On Sunday 28 May 1967, Brian Epstein threw a party at Kingsley Hill, his country home in Warbleton near Heathfield in Sussex.
Epstein had recently bought the house for £25,000, and the party was a joint housewarming and a celebration for the release of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The roads leading to the house were adorned with balloons for the occasion.
All the Beatles were present apart from Paul McCartney, who chose to stay with Jane Asher after her return from the United States. In addition to The Beatles and their wives, it was attended by a number of friends and celebrities including composer Lionel Bart.
Also invited, with just two days’ notice, were The Beatles’ former press officer Derek Taylor and his wife Joan. He was in the process of setting up the three-day Monterey International Pop Music Festival, but the couple flew 6,000 miles back to England to attend the party. Joan was seven months pregnant. They were hoping for a weekend of alcohol, pills and cannabis, and were wholly unprepared for the rich sensory assault that awaited.
At the airport the Taylors were met by Lennon, Harrison, Starr, Terry Doran, and Barry Finch of design collective the Fool. They had been up all night on what Harrison described as “an all-night (or all-week) bells-on-the-knees and perms-in-the- hair LSD trip.” All were dressed in full psychedelic finery: silk and satin clothes, embellished with scarves and bells and other ornaments.
Their brains seemed somewhat apart from their bodies, and yet they were not drunk or reeling or grinding their teeth. The other passengers stood and stared, and so did we.
Fifty Years Adrift
To Taylor’s dismay, the three Beatles greeted them with hugs and kisses. “This is the new thing!” Lennon told him. “You hug your friends when you meet them and show them you’re glad to see them. Don’t stand there shaking hands as if every? one’s got some disease! Get close to people!”
The Taylors were ushered into Lennon’s Rolls-Royce, painted in gypsy psychedelic livery and guaranteed to turn heads. As they set off for Weybridge, Harrison snatched a cigarette from Taylor’s mouth and threw it out of the window. “You don’t need them; they’ll poison you,” he admonished Taylor, who was used to smoking three packets a day. “Acid for breakfast,” Lennon said gnomically, as they listened to Procol Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’. “It gets you like that.”
Lennon took the guests to Kenwood, while Harrison returned to Kinfauns. Taylor was still dressed in a blazer, grey flannel slacks and a black tie: a man out of time.
When we got to George’s house, we saw for the first time what young psychedelic women were wearing for parties. Pattie and her sister Jenny and Marijke of the Fool were in glittering flowing robes of beautiful colours, with velvet here and there and all absolutely original. These were the fairest of flower children and as they walked through the Claremont Estate of suburban Esher, they made an indelible impression. Already it was Wonderland, and no one had put anything in our tea yet.
Fifty Years Adrift
They left in three cars. Harrison drove while on LSD with Pattie in his Mini.
We were moving along the road at about 85mph in a little psychedelic box with tantric symbols, Shiva radio aerials and “hello Pisces” on the door, yantra, tantra, mantras and all that. Suddenly, the big gypsy caravan, the $40,000 Phantom Five Rolls bearing the Romany gypsies going to Brian’s, was coming the opposite way. Now were they going the right way and we going back the way we came, or were we heading towards the party and they’d missed it? It didn’t matter, just hah… great; let’s get out.
Fifty Years Adrift
Inside Lennon’s Rolls-Royce, spirits were high.
It had all the feeling of a school outing. Every time the car passed through town or villages it stopped the traffic. Crowds of jeering, waving people pressed up against the tinted windows trying to get a better look at the occupants of this crazy car. It was like travelling in a time machine. The boys were smoking pot and, even if you don’t smoke it yourself, breathing in the fumes can affect you in much the same way. A pill was passed around and everyone giggled stupidly and had a nibble. It was very hard for me to explain what the atmosphere was like in that car at the time. I can only describe it as insane, freaky, self-destructive, irresponsible. A contagious mood that spread like wildfire in the dark, squashed confines of that crazy vehicle.
Remarkably, all three cars and their passengers arrived unscathed at the Epstein party. Taylor found the Beatles’ manager free of the stress and anxiety that had overshadowed many of the group’s US tours; instead Epstein was relaxed, in joyous mood and full of love for his guests, among whom were maverick radio DJ Kenny Everett, musicals composer Lionel Bart, the Beatles’ Hamburg friend Klaus Voormann, and many other glittering showbusiness figures.
The Taylors were offered Indian tea in china cups.
John, who had been sitting with us on the lawn, said he’d just given Joan some “acid” in her tea. Would I like some in mine? Sure, why not? He snapped a tablet in two, gave me a portion about two thirds of the total. “That’ll do to start with,” he said cheerfully, dropping the tiny jagged pink pill into my cup. “Stir it up well, there’s a good lad.” George came by and said: “What are you giving them?” “What do you think?” said John. “Oh,” said George. “Derek’s…” But I had already drained it, and George’s tea, too. “Derek’s already had… well, it’s too late now.” He laughed. “Derek’s got a double dose inside him.”
Fifty Years Adrift
Taylor had already unwittingly ingested 500 micrograms of Owsley Stanley-sourced LSD. Coupled with Lennon’s offering, he was in for an unusually strong first trip. Fortunately he was in trusted company in a safe space, allowing him to enjoy the experience without too much turbulence or fear. The Beatles and their wives retreated to a room with a log fire burning. A joint was passed around and more tea poured. Taylor, not knowing what to expect from the acid, took a Desbutal tablet – amphetamine combined with barbiturate – ‘just in case there wasn’t enough stimulation’. He needn’t have worried.
Before long I found myself swimming like a parcel of Escher lizards through the lines of a purple jigsaw of increasing and then decreasing size. “What the hell’s going on?” I asked, crying with laughter. “You’re tripping,” said Joan, with a new vocabulary already. Tripping? Me? … “Are you tripping?” I asked Joan. She nodded lovingly. “We all are,” George said. “Everyone is.”
Fifty Years Adrift
As the effects of the double dose peaked, it proved too much for Taylor, who was assailed by disturbing visions and dark thoughts. Harrison, with enough experience to spot the warning signs, and the calmness – despite tripping himself – to provide reassurance, talked Taylor back from his descent into misery. ‘Derek, create and preserve the image of your choice,’ Harrison told him. ‘It’s up to you. The thing is to see what you want to see. Do you want to create something nice? Then look into the fire and see something nice.
The intervention worked, and much of the remainder of Taylor’s trip was filled with talking, laughter and visions. He and Joan bonded over the shared experience, and led a singalong on Epstein’s grand piano.
Late into the night Taylor was cornered by Harrison, who reiterated his words of wisdom: ‘Derek, I love ya. I just want you to know that. I love ya and it’s going to be OK. Create and preserve the image of your choice. Don’t forget, Derek. Gandhi said that. Pick your own trips.’
Coping less well was Cynthia Lennon, who was on her third and final trip. Once again it was a bad experience, though unlike Taylor she had nobody to comfort and guide her. Her husband was hardly faring better.
When John moved away from me I followed hoping that he could in some way comfort and support me. But John was not happy; he was not enjoying the experience as he had before. He ignored me and glared as though I were an intruding stranger.
Distraught at the rejection from her husband, tongue-tied and paranoid, Cynthia retreated into a bedroom where she contemplated suicide.
I felt desolate. I sat on the windowsill of an upstairs room contemplating the long drop to the paving- stones below, musing to myself that it wasn’t really that far down and that I could even jump. I was drifting off into a very deep depression when someone called my name and I was snapped out of my apathetic reverie. Even though I was under the influence of the drug I knew that all hope for John and I carrying on with our marriage in the same vein flew out of that upstairs window with my thoughts.
Riding So High – The Beatles and Drugs
This article is an edited extract from Riding So High, the only full-length study of the Beatles and drugs.
Also on this day...
- 2022: Paul McCartney live: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
- 2022: Ringo Starr live: Casino Rama, Orillia, Ontario, Canada
- 2016: Paul McCartney live: Esprit Arena, Düsseldorf
- 2015: Paul McCartney live: Echo Arena, Liverpool
- 2010: Paul McCartney live: Foro Sol, Mexico City
- 2004: Paul McCartney live: Parque Bela Vista, Lisbon
- 1969: Mixing, master compilation: Let It Be, Get Back album
- 1963: The Beatles live: Gaumont Cinema, Worcester
- 1962: The Beatles live: Star-Club, Hamburg
- 1961: The Beatles live: Top Ten Club, Hamburg
- 1960: The Silver Beetles live: Rescue Hall, Peterhead, Scotland
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.