Albion Dreaming: An interview with Andy Roberts
Andy Roberts is a writer and the author of ‘Albion Dreaming – A cultural history of LSD in Britain’. The first book to deal exclusively with the impact of LSD on British culture ‘Albion Dreaming’ is a thoughtfully researched space into the history of the relationship, which investigates military, scientific and social perspectives.
Andy has been kind enough to lend PsypressUK his thoughts on psychedelic literature, the challenges of writing ‘Albion Dreaming’ and his inspirations for undertaking the project. He also looks at the web of social interactions between psychedelics and society.
As a reveller in the Seventies Free Festival movement in the UK, Andy was very much a part of the era on which he writes. Indeed, as was written in PsypressUK’s recent review of the book, it is the chapters located after the counterculture that felt most rewarding to read. We asked Andy how his interest in LSD was originally sparked:
“From first hearing about the drug as a child, I’d always wanted to take LSD. I first took it in late 1972, when I was sixteen, and the experience, as it has done with so many other people, blew my mind. I became an avid consumer of the drug and its culture. Throughout my teens, 20s, 30s and 40s I read as much as I could about acid culture, and particularly UK acid culture.”
He cites such psychedelic texts as Timothy Leary’s ‘Politics of Ecstasy’, Huxley’s ‘Doors of Perception’ and the less well-known writer (in the UK at least) Stephen Gaskin as influences. Gaskin’s books “Amazing Dope Tales and Haight Street Flashbacks [are] an engrossing, funny and true account of what it was like to be a street acid head and later acid guru in San Francisco.” As Andy embarked on a career as a writer…
“…it was always at the back of my mind that I would try and do a history of LSD in the UK, but the opportunity didn’t arise. None-the-less I started to collect information ‘just in case’ and slowly began to cultivate the idea.”
Whilst arranging a review copy of a book from Cyan Publishing, a conversation was sparked about his idea to write the history. Sample chapters and a contract soon followed and the book was published in 2008. We asked Andy what the major challenges he faced in researching and writing ‘Albion Dreaming’?
“Trying to find certain people was quite hard, at least initially, but I traced most of those I wanted to. Some wouldn’t speak to me, for reasons never stated – they just didn’t return emails, letters or calls. Others gave interviews but were quite guarded in their responses to things I knew for certain they had detailed knowledge of. I also heard on the grapevine that there was a suspicion in some quarters that I was an undercover cop!”
The paranoia and suspicion that surrounds psychedelics appears to be endemic in all facets of its research, not just the scientific but also its historical, cultural and social aspects. Aside from legal threats and such like, simple corroboration of events proved difficult. Although he managed to show chemist, Andy Munro, the ‘Operation Julie’ chapter and hear that he “was satisfied it told a ‘truth’” this was not the case for the principle characters.
“It was very difficult to trace any of the people involved in the Operation Julie events. They are all still around, but no-one seemed to want to speak. I especially wanted to speak to either of the two chemists or Christine Bott. I couldn’t find any trace of Dick Kemp (strongest rumour was that he lives in Goa, but he could be living next door for all I know!)”
At the end of ‘Albion Dreaming’ Andy says that “if there is a conspiracy, it is an unspoken one, enacted by the British Establishment” in regard to the veils of secrecy that seemingly envelope LSD. PsypressUK asked him: In your opinion, to what extent can the science of psychedelic research be separated from the “matrix of political, legal, economic, religious and social forces“? That is to say, has science become establishment by its later refusal to engage with LSD?
“I don’t think psychedelic research can be separated from the matrix of political, legal, economic, religious and social forces. This, in part, stems from the medical establishment’s condemnation of LSD when it started to become sold on the streets. They thought it was ‘their’ drug and when it became widely used they conspired with the media to spread scare stories which quickly translated into legislation. The ‘Establishment’ will, I think, never allow science to properly research LSD etc. because it is afraid – literally – of the Pandora’s box of possibilities it opens up for individuals to see beyond the tightly controlled society we live in and in which we think we are ‘free’.”
Integrating the ‘space’ of the psychedelic experience into society appears to have been the primary goal of the psychedelic movement ever since it began to form a coherence. We asked Andy if he thought the incorporation of this ‘space’ differs in the US and in Britain? And, if so, how?
“Many acid heads believe the whole thing to have been a waste of time. One person from my psychedelic circle of friends in the 1970s believes ‘we were all conned’ (by the whole psychedelic movement). I don’t see that at all. It’s true, we never had the psychedelic revolution people wanted but to me the psychedelic revolution still happened – is happening – subtly. I think the integration of the psychedelic experience has penetrated deep into society in both the UK and the US in many, many ways and the attitude of individuals to their work, politics, ecology and so on.”
The complex rhizome of ‘psychedelics and society’ is played out on many interlocking plains and Andy has written an important contribution to the understanding of these relationships. PsypressUK would like to thank him for answering some questions and wish him the best of luck in all his future projects.