|Here's a short history and recollection of my times around the festivals. It's been a real challenge trying to match up all the dates! I have very fond memories of the temporary autonomous zones that existed in the festivals. It was as though they were outside space and time and certainly outside the concensus narrative.|
I was still at school with one more term to go and was down at Bisley for the schools rifle competition (Eton Rifles!). I'd borrowed my parent's Cortina estate and two of us decided to drive up to Knebworth. I don't recall much from this beyond hours of excellent country rock from the Doobies and the Allmans. The traffic trying to leave was really, really bad and we finally got back to our tents at Bisley at about 3am.
The Floyd Knebworth in 1975 was a land mark for me. I'd had a gap year job in a record warehouse-distributor that was a real eye opener after mu sheltered up-bringing. On the Thursday night I spent all my savings on a second hand Ducati 250 motorcycle. Friday was spent sorting out insurance and helmet before riding home from Acton to Battersea in the rush hour, never having ridden a bike before. Saturday morning I rode up to Knebworth and that night I slept next to my new wheels. The Floyd set was impressive. They played the 2nd half of Meddle, the whole of Dark Side of the Moon and the whole of Wish You Were Here in 3 sets. The highlight was the joke airplane. There was a long wire strung the length of the field down to the stage with the model airplane attached. At some crucial stage the plane flew down the wire and hit the stage with a cherry bomb. Except that the actual effect was pathetic! Another abiding memory was the 5 way speaker system with 3 big stacks out in the field. Gilmor's guitar swirling round in full surround sound was mind boggling.
Reading 75 was tired, commercial and really quite unpleasant. I'd had my fill of concept albums by then so seeing Yes with the full Roger Dean lightshow and giant fibreglass mushrooms flanking the stage was a joke rather than ecstatic. Looking back it summed up everything about the music industry that we came to hate and that resulted in Punk.
Another long trip on the Ducati 250 from Cambridgeshire to Berkshire saw me arrive at Watchfield. I'd seen Gong twice that summer at the Hammersmith Palais. A nearby tent at the festival had been playing Gong non stop. I remember being half asleep in the tent one evening and hearing Gong again, thinking that doesn't sound quite right. I poke my head out to find they were playing live on the stage. The Watchfield airfield was really big and the festival quite spread out, which meant you could loon about on the bike riding up and down the runways. I spent one evening lying on the bike seat and tank watching the bands play on the Polyrhythm Stage. I think there were at least 3 stages playing most of the time. Another abiding memory is being hungry as I was broke and couldn't find any food. I guess I hadn't yet learnt how to enjoy Vegan muesli with apple juice in a paper cup.
I'm not certain if this was 75 or 76. The weather was fine and we were in the field right next to the stones. I think I rode there by motorcycle and met My Mentor who had arrived by Morris Minor.
I think this was the first year they had a barbed wire perimeter fence round the stones so you couldn't get close to them. At the solstice sunrise, the druids and attendant photographers did there thing in virtual silence in the middle. Inside the perimeter and evenly spaced round the outside were a ring of poicemen who were clearly part of the ritual. They stood, hands clasped behind their backs gently rocking on their heels. Just outside the wire there was a stage playing music, painted and robed people dancing, and the usual festival scene. A vivid memory was seeing a very tanned and tattooed middle aged man sitting cross legged in the middle of a transparent geodesic dome reading the Guardian.
That day and the next were spent in a stoned haze lying on my back in the sunshine playing with a stunt kite. There were a lot "things" in the air in those days. And not just my kite.
This weekend was probably the best festival I ever went to. It started with My Mentor (met during a gap year job) sending out hand painted invitations with a picture of an old school ambulance and promises of mayhem. 12 people were invited and 4 turned up at his flat early on a Friday morning. He couldn't come due to a death in the family, so these 4 men who had never met before started the journey north from London. Packed in the rented ambulance (Further!) were some orange acid, thai sticks, moroccan, two guerilla suits, face paints, fireworks, a guitar, bongos, panpipes, etc etc. At the last services on the M6 we picked up a girl hitchhiker heading for Glasgow. She was soon convinced to join us. On the road from Chorley we picked up another guy with a guitar.
The Rivington site is a folly and a broken down Chinese garden built in the late 1800s by a local butcher's son who had gone to India and come back somewhat changed (didn't we all). It covers 10 or 20 acres on the side of the hill looking West out to Liverpool with reservoirs below it on the plain. Lots of walkways and levels to wander around in and several ponds in among the woods. In the middle is a clearing with just enough room for a stage. To get up there, there's an unmade road over a ford. It's well worth a visit if you're ever up that way and I've spent many nights camped out there under the stars on various trips to Scotland.
The first night we ran out of petrol at the ford and had to cadge a few pints from another vehicle before getting Fish and Chips in the local town.
The next morning we dressed up, applied the face paints and dropped the acid before walking down the hill to the reservoirs. As it was coming on strong, we were wading about in all our finery in the shallows when the local bayliffs came to turf us out. It was all well meaning but a somewhat bizarre conversation. After half an hour of lazing in the sunshine and grass, the party scattered to the 4 winds. It took me another 4 hours to slowly wend my way back up to the festival with many small adventures including hearing a disembodied voice shout out from above me; "This is the weather forecast, tonight it will be dark!". That evening we some how found each other again and watched the sun go down from the top of the hill.
I know there was music and a stage but I can't picture or remember it. The whole place had a wonderfully laid back, relaxed feel. A few police turned up to make sure nothing crazy was happening, but I never saw any unpleasantness.
When we finally got back to The Mentor's flat, late on a sunday night, we all got mashed again. Except we had to return the ambulance to the other side of London. I got picked as the most responsible to drive it back and had a frankly terrifying journey although we all survived more or less in tact.
There's a postscript to this. Two years later, I was walking across the paddy fields in Manali in northern India. Coming towards me was one of my fellow journeyers from the Rivington weekend. Those are the only two times I've ever met him.
Windsor - Chobham 1976
Nothing much happened this year with the bad memories of Windsor 74 keeping people away. Somehow or other I ended up borrowing the parents car and driving. I forget how but after driving round the area, I ended up in a drum circle on Chobham Common. The common is a large area of scrub gorse and bush on a well drained sandy soil. We were quiet and well away from any houses so although the police were present, they left us alone. There was a certain anount of paranoia as I left and drove very slowly home trying to make it without buying any petrol but it passed.
Rivington - 1977
At the 77-Rivington, I road another motorcycle up to an old School and Uni friend in Huddersfield. We then crossed the pennines to Rivington approaching it from the East. This year it was all more organised with a trench and plank, communal loo. There was a good stage and we pitched our tent maybe a 100 yards back from it. Again I can't remember who played. I do remember one whole day spent in a cycle of smoke, eat, fall asleep, wake up, smoke, eat fall asleep, wake up, smoke, etc! Somebody was doing wonderful flapjacks and spicy veg chapati rolls.
The highlight as mentioned elsewhere were the Hells Angels. They were hardcore, ragged hair, tattoos and at least 5 layers of greasy denims with the top 4 layers shredded. They were ok for a day, but there was some problem with a shotgun that brought the police out. Up above and to one side of the stage clearing was a ruined platform where you could stand and look down on the crowd. We stood and laughed as the police rooted about in the undergrowth for the shotgun. Never were they more like pigs! Despite all this, the police weren't after us and there were announcements from the PA that there was hash brownies behind the stage and it "was all cool, man". The Angels were hustled away and we all got back to the serious business of having fun. Although there were a few police still wandering around, I don't recall anyone getting busted or having any problems with them.
This festival was the first time I bumped into the hot air balloon man. His speciality was home made hot air balloons powered by nightlights. They'd float slowly up into the late sunset before often bursting into flames. I saw him again at Stonehenge, Glastonbury and Rivington the following year. At the last he'd taken to tethering the balloon on a long piece of cotton so it hovered above him as he wandered around.
In '77, a close friend from Uni, that I subsequently drove to India with, and myself rode down to the Henge on a Triumph Trident. I had my trusty 1.5 man picnic tent, and the usual supplies. Riding into the site was no problem and we weren't stopped. Later that day we were gathering wood when a police car pulled up. He asked us if we'd been stopped before and for some reason we said yes. He got back in the car and stared ahead while talking on the radio. Meanwhile as I watched, my friend found his stash in his leather shoulder bag and chucked it under hand behind us into the woods. The Policeman then got out of the car and said we weren't known and then proceeded to search us. A lucky escape.
We caught up with a few friends including My Mentor who'd arrived after a difficult journey on his Triton. We stayed up all night round a fire and watched the sun rise before the others crashed in the free tent made from old parachute silk. That night we saw a great set from Tim Blake followed by Hawkwind. Lying on your back in a sleeping bag to keep warm while watching Nik Turner in his full WWII fighter pilot uniform while Hawkwind kick up a stor and Stacy did her thing.. Brilliant. As usual we hadn't worked out food properly, so I think I ate an awful lot of muesli and apple juice from the Release kitchen. I ventured briefly into one of the Teepees and discovered, not for the first time, that anything you take in there is communally owned. I think the ounce of Golden Virginia lasted about 3 minutes as it raced away from me round the circle.
Apart from the brief almost-bust on the first day, there was no trouble and no real police presence.
That summer I blew up the Triumph Trident so when Glastonbury came around I was back on the bicycle. I got the train down to Bridgewater from Basingstoke and then rode on from there. On the way in, I found a cottage with a low wall and hid the stash in a gutter. I needn't have bothered as there was no security at all, at all. This particular festival seems to exist in limbo now as it definitely happened and was definitely free but it never seems to appear in the authorised chronologies of Glastonbury. I'm sure it was just outside Pilton at Worthy farm but the other reports suggest it wasn't. I also remember the big Pyramid tent but the photos look different.
On the first day, there was a huge thunderstorm that we could see coming up the valley. When it broke over us, many people stripped off and washed in the rain. The electricity lines on the pylons buzzed and hummed with all the static and water in the air. Although it started muddy, the rest of the week was clear. On 7-7-77 I met an old man who's birthday was that day and who was 77 years old. I met up with some old friends and had some dope fudge before watching Gong (or was it Here And Now).
At some stage my bicycle broke a rear spoke from carrying me, my rucksack and the old picnic tent so I had to go into Shepton Mallet to get it fixed. One night somebody tripped on the guy ropes and ripped the tent so then I improvised with the ruck sack as a double pole at one end.
On the last day I got up very early and crept across the fields. I left my stash tucked into the shoulder of an old oak tree. Of course when I left there was again no security at all, so I needn't have bothered. Anyways, as I've discovered since, you are invisible on a bicycle. The trek home saw me break another spoke, get it mended in another bicycle shop and I eventually gave up at Salisbury before getting the train the final way home to Basingstoke.
Rivington - 1978
After the two previous years of wonderful Rivington festivals, 78 was a bit of a let down. The problem as I heard it was that the festival site was on the water table feed for the reservoirs that supply Liverpool with water. The somewhat improvised latrines were just not good enough and a potential health hazard. It makes a certain sense but who knows. Anyway our party of six arrived in our VW camper to find a single policeman at the bottom of the unmade road turning people away. We went back into Rivington and met up with some other festival goers who led us to a green field site with maybe 15-20 vans and tents. We stayed there for a couple of days. On the last day I made some hash fudge and took it round the tents selling it for a pound a piece. I think I sold about half of it and gave the rest away. I got a bit of abuse from a woman in one of the tents that giving her man fudge was disaster for her because he'd just nod out and do nothing for the next 4 hours. Wasn't that what we were here for? That last day was also notable for exchanging some fudge for a bag of mushrooms...
Caesar's Camp - Windsor - 1978
This one was epic. It started for me, dropping off one of the last three pieces of hash fudge from Rivington at My Mentor's flat in Camden, eating another piece and then starting the trek out to Windsor by bicycle. The time flew by and before I knew it I was in Windsor Great Park. There didn't seem to be any festival goers around so I hid my pack and tent in a hedge and got a bite to eat and a drink in a pub half way between Ascot and Windsor. Then I set off back into Windsor to see what I could find. The next thing I knew I was squatting in somebody's basement with all the lights off and a few candles on the floor getting high with 30-40 revellers. Then there was the ominous knock on the door and we all escaped out the back and split. I cycled back to my pack and slept in the hedgerow.
The next morning (Sat) I was back in the Great Park, as people hitched in and gathered. As fast as they arrived, the Police picked them up in the big white transit vans and took them away. I heard from someone with a van that they were being taken to Caesar's camp outside Bracknell and I got a lift there. In West End, we stopped for some provisions and were obviously way too conspicuous as a couple of local coppers came to have a look. I dropped my stash into a garden a minute before they poked their heads in the back of the van. "Hello, hello, I don't suppose you've got any drugs in there.", "Oh no, Officer", "Well, be on your way then". Hah!
We got to Caesar's camp which is a natural amphitheatre of maybe a couple of acres in pine woods. There's an unmade track up from a car park that had some pubic loos. The others parked the van and I rode my bicycle up. As usual on a bicycle I was invisible and wasn't stopped. Anyway, the rumours appeared to be true. The Police had actually found us a site, given us van rides to get there and then left us to it. One of the guys in the van was maybe in his late 30s or early 40s and gave off an air of control. The first thing he did on arriving was to climb a tree and watch the proceedings. Then a local gnome-like character (60ish, bearded and short) leant us some long cable and somebody tapped into the electricity supply from the public loos. There was no big sound system but a few lights and cassette players. Everybody set too building fires and digging a barbecue trench. But what to do as we were all clean? Then as dusk fell, a guy turned up with a biro tube packed full of little red stars. So from 300 bored straight people, we turned into 300 hapy tripping people. Then somebody else arrived with some Amyl Nitrate (cries all night of AMYL! AMYL!). Somewhere in there I watched a 6 foot Japanese hippy with long black hair doing the chopping wood thing. All sleek, polished, muscley sweat and flailing black hair.
Sunday was more of the same. By Monday, people were starting to drift away when the Police decided it was time this got sorted out. I didn't see anyone removed but there was a heavy presence and at least one photographer with a twin lens reflex on his chest taking snaps of anyone looking vaguely suspect. I think I also lost my wallet and had a somewhat surreal conversation with the women in the Release tent who clearly didn't care a jot for some upper class twat who couldn't look after himself. I ended up helping out with the free food kitchen making chapatis and curried potato so that I could feel good about taking some food.
At the end I still had a couple of red stars that I needed to sneak out as I ran the gauntlet of the police line. I had a big candle with me, so I cut a hole in it, dropped in the stars and then melted it back up. Ironically, riding a bicycle again made me invisible and I wasn't even stopped. I rode back up to London and home. I don't know how many people were at Caesar's camp but I'd guess nearer 500 than 100.
Smokey Bear's Picnic - Hyde Park - Summer 77-78 (I forget)
After gathering in Trafalgar Square and putting giant spliffs in the Lion's mouths, we were herded off to Hyde Park. We ended up in a big circle of maybe 300 people sitting down. The police worked round the outside searching and hassling people. I had a combat jacket with loads of pockets full of old chewing gum wrappers and bus tickets so being searched three times and emptying and then refilling my pockets became a game. The highlight was the big peace pipe being smoked in the middle of the circle. The police eventually couldn't take this any more and a flying wedge of blue forced its way towards it as the pipe was passed hand over hand away from them.
Knebworth - 1978
That summer I went again to Knebworth for both the Genesis and Zappa concerts. The Genesis set was truly scary. In the middle of 150,000 middle-aged, middle-class, middle-middle fans all singing along with every word. Seeing as I'd seen them in the days of Trespass and Nursery Cryme when Peter Gabriel (A Flower?) and the band were actually interesting, this was a huge turn off. Much more fun were Devo, although the crowd didn't think so and pelted them with cans.
The Zappa day was chiefly notable because we took nothing but a Tequila bottle, a chopping board, a knife, some limes and salt. And nothing else. Zappa's set didn't work in a big outdoors venue. He was much, much better in the Hammersmith Odeon. But the Tubes played a storm complete with open top Cadillac driving onto the stage in dry ice and cherry bombs.
Anjuna Beach - Goa - 1978-1979 News Years Day
A complete contrast to festivals in the UK. We'd had a somewhat strange hot Christmas with friends and no family in Calangute. Getting to Anjuna involved either scary motorcycle taxis or walking, so we walked. But that meant crossing a waist deep river and then hiking round the shoreline. We passed a little tent settlement on the headland and arrived on Anjuna Beach to find a party in full swing complete with stage. It went on into the night with increasingly dangerous fireworks. There were people on the top of the cliff behind the stage waving roman candles around. The music seemed to be post Gong and pre-rave trance with a pretty good light show. There's a legend that the sea turns luminous green on full moon nights due to the gap in the zone layer above Arjuna but I didn't see it. Inevitably my girlfriend's bag was stolen while we slept on the sand but there was nothing in it that couldn't be forgotten. The next morning was skinny dipping out to a rock in the bay, before both of us got on the back of one motorcycle taxi and back to the beach hut in Calangute.
Stonehenge - 1980
The last free festival in the saga found me made redundant on a Friday. There was really nothing to do but smoke a big spliff, jump on my trusty MZ and head off down the M3 to Stonehenge. As I got there it started to drizzle and by late evening was genuinely raining. The only shelter I had was the survival gear I was already wearing as a motorcyclist and a space blanket. I spent a miserable night in the woods and got back on the bike and rode straight back to London. The actual festival was clearly going up market as all I really remember was a big car park full of real cars and not the ramshackle collection of vans and buses of the mid 70s.
A note about The Mentor. Tony Lodge where are you? Has Frater Perdurabo finished the Sacred Magick and achieved invisibility?
julian.bond at voidstar.com
Tail end of 2004
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