Wish You Were There: The 14 Hour Technicolour Dream

If you think that all night raves started with acid house, then think again. As with most things countercultural, the 60s did it first and better.

This month marks 46 years since the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream, the beginning of the UK’s Summer of Love and a high water mark for British hippiedom.

Organised to raise funds for countercultural flagship mag International Times, the 14 Hour Technicolour dream was a ‘happening’ similar to the ‘Acid Tests’ and ‘Love-Ins’ that had been occurring in San Francisco for a couple of years.

For the princely sum of £1 (£15 today, although there would also be booking fees, postage fees, agent fees etc etc) you could see any number of off-the-wall performance artists and poets as well as leading lights of UK psychedelia including Soft Machine, The Move,  Tomorrow, John’s Children (pre-T Rex Marc Bolan) and the kings of the paisley underground, Pink Floyd.

Floyd had been playing similar ‘all-night raves’ for a year or so, and were in the vanguard of the new experimentation with LSD. In Crazy Diamond, one of several biographies of Floyd founder Syd Barrett, it is suggested that he/ they were among the very first regular users of the drug in the UK.

By the time of the Alexandra Palace gig its use was more widespread but still limited to a fairly small number of arty creative types. The music, if not the drug, would go mainstream in the next year or so and the fashions that it inspired would last well into the 1970s.

The footage (see bottom of post for clips from Tonight Let’s All Make Love in London, a documentary on the nascent psychedelic scene in London; and Man Alive, a BBC documentary about the event itself) shows how gloriously ramshackle the whole affair was – John Lennon, one of the most famous men in the world, apparently decided to go only that evening after seeing an item on the news about it. Out of his head on acid, he can been seen just wandering around the crowd.

Nowadays you would not be able to move for t-shirt vendors, drinks promotions and roped off areas for VIPs, even if you could get a ticket (see above).

Why do I wish I was there? Two reasons. Firstly, the optimism. The belief that people can change the world by being nice to each other (and taking mind bending substances) is so alien to our cynical age that I would have to witness it first hand to believe it. And secondly to witness this counterculture before it went sour, before they started ‘selling hippy wigs in Woolworths‘.




Wish you were there: The High Numbers, 1964

Before they were the Who, they were the High Numbers. Very little exists of their work in this guise, except in the memories of those who were there. Even The Who’s ‘My Generation’, their first album, does not capture the excitement of their live act.

Before ‘Tommy’, ‘Quadrophenia’ and 10 minute epics, they played intense, electrifying versions of Tamla and James Brown hits – ‘Please Please Please’, ‘Heatwave’ and this, the Miracles’ ‘I got to dance to keep from crying’

Before Monterey Pop, Woodstock and America’s enormodomes, they played to young mods here, the Railway Tavern in Harrow, as well as the Watford Trades Union Hall and a dozen other pubs and clubs in North West London.

I love this clip because it captures the purity of their vision – uptempo, danceable records, played as loud as possible. Music of black American urban youth reinterpreted by their white British counterparts. Sunglasses indoors. Cool.