At first sight this seems a rather tall order to cover such a subject in two thousand words, but maybe I can give you my personal views and I hope they cause you a moment or two to consider how you feel and whether you agree or not.
Being born in the decade after the end of the Second World War put me in a position to witness a period of great social, technological, environmental and cultural change. My wife doesn’t agree with me, but the start of the 1960s saw a change from a black and white, monochrome world to one of colour. Most of my time at primary school the world appeared both physically and emotionally grey. It is true that the major buildings in Leeds were black from the atmospheric soot, television, when it came, was again in black and white, and even the cinema used to show black and white films at the Saturday Matinee.
After the war the returning soldiers were not going to fit easily back into society as they had experienced too much and they wanted to improve their lots in life. They wanted to live in decent houses, wear decent clothes and have all the mod cons that were on offer. Women had similarly experienced change. They had had to do all the tasks that the men away at war had done before. They learnt that they were equally as capable of driving trucks, working and also managing a home. There was no way that they were just going to allow men to dominate as they had. My mother told me of cycling trips into the countryside where she met Italian prisoners of war who were allowed out to cycle the countryside. These encounters and the influence of the American servicemen opened hers and other women’s eyes to a different way of living. They heard American music, learnt American dances and experienced American affluence, and they liked it.
Some returned soldiers discovered that the British Isles they had left had changed and the old order was changing.
The music from the USA was wild, exciting and teenagers loved the fact that their parents hated it. This hasn’t changed over the time since and there have been music fads and genres that have risen in popularity, aided by the fact that the older generation don’t get it, don’t like it and won’t listen to it. After the war there was comfort music for the establishment: Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Joseph Locke, Jim Reeves, the crooners, but there was also more dangerous music: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, where their rebel lifestyles matched with great voices, made them stars that the young could like, but it was still adult music.
In the 1950s, music was brought to the UK audience through acts like Bill Haley and the Comets and then Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and the Crickets. They hit world fame like a hurricane. The establishment hated them, wanted them banned for subverting the young and refused to film Elvis from the waist down due to his gyrating hip movements. Rock Around the Clock, Heartbreak Hotel and Jailhouse Rock, the world would never be the same! The UK saw America as wild, exciting, the place to be and aspire to go to. It was wealthy and a leader of everything after the war. The UK musicians either tried to emulate their US counterparts or they lost popularity. There was a short period of skiffle music with Lonnie Donegan and other bands. Television in the late 1950s and early 1960s was staid, with variety shows and family entertainment. It appeared to cater for children and adults and missed out the growing number of teenagers. British versions of the US stars appeared: Cliff Richard, Adam Faith, The Shadows, Tommy Steele, but it was the US stars such as Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis that really captured the youth of the time. They were wild, violent, sexually dangerous and everything that the parents of teenagers hated. ‘Is it a man or a woman?’ was a common comment from a father as they watched some of these performers when they appeared on television.
Of course, it was in the early 1960s that British music changed dramatically with the Beatles. They suddenly became the biggest band on the planet and were the inspiration for so many bands at the time and afterwards. Probably the biggest difference from other bands was that they started to write their own music and pushed the boundaries of the sounds that were current. By the summer of 1967 there was the Summer of Love and the birth of the Hippy movement. This was an even more dramatic challenge to the culture of adult America and saw the drug influence, free sex and alternative communes lifestyles appear. It spoke of peace, anti-war and creativity, but it spawned some dreadful cults such as that of Charles Manson.
It was at this time that songs from California became popular and the Beatles produced music that was experimental and drug related. Sgt. Pepper’s became one of the most influential albums of all time and bands such as the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, The Who and a host of others started experimenting and Progressive Rock, Hard Rock and Heavy Metal suddenly became the art of choice for students, and Universities and Colleges became the major venues for band concerts.
My first interest was led by my older brother, Andrew, who bought flowered shirts with accompanying bells in the late 1960s. He listened to and bought The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Sgt. Pepper’s, The White Album, Saucerful of Secrets and many others. Many of these I borrowed and took to parties to impress friends and irretrievably damaged the albums. Shortly afterwards I started buying my own albums and Ummagumma, The Who Sell Out and the Small Faces Ogden’s Nut Gone joined my collection. Then our circle of friends, led by Peter, started learning to play guitar and the nucleus of a band was formed.
The first song that I remember us playing was an unusual hit in the UK. It was called Neanderthal Man, by Hotlegs, who were later to become 10CC. It was incredibly simple and we made a pretty ordinary version. The line-up of players altered and Peter, John and I became the nucleus, but others came and went over the years. Because we were captured by an interest in the hippy culture rather than the Mod, Rockers, Greasers, Pop trends, we started writing. Originally it was acoustic music, but bit by bit, when finances allowed, we became an electric band. Having limited guitar skills at the time I took over bass guitar duties as no one else wanted to. Being in a band gave you kudos and there were many high school bands around. Being the youngest member of the band at the time I was happy to follow the lead of the others and I took to the social side with gusto. Teenagers at this time drank a lot, smoked a lot and many indulged in the drug culture that was being fostered by big name bands, cinema and television. Many artists promoted a drug culture and Timothy Leary’s advocacy for LSD even led to the Moody Blues writing a song about him. Yellow Submarine, I Am the Walrus, Magical Mystery Tour from the Beatles, fostered this way of life and films such as Easy Rider, Woodstock, Performance, with Mick Jagger and many others made teenagers aware of hallucinogenic trips. Crosby Stills and Nash, and bands from the USA similarly promoted drug taking.
At Roundhay School in the late sixties I became aware that older boys were using drugs other than alcohol. There were rumours some were using hard drugs such as heroin, but that seemed to be a suicide journey to me and the one or two known addicts that hung around Oakwood, Moortown and Harehills did little to make anyone want to follow in their wake. It did appear that softer drugs, such as hash, were less harmful and they started to appear at parties. Wacky Baccy could be smelt at many gatherings and even more common at rock concerts at Leeds University or the Poly. The issue was knowing where to buy such things, but playing in a band with a large circle of acquaintances, eventually people appeared who could provide a supply. In many cases people were conned and Oxo cubes were passed off as drugs, but like many teenagers, we experimented. Some of my friends didn’t smoke and so hash wasn’t high on their lists, but LSD became the drug of choice for some. Long lasting, easily come by and seemingly an aid to creativity, it didn’t take long for it to become common to see hazed out trippers and eventually I was offered the opportunity.
I was given half a tab prior to getting on a bus at Oakwood and going to a friend’s house. At first it had no effect, but then it became a bit of a nightmare. Daylight was brighter, I became disorientated and could have wandered off if I were on my own. We started to over-talk, senses became confused and overloaded and I remember sweating a lot. Half a tab lasted about four hours and it was a bit of a nightmare. I realised afterwards that it was not for me. I didn’t like the lack of self control. There was nothing particularly enjoyable and afterwards there was a real feeling of coming down. A few drinks were pleasant, but this was not. Clearly others saw it differently and continued. In one or two cases they became regular users and bit by bit they changed. There appeared to be a dullness about them and it wasn’t good to see. Now I am aware of the potential damage to mental health, particularly in teenagers and I am glad I avoided that pitfall.
I can give one good example of the fact that it didn’t stimulate creativity or help musicians. It is true that when under the influence you may think that you are insightful, witty, clever and creative, but it truth you couldn’t be further from it. At the time there was a band called Family and they had had a few hits: No Mule’s Fool, The Weaver’s Answer and in the early 1970s Burlesque and My Friend the Sun. I saw them two times in concert and the first time was at Leeds University and they were brilliant and one of the best live performances I had seen. The second time was also at Leeds Uni, I think and they were clearly not with it. They were all over the place, the music didn’t hold together, the performances were not up to scratch and they were either drunk, stoned or probably both. I was really disappointed, the tight band of musicians had become a shambles and were not worth seeing.
The late 1960s and 1970s saw the development of a wide range of musical styles. There was a coming together of relative affluence, technical ability and equipment, opportunities to play and watch music at the college and University circuits. They were new, fresh, challenging times of social upheaval that produced an environment where the younger generation had strong opinions. Youth found their voice and forced the world to listen. It was the birth of female emancipation, the pill, cheap fashion, free higher education, student grants, moving away from home to experience life away from our parents, overseas holidays and opportunities that might well have made our parents envious. It was a time when we had never heard of Aids, Pandemics, Global Warming and other portends of doom, when we and the world were improving. Education was seen as something to broaden the mind, not just a means of getting a job, and where we listened to other points of view and then argued our own without shouting others down, drinking wine into the small hours and feeling grown up.
I guess we were the lucky ones, but now the ills of the world are being laid at our doorstep and the generation of Baby Boomers who saw a brave new world are taking the blame for the current sick one. Probably it was ever so and will probably continue to be so for each new generation.