23 January 1993
Disused Depository, Brent Cross, London
Diary entry: Fucking too fucking good the most violent aggressive unmusical music I ever heard, fast noteless, tuneless grinding noise. Gave Mark lift in Tom’s car. Mental building.
Not sure how we got to this party but when we arrived Tom asked me if I could go and pick up Mark from Spiral Tribe, who was still back at their squat on Uxbridge Road. Tom couldn’t because he was too out of it on ketamine already. I’d just taken some drugs, so it became a race against time driving across London before I came up. I picked up Mark, Sebastian and Emily, all clothed in black bomber jackets and combats with shaved heads. I felt a bit old skool Day-Glo in my orange jeans and tie-dye T-shirt.
The music that night was relentless pounding techno. And outside was the best collection of matt black traveller vehicles I’d ever seen.
UPDATE 30/09/09: Thanks to an old friend’s generosity we now have this flyer:
Rumours from a source very close to Spiral Tribe at the time indicated that this never happened due to one of them doing a runner with the money and spending it on crack. The flyer below is for the free event that happened in its place:
In Harry Harrison’s account of Castlemorton he reveals that someone phoned DiY on the Thursday with news of the venue. By 7pm on the Friday they had driven on to the common, ‘unchallenged’. There’s a whole two chapters on this festival in Dreaming in Yellow (follow the link to buy a copy), but we’ll only reveal a couple of extracts here.
Over Friday night, more and more systems rolled in, set up, kicked off. Some of them we knew (Bedlam, Circus Normal), while others, such as Adrenalin and LSDiesel, we did not. Uniformly that weekend, they all played their characteristic fast techno, or ‘nosebleed’ as we called it (they called our music ‘fluffy’). In our marquee, right on the edge of the already huge gathering, we played house, club music, deep house and garage. On the Saturday and Sunday afternoons, we slowed it down and played an eclectic mix of downtempo beats, soul, funk, hip-hop and even jazz, and we were undoubtedly the only people to play John Coltrane on Castlemorton Common. Many, many people have told us since that, musically, we saved their lives. They came to our tent and never left. Hopefully, however, they missed Simon [DK]’s set on Sunday afternoon. By that time, he had been up for so long and had so over-indulged that two of us had to prop him up from behind. As he attempted to DJ, he kept placing the turntable needle onto a slip-mat instead of a record.
On Saturday night there were by now so many people that the crowds around different sound systems merged into one enormous dancefloor. Our music at Castlemorton was probably the most effective PR we ever did. Tens of thousands of people passed through our tent and liked what they heard. As dawn broke on Saturday morning, with hundreds of people dancing outside the marquee, we were surprised to see dozens of outside broadcast vans at the bottom of the slope, cameras and microphones pointed our way. Japan, New Zealand, America and Italy were all represented as they beamed the sights and sounds of DiY in full effect back to their respective nations. What we hadn’t really considered was that the police were probably studying the same images, including our incredibly prominent ninety-six square foot banner with the letters’ DiY’ in six-foot monochrome splendour. That backdrop would feature on many news bulletins and shocking documentaries on the moral outrage of drug availability at raves. For me, as we walked around the still-expanding site on Saturday afternoon, the atmosphere was less of a drug-crazed dystopia and more of a village fete. For once, the sun shone benignly throughout the bank holiday weekend and beyond. It was balmy and warm at night, and raving is so much more pleasant in those conditions. Laughter rang out, old acquaintances were renewed and fresh ones forged. Kids ran around and their parents lazed in the sun. Late to the game, we heard amazing stories of the quarry pool only five minutes walk up the main drag. Hurrying there, we witnessed the wonderful spectacle of hundreds of festival-goers, half of them naked, swimming in a beautiful, deep natural pool surrounded by ancient quarry walls. This was turning into some kind of English Shangri-La. The sheer diversity of the crowd was striking. Porsches, family saloons and Land Rovers rubbed bumpers with ambulances and ancient double-deckers. The old school festival crew were still there. This was, after all, supposed to be the Avon Free Festival, but they were just swamped. It was no longer a festival; it was a great big fucking massive party. There were mutterings among the old crowd about ‘cheesy quavers’ and people not burying their shit (a legitimate concern). Effectively, the free festival movement was laid to rest that weekend; the frantic and ravenous synthetic hydra of acid house had buried it.
Again, I was able to surreally watch images on the news on a battered old telly on a mate’s bus, as video footage of us below was beamed to the wider world. A day later, someone turned up with the Sunday papers and we realised, with a deep gulp, that we were the nation’s news. Being the mouthpiece of the landed classes who really own and run the country, The Sunday Telegraph had dedicated almost the whole front page to the events in which we were immersed, below the immortal headline ‘Hippies Fire Flares at Helicopter’. God’s honest truth, when someone announced the headline, thought for a second that someone had propelled some wide, seventies-style trousers at the police until I saw the picture; someone had genuinely tried to bring down the police helicopter with a powerful distress flare.
And so the festival continued, on into the week, becoming infamous as the biggest rave anywhere, ever. Our system ran from Friday evening until Tuesday morning, by which time our thoughts turned to getting it out intact. Not only had we been one of the most prominent rigs, but we also had a distinctive large yellow truck that had displayed our name on its side in huge letters. But, as is so often the case, the sheer bravery and daring of the travellers saved the day and a friend, Alix, sneaked our rig out in her horsebox in the middle of the night. The police waved down our Dodge truck with a confident look, only to find it empty apart from a few tank nettings and a lot of empty beer cans. Thank you, Alix, again and forever. Spiral Tribe went through until the next weekend, refusing to stop. They were perhaps less crafty, as confrontation was in their DNA. Thirteen of their number were arrested and their system impounded. They were collectively charged with organising the festival, which they hadn’t, and were finally acquitted in Crown Court following what was one of the most expensive prosecutions in English legal history.
Here’s Tim’s account of the event, previously only available on the excellent but now-defunct Loft Sites:
And of course there was Castlemorton. Breathtaking in it’s sheer size and bravado, looking back on it, it is clear to see that this monster, week long rave attended by 25,000 people marked not only the peak but also the death of free rave culture. While watching us helplessly and largely furiously, England would now take serious steps to ensure that that these ultimately harmless parties could never happen again, at least on any reasonable scale. The eventual introduction of the Criminal Justice Bill gave police new powers to prevent and break up any form of outside beat-based gathering.
From this point on, rave would go overground. There was no where else to go. Sure, pockets still thrive here and there, but a once gloriously anticorporate culture became swallowed up in clubland. Muddy fields and hastily erected marquees were replaced by steel and chrome, and thirty pound entrance fees. Trainers and baggy jeans did not make it past the bouncers. Terra techno turned into slinky house. Shiny clubs, shiny drugs, shiny people, and shiny music. It did not feel bad anymore. It had become respectable.
Getting to Castlemorton was easy. It was advertised on the TV. Arriving home from work on Saturday, I turned on the news to see an excited local broadcaster relaying information about a huge gathering of ‘ravers’ and ‘hippies’ on Castlemorton Common, an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at the foot of the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. They had mysteriously arrived overnight, many different groups co-ordinating beautifully and thwarting any attempts by the police to break up the large convoy of trucks, vans and old buses they were understandably becoming increasingly suspicious of.
I hopped it to 227 and picked up the few who had not already gone. For the first time I set off for a rave before the sun had even set. With such exact directions it was an easy drive through the Cotswolds, and we gradually became part of a convoy of cars full of ravers with the same destination. As night fell we began to leave the lights of the towns and villages behind us as we followed the road high up on to the vast common. Darkness now shrouded the rolling hills and only suggested at the space and beauty around us.
Then suddenly we were there. Cars were everywhere, parked randomly and haphazardly on either side of the road, which led directly through the middle of the gathering. We ditched my car and followed the general movement of people away from their vehicles and towards the distant throb of beats and bass.
It was soon clear that most of the traveling sound systems were there, each with their own individual party set up. At the center of it all, and the ringleaders behind the entire event, was, of course, Spiral Tribe. And that was where we were heading.
We continued walking down the road along which stalls and vendors had sprung up, selling all kinds of rave paraphernalia; bottled water, Vicks sticks, bongs, rizlas, whistles, glo sticks, mix tapes etc. Drugs of all kinds were openly available. People were hanging out, shopping, chatting, coming up on a pill, sharing a spliff. It kind of felt like being in some kind of bizarre town center, in a world where ravers had taken over. And always, in the background, the boom boom of the sound systems, reminding us why we were there.
After passing several large marquees each with their own rave in full swing, we arrived at Spiral Tribe’s own party. Their motley collection of vehicles were arranged in a large circle. This provided an amphitheatre into which their DJ’s pumped hard tribal techno. As always the focal point was a huge black and white spiral hanging from the side of one of their lorries, right next to the one sided van which housed the decks. Maggie and I put up the tent we had been carrying – she was intending to stay a few days – just to one side of the main circle. We scored some mushrooms and swallowed them down with a few sips of water.
While we were hanging out, waiting for the mushies to kick in, Mitch turned up with recommendations for good E’s. There were some shit hot Tangerine Dreams about he confided, if you could find them. Before long I had sniffed them out and had two in my belly. My own private party was beginning.
Fortuitously, the E’s turned out to be two of the sweetest ever. My memories of the night are little more than drifting around in a blissful haze, I’m not even sure if I danced. But that’s not the point, I was off my head at Castlemorton and that’s what counts.
As dawn began to break I lapped up a wrap of speed, I was so used to doing this now I barely even needed water to help it down. The sky became a little clearer and I started to recognize people everywhere – no one was missing this one. All of the heads from Witney were there. Being my home town this caused much handshaking and mutual jibbering affection. The whole of the Oxford Massive had made it, along with all my new friends from all over the place, who I had met through these weekly parties. There were several people I hadn’t seen for years, including of course a few spanners who had just come to check out the show after seeing it on the news. None the less, I was immensely pleased to see everyone, and greeted them all with much enthusiasm.
Night slipped back into day and in the sunshine the enormity of the carnival we were part of became clear. Tents, cars and people stretched out in all directions, creating a multi coloured splash in the languid countryside. There were several mini travelers villages, complete with dogs, fires and scruffy kids who appeared quite at home amidst all the madness. And spaced throughout this were the raves themselves, each with their own sound and their own vibe.
Framing this were the Malvern Hills rising majestically through the morning mist.
Many ravers began to sit in loose groups, spark up a few spliffs and just take it all in. We knew right then that this was something special. This would never happen again.
At some point I met up with Georgia, who dragged me away from the Sprirals to the DiY tent where she had spent most of the night with her mates. The large dance area was now quite empty, the floor littered with empty Evian bottles, roaches and butt ends. A bit later on I spotted Easygroove sitting in the back of an open van with some mates. By now we clearly recognized each other, and we nodded hello, like we always did. I even bumped into my sister. Half of England seemed to be there that weekend.
The party continued on for several days, but I had to be back for work on Monday. So late on Sunday afternoon I left many happy people behind and headed home.
Some more newspaper clippings have just turned up, big up to Simon K for these, which have been transcribed for the benefit of anyone following this site who can’t access the text in the images. It is worth mentioning that our long term goal is to have all of our newspaper articles and book excerpts transcribed 🙂
12,000 revellers descend on village for 4-day rave
Hippy days are here again!
Unless you’ve got this lot in your back garden
By BILL DANIELS
THE hippy days of the Sixties were back with a vengeance yesterday as Britain’s biggest-ever illegal party swung into its fourth night.
But for the tiny village reluctantly playing host to 25,000 revellers, it seemed that the self-styled peace people were making WAR, not love. A police helicopter flying over the crowd narrowly escaped disaster when it was fired on with five marine distress flares.
And the ear-splitting throb of acid music could be heard 10 miles from the sprawling city of tents and camper vans infesting Castlemorton Common, near Malvern, Worcs.
Meanwhile police could only stand and watch for fear of sparking a full-scale riot. Drug-dealers openly set up shop to push Ecstacy and LSD. One even did the rounds bearing a tray of freshly-baked “hash cookies’.
Used syringes were among rubbish littering the 700-acre common. Furious locals report their garden fences have been ripped up for fire wood. Chickens and sheep have been poached.
Some families have sent terrified children to stay with relatives.
But others have become prisoners in their own homes – surrounded by the vehicles choking the narrow lanes.
Villager Jill Gilbert, 29, said: “Before long, the residents are going to get their shotguns and blast that music machine.”
West Mercia police had 400 officers, some in riot gear, on standby. They claim the helicopter attack vindicates their decision to keep a low profile.
Assistant Chief Constable Phillip Davies said: “This shows the lengths they will go to prevent police gaining access. The safety of my officers must be one of my priorities.”
Western Daily Press Monday 25th May:
Police powerless as 20,000 attend rave
By Giles Rees
THE biggest, noisiest and most lawless party of the year roared on last night as police stood and watched.
At Castlemorton Common, beneath the Malvern Hills of Hereford and Worcester, an estimated 20,000 hippies and ravers were having a ball.
They took drugs, they drank they danced and they made love.
They also turned a beautiful corner of England into a filthy, litter-strewn tip.
The invasion of Castlemorton began late on Friday as illegal hippy camps in Gloucestershire and Avon were cleared by police.
A convoy of buses and cars snaked bumper-to-bumper into the picturesque village, normal population 600.
Within hours a sprawling shanty town of tents, coaches and caravans was set up on the rolling common on the edge of the village.
Its sheer size forced West Mercia into an effective surrender with officers able to do little more than observe from a distance.
By yesterday the encampment, with no toilets, sanitary facilities or first-aid, had become a ghetto.
Drugs were openly on sale and alcohol was available from illegal bars.
Dirty-faced toddlers played by camp fires fuelled with hacked-down trees.
Amid all the squalor however, there was money.
Dotted among the ramshackle coaches and caravans were spotless Range Rovers and BMWs.
At eight different “dance centres” Acid House music pounded remorselessly and glossy leaflets advertising other Acid parties were given out.
Last night the festival of Castlemorton was still swinging.
Traveller Carol, aged 25, from Wiltshire, said: “We are having a good time. The
convoy will probably break up some time. I don’t know when.”
Farmers and villagers on the edge of the common were close to despair. There were
unconfirmed reports of one gunpoint confrontation.
Farmer’s wife Mrs Margaret Jones, aged 41, said gates had been broken, fields
driven through and livestock chased.
“I do not see what gives people the right to behave like this,” she said.
Villager Julie Williams, aged 24, who lives on the edge of the common, said: “We
have never had anything like this before. We can’t believe it. It’s frightening up there.”
West Mercia police said there had been six arrests and the situation was being monitored and contained.
A spokesman said: “We shall be considering our policy regarding the camp in conjunction with Malvern Hills district council and the Malvern Hills Conservators.
West Mercia police set up a 24-hour helpline for local people who wanted to discuss problems arising from the event and the police’s approach to it. The number is 0684 893630.
A VILLAGE OF NIGHTMARES
By RICHARD CREASY
25,000 invaders turn rural peace into anarchy
THE tiny community of Castlemorton Common is normally a safe and peaceful haven – the English countryside at its tranquil best.
But the past three days has left its 800 inhabitants stunned and terrified. They are prisoners in their own homes from 25,000 invaders who mock a pitifully small police operation.
Britain’s biggest illegal party was still in full swing last night with drugs like Ecstasy, LSD and acid being openly sold by dealers. Worried families in the village have sent their children to stay with relatives and others are sleeping with shotguns under their beds.
“Basically there is total anarchy on the common. We feel sick with fear and just so helpless,’ said Jill Gilbert, 29.
“It’s a complete no-go area for the police because they are so outnumbered and don’t want to spark off anything worse.”
The police admitted yesterday they had been hopelessly under-manned for the mass invasion and set up a special hotline to advise worried about the situation. During yesterday afternoon a helicopter with three policemen on board narrowly missed five ship distress flares fired from the festival site.
“This highly disturbing incident clearly illustrates the lengths to which these people will go to try to prevent police access to the site,” said West Mercia’s assistant chief constable Phillip Davies.
“Under current circumstances, we are clearly obliged to adopt a low-key approach on the site in order to avoid unnecessary conflict with members of this huge gathering.
“Many of them have already displayed an extremely aggressive attitude towards the police, and the safety of officers must be one of my priorities.
“This is already a difficult situation, but I do not wish to provoke things further by sparking off large-scale disorder.”
“The result of the low police presence has been thousands of hippies spending three days dancing, drinking, taking drugs and making love on Castlemorton Common, near Malvern, Worcestershire.”
Acid music can be heard 10 miles away blasting out round the clock from the huge tented shanty-town.
One drug dealer carried a tray loaded with hash cookies selling for £1 each.
Since the invasion hippies have ripped down trees and fences to burn on their camp fires and a mountain of rubbish is piling up on the 700-acre common. The site has no toilets.
Raiding parties in search of wood for fires, food and animal feed pilfered from neighbouring sheds, barns and gardens.
Packs of maurauding dogs owned by the travelling hippies scavenge in the mounds of rubbish and sheep have been savaged.
The pub, post office and shops have shut down for fear of trouble.
Some people are trapped in their homes because scores of cars and lorries block their entrances.
So far 30 people have been arrested in the area for drugs related offences.
The nightmare began on Friday when convoys of ramshackle vehicles converged on to the common land after an advance party broke through a thin police line.
Outnumbered police conceded defeat and were powerless to stop the illegal Bank Holiday music and drugs festival.
“The music is booming every night and it seems to get louder every half-an-hour,’ said villager Peter Cooksey, “The place has become totally lawless. The peace of the village has been shattered.”
Scared Julie Biggs, 21, has had to run the tiny store in neighbouring Welland under constant police guard. “Everyone here is absolutely petrified. I have had terrible problems with hippies coming into the store and shop-lifting. I couldn’t work here if it were not for police protection, I would be too frightened.”
Angry publican Barry Smith, landlord of the Robin Hood, said: “Most people are too afraid to come out of their homes. If had lived up on the common I would have shot someone by now.”
One hippy, dressed in ragged denims openly touted ecstasy and LSD as he pushed a young baby in a pram across the Common, once an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Some offered “magic mushroom” cider, mindbending cocktail of drugs and alcohol, from makeshift stalls.
A traveller who gave his name as Richard said he had driven his battered bus from North Lincolnshire. He and his companions were a “peace loving group out to have a good time”.
“There is nothing wrong with what we are doing. We are here to have fun in the sun,” he said.
“We chose to live this way and rejected the hassles associated with a conventional way of life.
“Some say we are dirty but we are environmentally conscious, we make efforts not to dump rubbish.
“It makes more sense to bury your waste instead of flushing it away with harmful chemicals.
“People generally have it in for us because of our lifestyle.I think many envy us becauseof our freedom.”
You can find more newspaper articles if you scroll down 🙂
Here are some photos James sent us, thanks a million James, we love them!
Some quotes on Castlemorton from books:
From Matthew Collin, Altered State: The Story Of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House. London: Serpent’s Tail, 2009, p.228-232.
From Simon Reynolds, Energy Flash : A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture. London: Picador, 1998, p.135-140.
Here is a slideshow by top subculture chronicler Alan ‘Tash’ Lodge, enjoy!
We 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:
Also interested to hear whether the list in the title is correct 🙂
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 🙂
More book excerpts:
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:
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:
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)
Dan’s shared a couple of pages of his rave diary with us, take it away Dan! And thank you!
The bust is apparently where Paul Massey took his iconic photo of policemen carrying off loudspeakers and amps. It features on the back cover and label of a recent Ragga Twins compilation, and was apparently used in an Advance Party leaflet too.
Tim was there and here’s his tale, previously located on Loft Sites:
Craig, Russ and Jamie were this weeks passengers in my trusty VW Polo, which was a dirty white with a smiley acid face painted on either side. We were followed by Diz, Amanda, Maggie and Sarah, an Oxford Uni student who looked like a tall Betty Boop. The party was just outside London in Surrey. We parked in what seemed like a suburban street, no doubt the residents would wake up and wonder why their road was a mass of illegally parked cars. We walked for quite a while to get to the rave which was set on an unkempt, sprawling piece of common ground that looked like it had once been cleared for development and had eventually grassed itself over. Although we had only recently left streets and houses behind it appeared pretty remote.
It was a Spiral Tribe collaboration, their sound system with Circus Warp’s trademark blue and red striped marquee, and Rough Crew’s DJ’s. The rest of their vans and trucks were parked nearby and formed a temporary mini village. The drugs of the day were fantasies, tiny round brown balls, no bigger than a ball bearing. I think I ended up doing 2. Speed had fuelled the drive up, and helped get the fantasies working.
I don’t remember it being dark so we must have hit the party at around dawn. The crowd was small but up for it as ever, being led onwards and upwards by the pulsating music.
At the big, legal events you got the big, hands in the air classic rave tracks. Every other track you recognised from one mix tape or another. At parties like this the music was always unpredictable, underground and unrelenting in it’s hardcore attitude. Often the big name DJ’s would come and spin at these raves, relishing the opportunity to play cool weird shit the teenyboppers at Fantazia wouldn’t get. Nearly every week I saw a funky dreaded black dude in shades behind the decks. Turns out he was Easygroove, playing for free after finishing his mega bucks set at the latest licensed party.
The fantasies produced a weird high, like E but less euphoric and made the world become even more confusing and bizarre than it usually did. Word later was that they were full of ketamine, some kind of horse sedative, which would explain things a little.
As per usual I got more out of it as everyone else began chilling out. I used to love this time – plenty of room to dance, plenty of light to see everyone. My usual trick was to try and get a smile out of everybody; this is what would bring on the rush. I probably made quite a spectacle – inanely grinning, limbs flailing more or less in time to the music, eyes on stalks. I may have looked a bit silly but it was these moments of solitary dancing with my head in the clouds and well beyond, that I really felt like the sweaty, skinny embodiment of rave. Passionately committed to hard drugs and hard music, and brim full of pure chemical joy.
For me, being a raver was a full time job. It gradually infiltrated all aspects of my life. Like being in love, it became all I could think about. And I know there were thousands like me. From being just a weekend attraction, pretty soon weekends lasted three days and the rest of the week was spent smoking as much pot as we could afford, swapping DJ mix tapes with friends, and collecting drugs for next Saturdays party.
To be on the crest of the wave of a new movement was heady enough. Combine that with music that sounded like it had been downloaded from the future and drugs that make you want to embrace the whole world, and it is easy to see how so many people who once thought that they were students, or hairdressers, or bank clerks, instead became ravers, with reality an unfortunate necessity.
By now it was full daylight. It could have been any time; watches were way too tiny and complicated to read properly. It took me a while to realise that the fine drizzle that had been keeping me nice and cool was turning into more heavy rain. Cos my body was functioning at around 250 degrees this did not worry me unduly, and I continued to pound out the beat as my trainers turned the grass to mud. One of the few others left dancing grabbed me by the arm and looked at me with huge eyes and sunken cheeks. “It’s amazing!” he enthused, his jaw working away furiously on some gum, “I’ve come down but I can still dance!” Yeah, right I thought, and smiled at him as he bounced off. However I soon realised that everybody else was now sheltering under the marquee and decided that it looked kind of fun.
These traveller raves brought in some people you could never imagine meeting anywhere else, and pretty soon I was chatting to a nearly blind dark haired girl called Nessy. She lived in a horse drawn caravan and could only really see when she put on some incredibly thick glasses. Needless to say she very rarely wore them, and was convinced that the world was a much more enjoyable place when all you could see were misty, colourful shapes. Her horse could see where they were going so she managed to get around ok. I put together a shaky spliff while she swigged on a bottle of vodka, and there you go, the sun came out again.
As the music continued to fill the air, the skies cleared and people began dancing again. Maggie and I pooled our money and scored a Red and Black, a powder filled capsule which we split roughly. We wondered off a little way and climbed a small hill. We sat on the wet grass and looked down at the colourful collection of vehicles, the shabby marquee, the DJ lost in concentration and the huge, omnipotent speakers. In front of these was a mixed bag of people, who had been drawn in from across the country to meet and party with others they would probably never see again.
From here we felt a little like onlookers, somewhat removed from the proceedings. It struck me just how bizarre these parties must seem to the general public. Yet for us, hearing the tribal beats reverberating around the English countryside did not seem in any way intrusive or out of place. Instead they somehow appeared to bring each other to life. The deep booming bass became like the earth’s heartbeat, while the chattering, alien rhythms danced with the wind through the trees and seemed to awaken a mysterious, primitive consciousness in the surrounding landscape. Maggie and I contemplated on the uniqueness of such an event and decided we were pretty God damned lucky to have been there, then. I thanked whoever was listening that I had been born at the right time. Fuck the sixties.
The Red and Black turned out to be way better than I expected and was still rushing when the rest of my posse eventually broke it to me that they wanted to return home. We had been there for a pretty long time it seemed so we trailed back to my car, and I guess I drove home but I don’t remember.
It turned out that shortly after we left the police descended in large numbers and by all accounts smashed up the sound system and as many cars as they could while the travellers and ravers looked on, powerless. Nice one.
Here are a couple of photos of Chobham Common from Samantha Williams’ fantastic book Happydaze, the first one is the front cover:
This is Tim’s account of the party, which used to be on the truly brilliant but now vanished Loft Sites:
Sitting around on one of the many collapsing couches at 227 beneath the huge wall hangings of characters from the Magic Roundabout, me, Jamie and Russ spent ages ringing round trying to find a party within a reasonable distance. Everyone else had gone out so we were left to our own devices. As it got later and later -or earlier and earlier- and our hash supply began to dwindle to dangerous levels, we decided the only option was to go to a Spiral do in the depths of the Brecan Beacons in Mid Wales. We had a long way to go so lots of speed was greedily consumed before we left.
The roads were completely clear in the growing light and we found our way relatively easily – when we got to Rhyader there was a smiley acid face taped to a monument in the town centre with an arrow pointing which way to go. From this point on we left civilisation behind as we followed a long road winding its way along a river valley through the most beautiful scenery. Rounded mountains rose up on either side and were mirrored in glassy rivers and lakes. This was all most unexpected and gave our speedy mouths and brains something else to babble about.
After a good few miles the road sort of came upon the party, which was on a disused quarry built into the edge of a stony hill, no more than a hundred or so yards from the road. The extreme isolated location ensured this wasn’t a problem. We immediately bumped into Mitch, Sarah, her brother and her mates. This was quite easy as only about 200 people had made it there.
There were several people that I had become quite friendly with due to seeing them at these free raves every weekend. One of them was a very laid back friendly bloke from London, who had long hair tied back loosely in a ponytail. Although he only ever took acid himself, he always had a bag of E’s on him and they were always good. I cannot for the life of me remember his name, so shall refer to him as, imaginatively, long-haired-e-dealer. Anyway, sure enough he was there again and after a brief chat he sorted me, Russ and Jamie out with some red and blacks, though as usual I had bought a stash of my own.
Due to all the amphetamine I had already ingested the E’s got to work pretty quickly. Had a most excellent time wondering up and down the rocky hill slope, meeting and greeting similarly cained party people. Jamie discovered a stream he made us drink out of. We lay on the summit in the strengthening morning sun, looking down to the river in the valley floor where some ravers had made their way. As my gaze settled on the hill slope opposite, the perspective of the whole scene suddenly flattened out. I became unable to comprehend distance. The once familiar shapes of rocks, people, clouds and trees became abstract components of an intricate, fluid psychedelic pattern, slowly moving and changing as I watched. It was as if I was looking at a huge screen, which I could reach out and touch any part of.
Gradually I let my mind begin to make proper sense of the scene in front of me, while I wilfully let my whole self become enveloped by the chemical charm snaking through my body.
In these states it was impossible to rationalise space and time. An unhealthy dose of early 90’s party drugs often induced feelings that so overwhelmed the senses that to be concerned with anything but the very immediate present was all but impossible. You became immersed in a warm, fizzing bubble that floated around, bumping into things then drifting off with no discernable impact.
Russ, also completely wankered, asked me to help him score some hash. We found a dealer near the road where the cars were parked. Russ passed me the gear to examine to see if it was a good deal, although I was really much too gone to make any realistic judgement. I looked at the hash carefully before it was pointed out to me I was yards away from a couple of cars driven slowly by bemused welshmen, maybe I should be a little more discreet. At some point a few policemen turned up, with no idea how to deal with such a situation. So they did the sensible thing and left us to it.
The floor of the old quarry provided an excellent dance floor- a large concrete square flanked on three sides by equally bleak walls. There was no roof, and the whole thing appeared to have been sunk into the side of the hill, the open side looking towards the valley and the hill opposite. The DJ was on the top of the back wall, facing towards the dance floor and the valley below.
There were not many people dancing by the time we arrived. Most people were beginning to come down and chill out around the edge of the building, or wander up and down the mountain. However I was coming up in leaps and bounds and spent some time dancing with the still-mashed posse. I believe this was the first time I heard Gat Decor’s Passion, it’s deep bubbling bass and euphoric but slightly eerie sounds providing a perfect soundtrack, bouncing off the mountains and filling the valley and the new world around us.
Sarah’s brother, who was new to raving, was amused by my manic rushing around and eternal grin. As he was leaving he gave me his Vicks stick, telling me I could keep it as I seemed to be enjoying it so much. Believing another life long friendship had been kindled, I thanked him profusely. Vicks sticks had become an essential rave accessory. These three inch long white tubes filled with a piercing minty aroma were originally intended as a decongestant. We had discovered that if inhaled while on E the intensely cool vapour caused spine tingling body rushes, like an electrical charge shivering luxuriously through your muscles. So it was not uncommon to see a party head with what looked like a tampon shoved up his nose.
The day got older and people left, leaving the hardcore spiral followers, the seriously out of it and the Spirals themselves. Eventually I drove back, the journey taking around 4 hours. Russ and Jamie crashed out almost as soon as we began, and didn’t even wake up when I had to do an emergency stop, fling my door open and puke onto the road. It was well past nightfall by the time I reached home.
This pic, which appeared in Select magazine, was taken at Rhayader:
And here’s a party report from an anonymous contributor. Thanks, whoever you are!
It was a beautiful location, but there was 12 hours of driving and loads of calls to the hotline before we even had proper directions, let alone arrived! We were listening to Levitation, The Cardiacs and Butthole Surfers to keep us awake. Out of the darkness on a Welsh mountain road in the arse end of the arse end of nowhere a shape loomed towards us, and the driver braked sharply. It was just a paralytic local on his way back from a pub spilling off his antiquated bicycle and headfirst onto the tarmac. We were worried, and asked if he was OK. He clambered back on, grunted, and cycled off into the gloom.
Eventually we had to give up, and had a couple of hours of very uncomfortable sleep in a layby in the car (3 of us in a mini metro, a gearstick poking me in the ribs).
In the morning we were aching, but the weather was beautiful and we’d already decided that if we couldn’t find the party we’d take our pills and go for a walk. We finally got proper directions at 7 am or thereabouts. After driving through some deep valleys carpeted with thick forests, we stopped the car for my friend to get out for a pee. Two minutes later she came rushing back -‘I can hear it! I can hear it!’, after hours of uncertainty and confusion we arrived at the party at 8 or 9 am. A seemingly purpose-built dancefloor (actually a ruined building- part of a disused leadmine) on the side of a slate mountain with a waterfall over to the right. There was a river running past, parallel to the road that ran through the valley.
When we arrived we realised we needed something for ‘breakfast’. We started with Love Hearts and followed these up with some Special K.
Tired after the journey we spent a stupid amount of time in the car. This often happened back then, you’d travelled MILES with your friends to be in this special place and then, fuck it, let’s just stay in our mobile chill out room.
We were listening to Special K (an old house tape) in the car, and I remember attracting one or two curious stares because of this. Even then, things were quite polarised- you liked house OR techno. We liked both, which confused people.
A pair of girls knocked on the car window. They were tripping enormously and pointing to a piece of sheet music and gibbering at us through the window.
Sometimes, in certain states of mind, time seems to fuck up and start looping. At one stage there were about 5 of us sat in this tiny mini metro, so fucked that all we could do was sigh. This was all that could be heard for a while: ‘Ffffffffffff. Pshhhhhhhh. Phoooooooo! Ffffffffffff. Pshhhhhhhh. Phoooooooo!’ This was what passed for conversation in the old days. Then there was a new sound ‘Ffffffffffff. Pshhhhhhhh. Phoooooooo! Fwap. OW! Ffffffffffff. Pshhhhhhhh. Phoooooooo! Fwap. OW!’ The girl sat in the middle of the back seat was brushing her hair. Every time she brushed it, the brush twatted her neighbour in the head. It was a while before she realised and stopped.
We spent some time chilling out in/by the river.While we were sitting relaxing by the river, my mate, our driver for the weekend, heard the start of Aphex Twin’s ‘Didgeridoo’ and, without warning, sprinted back to the sound system.
Then, and this was something to do with the K, I had a very strong urge to climb the mountain (or at least get to the waterfall). I could feel, and this sounds weird, I’m sure, an invisible thread pulling me upwards. The mountainside was covered in loose slate and so it would have been a bit hairy even if you were straight. God knows how I managed it, but I reached the height of the waterfall. However, I’d gone slightly off course and the waterfall was now too far away for me to reach. I looked down. Mistake. I realised that if I wanted to get through this in one piece I would have to continue going upwards. I reached the top and noticed a gentler slope to take me back to where the party was. On my way down I walked into a field full of sheep. I could see a farmer in a Range Rover in a field below me, and I didn’t want him to see me so I sat on the ground and kept still for a couple of minutes. That was when I realised that the field I was sitting on was covered in clover and there seemed to be millions of bees everywhere. I carried on staying very still for quite some time. The farmer had left and the bees weren’t attacking me so I carried on down the slope. I reached the main road and had to walk a little way back to the party. I passed a lone Welsh country copper and gave him a cheery ‘hello’. Arriving back at the party I saw my friends, who had last seen me disappear up a mountain a couple of hours previously. They’d been worried, and I was oblivious to this.
On the way home one of the fluffed up casualties co-piloting the car insisted the vehicle be stopped and they be let out immediately so they could leap into a field and hug a lamb. I think the lamb ran away.