It Was 45 Years Ago Today

2 Jun

Or was it 20? Oh no, that’s when Sergant Pepper told the band to play. There are certain albums released through time that change the whole scene. Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue, Carole King’s Tapestry, The Stone Roses’ eponymous first album all come to mind. But slam dunking in the middle of that triumvirate has to be The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released June 1st, 1967. I’d only been buying mostly Mod, black American music and ska till then and so Sergant’s purchase was a departure and I don’t think anybody saw me coming out of the shop with it in any case. I needn’t have worried about such reputations, as I was instantly grabbed by its mix of realism and surrealism, ground breaking production techniques and certain there was little of note to possibly precede it.

I’m no music journo, so I won’t eulogise in that style, all I remember is its impact on a working-class kid in Pimlico, London, a paid-up Mod rather than a hippy or dandy, the kind of which we only saw either down the nearby King’s Road, Chelsea or in San Francisco via TV. This was the Summer of Love, agreed, but there were two kinds of Sixties going on at the same time. It’s said that this famous decade in London was about a handful of people–the boys, Jagger, Marianne Faithful etc, that if you remember the 60s, you weren’t there, the inference being you were off your head on the gear. I only ever took one solitary but mind-bending pill and yet six pints of draught Double Diamond in The Locarno, Streatham had no less effect on my sense of what was happening all around than had herbal substances and psychedelic images projected on to blank walls at Chelsea parties we used to bunk in to on Saturday nights. Bands like The Smallfaces were our standard bearers, of the working class and living around the corner from us in Pimlico in post-war Regency shabbiness as shown below.

Free Love? Maybe in the grand Georgian houses or bedsits of surrounding areas, but in our estates the stigma of having to get married if pregnant with your girl/boyfriend was the greatest contraceptive going. In any case, you didn’t buy condoms in barbers because you’d be too embarrassed to ask for them. Certain surgical shops advertised them in their windows alongside trusses and other physique-defying garments, but you needed a nylon mack to go into them.

In Space terms, we were only up to Apollo 3, two years away from Apollo 11 landing on the moon in a sitting room near you or even a bar in Manhattan where all crime briefly stopped. Yet later that year, I was briefly and naively convinced that humankind had reached its limits when the world was joined together as 400 million people watched the BBC’s One World broadcast of The Beatles’ live recording All You Need Is Love in the Abbey Road studios, carpeted by a worshipful of Who’s Who of the In Crowd. My sister and her husband had come to our flat from their nearby bedsit (Old Man Steptoe was their neighbour) to sit on our floor hippy-style to watch this epic-making broadcast.

And forty-five years on, there is little evidence of the world changing for us then, other than perhaps the ever-renewing graffitied devotions to the boys on the white walls outside the Abbey Road studios and columns of tourists walking across the famous zebra crossing.” Oy mate, you’re supposed to take your shoes off”, I heard a taxi driver shout to one of them once. Carnaby Street is no more than a theme park, only us of a certain age remember where the great shops and the dodgy clubs were. But who cares anyway? Perhaps I’ll start carrying the Sgt Pepper album under my arm again.

Peace.

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