I’m too young to be a real hippie, or at least that’s what I tell anyone who asks. I think that no one can really be called a hippie, if they weren’t at least sixteen in 1968. I was thirteen at the time and as such, don’t make the cut. It’s a shame because when I was growing up, I really loved hippie music, hippie clothes and hippie philosophy that could be summed up in the three words “peace and love”. Not bad as philosophies go and one I for one, still subscribe to it. Anyway, what has this to do with that 1960’s doyen of the British antiestablishment movement David [aka Screaming Lord] Sutch? Nothing, except he was a neighbour and friend of the family.
David Sutch was a “nice boy” according to my Mum. He had grown up surrounded by financial difficulties, as his father had died during the War and his mother never remarried. He lived a mile or so away from us, over a shop in South Harrow. Before he started letting his hair grow long, he used to go to my father’s hairdressing shop in Ruislip Manor for a trim. In the late 1950’s, he became our window cleaner and would turn up on at our home on Monday lunchtimes in his old, early 1950’s American saloon that was painted as he would call it “sky-blue-pink”. Actually, it was metallic pink and had the back seat taken out so be could push his long ladder all the way through to the dashboard. It still hung out the back by about four feet, but that didn’t both David. He was as chirpy as a sparrow while he told me Mother about his latest attempts to break in to the rock business. I can picture him now, laying on the grass at the back of our house, sipping a cup of tea, sunning his hairy chest.
Anyway, David wasn’t much of a singer as he freely admitted but he was a trend-setter, growing his hair long and wild, wearing colourful and extravagant clothes in the early 1960’s while my brother [who was born in 1946 and should have been a hippie] spent the decade in tweed jackets and knitted ties.
[Here is a clip of David from a TV documentary in 1964: http: //www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2ZsWENob1s ]
David was my first brush with the counter-culture and I loved every moment of it. He brought a whiff of something new and different into my dull suburb. Many of those born after that golden decade often think that it was a time full of free love, psychotropic drugs and wild music festivals. Actually, if you lived in Northolt, London’s most boring suburb, you had to work hard to find any evidence of the hippie revolution. Of course, some people had started painting the window and doorframes of their houses sky blue or sunshine yellow but that was a far as it went in their lives. Once in 1963, the annual CND Aldermaston march to London was diverted straight past our front door. For hours on end, a solid mass of students, old socialists and pacifists passed by like an invading army. I liked the boys in their duffle coats and the girls with long scarves and fly-away hair. They shouted, “come and join us” as they passed. I wanted to but my mother would have none of it. The 1960’s would have to wait a few years for me to join in…
To be honest, you could be forgiven for thinking that life in the suburbs was stuck in the 1940’s. In many of those homes built in the interwar period, the furniture was the same as it had been in the 1930’s and in my Aunt Lynn’s house for example, still hung on to the heavy “blackout” curtains that had done good service during the War.
The War still hung heavy on all of the older generation’s shoulders and it wouldn’t take five minutes of conversation between my aunty and mother before they were going on about “doodlebugs”, the landmine that fell on the street around the corner and the glow above the railway embankment that was caused by London’s docks burning for three days and nights during the blitz.
My generation and those born in the years immediately after the war, had had enough of those stories and wanted to create a new world. We preferred listening to the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, Manfred Mann and the Kinks. The trouble was that in Northolt at least, everything was seen at one-remove via the TV or listened to on the radio. If you walked down any street in suburban London in the mid 1960’s, hippies were noticeable by their absence. Very few people of my age wore flares or bright shirts because until we started working, what we wore was styled by our sensible mothers. It was worse for me, as my father was a hairdresser and any time my hair went over my collar I was called in for a “trim”….
By the time Screaming Lord Sutch was standing as the Monster Raving Loony Party candidate in parliamentary elections and losing his deposit up and down the country, my mother started listening to my increasingly shrill demands for “fashionable” clothes and my wardrobe gradually began to fill with flared trousers and bright coloured shirts. It wasn’t until I started work in 1973 however, that I had my own pay packet and finally managed to buy that archetypal piece of hippie clothing, an embroidered Afgan jacket. It had no buttons, absorbed rain like a sponge and smelt of goat. Mind you, it didn’t stop me wearing it whenever and wherever I went.
1973 was a significant year for me. I turned eighteen, got a job and had money in my pocket to spend on clothes, records and going out. I started to buy albums by people like Cat Stevens and grew my hair, much to my father’s disgust. The problem was that by that time, the hippie style had become flabby, bands had descended into the Glam-rock and were either self indulgent like T-Rex or pretentious like Led Zepplin. O.K, those are fine bands that I listen to now but the sound didn’t have the simplicity and purity of a few years earlier and their music left me cold.
I tried to keep up with the fashions, buying for example, a plum coloured suit with ridiculously wide lapels, a kipper tie and platform shoes but my heart wasn’t in it. By early 1974, singers like Gary Glitter and bands like ABBA finally pushed me over the edge and I decided to reject mainstream pop in favour of the new, emerging genre of folk-rock.
By this time hippidom was in decline. In 1974 I decided to go to University and there were plenty of long-hairs around who spent their days in the Student Union bar listening to Joni Mitchell, the Doors or Crosby Stills, Nash and Young but it was a twilight time. It was a period when all young people were waiting for the Next Big Thing.
Early in 1976, I intermitted from my University course for a year, to “get my head together” as we used to say back then. I worked for several months then went off travelling through Europe. I hitchhiked to Yugoslavia, then travelled by bus and train through Greece and out to the islands where I crewed on a yacht for a couple of weeks. When the money looked like it would run out, I made my way back to Athens, boarded a flight to Israel and worked on a kibbutz until January 1977.
When I returned to the UK, everything had changed. Punk had hit the streets and hippidom was dead. Seemingly overnight, you couldn’t wear long hair, bright clothes or an Afghan without fear of ridicule. I was devastated. If I didn’t like Glamrock, I hated Punk and moved firmly and finally in the world of Folk music, committing the ultimate folly of becoming a Morris dancer…
I wallowed in bells and baldricks for twenty or more years, attending folk festivals and worshipping the great Gods of nostalgia and introspection. I finally gave up on these rituals and heaved a huge sigh of relief when bands like Blur, Oasis, Badly Drawn Boy and the White Stripes started to emerge from the period of musical darkness that lasted from the beginning of Johnny Rotten and the end of Culture Club.
Where are the hippies in all this? They had withdrawn further and further into the wilderness. By the year 2000, hippie colonies could still be found around the world in places like Christiana in Denmark and Esalen in California but today many of these are in decline or are so far removed from hippie philosophy that their founders wouldn’t recognise them.
David Sutch suffered from depression all of his life and sadly committed suicide in 1999, robbing the world of one of its great personalities but more than that, bringing the 1960’s finally to a close.
Personally, I will remember him as our hairy window cleaner, the singer who couldn’t sing, the election candidate who always lost his deposit but in the end, he was my personal harbinger of a new, colourful age. Rest in peace, David.