The Major has left the building

The bar-room has a new bore, says David Tyler, and his subject of choice is the so-called Swinging Sixties

I was at the bar of the Royal Well Tavern in Cheltenham when an early Rolling Stones song was piped through the sound system. “It is 40 years this summer since Brian Jones died,” volunteered the middle-aged gent standing next to me. “It was a terrible tragedy. I saw the Stones in Hyde Park when Mick Jagger released the white butterflies in Brian’s memory – it was amazing.”

I am not sure quite why the death of the stoned Rolling Stones guitarist who grew up in our spa town was particularly tragic. He was no more than a society rake who died from youthful excess as young men have done every year since the first wild oat was sown. Yet Jones is supposed to hold a special place in history because he belonged to that over-hyped decade ‘the Swinging Sixties’.

Fifty years ago one could walk into any saloon bar in the shires and ask for ‘The Major’ and expect to receive a sensible answer. “The Major’s over there,” would be the reply. Or “he just left” or “he’ll be back in a minute”. Every pub had a patriotic Major in cavalry twills and regimental tie who talked about the war. His great days had been fighting the Hun and, with his tales of polished boots and powdered egg, he bored a generation who preferred to make love not war and wear the Union Jack rather than fly it.

Eventually the Major died out, mostly thanks to the loss of the saloon bar. However, the world has now turned full circle and a modern version of the Major, who I shall call the ‘HeyMan’, has returned to haunt us. He is the bloke that lived through the sixties and unfortunately remembers it. HeyMans (so called because that is what they used to say as in ‘Hey man, how you doing?’ or ‘Hey Man, peace and love’) now hold court in coffee bars, gastro-pubs and anywhere else where there is a gathering of souls to bore. And we have more than our fair share of them in the Cotswolds, in particularly around Cheltenham (and Stroud) and its environs.

These formerly long-haired, flare-wearing late 50- and 60-somethings have once again got the bit between their teeth thanks to a new Exhibition, ‘60s Exposed’, that opened in October at London’s National Portrait Gallery and will be coming to a venue near our hills sometime next year. It includes many pictures of Brian Jones.

“This exhibition will show how the 1960s changed the world – and how Britain was the central axis of new popular culture,” says Sandy Naime, director of the National Portrait Gallery, in her best HeyMan mode.

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Earlier this year we suffered The Who’s mod opera Quadrophenia at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre while the Sensational 60s Experience (‘together for the first time in 20 years The Tremeloes, The Merseybeats and The Dreamers’) played the town hall last month. This month we have got the Searchers to suffer.

The recent release of the re-mastered Beatles albums will also give the Sixties advocates a fillip. The HeyMans believe that the Beatles were the greatest musicians since Beethoven and Bach. (Actually they were at best a competent boy band producing some good singles that evolved into a studio group pumping out some well engineered songs, many of which, in hindsight, are forgettable.)

Talk of the Beatles however is only the tip of the marijuana joint. The kids who were in their teens and twenties in the Sixties and early Seventies believe they experienced a time more amazing than any other and now they are old they can’t stop banging on about it.

They rarely talk of the things that mattered – the end of censorship, the Pill, the beginning of modern satire, reforms on homosexuality, abortion and equal pay for women, but rather about how many rock concerts they attended and how many drugs they took. No rock festival today, they will tell you, can match the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival, no fashion is as wild as the mini-skirt, no car more beautiful than the E-type.

And everybody who died from drugs is a tragic figure, in particular Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and of course Brian, who thanks to his moronic intake of Class A substances has become Cheltenham’s most famous son.

And now as the nostalgia kicks in with the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Sixties, and our Brian is once more lauded, our bars and clubs will again reverberate with the droning HeyMans. Sergeant Pepper has become the 21st century Major and if one put one’s head around any gastro-pub door and ask for ‘The Sergeant’ one can be sure that one will get a reply.