Rob Chapman – Psychedelia and Other Colours (Faber)
From the appearance of the cover, one might think that this is going to be a fab book with all kinds of wonderfully groovy colourful photos of bands performing with a backdrop of psychedelic lights projected behind them. Well, you know the old expression about a book and its cover. In fact, there is not one single photo contained in the over 600 pages of this tome.
What you do get in this book is a hefty amount of information relating to the progress of the drug culture and its impact on the music scene in the latter half of the 1960s. It’s a book that fits in right between two other recent volumes – 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded by Jon Savage and Never a Dull Moment: 1971 – The Year That Rock Exploded by David Hepworth.
No mention of things exploding in the sub-title of this book but, the text inside certainly does relate a lot of heads exploding as psychedelic drugs (more specifically LSD) began to make inroads into the counterculture movement of the sixties.
Jon Savage’s book goes into great detail about the social and cultural times leading up to the year 1966. There’s a bit of a sense of deja vu when reading Chapman’s book but, that is what I was expecting. So, not much of a disappointment there.
After a general introduction, Chapman divides his time towards firstly concentrating on the scene in the USA and then on the UK. This shows both the parallels and differences in the way in which psychedelia took shape in the midst of both (counter)cultural situations.
While you’ll see familiar names from this era appear – such as Timothy Leary – there are also many more people discussed who may not have been as vibrant on the radar (at the time or since).
Throughout the book, Chapman does an enviable job of connecting the dots which relate to musical events in both the live performance realm and the release of specific recordings. Of course, a fair amount of time is spent on such artists as The Beatles and their turning (on) into the direction of pot and LSD and Pink Floyd’s areas of cerebral and sonic explorations.
But, as you’d expect in such and exhaustive cultural and musical survey, it’s the efforts of the countless minor figures that accounts for a great deal of the story. Some of the here today, gone tomorrow artists mentioned include The Drivin’ Stupid, Fe-Fi-Four Plus Two, The Factory, Jason Crest, Tintern Abbey etc… Of course, there are a lot of the more familiar bands like, Love, Moby Grape, The Incredible String Band, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead and other usual suspects.
To conclude the volume, the final section – Afterglow (Which Dreamed It?) – attempts to tie up some loose ends and reflects on the aftereffects.
For anyone with a keen interest in this era and specifically psychedelic music, this book stands as a well-researched and extremely detailed survey. It sent me scrambling to my music collection to find out if I had recordings of many of the songs mentioned on my various psych LP and CD collections. That’s usually the sign of a good book for me.