Syd Barrett 's Psychedelic London

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. Here is part one, reprinted here by permission:

The 14-Hour
Technicolor Dream

That night the Pink Floyd topped the bill at multi-band extravaganza, The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream. Hoppy organized a group of his girlfriends to stand in Regent Street and pass out fliers, dressed in miniskirts ten inches above the knee. Later, the same flower and fancy dress contingent dropped off an invitation to the Dream for the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Envisaged as a "giant benefit against fuzz action" of the sort that arrested Hoppy and tried to shut down [the International Times], The Technicolor Dream was to raise funds for the [IT] legal defence fund. Word of the event spread throughout London for weeks. An estimated 7,000 punters crowded into the vast Alexandra Palace in London, hired out for the night by Hoppy and Dave Howson of Middle Earth.

The Alexandra Palace was a series of Victorian glass and steel halls built in 1875 crowning the top of Muswell Hill, overlooking London like an aerie. The Great Hall’s awe-inspiring vaulted roof and 30-foot tall glass windows surrounded space for 12,000 with 2,000 more in orchestra stalls. The colossal Willis Organ, driven by steam engines and vast bellows, was under scaffolding for repairs.

The Dream began at 8pm and went through the night until 10 in the morning. Many groovers had been up since the night before at UFO, when Jimi Hendrix jumped up to play bass with Tomorrow. [They] arrived in black ties, blazers, and evening dress befitting attending a cultural event. A generous assortment of caftan and bell wearing ravers flowed through them, bursting into the Palace in high spirits.

For many, the Dream was an epochal experience, as a ripple of recognition spread through the crowd, amazed at how many full-fledged freaks were in London, and how many they knew. The small London coterie sent out a wave that affected youth culture the world over. The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream brought the movement out into the open, propagated core ideas, and imploded, in the manner of mass cultural movements.

Dudley Edwards of art ensemble Binder, Edwards and Vaughn says, "For anyone who was privileged to be there, that was the event of the sixties. The huge interior space was lit with big film arc lights turning night into day. There was a feel of a medieval market place with stalls and people in harlequin costumes, acrobats here and jugglers there, a helter skelter."

Paying one-pound admission at the door, crowds streamed into the Hall. The scaffolding around the pipe organ like a baroque reliquary, a battery of spotlights accentuated looming shadows. Three film crews filmed proceedings. Indica gallery owner John Dunbar was at John Lennon’s home that evening. "We were watching TV and suddenly saw this thing was going on. So we thought, [sod] 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 I literally saw people I’d last seen at kindergarten and hadn’t seen since."

Selmer were volunteered by Blackhill to provide a PA system. Two chaps came down from their factory and set up a pitiful 100-watt PA, with two 2 x 12 combos and Selmer Goliath bass cabinet on either stage.

For the better of the night and morning, two bands played simultaneously on the two stages, often causing an unexpected merger of styles though also a headache as sound resounded off the vaulted roof. Mick Farren, "I swear I saw Lennon standing in [the] zone of dissonance moving forward and back looking quite fascinated."

[David] Medalla and half a dozen nubile dancers in flowing scarves and gauze danced freeform pirouettes under powerful lights that cast stark shadows of the dancers across the assembled throng. To the tune of the Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows, they performed a ballet of sorts dubbed the "fuzz death ballet." Nightstick wielding bobbies chased nymphs and Medalla, with silver reflective discs like the ones on Syd’s guitar affixed to legs and bum.

Jack Henry Moore and a small army of technicians dashed from one spot to another, fixing speakers threatening to fuse and rewiring light fixtures on the verge of collapse. 500,000 watts of lightshows galore lit up every inch of available wall space from a light gantry in the centre of the Palace. Underground films were screened overhead. Projectors beamed onto billowing white sheets taped with electrician’s tape to the scaffolding housing the Victorian organ. The centrepiece was a 70-foot tall helter-skelter slide rented for the night, which people clambered to the top of and spiralled down.

The mood was optimistic, as smiling, colourful dressed people milled with endless chemical quicksteps from corner to corner. A ritual lighting of joss sticks filled the Palace with sickly sweet smoke. A wire igloo with mosquito netting was set up in one corner, where banana skin joints, touted for hallucinogenic effects, were handed out. A bitter after-taste was all it left one with, though the idea was more of an intentional put-on anyhow. Couples grappled in the igloo all night.

Announced by MC Jeff Dexter dressed as a cardinal, complete with robes and vestment, rock bands filed on and off one after the other. The acts included American black comedian/activist Dick Gregory, Yoko Ono, Notting Hill sound artist (and later Pink Floyd collaborator) Ron Geesin and Syd’s Camberwell classmate, Barry Fantoni.

Peter Russell and his lightshow team, attached to Cambridge band 117, occupied the top tier while [art ensemble Binder, Edwards and Vaughn] cast overhead watch glass projections on sheets ringing the Palace. 117’s shows used thin liquid films sandwiched between slides, using heat or pressure (and sometimes injection) to move them. Some early Polaroid work as well.’

Edwards descended from the scaffolding to take in the scene. "It was all so relaxed. Denny Laine was just sitting on the floor strumming his acoustic guitar with no one paying any heed. John Lennon and John Dunbar just strolled through the crowds without interference."

Though obstruction from the Musician’s Union blocked a performance by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, bands pile drove through to the dawn.

The freak contingent was well represented by hardcore underground band The Flies, whom Miles cited as the world’s first punk band. With vocalist Robin Hunt draped in a sheet stolen from the lightshow, the Flies launched into their ferocious freak beat version of (I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone. Like the Brothers Grimm, the Flies formed part of the UFO cadre that shouted the Pink Floyd had sold out.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown made an electrifying performance with a sprightly Arthur Brown in full makeup prancing like a shaman on ayahuasca with headdress in flames, shouting "I am the god of hellfire!"

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. Visit Floydian Slips again for part two of this story chronicling the emergence of psychedelia.