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Remembering the 60's & really being there
on 7 March 2007
I've long thought the statement, 'If you remember the 60's you couldn't been there', to be a nonsense.
As a weekend hippy who got high on very good music, cheap Canadian Clubs and ginger (and no stronger chemicals), I remember the times pretty well. This meant having the ability to slip into the action at weekends and then do a day job to pay for the records, the gigs..... and then through the drag of the working week, eventually slip into next weekend's action. It was improved most Wednesday evenings by making the trip to Tolworth's Toby Jug off the A3, to see the likes of Timebox (soon to become Patto, and with Ollie Hassell doing a Keith Moon destruction job on his vibraphone), Fleetwood Mac (a half crown for this, and 'Albatross' had just left the No. 1 singles spot), King Crimson (first UK tour - but this was a terrible venue for the band), Led Zeppelin (1st tour and the audience only warming to them in the second hour of playing), Edgar Broughton Band (audience only just in double figures, but still a great show), a classic line-up with Jeff Beck (Nicky Hopkins, Ron Wood, Tony Newman and Rod Stewart), or the Groundhogs backing John Lee Hooker. Then get rather disillusioned about the hippy ethos at the end of Traffic's Oz Benefit concert at Central Middlesex Poly one summer's evening, when I discovered I'd been sit on the floor (of that canteen, which Traffic welcome us to), immediately in front of Oz-man-in-chief Richard Neville. I stood up and accidently trod on his cloak; he mouthed f*** off' retrieving a portable cassette recorder concealed there, on which it seemed he was making a bootleg recording - of a band who were doing him a huge favour.
This is not the first book to describe this period of radical musical change and social "revolution". Several books have been written by some of the protagonists of the London hippy scene of the mid/late 60's - e.g. Richard Neville (him again) now wealthy back in Oz, Mick Farren describing The Social Deviants (and Pink Fairies) and International Times, 'Lost In the Woods' a biography of Syd Barrett and the rise of Pink Floyd, 'Out-Bloody-Rageous' the Soft Machine biography. Now here Anglo-American record producer Joe Boyd, has come up with a most readable gem of an autobiography, concentrating largely on the period 1964 to 1971. The book's title 'White Bicycles'refers to the white bicycles frequently seen then in the Netherlands, (which were for anybody to use - echoing the intended freedom to 'share each other's goods, plough each other's earth', and the related hippy ethos), and of course the hit by one of the first bands he managed, Tomorrow.
Boyd relates how he fell into the music business, discovering a long forgotten blues singer was happy to do a gig at a Harvard Uni student hall for 25 dollars as long as he got a ride to the show. Boyd had a whip round taking a dollar each from everybody who attended, and so was able to give the musician a 75 dollars bonus. Then the summer jobs working for record labels. Or acting as goffer at the Newport Jazz & Folk Festival in 1965, when he claims rock came about i.e. when Dylan brought his electric folk band on stage with Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper in that line-up, so shocking the folk purists, such as Pete Seeger, that they walked out of the Festival. Then road managing elderly blues singers around Europe. The love affair with the UK after Boyd talked himself into a scouting job for talent with Elektra Records, for example claiming how close he was to grabbing Floyd for the label. Seaprately discovering Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention, and then getting Denny into the band. Being stunned by Nick Drake's demos and then being more stunned that nobody bought Nick Drake's records when first released - although when John Cale asked Boyd who was new, on hearing a work-in-progress tapes for '5 Leaves Left', Cale went straight round to Drake's digs, sorted out a couple of tunes, then they recorded these together the following Monday. And then the rise and fall of the Incredible String Band.
What works here for me is Boyd's style of writing, with its constant shift of time and location between neighbouring chapters. This provides a powerful echo for me of the 60's: strong memories but not necessarily in true chronological order and so much there that it wasn't possible to concentrate on all at the same time. One page you are in Boston mid 60's, the next negiotating with Island Records' Chris Blackwell, selling the rights to the recording licenses of Witch Season signings in 1970. The casual decision to start UFO in London's Tottenham Court Road, the bands that appeared there, the drugs sold too which Boyd turned a blind eye until the Met forced the club's closure.
A good book which I strongly recommend to all to give some insight into the original London underground scene, which in part lead to progressive music/rock and the somewhat amateur wheeler dealing associated with it. Also an excellent companion to the 'Forever Changing: Golden Age Of Elektra Records, 1963-73' CD box set.