I saw Beefheart and Led Zep, up close and personal, and all for a mere 25p. None of this stadium stuff with binoculars. You could stand at the front and be a couple of feet away from Jimmy Page or Pete Green and watch their fingers as they teased the strings. You could mingle without the need of backstage passes. They weren’t so much ‘stars’ as revered exponents of ‘our’ music, fully fledged members of the new society. You felt as if we were all in some new ethos together.
We had some high old times.
The Toby Jug was one of my special 1960s haunts. Fond memories.
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Fifteen and hitching around France with Foss – the planning and execution
It was 1964. Every day was bathed in the bright sunshine of possibility. There were no clouds in the sky and none on the horizon. I could do anything.
Foss was a fellow rugby player. He was a year older than me and was leaving school that year. I was fourteen and was up for adventure. We planned an adventure. It was meticulously worked out. It went like this:
We would hitch-hike down to the coast.
We would board a boat bound for France.
We would hitch-hike around France for the summer.
We would hitch-hike back, board a boat, hitch back home and reminisce.
What could possibly go wrong?
Our meticulous planning paid off. My parents were convinced that it was watertight. Foss, who was coming up sixteen, was so mature he would look after me. They were satisfied.
In hindsight it was probably more that they didn’t think we’d ever get it together. But we did.
The reality hit home. The ferries unreasonably demanded money for the fare. We were unable to hitch a ride on a boat. Then there was the small matter of food and shelter. We would no longer have access to the fridge and my bed.
It was OK. We could work it out. I had a sleeping bag and a rucksack. Foss had a tent. Admittedly it didn’t actually have a front to it but it would keep the rain off.
All we needed was a bit of cash. Neither of us was a musician so busking was out of the question. We set about delivering leaflets. That was fun. We ran down roads leaping over fences and hedges and stuffing leaflets through letterboxes. Apartment blocks were best. You could stuff a whole series of boxes with leaflets.
By the end of the first day we could see that we were not going to make a lot of money at this. No matter how fast you ran, stuffed, leapt and deposited we could not possibly deliver sufficient leaflets to make enough money. Not only that but we were knackered.
We came up with a solution. We would deliver to every other door and put three through each of the letterboxes. We’d miss out the odd street or two and dump half of the leaflets in the bin. That seemed to work.
We did this for three months and had amassed some cash. My parents were obviously impressed with my tenacity and subsidised my efforts.
We were all set.
I packed my big rucksack with essentials – a few changes of clothes, a toothbrush and the Rolling Stones first album and latest single. The Stones had just released it and I splashed some of my money on purchasing it. It could mean that we starved but at least we’d have good music while we starved (even if we had no means of playing it). When the sleeping bag was tied on the top the rucksack was nearly as big as me. Foss’s was even bigger. He had the tent.
We waved goodbye and set off cheerfully down the road. This was long before mobile phones. We would be out of contact for nearly two months. It was OK. We had a map, some rudimentary French, a bit of cash and a booklet about Youth Hostels in France. We were heading for the far south.
The sun was shining. Everything was good in the world.
I felt like Bilbo Baggins.
Wedding Number Two
I enjoyed Wedding Number One. It was all up in the air and interesting. Nobody quite knew what was going to happen next.
Wedding Number Two was scheduled for the next week in the morning. We were going to make the whole thing legal, bring all the family into harmonious rapport, bring world peace and solve the Vietnam War. We decided to only invited parents and brothers and sisters to this one.
Liz’s father rang up the night before and begged her to call it off. Liz’s Mum boycotted this one as well. We were off to a good start – I still had hopes for Vietnam.
As Wedding Number Three – The Pagan ceremony – was in the afternoon we brought all the food in the back of the car. Liz had diced Cheese and butter, which was in plastic bowls, and cut French Sticks into slices. They adorned the back seat.
Unfortunately the car wouldn’t go. We were pushing it up and down the road in our wedding gear. Some guy offered to fix it for a fiver so we paid him – and he did.
We set off very late and hurtled round the North Circular – at that time unbeset by Speed Cameras. I was desperate to make up time as we were three weddings late.
We got cut up by some idiot and I had to slam on the brakes. We got deluged with cheese and butter and were picking lumps out of our hair. I think nerves were a little fraught and we found ourselves having our first (but not last) blazing row. I should not have jammed the brakes on!
We arrived only two weddings late.
Liz’s Dad was looking rather pleased. He thought we weren’t coming.
But we’d missed our slot.
Fortunately an old girlfriend of mine helped us out. She was getting married in th3e next slot and had forgotten to pick up the banns. We slotted in to her space.
It was rather a sober affair. We went in with just our family (minus Liz’s Mum) and said our words, signed the certificate and went out.
My Mum tried to add a wedding atmosphere by giving my little sister a little silver horseshoe to give to us. She may even have thrown a little bit of confetti.
Wedding Two was done and dusted!