Tomorrow 'My White Bicycle'

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Published in SOS March 2014
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Tomorrow's pioneering paean to the joys of communal public transport has proved to be a classic of the British psychedelic underground.

Richard Buskin

In 1975, it charted in the UK Top 20 for the Scottish rock band Nazareth and crawled into the Top 100 just under 10 years later when covered by actor Nigel Planer in his guise as Neil, the hippy in BBC sitcom The Young Ones. Nevertheless, the original, non‑hit version of 'My White Bicycle', issued by Tomorrow in May 1967, was, according to that group's guitarist Steve Howe, "the first British psychedelic single”, and whether or not that's strictly true, it certainly was one of the first.

"You have to remember, there was no such thing as a psychedelic sound at that time,” says Mark Wirtz, who produced the Tomorrow recording. "That was a record company invention. It used to be called 'underground', and we weren't even thinking about that. We were just doing what we were doing, and it had nothing to do with psychedelic until the record companies called it 'psychedelic'.”

"Psychedelic sounds were coming out of the West Coast of America in 1966, inspired by the use of drugs such as LSD,” adds Tomorrow's drummer, John Alder, who back then was nicknamed 'Twink' but these days goes by the name of Mohammed Abdullah John Alder. "I was listening to the Electric Prunes, the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane and Vanilla Fudge, to name a few, while in England we had psychedelic music by the Beatles with 'Tomorrow Never Knows' and Donovan with 'Sunshine Superman'.”

'My White Bicycle', written by Keith Hopkins (the real name of Tomorrow lead singer Keith West) and Ken Burgess, was inspired by the White Bicycle Plan: a community bike‑sharing programme that industrial designer‑inventor Luud Schimmelpennink of the radical Dutch Provo counterculture movement instigated in Amsterdam during the mid‑1960s. After gathering 50 bikes and painting them white, the anarchic Provos parked them unchained all over the city so that they could be used and then left on the streets by anyone who needed them to get around.

The aim was to eliminate all motorised traffic in the city centre and improve public transportation, but the police impounded the bikes because municipal law forbade them to be left unlocked. So, the Provos then retrieved the vehicles, equipped them with combination locks and painted the combinations on the bikes, and even though the White Bicycle Plan still received no support from the local authorites, it served as the model for similar programmes that are today in force in various European cities.

"'My White Bicycle' was a total flop in England,” says Wirtz, "but it did well in Holland and, down the years, it's come to be regarded as a classic.”

Making Arrangements

Born on 3rd September, 1943, in Strasbourg, Mark Wirtz had to endure an identity crisis when he was growing up.

"Even though I was half‑Jewish and half‑Catholic, the Germans occupying Alsace put a swastika on my birth certificate,” he says. "After that, the French claimed I was French, the Germans claimed I was German, and if I set foot in either country they would have pulled me into the military. It was crazy.”

Emigrating to England two days before his 16th birthday, Wirtz studied art at London's Fairfield College of Arts and Sciences, as well as drama at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts before switching to Reigate College.

In 1963, while still at college, Wirtz launched a pop trio named the Beatcrackers which, as Mark Rogers & the Marksmen, was signed to a recording contract by EMI producer Norman Newell. On 30th July of that same year, Wirtz also signed a solo contract as a pianist, replacing Russ Conway who had recently departed the label, but he had to wait to do his audition at EMI's Abbey Road facility.

"The Beatles were recording 'All My Loving' in Studio 2,” he recalls. "When they were finished, it was then my turn, and

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