A Problem Child?

11 04 2013

April 19th sees the celebration of Bicycle Day. A day that commemorates Albert Hoffman’s famous bicycle trip. To mark the occasion, below, I’ve posted a short excerpt from my writings which touch on the subject as well as my early influences in music. I’ve entitled it A Problem Child? after Hofmann’s book: LSD My Problem Child.

A Problem Child?

LSD was made illegal in Britain in 1966. Extremely illegal – in fact, one of the most illegal substances on the statute book.

Despite this, it’s powerful effects have defied prohibition, escaped the secret drug laboratories and entered the bloodstream of our culture. A strange synergy has occurred: molecular messages have travelled via mind into matter, bringing about dramatic shifts in consciousness and, perhaps, even shifted the trajectory of our civilisation. But LSD wasn’t the only secret ingredient seeping into the cultural mix in the 1960s. Psychedelic music – much of it electronic and experimental – was also opening up unexplored territories.

I was only six in 1967 – the first Summer of Love. I don’t remember much about the politics except that my prize possession was a large black and white CND badge, that had around the central CND logo the rather mysterious incantation: Make Love Not War.

I remember more about 1968, though I still didn’t fully grasp the implications of the pictures being beamed into our telly. Martin Luther King, murdered; the ninety nuclear test detonations; the million strong street protests in Paris; Tommie Smith and John Carlos giving the Black Power salute on the Olympic winner’s podium – and the ongoing atrocities of the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam war is often regarded as the first (and last) war to be televised. The images of executions, children with napalm burns and thousands of tons of bombs raining down on reed-thatched villages may not have beaten the Vietcong but it certainly had full impact on western public opinion.

The recent Summer of Love suddenly seemed distant and an incongruous title for such a blood soaked era. But with each drop of innocent blood spilt, the people of the world began to wake up to the horrors being committed in their name. Resistance to the warmongers grew. It grew and it blossomed. It seemed that Flower Power and peace and love were the answer. Positive energy would heal the wounds and stop the war – perhaps all wars – forever.

There was a great swell of optimistic resistance, an optimism that also drove the Civil Rights movement, anti-nuclear protests and ecological campaigns. And all this positive energy had a sound track – a sound track that wiped the floor with any of the tunes played by the recruiting military bands. The automaton march of the war machine faltered. Fear could not sway a fearless generation.

Though I was too young to get the politics, I understood – perfectly. Massacring babes, women and children was wrong. Massacring anyone was wrong. Being nice was right. Nursery school stuff – in fact it seemed clear to me that grown-up politics’s sole purpose was obfuscation – though I probably didn’t use that word, or any others. Words weren’t necessary. Something I found out one night while camping on my own in the garden.

I’d smuggled my mum’s radio into my tent for company. By turning its large illuminated dial I could explore the strange electronic signals that were adrift around the outer edges of the stratosphere. High speed Morse blips, foreign languages fading one into another. Then I stumbled upon an offshore radio station. What I heard was a first for me. A pure signal that rose, wavered, and then fell in cascades of information. Not words – the message was in the music – the music that burst the bubble of control – the music that opened up my horizons. It was the mountain-moving electronic distortions of Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child.

The excitement I felt in those brief few minutes was amazing. My heart beat faster – my mind reached out around the world – and beyond. I felt a great empathy for everyone and everything; the whole planet and the stars. I was electrically connected.

The next morning I enthusiastically asked my mum and dad for an electric guitar. Of course, the answer was no. But I knew then, the electrical impulse was not going to fade away – if anything, as I grew up, it became more amplified.

Through Shared Eyes

2 12 2012

Coming up to the Mayan calendar alpha-omega point, the Solstice (winter here, summer in the southern hemisphere) or perhaps even the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it, I thought I’d post a few thoughts on the subject, framed within the context of the first time we ever took the Spiral Tribe sound system to a free festival – way back on the Summer Solstice of 1991.

Through Shared Eyes…

There’s something deeply life affirming about dancing out under the stars. I felt a sense of bearing witness; of sharing the eyes of my ancestors. Dancing together we connected sunset, across the night, to sunrise. A connection between people, place, memory and imagination. It’s a journey. A ride around the Earth – a spin around the Sun. And at that transitional point, just as the world passed through that pivotal moment of Solstice, an interesting thought occurred…

Earlier that day, finding Stonehenge ringed with razor wire and police road blocks, I’d been disappointed – dispirited – even angry. But we’d escaped arrest and, along with other scattered travellers, regrouped on a green drove about twenty miles away. We set up the sound system in amongst the trucks and trailers and within view of the bow-top wagon camp where tethered horses grazed.

Having been displaced by the authorities to find a haven on that ancient roadway, suddenly made its own kind of free-flowing sense. Stonehenge, it seemed to me, was built to lay claim to a geographical, astrological and spiritual territory. It’s a temple to the trickery of the priesthoods; the brutality of the military and the wealth of the ruling classes. Stonehenge? A monument to hierarchical power and control. Stonehenge? They could keep it. We’d escaped its ancient walls.

The Oscillating Universe

31 05 2012

In the mid 80s I’d been living in a bedsit in Manchester; pumping coins into the gas meter to keep warm and scanning the dark skies via my radio dial. With a blank tape loaded, my finger hovered over the record button – ready to catch any proof that somewhere, out there, bouncing around the stratosphere, there must be at least one tune with a deep dance-groove and a big fat bass.

At that time, (with the exception of Dub) many of the electronic sounds in music were clinical – as if the early experiments were made in laboratories by people in white Nylon coats. Whatever they actually wore was neither here nor there but the fashion in electronic sounds was stark and spacey with a cold futuristic feel. Futuristic perhaps – but not the future I was searching for.

In 1987 and 88, when Acid House finally arrived (not by way of any licensed channel but by burbling illegally over the pirate airwaves) the sound was like nothing I – nor anyone else – had ever heard before. The wildly oscillating twisting frequencies opened up a whole new dimension. And not a metaphorical dimension. An actual other space.

[The tune most often credited as being the first Acid House record is Phuture’s 1987 release, Acid Tracks.]

The History Making Future

12 03 2012

The history I learnt from books at school was mostly about power and control. The history of rulers: their victories, their champions, their empires. Those stories were taught to me as if they were the definitive reality: the measure against which the present is calibrated and the blueprints of the future designed. But much of what is written is no more than propaganda or marketing. The only history recorded with any accuracy is the history of history books. Real-lives remain undocumented. The ever-elusive moment has always just slipped away. That maybe why credence is given to the storytellers (including the historians, the politicians, the media and even the advertisers). Storytellers give a sense of permanence to the ever-vanishing moment and create a welcome illusion of reality – whatever that slippery fish might be.

I like what that great storyteller Douglas Adams had to say on the subject. ‘Reality,’ he wrote, ‘is frequently inaccurate’.

Occupy: Outside the Bubble

23 11 2011

Yesterday a friend and I had a long chat about the rise in awareness sparked by the Occupy movement. About how it’s a questioning process – how questioning involves stepping back from something and taking a good long look (in this case we were talking about the legitimacy of the Fractional Reserve Banking System).

The act of stepping back takes one into another space. Stepping back means occupying the space outside the bubble. Right now, events going on inside that bubble are important – but while we’re outside the perimeter, we’re occupying a far bigger space – the space that surrounds the bubble. A space with enormous creative potential.

To my mind, the rise in awareness isn’t just about realising how we’ve all been scammed by the bankers – it’s also about realising our creative potential.

About My Writing

9 06 2011

At the moment I’m submerged in writing a book entitled: A Darker Electricity. It’s about my time spent on the road, in the early 1990s, with the outlawed Spiral Tribe Sound System: a collective of people who staged large, free and unlicensed, dance parties across Britain and Europe. That is until the British government accused myself and others of being the ringleaders of a new rebellion – a rebellion so dangerous in its appeal and popularity that it required a new law to criminalise it.

Never before in British history has a musical style or youth culture been singled out and outlawed in an act of parliament.

Did the money-makers conspire with legislators? Spike booze-free youth with alcopops? Ring-fence the open fields with razor-wired regulation? Lock up the open-door policy of the free festival and free party movements? Criminalise a culture – because it was noisy – or because it was free?

You can read a few excerpts from the book on the following pages. I always appreciate your comments and why not subscribe? I’m still writing, so if you were there and would like to contribute you can email me direct: straydotwaywardatgmaildotcom (substitute . and @ where necessary).

Mark Angelo writes with flair… his story of the founding of Spiral Tribe, its evolution and its subsequent confrontations with the Thatcherite state, presents us with a vivid slice of 20th century social history… I really look forward to this book, and whatever else he might go on to produce.’

Barbara Trapido

 ‘Mark Angelo is a beautiful writer and his account, told close up and from the inside, plunges the reader into the fervour of those tumultuous times.’

Caroline Brothers

‘Mark Angelo Harrison has a fascinating and necessary story to tell – an account of 90’s rave culture as it butts heads with Thatcher’s State. This is writing with a big heart, a sharp vision, a driving energy, intoxicating detail, deft craft and an insider’s authority.’

Christopher P. Wilson