Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas on Earth Continued: December 22, 1967

To mark the Christmas season here in Wonderland, we are commemorating the last gasp of the British underground scene in 1967, the Christmas on Earth Continued festival, held on December 22nd at the Olympia in London. Billed as an "All Night Christmas Dream Party," the festival boasted an impressive line-up of some of England's best musical acts. Where else could one witness The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Tomorrow, The Move, Eric Burdon and the Animals, Soft Machine, Pink Floyd and Graham Bond all on the same bill? Unfortunately, lack of publicity and a bitter winter freeze hampered attendance. The Who didn't show up, and the Grateful Dead, hoping to make their UK debut at the festival, were barred due to permit problems. Already, the festival appeared doomed.

The Olympia was a massive hall, as indicated in the rare photo of the Christmas on Earth stage posted above. Liquid slides and underground movies were projected onto every surface by three scaffolding towers. DJ Jeff Dexter recalls, "It was cold, although that summer seemed to go through to December. People were walking around in hippie clothes thinking it was still July." Steve Howe of Tomorrow (and later of Yes) remembers the event as momentous as well. "It was undoubtedly a major event," Howe notes. "After that, everything seemed like a bit of a hangover." "We got up on stage, played our set and hung out the whole evening. It was magnificent," relates Tomorrow's lead singer Keith West. "Later we watched some of the footage. The film looked absolutely brilliant."

The promoters had planned on releasing a film of the proceedings, but to this day the only footage to surface is that which is posted above: The Jimi Hendrix Experience performing "Sgt. Pepper," "Foxey Lady," and "Wild Thing." The film failed to emerge apparently because the filmmakers used cheap film stock which resulted in poor picture quality, and later, the film itself mysteriously disappeared. A distorted but interesting audio recording of Tomorrow's set was released in 1998 on the RPM label.

Sadly, the Christmas on Earth festival also marked Syd Barrett's last major show with Pink Floyd. By the time of the concert, Barrett had suffered a significant mental breakdown due to stress and excessive drug use, allegedly exacerbating symptoms of schizophrenia, though Barrett's sister denies this diagnosis. At the concert, Barrett was observed to just stand on stage with his guitar, his arms hanging limp at his side, while Roger Waters played the same bass line over and over again. After he left Pink Floyd, Syd went on to record two solo albums and numerous demos. Barrett was a sensitive, brilliant, beautiful man with immense intelligence and talent. Without him, Pink Floyd would have never existed, and to some of us, they never surpassed the works they created with Barrett at the helm (although those albums are indeed excellent).

The top picture in this post is of the fantastic psychedelic outfit, Tomorrow, followed by the Christmas on Earth stage, a promo poster, Pink Floyd celebrating Christmas with a traditional British Christmas Cake, another ad for the concert, and a rare photo of The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Soft Machine taken the night of the festival.

So to conclude our Christmas in Wonderland, I would like to wish you all a Happy Crimble and a very Gear New Year!

Jon Newey's liner notes for the RPM release Tomorrow - 50 Minute Technicolor Dream
Watkinson and Anderson - Crazy Diamond: Syd Barrett and the Dawn of Pink Floyd