While The Beatles were no strangers to drugs prior to 1965, their introduction to LSD caused a major shift in their music, personalities and public perception.
The precise date of their first encounter is unknown, although it’s likely to have been between March and July 1965. It is known, however, that it took place at Flat 1, 2 Strathearn Place, London W2, in the home of 34-year-old cosmetic dentist John Riley.
He laid it on George, me and our wives without telling us at a dinner party at his house. He was a friend of George’s, and our dentist at the time. He just put it in our coffee or something. He didn’t know what it was, it was just, ‘It’s all the thing,’ with the middle-class London swingers. They had all heard about it and didn’t know it was different from pot or pills. And they gave it to us, and he was saying, ‘I advise you not to leave,’ and we thought he was trying to keep us for an orgy in his house and we didn’t want to know.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner
After the meal the five, along with Riley’s 22-year-old girlfriend Cindy Bury, adjourned from the flat’s small dining room into the lounge. On the mantelpiece six sugar cubes had been carefully lined up. The cubes, each of which contained a dose of LSD, were slipped into the guests’ coffees.
Riley’s LSD supply had been manufactured at a farmhouse in Wales. His intention was to be the first person to ‘turn on’ The Beatles, in the comfort of his flat, but his plans backfired when his guests insisted on leaving for the Pickwick Club at 15-18 Great Newport Street, WC2.
One night John, Cynthia, Pattie and I were having dinner at the dentist’s house. Later that night we were going to a London nightclub called the Pickwick Club. It was a little restaurant with a small stage where some friends of ours were playing. Klaus Voormann, Gibson Kemp (who became Rory Storm’s drummer after we stole Ringo) and a guy called Paddy. They had a little trio.
After dinner I said to John, ‘Let’s go – they’re going to be on soon,’ and John said ‘OK’, but the dentist was saying, ‘Don’t go; you should stay here.’ And then he said, ‘Well, at least finish your coffee first.’ So we finished our coffee and after a while I said again, ‘Come on, it’s getting late – we’d better go.’ The dentist said something to John and John turned to me and said, ‘We’ve had LSD.’
I just thought, ‘Well, what’s that? So what? Let’s go!’
This fella was still asking us to stay and it all became a bit seedy – it felt as if he was trying to get something happening in his house; that there was some reason he didn’t want us to go. In fact, he had obtained some lysergic acid diethylamide 25. It was, at the time, an unrestricted medication – I seem to recall that I’d heard vaguely about it, but I didn’t really know what it was, and we didn’t know we were taking it. The bloke had put it in our coffee: mine, John’s, Cynthia’s and Pattie’s. He didn’t take it. He had never had it himself. I’m sure he thought it was an aphrodisiac. I remember his girlfriend had enormous breasts and I think he thought that there was going to be a big gang-bang and that he was going to get to shag everybody. I really think that was his motive.
So the dentist said, ‘OK, leave your car here. I’ll drive you and then you can come back later.’ I said ‘No, no. We’ll drive.’ And we all got in my car and he came as well, in his car. We got to the nightclub, parked and went in.
We’d just sat down and ordered our drinks when suddenly I feel the most incredible feeling come over me. It was something like a very concentrated version of the best feeling I’d ever had in my whole life.
It was fantastic. I felt in love, not with anything or anybody in particular, but with everything. Everything was perfect, in a perfect light, and I had an overwhelming desire to go round the club telling everybody how much I loved them – people I’d never seen before.
One thing led to another, then suddenly it felt as if a bomb had made a direct hit on the nightclub and the roof had been blown off: ‘What’s going on here?’ I pulled my senses together and I realised that the club had actually closed – all the people had gone, they’d put the lights on, and the waiters were going round bashing the tables and putting the chairs on top of them. We thought, ‘Oops, we’d better get out of here!’
From the Pickwick Club the party went on to the Ad Lib on 7 Leicester Place, a popular destination among London’s stars. They had arranged to meet Ringo Starr there.
We went out to the Ad Lib and these discotheques and there was incredible things going on. This guy [Riley] came with us, he was nervous, he didn’t know what was going on. We were going crackers. It was insane going around London on it. When we entered the club, we thought it was on fire. And then we thought it was a premiere, but it was just an ordinary light outside. We thought, ‘Shit, what’s going on here?’ And we were cackling in the street, and then people were shouting, ‘Let’s break a window.’ We were just insane. We were just out of our heads. We finally got in the lift and we all thought there was a fire in the lift. It was just a little red light, and we were all screaming – it was hysterical. We all arrived on the floor, ’cause this was a discotheque that was up a building. The lift stops and the door opens and we’re all going ‘Aaahhhh’ [loud scream], and we just see that it’s the club, and then we walk in, sit down, and the table’s elongating. I think we went to eat before that, where the table went this long, just like I’d read somebody – who is it, Blake, is it? – somebody describing the effects of the opium in the old days. And I thought, ‘Fuck, it’s happening.’ And then we went to the Ad Lib and all that. And then some singer came up to me and said, ‘Can I sit next to you?’ And I was going, [loudly] ‘Only if you don’t talk,’ ’cause I just couldn’t think.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner