Sunday, November 24, 2013

Friday, November 01, 2013

The Death Of Hope

Wally Hope (real name Phillip Russell but born Alexander Graham Russell on 9 August 1947) was an important figure in the UK underground back in the 1960s and 70s. He helped to organise the Windsor Free Festivals of 1972 to 1974, which were a fairly provocative action intended not only to give the people an alternative to what was seen as the expensive and controlled festivals like the Isle of Wight but also to stick two fingers up to the authorities and the Queen by having it in her back garden. The 1974 Windsor Free Festival was brutally suppressed by the police using an unusually disproportionate amount of violence.

Wally Hope was believed to come from a very wealthy background and was due to inherit a large sum of money when he turned thirty. He was considered by some to be a sort of English shaman. He had travelled widely and in America he had been enthralled by the Native American culture. He was an animist whose life was characterised by massive self discipline. The only drug he took was acid, which he saw as sacrament.

There were reports that Phil was able to produce miracles. One witness, his close friend Penny Rimbaud, who was later to form the band Crass very much as a reaction to Phils death and seemingly a man not given to fanciful notions states that one time on a warm day in May or September Phil turned up in his back garden. He danced out backwards from behind a bush weaving his fingers in a magical pattern and there's a grin on his face. 'Watch this' he says, winking, and he dances back out of sight. When he reappears he's dancing backwards again out of the bush, but this time accompanied by a snowstorm. The snow is lashing about in the still, warm air as Phils arms are twisting and jerking. The sight is so incomprehensible it sends their minds reeling. The people there look on astonished while the snow is swirling and spinning, and Phils arms shift around in the middle of it, stirring it up. The he winks again and dances back behind the cover of the bush, taking the snow with him. Finally he walks out normally as if nothing has happened. It's no longer snowing.

He created rainbows too. He'd be sitting in the back garden at Pennys house at a table, after five or six hours of working on the Stonehenge project, and he'd throw his arms into the air and the air would be filled with prismatic light, like a rainbow broken into many pieces.

His vision for the Stonehenge Festival involved the idea of taking Stonehenge back from the State, for people to worship at. The first festival was a small affair with only five or six hundred people turning up. After the Solstice was over about thirty or forty people stayed on. The Department of the Environment officials went to the Stonehenge site some time in July or August and the squatters were then taken to court in August. They argued that as the monument was given to the nation, not to the Department of the Environment, that they had a right to stay. The court found against them and ordered them to move. Wally came out and announced to the press ' These legal arguments are like a cannon ball bouncing backwards and forwards in blancmange. We won, because we hold Stonehenge in our hearts. We are not squatters, we are men of God. We want to plant a Garden of Eden, with apricots and cherries, where there will be guitars instead of guns and the sun will be our nuclear bomb.' He also stated that we are all departments of the environment. The group known collectively as The Wallies returned to Stonehenge and moved the camp about twenty five feet across a fence into common land and the whole process started again. They had made an ass of the law in a case that generated much newspaper interest and the law wasn't happy. They held on till Christmas Eve and then some of them opened a squat in nearby Amesbury.

Phil returned from Cypress in the spring and began preparations for the next Stonehenge Festival. In early May 1975 he set off in his distinctive and brightly painted Ford Cortina (with tipi on the roof) to drive to Devon or Cornwall and stopped off at the squat in Amesbury along the way. The police later raided the property saying they were looking for an Army deserter. (there are two Army bases nearby) but this didn't make sense as it was local police, not the military, who raided, and there's no such thing as a deserter in peacetime, but desertion is the one crime that doesn't need a search warrant. Phil was searched and apparently a small amount of acid was found on him and he was taken into custody. He pleaded guilty so that he could get out to attend the forthcoming Windsor Festival but because of what he was saying he was considered mad, was sectioned and was administered massive doses of anti-psychotic drugs. In the space of a few weeks he was turned into a zombie who couldn't even walk properly. Nobody was aware of what had happened to him until some friends were contacted by his legal guardian and a plan was hatched to help him escape, but when he was visited he wouldn't or couldn't give his consent to the plan.

The 1975 Stonehenge Festival took place while he was still inside and was a resounding success with thousands attending, Phils vision was brought to life. Two days after the last vehicle left Stonehenge Phil was released and somehow managed to drive a hundred and fifty miles back to his friends even though he was in an absolutely dreadful state. It took him two days because he had to stop every twenty minutes to sleep. His well toned muscles were gone and he was flabby, fearful, pale and confused. The sun worshipper was afraid of light and would sit in a darkened room all day sobbing. His friends attempted to teach him to walk again and get him well.

Some organisers of the Windsor Free Festival had negotiated with the government for a replacement site, Watchfield, a disused airfield. This was the only time in history that the government co-operated in the organisation of a free festival. Phil decided to attend although his friends didn't think he was up to it. As he stepped out the door there was a tremendous thunderclap and a downpour of rain. A bolt of lightning struck the garden. This was the last time they were to see Phil.

Soon after attending the festival he was found dead on the kitchen floor at his home. A coroners inquest was held at Brentwood but was adjourned for lack of evidence. A second inquest at Epping was postponed and by the time of a third inquest all the evidence had been destroyed. In the first report there had been mention of needle marks on his arm (he would never have injected drugs himself). By the third his body had been cremated and there was no mention of the needle marks. People at the time were quite naive and none would have thought that he'd really been murdered by the state, as these things don't really happen do they? There was a second death of one of the group; one of them was found dead, tied to a tree in Epping Forest with a joint in his hand. People began to get fearful. As Penny puts it "The court passed a verdict of suicide with no reference at all to the appalling treatment that had been the direct cause of it. Our inquiries convinced us that what had happened was not an accident. The state had intended to destroy Wally's spirit, if not his life, because he was a threat, a fearless threat who they hoped they could destroy without much risk of embarrassment."

The Stonehenge Free Festival would go on to become a huge success, attracting bigger and bigger crowds every year until the last one in 1984, which had about seventy thousand people attending. It was anarchy in action and it worked, a largely peaceful and crime free event where people policed themselves and shared much of what they had. No wonder it had to be destroyed by the authorities, and it was. Our darling Margaret Thatchers government, fresh from the previous years success of violently confronting the miners picket at the Battle of Orgreave with over a thousand police, proclaimed the festival was cancelled and they harassed the Peace Convoy bus dwellers across the country during the early part of the summer. Heading for Stonehenge in 1985 and having done nothing illegal they were diverted into a beanfield where they were descended upon by an out of control police force who smashed and burnt buses and beat the living shit out of the people there in what has become known as The Battle of the Beanfield.

I was a young festival goer in the early eighties and watched aghast at the unfolding events. Footage of the extreme police violence at the beanfield was shown once on the lunchtime news before much of it was stolen overnight after the TV studio was broken into and the remaining footage, apart from a single TV documentary, was unavailable to view for more than twenty years and the advent of the internet. The whole business was covered up. Anyone who had seen it at the time were horrified by the level of police violence and there were calls for a public inquiry, but none was ever held.

This was the end of the Stonehenge Free Festival and here we are twenty eight years later and the festival has never taken place again. Our small dreams of freedom were crushed by the state.

There is a nice, though badly laid out, website which celebrates the free festivals and the old and mainly vanished festival culture in general. I attended many of them when I was a young lad, generally hitchhiking and skint, though for various reasons and much to my lasting regret I never made it to Stonehenge. Of course I didn't realise at the time that the 1984 one would be the last one. I saw the true festival spirit destroyed through the 80's and witnessed them turning from nice happy events into dark unpleasant money making schemes. The fences went up and the last time I went to a festival I was disgusted to see cashpoint machines there. The worst of the cities had come to the country.

Nowadays you can go to events such as Glastonbury, if you are able to get an expensive and almost unobtainable ticket. Behind its massive concentration camp fence you can hobnob with the likes of royalty, supermodels and the revolting Cherie Blair, that's how bad they have become.

From the Festival website I have nicked two more stories that I would like to pass on about some of the strange encounters that some had at Stonehenge, I'd like to finish on a happier, though weirder note. Make of them what you will...

- - - - - At the end , we were taking down the pyramid with Here & Now + crew and Nik Turner after 6 days and nights of fabulous feasting, the weather was out of sight - glorious sunshine and blue skies. We got down to the last piece and top of the pyramid to dismantle when a storm appeared from nowhere. As I quickly undid the last few nuts and bolts and threw the few remaining scaffold poles on to a flat bed truck lightning and thunder rolled all around me, I was left looking down at the huge circle of flattened daisies that Sid Rawles and I had dowsed at the beginning to locate the stage.

Turning, I headed for a teepee to seek shelter when suddenly I noticed a figure laying on the ground between me and the teepee. As I got closer he lifted his arm. "We enjoyed the festival this year" he said pointing with a finger toward the burial mounds. "Thanks" I said. Looking at his face I was shocked to see that where his left eye should have been there was a black hole. Nervously I hurried towards the teepee 25 feet in front of me to take a warm cup of tea from Nik who was inside
"Do you know what I have just seen"I said, turning round, "look."

But nothing . The figure had vanished.

"What" said Nik. A huge lightning bolt crashed into the centre of the stones. I shrugged my shoulders, lost in my thoughts, sipping on the piping hot brew. Was he one of the princes of stones somehow hologramed across centuries to thank me for our celebration? This was cosmic energy and way beyond the manifestations of divine synchronicity and discharges of weather magic.

God only knows.
big steve.

Big Steve talks about the 'one eyed' guy who told him they'd "enjoyed the festival", and then vanished. Eerily, something very similar and strange happened to me on the dawn when Hawkwind were playing. Here goes, and this is the first time I've ever committed this to writing.

As the sun rose over the heelstone, and Hawkwind were grinding their way into the daylight, I looked around me at the folk who were stood and sat all around within the huge circle in the centre of Stonehenge. The usual array of stoners, hippes, bikers, witches and druids were my companions that morning.

But one group caught my attention. They were seven or eight young men, about my age (I was 22 at the time), and they looked very happy and excited. They were about 15 feet away from me. They all had long and well-washed hair, (neatly trimmed,) and were clan shaven. Their clothes were soft leather jerkins over leather trousers and moccasin style knee length boots, some were in brown, some in grey, and almost all their clothes were identical. The clothes were stitched with strips of leather too, but done with twists and knots that made them look superb.   

Some carried long staves, slender and decorated with plaited leather sections. The wood was polished - not varnished. Some of the guys sat on the smaller stones, which others lounged about beside them, they stood idly chatting, laughing and grinning at each other, almost as if they had got into a major cup final - for free. They pointed things out on the campsite to each other, nodding approval at the tents and banners. They were clearly elated, and really very pleased with what they saw.

I watched them for about ten minutes, marvelling at the similarity of their clothes and the wind blowing their long hair about. I imagined they were some kind of back-to-nature bikers, probably with a keen interest in advanced leathercraft...

Then I looked away for a few moments to look at the druids, and when I looked back, the group of guys had vanished. Completely. But the space where they had stood and sat, was empty - though we were all hard packed together within the stones. Other people moved to stand or sit where they had been. A few people were looking puzzled, but in that atmosphere (after a long night of psychedelic excess) I guess they just thought they were getting some kind of flashback or something.

I personally wasn't wrecked or stoned, and was even reasonably sober.

I've never mentioned this since to anyone except my wife. But Big Steves account of meeting the 'one eyed man' brought the whole scene into focus again for me. Twenty five years on, I can still clearly see those guys in my minds' eye, and still feel their great sense of elation and deep love for the festival. I wrote reports of that years' festival for several music magazines that I was contributing to at that time, and while I was tempted to mention the incident with those guys, common sense dictated that my editors would probably scrap that section as being just too way out...

I wonder if anyone else remembers them appearing/disappearing that cool morning? Were/are they the Guardians of the Stones? Travellers from another age or dimension? I have no idea - just a lot of conjectures and theories. But one thing is for sure - they were absolutely loving the event!
Tim O - - - - - -

I must add a grovelling apology to the author C.J.Stone for lifting a lot of writing from his book Fierce Dancing (Faber & Faber 1996) pretty much verbatim for this piece. Sorry Chris. Here is a link to his website where you can also get copies of his book. (Links not working here so I've put them in the comments) Operation Solstice, the documentary about the battle of the beanfield is linked here: