Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released the week of my seventh birthday — to date my favourite (an affective fact unlikely to be challenged this year). Seven is the best number.

But it didn’t come into our family lives until a month later, my mum’s 32nd birthday, 4 July 1967. We were on holiday in mid-Wales, on a hillside farm owned by family friends (my godfather) a little up from Aberdyfi. Dad hadn’t joined us immediately — in those years he often had to travel to London from Shrewsbury for days on end, to attend work-related meetings. So he drove up a few days later — we were a two-mini family, very Italian Job in that one way at least — laden with presents for everyone, especially mum.

Mum’s was Sergeant Pepper, of course. And it went straight onto the ancient gramophone in that farmhouse, probably immediately damaging the surface (I bet the needle hasn’t been changed to this day). It was played non-stop the entire holiday — bearing mind that that summer was famously warm and clear-skied, and full of generational hope. My parents weren’t hippies — they were a bit too old and too cautious, dad was 36 that year — but they were caught up in the sense of possibility, working (and living) in a place staffed by young adults committed to natural-science fieldwork and what wasn’t yet widely known as ecology. My sister and I were brought up semi-communally in this space, often babysat by these many idealistic young adults. This summer has remained the perfect snapshot for me of that idealism.

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The record itself — the physical object, the sleeve and the inner sleeve and the disc and the label — my sister and I scoured for all its loving, baffling details. The fact — which I know now and knew nothing of then — that this was a land-grab made by the artists (so hugely successful their sales were a not-be-sniffed proportion of the national GDP at a time when other sectors were struggling) to strip control of product-terrain, like sleeve space and label space and even the run-out groove, from EMI (who generally used the spaces to shill rival LPs or EMITEX record-wiping cloth or whatever) and place them at the whim of the musicians, to hire artists like Peter Blake or whoever. In terms of aesthetic decision-making and conceptual control this was a revolutionary and transformative move. (Of course many of the decisions subsequently made were quite poor: musicians are not always artistically smart in other realms than music, and the gatefold-sleeve has been rich in crimes against art.)

I could read at that age — my sister was five, I don’t remember if she could yet— and just loved that all these words were there, the lyric-printing a first, I believe, not that I knew this then, of course, or cared. I loved the bright acid-pop colours of the sleeve — I still own my parents’ copy and they’re still sharp and vivid and dense with memory. I loved the mystery of it: why were they dressed like this, what was the story, how did these scenes and anecdotes connect? I loved to read but was easily disoriented by children’s stories not working as convention demanded — the obvious strength of all this (as demonstrated by my parents’ enjoyment) presented me with a new way to present story material, which I didn’t quite get. This was as thrilling as it was strange: an invaluable sensation to learn in such a lovely context, I think. At least if you think puzzled curiosity is a good quality in a critic — certainly it’s a reaction I continue to favour.

We loved the Blake insert pop-art cut-outs, the moustaches and glasses: in fact we cut them out and donned them, and scampered round the garden in the sun with them (lots of scampering around in the s childhoods). Ruined for future collectors, perhaps — but this wasn’t about the future, it was about an utterly delighted present. And mum and dad enjoyed our delight.

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It wasn’t actually such an easy year for them, though we didn’t then know that. Dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s the year before, unusually young at 35. In fact he had been given just ten years to live — the synthesis of L-Dopa (key study published 1968) would change this (he lived until 2010) but in 1967 only a tiny handful of researchers knew anything about L-Dopa. So in this sunniest of summers, mum and dad lived under a shadow of expected grief and trial, which — to my grown-up astonishment and admiration — they entirely kept from their children. I remember dad talking a little to me about no longer being able to draw well, or write — as a young man he had beautiful calligrapher’s penmanship, he and mum both, and was a gifted amateur artist, mainly drawing plants, with occasional gorgeously evocative Christmas cards and such. All that he had to give up (he had to teach himself to write with his left hand instead of his right). I don’t remember ever being told that he probably only had ten years to live — though I must have been, because if I think of it now, this feels like a fact I knew all my life. But I didn’t; I just suppressed the first moment I discovered it (which I think must have been after this summer holiday when I was only seven).

They hadn’t been pop enthusiasts much before this — I have one much earlier memory, of dancing in the staff dining room with other members of staff to “She Loves You” as it played on a transistor on a high window-ledge with the sun streaming in past it. But it was not mum and dad’s radio — and in our flat we really only listened to classical music on radio three now and then, and much more often to classical music on records. Dad had read the famous — infamous — review of Pepper in The Times, by its respected classical critic William Mann, and been impressed by Mann’s admiring approval. (I still have the cutting he kept, inserted into their copy.) As a family we owned the LPs after Pepper — the White Album and Abbey Road anyway — but none from before it.

My favourite track was — and still is — “Within You, Without You”. Dad’s was “Lovely Rita Meter Maid”. My sister can’t decide between “Lucy” (one of her iddle names), “She’s Leaving Home” and “A Day in the Life”. Mum’s was “When I’m 64” — she loved the line “Vera, Chuck and Dave”, especially the way Paul sings “Chuck”, and the sentiment too, certainly as coloured by this situation my sister and I knew nothing of then. She lived — it only occurs to me as I write this — to be 69: margaret s (1935-2005)

Which fact is poignant to me in ways that become so much sharper when suffused by all this. I once asked dad, years later, about what new music he and mum might like to listen to. “We don’t really want to listen to new music any more, Mark,” he said. “We want to listen to the old music.” (I wasn’t on ilx when my dad died, and never wrote it up there, maybe I should…)

Cross-posted on ilx, where this evolved as a response someone asking which the best song on the record is — but I can’t separate it from all this flood of memory; both are wound much too deep in the making of me, and I find it literally senseless thinking about such a ranking, it’s just tooo far from how I first experienced the LP.

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