By Brian Robinson.
To those looking back, the psychedelic existence of the sixties, where colour always stood at centre stage, must seem like an inevitable progression. The past was composed of boring blacks and whites and it felt like the greys of the present were choking the world. Two world wars and the depression years of the thirties only served to deepen the gloom.
It was also a time when thinking had begun to make the same progression from black and white to colour. Reasoning opened up in the sense that people no longer naively accepted what they were being told. Conclusions had to be built towards premise by premise; arguments had to be accompanied by justifications; edicts had to be explained.
It’s not certain when or why this progression began to take shape, but the likeliest explanation is that this mild rebellion was rooted somewhere in the aftermath of the Second World War. People had died during that war, lots of them, and it would have been nice to know what they had died for. If it was for freedom, then that freedom ought to be enjoyed and it should be a tangible experience.
This atmosphere, where everything could be questioned, spawned a new way for those living in the present and a new optimism for those looking towards the future. For the first time, the unimaginable became possible and men believed they really could reach for the stars. In July 1969 that’s exactly what we did. We landed on the moon and took our first step out into the universe. But the question is, were we ready for that. Given mankind’s current frame of mind, there is no way we should be let loose out in the universe. The war in Vietnam was raging and we clearly had not learnt the lessons of the past.
However, there was a war raging closer to home. The sixties in the UK had warring factions known as Mods and Rockers. They would regularly lay into each other, usually at weekends, and usually at seaside resorts.
The modernists were a smart group of individuals who tended to wear sharp suits when they weren’t on the battlefield. Their ‘going out’ tailoring, however, was handled almost entirely by Millets Army Surplus stores and Parkas were very much the order of the day. Yet strangely, their preferred mode of transport, the scooter, drew its inspiration from Milan. This unlikely marriage between Millets and Milan was perhaps a way of saying goodbye to the old conventions and hello to the new?
Rockers tended to dress in leathers which were designed more for function than for fashion. Crash helmets, however, had a dual purpose because they could not only be useful when motorbikes crashed, they could also give a high level of protection in the violent clashes with Mods.
The music Rockers preferred was the more traditional rock ‘n’ roll of the fifties and their preferred mode of transport was the motorcycle. To the Rockers, the motorcycle was seen more as a more traditionally liberating vehicle than the scooter could ever hope to be. A motorbike spoke about masculinity strictly in accord with the roar from its exhaust. It spoke of power and determination. The louder the noise: the more powerful and masculine the rider. A scooter’s exhaust note, according to the Rockers, was almost asexual in nature. It was neither a roar nor a purr. Scooters it seemed, were sexually confused and sexual confusion was unwelcome by Rockers in what was an already confused world.
The battles between the Mods and Rockers were clearly a sign of the times. They were a sign of the tensions between the old and the new. One thing we can say for sure, both Modernists and Traditionalists were rebels at heart and they each had at least that much in common. Both groups wanted to be listened to; both groups believed they had something important to say; both groups demanded change; and both groups wanted the blacks and greys to be gone for good. It should be no surprise therefore, that those who emerged from the gloom of the past into this new golden age of the sixties did so with hope in their hearts and hallelujah on their lips.
Neatly in between this tribal jousting sat the Hippies. They leaned heavily on the idea that a quite naive version of love had the power to change the world. Their philosophy of life was conceived of the sixties and their existence was driven by love and powered by flowers. In their world, making love instead of making war made perfect sense. Although as war tends to last considerably longer than sex, it is difficult to see how one could ever sensibly act as a substitute for the other?
The preferred drug of the day were Purple Hearts. They were were pretty, triangular blue tablets made up from a concoction of amphetamines and barbiturates. Together with alcohol, they had the combined effect of easing the burden love placed upon you if not eradicating it all together.
It is not clear how the tribal warfare between Mods and Rockers dovetailed with the predominant Hippy theme of love, unless of course you see being chased by an alcohol crazed Rocker along Brighton’s promenade as a form of foreplay? However, these three groupings were certainly characteristic of the swinging sixties. And each philosophy had its virtues and its vices. But did the world listen? I’m not so sure that it did!