The Stone Roses

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Music has for close to fifty years been a key component of the jigsaw of my life. I have loved music since I was a child captured by the exotica associated with some fine recording artists including Three Bob’s, Dylan – see my earlier post here – Bob Dylan  – Marley and Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, The Eagles, The Doors, Paul Simon, The Rolling Stones and Tom Waits.

In later years, and for the best part of quarter of a century, I earned my living in the Law, specifically Music Law representing some fascinating entrepreneurs, vagabonds and minstrels. It paid the bills and kept my music opiates topped up. I met some truly extraordinary people, who often lived complicated but wonderful lives devoted to engaging and entertaining others. Equally, I have met a fair proportion of consummate egoists, disinterested in those who don’t pander to them.

Simply put, music talks to my soul. It evokes memories. It causes the recall of sights, sounds and emotions.

Asked for my favourite song – that’s easy – U2’s “One”. I can rarely listen that complete wonder of a composition without tears in my eyes.

My favourite – what we used to call “Album” – being a collection of several songs that the artist (or their record company) has deliberately chosen to join together in some overall theme, concept or message. Honestly, again, that’s an easy one, the 1989 iconic debut album of the Manchester band “The Stone Roses” is simply one of the most complete and luxuriously beautiful bodies of work ever collected onto a 12” vinyl record, 4” digital CD or stream.

Depending on the format and country of release, “The Stone Roses” comprises a minimum of 12 recording that lasso a time, a mood and a vibe of the UK pre-BritPop explosion of the early 1990’s. Along with fellow Manc, The Happy Mondays, this album defined an era and is the soundtrack to the lives of me and many of my contemporaries.

Ian Brown (vocals) and John Squire (guitars) who had known each other from Altrincham Grammar School For Boys – somewhere I often played rugby on Saturday mornings in the late 1970’s – formed and disbanded several bands prior to being joined by Gary “Mani” Mounfield (bass) and Alan John “Reni” Wren (drums) to form The Stone Roses (Squire’s name), a guitar indi-rock band that sprung from the vibrant Madchester scene of the UK’s second city.

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Having composed and recorded songs for a demo, the band sent out 100 demo cassettes that featured the artwork of Squire, a very talented fine artist. This was followed by touring, further production and the release of some tracks to little commercial effect.

In August 1988 the band played Dingwalls in London in the presence of A&R representatives from South African owned label, Zomba and Geoff Travis one of the founders of the seminal indie, Rough Trade.

Rough Trade paid for some studio time and suggested Peter Hook bassist with New Order as a potential producer, when Hook was unavailable, Geoff suggested John Leckie a former Abbey Road award winning producer with an amazing production pedigree including Pink Floyd, XTC and Radiohead. The Stone Rose were signed to Zomba by Roddy McKenna and appeared on Andrew Lauder and Andy Richmond’s  Silvertone inprint. Rough Trade sold their tapes of “Elephant Stone” to Zomba.

Singles from the eponymous album were released in early 1989 and drew the attention of the all important Radio One. The Album, with John Squire/Jackson Pollock inspired artwork, was released on 2nd May 1989, went on to win the NME Reader’s Poll for Best Album of the Year. The Album is certified in the UK as triple platinum, notching sales in excess of 900,000 units.

To add a copy of The Stone Roses to your collection – click the link below the image:

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The Stone Roses (20th Anniversary Legacy Edition)

Images used with grateful thanks – Sony Music and Ian Tilton/NME

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Bob Dylan

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I wasn’t early to the party. It was about 1975 when my sister introduced me to Bob Dylan’s astonishingly iconic performances on music-cassette. It was a Greatest Hits Album with Dylan shot in blue in profile on the inlay card and I am forever grateful.

My sister had a small Sony Music-cassette compact system featuring a cassette deck and radio with two detachable speakers – mid-seventies cool for sure. Remember this?

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She was training as a Nurse in the City of London at one of the UK finest teaching hospitals, paving the way for my arrival in the Smoke within eighteen months. She is two years older, had tried Gitanes before me and she had discovered Bob Dylan before me.

The Greatest Hits album – was in fact it was the Greatest Hits Volume 2 – from 1971 and was released in view of the dirth of new material from Dylan at the behest of Columbia Record’s label boss, Clive Davis. He became of some influence over my later career in music and some time later he left under a cloud. Initially reticent, Dylan had then agreed to compile it himself adding unreleased material from the Basment Tapes era but I am getting ahead here….

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volmne 2 – click the link below the image

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Vol. 2-Greatest Hits

I simply don’t believe anyone who says they don’t like Bob Dylan’s songs. I love almost all. That’s like saying I don’t really like Spring or Tulips. I get that his singing may sometimes be a challenge. His voice varies hugely from the sonous and walnut to a croak but his words, his rhymes and his use of language are simply sublime. Weaving morality tales and fables with the support of a simple folk riff, a country slide-guitar, a brassy pomp or a more complicated cajun orchestration.

Dylan – together with able foot-soldiers Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen – is the Voice of several generations. From the early 1960’s and the era of the Protest Song and the Civil Rights movement, to Woodstock and to the Summer of Love – see here our previous post – Peace Sign and The Summer of Love – to later “difficult albums” that explore love, loss and religion to more recent masterpieces that dwell on death and legacy.

In 2016, Dylan became the first songwriter ever  to win Nobel Prize For Literature.

Dylan has sold more than 100m copies of more than sixty albums. He has written, prolifically, broadcasted and podcasted for years and has nurtured a diverse and talented family.

I have seen Dylan perform live on several occasions including at Harvey Goldsmith’s promoted “The Picnic at Blackbushe Aerodrome” show in 1978. I still have the poster!

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Despite at times ill-health, his commitment to endless touring – since the late 1990’s – has become an enduring legacy allowing the faithful to flock to see his performances. In the earlier years shows performances were loyal to familiar songs, more recently Dylan’s treatment of his standards, deconstructing them to within an inch of their lives, has not always been well received. I guess the master artist needs stimulation and revising original orchestrations must be a way to keep things interesting. After all they are his songs!

I was in Los Angeles in 1980 and visiting the celebrated and iconic Polo Lounge at Beverley Hills Hotel. Arriving in a city taxi we pulled towards the entrance of the hotel and there, getting into a cherry red compact car, was the diminutive and slightly stooped stature of our hero. Something very domestic, almost deliberately improverished and above all not really giving a f**k about expectation, perception or pretense. The very anthesis of the image of Californian life.

Every filmed interview of Dylan – and there really aren’t many – from 1965 in San Francisco, to D A Pennebaker’s “Don’t Look Back” – 1967 traipse around Europe – to the media coverage of the his investigature as a Nobel Prizewinner is punctuated by his well intentioned and sincere confusion by all the fuss. The younger Dylan explaining to an overly fawning interviewer, who was clearly irritating, that he had nothing of interest to share and shouldn’t presume to be able to. His reluctant assumption of the role as “Spokesman of his Generation” is just ours for the invention. His “I just set up my stall, played a few tunes and the rest is down to you” appears to be his honest belief. No master manipulator, no synical plan.

Like many have before you – can you help understand a little more about Dylan’s work by reading his own writing from the autobiographical “Chronicles Part One”? – Click the link below the image 

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Chronicles: Volume One

Don’t tell me you haven’t tried! We’d all love to be able to master the riffs that make the songs sing – some will, some inevitably wont! I am one…..

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Bob Dylan Made Easy for the Guitar: 1

The Music – there are sixty albums to chose from but can I suggest a couple of starting places. I’d also suggest that you don’t stream – please enjoy the packaging as well as the songs – please click the link below the image 

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

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The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Bringing It All Back Home

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Bringing It All Back Home (2010 Mono Version)

Blood on The Tracks – for me probably the Best…..

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Blood On The Tracks

Desire

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Desire

Time Out Of Mind

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Time Out Of Mind

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Images courtesy of Milton Glaser, Sony, CBS and Columbia Record.

Vinyl Long Playing Records

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There are various examples of what may appear to be a reverse – or at least the application of a hand-brake – in the relentless progress of technology. One of the most interesting examples is the massive rise in the demand amongst a younger demographic for iconic Vinyl Long Playing Records or “LPs”.

Whereas the expectation may be for those in their twenties/thirties to want the convenience and portability of a clinical digital system – the instant hit of Spotify or similar – it seems that they may be eschewing binary for a more authentic sound.

My techie pals will tell you that the regular digital MP3 format used to store your music on your favourite streaming services or remote library is in fact phonically inferior to LPs – something about compression and EQ. Alternatively, the purity of the MP3’s digital format filters out the highs and lows of the authentic rattle and hum that seems to contribute enormously to the listener’s enjoyment of the LP format. Consequently, audiophiles are increasingly seeking out original or re-pressed vinyl LPs to enjoy on their turntables; the grooves of which are read by a stylus, amplified by the AMP and played through speakers or headphones.

See our earlier post about one of the finest turntables ever built David Gammon’s Transcriptors Turntable

Vinyl LPs, originally shellac, in the 1950’s became a recycleable plastic compound “PVC”,  appeared in a number of formats. The most popular was the 12” version that held an album’s worth of material – recordings of perhaps ten to twelve songs – on two sides that rotated on a turntable at 33 1/3 rpm. A smaller double sided 7” record that contained usually one, two or three songs  – a featured track or A side intended for the Top 40 chart eligibility plus a B side – that rotated at 45 rpm – these were called “Singles”.

In the clubbing years of the 1980’s, DJ’s called for extended mixes of Singles and these tended to be compiled onto another form of 12” – called an “Extended Play” or “EP” – that rotated usually at 45 rpm and contained several different mixes of the same song allowing the DJ to chose which to play or which to mix with other records on his deck – please see Dominic’s previous post here – Technics SL 1200 by Dominic Baker 

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Add these cool retro “Vinyl Rules” T shirts to your wardrobe – AMAZON links here

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Vinyl Rules Black T-Shirt (Red print)-XXXXXX-Large

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Vinyl Rules – DJ Mixing Deck Mens T Shirt – white – Adult Mens 50-52″ XXL 

Vinyl LPs are a flawed format with some serious drawbacks. They are prone to scratch, attract finger prints if mishandled – palms at 9.00 and 3.00 is ideal – and through static acquired dust in the grooves such that it was entirely possible to “wear out” your LPs. Premium versions were pressed in limited numbers and made for better audio quality yet inevitably more expensive.

When I worked in the UK recorded music business from the mid-1980’s I was invited to Hamburg for the Phillips’ launch of the Compact Disc (“CD”) then seen as the answer to all woes of the music business. Pre-recorded laser-read shiny discs with digital storage, that could have drinks spilit on them and easily wiped off. Initially, of course, they were “Play Only”.

Here is an excellent BBC Archive piece from 1983 that highlights not only some market resistance to CD from EMI but also that convenience is shown not to have won! CD Here To Stay?

The format was impressive but the Phillips presentation fell a little short of the parallel Sony presentation. You may recall that the development of the science behind the CD format was a collaboration between the two electronic giants and then gifted – in effect – to the World. A typically sedate presentation for the Northern German’s involved the playing of a Deutsche Grammophon recording of a Bach “Toccata” which did little to impress the leather jacketed crowd of A&R audience. Word has it that Sony’s presentation – in an attempt to prove the stability of the format and to funk it up for the industry audience – the CD player was flung from one side of the room to the other with no loss of quality! A triumph for the Chelsea Tractor in car market.

CD was a massive filip – pun intended – to the back catalogues of the giant record companies who’d been recording artists for many years onto initially, analogue tape and then digital tape. They saw the opportunity; if you had purchased the LP when it was first released then you were almost compelled to add it to your CD collection which grew to mirror – and eventually exceeded – your vinyl LP collection.

The size of the CD and its jewel case had a dramatic effect on the packaging both the format but the look. For more than fifty year the packaging of an LP – and its appeal on the record store rack – had developed, in line with the increasingly competitive marketing conditions, into an art form. The work of celebrated artists including Roger Dean – the man behind Asia and Yes covers – contributed materially to the sale of their products.

 

Imagine Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” without a black cover punctuated by a rainbow emerging from a prism.

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The extraordinary works of Peter Brooke and Jann Haworth – please see here our previous post –  Peter Blake and Jann Haworth – “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” whilst its precise impact may be incalculable the importance of an album’s cover should not be underestimated. Interestingly, the 50th anniversary re-release of Sgt Pepper’s on vinyl became the top seller in that format in 2017.

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It is reported that Nielsen Music’s market report in late 2017 marked a year on year increase in vinyl sales of around 60% compared to a mere 40% increase in digital streams during the same period. In 2017, Vinyl LP sales accounted for 14% of physical music revenue in the US and that sales of turntables and accessories exceeded $1bn in the US.

So with the previously slowed down or defunct Vinyl pressing plants now back in  action, please allow me to offer some guidance to finding the most influential Vinyl LPs to play on your turntable – below each LP cover is an AMAZON link:

Bob Dylan – “Blood On The Tracks”

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Blood On The Tracks [VINYL]

David Bowie – “Ziggy”

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The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (2012 Remastered Version) [VINYL]

Bob Marley – “Legend”

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Legend [VINYL]

Bruce Springsteen – “Born To Run”

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Born To Run (Vinyl, 2014 Re-master) [VINYL]

Donald Fagen – “The Nightfly”please see our previous post here – International Geophysical Year

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The Nightfly [VINYL]

The Eagles – “Hotel California”

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Hotel California [VINYL]

Led Zepplin – “IV”

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Led Zeppelin IV [Remastered Original Vinyl]

Billy Bragg – “Life’s A Riot”

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Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs. S [VINYL]

Simon and Garfunkel – “Bookends”

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Bookends [180 gm vinyl]

The Stone Roses

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The Stone Roses [VINYL]

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Image Credits – with grateful thanks to BBC, The Washington Post, Roger Dean, Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, RCA, CBS, Island Records, Sony, Warners and Cooking Vinyl

International Geophysical Year

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Over the recent holidays, I was listening to Donald Fagen’s “The Nightfly” album from October 1982, his first since splitting “Steely Dan”. The first track on this iconic and multi-award winning solo album is “I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World)”.

One of the amazing things about today’s tech is rather than spending ages locating your nearest library – that may be closed as its a Bank Holiday – the world of information afforded by the internet is a button away.

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Get your copy of album by clicking this AMAZON link here The Nightfly

Fagen was born 10th January 1948 and graduated in 1969 from Bard College in upper New York State, had a childhood love of late night radio – thought to be the genesis of The Nightfly – born out of a certain dissatisfaction with his suburban upbringing. His family had moved to Kendall Park, New Jersey around 1958.

I.G.Y referred to International Geophysical Year, an eighteen month long celebration, ending on 31st December 1958, of scientific renaissance in the relationship between East and West. A post Cold War collaboration comprising the participation of sixty-seven countries – with the notable exception being the People’s Republic of China – in the fields of Earth science, Gravity, Geo-Magnetism, Meteorology, Oceanography and Ionospheric Physics. the organisation was presided over by Marcel Nicolet, a noted Belgian Physicist.

To celebrate IGY both the US and Soviet Union announced their intentions to launch unmanned satellites, respectively the Explorer 1 (from a team headed by Wernher von Braun) and Sputnik 1. Sputnik 1’s launch on 4th October 1957 was seen as a Soviet victory and ignited the “Space Race” leading to the creation of NASA on July 29, 1958.

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Much of the data collection made during the IGY is still in use and it lead to a more responsible management of particularly Antarctic environmental resources.

2018 represents not only Donald Fagen’s 70th birthday, on 10th January, but it also commemorates the 60th anniversary of I.G.Y. something of a testament to international co-operation and an optimism for a safer and more collaborative future.

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For our friends living in the US Live Nation have just announced that between May and July 2018 Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers will be co-headlining a North American Tour – enjoy!

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Image Credits with thanks: Warner Bros.

Battersea Power Station

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City skylines usually evolve by way of demolition, often to the regret of the local population. I am delighted to say that the iconic Battersea Power Station is being  restored and integrated into an exciting riverside development.

For those who have never visited London but have only ever seen the great city as depicted in mid-last century’s movies they would believe that a “peasouper” – a dense fog that ground London to a wheezing halt – was typical.

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Sadly, meteological conditions alone were not entirely responsible for the London’s fogs, the unabated burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal, was a major contributor. London’s  Great Smog of 1952 led to the 1956 Clean Air Act.

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Battersea Power Station is a decommissioned coal fired power station – that burned around 1m tons of coal annually – located on London’s south bank at Nine Elms. It was designed Sir Giles Gilbert Scott – the designer of London’s famous red-telephone boxes – and built of brick. It comprises two buildings: A Station – containing many Art Deco influences including Italian marble and parquet floors – was being built in the 1930s and B Station – slightly to the East – was built Post WWII in the austerity of 1950s.

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In 1983, as direct response to the need for more careful environmental management the station ceased to generate electricity thus leading to a nearly thirty-five year long struggle to maintain the stunning Grade II listed building whilst trying to decide what and who should be entrusted with its future.

BPS interior

Various attempts were been made to purchase the building with a view to redeveloping the site. In 1983 it was thought that a Theme Park might be a bright idea, planning permission was granted in 1986 and work stared including the removal of the roof. Costs rose astronomically and development was halted in 1989. In 1993 a Hong Kong based consortium started a decade long journey to try to develop the site. Further attempts in 2004 stalled and a sale in 2006 collapsed when loans were called in.

In 2012  a Malaysian consortium purchased with the restoration of the Grade II Power Station as a centre piece. A combination of  shops, leisure facilities and office space would sit alongside residential homes and a new Northern Line tube extension. Construction commenced in 2013 with an intended completion in 2017. The Northern Line extension will take until 2020, with Frank Gehry – see previous post – Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and Foster & Partners being appointed joint architects of this latter stage.

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In September 2016, Apple announced plans to relocate 1,400 employees to the station by 2021.

Battersea Power Station is not only a world famous London landmark it has appeared in many films including Albert Hitchcock’s “Sabotage” (1936) – before B Station was built, The Beatles’ “Help”, Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life” and the 2007 Batman movie “The Dark Night”.

Perhaps the most celebrated artistic uses of Battersea Power Station was on the cover photo of Pink Floyd’s “Animals” album in 1977 which was loosely based on George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”. The band’s Roger Waters commissioned artist Jeffrey Shaw and Ballon Fabrik to design, “Algie”, an inflatable pig which was tied to one of the Station’s southern chimneys. The pig broke loose and caused consternation as it drifted into Heathrow’s flightpath eventually landing in Kent.

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Buy your own copy of Pink Floyd’s “Animals” – in formats including vinyl by clicking the following AMAZON link Animals (2011 Remastered Version)
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Put an “Animals’  mug in the Christmas stocking of a Pink Floyd fan by clicking the following AMAZON link

Pyramid International “Pink Floyd (Animals)” Official Boxed Ceramic Coffee/Tea Mug, Multi-Colour, 11 oz/315 ml

Images courtesy of Pink Floyd/Jeffrey Shaw/Warner Music Group/The Telegraph

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Peace Sign and The Summer of Love

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As the 50th anniversary of the “Summer of Love” approaches in June 2107, I wanted to pay respectful recognition to an iconic logo, that symbolised so much hope for a peaceful world.

The Hippie movement in all its guises, peace, fashion, anti-war protest and decoration adopted as a core symbol a logo, designed nine years earlier by a Royal College of Art graduate and conscientious objector, Gerald Holtom, for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The symbol comprised a representation of the semaphore signal for the letters “N” and “D” that were understood to mean “nuclear” and “disarmament”.

The mid-sixties was a seminal time spawning a youth movement or counter-culture, that sought to challenge much of what the Old Guard saw as important.

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The Summer of Love saw over 100,000 people dressed in Hippie fashions converge on the San Francisco neighbourhood of Haight-Ashbury – or “Hashbury” as it was renamed by Hunter S. Thompson. Why did the Haight-Ashbury district become the centre of hippie culture? In the 60s, Haight-Ashbury was a depressed area, with good-sized homes at reasonable prices. It was on the outskirts of the city but close to two of the parks that starred in the Summer of Love – the Panhandle and the Golden Gate Park.

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The crowd grew with the addition of students on Spring Break in 1967 causing logistical issues for the San Francisco authorities, although reports suggest that the Police were largely tolerant, though unhelpful, towards this largely peaceful community.

There was a groundswell of great excitement, of inspiration and illegal drug use – particularly of cannabis and LSD. Free Love also featured, courtesy of the recent wide availability of the contraceptive pill. Although, it is widely regarded that the bohemian ghetto of Haight-Ashbury was largely drug fuelled, contemporary reports suggest whilst there was widespread abuse the core motivation for many was the search for new forms of self-expression.

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Largely questioning of their government, particularly in relation to the Vietnamese War – the first war, as shown nightly on TV – they rejected consumerism, promoting sharing and community. Whilst some embraced politics others were more drawn to the expressive arts and alternative religions.

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The Hippie crowd attended music festivals including the Monterey Pop Festival, in June 1967.

In the UK, the ideals of the Hippie counter-culture were embraced by many with the positive encouragement of band’s including The Beatles who used their influence to benefit the scene with the release on June 1st 1967 of  the “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album – see here our earlier celebration of the album’s iconic cover  – Peter Blake and Jann Haworth – “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. London’s King’s Road became the favoured street for those seeking hippie fashions with boutiques including, the brilliantly named, “Granny Takes A Trip” at 488 King’s Road.

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By October 1967, with many young people returning to their college studies the Summer of Love started to wain. However, many commentators agree that its lasting legacy of socio-political reassessment, questioning, tolerance and change was immense.

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Peter Blake and Jann Haworth – “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

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“It was twenty years ago today……”  in fact it was fifty years ago on 31.03.17 that the iconic photo was taken by Michael Cooper, for the cover of the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. The Beatles 8th studio album was released on 1st June 1967 becoming the first Beatles album to be released simultaneously, worldwide.

Produced by George Martin in just three months the album sold in excess of 2.5m copies in the first there months of release. It spent 27 weeks at the top of the UK album chart and 15 weeks at number one in the US. In 1968, it won four Grammy Awards including for Best Album Cover and Album of The Year.

By 2011, sales had exceeded 32m.

Newly acquired studio techniques including multi-tracking, reverb, a Mellotron keyboard and overdubs used by George Martin and Abbey Road Engineer, Geoff Emerick, along with the multi-cultural soundtrack created an innovative aural landscape. From the band’s perspective, as they had decided to cease touring in 1966, they knew that they would not be required to reproduce the album on stage.

The familiar hippy/psychedelia inspired album cover, was designed by “Pop artists”, Peter Blake and Jann Haworth from an ink drawing suggested by Paul McCartney. It depicts the great and good, as waxworks or cut-out portraits that were enlarged, coloured and worked into a collage by Blake and Haworth. They surround the members of the Beatles as their younger and older selves, wearing moustaches and gaudy uniforms and a grave dressed by marijuana plants.

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Paul McCartney has been quoted as saying that they chose military style garish uniforms as a statement as it would go against the very idea of a “uniform”. Well, this was 1967!

“Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” were both recorded during the album’s sessions but were released, at the behest of EMI, as a double A side single in February 1967. Due to their lack of success they were dropped from the final cut, much to George Martin’s regret.

The stunning, stand out track, for me has always been “A Day In The  Life” with its lyrical imagery, pace and sheer wall of sound. It’s unsurprising that it was banned by the BBC for its drug allusions and associated imagery. When did a BBC ban ever hurt sales?

The photo session with Cooper, also resulted in the back cover and the inside of the gatefold sleeve. Bonus gifts inside the album’s packaging included a sheet of cardboard cut-outs, a postcard-sized portrait of Sgt. Pepper and a fake moustache – like those worn by the band’s members.

Adolf Hitler, Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandi and Aleister Crowley were each suggested by Lennon and others but ultimately not included for a variety of sensibilities. Elvis Presley, is another notable absentee, which was explained by McCartney being deferential to his stature in popular music at the time.

The final cost for the cover art was reported to be nearly £3,000. A huge sum at the time where £50.00 was the usual budget!

The drum-skin featuring the title of the album was sold in July 2008 for $1,067,346.

Sgt peppers Drumskin