25th April 1992: Bedlam, Circus Warp, Spiral Tribe, and Sweat Free Party, Chobham Common, Surrey

UPDATE 8/1/22:

Here are a couple of photos of Chobham Common from Samantha Williams’ fantastic book Happydaze, the first one is the front cover:

Samantha Williams, Happydaze. Samantha Williams, 2011.

This one got quite severely busted. The image below was taken from the defunct Spiral Tribe Archives, now accessible using Wayback Machine.

26th-28th June 1992: Spiral Tribe, Bedlam, Circus Normal, Circus Warp, DiY and Lazy House at Smeatharpe Free Festival, Devon

UPDATE:

smeatharpe-kerry-torpedo-town-as-p235

From Matthew Collin, Altered State: The Story Of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House. London: Serpent’s Tail, 2009, p.235.

UPDATE 16/8/21:

More unseen images from. Jamie, thanks once again!

Smeatharpe - 92 - mates 8amSmeatharpe - parking east sideSmeatharpe - parking west sideSmeatharpe - spiral tribe 6am

UPDATE 12/8/21:

An unseen image from our new favourite photographer, Jamie:

38 - Smeatharpe Airfield 1992

UPDATE 13/3/21:

Here is another video, no view of rigs this time but there is a glimpse of the bouncy castle! Thanks Youtube user youmustbemad!

And a fourth and fifth video, this time edited news reports, thank you again Youtuber Tizmip for these!

We stumbled across these great videos. Thanks a million to youtube user tonyeade who filmed (?) and uploaded it 🙂 Mark (see comment below) reckons this was Spiral’s rig, but there comments on the youtube page which reckon Spiral’s had been confiscated and this was Bedlam and/or DiY. What do you lot reckon? We’re looking for a list of which other rigs were in attendance. It was in 1992, so no worries if it’s all a bit hazy 😉

Amino Clang was there, and here’s his report:

I was staying with my Dad, his partner and her son (who is my age and an old friend of the family too) in Dorset when we heard that there was a festi just down the road in a tiny place called Smeatharpe so, totally unprepared and with no way of getting there, us kids set off to see how far we could get with nothing more than a thumb and a burning need to get there in our inventory.

We managed to get a lift quite easily, but unfortunately the driver wasn’t going far and he dropped us off in the middle of nowhere. Too far down the road to get home, too far away from the party to walk… and then it started to get dark.

Luckily, just as dread was setting in, a VW campervan stopped for us and when we got in the inhabitants said “You look like you’re going where we are going! Do you know where it is?”

We knew that it was at Smeatharpe air strip, but didn’t really know where that was so a phone call from a payphone, a look at the map and couple of wrong turns later we made it onto the site and said our goodbyes to our saviours before bouncing off into the throng.

I love that feeling you get when you finally find the party you have tried so hard to get to. The people looning about, the lights in the sky, maybe a glimpse of some local coppers, but always that unmistakeable boom-boom-boom of a sound system, or even better – that distant fairground sound of people talking mixed with a selection of sound systems churning out allsorts of sounds from all directions. It turns into a cacophony of chaotic noise that I suppose most people would find offensive, but I just love it. Just writing about it now is making me feel all cosy and comfortable, like somebody has draped a warm blanket over my shoulders. Aaaahhhh!

Anyway – I digress…

Back at the party we did a quick tour of the site and soon worked out that there was at least three or four sound systems, some louder than others, but all banging it out to a crowd of happy up-for-it people. There was also a whole lot of UV backdrops, a whole lot of vehicles (both ‘omes and ravemobiles), a bouncy castle, one of those NASA gyroscope things, a TV showing movies, a bar in a double-decker bus, a t-shirt stall and the obligatory selection of dealers shouting “Hash for Cash!”, “Acid, Exctacy!”, “Speed, whiz”, “Mushies, trips!”, etc. (and there really was a bloke shouting “Hash for leather jacket!”).There was even a smallish campervan for sale. I swear you could buy absolutely anything at a free festi in ’92 if you looked hard enough.

Anyway – I digress…

We had been there a while and had not bumped into anybody we knew yet so we bought a “pill” off some girl and split it (the last of our money gone now). I don’t think it worked very well though because my memory of Smeatharpe is pretty vivid. Eventually we plucked up our courage and asked the MC at the biggest rig to get one of our friends to come to the decks so we could meet up with him. Unfortunately the mate in question was a bit worse for wares and thought they wanted him to play a set so he ran away instead!

We continued to wander about looking for somebody we knew – they had to be here somewhere – when suddenly… I noticed a car that I recognised from my hometown in Wales (where I lived with my Mum), and there leaning up against it was one of my friends from up there. I went over to say hello, but he looked a bit wobbly and was trying to lean on the car. It turns out that he had spilled a bottle of poppers on himself and was struggling to stay conscious. Anyway, he started to come round and told me that my oldest friend (it’s a long story, but we met before we were born and have been friends ever since) was in the van he had just fallen out of. This was excellent news of course and the three of us spent the rest of the night bouncing about the party together (there may have been some speed involved at some point?). Here are some of the things I remember:

1. I remember meeting a lovely couple of ravers on the bouncy castle and discussing the pro’s and con’s of going to see The Lawnmower Man in the cinema on acid.

2. I remember doing a bit of juggling with my glow-in-the-dark juggling balls in front of a sound system with a particularly large collection of UV backdrops and a UV light playing more ambient tunes than the other systems.

3. I remember one system was almost all treble while another system was almost all bass.

4. I remember sitting on top of a BIG van/truck type traveller vehicle in the morning watching the ravers in front of the biggest system beneath us. If you squinted your eyes a little bit it looked like the crowd was moving in a steady circle around a point in the middle of the dance floor. This is kind of difficult to explain but it had us all really impressed at the time.

5. I remember seeing some traveller kids ragging about the place on bikes being naughty and taking the piss out of the ravers when the sun came up.

Eventually we found some of our friends from Dorset too and the morning panned out very nicely – chilling out in the sun smoking temple balls with a big bunch of friends at a huge party that showed no signs of slowing down. What more could you ask for?

Time passes and we started to get hungry and tired so we decided that it would be a good idea to say our goodbyes and try to get home. We started the long walk towards the nearest town with our thumb out hoping that somebody would be leaving at the same time. We did get picked up… by a crazed scally driving a stolen car! When he saw the police (who had parked up nearby) he sped up and told us he would let us out as soon as he got away from the police. We smiled politely, thanked him for the lift (and thanked god that we were still alive) and continued to walk through country lanes trying to find a sign of civilisation. God knows how we did it, but we did manage to get home eventually.

So we’re sitting back at home chilling out, smoking more temple balls, resting up and feeding up, watching a bit of telly and getting ready for a good sleep after last night’s adventures, when the parents come in from work (they ran a restaurant) with one of the staff from the restaurant, totally pissed up and raring to go off to “The Rave” to see the sites and embarrass their kids. The guy who worked in the restaurant was sober so we all piled into the car and off we went – once more unto the breach…

By the time we got there is was dark again and there weren’t quite as many people, but the party was still going strong. The parents managed to find themselves some pills and got well and truly! I don’t know if you have ever done a pill (a good ’92 pill) when you are already pissed up, but it knocks you for six, and knock them for six it did.

The resounding memory for me is watching my Dad fall over shouting “Yeah Baby!”, but there are other memories from night two at Smeatharpe Free Festival…

1. I remember that Spiral Tribe had set up a sound system that I had not noticed on the first night and I was having a bit of a dance when this bloke comes over (clearly rushing himself) and started dancing around me saying “Rush, rush, rush, rush…). Well it worked – I really started to come up on the pill we had split (this one worked) and then we spiralled off to investigate the rest of the party again.

2. I remember walking about the site between sound systems and noticing that the music from each system was mixing perfectly with the next. Just as one would fade out, the next would fade in and the tunes were always perfectly beat-matched. Probably my imagination, but pretty cool nonetheless!

3. I remember trying to find our parents’ car and going right up to it and looking in the window and everything, but still not recognising it. We soon realised that we had been looking at the right car when we were ready to go and the driver walked right up to the car we had been looking at and unlocked it!

Time passed, and it all got a bit too much for The Olds so we went home with smiles on our faces and warmth in our hearts.

But the story of Smeatharpe does not finish there either…

TEN YEARS later I was living in Exeter with my girlfriend when I got a phone call from another friend who told me to switch on the local news. There it was again – Smeatharpe Free Festival had returned and it was only down the road again!

We immediately jumped in the car, met up with our friends and headed up to the party (thank fuck for the local press). We had to park a little way from the site because the police (with some help from the local farmer) had blocked every road up to it (not like in the old days!), but we managed to find a way through a hedge, into some fields, dart across the main road past the police and run onto the site with our heads down and our hearts racing.

This blog is all about free parties from 1990 – ’94 so I will just give a brief account of this night:

1. There were more sound systems, but less people at Smeatharpe 2002. This seems to be a bit of a theme for modern Free Festivals – the sound system has become the ultimate party accessory.

2. The musical spectrum was wider at Smeatharpe 2002. There was a house system, a selection of techno systems, a selection of DnB systems, a cocktail bar playing disco and there was even a ska/punk band playing live on a makeshift stage stuck between two pretty big sound systems.

3. Some moron almost ran us over in their white van at Smeatharpe 2002. This same van had been caught on film as they rammed their way through a gate past a local news reporter to get onto the site (clever boys!)

4. The atmosphere was still havin’ it and happy at Smeatharpe 2002, but I gotta say it – they don’t do ‘em like they used to.

5. I was older and wiser at Smeatharpe 2002. We drove there and back in a comfortable car, no need to hitch, no need to search for the site (although there was the obligatory stop to get out of the car and listen out for the bass line echoing across the valley), no parents to look after and we met up with our friends before getting on site.

6. The press were not impressed with Smeatharpe 2002. They reported that the site had been left in appalling condition with loads of burned out cars and rubbish left lying about everywhere, not to mention all the raver poo creating an environmental health hazard. Funnily enough I had taken my girlfriend up to see the site of Smeatharpe Free Festival ’92 only a week or so earlier and the air strip had been used as a stock car racing track for quite some time – it was covered in burned out cars, tyres and oil tins and it was an absolute shite-heap. The worst footage the press could get was of the burned out white van left by those same dickheads who had tried to run us over at the party. The shot panned across the wasteland of the air strip to see other burned out cars, burned out tires and a nice neat pile of bin bags that had been left by the ravers who generally like to leave a site cleaner than they found it.

Also, someone I don’t know, but probably unknowingly danced right next to at a few parties 🙂 sent me this report on the 1992 Smeatharpe Free Festival… Thanks mharridge!!

After missing Castlemorton because ‘I didn’t think it would be that big and another would come along and I’d already said I’d work..’I was determined to make it to my first free festival. I’d leaked the secret to a couple of mates from the next town (Leamington) who seemed keen and also would help supply the main ingredient. So, off the 5 of us set sometime Friday evening after making various ‘doctor calls’ around town. We arrived on site at Smeatharpe airfield, Devon, to a police prescence who happily waved us through. Not that I had a sweat on mind with the whole cars stash tucked under the carpet in my footwell of my mate’s Cavalier.

It was dark when we arrived so I don’t remember much other than all night merry making but i do remember watching aeroplanes soaring high above in the clear blue morning sky.

It turns out that one of our friends from Leamington had taken a funny turn and was asking to be taken back home.. After a quick pow-wow we decided it would be ok and we set off on the 2/3 hour drive. After dropping our 3 friends off in Leamington we spent the rest of the day hanging around the pub and telling our mates about where we’d been.

It happened that an older crowd were headed down that evening so being as we knew where the site was we asked if we could tag along. This time I jumped in my mates camper van and again after a variety of pitstops we were off. Again arriving in the pitch black and after getting lost among country lanes we eventually found the site again. A couple of us had scored some acid and I’d bought some more speed. I wasnt an E convert by this time and was sticking to amphetamines and acid. However, how I’d wished I had bought an E as I spent most of the night in a jittery state inside my mates van – though it was fun.

The morning soon came around and drawing back the curtains of the camper van we saw an increasing ring of black uniforms – oh dear :/ The police cordon got tighter and tighter so we moved the van nearer to the last remaining system playing. This was my first experience of Spiral Tribe. Picture the scene – mid Sunday afternoon in blazing summer sunshine, people dancing on top of vehicles to twisted acid techno, lots of dust around – or maybe thats just me. Not sure I’ll ever be able to forget that.

More on this party from Dougie, who left us this comment on our ‘about’ page:

I remember going to a festi near Honiton on an old air field, I seem to remember Spiral Tribe were there but cannot seem to find anything out about it. Does any body out there know any more about it. It was big and chaotic and i think there was a mini riot when babylon tried to shut it down.

22nd-29th May 1992: Adrenalin, Armageddon, Bedlam, Circus Warp, Conspiracy, DiY, Fun-de-mental, LSdiezel, Spiral Tribe, Sweat and Techno Travellers at Castlemorton Common Free Festival, Worcestershire

UPDATE 8/1/22:

More quotes from books:

castlemorton as p228
castlemorton as p229
castlemorton as p230
castlemorton as p231
castlemorton as p232

From Matthew Collin, Altered State: The Story Of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House. London: Serpent’s Tail, 2009, p.228-232.

castlemorton ef p135
castlemorton ef p136
castlemorton ef p137
castlemorton ef p138
castlemorton ef p139
castlemorton ef p140

From Simon Reynolds, Energy Flash : A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture. London: Picador, 1998, p.135-140.

UPDATE 24/10/21:

Here is a slideshow by top subculture chronicler Alan ‘Tash’ Lodge, enjoy!

UPDATE 21/6/21:

We just added the following sound systems, give us a shout in the comments if something is here that shouldn’t be, or if you know about any cases of rigs working together:

Armageddon

Conspiracy

Sweat

Also interested to hear whether the list in the title is correct 🙂

UPDATE 14/6/21:

Regular contributor Simon M sent us this report:

There were rumours going round about a free festival being held somewhere in the west country on the 23rd. At first we thought it might be at Chipping Sodbury, but late on Saturday night we found out it was going to be near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. We switched off the episode of Casualty we’d been watching (which was about a drugs overdose) and the four of us set off from Bridport towards Gloucestershire in my gold Mini Metro.

Once we got past Bristol we saw loads of other ravers and travellers headed in the same direction. Near Tewkesbury we joined a convoy of disparate vehicles that stretched for miles towards Castlemorton Common and realised this was going to be a big free festival.

Having got appropriately stoned whilst dawdling along in the line of traffic we finally arrived on site at about 2am and parked the overheated Metro on the side of the road going through the common. Jumping out of the car we hurried towards the lights flashing into the sky from what looked like a huge sprawling township that had grown out of nowhere. Music blasted out in all directions, a mash-up of house, hardcore, breakbeat and techno. There were people every where and parties already in full swing.

Surrounding the marquees were traveller buses, ravers cars, tents, fibreglass sculptures and human gyroscopes. People were selling stuff all over the site. Beer, dope, E’s, acid, speed, rizlas, fags, coffee. We scored and dropped some ecstacy and stayed around the DiY and Circus Warp tents for the night.

After coming up, my fellow raver, dressed in a boiler suit and gas mask hat turned yellow and went outside to puke. I only found him much later, dancing, luvved up, ice lolly in hand. Once the sun came up we had a better idea of the layout of the site and in amongst the 40,000 party goers we found some friends from Dorset and joined them at Spiral Tribe. We sniffed some K and did some wobbly dancing, creating solid shapes out of thin air.

I was never a big fan of Spiral’s hardcore music and would have preferred to be back at DiY, but the Ketamine had me stuck to the spot like glue. Some travellers with families were quite rightly annoyed at Spiral Tribe’s strict policy of 24 hour hardcore and techno. Other systems mellowed out with some dub for a few hours on the Sunday to give people a breather and for kids to get some sleep, but not Spiral.

Commenter Jam Smoot told us about this Sparks and Martian at Castlemorton mix:

I missed Castlemorton but I believe everyone who says it was wicked. Interesting that dr_box (see below) mentioned the police herding him onto the common, people often forget that the travellers and soundystems were pushed/chased there by the cops. By the way, if anyone has exact dates for this please let us know, we know it’s quoted as going on for 6 days, but we need some sort-of-facts!

Interesting query from Hardcore Bob in the comments: the Techno Travellers (who we’ve now added to the headline) had their rig in the blue and red marquee, so which other rigs were there, and which tents were they in? Let us know in the comments 🙂

Thanks!

UPDATE 23/1/21:

It's Not About Me Lechlade p.56
It's Not About Me Lechlade and Castlemorton p.57

From Ian Young, It’s Not About Me! Confessions Of A Recovered Outlaw Addict- From Living Hell To Living Big. Norwich: Anoma Press, 2013, p.59-60.

We came across three longish (slightly chewed) VHS videos of Castlemorton free festival recently. Thanks a million to youtuber discodelinquent (great name by the way!) for uploading them. Discodelinquent has also uploaded some footage from Sugarlump parties. We’ll probably do a post on Sugarlump sound system sooner or later… Meanwhile, enjoy these videos:

Here’s a quote about Castlemorton from ‘Adventures In Wonderland’ by Sheryl Garratt:

Mr Arm (you know who you are!) let us scan a load of newspaper cuttings from his scrapbook. Big up! :

The following photo was captioned “Festivalgoers on Castlemorton Common yesterday, enjoying the sound of music in the Malvern Hills”.

The following photo was captioned “Common nuisance: The 20,000 hippies encamped at Castlemorton common yesterday”.


A classic headline:

Click on images for larger versions:

The following picture and article appeared with the headline: “Villagers threaten to burn out hippies -An illegal festival in the Malverns has driven people living near the site to breaking point”

Continuation of article above, click on image below for larger version:

The following article and photo appeared together:



Here are a couple of videos, the first one’s been online for ages, the second one’s newer and includes some footage taken near the spiral rig-

Thanks youtuber Yangow for the first vid, and thanks youtuber hemustbemad for uploading the second (he credits his friend Matt with filming).

Old friend Simon M was there, and he sent us this page from his diary:

These great photos courtesy of Pete Dibdin whose work can be found at http://www.peterdibdin.com/ :

Screenshot 2022-01-09 at 14.27.30
Screenshot 2022-01-09 at 14.27.52
Screenshot 2022-01-09 at 14.28.16
Screenshot 2022-01-09 at 14.28.43

 

 

 

The photos below are from George McKay‘s book ‘Senseless Acts of Beauty’ and I believe they were taken by Alan ‘Tash’ Lodge (whose excellent website you can find in the links on the right hand side of our main page.

The Riddler (who has a great site, well worth a browse), has some pics of castlemorton here:

http://www.webm8.co.uk/riddler/photographs_rave/castle_morton-1992/index.html

A Flickr pool with some pics of Castlemorton:

http://www.flickr.com/groups/castlemorton/pool/

Tim Aldiss’s site, now defunct but accessible via Wayback Machine, has his account of his trip to Castlemorton (his rave diaries are a good read, look at the other entries while you’re there)-

https://web.archive.org/web/20180925215944/http://www.loftsites.co.uk/old_school_rave/diaries/castlemorton_common.html

Here are a couple of Guardian articles about Castlemorton etc: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2009/jul/11/castlemorton-free-party-scene-spiral-tribe?showallcomments=true

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/jul/12/90s-spiral-tribe-free-parties

This lucky lucky person was there too:

dr_box wrote:

Castle Morton was an experience.. I’d been visiting a mates place in East London and he was coming over to mine in the depths of West Wales afterwards. we’d heard that there was a festi down near Bristol that weekend, so set off on the hunt along the M4. At one of the service stations along the M4 we got a lift from a Green godess fire engine that was loaded down with kit and Hippies, it was one of the vehicles spiral tribe was using to get to the festival. As we got close we found out that the festival might not be on, so set off on a hunt. the police herded us up to Castle Morton, by the time we got close there were several miles of trucks and busses full of people. At one point the line stopped and a guy with us got out and started counting vehicles as he walked towards the front. when the line started moving again, he waited for us to catch up. he’d counted over seven hundred vehicles, and he hadn’t reached the front of the line.

When we got there, the sun was setting and from the hills overlooking the site you could see the site starting to pulse with light and hear blasts of sound as things were set up. Travelling off all the way to the horizon there was a ribbon of headlights delivering more people to the festival.

Blinding weekend, my mate had his first E experience, Watched the police try and drive through the centre of the crowd. they got stopped in the middle, and a nameless longhair got passed over the crowd, and started selling Acid off the bonnet of the police car. after futilely attempting to get out of the car the plod ended up just laughing at the sheer balls of him.

Nighttime had more than its fair quota of low flying helicopters with spotlights. (although someone did take a potshot at them with a firework)

Last of the truly fun free festivals.

21st March 1992: Spiral Tribe and Bedlam Free Party in Tubney Wood, nr Abingdon, Oxfordshire

UPDATE 05.01.21: Here is a short write up and some photos of cops on Riddler’s site: http://www.webm8.co.uk/riddler/photographs_rave/oxford-1992/index.html

These two put on a noisy do in Tubney Wood in the spring of 1992. Tell us more in the comments!