1967: The best year for music?

It's the year always associated with the Summer of Love and now Radio 2 listeners have voted it the ultimate for music. Miles Kington and others recall their memories of a swinging scene
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

1967? Yes, that was the year in which I got a most peculiar phone call from Brian Blain. He was the jazz reviewer of the Daily Worker, or Morning Star, as I think it was by then. I was at the other end of the scale. I reviewed jazz for The Times. So Brian interpreted jazz for the workers and I did the same for top people.

"Listen, Miles," said Brian. "How would you like to help me take a Russian round town?"

"Tell me more," I said.

"There's this big Russian cultural guy coming over from Moscow. Editor of the Literary Gazette or something. Determined to see the youth scene for himself. He's called Alexander Chakovsky. Got in touch with the Communist paper over here. They got in touch with me."

It made sense. Swinging London. Flower Power. Hippy times. Sergeant Pepper. Wear a flower in your hair. Who wouldn't want to see for himself ?

"Thing is, Miles, I don't know the scene at all. All this hippy flower power thing. It's not my scene at all."

"Yes, Brian, but it's not mine either. You know that. We're both jazz bores."

"Yes, I know, but I thought together we might bluff our way through."

I was a young freelance writer at the time, living on Kensington Park Road in Notting Hill, between Ladbroke Grove and Portobello Road. When I say freelance, I mean I was unemployed. I wrote lots of comic material and sent it off to places like Punch, and places like Punch generally sent it back again. The only regular work I had was reviewing jazz for The Times. So most of the day I sat at home with my portable typewriter and bashed away at it, with a grim expression on my face betokening that I was trying to make people laugh.

When the weather was hot, I moved a chair and table out on to our small balcony, and typed away in the open air, above the street. Oddly enough, whenever I worked outside the typewriter seemed to malfunction. The little bell which told you that you were coming to the end of a line started to sound too early, and I would crash the carriage back again for another line after only two or three words had been typed. Then finally I realised that it wasn't the typewriter making the noise. It was the hippies in the street below, walking past, their bells tinkling.

"I thought maybe we would soften our Russian up with a little jazz at the 100 Club," said Brian. "Then go on to the Marquee. Then finish off the evening at the Roundhouse."

"Excellent," I said. "Sounds good to me."

What did I know? I had never been to the Marquee or the Roundhouse. That was where my hippy contemporaries went. I am living proof that it was possible to live through the 1960s and not be infected. I liked the Beatles well enough - even went to see them - and I thought the Kinks were great, but I thought Bob Dylan was dreary and that the Rolling Stones were nowhere near as good as the black musicians they had stolen the music from.

I looked at the flowery people who were all doing their own thing and wondered why, if they all wanted to be individuals, they all did the same thing. Looking back, I think the most unconventional thing I could have done in the context of the 1960s was review jazz by night and to sit on a balcony in the sun by day and try to get published in Punch.

"Mr Chakovsky must not go out empty," said my wife. "Ask him round here for supper." And we did, and he was very pleasant, and even made a joke. "Let me help with the washing up," he said after the meal, "so that you can see we are not still feudal in Russia!"

We met Brain Blain at the 100 Club, a lone outpost of jazz in those days. The manager, Roger Horton, used to put on as much jazz as possible, then hire popular rock bands to pay the rent. "I put on The Who in their early days," he told me once. "Got them for £20 for the night. They were crap."

The night we went with our Russian, it was Alex Welsh and his excellent band who were playing, but our Russian did not like jazz, so we went on to the Marquee to hear the famed blues-based band Ten Years After, with lightning fast guitarist Alvin Lee.

(I have a curious memory of their set. At the start of one tune the drummer was one beat out. He was playing the off beat on the on beat. The leader signalled to him to stop and start again, but the drummer's eyes were closed. So the nearest musician leant over, held the drummer's arm for one beat, then let go again, so he was now in the right place.)

"It is too loud," said Mr Chakovsky, "and too smoky."

He did not seem like a man who wanted to get too close to youth culture.

"I wonder what he will think of the Roundhouse," Brian muttered to me.

It was not a place that Brian or I frequented much. They did not play much jazz there. It was all those bands with strange names and strange costumes who now filled the pages of Melody Maker, which had once been all jazz.

There were light shows, and moving psychedelic colours crept up and down the walls, and people smoked funny cigarettes, and the night we went the main band was, I think, Mott the Hoople, about whom I can remember nothing except the name. (Did I perhaps see them some other time, when the arts editor of The Times suddenly woke up to the fact that they had got through the whole of the 1960s without reviewing any pop music, and try to convert me into a pop reviewer? And I was sent to the Albert Hall to see Led Zeppelin, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Genesis, and hated them all?)

"I am not enjoying this," Brian told me.

"I am not enjoying this, either," I told him. "What does Mr Chakovsky think of it?"

We looked round. He was gone. He was nowhere to be seen in the cavernous, conical hall.

"We have to find him," said Brian. "The Morning Star will not take it well if I lose a very important Russian."

We tracked him down in a small side room where they were just starting to show a film. It was an old black and white Hollywood movie. New Orleans, with Billie Holliday and Louis Armstrong.

"I did not like the music out there," he told us, "but this is wonderful! I love American musicals!"

We had to wait another two hours until it finished, but at least he was happy.

Max Clifford, PR consultant

It all gets a bit vague for me. I just remember it as a very exciting time, whether it was 1966, 1967 or 1968. I had joined EMI in 1962 when I was 19. Five years on, people were starting to say the Beatles had peaked, then they came out with Sergeant Pepper, which was huge, and answered all the doubters and dispelled all the critics. Far from the end, it said the Beatles were just getting bigger and better. At the same time, we were launching a new label, Tamla Motown, with Smoky Robinson, the Jackson Five and the Temptations. We were incredibly privileged, there was all this Lamont Dozier Holland music and the likes of Marvin Gaye. From my point of view it was a double year. The music was part of such a huge social change. Suddenly there were clubs, concerts, shows. It was our music. As a child, the only concert I had ever been to was Handel's Messiah. Suddenly, there I was in the middle of a music boom which changed everything, not just musically, but socially.

Joan Bakewell, TV presenter

I was working on the arts programme Late Night Line Up, so I was quite close to it all. The year was full of energy and optimism. Many groups had their first breaks on the show. They all came in, and I remember there was a great horrible smell along the corridor when they had gone.

Bob Harris, Radio 2 DJ

It was a great year for me. I had just moved up to London and it was the Summer of Love. There were free concerts in Hyde Park with some of the greatest bands of the time. There was a very vigorous underground scene in London with the blossoming of a whole new generation of publications like Oz magazine. I was living in a house in Islington. I met Tony Elliott, with whom I founded Time Out magazine. I also met John Peel and Marc Bolan that summer. It was the summer of Sergeant Pepper. A lot of social activity revolved around the forthcoming release. Paul McCartney gave a friend of mine some early mixes of Sergeant Pepper and he let it be known there was going to be a playback of these at the Roundhouse. The news spread and there were queues around the block. It was a time to be young, and we began to feel a real sense of optimism.

Michael Buerk, newsreader

I was a reporter for the Daily Mail in Manchester. I remember spending most of my time prowling nightclubs looking for George Best. The year's highlight was meeting my wife on a journalism course. We got together at this party and a Donovan song was playing in the background - but I've never been able to track it down.

Barry Miles, Paul McCartney's biographer

It was definitely the best year for music. Before, pop music was just a three-minute tune. This was the year of rock and roll. 1967 was just far out. It was a year of transition and experimentation, the year of clubs, of massive bands playing in front of small crowds. I often went to clubs where you would find the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and such like.

It was the only time that you could go into a club and see the Beatles sat at the side of the stage just listening to other bands play and have Jimi Hendrix coming in at three in the morning to jam. I was lucky enough to go to most of the recording sessions of Sergeant Pepper, which was amazing. The sound was very exciting and new. No one had ever heard anything like this before. The Beatles' songs worked on so many levels and influenced so many people. They were not afraid to push the boundaries and take tremendous risks.