SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND
FIFTY YEARS ON
The Album was released in the U.K. on 26th May, 1967
When the UEA was founded in 1963, Earlham Hall became its administrative centre. The Hall was the home of The Gurney Family who included Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845), prison reformer. Today, The Hall houses the University’s School of Law.
UEA was founded in 1963, and when I went there in 1966, the campus comprised of a few concrete buildings designed in the Brutalist Style of architecture and a series of Terrapins, which were portable modular buildings. The place was ugly, to say the least, especially when it rained, which it did often. The rain caused ugly stains on the concrete. This made for a very depressing place. Mud seemed to be everywhere. Also, the wind blew hard in that part of the U.K. I was decidedly unhappy there.
What added to my misery at UEA was that I had to share a laboratory with no windows that was hidden away on the eighth floor of the School of Chemical Sciences with a group of others, known by me as The Ten, who were not exactly kindred spirits.
We were tucked away here in a laboratory that had originally been intended for the performance of experiments with dangerous chemicals i.e. those that risked exploding! But since, we, The Ten, were not part of the major research thrust of The School, we were made to take the elevator up to the fifth floor and then climb three flights of long staircases up to our Roof Top Laboratory. This proved most annoying when one had to transport dangerous chemicals from the second floor Quartermasters’ Stores up to our laboratory.
No windows plus boring company equals gloom and despair
Eventually I found a few friends working on lower floors who were less than emanated with the place and we used to hold feasts in my high-up laboratory with delicious delicacies that we had cooked in the laboratory itself. I remember on one occasion on a day after a feast, that my advisor came up to the laboratory and noted that the place smelled of cooking meat. Had he arrived one day earlier, he would have found me and my chums on the roof where we were seated at a large table that we had carried up from the fifth floor and happily noshing on roast lamb, roasted potatoes, broccoli and carrots and washing it down with a reasonable Bordeaux. The Entrée that day was followed by Apple Crumble and Custard. Cheese and biscuits together with coffee were also served. The whole feast was prepared in the laboratory and cooked in the equipment proved by The School. It is amazing how adaptable the little ovens and hot plates can be.
It was 1967 and I had already decided that my life as a pure chemist would end with the award of my Ph.D. I was more suited to Biochemistry and Medical Research. However, Chemistry was, and still is, a good foundation for such areas of research. Meanwhile, I toiled on, but the whole experience was not to my taste. I found most of The Ten to be dullards without humor and totally without a sense of fun. Music in the laboratory was outlawed by the more senior members of the group. I was determined to change this.
I recall taking the bus into Norwich on that early June day and going to W.H. Smith’s Newsagents, where there was a reasonably, for the time, large gramophone department. I think that I was either the first or second customer of the day and definitely the first to ask for the latest Beatle album/record. I did not bother to listen to it in one of the cubicles available for potential buyers to decide or not to buy something. I knew that I wanted it and now could have it! I paid my money, which represented a large amount of the weekly budget, for although we were paid a sum to study, inflation had reared its ugly head, and the stipend, as they called it, had shrunk and would shrink more. Still, some things are more important than food and beer.
I rushed out of the store and walked to my little room that I rented in the center of the town, also on the top floor, but this time without an elevator. I had bought a second-hand and very cheap record player, and after collecting it, took the bus back to the University. I was determined to listen to the ‘new Beatles’ in the laboratory and hopefully drown the more grumpy members of ‘the ten’ in solid music!
England was a mass of color during that glorious summer ……. The Summer of Love. Clothes had suddenly become more colorful. Paper carrier bags were now designed with psychedelic logos and patterns. The woman’s shop Biba in Kensington in London was now trend setting and thanks to them and Mary Quant, girls legs could be better seen. Suddenly, even Norwich seemed to be filled with glorious and gorgeous girls. It was overwhelming. Love, or rather sex, was in the air. Men and boys found it much, much easier to have ‘their wicked way’, but now women and girls were much more willing to comply. This sexual revolution had in fact always been there, as proven by all of my many, and stupid aunts, being forced into matrimony at very very young ages.
Once I got into the laboratory, I was greeted by the usual idiot remarks of the older and more devout Chemists. I was too excited to bother with stinging sarcasm, which always sent these folks running back to their flasks and Bunsen Burners since they totally lacked repartee and wit. I was too busy setting up my record player to bother with them. Once plugging in, I took the record out of the bland paper carrier (poor Smith’s hadn’t gone psychedelic as of yet!), took it out of its sleeve and laid ‘Side One’ on the turntable. I gently pulled the arm of the player back and the record began to spin at thirty-three and one-third revolutions per minute sending the picture of ‘an apple’ round and round. I gently placed the stylus (or as it was still called then, ‘the needle’) onto the outer part of the record and waited.
Suddenly the laboratory was filled with miraculous sounds of George Harrison belting out the introduction to the first track that announced that we were to be treated to a concert given by ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. I can never forget the spine-tingling sound that sent my ear ossicles into vibration and ‘pulsed’ it on its way to the Cochlear and then the brain! The effect of this sound was perhaps only equaled by my first encounters with The Crickets intro to ‘That’ll be the Day’ and the guitar and echo of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. This was truly classic stuff.
At the sound of the announcement by ‘The Lonely Hearts Club Band’, every member of ‘The Ten’ came rushing into my area of the laboratory. I was too mesmerized by the music to notice or hear them at first. I was brought back to the reality of the setting by multiple ‘ssshhhs’ around me. I looked about and everyone, even the crusty and crabby members of the laboratory, was listening intently to the pulsating sound and, apparently, not finding it disagreeable.
I promise you that no one was more shocked than me to notice that ‘The Ten’ stayed in place for the whole of the first side of the record. When it ended, no one spoke, and silence ruled briefly as I turned to the record over, and started it revolving again, this time with the cut-side of ‘the apple’ spinning at the right speed.
Again, my cohorts and I stood in silence and listened, and listening intently, as if it was music by Mozart or Beethoven. I remember especially the last track – ‘A Day in the Life’ – I recall that some of my now-friends and I found the ending to be a bit powerful. For those who do not know this piece, or for those who have forgotten it (although I cannot think of anyone not remembering it forever after once hearing it), the orchestra sound rises to a crescendo that can be deafening (depending on the level of the volume) and causing some listeners to suddenly feel uncomfortable and believe that the sound is never going to end (I found the first time I heard it to be like ‘a bad trip’ and wishing to bring an end to the hallucination).
Once the record came to an end, we stood there in total silence for a minute or two. What was there to say after hearing this brilliant extravaganza? Eventually someone said something like ‘Wow’ or ‘Goodness me’ and then we all began to talk at once. I remember hearing mention of ‘Henry the Horse’ and ‘Mr. Kite’ etc etc etc.
I was urged to play the album again, and this I did, in fact the album was played again and again that day. No one seemed to tire of it. I think that some work was done on that fatal day, but perhaps not much. What the album did do however, in addition to giving us immense pleasure, was to ‘unite’, ‘bring together’ us, ‘The Ten’ a little. I cannot say that any of my compadres and I became ‘friends’, but we were no longer cold in our greeting and conversations were held between us that were of a more tolerant nature.
One last thing about the album: when I finally got it home, I looked at the back of the album cover and while reading the words of the pieces printed there, found that the figures of the Beatles in brightly colored band-cum-pirate outfits, began to flicker and pulse. This was very exciting to see. Sadly, this effect was only noticeable on that one occasion and could never be repeated. I remember going to an exhibition of a collection of Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’ at the ‘Chateau de Malmaison’ where the Empress Josephine had once lived. As I descended the huge spiral staircase to the main exhibition, I noted that the area was dimly lit. As my eyes adjusted to the lack of light, I began to notice explosions of color coming from the various paintings. I cannot recall which color appeared first, but I experienced pulsating reds, blues, greens, yellows, one after the other. It was breathtaking and like a collection of fireworks going off, only much, much better! Once my eyes had fully acclimatised to the scene, I saw all the paintings as they were. I was amazed at what I had experienced and immediately rushed up the staircase to the entrance where the sunlight was beaming into the foyer. Once I had acclimatised myself to this light, I rushed back downstairs, but alas, I was unable to re-create that amazing vision.
It would appear that the brain is wired to only allow you to experience these amazing sights and sounds ‘for the first time’ only once. However, once such a sight or a sound IS experienced, it can never be forgotten – just like listening to Sgt. Pepper, right?