Psychedelic shacks

Posted on July 21, 2016

The most important psych-era venues in London. Written for Mojo, 2005.  

MARQUEE 90 Wardour Street W1 (1964–88)
Not the first venue that comes to mind as inherently psychedelic, but this old faithful hosted Bernard Stollman’s Spontaneous Underground on Sundays in the first few months of 1966, gatherings that probably kick-started British psych. Peter Jenner and Andrew King of Blackhill Enterprises first saw Pink Floyd here jamming over Chuck Berry chords and soon decided to become the group’s managers.

Scotch Of St James 13 Mason’s Yard SW1 (1965–72)
Almost the minute Jimi Hendrix arrived in London in September 1966 he had his first jam at a club – on this occasion the Scotch night spot – and met his girlfriend-to-be Kathy Etchingham. A few doors along was Barry Miles’s Indica Gallery where John Lennon first met Yoko Ono at her art exhibition, two months after Jimi’s jam.

All Saints Hall Powis Gardens W11 (1966)
Pink Floyd played a benefit here for the London Free School on October 14th 1966 along with a lightshow presented by Americans Joel and Tony Brown, who set up some simple slide projectors to throw shapes and colours over and around the group. “The Pink Floyd, a new London group, embarked upon their first ‘happening’,” wrote Melody Maker, “a pop dance incorporating psychedelic effects and mixed media – whatever that is!” The Floyd became regulars at All Saints through October and into November, attracting growing crowds to the tiny 300-capacity church hall and providing a new audience for the art of the lightshow.

Roundhouse 100 Chalk Farm Road, NW1 (music 1966–85)
This draughty old shed saw the launch party for underground paper International Times (IT) on October 15th 1966. Soft Machine took a motorcycle on-stage with the rest of their gear, wired it up with contact-mikes, and broadcast its revving engine over their free-form rock. The building’s two toilets quickly flooded, and Pink Floyd decelerated rapidly from ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ when the electricity failed. (See also UFO and Middle Earth.)

Saville Theatre 135-149 Shaftesbury Avenue WC2 (1966–70)
Brian Epstein took over the old theatre which, with a capacity just over 1,200, was large enough to suggest importance but small enough to retain almost club-like intimacy. The Saville’s Sunday evening concerts began at the end of 1966 and became a popular draw. The Beatles were regular visitors – their manager wangled them free tickets – and could have seen Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Fairport Convention, The Incredible String Band, Tomorrow and Pink Floyd among others, and the debuts of The Bee Gees and Traffic.

UFO 31 Tottenham Court Road W1 (1966-67), then Roundhouse (1967)
London’s key psychedelic club opened in December 1966 as the epitome of hipness to which capitalist straights were most certainly not welcome, man. UFO was a trip for all the senses, the visitor assaulted as much by the musical delights as the lightshows, erotic plays, poetry readings, bad-trip counselling, underground magazine sales, theatre groups, juggling acts, and movies – but definitely no alcohol. Beyond the ubiquitous Pink Floyd and Soft Machine one might catch Procol Harum, Arthur Brown, or Tomorrow. After police intervention closed its original site, UFO continued in name at the Roundhouse but was gone by the middle of October ’67.

 Alexandra Palace The Avenue N10 (1875–1980; 1982–)
Dozens of acts were slated to appear at the 14-Hour Technicolour Dream, a benefit for IT, in the gothic splendour of Ally Pally on April 29th 1967. They included UFO stalwarts Pink Floyd and Soft Machine plus The Pretty Things, The Creation, The Move, The Social Deviants, and The Purple Gang. On the night, the crowds were certainly there but not many of the bands. Pink Floyd did at least turn up, even if it was gone three in the morning. Barry Miles wrote: “Outside, the straights of Wood Green were watching their tellies, and inside this time-machine there were thousands of stoned, tripping, mad, friendly, festive hippies. Talk about two different worlds!”

Olympia Hammersmith Road W6 (music 60s)
Christmas On Earth Continued, the last of the big psychedelic all-nighters, was held in this Victorian hangar on December 22nd 1967. Attractions included Jimi Hendrix, Soft Machine, Eric Burdon & The Animals, The Move, Tomorrow, Sam Gopal Dream, and of course Pink Floyd. Olympia’s chilly vastness conspired against the feeling of a great event, but at least the in-the-round lightshow was impressive.

Middle Earth 43 King Street WC2 (1967–68), then Roundhouse (1968–69)
Known at first as the Electric Garden, Middle Earth was launched in May 1967 in the basement of a 17th century building in Covent Garden. The large basement consisted of a long series of connected rooms, perfectly mysterious and ideally suited to confounding the stoned visitor. In the long, low, black-painted band room was a DJ’s booth beneath the stage – Jeff Dexter and John Peel were regulars – and a lighting gantry along one wall. In other rooms there’d be acoustic strumming – perhaps Marc Bolan and Tyrannosaurus Rex – films would be shown, poetry read, bodies painted. The lightshows at Middle Earth were reportedly the best yet, with the American system employed by Zoot Money’s psychedelic Dantalion’s Chariot deemed especially good. But Middle Earth like UFO suffered police intervention and in July 1968 moved from King Street to the Roundhouse, opening there on July 27th with Traffic and remarkably on September 6th and 7th presenting The Doors and Jefferson Airplane. But in early 1969 the licence was revoked, and that was the end of Middle Earth – and psychedelic London.

See also my book London Live: more info here.