Tune in to Roger Ratcliffe’s turn on this anniversary

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It was a grotty bedsit in one of the dingiest back streets of Leeds. But several decades after I last set foot on its squeaky floorboards I feel mildly nostalgic about the room and particularly remember the chimney breast above the cracked tile fireplace. For onto it had been stuck with wallpaper paste by a previous occupant a large poster advertising a rock concert at Sheffield City Hall.

It was one of the most legendary gigs in UK history and part of a so-called package tour featuring seven groups on one stage. Jimi Hendrix was the headline act. Then there were a couple of purveyors of catchy pop singles called The Move and Amen Corner, plus an obscure group known as The Nice featuring a Hammond organ player by the name of Keith Emerson who specialised in sounding like a deranged orchestra by nailing down his keys with knives. Oh, and there was an up-and-coming band of space-rockers called Pink Floyd. I wonder what ever happened to them.

The concert was back in 1967 and that’s a year everyone’s going to hear a lot about in 2017, since the media adore nothing more than a good anniversary and we are 50 years on from the fabled Summer of Love.

Culturally, few years were like it in the 20th century, and just the simple utterance of words like psychedelic, acid, hippie, incense, flower power and transcendental can still magically invoke the atmosphere of that long-haired hot summer. Sadly I was just a pimply adolescent at the time so my presence at what became the birth of the permissive society was confined to wearing a preposterously optimistic badge declaring “Make Love Not War” and queuing with my big brother at the local record shop to buy The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP when it was released on the first day of June.

By now my old bedsit with its Hendrix poster will have been redecorated many times, or perhaps the whole grotty terrace in the Holbeck part of Leeds was demolished long ago, but I wonder how much of that seminal year’s ethos of love and peace has managed to survive.

The Summer of Love grew out of a counter-culture movement by middle-class white kids in California, and was soon appropriated by radical students as a colourful protest against teenagers being drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. In Britain there wasn’t a mirror image of US flower power beyond a few underground newspapers like Oz and International Times and fashionable London clothes shops like Granny Takes A Trip. All that most people remember were a cash-in single by a pop-up pop group called The Flowerpot Men and being advised to wear a flower in their hair if they went to San Francisco.

Perhaps inevitably, the peace and love didn’t last long and the 1970s were defined by anarchist punk bands and a spiritual selfishness. The writer Tom Wolfe called the seventies “the me decade”.

But if you spend enough time in a place like Hebden Bridge you might still get a whiff of incense or patchouli and the free spirit of ‘67. In the year of President Trump we could all do with a bit more love and peace.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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