Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fifty Years Of The Summer Of Love

At 06.24 tomorrow morning (Spanish time), summer begins. It is a summer fifty years removed from a summer that will always be remembered as the Summer of Love - the original one and so not to be confused with the second, ecstasy-fuelled pretender some twenty years later. It was a summer when the world of Western society appeared to shift on its axis.

In July of that year, the old school closed down. The Edwardian buildings with their collection of prefabs were past their sell-by date. The new school had been built on a council estate some three miles away. On the very last day, something odd happened. The whole school had free time. There were no classes. We could do, more or less, what we liked.

Looking back, that last day was symbolic. The present and future had caught up. The dark corridors of the old school were to be replaced with bright modernity, which was to be the focal point, four years later, of the new equality. Through amalgamation, our school was to become, and remain so for some years, the largest comprehensive in the country. While education was moving into uncharted territory, so was society. A free day to mark the closure of the past hinted at the new freedoms ushered in by the Summer of Love.

The sixth form was given the run of the gramophone player in the music room (music prefab). A group of first formers, myself included, had gathered on the playing field near to the room. Games were played, lemonade was drunk, and music through an open window was listened to. "We skipped the light fandango. Turned cartwheels 'cross the floor."

Procol Harum created just one sound that summer. There were so many more, but A Whiter Shade Of Pale has lodged in my memory for its having blared out from the music room. Even at the time I remember thinking that things weren't making sense. A strict grammar school, where the closest that music got to modernity was the Gilbert and Sullivan performance we had been forced to endure a few months previously, was permitting the playing of a song with distinctly peculiar lyrics. As a twelve-year-old, however, it didn't occur to me that they might have owed something to LSD.

There again, the school wouldn't have been any the wiser. Most of the teachers were firmly of the old school (metaphorically). Like parents, they would have looked upon the societal changes of the 1960s with a mix of perplexity, dismay and horror. Mods, Rockers, Teds and Beatniks couldn't have prepared the parental generation for what 1967 unleashed.

Once the holidays started that summer, we went to Bournemouth. Through the pages of an aghast press, I was to discover that Bournemouth was not unique in having been colonised by strange-looking characters with flowers in their hair. When they moved, bells rang. They all seemed to be very happy. I thought they were funny. My parents thought otherwise.

The remarkable thing was how quickly this had all happened. In January of 1967, the Human Be-In at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park brought Haight-Ashbury to the world's attention. By the summer, San Francisco was far from alone. Hippies had taken over. The axis was shifting, and new attitudes were reflected by legislation - abortion and homosexuality in the UK - by the availability of the Pill, and by technology. Our World was broadcast on 25 June, 1967. The Beatles sang All You Need Is Love. The summer had arrived.

Even Western societies that were trying their utmost to keep modernity and permissiveness at an arm's length were not immune. In Mallorca (as also on the Costas), the Franco regime had, in any event, pretty much lost the battle by 1967. In Ibiza that year, the first hippies arrived. Even before 1967, members of what was to become one of the pre-eminent psychedelic bands, The Soft Machine, had been visiting Robert Graves in Deià.

Local pop groups, quick to imitate imported British and American fashion and trends, looked admiringly in the direction of kaftans. Los Javaloyas, who had carved out a formidable career by, variously, wearing suits like The Beatles or publicising themselves with images of accordion-playing on rocks, covered the hit by The Flowerpot Men: Vamos a San Francisco, they insisted. In Palma's El Terreno district, Sergeant Pepper's opened, replete with psychedelic light show.

At a deeper cultural level, five years before the Summer of Love the English version of Joan Mascaró i Fornés' Bhagavad Gita had been published. His Hindu texts were to inspire George Harrison, with whom the Santa Margalida-born scholar corresponded. Harrison and The Beatles first met the Maharishi in August 1967.

Fifty years on. A whiter shade of pale? No, it still seems as vivid and as vibrant as the posters were.

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