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

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.

Harry Harrison, Dreaming in Yellow. Velocity Press, 2022p.193-195.

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’.

Trapped

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 because of 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:

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!

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:

Armageddon

Conspiracy

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

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!

More book excerpts:

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.

20th-21st June 1992: DiY at Laxton Solstice Free Festival, Wakerley Woods, Northamptonshire

… the next big festival was over the solstice weekend of 19th to 22nd June, near Laxton, Northamptonshire. This time the police were ready and in no mood to compromise. On nowhere near the scale of Castlemorton, it was an ill-tempered, wet and manic event surrounded by a ridiculous number of police. Roadblocking the festival effectively, the authorities ensured no one could get in or out of the site by the Friday evening; trying to party when you’re surrounded, lacking numbers and people have been arrested was never much fun. Site paranoia was rampant, always quick to emerge from its dark recesses when things got ugly. Muggings were reported, bad drugs were sold, long-established couples fought physically. Our gang still had fun; we always did whatever the circumstances, but the wider festival was not a great example of its genre.

Harry Harrison, Dreaming in YellowVelocity Press, 2022, p.197.

Apparently Spirals came here after their ill-fated Mudchute Farm party in London got busted. They only had a tape deck though 😦

I just got a nice email from someone called Pete, who was at this. The photos he mentions are on Alan ‘Tash’ Lodge’s site (see ‘links’ section on the bottom right of the main page), it’s well worth a visit if you want to see some great photos of free festivals and raves in the period this site covers. Pete, if you’re reading this, yes, we’d love to hear some more of your memories 🙂 Anyway, here’s Pete’s mail.

I didn’t make it to Lechlade or Castlemorton but a friend had been insisting I go to all that led up to them and to those 2 big ones and it was only after hearing the tales of Lech’ and ‘morton that I decided to go, and the first thing following as I remember was Laxton.

I never hear of anyone mentioning the Laxton and Colville fest/site parties tho’,and wonder if you have..

I think Tash has 2 photos from Laxton, but of folks, not the scene,cant see much.. and Laxton, being my first, and an acid flip top head opener, really makes me wish to hear about and see photos even video of.

21st-23rd June 1991: Spiral Tribe, DiY and Free Party People at Rats Run/Longstock Free Festival, Hampshire

…within a matter of three weeks, the solstice was upon us and so we prepared for another gruelling trip down south. Again, there would be advance notification of the site, but word came through at some point that week that it was at a place named Longstock, Hampshire... Black Box was loaded and dispatched by Friday morning, 21st June, the day of the solstice. At Vickers Street, we had purchased one of the new-fangled answer machines (complete with small audio cassette) and so began the era of leaving directions on the now laughably obsolete machine. Our phone number, 0602 609518, would become infamous as the only way to get directions to parties, and that ancient gadget would fend off tens of thousands of callers in the years to come.

As we approached the site, again without the benefit of mobile phones, we had no idea what to expect. Driving along narrow country lanes, I manoeuvred the considerable bulk of the truck around a corner to be met with what looked like something from the Miners’ Strike. A large triangle of grass was blocked on either side by rows of riot vans and dozens of police. A few festival-goers were wandering onto the road on the other side, down which the festival obviously lay, but there seemed no way through. I had a fairly foolhardy idea. I continued driving in the direction that the police were frantically waving us to go, found somewhere to pull in and turned to Cookie: ‘How about we drive back up there, slow right down as we get to the green and just drive through the middle of it and right down the other side?’
Cookie thought for a moment. “You think it will damage the truck?’
‘Nah, you’ve seen the size of those tyres, plus the four-wheel drive should be alright . . ‘

I don’t think Cookie was all that keen to risk his beloved vehicle, but he couldn’t really say no. We had four passengers in the back, so I gave them a quick shout, did a multiple-point turn, and then set off back up the road. As we approached the triangle of grass again, one of the officers waved at us vehemently to continue past the first roadblock. Complying, I slowed right down, then pulled the truck hard left and just drove over the middle of the flat side of the triangle, in between the blocks of police and through into the lane in the middle. Adrenalin was pumping through my veins; Cookie was shouting and screaming. From nowhere, a policeman in riot gear stepped out and took a close-up photo of us, his massive camera topped off with a huge flash unit. I swerved to avoid him, instinct took over and suddenly we were through, driving down the lane to the festival in the glorious summer sunshine. It was an outrageous thing to have done, and it was made all the more surreal as glanced at the truck’s side mirror to see an arm extending from the back, waving an inflatable duck at the police lines. I never found out where the duck came from, but the memory will stay with me for ever.

Driving into the festival in the big truck with huge tires, we were greeted on all sides by old friends and people who had seen us drive through the roadblock. The festival itself was unusual in that it was not in an open space a but along a long, thin track, or drove, which for a few became known as Rat’s Run. With only enough room vehicles on either side of the narrow track, we drove along slowly until we saw the pyramid tent and Black Box being loaded into it. Every festival had its own unique feel and flavour; Longstock was much smaller than Chipping Sodbury and suffered from its strange and narrow layout. There was big free Circus Warp party near Peasedown Saint John in Somerset the same weekend, and due to the very limited space and early roadblocks, it was probably fortunate that larger numbers didn’t attend. It was still wild, though, and is particularly notable as being the first time DiY encountered a new sound system from London, Spiral Tribe.

This moment probably marks the point at which the concept of the free party house system, travelling from a home base where parties were organised to free festivals and even abroad, began to really gain irresistible momentum. Until then, along with Sweat and Circus Warp, we had pretty much had festivals to ourselves, but the impetus for crews all across the UK to buy decks and a rig became unstoppable. My first impression of Spiral Tribe was that they were surprisingly together, and embarrassingly so for us as alongside their system they had set up a café with food and hot drinks, something we had never managed in two years. Although the Spirals would go on to adopt the generic look of shaven heads, the black ex-military clothing favoured by Crass a decade before, and huge, black trucks daubed in their trademark spirals, at Longstock they seemed laid-back and amicable. Chatting to Mark, Simone and Debbie, and clocking their small blue Luton van and their little café, I remember thinking that we could all happily coexist.

Their music was very different to ours, being much faster and harder, but as long as we were far enough apart for the systems not to clash, then the whole point of free festivals was that anything goes. Without wanting to upset any systems which would spring up from the of the other myriad of sound summer of 1991 or after, DiY and Spiral Tribe would become probably the two best known, and although some people on the outer fringes of our two clans encouraged a rivalry over the ensuing years, we never had a problem with them.

Our paths would not cross again until the summer of 1992 when the whole scene had erupted exponentially. One particularly striking DJ who was playing with the Spirals introduced himself as Charlie Hall. After some vetting of his record box, we were happy for him play to on Black Box. He would go on to form the Drum Club with Lol Hammond, and we formed a friendship that would outlast the rave years. Almost comically, considering what would occur later, the Spiral Tribe’s driver, it might have been Mark, sought us out on the Monday morning and politely asked if we could give their Luton a tow-start due to a flat battery. Dutifully we dragged their blue van around the site a few times until it started, flattening our own battery in the process and condemning us to becoming stuck and lost on some random Hampshire backroad until Wednesday morning.

Harry Harrison, Dreaming in YellowVelocity Press, 2022, p.149-153

Thanks to Youtuber Tizmip for this video!

UPDATE 13/01/21:

From Andy Worthington, Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion. Loughborough: Alternative Albion, 2004, p.161.

From Andy Worthington, Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion. Loughborough: Alternative Albion, 2004, p.160.

From Matthew Collin, Altered State: The Story Of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House. London: Serpent’s Tail, 2009, p.214-5.

Spiral Mark quote from Richard Lowe and William Shaw, Travellers: Voices Of The New Age Nomads. London: Fourth Estate, 1993, p.168.

From Ian Abrahams and Bridget Wishart, Festivalized: Music, Politics and Alternative Culture. London: Gonzo Multimedia, 2015.

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.49-50.

The date for this is apparently correct, here’s the Spiral flyer, listing their events in 1991. I didn’t make it to any of their do’s until the spring of 1992:

Were you there? What do you remember? Let us know in the comments, however hazy and vague your memory is 🙂

All comments (and of course photos, flyers, etc) welcome!

NB This event was the same weekend as Summer Solstice Free Festival at Peasedown St. John, Somerset

24th-27th May 1991: Brainstorm, Circus Warp, DiY and Sweat at Avon Free Festival, Sodbury Common, Chipping Sodbury, Avon

Even with roadblocks, especially as the new rave-dominated festivals exploded over that year, festival-goers would just abandon their cars and walk to the event, often for miles. It’s very tricky to keep thousands of young, excited and determined people away from a large site, as the police discovered. There being no mobile phones, we received a call on the landline sometime on the Thursday. A site had been taken, Sodbury Common near the village of Chipping Sodbury, then still in Avon, later Gloucestershire. Again, with no GPS we had to consult the obligatory UK road map to find the place, and then we loaded our system into a mate’s long wheel-base van and set off, having informed all our production crew and associates. Simple as that: no planning, no hesitation, no fear.

Having gained access to the common, it was clear that this would be big. In the end, as the ravers swelled the ranks on the Friday and Saturday night, this would turn out to be the biggest free festival I had ever been to; it was nowhere near the size of the Stonehenge festivals I had just missed years before, or Glastonbury, but much bigger than Avon Free in 1988. Press reports put the numbers at around four thousand, but it seemed much bigger to me, and I reckon there were a good ten thousand attendees on the Saturday night. We set up Black Box in front of our friend Roger’s double-decker bus, put the generators around the other side, plugged in the decks and turned up the bass.

It was Chipping Sodbury, the name by which this festival folklore, that would entered prove the turning point in the traveller/raver/free festival alliance. As far as I know, Sweat and Circus Warp were also playing, but we were so locked into our own DiY patch that I don’t think I left for two days. Hundreds gathered in front of our speakers, Jack and Simon played marathon sets beneath a clear sky and starry nights. It felt like a real gathering of the tribes. The Free Party People were there. Many had driven from Nottingham, Liverpool, Bath, Exeter, London; the atmosphere was wild, jubilant, ecstatic. People danced on our speakers, danced on buses, the sun shone the whole weekend, and, for the first time, it felt like dance music had not just been accepted at a free festival but had taken over. I sat on a traveller’s bus and stared wide-eyed as someone who will definitely remain nameless opened a bag to display five thousand ecstasy tablets and, again for the first time, it felt as though this synthetic new chemical had now become the drug of choice at festivals. And it showed.

On Sunday morning, Digs and Woosh took over the decks for hours, playing a truly eclectic and seductive set, moving from the house music of the night through funk, soul, hip-hop and jazz. In one of those moments where you realise things have truly changed, I watched with delight as hundreds of crusties, travellers, ravers and whatevers danced or sat down and bobbed along together to Lonnie Liston Smith, Roy Ayers and A Tribe Called Quest right through Sunday afternoon. Here was the true spiritual heir to the Summer of Love and the early acid house scene.

Chipping Sodbury was the first free festival so explicit in the presence of dance music. It was from here that most of the traveller’s initial hostility to house music began to fade. From here, trainers began replacing boots, ecstasy replacing acid or speed, and the unstoppable juggernaut of electronic beats replacing live bands and space-rock.

Not universally, of course, as some travellers never lost their instinctive dislike of house music, and there can be no doubt that trying to put kids to bed with the massively amplified metronomic beat of a large sound system pounding away for days would be a nightmare. But we had tasted the real freedom and joyous abandon that festivals now represented, and we had no intention of stopping.

Crucially, Chipping Sodbury had been a truly collective endeavour. Aside from the decks, DJs and sound system, where Jules was assisted by a growing team of proto-techies, a whole infrastructure of support was emerging. In addition to Rob’s projections, Moffball was establishing his own unique and magical lighting show, backdrops and decor. Different people would refill the all-important generators, without which we would have had only silence. Teams of the extended family would comb the crowd asking for donations in buckets, giving away love cabbages in return. Just as importantly, unlike a licensed rave where everyone was ordered to go home at 6am, these festivals went on for days. A truly eclectic mix of people from across the cultural spectrum were able to sit in the sun and talk. Hugs were often exchanged, and friendships were made for life. Mostly we were young, and although some of us were veterans of the festival scene and DiY had already been organising parties for two years, at Chipping Sodbury was twenty-four years old. Over this summer, our bonds with the travellers grew, and a core group would coalesce around this new, exciting scene. 

Harry Harrison, Dreaming in YellowVelocity Press, 2022, p.145-147.

Here is Matthew Collin’s account of the festival:

chipping sodbury as p228

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

Steve sent us this clipping:

sodburycommon91

Some photos of the festival on this page (scroll down):

https://www.travellerhomes.co.uk/?gallery=63

This was a year before Castlemorton and there were apparently house systems there according to this page: http://www.oldskoolanthemz.com/forum/chillout-room/11812-good-old-days-acidic-warehousing-bygone-nights.html (it’s a great article which was apparently copied from the now-defunct DiY discs site).

For the first time the major festivals appeared not so much as hippy events but akin to the great orbital raves of 1988. Here, indeed, was the true spiritual heir to the Summer of Love. The commercial rave scene could no longer genuinely claim to represent love, unity or spiritual celebration. Chipping Sodbury, the eventual site of the Avon Free Festival of 1991, featured various house systems and was really the first free festival so explicit in it’s reveration of dance music. The antagonisms many travellers felt towards these foreign new sounds, also began to become apparent. Fair point, if you have to live on a site with a baby, five days of hugely amplified house is probably not ideal. However, it is undeniable that the influx of this culture breathed new life into an atrophying festival scene. The Avon Free in 1987, for example, had been without joy, a paean to negativity.

Alan ‘Tash’ Lodge had some unwelcome police attention there, the text below is from his page: http://tash.gn.apc.org/photo_degree_ntu.htm

In May 1991 at a small “free festival” near Chipping Sodbury in Avon, a major police operation was mounted and road blocks were set up. The police were attempting to search most of those attending for controlled drugs. This “blanket” activity was held by our counsel to be illegal, since the police must act on individual grounds to suspect any particular individual. The law says that they must not make judgements on colour, style, appearance etc.

This was, however, exactly what was occurring and I was asked by lawyers to go and photograph the circumstances for later use (slides 134 – 142). I have engaged in this activity many times and know police frequently object or are obstructive.

This occasion was no different and while photographing, was threatened with arrest. It was never clear exactly why, but it would have achieved getting me out of the way. I was also subjected to a search myself.

The story is described in a statement that I made to record an official complaint against the police.

3rd-6th May 1991: DiY and Free Party People at Beltane Free Festival, Hungerford Common, Berkshire

This was the first time Black Box [DiY’s custom-built rig] had been to a festival and it became clear from the off that things had changed over the winter and spring. Hungerford was probably the first festival where the sound systems and the ravers had really taken over from the bands and the traditional festival-goers. There was some tension behind the scenes, but this was minimal compared to the the sheer visceral excitement in the air. For the first time, our movement felt like it was beginning to come of age, that it had great import and that it was growing. The feeling was irresistible and exhilarating, and it would reach a whole new level just three weeks later [Avon Free Festival on Sodbury Common].

Harry Harrison, Dreaming in YellowVelocity Press, 2022, p.142.

Any ideas for an exact location anyone? Any reminiscences, however druggfuddled, are most welcome as always, as of course are photos 🙂

Jen Jen aka mis-chief) who shot the video below. Thank you again for filming and uploading 🙂 We think it is mislabelled, it seems to be this event on Beltane on Hungerford Common, rather than a solstice party. Peasedown St. John was on Solstice weekend that year and can be found here.

There is a record of the 1990 event on the ever-excellent UK Rock Festivals site, but in 1990 there was no rave dimension to the festival: http://www.ukrockfestivals.com/hungerford-common-90.html