The swinging sixties, a lot is written about the sixties and most of it is rubbish, written by people either to young or too old to have actually experienced them.
Lets take that old adage “if you can remember them you weren’t there”, well I was there and I do remember them.
Sex and drugs and rock n roll. Well yes, to some degree in some specific areas of society, but nowhere near as rife as writers want us to believe.
So why am I debunking this era? In fact I’m not debunking them, they were a fantastic period that I wish many generations could experience, but I want to explain why they were so fantastic.
Let us first tell you a little about the generation who went through this era. We grew up in a gray society, our parents wore gray, our houses were gray our cars were, well black, our haircuts were “short back and sides”, we wore “sensible shoes” and “sensible clothes”, and that was it! We were a generation where you were either children or adults, very little, if anything, in between. We were a generation that “should been seen and not heard” We were a generation with no clothes shops, no films were made for us, no records were cut for us, and no thought was given to us! Our writing paper (strange thing to mention but relevant as you will see) was white or you could have white or white, sometimes for the ultra daring you could buy light blue, but that was for the daring or even more daring Airmail letters, yes sending a letter to another country was actually a big and important event and had to be treated with reverence and specially colour coded envelopes, they had blue and red edging no less.
Leaving school for the majority of us was leaving childhood and stepping next day into adulthood albeit as a junior and totally unimportant member of society. We took the bus, underground or train to work and called our bosses Mr never by the first name and he was god! If Mr so and so said do something, you didn’t discuss it, you did as you were told. Women in the workplace were receptionists, cleaners, typists, book keepers, secretaries or tea ladies (yes, they came round with tea at 11 o’clock and again at 3 o’clock) never supervisors or god forbid managers. For those in industrial jobs we wore overalls and sensible shoes. No jeans or t-shirts or sneakers, even if you could find them in the shops, which you couldn’t. Those of us in administration, wore gray or blue pinstripe suits, white shirt and sensible club ties. On Saturdays those working in banks were allowed to wear beige cavalry twill slacks, a check sports jacket and a light check patterned shirt. By age eighteen I was a salesman and was forced to wear a Trilby Hat no less!
So, I’ve set the scene. There we were a great group of youth, all shackled and fettered in rules, regulations and convention.
And then it happened!
It didn’t seem to creep up slowly and start a bit at a time but it exploded on us. It was like a time bomb going off. It was like a mass consciousness where suddenly young people throughout the world all thought and acted at once and the world was suddenly in colour and we were wandering around in wonder and amazement at all the new sounds and new things available to us.
But don’t be fooled by the last sentence, the majority of us were still shackled by the constraints of society.
Suddenly, shops appeared with clothes for us, yes clothes for young people, suddenly we had psychedelic writing paper (remember I mentioned this), suddenly groups with long hair appeared, well by today’s standards it wasn’t really long, groups like the Beatles and Rolling Stones, but for us it was ground breaking. Our superiors a work were livid with us if our hair dared touch our shirt collars or if we dared to let our sideburns grow down a fraction too long and we were immediately dubbed as hippies or worse, worthless or reckless layabouts no less, who would come to no good!
So most of us went along in our gray pre revolution garb and became “weekend hippies”. That’s when we put colour on and let what little hair most of us had down. We wore our Afghans with pride, our bell bottoms with a swagger and started going to newly opened clubs to hear our music and dance (another sinful exercise) Those of us living in London shopped in Kings road or Carnaby street. We went to The Roundhouse at Chalk Farm (then just a skeleton of a building that youth had taken over) to listen to people like Alan Ginsberg read poetry or groups like the The Groundhogs play blues rock.
The world had suddenly become ours! We were, like all youth, full of ourselves, we were going to bring peace to the world and we meant it. We went on “Ban the bomb” marches, we protested, we shouted at the government, we shouted at anybody we felt like shouting at. We were anathema to authority, we were the devil incarnate and grey haired press made a lot of it. We really did want to make a difference, but on Monday morning, most of us went back to work in our gray suits and club ties.
Sex; of course there was sex, when hasn’t there been, but nothing like the amount written and talked about. Once again we were shackled by our conventions. “Nice girls”, didn’t, they saved themselves for the wedding night, kissing and cuddling in the back row of the cinema or car if you were so lucky to have one was the norm.
Drugs; compared with today we were children! Smoking a reefer at a Saturday night at a party was considered daring. Getting hold of it was like trying to find gold, it wasn’t easy, unless you moved in certain circles which of course the majority of us didn’t.
Rock n Roll, now this is an area that exploded, it was like Christmas, a Birthday, and Guy Fawkes night rolled into one. We were bombarded by rock bands, called “groups” then, with every possible sound you could imagine. Pirate ships suddenly appeared on the coast of Britain and the era of the DJ had arrived playing our music 24 hours a day. Whilst the BBC and american radio stations were banning it as lude or suggestive or anti Christian. We were Tamla Motowned, Phil Spectored, Rhythm and Blued, Blue Beated, Ska’ed and Reggae’d. There was East coast, Soul, Folk Rock, The Liverpool sound and so much more. And then came Electric and Psychedelic and we went crazy with the new sounds and experimentation and the press went crazy as well talking about the end of civilisation as we know it, but we loved it, we loved every minute of it.
Our world had changed from gray to rainbow, from the mundane to the possibilities and we were the kings and the ones who were going to make the changes.
But then we grew up, we married we had our 2,5 children and we put our dreams aside, we forgot the excitement, we forgot our music, we forgot the colours as commercialism and bureaucracy took them over from us.
But we did make a difference, we bought choice to the young and new ideas and new thinking and we woke the world up to being one place for all mankind. So please don’t let apathy stop what we started, stand up and make your voice heard!