Operation Julie: the famous LSD drug trade becomes a musical | Arrange

Over the past half-century, he’s been the subject of books, documentaries, a classic Clash song – and plenty of mythologies.

Today Operation Julie, the police drug bust in mid Wales that busted a global LSD supply ring, has been turned into a musical with a strong eco-message created with the help of some of those who are at the center of the saga.

Billed as Breaking Bad meets The Good Life, the game tells the story of the extraordinary undercover operation to hunt down the hippies and scientists – the microdot gang – who produced and supplied massive amounts of LSD in the hills around Tregaron in the 1970s.

On the one hand, it’s a comically harrowing tale of a police operation in a time before the internet and cellphones hampered by sheep munching on communication cables and detectives unconvincingly disguised as bird watchers.

The officers of the anti-drug squad of Opération Julie. Photograph: John Walters/ANL/Shutterstock

But on the other hand, it seeks to tell the story of a group of idealists deeply concerned about the state of the planet who believed that taking LSD would help the human race see a path to a better way of life. and more durable.

“It’s a brilliant story,” said writer and director Geinor Styles, of Theater na nÓg company“A lot of headlines at the time talked about the amount of LSD found [enough to make 6m tabs apparently] and the millions of pounds supposedly hidden in the hills and in Swiss bank accounts, but what the LSD producers were really trying to do was change the world for the better.

Geinor Styles, screenwriter and director.
Geinor Styles, screenwriter and director. Photograph: Dimitris Legakis/The Guardian

Styles said the key for her came when she found a copy of a doctrine written by Richard Kemp, the brilliant chemist who produced LSD from his remote cabin, where he lived with his partner, Christine, a doctor and goat herder. “He said 40 years ago that the temperatures will rise, that the waters will rise, that we consume too much. We are on the edge of all that now.

She acknowledged that some people had expressed concern that the company was producing a play focused on criminal activity. “But I think most local people are excited. Everyone has a story about Operation Julie. I spoke to someone the other day who told me they were designed under Julie LSD. Other people tell the story of Bob Dylan coming here, although I haven’t met anyone who actually saw him.

During a rehearsal this week, Alston “Smiles” Hughes, who was jailed for eight years for his role in the LSD supply chain, laughed at jokes and sang as the actor who played him, Steffan Rizzi, performed Winter Wine by prog/psychedelic rock band Caravan.

The actors rehearse at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre.
The actors rehearse at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Photograph: Dimitris Legakis/The Guardian

Now 74 but still a radical believer in the power of mind-altering substances, Hughes agrees with Styles that the story is important to tell. “I think the motivations then are just as relevant now, if not more so. As a species, we have put ourselves in a terrible state because of our behaviors and that needs to change. He insisted that the LSD network was not about making money.” The idea was that if you change people’s consciousness, you can change the direction of travel. Look at the state of the world now. They should have listened to me. Feels a little vindicated now, to be honest.

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Lyn Ebenezer, a local journalist who covered the bust at the time and wrote a book about Operation Julie, said most locals still consider those like Hughes, who came from England to the center of the Land of Wales looking for the good life, with affection. “You won’t hear a bad word said about them. They weren’t considered dangerous and people didn’t know what LSD was.

The poster for the musical Operation Julie.
The poster for the musical Operation Julie. Photograph: Canolfan y Celfyddydau Aberystwyth Arts Center

Dafydd Rhys, director of Aberystwyth Arts Center, who presents the play with Theatr na nÓg, said that Operation Julie is part of the region’s folklore. “So many myths grew up around her. You don’t know which are true and which aren’t, and it doesn’t really matter.