50 years after London was named the hippest hangout in the world, Florence Sheward finds the spirit of 1967 is alive and well in the capital London in the 1960s was a heady time to be alive. After the buttoned-down austerity of the previous decade, the economy was booming and a cultural revolution took place in fashion, art, music and more. There was a shift from old to new, as the focus turned to youth. Helped by a post-war baby boom and the end of compulsory National Service, this was the era of the teenager, free to do as they wished – and where better to come than the nation’s capital?
By 1967, London was at its peak cultural influence on the international stage. While the Summer of Love in San Francisco saw everyone turn on, tune in and drop out, the English capital buzzed with the possibilities of youth. The previous year, Time magazine had christened it “The Swinging City” and noted that, “in a decade dominated by youth, London has burst into bloom”.
This was the year of The Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset and Small Faces’ Itchycoo Park, and London-set films like Bedazzled, Blow-Up and the Sidney Poitier-starring To Sir, With Love. The Queen Elizabeth Hall, an international music venue on London’s Southbank, opened in the spring, while The Beatles, flushed from the success of their 1967 masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, embarked on their short-lived Apple boutique at 94 Baker Street, opening the doors of the psychedelically-painted building to the public on 7 December.
In the process, the city became a playground for many of the era’s cultural icons, from The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, to Twiggy and Michael Caine.
Fifty years on and there are plenty of ways to celebrate the spirit of ’67. This summer sees the Victoria and Albert Museum stage The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains (13 May to 1 October), a tribute to the British band that has chalked up more than 200 million record sales worldwide. Exploring art, design and performance, this retrospective will follow on from the museum’s record-breaking David Bowie Is exhibition in 2013, which welcomed around 312,000 visitors in London before embarking on a world tour.
The Pink Floyd exhibition is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of not only the release of the band’s first single, Arnold Layne, but also their ‘Games for May’ concert at the newly opened Queen Elizabeth Hall. Billed as “space-age relaxation for the climax of Spring – electronic compositions, colour and image projections, girls and THE PINK FLOYD” [sic], the event took place on Friday 12 May 1967 and featured bubble machines, daffodils and various band members chopped up wood on stage or throwing potatoes at a gong to create unusual sounds.
One of the audio highlights of the concert was the use of the Azimuth Co-ordinator, a specially made quadrophonic speaker system complete with joystick controls that allowed the band to swirl pre-recorded sound effects around the room. This rudimentary surround sound system will be on display at the V&A this summer alongside more than 350 other Pink Floyd-related items and artefacts, including posters, instruments, hand-written lyric sheets and stage props from some of the pioneering band’s equally ambitious later tours.
There will also be unseen concert footage and light displays to recapture the atmosphere of a late 1960s happening as well.
Another counterculture icon who left his mark on Swinging London was the influential guitarist Jimi Hendrix. As well as releasing his first two albums in the UK in 1967, Are You Experienced and Axis:
Bold As Love, he also played at least six gigs in London (including two in support of Cat Stevens) and settled in a flat at 23 Brook Street with his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham the following summer. The musician helped Kathy decorate and furnish the flat, which is today the world’s only officially recognised Hendrix residence.
It opened to the public permanently last year and offers visitors the chance to rifle through his record collection, view Hendix’s vintage clothes and admire the hippy-chic interiors that provided the backdrop to many Hendrix photo shoots.
The flat’s volunteer minders have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Jimi trivia too. The 18th-century composer George Frideric Handel spent 36 years at 25 Brook Street and it is the Handel Trust that owns and operates the two adjacent venues.
While respectful of the building’s heritage, the Hendrix flat also allows visitors to join in a number of events, including regular guitar lessons with tutor Nigel Jones. Look out for occasional parties that open up the other parts of the flat, including the guest room in which George Harrison once slept. Fab Four fans should head to Proud Galleries in Chelsea for The Beatles Unseen: Photographs by David Magnus (16 March to 14 May), a selection of rare images of the band including exclusive shots from the BBC live broadcast of All You Need Is Love in June 1967, and also make a date for It Was Fifty Years Ago Today (1 June), a celebration of Sgt. Pepper’s at the Royal Albert Hall with the album played live in its entirely by The Bootleg Beatles tribute band and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Royal Albert Hall will also stage Summer of Love: Revisited (1 May to 5 July), a season of 1967-inspired music films which opens with the Pink Floyd-soundtracked counterculture documentary, Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London.
With a generation of musicians preaching peace, love and understanding, 1967 was a year of anti-war protests in London. The Imperial War Museum celebrates the spirit of the age with People Power: Fighting for Peace (23 March to 28 August), exploring how marches and conscientious objectors shaped our perceptions of war and conflict. While the exhibition stretches from the First World War to the present day, the section on the Cold War is packed with 1960s memorabilia, including posters, pin badges, placards and photographs.
Shakespeare’s Globe may appear an unlikely destination for a Swinging Sixties tribute, but Emma Rice’s final season as the theatre’s artistic director has been dubbed Summer of Love. Opening on 22 April, the summer season features new twists on the Bard’s most romantic plays, including an energetic Romeo & Juliet (22 April to 9 July), Kneehigh’s take on Tristan&Yseult (13-24 June) and a Latin-tinged Much Ado About Nothing (14 July to 15 October). Star-crossed lovers in search of yet more romance should look out for three ‘midnight matinees’ that will see the acting begin at 11.59pm in the historic open-air theatre.
The language in every performance might be Elizabethan, but the energy and colour is purely in keeping with the spirit of the Swinging City.