Syd Barrett's Psychedelic London, Part II

Of Two Johns: Lennon & Sinclair, posted here a short while ago, tells of John Lennon, Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, and Yoko Ono all as active participants at The 14-Hour Technicolor Dream, an early London Be-In. Providing more detail of that story, Julian Palacios, author of the forthcoming book, Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd—Lost in the Woods, has graciously permitted an abridged chapter to be published herein. Click here for part one. Below is part two, reprinted here by permission:

The 14-Hour
Technicolor Dream

The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream marked the height of underground fashion. The full range of uniforms prevalent in sixties culture was in evidence. Here a phalanx of pea-coated beatniks, there a Kings Road fashion maven in a 1940’s satin dress with a chinchilla wrap. As proof of the Beatles sartorial dominance, everywhere were men with Edwardian beards and moustaches, rather than bog-brush beards of the later sixties. John Lennon grokked the scene clad in a sheepskin Afghan coat and granny specs.

The Pink Floyd made their way back from Heathrow. Stopping in at Edbrooke Road, [Peter] Jenner and Syd [Barrett] each dropped a tab of LSD before driving up to Muswell Hill in a convoy of Bentley and Transit van. Jenner said, "The most psychedelic experience that I’ve ever been to. At least half the audience was doing acid. I was doing acid. We’d had to take a long drive to get there from a gig in The Netherlands."

The group alighted at the Alexandra Palace at 3 am. They, like all the other bands, were playing free for the benefit. Syd wandered the crowd, tripping on LSD, having already smoked strong weed in Amsterdam earlier in the day. [He] ran into Mick Rock. The pair climbed scaffolding to peer into pipe organ bellows and entertained themselves pelting Yoko Ono with bits of wadded up paper as she organised a Fluxus-style happening. With a working title of "A Pretty Girl is a Manifesto," Ono had model Carol Mann [seated] on a stepladder dressed as a nun under a blazing spotlight. Audience members were handed scissors, outfitted with a contact microphone plugged into the sound system. Instructed to snip off her clothes, bit by bit her clothes fell away, as a crowd of bemused male punters swarmed. Amplified scissors echoed across the Palace until Mann sat, in all her glory, nude.

When Soft Machine took the stage, Daevid Allen wore a miner’s helmet with lamplight atop, Kevin Ayers sported oracular makeup. Robert Wyatt cut his hair short, wore a suit and tie, and set drums sideways. The group played [the] joke number We Did It Again, which repeated the title over one monotonous groove for 40 minutes at a stretch. Barrett soon adopted this avant-garde prank onstage to his band mates despair. ("Soft Machine were good fun," in Barrett’s view.)


Daevid Allen said, "After we had finished I wandered about among the huge crowd." Allen also noted that, paradoxically, he never felt more alone in his life. "As this realization 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. The music thus created was almost Wagnerian in its emotional power. It welled up, expanding through the swirl of liquid light." A life changing moment for Allen, who adapted Barrett’s glissando technique, refined over a 40-year stretch with various incarnations of Gong.

Robert Wyatt was also impressed, "The Floyd played at 4 in the morning. It must have been one of the greatest gigs they ever did. Syd played with a slide and it blew my mind. I was hearing echoes of all the music I’d ever heard, with bits of Béla Bartók and God-knows-what."

The Pink Floyd at the Dream was the high point of the psychedelic era to Peter Jenner. "A perfect setting, everyone had been waiting for them and everybody was on acid." To a fanfare of the Finale by Bream, the group took the stage. Colin Turner was on hand, "The dawn arrived in a triumphant pink hue, the light came cascading in from the huge windows. Amid this awesome display of nature, Pink Floyd took the stage. They were wearing outfits with flared trousers and satin shirts. People began to awake and hold hands as the first notes of Astronomy Dominé echoed through the Palace."

Colin: "There was an extraordinary connection between the group and the audience. Then the magic happened. Syd’s mirror-disc Telecaster caught the dawn’s 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."

Chris Beard, "Something was not right and Syd was not up to it, just standing there out of his tree I suspected. Roger Waters seemed to take over. I admired Waters for this and was not happy that Syd had now drifted off." In a photograph, Barrett looks as though viewing things from a slight remove, as though already absent. Acid accentuated his offbeat charisma, such that he seemed in retreat even as the group approached fame.

As morning broke, sun streamed through the tall windows, lighting up the Palace in ghostly white angles. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, arriving a bit late, pulled up in Bentley and emerged looking rather shattered, clad in a full pearly king outfit. Beck’s Bolero by Jeff Beck blasted through the Palace, with Indian modal scales colliding head-on with Elmore James and Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. Hoppy and Suzy Creamcheese stood at the door. In inimitable style, they shook hands and said good morning to everyone as they filed out into the light. Hoppy’s court trial was four weeks away.

[International Times] summed up, "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." Nick Jones wrote in Melody Maker, ‘The audience were happy looning about, looking at other’s clothes, eating, sleeping, dancing and just freaking out, doing whatever they damn well wanted. I found the Dream a most absorbing experience.’

Hoppy says, "The Dream was a crest of a wave. It was a landmark event. Everyone involved has a different story. All are true. It’s one of those paradoxes. The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream is a prime example of how memory gives the opportunity for many people to claim it was their event. Everyone can claim a piece, if they feel it important. Everybody thinks they know what the Dream was about, but when you look, there is something that you cannot find out about it. The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream is a cultural memory. It’s hidden and occluded." An accurate summary of the acid experience.

From Syd Barrett was an art school student when he founded Pink Floyd. Famous before his 20th birthday, Barrett led the charge of psychedelia onstage at London’s famed UFO club, and his acid-inspired lyrics became a hallmark of London’s 1967 Summer of Love.

The second edition of Palacios' Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd—Lost in the Woods, from Plexus Publishing Ltd.—completely revised, expanded and amended—will be available in time for Christmas, 2009.