The hippest shop of Swinging London and the unlikely pop song that it inspired.
Granny Takes a Trip was London’s first psychedelic boutique, opening before psychedelia even became a thing. It was opened in 1966 on the Kings Road by Nigel Waymouth and Sheila Cohen, ostensibly as an outlet for Cohen’s extensive vintage clothes collection, and before long the shop was at the centre of Swinging London, as the Mod scene gave way to the multi-coloured spectacle of the hippy era, and the constantly-changing facade of the shop kept it on the cutting edge of what was cool. Somehow, this symbol of the hippy era kept going well into the 1970s – the original shop was closed and sold in 1974, but the name lingered on until 1979!
In 1967, Stockport-formed band The Purple Gang decided to cash in on the shop’s fame by releasing a single bearing the same name as the shop. The song was recorded at the same time that Pink Floyd was recording Arnold Layne, and both bands used Joe Boyd as producer. But while the Floyd’s single mixed their psychedelic sound with a commercial tune, the Purple Gang was a different kettle of fish altogether.
If this were some sort of musical Cluedo, we might well put all of the clues together and reach a conclusion about what this record would sound like. While The Purple Gang is a somewhat ambiguous name, we have to factor in the Joe Boyd (and loose Pink Floyd) connection, the year it was recorded, the title of the song and the fact that the band’s lead singer was called Lucifer (real name Pete Walker; no relation to the filmmaker of the same name, obviously). Certainly, the BBC did just that when they decided to ban the record from the airwaves, commenting that it was “a song with a dubious title designed to corrupt the nation’s youth – and a band that boasts a warlock for a singer will not be tolerated by any decent society . . .”. Like the Beeb, as a teenager I assumed – after reading about the record in Barry Miles’ Pink Floyd book – that it would be a wild slice of psychedelic heaviness, somewhat (and admittedly, this was a grasp) in the Arthur Brown Fire mode, and when I found a copy in a second-hand record shop, you can bet that I snapped it up and eagerly transported it home.
You can imagine my disappointment when the record turned out to be a jolly jug band romp, telling the story of a pensioner with a yen to become a famous movie star. The trip she takes is a physical one, to Hollywood. This was not the record I expected or wanted.
Of course, time is a great healer. I can see now the song’s connection to the determinedly twee faux psych-pop of the era, where every pop band was singing about tea parties and matchstick men, and as a slice of disposable pop, Granny Takes A Trip is not completely awful. It’s still very much second division British pop of the time, but it’s an inoffensive and catchy little number. I still think that it was sold under false pretences (and remember that with a BBC ban in 1967, it would have gone unheard by most people), but time has been fairly kind to the song.
The Purple Gang’s debut album came and went without anyone really noticing in 1968, and that was pretty much it for them, until 1998, when of course they reformed and recorded a new album. The band have continued, on and off, ever since with varying line-ups.
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