13 December 1965 is the likely date that Paul McCartney had his first experience with the drug LSD.
The other Beatles had all taken acid by this time, but McCartney had always declined. John Lennon and George Harrison had had their drinks spiked during the infamous Dental Experience in the spring of 1965. Their second trip, during which they were joined by Ringo Starr, took place at a party in Los Angeles on 24 August that year.
When McCartney did use LSD for the first time, it was not in the company of his bandmates, but with Tara Browne, a young socialite whose death in December 1966 inspired the opening lines of ‘A Day In The Life’. Browne, the heir to a £1 million Guinness fortune, lived on Eaton Row, a secluded mews in London’s Belgravia district, with his wife Noreen (known as Nicky).
After finishing their final UK tour with a performance in Cardiff on 12 December 1965 they were driven to London, where they celebrated the end of the tour at the Scotch of St James nightclub. The following night, 13 December, Lennon and McCartney returned once more to the club, where they met The Who’s John Entwistle and the Pretty Things’ former drummer Viv Prince.
Nicky Browne was also at the Scotch, and she invited them all back to Eaton Row. Lennon declined and returned to his home in Weybridge, but McCartney and Prince accepted the offer, as did several girls, and a dancer, Patrick Kerr, from the television show Ready Steady Go!
At the Eaton Row house, Tara Browne suggested they all take LSD. McCartney and Prince were unsure, having never before tried the drug.
I was more ready for the drink or a little bit of pot or something. I’d not wanted to do it, I’d held off like a lot of people were trying to, but there was massive peer pressure. And within a band, it’s more than peer pressure, it’s fear pressure. It becomes trebled, more than just your mates, it’s, ‘Hey, man, this whole band’s had acid, why are you holding out? What’s the reason, what is it about you?’ So I knew I would have to out of peer pressure alone. And that night I thought, well, this is as good a time as any, so I said, ‘Go on then, fine.’ So we all did it.
Nicky Browne served the guests tea, also offering them sugar lumps impregnated with liquid LSD. Unlike the Dental Experience, however, nobody had their drinks spiked, and each person stayed in the house through the night.
It was such a mind-expanding thing. I saw paisley shapes and weird things, and for a guy who wasn’t that keen on getting that weird, there was a disturbing element to it. I remember looking at my shirtsleeves and seeing they were dirty and not being too pleased with that, whereas normally you wouldn’t even notice. But you noticed and you heard. Everything was supersensitive.
We sat around all evening. Viv Prince was great fun. Someone said, ‘Do you want a drink?’ And everyone would say, ‘No thanks, don’t need drink, this is plenty.’ If anything, we might smoke a joint. But Viv demolished the drinks tray: ‘Oh yeah, a drink!’ Cockney drummer with the Pretty Things. ‘Orrright, yeah! Nah, does anyone want a drink? I fink I’ll ’ave one of them.’ And he had the whisky and he had everything. He was having a trip but his was somehow a more wired version than anyone else’s. In the morning we ended up sending him out for ciggies.
Then one of the serious secretaries from our office rang about an engagement I had; she had traced me to here. ‘Um, can’t talk now. Important business’ or something. I just got out of it. ‘But you’re supposed to be at the office.’ ‘No. I’ve got ’flu.’ Anything I could think. I got out of that one because there was no way I could go to the office after that.
Paul McCartney later stated a belief that he first tried LSD in 1966. Viv Prince, however, confirmed to Beatles biographer Steve Turner that the event took place the night after the Beatles’ final UK tour date.
McCartney took LSD several more times, although he never embraced it with the fervour of Lennon and Harrison.
I had it on a few occasions after that and I always found it amazing. Sometimes it was a very very deeply emotional experience, making you want to cry, sometimes seeing God or sensing all the majesty and emotional depth of everything. And sometimes you were just plain knackered, because it would be like sitting up all night in a train station, and by the morning you’ve grown very stiff and it’s not a party any more. It’s like the end of an all-nighter but you haven’t danced. You just sat. So your bum might be sore, just from sitting. I was often quite wiped out by it all but I always thought, Well, you know, everybody’s doing it.
Indeed, it was McCartney’s lack of stamina which largely put him off LSD.
The thing I didn’t like about acid was it lasted too long. It always wore me out. But they were great people to be around, a wacky crowd. My main problem was just the stamina you had to have. I never attempted to work on acid, I couldn’t. What’s the point of trying, love?
Groovy Bob, Harriet Vyner
Riding So High – The Beatles and Drugs
For much more on this subject, don’t miss Riding So High, the only full-length study of the Beatles and drugs.
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Also on this day...
- 2012: Paul McCartney live: 121212: The Concert For Sandy Relief
- 2010: Paul McCartney live: the Apollo Theater, New York
- 1965: The Beatles discuss their third film project
- 1963: Live: Gaumont Cinema, Southampton
- 1962: Live: Corn Exchange, Bedford
- 1961: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (evening)
- 1961: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (lunchtime)
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.