This was probably one of the most important birthdays of my adolescent years. The 15th birthday may not seem like a milestone time to most people, but I actually i felt really old and sensible!
The reason it was memorable was down to a a small number of things, but the most significant from a life-changing point of view was that i went to a Led Zeppelin concert, and at the same time took my first tab of acid!
To give you a little background of where i was in my life i will tell you that i was at a location called Peper Harow, which was a “therapeutic community” near Godalming, a sort of boarding school for troubled young geniuses (genii?). I had been sent to this place because i was under the care of the council. You had to pass an IQ test that showed you were of excellent intelligence before you were allowed an interview with the head of Peper Harow, and even then only 50% of the applicants were victorious.
I had been put “in care” as i was incessantly bunking off school, and running away from home. The last straw came when i broke into a house through desperation after living rough for a couple of weeks. I stole some clothes and 200 pounds, and then went off to Listowel in Ireland (Kerry) for three months, but that’s another legend!
On my return i was caught, convicted of breaking and entering, placed in care, and then sent to an “assessment centre”, where they decide whether to send you to a “borstal” or “community school”. There was not too much difference between the two as far as i was concerned so i decided to get out of there as quick as possible, and over the fence i went at the first opportunity.
The Social Services then sent me to this therapeutic community as an experiment, and i actually stayed there for a few months before going off on my own once again….
Anyway, i digress. This is about my birthday. So i was a great fan of the best rock band ever, Led Zeppelin, and was desperate to go to this concert. My birthday is March 28th and that year, luckily, it fell on Easter weekend, so i was at home on leave at my parent’s house in Neasden, North London..
So i met up with my friend Alain from Peper Harow. He was on leave at his mothers house in Baker Street, but somehow knew someone who was selling posters outside this Led Zeppelin concert, and he didn’t just sell posters! He had arranged with Alain for us to meet him and he was going to give us some acid (LSD, trips, whatever you want to call it), and also happened to know someone who worked on the door, and could get us entry for just a fiver.
We met this man as arranged, and, me being the way-out nutter i liked to think I was at the time, dropped the acid immediately. I had heard many stories about it, but nothing could have prepared me for the amazing effects of this fantastic drug. It seemed like no time at all before i was tripping off my brain, and everything around was fascinating and interesting. The colours were kaleidoscopic, hypnotic and flying all over the place. It was like being on another planet!
So we then waited and waited, for what seemed like an age, for the “man from the door” who was going to get us into the concert. When he turned up he was talking to us, telling us what to do, as we had to sneak through a particular turnstile. This was where his friend was going to let us through, but being off our heads, we found it incredibly hard to concentrate. The one thing that sticks out in my mind was the scars on his face, which were amplified to a fantastic degree by the acid, and from then on he was called “scarface” whenever me and Alain discussed that night. We then had to follow him, down this long, long road, which seemed to go on for ever, to reach the entrance.
Somehow we got through the dodgy turnstile, which even now seems incredible because we were giggling like idiots continually. I still can’t believe that security didn’t stop us going in, but in we got!.
I was totally addicted to the Zeppelin, so i knew all the music and the words, and we danced and sang and giggled and put the world to rights, until suddenly i became very thirsty. I just HAD to find somewhere to buy a drink, and after much in-depth discussion, we decided to try to get into the outskirts of the arena to find a kiosk for the said drink. So off we went.
We found a burger bar around the outside, but it was big and empty while the music was still deafeningly loud from the arena. I remember one of the stewards asking me for a ticket so he could help me get back to our seats, and we said we’d left them with our friends, so he asked me what our seat numbers were, and showed me this map with all the seat numbers on it.
I scanned the document quickly, and computed a letter that i COULDN’T see on it (obviously we didn’t have a seat number, as we didn’t have a ticket!), and told him that letter and number. He was flummoxed, and after a long drawn out search of the map he decided that he couldn’t find it. We told him not to worry and we’d find it ourselves. He went away looking confused!
We went back to the aisle where we were standing, and saw the rest of the concert. To be honest (it’s 34 years ago now) the thing i remember most was that the guitarist’s hands were moving so fast they were leaving trails of impressions of his fingers in the air. I found out later (threw a LOT of experience)that this is a normal (normal!) side-effect of taking acid. But i do know that i absolutely loved the concert, with my favourite band ever, and i will never experience a night like it again in my life.
The acid seemed to last forever, and i was amazed that something that small (and just 50p!) could give such a brilliant experience for such a long time. I don’t remember the journey home, but i do remember my mother waiting up for us. We got back around one in the morning, and she was watching golf (!!) on the telly, so i knew she was just worried about me.
Me and Alain were both still seriously out of our heads, and i was paranoid that Alain would be acting weird and my mother would know we had been taking drugs, so i kept giving him withering looks if he said anything at all, and I was getting more and more paranoid.
The strange thing was that i was probably the one that she thought was weird. I kept saying “there’s something wrong with the colour”, and kept getting up and playing with the colour button on the TV. I thought the green of the grass at the golf course was all wrong, and tried to adjust it to get it “just right”. When my mum finally went to bed i remember complaining to my friend that it was SO obvious he was tripping, and he just kept laughing at me. I think i know why now!
We went up to my room afterwards and i spent the next hour just listening to one Led Zeppelin track called “The Angels of Babylon”, which is tracks of acoustic guitars and various voices all overlaid on top of each other. I could hear each and every single voice on the song, and was entranced by the beauty of the song, and the night. I think, that night, i really decided that life was something so precious that i was determined to enjoy every single day of my life.
I really have to ask my mum if she remembers that night before it’s too late (she’s 78 now, but still going strong). I, for one, will never ever forget it!