MUSIC FESTIVALS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
Poisoned Electrick Head Hawklords
Part 2: Change and Adversity
Articles and photos By Jack Gold-Molina
In Part 1, we looked at the evolution of festivals in the United Kingdom as well as Europe. In Part 2, we take a look at how small festivals have continued to thrive in the face of adversity, despite changes in UK society.
By 1967, the various youth groups in the UK, including the mods, beatniks, and folkies, had transformed. In April of that year, more than 5,000 "stoned, tripping, mad, friendly hippies" attended The 14-Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexandra Palace, that featured a performance by Pink Floyd. By summer solstice, the hippies' peace and love idealism was being supplemented by increasing political potency. Release was founded as an organization dedicated to the protection of people arrested in drug cases, and remains active to this day. To protest disciplinary action taken against two student union officials for their part in a demonstration during which a student porter died, over 2,000 students occupied the London School of Economics in March. And, following the arrest and conviction of the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on drug charges, hundreds of protesters marched through the streets of London in June.
"I lived in Bognor Regis in the South Coast, and there was Britain and Europe's first teen hotel there called Shoreline," said author Alan Dearling. "They put on the very first gigs from people like Pink Floyd. You went in, you bought a ticket and you were allowed to stay the night. They had three stages. That was at the time of the mods and rockers, so that predated the festival scene, but in a way it was a precursor to it."
The first UK free festivals took place in London in 1968 as one-day free concerts. Tremendously successful, they would provide a template for the more extended gatherings in the 1970s. On May 5, Jefferson Airplane headlined at Parliament Hill Fields in Hampstead as part of the Camden Festival, and from June to September, a series of four concerts took place in Hyde Park featuring headliners Pink Floyd, Traffic, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, and The Move, respectively. Around 15,000 people turned up at each event, and the general opinion of the shows was that they were intimate, relaxed, comfortable, laid-back parties. BBC radio show host John Peel witnessed the Pink Floyd performance from his boat on the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park. In an interview he said that their music "suited the open air perfectly... It was like a religious experience, it was that marvellous. They just seemed to fill the whole sky."
Although they had not been invited, bands such as The Pink Fairies and Hawkwind would often turn up to play outside of the gates of major festivals. This included the Isle of Wight in 1970 where, after the fences were torn down by audience members, the festival was finally declared free. "Hawkwind played at Kent University back in the very early days, so did Steve Hillage who was playing all the time," said Dearling. "In terms of the types of festivals, they came out to some of the race courses in Britain that had jazz festivals. They morphed into pop festivals. The alternative ones quite often were even outside the fences of the main festival. With bands like Edgar Broughton, Pink Fairies, The Deviants, Hawkwind, in the late sixties, every festival sort of had another free festival going on outside. People were saying, 'Tear down the fences!' Like with Jefferson Airplane from America who were more overtly political, you had that vibe.
"The very famous early ones were Windsor and Stonehenge, but there were Phun City and Harmony Farm, the first small ones," Dearling recalled. "They were nothing like the festivals that had come before which were one-dayers, not weekend. They were one day that were really people who might have come to a horse race meeting more than a music event, in many ways."
Phun City, held at Ecclesden Common near Worthing, England from July 24 to July 26, 1970, was organized by musician and activist Mick Farren and the International Times (IT) magazine. The first large-scale free festival in the UK, it had no fences and no admission fees. Initially intended to be a benefit concert for IT's editors who were on trial for obscenity, funding was withdrawn a few days before the event was to take place. Rather than cancel it, bands as well as the Hell's Angels UK who were supposed to be hired for security were told that there was no money to pay them. Most of the bands chose to perform anyway, and security was maintained by the audience themselves. Thousands of people camped in the woods, and as Farren described it, "Free food operations sprung up, the Hell's Angels stole beer wholesale and distributed it to the kids, dealers stopped selling dope and gave it away, and collections were made to keep the generators going."
Nik Turner, in an interview for Festivalized: Music, Politics and Alternative Culture, stated, "The festival movement really started with the Isle of Wight 1970. There had been no other Isle of Wight festivals or events like the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park but there it really seemed like the festival movement was commencing." Peter Pracownik continued, "It's all pretty much about young people being angry. Like Vietnam... we didn't think it was right and we didn't like people dying. By having these festivals you were able to meet like-minded people into the culture and music, people experimenting with drugs because they didn't believe their fathers. They were anti-establishment, they had to go out and find things out for themselves." Musician and producer Swordfish added, "I look at it another way. I see it as something more primal and old, the ritual of dancing around the fire."
In the 1970's, with the new laws banning discrimination based on race or sex, an alternative culture developed from a mixture of liberal and collectivist values, and it began to pose a threat to the authority and leadership that at the time was based on traditionalism. According to Simon Booth, "most people who subscribed to the main tenets of the liberal culture rejected inequality replacing it with an emphasis on humane and egalitarian attitudes and a belief in cooperation, consensus, and individual freedom." Major cultural changes taking place in the United Kingdom led to the construction of new meanings and identities that influenced the actions of both individuals and organizations.
As the first deliberately free festivals were taking place in the early to mid-1970's, where "the various tribes of the counter-culture began to meet and mingle," their focus became less on pop concerts and more on exercises in communal living. In 1974, organized by Phil Russell following a vision that he had of a major tribal gathering, the first Stonehenge Free Festival took place on summer solstice. The Third People's Free Festival also took place at Windsor Commons in London in late August.
Russell was witness to the unprecedented police violence that took place at the third and final Windsor Free Festival, an event that happened over nine days and drew more than 10,000 people. Brian Ferguson, writing for The Archive, said, "it was this fundamental clash of beliefs and incomprehension of what the purpose of the festival was that ultimately led to one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the British police force." On August 29, in an early morning raid while many were asleep in their tents, officers attacked attendees with truncheons, beating and kicking even pregnant women and small children. Recalled Russell, "all around, the police were laying into people. I went to one policeman who had just knocked out a woman's teeth and asked him why he'd done it. He told me to fuck off or I'd get the same. Later on I did."
In May 1975, Russell, who had changed his name to Wally Hope, was arrested and incarcerated for alleged possession of LSD. While on his way to the site of the second Stonehenge Free Festival, a squat that he was visiting was raided by the police. After his arrest, he was placed in psychiatric care and administered large doses of psychiatric drugs without legal approval. Two days after the second Stonehenge Free Festival ended, he was released to decompensate from the large amounts of medication that he had been given, without proper medical care. He died soon afterward, broken, bloated, and scared.
During one of three coroners' inquests, a policeman was quoted as saying, "well, he thought he was Jesus Christ, didn't he?" After his death, recalled musician and writer Penny Rimbaud, Russell's closest friends had their commune placed under surveillance, with "people literally crawling around in ditches, keeping an eye on the house." They were questioned about their activities, and they believed their lives to be in danger.
As the 1970's progressed, annual attendance at Stonehenge was exceeding 250,000 people. The free festival scene continued to grow, and the migration of travellers people who lived in caravans, known as the Peace Convoy, who seasonally traveled to festivals from May to September became firmly established. By 1980, the number of free festivals increased significantly including pagan oriented psychedelic events, peace concerts and fairs, and music events that incorporated sales of arts and crafts such as the Deeply Vale Festival. The Stonehenge Free Festival more than doubled in size, with over 17,500 people present for the 1980 summer solstice.
On June 1, 1985, a convoy of 140 vehicles on its way to Stonehenge was brutally attacked by police in full riot gear. Defenseless, people were beaten up, and women and children were dragged out of their vehicles through shattered windshields. Traveller Phil Shakesby, in an interview with Gareth Morris and Caroline Thomas, recalled, "we had this huge convoy with this carnival-cum-fairy-type atmosphere, you know flags waving, Bob Marley on the ghetto blaster. Eventually we all set off and slowly meandered down the road towards what we now know as the Beanfield. These hit squads of police had steamed in from out the junctions, blocked the road, and busily started about people and their homes, smashing in their windows and knocking people about like they do. What I did see was quite a few people that felt very intimidated, very frightened after having their homes smashed. And quite a few people had been beaten up at this stage by the police and arrested and taken away."
This incident marked the end of the Stonehenge Free Festival. The Peace Convoy and the free festival scene were permanently altered by the sheer brutality of the police attacks. Alan Lodge, one of 24 travellers who had managed to win a settlement against the Wiltshire Police only to have it arranged by the judge to be swallowed up in legal costs, reflected, "there was one guy who I trusted my children with in the early '80's he was a potter. After the Beanfield I wouldn't let him anywhere near them. I saw him, a man of substance at the end of all that nonsense wobbled to the point of illness and evil. It turned all of us and I'm sure that applies to the whole of the travelling community."
In the years since, the festival scene in the UK has continued to thrive, albeit not in any way resembling what it had been prior to the "Battle of the Beanfield." There are a few free festivals remaining, such as the Strawberry Fayre in Cambridge. While most festivals are no longer free to attend, the spirit of family, of a tribal community continues on. The Cosmic Puffin festival in Colchester, UK, for example, donates all of its proceeds to charity. "We had one bad year," recalled co-organizer Simon Deards. "Ever since, we have made more and more and more each year for the charities with everybody that comes doing it for free. I don't take field expenses. We're not paying the bands, why should I? Cosmic Puffin personally costs each of us organizers quite a bit out of our monies. We could probably just chuck that money into a charity pot and be done with it, but where's the party in that? Where is the historical significance?"
"This is a gathering of the tribes," said Hawklords vocalist Ron Tree. "It only happens once a year, and one day they might stop doing it. You never know. There's not enough love in the world, there's not enough kindness. There are too many people who litter, and fracking is a no-no." Alan Dearling continued, "there are lots of the same tribes, as well. We put on the Free Cultural Symposium around the world. We started it in Amsterdam, in one of the oldest squats in Europe, then it moved to Boom Festival in Portugal. We moved it to Christiania last year, and we've done it this year in Lithuania. We try and get together. It's music, it's art, it's people who live in intentional communities, organic farms. It's trying to spread that vibe... . Everything morphs and overlaps. If you think about hippie music still going now, some of it is the same hippie music, but some of it has also been influenced."
According to Booth, there is a general belief in England that people should be able to do what they want as long as others aren't adversely affected. The traditionalist ruling class has lost much of its once dominant position. By the 1990's, women were playing a greater role in society and contributing to a cultural reorientation. With such changes by the end of the 20th century, the relevance of traditionalist culture has come into serious question.
"A festival is a celebration. In fact, it's several celebrations" said Jon Slack, organizer of the UK festival SoundAwesome and founder of the musician and artist online community under the same name. "Firstly, it's a celebration of music, if it's a music festival of course. Glastonbury is a festival of arts, and so, a celebration of arts. Secondly, it's a party a celebration of a lot of people having a great time. And thirdly, at the smaller festivals at least, it's a celebration of friendship, as friends of like minds who regularly festie, meet up again, those who do the scene, as it were." Amy Denio, Seattle-based saxophonist for the internationally known Balkan gypsy punk band Kultur Shock, stated, "a festival depends on the eyes and expectations of the beholder, and depends on what themes the producers have in mind. In my experience, festivals celebrate an intentional gathering of friends, strangers, artists of all walks of life who come together to create and share a spontaneous community. They often resemble the old 'town squares' where people would meet on a regular basis. These meetings are rare now in the world of virtual social networks, so festivals are a potent referral to ancient social rites."
"Generally, beyond the limitations of idiom, labeling, genre, commercialization etcetera, a festival, via multiple mediums and technologies, should be a celebration of the discipline, energy, creativity, magic and joy expressed in perpetuation of cultural phenomena shared between the performers, presenters, creators and their audiences," explains Famadou Don Moye, drummer for the Art Ensemble of Chicago and an early member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. "I initially got involved in performing and production at concerts and festivals in the U.S. when I was a college student in the mid-sixties playing music regularly, doing radio shows and working on music, poetry, dance and theater productions. Being involved with producing and performing in clubs, concerts, recordings and festivals means that I am continuing to successfully pursue my dreams and my life works. I can only say that every gig is different, every tour is different, every audience is different."
"Festivals are a really important part of our culture... a gathering of people in a field or three celebrating life through the media of music, art, dance, sharing love, laughter, time, food, energy with each other," said musician and author Bridget Wishart. "They are a necessary food for the human spirit. Even organized and diluted as they are, they can fire the soul and invigorate everyone who partakes of them. Though having just waxed poetical and lyrical, you can have some really rough times at them.
"My first paying festival was Knebworth '79, now called Reading Festival. I was mad, mad, mad about Led Zeppelin. I had my first and only experience of astral travelling. I lost all my stuff, tent rucksack, my money, but had in my back pocket my bus ticket home. My first free festival was Stonehenge the same year. I hopped in the back of a small van owned by a woman I vaguely knew who lived in a communal house on the outskirts of town. She asked everyone in the Hat and Feather, the freak pub of Bath, at 10 PM one June night, who wanted to go to Stonehenge Festival with her. That was my first experience of a free festival, and though lasting only 14 hours was typical of my other visits, full of joy, terror, new ideas, music and experiences with plenty to do and plenty to confuse. I went back a few days later, a passenger in a larger van with my tent, and stayed for weeks!
"My first band was the Demented Stoats and we played the Stonehenge Festivals 1980 and '81. The band folded, but I was jamming with members the following festival. We also played other free festivals. No one asked us to come and play, we just decided to go. In '81, we had borrowed tarps and poles and camped by the burial mounds and built a low slung Arabian style bender, which doubled as our home and a stage.
"Around the same time, I was asked to work for a friend in his café which served the acoustic tent at Glastonbury Festival. We provided free food for the bands and the audience had to pay, though if someone was broke and in need, they were fed. Glastonbury Festival in the '80's was far bigger than any other festival I'd ever been to. There were more organized facilities like toilets instead of shit pits, but they were over used and unhealthy in extremis. We did have a better deal camping backstage, but even so I didn't really like it. Out in the festival it could be scary. There were no visible police at that time on site, and there were big dodgy-looking blokes standing by the edge of fields with their heads wrapped in terrorist scarves selling black hash.
"I did that job for a few years and then didn't return to Glastonbury 'til 1989 or '90 when I again stayed backstage at the Acoustic Tent because my then boyfriend worked there. That year the fence ran behind us and it felt like we were in a concentration camp. Not a nice feeling! That was the year the travellers rioted on the Monday and attacked security and the barn. I was in a festival land rover when it started, heading to the traveller's field to find out what time we were playing I was in Hawkwind by then. It was chaos!"
"For me, a festival is all about providing a safe, family friendly atmosphere for music lovers, giving those music lovers quality original bands of all genres," said Martyn Hasbeen, UK musician and organizer of the Sonic Rock Solstice Festival. "I know how hard it is to access festivals for original bands to perform their own music. That is one of my main aims, to give these bands an opportunity to showcase. In the late '90's/early 2000's, the only opportunities for bands like my own Dr. Hasbeen were to play the bike rallies, and bikers weren't interested in own penned songs. All they wanted to hear were Hawkwind covers, so we were being labeled as a Hawkwind tribute band.
"This first breakthrough was performing at the first Sonic Rock Solstice in 2002, which was organized by the Salutation MCC. They had a mixture of cover bands and space rock bands. A couple more SRSs took place in 2003 and 2005, which featured mostly space rock bands. There was lull up until 2009 when I decided to bring back the Sonic Rock Solstice, which has happened every year since at various venues, always with the ethos of quality headline band plus an array of up and coming space rock, prog, blues and punk acts. There were so many quality bands wanting a chance to play, I decided to organize more festivals at various venues to accommodate them. So, I organized additional festivals, namely The Onboard the Craft festival, which has been happening every year since 2009, also Austerity Fest and Hastrek.
"It means everything. I love giving bands a chance to showcase their music. There's a lot of excellent bands out there in the UK and overseas can't get gigs, and when they do, playing mainly in front of empty venues. I give them the opportunity to play in front of a large crowd of music lovers, the experience of quality sound and light crew. I'm very proud of the many bands who have gone on to greater things, on strength of playing the Sonic Rock Solstice."
"It's great fun, that's why we do it," said Deviant Amps guitarist and festival co-organizer Paul Woodright, describing how Kozfest got started. "This all happened from a Facebook picture that went up. I couldn't do it on my own, obviously."
"Paul had a chat with myself and an ex-colleague of ours, Jon Slack at SoundAwesome, and we said, 'Okay, the understanding that we'll do it on is every band that turns up will get paid their expenses. We'll kind of guarantee that even if it comes out of our own funds, and we'll try it,'" festival stage manager and Kozfest co-organizer Mark "Snake" Lee said. "Paul knew about this site from a previous gig he had done, and he had a chat with the land owner Bobby (Watts). We secured the site, and the tickets were sold through SoundAwesome, so the money came in. We were very lucky. We broke even the first year, and all of the bands got exactly what we promised. You'll never play Kozfest for free. We won't ask you to play for free, it's as simple as that. Neither of us agree with that particular ethos in the musical industry. The artist deserves at least to get paid something."
"If you haven't got bands, you haven't got a festival," said Woodright. "It should be about music. I know there are big festivals like Glastonbury with fun fairs and all of that, but this is about giving a style of music that doesn't usually get a lot of coverage a chance to get 500 people to dance to."
"It's become almost a tight-knit family," Lee continued. "I would suggest that at least 250 of our ticket buyers are here every year, and they all know each other. From the first day, everybody turned up and knew who everybody else in the field was. You can do your own thing in your own space for a few days. They really appreciate that."
"And they have influenced the future, like if they have come along and had an idea," said Woodright. "The sacred space area, that was Jo's idea. She asked about if we could do one. There is a drum circle here, over the weekend. At some point somebody said, 'Well is there any chance you could organize it?' I said, 'Well if you want to organize one, just do a drum circle Sunday morning.' That's how Wally (Dean)'s tent built up, the little tent next to the bar. There is a bit of history and they show films. It's like a little information place all about festivals. That built up because he wanted to and thought there was a market for it. I thought, actually, we were of an age where we went to them original festivals, and if people could bring stuff down to give to him to archive, he is building a museum. He's a very interesting chap.
"And that's it. The festival builds on itself, and the bands do the same thing. They are often looking for another band to play with. Like Gong appeared because we had Steve Hillage. It's organic. We have a reason for that, as well. It is kept very simple, based on the old style music festivals of the late '70's and early '80's where it is all about music. You don't get much else. You don't get fun fairs, you don't get telephone boxes or anything like that. It has kept itself small, and people like it small, so we are not going to change that bit of it. Everyone knows what to expect, and it is good for the bands as well. As I say, it becomes family."
In the United Kingdom, more than 40 years after his untimely death, Phil Russell's legacy remains. He was the founder, in all of his artistic, psychedelic, utopian vision, of the original Stonehenge Free Festival. Kozfest today maintains a "Wally Hope Sacred Space" tent where festival attendees can learn about Russell and his sacrifice to bring his vision to the world. Wally Dean looks after the Wally Hope Tent. "He built a tribe around his occupation of Stonehenge in 1974," Dean said of Russell. "Everyone was called 'Wally.' It was like a collective."
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- Dearling, A. (2016). Travelers, Festivals, and DIY Culture.
- Dearling, A. & Worthington, A. (2005). Stonehenge and the road to the Beanfield. In Worthington, A. (Ed.), The Battle of the Beanfield.
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- Molina, J. (2016). Interview with Wally Dean.
- Molina, J. (2016). Interview with Simon Deards and Simon Edgley.
- Molina, J. (2016). Interview with Alan Dearling, Ron Tree & Kozmik Ken Ingam.
- Molina, J. (2016). Interview with Amy Denio.
- Molina, J. (2016). Interview with Martyn Hasbeen.
- Molina, J. (2016). Interview with Famadou Don Moye.
- Molina, J. (2016). Interview with Jon Slack.
- Molina, J. (2016). Interview with Paul Woodright and Mark "Snake" Lee.
- Morris, G. & Thomas, C. (2005). Interview with Phil Shakesby. In Worthington, A. (Ed.), The Battle of the Beanfield.
- Release (2016). Release: Drugs, The Law & Human Rights. Retrieved from: www.release.org.uk.
- Rimbaud, P. (1982). The Last of the Hippies: An Hysterical Romance.
- Rimbaud, P. & England, P. (2014) Transcript: Penny Rimbaud. The Wire. October 2014.
- Stone, C.J. (1996). Fierce Dancing: Adventures in the Underground.
- Worthington, A. (2004). Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion.
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