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"Could that many people gather together today with only minimal communal organisation and such a relatively small amount of trouble but so much pleasure? The question is irrelevant. They would never allow us."
Stonehenge Free Festivals chronology.
1980. June 13th-26th
These were the years when the festival grew from a gathering of a few thousand hard core freaks to a major attraction (although still almost exclusively ignored by the rock press who were too busy hyping the likes of Spandau Ballet and Bow Wow Wow ) .
With the increase in size came hassles that had not existed when the festival had begun. Pressure increased on facilities such as toilets , extra fields had to be used, which did not please the farmer who owned the land - and there was an increasing police presence. - strip and search activites increased and a petition was delivered to the police about this invasion of human rights , which more or less amounted to harrassment based on appearance and attendance at a festival.
Tibetan Ukranian Mountain Troupe buses rest near their tent at Stonehenge Free festival 1980 © Igor Malaprop
The Pyramid Stage © Bodge
Bev a traveller and a strong believer in the sacredness and spirituality of the Stones, wrote of this period .'to me there was an important spiritual journey that was going alongside the daily life , this it was that gave such power to the midsummer celebration at the stones .. sadly though as the festival grew so the spiritual side seemed to diminish, in 77 there were less than 2,000 people at the festival and 1400 went into the stones - by 84 nearly 40000 were at the festival while less than 1.000 offered themselves in the circle , though in the prohibition years 85 up to 99( when the authorities relaxed some ) there was a growth of spirituality and many hundreds walked to the stones each year... in the face of harassment and brutal attacks from the police... now the respectable pagans (Druids and the like )) are trying to do deals for themselves that will once again deny the wild magic in this holy place and refuse those who serve a less ordered spirit 'The late John Pendragon wrote in his newsletter Tribal Messenger'The Stonehenge festival , for myself and thousands of other people . was about the opposite to commercialism and war. It was about love, peace, sharing, happiness, ecology, beauty, brotherhood and sisterhood, Yin and Yang, meditation and celebration, physical and spiritual awareness , Rock and Roll, music and theatre, sunshine and sun-bathing, alternative lifestyle and cosmic energy.'
© Paul Seaton
Amongst those who should be acknowledged as seminal organisers of the festival in the 80s were The Polytrantric Commune, Nik Turner, Sid Rawle ,John Pendragon and Big Steve. Others who consistently supported the festival included Hawkwind, Here and Now and the fabulously named Tibetan Ukranian Mountain Troupe whose tent was the venue for a host of bands over the years- but there are many other anonymous contributors who we would like to hear from and add to the list .
We now have been able to include Festival Welfare Service and St Johns Ambulance reports on the festivals from 1980-83 . These are fascinating reading for those who are interested in the logistics and organisation of the festival.
Barbed wire surrounded the henge in 1980 © Guy Rowe
The weather was vile in 1980 with rain for most of the two weeks . Numbers gradually built from 200 on the 13th to more than 15,000 for the solstice. The police created tension through their heavy 'strip and search ' activities, 360 souls being subjected to this arbitary procedure and only 10% being charged with any offence. Despite the declaration by FWS field worker Penny Mellor that the festival had a "very pleasant" atmosphere there was one nasty incident which is related below .
Anarchist band Crass were prevented from performing by biker groups who bottled them offstage ( on the positive side, apparently the biker groups helped erect stages in the early days ).BIKERS RIOT AT STONEHENGE
A night of violence all but wrecked the weekend's Stonehenge Festival. The trouble erupted late on Saturday night when a group of middle-aged bikers went on the rampage, attacking every punk they could lay hands on, and effectively preventing Crass and Poison Girls from playing their sets.
© Paul SeatonThe evening began peaceably with music from Nick Turner's Inner City Unit, The Mob and The Snipers, but when punk band The Epileptics took the stage they were greeted with a hail of flour-bombs, cans and bottles. Their lead singer was knocked to the ground by a bottle. The bikers then set fire to The Epileptics' banner, attacked members of Crass and Poison Girls, damaged the generator and took over the stage.
Penny Rimbaud , a member of the band, wrote
Our presence at Stonehenge attracted several hundred punks to whom the festival scene was a novelty, they, in turn, attracted interest from various factions to whom punk was equally new. The atmosphere seemed relaxed and as dusk fell, thousands of people gathered around the stage to listen to the night's music. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, a group of bikers stormed the stage saying that they were not going to tolerate punks at 'Their festival'. What followed was one of the most violent and frightening experiences of our lives. Bikers armed with bottles, chains and clubs, stalked around the site viciously attacking any punk that they set eyes on. There was nowhere to hide, nowhere to escape to; all night we attempted to protect ourselves and other terrified punks from their mindless violence. There were screams of terror as people were dragged off into the darkness to be given lessons on peace and love; it was hopeless trying to save anyone because, in the blackness of the night, they were impossible to find. Meanwhile, the predominantly hippy gathering, lost in the soft blur of their stoned reality, remained oblivious of our fate.
Ugly stuff, yet another instance of biker boorishness spoiling an event , yet not the first instance of bad feeling at a free festival, as I have heard of punk bands being bottled at Deeply Vale. Yet most writers do not even mention this event .Collective amnesia ?
Thandoy at Stonehenge Free festival 1980 © Janet Thompson
The Tibetan Ukranian Mountain Troupe ran their tent. Amongst the artists were Thandoy and the You ,Hawkwind and the Torpedoes.
Paul Trew from the Torpedoes has these recollections
I've played stonehenge festival with The Torpedoes I think it was 1980 .As I recall Crass played .We had our own PA and marquee and loads of bands played on the saturday night including THE VULGAR BROS ,ANIMAL MAGIC,ROCKING TIMBO, THE ROUSTABOUTS and I know Larry Millar of the LARRY MILLAR BAND definitely did the benefit gigs that we set up to get the dosh to pay for everything.
The Torpedoes also played on the Friday night on the main stage before Nik Turner as our PA was hijacked by Sid Rawle and the teepee people who thretened to run us off the site unless we gave up our pa .We reached a compromise which allowed us to use our gear at our stage.
On the next night Crass came up to our stage next day and asked to borrow our gear , we declined but said they were welcome to play at our site .
As we only had an audience of 500 or so they said no thanks, the rest is history . I have to say Stonehenge that night was a magical gig , the bands played all the way through till Sunday evening .The pa ,genny and marquee all had to be back Monday. I just remembered, Martin our bass player was 14 and friday night on the big stage was his 1st gig he stood with his back to 2 or 3 thousand people for the whole set despite mine and the crowds exhortations to turn around.
Teepees in front of the Stones 1980 © BodgeMark's extensive report on this festival provides an excellent recount of the nasty incident between the bikers and punks.
A friend from school turned up on my doorstep, having deserted from the Navy! We put him up for a week or so & decided we would smuggle him to Stonehenge, at which point he decided that he would be better off taking his chances handing himself in.
As luck would have it, the day I set off, the dole office decided they had underpaid me & sent me a giro for £100+.
I had arranged to meet people on site, having found the tents & a message that they where in the pub in the local town.
Of course by the time I got to the pub, they had gone.
As you will remember there were two roads leading to Stonehenge the main road, which took a mile extra, but more cars, or a back road, which was shorter but less traffic.
As it was getting towards dusk, I decided to take the short route. After getting a short distance from town, I saw a car approaching me in the distance. Standing there hopefully, I stuck out my thumb & glory be, the car stopped a short distance up the road. As I ran towards it all the lights flashed on it was of course a Police patrol car.
I have to say, the DS bloke was pretty nice, after the obligatory search back at the Station, they gave me a cup of tea, a fag, an apology (!) & a lift back to the site. Funny thing was he reckoned that 'nobody smokes on my patch, weve busted them all ' yeah, tell me another one.
The following day I scored some most excellent acid orange barrel. As the rush kicked in, all I could do was sit down on the Iron Age hillocks at the back of the site, listen to some Rachmaninov been played at maximum volume from a sound system & watch this magnificent psychedelic sunset. (At one point the line of trees turned into a silhouette of a herd of elephants, which started to run round in this gigantic wheel).
At some point round midnight, (having discovered that I could still walk!) I came across these little red dots floating around this campfire, closer inspection revealed all these people dancing round a fire & waving joss sticks about.
on, we all sat watching satellites/shooting stars/UFOS zipping
across the sky whilst I became earnestly involved in conversation
with two (tripping) young women, that "yes, the universe really
was an inverted pudding bowl, painted black & if you looked closely
enough, you could see the strings the stars were attached to".
Just one of those little, spontaneous events, which made Stonehenge so unique.
The last memory I have of that particular trip was standing round a campfire at 8:00 am (ish) some 13 or 14 hours after dropping the tab, still too wrecked to speak, watching blue, red and green squares, circles and triangles appear on peoples faces.
The Solstice, a week or so later, passed without incident bar somebody grabbing the mic, as literally thousands of cars were entering the site & shouting:
"The revolution has started, Downing St is under attack, Stonehenge has been declared a refugee camp, and the ley lines will protect us "
A friend of mine later related the story of how he heard the broadcast just as some Orange Barrel was peaking. He spent a rather confused night
Band wise, Inner City Unit played a couple of sets, Nik Turner played flute with a band called Entropy & a couple of Hawkwind bods turned up & played as an ICU/Hawkwind crossover WindHawks??.
© Paul Seaton
that, aint got a clue who I saw, bar Spacemen
3 & the wonderfully monikered "Psycho
Hamster meets the Killer Doughnuts from Mars". If memory serves
me correctly, the latter played something like an all night, five-hour
set, as nobody else would take the stage.
I think I saw Ruts DC do a set, though after being on site for three weeks or so, everything became a little blurry round the edges.
Pertinent to this story is the biker gangs mainly from the South West, who would turn up in force & colonise a section of the festival for themselves & woe betide anybody wandering into it .
During the latter part of the festival Crass turned up & were listed to do a set on the Saturday night. Rumours started to circulate that the biker gangs where making noises about it being "their festival"& the punks could er, "go away".
There was probably a fair amount of politicking going on between the groups. I remember talking to a guy from Release who where considering leaving before the Saturday night (can't remember if they did or not ).
one point, whoever was organising the main stage made an announcement
that "we neednt be worried by Crass,
you can easily recognise them, and they are older than us & dressed
all in black". I "dined out" as they say for months
afterwards with a couple of Crass fans of my acquaintance on the fact
that I had chatted to the band round a campfire.
The ceremony at the Stones Sat 21st
photo © Kevin and Ruth Dear
I knew it was going to be good when after about an hour, I got that electric taste in my mouth & similar to "Fear & Loathing " the sky suddenly rendered open....... On good acid, I always had this thing that the sky was made out of jelly & the horizon was the jelly skin, & all these Pterodactyl type creatures started flowing out of the hole in the sky.
Some friends had accidentally acquired this guy (from Manchester I think) who latched onto them. He was spending the whole day scoring anything & everything in sight. I think his intention was to take his stash back to Manchester.
I bumped into them all, my friends also having decided to take some acid & needless to say, this bloke, who had never, ever done hallucinogenics before had scored some orange barrel and taken two tabs
have some synapses destroyed - memory of stumbling round yelling about the
"fuckin bats man, fuckin skies full of them" & one friend
shouting, "fucking forget the bats man, look whats over
" At which point we decided to have a cup of tea.
May I assume many readers will have experienced this deciding to get together a cup of tea when the initial rush is just peaking on some good acid. Good, then I can leave the ensuing shambles to your imagination
After been chased off the tea stall by some hippy kids shouting whats "three times six, five times seven", kids having some inbuilt radar to spot what condition we where in by then, we chanced upon a stall selling amyl nitrate at 20p a hit. To his credit, the guy selling the stuff did explain exactly what is & what it did. Did this put the Mancunian off? I think not, indeed he took this MASSIVE snort (getting his moneys worth).
Ever seen anybody get pole axed? This must be the nearest thing to it I have ever seen. Poor sod never knew what hit him.
I met him the next morning, me in some appalling comedown state, (never could handle the day after a good trip all that well) whilst he was still white faced & looking pretty shaken. He reckoned that he spent the rest of the night hiding out under a van, too scared & paranoid to move as all these creatures & slithery things ran around the site.
By that point the acid was really kicking in & I decided that this guy was going to do my head in with antics like that. So I wandered off down to the main stage. ICU where just starting a set, I remember a couple of us climbing up the inside of the Pyramid stage & sitting at the back, looking down on the band as Judge Trev Thoms kicked into "(who stole the fucking) Gas Money"
The next couple of hours, I think I just wandered around until for some reason I ended back at the main stage, round midnight where a band, I thought it was Crass, but evidently I'm wrong, were playing & a couple of bikers jumped on stage, punched the singer and commenced to smash everything up.
rest is pretty confused; I can recall seeing people being chased across the
field & beaten up some acquaintances from the Islington gay punk
contingent were pretty badly hurt. I later heard that they, the bikers (to
be fair I suppose, a group of them) just set about attacking anybody with
short hair who looked vaguely punkish.
Im not to sure if this played a part, but some enterprising farmer had brought (at least) a tanker full of really potent home made, (cheap; he was selling it by the gallon)- "scrumpy" on site.
One of the many disparate groups attending the festival was the squaddies who would sneak in after dark (Im sure that the Commanding Officer would have banned them from a 100 yards of us lot). The squaddies took to the scrumpy, well like ducks to water. Quite often round dawn, you would see squaddies frantically trying to wake up comatose mates from round dying campfires.
Mega freaked by this turn of events with the biker gangs, but hey, I survived tripping in Kings X , in the company of this guy who would fight anybody if they looked at him the wrong way. The dilemma being do I grab my stuff at 1:00 am & beat it (& into the arms of the local constabulary who were gathered on mass outside the perimeter & I guess that DS guy was just waiting for me to foul up) or stay?
4:00 or 5:00 am, I found myself back at what was left of the main stage. Some
guy, who deserves the most enormous respect possible, (& again a big thank
you mention on the website) had pulled together a scratch band, got the generator
working & started playing again.
Whoever he was, he deserves respect for having the courage to get on stage & sound off on "how this was the peoples festival & we don't want no fascists wrecking the place".
Braver man than I (at that time, a veteran of several 1970s anti Nazi rallies & pitched battles with the NF), I have to say. I remember coming down, sat on the stage as the sun rose, thinking "fucking hell, Ive really fucked up this time"
Not all the bikers were like the above. A couple of days before, I wandered past a group of bikers (from South London) as dawn was breaking.
The bikers were prising open some car batteries with an axe. A biker came over & said "excuse me man " leading me to assume he was going to say "have you got 10 pence" you could not travel 10 ft without been stopped by somebody asking for cash/fags/drugs.
However, to my pleasant surprise, he said "would you like a try of this" producing a MASSIVE home made bong with a double headed pipe to boot, from behind his back.
out they have just arrived (round 5:00 am to avoid the police) complete
with several weights of some extremely good quality Red Leb & freebies
were the sales pitch.
But back to the biker gangs beating people up. I managed to grab some sleep & woke up to a drizzle, the bikers had departed en mass & the whole site was a smelly tip compounded by a comedown hangover. There was a really awful band " White Feathers" (?) Playing in the rain at 10:00 am to nobody & a fistfight broke out round a campfire - over who owned a pan. So I grabbed my stuff & hitched back to London.
Left: the Intrepid photographer Paul Seaton -stricken by dysentry
of the lifts was from a "geezer" type bloke from "sarf Lundun
mate", who had spent a couple of days on site, checking the place out.
He held forth on Thatcherite free market principles (& selling various
substances & goods at mark up prices to the assorted mass).
I guess him & his mates moved in pretty quickly once they realised the opportunities.
To read more of Mark's festival exploits visit this page
Stonehenge Free Festival site 1980 © Bodge
Wow, I was amazed to see a pic of my face in one of the ''1980'' pics, ''gathering of the tribes''..I am at the far right at the edge of the pic, holding my friend's baby [who would now be in her 30's!!!!!!!] hard to believe I am now 51...
I do not remember any punks being attacked, but as a ''hippy'' the bikers tended to leave me alone...at least, I had no bother with them at all, but it must have been terrifying if they were attacking you.
was a lot of opium/heroin on site that year, and a definite 'change of vibe'
which was edgier...the begging was a real pain in the butt, and yes, all the
requests for ''have you got 10p''...previous years didn't seem to have such
a begging problem.
The orange acid was wondrous strong, and we persuaded a very straight christian friend to take ''half a tab'' with us...she said she would, if she could treat it as an ''experiment'' and could take it in a churchyard to feel near to God.
So into Amesbury we walked, and waited for the acid to come up in the churchyard at Amesbury...Alice, bless her, was very good....she was ''amazed'' by the acid, and all she would say was ''it's incredible!'' and was then quite lost for words.
We found our way back to the site, and Alice by now had given up all hope of writing her experiences down [she had insisted on writing down her acid-thoughts, but as the stuff came on, thought it was a pointless idea.]
was also more alcohol on site, which disappointed me, and really, in that
one year it seemed to change vibe from being a hippy stoner event, to being
a harder edged place...I did not feel entirely at ease with the changes.
Petty thefts occurred, and it just seemed less magical than other years.
I do remember the stupid coach trippers, though, gawking at us through binoculars as if we were wild animals....hoping to see sex acts and ''free love'' I heard...hahhah! I have never ever seen such things at a festival....the festival goers were far too stoned to bother ''getting it on''....and goodness knows what the coach trippers wanted to see.
Sid Rawle was rapidly losing his hair, and seemed impossibly old to me at the time.....but how old would he be now if alive?? he used to try to have ''groups'' with him doing the majority of the talking, and I would dissolve into fits of stoned laughter..it seemed so odd that at a ''free'' festival, someone was trying to lay down the law!..oh well, his heart was in the right place.
have very fond memories of Stonehenge, esp of 1979, when a wonderful supply
of Indian opium was available.....it felt like lying in the sun, on a pink
cloud, despite the fact I was actually lying on a blanket on a groundsheet
in the pitch dark!
Stonehenge Free Festival © Bodge
Thandoy again © Janet Thompson
Tibetan Ukranian Mountain Troupe buses and the Tibetans famous Marquee at Stonehenge Free festival 1980
© Igor Malaprop
Henge History : 1972-1984
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