Summer of love revisited under Brexit cloud

‘Just a photoshop doodle’ by Dana. Creative Commons CC By-NC 2.0

My mother told her grandsons about gas masks, rationing and blackouts. My grandchildren are too young for stories about the Summer of Love, and a generation which did not all die before we got old.

Somehow I just lost fifty years. Where did it go? One bank holiday Monday half a century ago – dear god half a century! – I slipped into a home-made kaftan and hopped onto the back of Glynn’s Lambretta. And off we roared (well, ok, scootered) into an echoing hall of fame. The rest is history, it seems.

Somebody else’s fame, you understand. There we stood among the crowd at the back of a huge shed straining to see the stars. We could hear them all right. On the stage a succession of emerging talents,The Move, Cream, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, had come to play Barbecue 67. Of all unlikely places, the Spalding Bulb Auction in the centre of a small Fenland market town was the chosen location for what the local paper now describes as ‘arguably the world’s first ever rock festival’.

I was among the local newspaper team documenting the day for the Spalding Guardian and Lincs Free Press, writing our contribution to the stuff of local legend. For some reason best known to my 19-year-old self I had turned down the chance to interview Hendrix.

That was the story, my history, which I first encountered ten years ago. It shimmers in my memory, each new decade adding a new layer of nostalgia. Distance lending enchantment, my young adulthood in England seen from a Scottish viewpoint. When I revisit Spalding for the first time, in the mid 1990s, my old newspaper friend Sheila Robson takes me on a ceremonial tour of a changing landscape – the newsroom still busy but the bulb auction gone: the bulb industry giving way to more lucrative fruit and veg, Barbecue 67 stories buried in archives for a new generation of trainee journalists to dig up.

Hiding from Hendrix but part of history

A little over ten years later Sheila sends me the newspaper supplement celebrating the 40th anniversary of ‘the night Spalding became ‘the coolest place on earth’. To my surprise my subsequent blogpost Hiding from Hendrix (making comparisons with the then triumphant T in the Park) attracts fascinating and generous comments from people I’ve never met. Not just from people who were there that day but from one of the two comperes, Pete Barraclough, who came up with the inspired line-up: ‘We were amazed, ‘ posts Pete, ‘when the promoter Brian Thomson booked them all resulting in a festival that was years ahead of its time…’

Barbecue 67 poster
My souvenir

How strange to be part of history. I remember my mother’s amused surprise when my sons asked if they could interview her for their World War Two project. That was a fiftieth anniversary too. She told them about rationing and gas masks and the blackout in Glasgow. My grandchildren are too young for stories about the Summer of Love and a generation who hoped to die before they got old. Not so many of us did.

‘I can’t remember anything about the event.’ Glynn comments on my 2007 blogpost. ‘Only that I was on the cusp of mod to hippy and, whilst riding past the hall on my Lambretta, dressed in grey, single vent, slash pocket herringbone suit, yellow shirt and multi spotted tie, I realised that I was not suitably dressed for the occasion. You were riding on the pillion seat and made this observation for me.’

Seeds of conflict

Ah, the summer of love. From this long distance it seems an age of rosy innocence. Then the 1967 timeline recollects the startling reality. What a year it was! To a soundtrack of the Beatles, a newsfeed of race riots across the US, death dropped daily on Vietnam. Israel’s Six Day War with Syria, annexing The West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. In the year of Strawberry Fields Forever, the US is testing nuclear and chemical weapons, Muhammad Ali is convicted for avoiding the draft. Che Guevara is executed in Bolivia, Otis Redding dies in a plane crash and De Gaulle rejects Britain’s entry into the Common Market.

Seeds of conflict sprout. Almost three years ago – just after the Scottish Independence Referendum – some of the old Spalding Guardian team gathered for a reunion. After a long and happy lunch at Springfields (changed beyond recognition), a small group of us retrace our steps through the town centre wending towards the Red Lion where Jimi Hendrix stayed in 1967. It’s a sobering experience. On a Saturday afternoon the streets almost empty. A few young men hang about clutching cans of drink. Notices in English and Lithuanian welcome respectful use of the local park, Ayschoughfee Gardens. Later I find Spalding Today (the online Spalding Guardian) stories of anti-immigrant protests and Polish community efforts to bridge cultural divides with picnics in the park.

‘Looks like prime UKIP territory,’ says Geoff Seed, one of our group, with the keen eye of journalist turned TV producer turned novelist. The comment lingers in the air and I think of it often. Last year Spalding, as part of South Holland, voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU. It’s not a surprise. In our day the local Conservative MP was (Sir) Richard Body, one time President of the Anti-Common Market League. (Interestingly he is also a keen environmentalist, supports the legalisation of cannabis and gay rights. Nothing is simple.)

Summer of love 2017?

This year Spalding marked the fiftieth anniversary of the astonishingly outward-looking, life-loving, youth-fulfilling Barbecue 67. Sadly this time Sheila is not here to remind me, she died in 2015 aged 91, but journalist Stewart Turner leaves a comment on my blog.  He’s collecting memories for an article in Shindig. And Spalding Today reports on planned events.

Three of the original acts – Geno Washington and The Ram Jam Band, Sounds Force 5 and Zoot Money – were booked for the Spalding Beer and Music Festival. Jimi’s sister Janie, CEO of the Experience Hendrix Organisation, specially ‘endorsed’ tribute band Are You Experienced? for a Bank Holiday gig in the Punchbowl Inn,

(Disconcertingly I find the Punchbowl landlord on Twitter, retweeting Nigel Farage, though that’s probably not a surprise either.)

And on 8 June – as Britain went to the polls to decide whether Theresa May had a mandate for her deal-or-no-deal Brexit – there was to be a dramatised version of Barbeque 67 Revisited at South Holland Centre bringing to life memories of people who were there. Some of them may well be among the comments on my old blogpost of ten years ago.

So much for nostalgia. I started writing this piece wondering how Britain might look in ten years time.  After the 2017 election I cannot imagine what the next ten months will bring.

Featured image: ‘Just a photoshop doodle’ by Dana. Creative Commons CC By-NC 2.0

This article was published on the author’s blog 

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