Caught by the River

A Festival No.6 Primer: The Future's Bright, The Future's …

6th September 2012

A week tomorrow (Friday 14th September) in the uniquely psychedelic environs of Portmeirion at the inaugural Festival Number 6, Caught by the River and Faber Social will curate The Estuary Stage. Rob Chapman, author of Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head, will be one of the first performers on that stage, when he talks us through his upcoming History of Psychedelia and hopefully sets the tone for the rest of the weekend. Here’s a taster of what Rob’s talking about…

There’s a magic moment in an early BBC investigation into LSD where the gruff bearded Fyfe Robertson asks a doe-eyed young thing how she’s feeling as she hurtles through time and space. “It’s all to do with colour. It’s all to do with round. With shape,” she says as she rolls an orange in her hand like its warm Play-Do. And in a way she’s right. It is all to do with colour and round and shape. But it’s all to do with a lot of other things too.

It’s all to do with Isaac Newton experimenting with prisms and inventing the light show. It’s all to do with the CIA failing to perfect a truth serum. It’s all to do with Ken Kesey taking the medicine show on the road. It’s all to do with the the time it took the Beatles to get from Help to I Am the Walrus and the Rolling Stones from Satisfaction to Dandelion. Its all to do with some going the whole eight miles high and others just donning a paisley shirt and pretending – and this writer’s non-judgmental ability to treat those two imposters just the same. And it’s not half as much to do with Haight-Ashbury as some people seem to think.

Of course if Aldous Huxley had got his way back in 1956 the somewhat semantically cumbersome Phanerothymes might have been become the accepted synonym for the medicine chest of hallucinogens that was about to be unleashed upon the western world.

Huxley’s original rhyming couplet was;

To make this trivial world sublime
Take half a gramme of phanerothyme

Dear sweet Humphry Fortescue Osmond countered Huxley’s suggestion with

To fathom hell or soar angelic
Just take a pinch of psychedelic

As we all know Humphrey Osmond won the terminology game. And it was a game – comforting to know, isn’t it, that the future parlance of western consciousness expansion was settled by a brief duel involving the playful exchange of rhyming couplets. In many ways though Huxley’s suggestion retains more resonance. LSD did make the trivial seem sublime.

“Everything’s coloured” says the doe-eyed girl as Fyfe Robertson listens earnestly. And then, staring intensely at the object in her hand she delivers her coup-de-grace. “Ah, it must be to do with orange. Not only with orange.”

I’ll be talking about orange on Friday at Portmeirion. Not only about orange.