The era of love-ins, light shows and LSD

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In the summer of 1965, the informal parties that Ken Kesey was holding at his house in Palo Alto, California were about to evolve into what became known as the Acid Tests.

These spontaneous anarchic gatherings spread their tentacles far and wide until an entire generation seemed to be under their spell. Fifty years on from the Merry Pranksters multimedia mayhem, acclaimed author Rob Chapman explores in crystalline detail the history, precedents and cultural impact of LSD, from the earliest experiments in painting with light and immersive environments to the thriving avant-garde scene that existed in San Francisco long before the Grateful Dead and the Fillmore Auditorium.

In the UK, he documents a different history, and one that has never been told before. It has its roots in fairy tales and fairgrounds, the music hall and the dead of Flanders Fields, in the Festival of Britain and that peculiarly British strand of surrealism that culminated in the Magical Mystery Tour.

Sitars and Sergeant Pepper, surfadelica and the Soft Machine, light shows and love-ins - the mind-expanding effects of acid were to redefine popular culture as we know it. It’s a story that seems familiar yet no-one has laid out the narrative quite like this before. Rob Chapman documents psychedelia’s utopian reverberations - and the dark side of its moon - in a shimmering day-glo portrait where the sublime, the sinister and the just plain silly co-exist in imperfect harmony.

Rob will talk about his book ‘Psychedelia and Other Colours’, published by Faber and Faber, at Todmorden Library on Friday September 18 at 7.30 pm.

He said: “The book has taken me three years to write and has already been receiving good reviews in the music press. I moved to Todmorden from Manchester in 2012 just as I was about to start writing the book, so the whole thing has been written while living in the town.

“There is a dedication in the front of the book ‘to all my fellow Salonistas at Lyall’s bookshop’ in honour of the fact that in the rare moments while I’m not writing or thinking about writing I can be found hanging about in there, getting in the way of legitimate customers and generally airing my idiosyncratic take on pop culture to anyone within earshot!”

Rob’s previous book was a biography of the Pink Floyd founder member Syd Barrett, who famously left the group during the peak of the psychedelic era, and after a long battle with drugs and mental illness spent the rest of his life living as a recluse in his home town of Cambridge. The book was critically acclaimed for its depth of research and sensitivity.