Perhaps you had to be there…
Here is a track called Way Back in the 1960s from The Incredible String Band’s 1967 album The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion, released one month after The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album:
Tomorrow night, BBC2 is screening The Beatles’ film Magical Mystery Tour for the first time in 33 years. It is being preceded by an Arena documentary about the making of the film.
I saw a preview of both at the National Film Theatre earlier this week. What people who were not alive at the time of the film’s first screening will make of both I cannot begin to imagine.
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” is how L.P.Hartley started his 1953 novel The Go-Between.
The same could be said of the 1960s. They are almost unimaginable now.
I remember seeing what was, this week, the wonderfully colourful and beautifully stereo-sound-mixed Magical Mystery Tour when it was first broadcast by the BBC on Boxing Day 1967 in black and white on mono TV sets. Like most other people, I thought it was a right old dog’s dinner of incomprehensibility.
It mostly still is, but it has aged rather well.
The movie is basically a series of pop videos – before pop videos had been invented – loosely linked with the story of strangely old-fashioned people (and The Beatles) going on an old-fashioned mystery coach trip travelling through an old-fashioned Britain shot and edited in then avant-garde, occasionally psychedelic, style.
One point well made in the Arena documentary is that Magical Mystery Tour was a cross-over between the old and new cultures. And it is very British. Even the concept of a mystery tour in a coach to an unknown destination is in itself bizarre to Americans.
The documentary is very evocative of 1967 and features, I’m glad to see, occasional mentions of hippie newspaper the International Times (I wrote for a much later and not-very-good rebirth of it in 1974) and plentiful quotes from the highly influential Barry Miles whom I blogged about last year.
As a schoolboy, I kept a diary but, annoyingly, wrote nothing about watching the original Magical Mystery Tour transmission. And, equally annoyingly, I have copies of International Times issue 21 (17th-30th November 1967) and issue 23 (5th-19th January 1968) but not the issue published at the time Magical Mystery Tour was transmitted.
The cover of issue 21 of what was then billed simply as The International Times said:
It’s not the colour of your skin, it’s the colour of your heart. KILL THE BLACKS! KILL THE BLACKS!
The cover of what was by then called “it The International Times” said:
A GUIDE TO A NEW AGE AND THE ECSTATIC RETURN OF EVERYONE BLESSED
In that issue, DJ John Peel wrote in his regular Perfumed Garden column:
1967 was a year when I finally broke out of the shadows and found sunshine and laughter all around and within me. Many people have walked into my open heart and lodged there and I find that the more who wander in the more room there is for others. I’m certain that during this amazing year I must have unwittingly offended a few by forgetting a name, a face, a meeting, a phone number or a letter. To anyone so hurt, I’m truly deeply sorry. I would not have done it for the world – and there have been many new worlds this year.
This winter you should not overlook the trees. There is still so much to see without the leaves. They cast such shapes against the sky and make mosaics of the clouds. Even in dark, wet and hurried-feet London there is beauty everywhere and everywhere is unmarked.
Your wardrobe leads to Narnia, your mirror leads to a wonderland. It is better than you can know to breathe the air that you breathe because, by so doing, I kiss you and you me and there is something now unseen and unknown that connects us. Thinking about that is really good, it warms me and I inhale you and you refresh me. Thank you.
That was written in the issue of International Times dated 5th January 1967.
Three years earlier, on 1st January 1964, BBC TV had transmitted the first edition of Top of The Pops, presented by DJ Jimmy Savile.
Now we know Savile was feeling-up and raping under-age girls in BBC TV dressing rooms during that period.
Different people have different perceptions of reality at different times.
Now we are in the 21st century.
The BBC screenings tomorrow are timed to plug a release of Magical Mystery Tour on DVD, Blu-Ray and a double vinyl edition of the original UK EP release.
Oddly, the YouTube trailer for the new release has had embedding disabled, but this is a less high-res clip from the original Magical Mystery Tour film, first screened only six months after The Beatles released their Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album: