39b Randolph Avenue, Maida Vale – David Solomon
A short walk from Richard Kemp and Christine Bott’s flat in Westbourne Grove was David Solomon’s flat at 39b Randolph Avenue, Maida Vale.
David Solomon is a fascinating character in the Operation Julie story – a early contact with Timothy Leary in the US who created the connections in the UK that led to the British LSD group. In ‘Politics of Ecstasy’, Leary makes a reference to Solomon being one of the early informal distribution nodes of LSD in the US. At that time Solomon was the editor of ‘Metronome’, a jazz magazine. Solomon put together one of the earliest anthology of writings on LSD in 1964: ‘LSD: the consciousness expanding drug’ – I have a signed copy.
In the early 60s, David Solomon was busy turning on jazz musicians. Clarinetist Perry Robinson remembers:
David Solomon was my guide; he was a progressive leftie, a family friend who did many different things…Dave would always say to me: “You’ve got to take acid! You’re ready for it – and I’m going to turn you on.” Then one day it finally happened; he said: “Okay, come up Friday night. I’m going to have a small party, and the next day you can trip.”
So I went up to Dave’s place. He lived with his wife and two kids way up in the Bronx near a park, a big beautiful park like a forest. That night we talked and I was apprehensive, but he cooled me out. He set me up beautifully by telling me just what to look for; he said “All your fears and emotions and intuitions and senses are heightened to the max. It’s like complete enlightenment, it’s like the first day of life. But it’s going to open you up like a book, and you’re going to go into your personal history. The key is not to let anything that comes up get to you. The worst thing is to fight any of these feelings; just accept them no matter what they are.” That’s a spiritual teaching of life anyway; it’s a great lesson in term of discipline, to just go with whatever is happening….
The next day we were alone; I was sitting in the living room with artwork and beautiful objects, and when I looked out of the window I could see the huge park. Dave came in with a little tray; it was a beautiful thing, a silver tray with a glass of water and a sugar cube dipped in acid. I put the sugar cube in my mouth and let it dissolve. I was sitting in a chair, and Dave was sitting across from me. I knew I was embarking on something important; I was excited but I was also apprehensive….
Then all of a sudden it was like the lights went on in a strange way. There was an oil painting of Dave’s wife that lit up in the most fascinating colours; I saw the texture and the detail and I went out*. I started looking at the green colour of plants, and the light coming through the window. It was mystical, like the luminescences of the universe were turned on; everything was more intense, more vibrant and alive. I felt the connection between everything, the true one-ness of life. It’s like a whole other perception, you see cobweb lines of energy connecting everything, but it’s so natural. It opened my eyes to seeing things, like what Aldous Huxley wrote about in ‘The Doors of Perception’, how you start seeing minute objects and shapes. Things are alive, things are breathing, and its the true state of being. Condensed light makes physical objects, and on trips you realise that everything is light, and you see the pure undulating energy of the universe.
* out – a common Perry phrase, meaning: out of the ordinary, outstanding, outrageous, outlandish, out of sight, out of the box, out of control, out to lunch.
In 1966, David Solomon moved from the US to Europe, staying first in Palma – before moving to Cambridge and then London. It was in Cambridge that the embryonic British LSD group came together; Richard Kemp as the chemist, and Henry Todd as the distributor.
Richard Kemp first met David Solomon after an introduction by a university colleague in Autumn 1968. On New Years Day 1969, Solomon persuaded Kemp to try making acid. Kemp set up a laboratory in the home of his parents in Liverpool. Early in 1969, a contact of David Solomon’s – Paul Arnaboldi – who he knew from Timothy Leary’s proto-commune in Millbrook upstate New York, sent a small amount of ergotamine tartrate in a hollowed-out magazine to a post-restate address at the American Express office on Haymarket, London. Solomon picked it up. Kemp then processed this into a crude, dark syrupy liquid LSD which Gerry Thomas (another former Millbrook contact of Solomon’s) smuggled into Canada.
When Richard Kemp started producing acid for himself in the early 70s, Solomon’s role was to source the ergotamine tartrate, which he did under the alias of Dr Andressen of Inter-Dominion Associates. He bought it from the Dr Rentschler company in Laupheim, Germany and then drove to Zurich or Geneva where he passed it to Richard Kemp who put it in a safety deposit box. Paul Arnaboldi was also responsible for sourcing small amounts of ergotamine tartrate. As Richard Kemp’s partnership with his distributor -Henry Todd – developed David Solomon was frozen out. He re-entered the scene a bit later when Kemp’s distribution partnership with Henry Todd broke up. In particular, he helped the distribution of Kemp’s acid to Amsterdam and Israel.
A couple of accounts seem to regard David Solomon as a slightly hapless figure – but this is a very ungenerous assessment. Whatever he may have lacked in the way of organisational skills, he was an important catalyst bringing together the key UK figures. He was an enthusiast rather than a professional drug dealer.
David Solomon was sentenced to 10 years in the Operation Julie trial – which seemed a bit harsh as the police actually had very little evidence of his involvement. He was in the US during much of the time that the UK police investigation was in progress. Solomon moved back to New York on his release from prison and spent his time in a low profile way in Manhattan’s jazz clubs, especially the ‘Sweet Basil’ at 7th Avenue South – a short distance from his home in the Village. Sadly, he passed away in April 2007.
Recommended psychogeography soundtrack:
“I’m Coming Virginia” – Bix Beiderbecke
“Change of the Century” (lp) – Ornette Coleman
“Pray” – Rebel Red
(From Metronome Magazine: “Back in 1951, Dave was fumbling through Bix’s chorus on I’m Coming Virginia (on his short cornet) from what he thought was a sound-proof aerie: the kitchen of a cold-water walk-up on Thompson Street in the Village. There was a sudden banging on the door, which, when opened, revealed two young men, flashing-eyed and breathless from having bounded up seven flights. With no introduction or explanation, they pushed themselves inside the flat, looked about, then demand-ed: All right, where is he? We suspected all along he never died. Dave reports he has not touched his short cornet since: not a matter of sacreligion, but of quitting while ahead.”)