This Ain’t The Summer Of Love
This Ain’t The Summer Of Love by Kris Needs
The deaths of two more psychedelic gods - Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee . . .
The summer of 2006 is proving to be a sad time for psychedelic one-offs and childhood heroes. First Syd Barrett, now Arthur Lee. Of course, to many, these two names are just hazy recollections from a bygone age. In their time they were trailblazing punk rockers of the first degree - if punk means pushing out the boundaries, doing your own thing and upsetting the applecart with sheer noise attack and uncompromising attitude.
Bollocks to slagging the initial hippy surge from the underground as the thing that punk destroyed, etc. The revolution of 1967 upset the status quo and opened the door for craziness, innovation and doing what you wanted to do. It's only later that it burned out and started falling asleep, leaving punk to pick up the gauntlet ten years later. The individuals who sprang forth in the mid-60s were the first to really rock the boat and pave the way. It was far from hippy-drippy, although there was that side to it. Icons like Lee, Barrett, Jim Morrison and Hendrix were wracked with demons and, after making it, found no trouble in taking up residence on the dark side of the street.
Syd - to me the only one you know by just his first name – was well represented in the Media after his sad death on July 7 aged 60. Anyone who picked up a newspaper or a glossy will know the sad story of the prodigious creative supernova who took one trip too many and spent the last 30-years in seclusion surrounded by myths, legend and an escalating appreciation of his work, while beating off the offers to come back. Syd already had a full-time job coming back from the brink.
Pink Floyd formed around Cambridge when trainee architects Richard Wright, Nick Mason and Roger Waters hitched up with young art student Roger Keith Barrett, who they'd nicknamed Syd. After various proto-names, Syd named the group Pink Floyd after a blues album he owned by two Georgia bluesmen called Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. After starting the usual way with R&B standards, the newly christened Pink Floyd greeted 1967 with the decision to only do their own songs. Luckily, Syd had already written practically all the songs that would propel the first incarnation of the group into the stratosphere. The group rose through the London underground scene, bombarding proto-underground West London venues like the London Free School in Powis Square and All Saints Hall with their senses-blasting mix of primitive lightshows and scary, spacey and often improvised music.
Between 1965-67, my lifeline to music was pirate station Radio London. There was little music TV, the BBC was boring and there was obviously no cable, internet or whatever to make things easy. John Peel debuted on Radio London in early 1967 but all the station's DJs played Pink Floyd's first single 'Arnold Layne', which emerged in March. It was unlike anything else heard before with its eerie Farfisa organ sound, crashing chords and Syd's sneering recounting of the tale of a man banged up for nicking women's underwear off washing lines. It immediately went into my personal Top 30 – at number 13 – number fans - and also scraped the National Top 30 – despite being banned in several places for its lyrical content ['Moonshine, washing line'?].
When 'See Emily Play' - one of the greatest psychedelic singles of all time - appeared in July - it crashed straight in my little chart at number one, knocking off Jimi Hendrix's 'Wind Cries Mary' and staying there for another seven weeks [holding off the likes of Procol Harum's 'Whiter Shade Of Pale']. This supernova starburst about a little girl's fantasy world also cracked the real top ten in July. I remember the glorious sight of Pink Floyd on Top Of The Pops, Syd resplendent in flowered shirt and velvet trousers. He was a teen idol and immediately couldn't handle it. Luckily they'd already recorded their first album by then but a daily acid breakfast did not sit well with screaming girls who just wanted to hear the hit. In the middle of the Summer of Love, Syd suffered his first mental breakdown and from now on was a changed man.
Along came The ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’, Pink Floyd's first album, which was recorded at the same time - and in close proximity - to the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper. Somehow they managed to weld crashing R&B with the pure English pop music hall flavour of the Kinks - then boot it into terminal orbit. Tracks like 'Astronomy Domini' and 'Interstellar Overdrive' went where no one had gone before. The latter was the furthest out the group got, Syd having concocted the famous riff from manager Peter Jenner - yes, the same one who would look after the Clash after Bernie Rhodes - trying to hum him a recent song by Arthur Lee. His guitar style was never virtuoso twiddling. Sometimes he just scraped the instrument with a Zippo lighter, but his clangs, scratches and turbo-riffs were startling and unique. On 'Matilda Mother' Syd wistfully intoned, 'Look at the sky, look at the river, isn't it good?' and you knew what he meant. It was Brit-pop in an altered state of conciousness.
These three records were all it took to establish the genius of Syd Barrett. They're the ones referenced now and which still stand up as the quintessential representation of their time. But it was far from drug-addled indulgence. The over-riding quality about Syd Barrett wasn't so much the ‘screaming acid zombie plastering broken up Mandies into his Brylcreem-gunked barnet’ - but more the sound of a man who, although just 21 when he was doing all this, showed more of a child's-eye perspective on the world. There's a sense of wonder and innocence in songs like 'Scarecrow' and 'Bike' that go right back to childhood. When he applied that logic to discovering the solar system on 'Astronomy Domini' - what was already a remarkable musical accompaniment suddenly lets rip, the results are still spellbinding.
The mental cracks were starting to show. You didn't have to know the man to see for yourself that something was up from the photos that appeared regularly throughout 1967. From the top-ten stint onwards, Syd's visage was now dominated by what can only be described as a deranged, almost psychotic stare. Sure, your pupils are bound to be fairly saucer-like with that much acid doing the hustle in the system on an almost daily basis, but his eyes had gone from twinkling to terrifying in the space of a year. Acid obviously played a great part in Syd's mental unravelling - it was a lot stronger than today's poxy blotters back then. But, from many accounts, there were issues going back to childhood that had already established a delicate mental tightrope within his psyche. 'Everyone is supposed to have fun when they're young – I don't know why, but I never did,' he told Rolling Stone in 1971.
Late 70s Peel sessions gave a clue to the fact that Pink Floyd were now going even further out, with 'Vegetable Man' unveiled one memorable afternoon on Top Gear on the new Radio One, along with 'Scream Your Last Scream', 'Anti-Blackcurrant War' and 'Jugband Blues'. Syd's contributions were more marginal by the second album, ‘Saucerful Of Secrets’, and confined mainly to the unhinged closing track, 'Jugband Blues', which featured a Salvation Army band and the telling line, 'And I'm wondering who could be writing this song.'
A wonky American tour saw Syd greeting Pat Boone's inane TV queries with the look of an axe-murderer. In November there was a UK tour featuring Hendrix, the Move, the Nice and Pink Floyd - all in one package. Syd would usually content himself with playing just one note, if he bothered to amble on stage at all. There was another single, 'Apples And Oranges', which surfaced in November and worked in a strange, darker fashion than its predecessors. It would be Syd's last single with the group. Old mucker, Dave Gilmour, who did a perfectly reasonable Syd facsimile and still does, joined to bolster the lineup for four gigs before Pink Floyd quietly jettisoned their old friend because he simply wouldn't work or communicate with them any more. Then they went off to become one of the biggest groups in the world.
I never saw Pink Floyd with Syd Barret, just the new, safer model at Dunstable Civic Hall in 1969 - ironically the same place I would see The Jam supporting the Sex Pistols to a near-empty hall a few years later - and a free concert in Hyde Park the following year, by which time the customary somnambulance had set in. Or maybe it was the Mandrax that sent me cavorting about in the Serpentine, cutting my feet to ribbons during their snooze-fest set. I knew people who had seen the Syd incarnation in 1967. From all accounts, the Velvet Underground's Exploding Plastic Inevitable - cloaked in acid instead of amphetamines and heroin. The lights, all-night drug-stalking crowds and an alien soundtrack emanating from the stage where Syd Barrett's mind let his guitar wander off beyond the stratosphere on interstellar overdrive. Anyone who's listened to Pink Floyd should know they lost their crazed sparkled after Syd went.
He didn't just disappear. There were two solo albums which would never be easy listening but exist as engaging glimpses of a mind in turmoil, creative overdrive and technicolour clouds of madness dripping overhead. By now, Syd was on the afore-mentioned Mandrax. Basically, this form of now-defunct tranq ensured that you didn't know what you were doing and remembered nothing afterwards anyway. You just had the results of your zombied-out adventures to reflect on. My cut feet were Syd's first solo album, ‘The Madcap Laughs’. Released in January, 1970 - some of it was pastorally beautiful, like the James Joyce poem he'd first set to music in his teens called 'Golden Hair'. Some of it was lazy and delightfully stoned - the single, 'Octopus'. And some was fearsomely dark - the pained 'Dark Globe', which saw instrumental assistance from Floyd's Gilmour and Waters, who'd stepped in to help their old mate with the production. Moments like Syd's demented wailing 'Won't you miss me?' are quite soul-tearing.
The album confused and also aggravated some people in the days when Floyd's influence had only recently kick-started the prog-rock monster and recently-departed Jimi Hendrix saw his revolution of the electric guitar starting to rumble into what would become heavy metal. Syd's second and last solo album, ‘Barrett’, did little to thrust him to the forefront. He was more incapacitated and touch-and-go during the sessions, but still managed to spew forth classics like 'Dominoes', 'Wolfpack' and 'Rats', whose wordplay stomps around in Beefheart territory. It was kind of alien folk-rock, further out than psychedelic whimsy and, again, gripping in the sense that no normal mind could have come up with this stuff. One of the worst aspects was that, at times, the whole Cult Of Syd reminded me of bygone times when bored gentry would spend an afternoon gawping at the inmates in the local mental hospital. Again, I never met Syd, but it didn't take any close contact to hear the accounts of a gig he did around that time at Cambridge Corn Exchange supporting the MC5 with a short-lived group called Stars. After much shambolic racket, Syd walked off back to his mother's basement and was only ever seen again in those 'sightings'. Nick Kent all but signed Syd's loony warrant with a major NME cover piece in April 1974, which related such nutter tales as Syd recently hitting a Kings Road boutique, trying on three very different sizes of the same design of strides, exclaiming that they all fitted perfectly, then vanishing without buying any.
So what was it about Syd Barrett? Everybody loves a casualty and Syd was the first, most high profile example from the summer of love. Only later would lysergically-fried fruitcakes like Roky Erickson, Sky Saxon or Skip Spence follow. But there was something more fragile and tragic about Syd that doesn't deserve that kind of writing off. Ironically, it was Syd's old group which most added to the Barrett legend - especially when they released 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' on 1975's ‘Wish You Were Here’. [Syd had reportedly turned up - coincidentally - at the session when they were recording the song. Fat, bald and wild].
Syd simply wasn't interested in any of the comeback offers that came his way. He lived off the past royalties that, to his major credit, school friend Dave Gilmour made sure he received, and reverted back to his original name of Roger. He didn't want to know - while the world around him did. The only evidence of Syd's existence were harrowing photos of a balding, middle-aged man going out for the papers. Then he passed away and he's on the cover of NME again, not to mention national newspapers, as the mad genius who started Pink Floyd. He even made the tabloids, before they moved on to Pete Doherty's next dump.
Arthur Lee didn't get that much kudos when he died on August 3 - aged 61 - from acute myleloid leukemia - but his contribution to the mid-60s psychedelic revolution were just as far-reaching as Syd's. We're on much darker turf here. No nice middle-class upbringing - and the child-loosening undercurrents that might bring - here. Lee was the first black hippy and punk rolled into a dangerous one-off. He was flying the freak flag before Jimi Hendrix, who played with him in California in the early 60s. Even Alice Cooper and Jim Morrison were scared of this man.
When Peel started his Radio One show in September 1967, he seized the opportunity to cane the artists that would litter the rest of my life. Captain Beefheart, Syd-era Floyd, Tim Buckley, John Fahey and Love, the group with which Arthur Lee made his name. He'd already sprung a track off their second album, ‘Da Capo’, one afternoon on Radio London with the words, 'And now I want to play you a track of unparalleled loveliness'. He said it was the best thing he had ever heard in his life and I believed him. Although later adopted as the theme music to the BBC's Holiday '71 programme, for a few months, the translucent mystery of 'The Castle' was the most unearthly beautiful piece of music on the planet. With Peel's hammering on Radio One, it dominated my exercise book chart for the rest of 1967. In my book about Primal Scream, I called it 'the spiritual father of ‘Higher than the Sun’’.
The original line-up of Love consisted of Lee and his childhood friend and guitarist Johnny Echols, who roped in John Fleckenstein on bass and drummer Don Conka, who soon smacked himself out of the group to be replaced by Alban 'Snoopy' Pfsisterer. Original rhythm guitarist Bobby Beausoleil liked to claim Love were named after one of his nicknames, Cupid. Lee replaced him with former Byrds roadie Bryan MacClean, who also happened to write songs of a more delicate nature. Bobby went on to carve a short-lived career in Charles Manson's Family and the Sharon Tate murders. It has to be remembered that the term 'punk' was originally heisted from a prison term of sleazy degradation before being adopted by the mid-60s US garage bands of disenfranchised kids emulating their musical heroes in both lifestyle and music. The term Punk fit Love more than any paisley origami tag. Love were hoodlums - but with a dark soul accompanying currents of genius who managed to craft a trio of timeless classic albums. 'I realised I could sound like The Byrds and the Beatles and I said, Hey, this is you. I was the first so-called black hippy,' Arthur told an interviewer in the mid-90s.
What was this thing called Love? As I wouldn't get a record player until the following year and Zigzag was another two years off, I only had snippets in the music papers and Peel's solitary crusading to go on. It was only later that I learned that they were a bunch of drug-crazed street punks who definitely were not imbued with the spirit of their name. There was already a standing joke that they should have been called Hate. Although they dressed in the required psychedelic fashions of 1967, they were more like a smacked-up band of street gang. Despite the shades, their faces betrayed a blank drugged-out psycho stare. Mystery, death and internal dissent riddled the group. A rumour went around that they'd hung one of their roadies onstage.
Love rarely ventured out of the sinister house they inhabited which had once belonged to Bela Lugosi - The Castle - but started playing LA clubs in April 1965, demolishing crowds with their energy on outings like a marathon 'Smokestack Lightning'. They didn't like talking to the press, made few TV appearances and wouldn't tour. They just rehearsed, played LA clubs, made some amazing tunes and spent a lot of time entertaining big bags of smack, acid and weed. The dictatorial Lee replaced John Fleckenstein with Ken Forssi while slinging out Conka for smack [!], replacing him with Alban 'Snoopy' Pfisterer.
Love scored a minor hit in 1966 with their first single - a belligerent version of Burt Bacharach's 'My Little Red Book'. [The first single was going to be 'Hey Joe' but everyone and their mother had that out by mid-'66]. The chorus is celebratory and euphoric but Lee's delivery is snarling and riddled with attitude. Burt wasn't a fan. Their eponymous debut album was released on Elektra in May 1966, a kind of wired, buffalo-charge take on the sound of the time which merged 60s R&B boom punk with a wider hallucinogenic vision on tracks like 'My Flash On You'. Then there's 'Signed D.C.', the aching drug swansong to Conka, which still ranks as one of music's most desperate moments. The Velvets might have sung about it, but Love was the most smacked-up group to come out of the whole 60s US scene with first drummer Don Conka - the subject of 'Signed D.C.' - John Echols, Ken Forssi and Lee all banging up. So it's coming up to the summer of love, flowers and acid are in the air but the group which should have epitomized the whole movement with their name are coming out with blunt and brutal lines like, 'Sometimes I feel so lonely/My comedown I'm scared to face/I've pierced my skin again, lord/No one cares for me'. By contrast, 'A Message To Pretty' is a gossamer love ditty.
In August came 'Seven and Seven Is' - later described by Lee himself as the first punk rock 45 in history. It reportedly took around 50 takes for Pfisterer to get the charging, Surfaris-on-speed drum rampage. Next, Tjay Canterelli joined on woodwind and Michael Stuart came in on drums leaving Snoopy on the harpsichord. This is the line-up that made ‘Da Capo’, one of the great albums of a highly-eventful 1967. Side one boasts a brace of elegiac, towering Love classics, including McClean's 'Orange Skies', 'Que Vida' the afore-mentioned 'The Castle' and 'Seven And Seven Is'. 'Stephanie Knows Who' was another fusillade of crashing chords, proto-Doors rhythmic syncopation and aggressive singing. 'She Comes In Colours' gave the Stones a nice hook for 'She's A Rainbow', showing baroque, classical, jazz and pastoral melodies slinking in which would fully blossom on the next album at the end of the year Although side two consists solely of a middling blues jam called 'Revelation'.
Following Love’s third LP, ‘Forever Changes’, came a strange, lush, double-A-sided single - 'Laughing Stock'/'Your Mind And We Belong Together' - both cemented Love’s legend - and ‘Forever Changes’ still stands as one of the greatest, most evocative statements from the era. Snoopy and Cantrelli had gone while the punk attack had been replaced by an orchestral sweep of timeless beauty, embellished by horns, strings and predominantly acoustic in mood. But underneath the gentle romanticism still lurked sinister undercurrents as the band were falling apart during its creation to the point where session guys played on 'The Daily Planet'. Elegiac ballads like 'Old Man' and MacClean's fragile 'Andmoreagain' were offset by darker outings like 'The Red Telephone' and 'A House Is Not A Motel', which was a chilling indictment of the Vietnam war then raging and throwing a massive reaper shadow over the US. The soaring, Spanish-tinged 'Alone Again Or' reached number 24 in the UK but bombed in the US, severely taking the wind out of the band's sails. This line-up dissolved in drugs and acrimony at the beginning of 1968. Love is usually described as Lee's band, obviously by Arthur himself, but much of the transcendental brilliance of the great Love albums came from the tension between Lee and other creative force Bryan MacClean, who were polar opposites.
Arthur Lee carried on, assembling a new Love line-up, which made 1969's average ‘Four Sail’ and double ‘Out Here’. December 1970 saw ‘False Start’, which was notable for featuring Lee's old mate Jimi Hendrix on one track called 'The Everlasting First' [the highlight]. Lee then perambulated an erratic path through the 70s and 80s with patchy solo albums like ‘Vindicator’, which featured another new group called Band-Aid, which had been suggested by Hendrix for a group featuring himself, Lee and Stevie Winwood. There were occasional gigs under the Love banner. I saw him play Dunstable Civic Hall - a somewhat shambolic affair, I seem to recall, with much guitar strangling from Lee. Rumours of an increasingly unhinged nature kept coming, although Arthur spent a lot of the 80s looking after his dying father. After resurfacing in 1992 with Arthur Lee & Love, followed by more gigging, Arthur was jailed in 1996 for illegal possession of a firearm, activating a third strike on his card which would be enough to send him to jail. While he was inside, MacClean and Forssi both died. Arthur served five years and came out in 2001 to a world that was flexing its nostalgia as new generations discovered and trumpeted the glory of Love.
Before I steamed in with the punky reggae party, Zigzag was the bastion of all things Love. In 1970, they were the nearest the mag got to a pin-up. This was mainly down to the tireless efforts of John Tobler, the man who, along with founder Pete Frame, came up with the blueprint for the lengthy career assessments now so popular in MOJO and Uncut. When Elektra released a Love best of in 1973, Tobler wrote the notes and opened with the words: 'Maybe Love was destined to be one of those combinations which beat itself to death before anything like a realistic amount of recognition could be allowed them.' And that was 33 years ago! Only in the 21st century did Arthur Lee start getting his due recognition.
In 2002, Arthur started touring as Love With Arthur Lee. He hitched up with LA band Baby Lemonade and started playing gigs, including some doing the whole of ‘Forever Changes’, complete with string and horn section. In February 2004, he played Aylesbury, and it was euphorically great to see Arthur Lee replicate not only the best of that album but highpoints off the previous two albums too. One of those once-in-a-lifetime, cling-on-to-the-ceiling gigs. I didn't know it would be Arthur Lee's last tour.
Arthur left Baby Lemonade in August 2005, who continued as the Love Band - whilst Lee planned a new line-up in his Memphis hometown. In April 2006 he was treated for acute myeloid leukaemia. A tribute fund was set up for medical bills but Arthur Lee died at home in Memphis on August 3.
So, another turbulent rock & roll legend from the 60s had gone, leaving a trail of tributes and people like me reaching for their Love albums for the thousandth time. Lee was the real deal and, like many of the greats, his own worst enemy. In his head, he should have been as big as Hendrix but, whereas his old mate redefined the electric guitar, Lee happened to be a wild musical genius who managed to instill fear in his contemporaries when that simply wasn't on the agenda.
Hendrix died 36 years ago this month. But that's another story....
Kris Needs – tMx 25 – 09/06
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