So it’s fifty years since the summer of love
And here I am checking facts against my memory on Google.
The single broadsheet of IT I remembered as black print on yellow turned out to be red and the front is nowhere in my recollections
But the graphics of the situationist comic strip on the back is burned into my brain as is the day I bought my copy……Easter 1967 at the CND march to Trafalgar Square.
The start of a month that was to culminate in my twentieth birthday at Alexandra Palace in a fourteen hour extravaganza of light and sound where everyone I had ever connected with in some kind of cosmic consciousness had manifested their physical self at the ‘Pali’ and some less than conscious folks with close cropped hair and a hippy hating agenda kicked my feet and legs as I lay on the ground wrapped around a friend.
“Dirty bugger” they taunted so I pulled my methadrin soaked self up to my full five feet eleven inches, thrust my thumbs into the belt loops of my striped hipster trousers and leant back John Wayne style on a pillar that wasn’t there. As I fell unceremoniously on my arse they walked off laughing and an older head in a top hat and big beard checked with me that everything was decidedly cool.
It was that kind of year or some would say eighteen months , when everything seemed possible, after all off set litho had freed us from the strangle hold of the straight media and in IT we had a newspaper run by people we could meet whenever we wanted at Indica Bookshop and UFO, at least that’s what we felt and when Hoppy was arrested we took it personally even though most of us had never met him. But he was our editor and this was proof that, not only were we under attack, but we must have been doing something right if they took us that seriously.
I was lucky to have lived in London for those few years albeit more by coincidence than design. London had Indica and Betterbooks, UFO, Middle Earth,The Arts Lab in Drury Lane, The Round House and Hyde Park Legalise Pot Rallies.
Liverpool was a land of mystery and we would sit at the feet of any hip young girl from the Pool and listen in awe as they regaled us with tales of The Cavern and introduced us to Brian Patten’s Little Johnny’s Confessions, Adrian Henri and Roger McGough months before Penguin Modern Poets Volume 10 was published. The Mersey Sound became as an essential addition to our bookshelves as Volume 5 featuring Ginsberg, Fernanghetti and Corso.
I had arrived in London from Ipswich, another lucky break. There were only half a dozen alternative bookshops in the country and a local anarchist I had first noticed four years earlier in his flying jacket with ‘ Where this authority there is no freedom’ painted on the back (radical in 1963) opened Orwell books, stocking volumes of City Lights and New Directions poetry and underground papers from across the world including the Wobblies (International Workers of the World) own publication and San Francisco Oracle Issue 7, a transcript of a discussion between Ginsberg, Leary and Gary Snyder with Alan Watts posing the question Whether to Drop Out or Not. I remember sitting upstairs up stairs from the bookshop with painters, poets and a surviving anarchist from the Spanish Civil War discussing every paragraph of this extraordinary publication.
The ocean dividing Europe from the American continent didn’t seem to matter we were all in this discussion together and maybe that was the central principal of that summer. There was an internationalism born of a mental revolution and a feeling of disgust towards warmongers that took no account of national borders. This was a beacon shining across the bleakness of a post war northern hemisphere while further south the empires of Europe crumbled.
In every town from the north of Sweden to the shores of Morocco small groups gathered who felt they had brothers and sisters across the world belonging to no organisation or party and were not the product of some mass marketing campaign but had grown organically meeting in coffee shops and bars with news carried by messengers who lived out of their rucksacks and sleeping rolls and travelled by thumb.
Them and the record industry, who realising life had moved on from 45rpm two and half minute wonders, gave us albums to feed our souls and tracks lasting long enough to be penetrated by brains slowed down to 33rpm by the best Pakistani Gold Seal.
‘Way back in time it was eight pounds an ounce
It was cheaper than whiskey, had five times the bounce.’
The doors of perception had been flung open in a rush of acid and good hash and we drew and wrote and played our music in gatherings in flats, clubs and parks where we filled the world with sounds and colours such had never been seen in the history of the universe.
This was the dawn of a new age of leisure. Automation and technological advance would free us from the drudgery of labour and we were the vanguard showing a world wracked by war, still going in Viet Nam, Apartheid, the Cold War and an imminent nuclear holocaust there was another way and we were taking that road whether they liked it or not.
And they did not.
I suppose the clue on this side of the ocean was the number of times IT and Oz were busted but we had no idea in our psychedelic bubble of the extent the global establishment would go to crush the dream. In a show of force designed to show us we were powerless eight bus loads of constables burst into an early morning set of Joe Harriot’s Indo Jazz Fusions at Middle Earth in Covent Garden (when it was still a vegetable market) lined us up according to sex on each side of the room and searched everyone, hauling our friends of to Bow Street police station to check ages and IDs . They picked two shoe boxes full of hash off the floor and turned us into revolutionaries.
A week later when I heard on the radio five thousand police were facing fifty thousand demonstrators at Grosvenor Square outside the American Embassy I leapt on the tube and joined the fray. On the front line I felt the strong arm of the law or rather a fist hit my gut and I fell back into the crowd where demonstrators were being pulled through police lines and given a kicking by the boys in blue. And so it went on Paris, Berlin, Berkley and Czechoslovakia.
What had started with civil rights and anti nuclear marches in the early sixties and had culminated in the golden summer of ’67 when I saw Hendrix sit in with the Move in UFO’s Tottenham Court Road Cellar and listened to poetry in Hyde Park had turned into a three year global fight back from the forces of reaction leading to the shootings at Kent State.
Here allegiances were changing and Michael X marched into the IT office with his henchmen demanding an interview with his previously hippy self be removed from the Silver Foil covered anthology of the International Times, a Bit Of It. My first publication was printed on left over paper from a Bit of IT’s print run. A few of us had worked on the IT anthology collating the pages by hand and we were shocked to have to remove pages from completed copies.
But whatever was in the air in sixty seven changed the landscape for ever re emerging over the next fifty years in dozens of sub cultures and creating in place after place a vision of equality and justice for all while constantly keeping in our sights a world where drab grey only gains a foothold for a few moments before it is engulfed in an all consuming rainbow.