Psychedelia and Other Colours by Rob Chapman


My mother thought well enough of The Beatles in the 1960s to buy two of their albums—Beatles For Sale and Help!—and she continued to enjoy the Fab Four’s songs up to the point when (in her words) “they went funny”, by which she meant the period after Rubber Soul when they dropped the beat stylings, picked up sitars and took to recording drums and guitars in reverse. They were also taking drugs, of course, hence the funniness, and this rapid evolution—from loveable moptops to freaked-out weirdos in a matter of months—is the subject of Rob Chapman’s huge study of psychedelia as a cultural phenomenon, the period from around mid-1965 to late 1969 when Western youth “went funny” en masse.

This isn’t an undocumented era but Chapman’s book provides an overdue counterweight to the American focus of earlier studies such as Jay Stevens’ Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream (1987). Psychedelic art evolved in San Francisco but it’s an irony of the form that many of the wildest, most typically psychedelic concert posters were promoting acts that were only marginally psychedelic in their sound or, in the case of the older jazz, soul and blues acts, weren’t psychedelic at all. Chapman is more interested in the multi-media light shows than the poster art, and he reaches back in his early chapters to the origin of the San Francisco light shows in the avant-garde art of the Modernist era (especially László Moholy-Nagy’s Light-Space Modulator of the 1920s) and the art schools of the 1950s; he also traces the familiar journey of LSD from the Sandoz laboratories in Switzerland and the clinics of America to the front pages of newspapers and magazines. One of the most remarkable and unlikely aspects of psychedelia was the way in which a short-lived poly-cultural phenomenon maintained an aura of danger and illegality late into the 1960s even while psychedelic aesthetics were filtering into every facet of mainstream life: films, fashion, decor, advertising, even children’s television—all bloomed briefly with vivid colours and melting typography.


Playboy gets hip to the trip, December 1967. Art by Wes Wilson.

Chapman touches on all of this but the bulk of his study is concerned with the music which was always the core of psychedelic culture, even if many of the artists involved were only following a trend (or, to be less charitable, jumping on a bandwagon). American groups are given their due, and Chapman has some smart things to say about the often neglected surf boom of the early 60s; as noted here last month, the first piece of popular music to use “LSD” in its title was LSD-25 (1960), a surf instrumental by The Gamblers. Surf bands and garage bands mutated into psychedelic groups but there was often little change in the overall sound beyond adding an effect or two to the instrumentation. Adulterated or processed sound is what I usually look for in psychedelic music, the psychedelic experience being one of distorted or exaggerated perception. Adulteration (or lack of it) is the most obvious factor that differentiates American psych from its British equivalent: White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane is a great song (its final line is fixed to every page of this blog) but is psychedelic only as a result of its lyrical context. Musically, the song is a simple rock bolero next to which Strawberry Fields Forever sounds like a broadcast from another planet.

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The Look presents Nigel Waymouth


This delightful piece of Art Nouveau-inflected grooviness is one of the new T-shirts designed by Nigel Waymouth for The Look via Topman. Waymouth, as some readers here may know, was part of Hapshash & the Coloured Coat in the late Sixties, London’s leading group of psychedelic poster artists. In addition to design, Waymouth and Sheila Cohen opened the legendary Kings Road boutique Granny Takes A Trip (named after its stock of antique clothes) in 1966. That shop’s fame inspired a one-off single by Stockport group The Purple Gang in 1967 which the BBC banned for alleged drug references, although the trip in question concerns an elderly woman journeying each year to Hollywood. Waymouth’s flyer for the single, of which the shirt design is a variant, can be seen below.

The Look Presents Nigel Waymouth – in-store and online at Topman from Friday August 8

“Sepia tints and flouro tones…darkly psychedelic graphics for the 21st Century…”

Nigel Waymouth is a legend of British rock fashion and design.

Not only did he found the wild 60s Kings Road boutique Granny Takes A Trip (whose ever-changing shop design attracted the likes fo the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Anita Pallenberg, Brigitte Bardot and Marianne Faithfull), but his graphic design company Hapshash produced eye-popping designs, posters and record sleeves for the The Who and Jimi Hendrix.

Original Hapshash artwork is highly prized in collector circles and Granny’s clothes are seriously sought-after on the vintage market. Now Nigel Waymouth makes his re-entry into fashion via The Look Presents – – with a contemporary t-shirt range reflecting the original Granny’s aesthetic by delving into decadent psychedelia replete with sepia tints and flouro tones.

The first five t-shirts are available in-store and online at Topman from August 8, with the launch party on August 14 at the George and Dragon in Shoreditch.

The Look Presents Nigel Waymouth is the second collection from the creative hub formed by author Paul Gorman and Soho boutique owner Max Karie. Our first, a collaboration with rock & roll brand Wonder Workshop, proved a great success earlier this summer and this autumn we launch The Look Presents Priceless, a menswear capsule collection with couturier to rock royalty Antony Price.

The shirts are priced £20 each. I rarely wear T-shirts on their own but I’ll probably have to get one of these, for the associations if nothing else.


Previously on { feuilleton }
The New Love Poetry
Dutch psychedelia
Family Dog postcards
The 14-Hour Technicolor Dream revisited