Excerpt from 'Lost in the Woods'
By Julian Palacios
(c) Julian Palacios & Boxtree/MacMillan, 1997.
Early in the morning of April 29th, an exhausted Pink Floyd departed for the Netherlands, where they were filmed for an appearance on a Dutch TV show called 'Fan club' and played an evening gig as well. That very same night the Pink Floyd were scheduled to close the multi-band extravaganza known in hippie lore as the 'The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream'. They drove back from Holland that night, doing the tedious ferry crossing over the English Channel, stopping in briefly at Edbrooke Road, where an exhausted Jenner and Syd each droped a tab of acid before driving to north London's Muswell Hill in their cramped car.
Like the 1965 Albert Hall poetry reading, the event marked a turning point in the London Underground, and was indeed an epochal highlight event of the 1960s. An estimated 7,000 punters crowded into the massive Alexandra Palace in London, which was hired out for the night by Hoppy and Dave Hewson. The idea of renting out the vast Alexandra Palace had been germinating in Hoppy's mind since he had first been there when the Stones and John Lee Hooker played in 1964.
The Technicolor Dream had been envisioned by Hoppy as a 'giant benefit against fuzz action', as the ads carried in the Melody Maker attested. 'Fuzz action' of the sort that had attemtped to shut down IT, and the ostensible purpose of the Technicolor Dream was to raise funds for IT's legal defense fund. It began at 8 PM and went through the night until 10 AM the next morning. Hoppy and Suzy Creamcheese stood at the door, collecting tickets and, in their inimitable style, greeting everyone.
The armies of nascent hippiedom duly congregated at the gates and filed in. Much of the audience came in ties and blazers, with a generous assortment of kaftan and bell wearing ravers among them. For many it proved to be an epochal experience, as they saw for the first time that they were not the only freaks in London. Two film crews were on hand to film the proceedings. Peter Whitehead, director of 'Tonite Let's Make Love in London', fought for vantage points with a film crew from the BBC, who presented a live airing of the event on BBC-2.
Indica gallery owner John Dunbar was at John Lennon's home that evening, 'We were all down in Weybridge, and we were watching TV and suddenly saw that this thing was going on. So we thought, fuck it, let's go! We ended up at this place where everybody I'd ever known in my life swam before my eyes at one time or another. All eyes were vaguely on us because we were with John and literally saw people I'd last seen at kindergarten and hadn't seen since.'
This was perhaps the high water mark for the Underground; a party that the Underground threw to celebrate itself. The Underground and the vibe cultivated at UFO certainly went overground on this night, gathering momentum, but some would argue, losing its integrity. The small London coterie would send out ripples that would affect most of the world's young people one way or another in the coming years, but this was to be the grand night of all nights for the Underground. It was certainly a show of force, as Wholly Communion had been, simply by virtue of having so many young people under one roof. This was not a gig or mundane pop show, rather this was an event like the poetry reading that would galvanize the Underground and bring diverse pockets of 'freaks' and 'hippies' out of the woodwork.
Word of the event had spread throughout London, and expectations were high. Two stages had been erected inside the cavernous hall, with a smaller central stage designed for poets, performance artists and dancers, jugglers, the Tribe of the Sacred Mushroom, Phillipine dancer David Medalla and the Exploding Galaxy dance troupe. The larger stage for the main events was built along the back wall, flanked by the large glass windows of the Palace. Jack Henry Moore and a small army of technicians were constantly dashing from one spot to another, fixing lights and wiring speakers. The fluted columns that rose to the high ceiling resembled, if one was stoned enough, Aubrey Beardsley's lilies, rising forty feet above the concrete floors.
Lights shows galore lit up every inch of available wall space from a massive light gantry in the centre of the hall. Underground films, notably the horrid 'Flaming Creatures', were screened on billowing white sheets taped with electrician's tape to the scaffolding housing the Alexandra Palace organ. The center piece was a helter skelter, rented for the night, which people clambered to the top of and spiralled down, quite exhilirating on acid.
The first of the 40 odd bands, poets, artists and dancers that played that night was the brilliantly abysmal agit-rockers the Social Deviants , who took the stage at 8 pm. For the better of the night and morning, two bands played simultaneously on the two stages, often causing an unexpected merger of styles but mostly causing a headache as the sound reverberated off the walls. Some bright light of a chemist had chosen the event as the world premiere of STP, an insane drug that makes you feel like one of the bulls at Pamplona, charging around with a head full of steam.
Nonetheless, the mood was very positive, as smiling, colourfully dressed people endlessly milled with chemical quicksteps from corner to corner of the vast edifice. A plastic igloo had been set up in one corner, where a laughing Suzy Creamcheese dispensed banana skin joints, touted for their hallucinogenic effects. A bitter aftertaste really all it left one with, though, but the idea was more of a intentional put-on anyhow, and one simply had to laugh at the incongruity of standing in the midst of this mad, milling throng smoking a banana!
The acts on hand included American black comedian/activist Dick Gregory, Yoko Ono, artists Binder Edwards and Vaughn (famous for painting pop stripes on a Cadillac and displaying it in a gallery), Ron Geesin (who later did the orchestrations for Pink Floyd's 1970 'Atom Heart Mother'), Barry Fantoni, Scottish author Alexander Trocchi of 'Cain's Book' fame, Christopher Logue, poet Michael Horovitz and his New Departures team, the 26 Kingly Street group, (the brilliantly titled) The Utterly Incredible Too Long Ago To Remember Sometimes Shouting at People, Alexis Korner, Champion Jack Dupree, Graham Bond, Ginger Johnson and his African conga drummers, Savoy Brown, 117, The Pretty Things, the proto-punk band The Flies, The Purple Gang, Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, The Soft Machine and top billed, the Pink Floyd.
Mick Farren of the Deviants, said, 'It was damned good, the Alexandra Palace was such a beautiful place anyway. And there were mounds of speakers and light. And everybody who had been fucking around in a small environment got to go completely nuts. The only thing was that there wasn't much the power in either the lights or the sound, so it all became a blur, but there was lots of stuff happening. There were about 10,000 in the audience and a certain kind of exponential curve seemed to be setting in, which led some people to believe that we would now conquer the planet.'
Peter Jenner remembers the 14-hour Technicolor Dream: 'That really was a psychedelic experience. That really was the most psychedelic experience that I've ever been to. At least half the audience were doing acid. I was doing acid. We'd had to take a long drive to get there from a gig in Holland, and I did the last bit of the drive in the van. We dropped in at home and I did some acid before we went, and by the time I got to Alexandra Palace the old acid was beginning to go and trying to drive the van was getting quite exciting.
'It started coming on as we were being directed in. I had to steer the van in through something very tiny with lots of people wandering around absolutely out of their crust.'4 Nick Mason stated, 'We'd played a gig in Holland that same night and we didn't get to Alexandra Palace till three in the morning...More like, 'Someone take me home now, please.'
Syd wandered through the crowd, tripping on LSD, the endlessly milling crowd sweeping slowly and curiously up and down the vast, airy expanses of the Alexandra Palace. They would pause to see the light shows flickering on the dancers, or the helter skelter ride in the centre of the hall or the punters climbing the scaffolding to peer into the pip organ that was being repaired. Hoppy had to stop the bands and make an impassioned announcement, asking them to kindly get off. The light bulb installation, a billboard arranged on a stage, read out handy sound bites in lights, like 'Vietnam is a sad trip.'
Nick Jones of the Melody Maker noted, 'There was (a lot of) noise, and the Alexandra Palace wasn't the best place for acoustics, most of the sound echoing up into the high dome and away.' Some people spent the whole night in one corner, watching the light shows, or climbing on the scaffolding. Others decamped to one corner, where they laid their coats on the hard floor and lay down, staring at the ceiling and its acid-induced arabesques, chatting, sleeping or snogging. There were a lot of people milling about who were very straight, wearing suits and ties, looking slightly at a loss. One Underground luminary recalls, 'One of the organisers, who was gay, spent the whole time under one of the stages having sex with his motorbike boys, for hours and hours.'
Joe Boyd said, 'The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream was great, though I don't remember it too clearly. The Alexandra Palace was a big open hall. I was a bit stoned and had been up all night because we had had UFO the night before.' DJ John Peel said, 'It was like paradise, it was wonderful. You spent a lot of time rushing around saying, 'Brian Jones is here, Hendrix is here, where, where?' Rushing around to see famous people; you were still that much of a dick head. But it was just a great event. All these bands came on, a lot of them were awful. There were a few that were really good, but it was the sense of community, of occasion, the sense that anything was possible.'
Yoko Ono staged a Happening in the style of the Fluxus events she'd been involved with in New York in the early 1960s. A model, quite stoned, was seated on a step ladder with a blazing spotlight shining on her. Audience members were handed a pair of scissors, outfitted with a microphone plugged into the sound system, and instructed to snip off her clothes. Bit by bit her clothes fell away, with a crowd of bemused (largely male) punters swarming around her. Some looked on lecherously, but most just seemed confused. The sound of the amplified scissors echoed across the hall until the model sat, in all her glory, completely deshabile.
Keith Rowe, who performed with AMM that night, says 'I remember the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream as very violent. There was violence towards Yoko quite often when she performed those pieces with the men ripping away her pants, I found it unpleasant. A quite powerful emotion. The violence shown to her was quite out of order. She had racism and sexism against her. Even in 1996 it would probably be illegal to go on-stage and take someone's clothes off, but with a pair of amplified scissors, its possible.'
'I don't have particularly good memories of the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream,' says Peter Wynne-Wilson. 'I can't quite picture the scene, I can remember being up scaffolding there and I can remember someone doing watch-glass overhead projections. Roger Waters was in a bit of a state about something. I can remember taking equipment up, but I don't remember doing any lights there. There was fairground stuff, a lot of drugs, a LOT of drugs. I can remember thinking that the drug situation had got extremely messy and perverted because there were people completely in a state because of drink and drugs. And it seemed to me to be a real falling apart, I didn't like it at all.'
Miles says, 'The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream was quite boring by virtue of the fact that it went on for 14 hours. There is a limit to how many dodgy bands you can listen to, and it was also cold. There weren't many things to do, and there was nowhere to sit except on the floor. Not very nice, but it was a heavy socialising scene. Obviously the more people you know the better time you had. I knew a tremendous number of the people there, so I had a tremendous time. It's improved with age, at the time I never saw it as anything fantastic. Only later on did it start to take on a life of its own, whereas with the Albert Hall poetry reading, that was a significant event. The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream was no different than a UFO, only a big one; and I would have preferred UFO anytime.'
The Soft Machine took the stage. Daevid Allen said, 'I had found a miner's helmet with a lamp set above the brow. Robert Wyatt had set his drums sideways and Kevin Ayers was wearing makeup. The stages were set at opposite end of the cavernous venue facing each other, and more often than not two bands were playing at once. We only heard the band opposite us when we stopped, so it was supportable...just. After we had finished I wandered about amongst the huge crowd. All my life I had felt myself to be an outside, a freak, totally at odds with my time. Now, suddenly, I realised for the first time that I was not alone. I was surrounded by thousands of other versions of myself. I was part of a tribe, a movement, a gigantic soul. We looked around and saw ourselves reflected in multiples and we felt our power to change the world.
'This was the beginning of a peaceful revolution! As this realisation took hold of my entire being I became aware of a celestial orchestra playing over a slow beat. I was drawn to the far stage where, unopposed by a simultaneous band, a group of slightly embarrassed musicians played symphonic slide guitar under the camouflage of vividly hypnotic light projections. From the edge of the stage I watched, fascinated, as a young guy with mad staring eyes stroked his guitar with metal objects. The music thus created was almost Wagnerian in its emotional power. It welled up, expanding through the swirl of liquid light....'
This was a life changing moment for Daevid Allen, who henceforth adapted Barrett's glissando technique, and refined over a 30 year stretch with various incarnations of Gong. It many ways Gong, which still exists today, is the most direct remaining link to Syd Barrett and his music. Barrett's humour, guitar style and approach all live on in Gong.
Colin Turner, the one-time Mod who had found a portal into a new world at UFO, was on hand, 'Then the dawn arrived in a triumphant pink hue, the light came cascading in from the huge windows and amidst this awesome display of nature Pink Floyd took the stage. They were wearing outfits with flared trousers and satin shirts that I had not seen them wear before. People began to awake and hold hands as the first notes of 'Astronomy Domine' reverberated through the massive hall.
'The atmosphere was electric. There was an extraordinary connection between the band and the audience. Then the magic happened. Syd's mirror-disc telecaster caught the dawns pink light. Syd noticed this and with drug-filled eyes blazing, he made his guitar talk louder and louder, higher and higher as he reflected the light into the eyes of his audience and christened those of us lucky enough to be there, followers of Pink Floyd for life.'
Peter Jenner said, 'The band wanted to go on stage just as dawn was breaking, which they did and it was incredible.8 The band played at dawn with all the light coming through the glass at the Palace, the high point of the psychedelic era for me.9 It was a perfect setting, everyone had been waiting for them and everybody was on acid; that event was the peak of acid use in England...Everybody was on it: the bands, the organisers, the audience, and I certainly was.'
Robert Wyatt: 'The Floyd played at 4 in the morning. It must have been one of the greatest gigs they ever did, and Syd played with a slide and it completely blew my mind, because I was hearing echoes of all the music I'd ever heard, with bits of Bartok and god-knows-what. I don't understand why nobody else has ever attempted to do it since. Anyway, I thought I'd better investigate it.'11
Miles memorably wrote, 'Then there was a movement through the crowd and everyone turned to look at the huge east windows. They were glowing with the first faint approaches of dawn. At this magic moment of frozen time the Pink Floyd came on. Their music was eerie, solemn, and calming. After a whole night of frolicking and festivities and acid came the celebration of the dawn. A lot of people held hands with their neighbours. The Floyd were probably not that good but in the moment they were superb. They gave voice to the feelings of the crowd. Syd's eyes blazed as his notes soared up into the strengthening light. As the dawn was reflected in his famous mirror- disc Telecaster. Then came the rebirth of energy, another day, and with the sun a burst of dancing and enthusiasm. It was quite an event.'12
Robert Wyatt said, 'The Floyd had those pyramids as far as I can recall. They were doing very slow tunes.'13 The songs they played at the 14 Hour were slow, and with good reason, Syd was tired, very tired, and tripping too. It was at moments like this when one's grip on reality begins to loosen. Daevid Allen spoke of the uncomfortably eerie vibe as the Pink Floyd played, 'the glissando guitar stroker looked as though he was not there. It wouldn't be long before he wasn't.'
'Shadowy and ghostly,' is how Peter Whitehead remembers Syd at this time. 'Syd was already starting to cultivate this as a deliberate image. It was partially the way he functioned with people and also as a means of self-protection. He never found it easy to communicate with people.' Syd's mystical vibe was partially the result of the glassy eyed distance of the cannabis and LSD head, but also a strategy to beguile while simultaneously creating distance.
Miles says, 'Syd wasn't that different than quite a few other people around at the time until he started to burn himself up with acid. There were a lot of people around like that by that time. Acid was Syd's drug of choice. He had a real twinkle of the eye which later came to be a bit mystical. Again that became quite a common thing.'
Daevid Allen said, 'Mostly Syd Barrett sat around looking completely manic with staring eyes. In fact, it was very fashionable for everyone to sit around with staring eyes, like everyone was demented and totally out of their minds.' Mark Boyle noted, 'People really did believe that people who took drugs were pioneers of inner space.' The idea was popularised by Timothy Leary, as well as Alex Trocchi who wrote in the early sixties about drug users being 'cosmonauts of inner space'. It was an unfortunate mythologisation of drug use, giving a romantic veneer to burning your brain out.
Whitehead told Record Collector that signs of Syd's impending breakdown 'had been evident for a while, especially as I got the whole inside story from Jenny Spires, who was a bit cagey but it was clear to us all that he might not hold it together. He was just out of it, around the clock, every day. When it reached his stage efforts, it was clearly the beginning of the end.' The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream was the last time Whitehead ever saw Syd.
Peter Whitehead went around with his cameras, capturing vignettes of the new hip aristocracy. But also vivid snaps of a lovely girl with a flower which she twirls under her nose, her eyes wide with placid contentment, heavy with mascara like Twiggy's. She seems the embodiment of the naive, fleeting purity of flower power. Flowers blooming in explosive colour, beguiling those who see them. The threat that they may be trampled into dust later detracts nothing from their beauty, it even enhances it because it emphasizes their ephemeral fragility, their momentary, transitory exquisiteness.
Thirty years on, the image of that girl, frozen on video raises the questions of where did the flower children go to. Did she finish her studies, drop out and follow the hippie trail to Marrakech or Kathmandu, marry a stockbroker, become a feminist or a radical, overdose alone? If you saw her on the street today would she at all recognisable as the gentle flower child she was then? With her she took the spirit of the times, and one wonders what she did with it. Does she reach for it when she opens a box in the back of her closet, where the Rolling Stones' 'High Tides & Green Grass' LP sits alongside a faded puce scarf from Biba, and in the yellowed pages of the OZ 'School kids' issue, a pressed flower, dried and preserved, with a shadow of its former majesty.
The International Times summed up soon after by saying, 'The beautiful scene at the benefit at the Alexandra Palace on the 29th seems long ago when considered in the light of all that has happened since then.....One became aware, through the collecting of all these people, of just how much beauty and force there is here. And since the benefit there is a difference in London, a lot of people are speaking to a lot of people whom they only stared at before. We all know what they are talking about, and its not pop music or dances and all night raves.'
Over 700 tickets were stolen from a car in Notting Hill Gate a few days before the event, and precious little of the funds ever found their way back to the organisers. The trusting ways of the Underground were ill equipped for the harsh rigours of business. Like the Albert Hall poetry reading before it, the diverting of the proceeds would create a lot of finger pointing and animosity within the Underground.
The Sunday Mirror noted, 'The whole thing was rather like the last struggle of a doomed tribe to save itself from extinction.' Nick Jones wrote in a summary for the Melody Maker: 'The audience were quite happy looning about, looking at other's clothes, eating, sleeping, dancing and just freaking out, doing whatever they damn well wanted. There was a constant supply of films, slides, joss sticks, sounds, chants, or freakers doing acrobatics on the scaffolding.....It was just a nice happening. It was fascinating, because people are fascinating, and it takes a long while to get through 7,000 of them. I found the Dream a most absorbing experience.'
Hoppy says, 'The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream was a big event and a financial disaster. Most people were on drugs of one sort or another. It was a crest of a wave. It wasn't fully understood, but it was a landmark event.' There seems to be a collective amnesia about the event. No one can remember but a few glimpses and they're all different. 'Everyone who was involved has a different story, and they are all true. It's one of those paradoxes. There are lots of lots of people who say, 'I organised the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream.' This is what I mean about memory, what is the past? The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream is a prime example of how memory gives the opportunity for many people to claim it was their event. Many people claim it was their event. We all claim it was our event.
'Everyone can claim a piece of it, if they feel it is important. It's rather like this dream I had where I'm walking in the woods and come across a clearing where there is a box. I look inside it and pick up this thing I see inside. I look at it, and I can't see it. There is something there, but I can't see what it is. And it's like a metaphor or analogy for the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream. Everybody thinks they know what it was about, but when you look at it, there's something that you can't find out about it. It's hidden and occluded. And people who are looking for it will never find it. It's a cultural memory, and all the accounts are true and conflict with each other.'
Jonathan Greene. 'Days in the Life: Voices from the English Underground', 1961-1971. Minerva, 1988
'Dancing in the Streets', BBC series, 1996.
Allen, Daevid: 'Gong Dreaming', 1994.
'ZigZag', July 1973.
Platt, John & Wyatt, Robert: 'Wrong Movements', RAK Publishing, 1994.
Miles & Mabbett, Andy: 'Pink Floyd: The Visual Documentary', Omnibus Press, London 1994.
Macdonald, Bruno editor: 'Pink Floyd: Through the Eyes of...' Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1996 244.
Jay Whitten: email@example.com