Thursday, June 21, 2012

Just Passing - Jefferson Airplane on Hampstead Heath and Peter Sellers at Unity Flats

Grace Slick - Saturday Buddha

This feeling of spring like the wing of a bird that is flying
The nights they grow cold as my mind does grow old
And I'm looked at, inspected, hated, accepted.

Just Passing was a short psychedelic song by The Small Faces which appeared on the b-side of their 1967 single I Can't Make It which reached number 26 in the charts. Like many other flipsides of their singles - from the Grow Your Own and Almost Grown mod instrumentals in 1966 through to I'm Only Dreaming, Rollin' Over and Donkey Rides A Penny A Glass at decade's end - the quality of their musical output throughout their short career emplaces them forever as one of the five great British bands of the Sixties.

The beautiful acoustic song lasts a mere one minute and sixteen seconds and its ethereal nature is accentuated by lyrics suggestive of spiritual catharsis and by background sound effects of a bicycle horn and a keyboard replicating a children's music box loop. It is a very light yet haunting piece and reflective of times, places and of course people long vanished.

In our modern lives - frameworked by stress, uncertainty and clearcut lack of community and communication alike - it is obvious that accelerated lifestyle imbalances and the sheer pace of life are fundamentally failing to keep pace with any substantial sense of rationale or purpose.

In modern British history it would be Elvis' fleeting March 1960 visit to Prestwick Airport in Scotland - as discussed in an earlier post - that most instils to me the notion of how even short lived interfaces of time and consequence can still leave lasting and often moving imprints of significance, fondness and meaning.

Two other interesting and rarely referenced moments of similar note during the late Sixties and early Seventies took place in London and Belfast.

On Wednesday 4th September 1968 the truly magnificent Jefferson Airplane from San Francisco would play a short concert in the highly unlikely surroundings of the corrugated iron bandstand at a rainy Parliament Hill Fields in North London's Hampstead Heath as part of the Camden Festival. The support was English folk rock group Fairport Convention and took place between performances at the Isle of Wight Festival and that alongside The Doors at Camden Town's Roundhouse.

Internet-sourced memories of the free concert - little publicised by Camden Council itself although advertised in The International Times and John Peel's Top Gear radio show - include Grace Slick asking the small  audience of a few hundred "What is wrong with you people, it's raining, go home" and Paul Kantner assuring everybody that in the same weather conditions in California nobody would have turned up at all.

The setlist included the famous singles Somebody To Love and White Rabbit (the latter as an encore), Saturday Afternoon as to be later performed at the Woodstock Festival and one of the most the beautiful songs of the entire era in Marty Balin and Paul Kantner's Today. The time of the set was limited by council regulations although at the end guitarist Jack Casaday shook a tambourine in breach of the same and to the approval of the crowd.

On Wednesday 8th September 1971 wartorn Belfast was to be visited by Indian Swami Vishnudevanada - accompanied by legendary actor Peter Sellers whose childhood home in Muswell Hill was indeed not far from Hampstead Heath - as the first of a series of peace flights over the world's trouble spots to underscore the essentially internal constructs of barriers between people and countries and to promote inner harmony through yoga discipline. Later flights - as armed with flowers and peace flyers - would include those to the Suez Canal, the Berlin Wall and Palestine.

In Belfast - a city wracked with violence, murder and population flight following the introduction of internment without trial in August - the legendary "Flying Swami" took part in a "Headstands for Peace" sit-in and a walkabout through the city streets chanting a song entitled "Love They Neighbour As Thyself". The Swami visited the Catholic Unity Flats at the bottom of the Shankill Road, the family home of a Catholic teenager recently shot dead by the army and also unsuccessfully attempted to see the Reverend Ian Paisley.

The final Troubles death toll in Northern Ireland for 1971 would be 174 fatalities - in 1972 that would number a yearly peak of 467.

So many decades on from the above and British life seems now enmeshed in what one good friend regards as nothing more than a literal daily struggle for survival amidst social and cultural breakdown on a level that has directly engendered a form of peacetime shellshock amongst so many citizens of this country.

Likewise the festering and soulless greed around us today, where even vile and violent lifestyle interfaces close to the Parliament Hill Fields site today contain hyperinflated property prices so ludicrous as to be beyond human reason, clearly showing that - alike love and brotherhood itself - the things that truly matter in the realms of memory are so often the very life experiences upon which no price can ever be placed.

That indeed is the lesson of our sad lost times.

The wise men they wrangle - their minds look for angles and meaning
But the ceiling is white as I glide through the night
As I'm leaving, living, being.

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