The 1960s

In the dark early 1960s, at least we had the Beatles

‘These things start on my birthday – like the Warsaw Uprising – and spoil my day,’ wrote the understandably self-pitying Barking housewife Pat Scott in her diary on the first day of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. ‘And then to spoil it more, Ted [her husband] took his driving test for the second time and failed.’ It is clashes like these, of the personal and humdrum against the political and global, that make David Kynaston’s close surveys of Britain in the second half of the 20th century such fascinating and lively documents. Yes, the world might be about to end, but that was no excuse to spoil Pat’s

The short-lived wonder of Creedence Clearwater Revival

Million-selling rock bands are rarely happy families. They are an uneasy combination of a creative alliance and a business partnership, which is frequently thrown together on an ad hoc basis by people barely out of their teens. They are tested to destruction by long hours, minimal sleep, deafening noise, international travel, a bedroom schedule that would have made Caligula blush and a seemingly unending cocktail of legal and illegal stimulants. As the old joke goes, there is also a downside. This is the accepted pattern. But Creedence Clearwater Revival – who enjoyed a spectacular worldwide run of hits during the brief period between their first great success in 1969 and

A shaggy drug story: Industry of Magic & Light, by David Keenan, reviewed

The Scottish writer David Keenan has published five novels in five years: This is Memorial Device (2017), For the Good Times (2019), Xstabeth (2020), last year’s magnum opus Monument Maker and now Industry of Magic & Light. At a comparatively modest 250 pages (Monument Maker weighed in at more than 800), it is practically a novella, or perhaps the sort of pamphlet one might once have picked up in a ‘head shop’ such as Compendium Books in Camden. The last book of Keenan’s I reviewed here I described as ‘either a cycle of novels or one vast fictional gallimaufry’ – to which I now approvingly add a third category. Industry

Why the mid-1960s was the golden age of pop music

On a Monday evening in May 1966, Paul McCartney and John Lennon visited a nightclub called Dolly’s in Jermyn Street. The two Beatles were accompanied by two Rolling Stones, Brian Jones and Keith Richards. Already at the club was Bob Dylan, stopping off in London on his European tour. Dylan had first met Lennon and McCartney nearly two years earlier at the Delmonico Hotel in New York. All four Beatles, then in the first flush of American success, had gone to meet him after playing to thousands of screaming teenagers at a tennis stadium in Queen’s. Their fascination with his lyrical and emotional maturity was already showing in their songs.

James Bond and the Beatles herald a new Britain

The word ‘magisterial’ consistently attaches itself to the work of David Kynaston. His eye-wateringly exhaustive four-volume history of the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street established him as a historian with a confident command of a huge body of information, as bloodless and dry as the subject was. Embarking on Tales of a New Jerusalem, a history of Britain from 1945 to 1979, he has undertaken another marathon and earned magisterial rank. Yet, from the first, Kynaston has shown that he is prepared to leave the bench to sweep the Ealing and Islington Local History Centres, Wandsworth Library, the East Riding Archives and especially that extraordinary resource, the Mass Observation Archive,

‘There were no rules then’: Dana Gillespie’s 1960s childhood

Although I can understand why Dana Gillespie might choose to call her memoir after her most famous album, for the first 170 pages I remained convinced she should have taken a leaf from John Cleland and called it Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. For hers has been an extraordinary life (or perhaps half life, as the trail of hi-jinks runs its course by the end of the 1970s). And so, despite reading at times like a cross between Terry Southern’s Candy and Confessions of a Window Cleaner’s screenplay — but with A-listers the ones shaking their sticks — as an evocation of the 1960s SW7-style, Weren’t Born a Man

No one ‘got’ the Sixties better than David Bailey

What caught my eye towards the end of Look Again was this conversation between David Bailey and the shoe designer Manolo Blahnik. They are talking about a brief golden age, a perfect moment in their lives: Blahnik: So sometimes I just have to sit down and say: ‘God, did all this happen?’ All the excitement, it doesn’t exist any more, maybe because I’m old.Bailey: It’s not because you’re old. It doesn’t exist. This is the autobiography of David Bailey, as told to James Fox (‘my collaborator’). It starts with Bailey as a child in the East End, and ends with Bailey returning there as an old man. But the real

The Sixties vibe: Utopia Avenue, by David Mitchell, reviewed

There aren’t many authors as generous to their readers as David Mitchell. Ever since Ghostwritten in 1999, he’s specialised in big novels bursting with storytelling in all kinds of genres — most famously Cloud Atlas, where six very different novellas were immaculately intertwined. Not only that but, as he’s said, ‘each of my books is one chapter in a sort of sprawling macro-novel’, with many of the same characters and events being either updated or given fuller backstories. At its best, this generosity has resulted in some of the most lavishly satisfying fiction of recent times. Occasionally, though, it can feel rather like the type shown by Mrs Doyle in