Formatted at 1024X 768- updated Jan 2007.
Tangmere (Seasalter ) Free festival.
August 27th 1976. Broadoak Valley. Kent.
Roger's adventures in Kent -Seasalter free festival 1976
Story and Illustrations by Roger Hutchinson
two ;"Being There"
After the pleasant convivial evening, somewhat bleary eyed, I faced up to the task of providing my tired body with a place to sleep. I had borrowed a very old canvas 2 man tent from my former art tutor at college and this I set up on the windward side of my pristine white canopy. It stank with a rancid smell that emitted from a dark stain on one side of the roof but the exposure to the fresh breeze off the Thames estuary gradually cured the problem (I found out later that the tent’s previous users had cured a leak in the roof by covering it in cooking lard). Snug in my sleeping bag I slid off into oblivion as a light rain started to patter down on my shelter.
Warm but stiff from lying on the ground the appearance and condition of the tent was a lot worse than I first thought in the grey light of the dawn. I was lucky that it had withstood the rain of the night and an alternative accommodation was going to be a urgent priority as seams in the rotting canvas had parted granting me glimpse of the surrounding camp. I reluctantly decided it was time to emerge and face the day. My first sight, on poking my head out of the flap, was of two grubby sleeping bag clad forms lying under the canopy, my second was of the very low centre of the canopy bowed down with a veritable pond of water collected above them. The poles were bowed and the guys pulling the pegs from the turf as the weight of the rainwater was about to overwhelm the structure.
desperate haste, I crawled out and shook the two bodies into uncomprehending
wakefulness , urging them to move out NOW ,which they did in a commendable
speed. I then crouched under the huge sweating bulge and raised my back.
Slowly at first, the water began to trickle off the four corners but gathered
volume to become four torrents gushing out in four directions. My two
vacated guests stared in amazement as I achieved a vertical stance in
the centre of the canopy as the last drops drained into the sodden turf
then I went round and tightened the guys again and finally put the kettle
Over cheering cups of sweet strong tea, Ian and Dave told me
their tale of woe as they had strived to reach the festival. They had hitched
down from Barsham Fayre in Suffolk the previous day and had arrived in Seasalter
around 9 pm. The police had picked them up walking down the road within a
100 yards of the festival site and took them for a full body search at Canterbury
Police Station 10 miles away.
After a great deal of predictable unpleasantness, lasting 4 hours, they were released onto the dark streets of the cathedral city that was blessed with a steady drizzle. Knowing that the only safe place for them was the festival site, they walked all the way back. Just as they reached the entrance, two bored Bizzes emerged from a van and demanded to inspect the dry contents of their rucksacks.
This was achieved by tipping them out into the nearest puddle upon which the two ‘policemen’ laughed and strolled back, harassment achieved, to their warm van - leaving Ian and Dave to gather up their sopping clothes and carry them onto the site. The dry carpet under the canopy was a godsend and they surrendered to exhaustion without a thought to the sword of Damocles over their prone bodies. I let them crash in my tent as the site began to rouse itself and I sorted out some breakfast for myself while I watched the crew put the finishing touches to the stage. This was a simple scaffold structure facing east with a tatty pale canvas covering for the stage and P.A. but above it they had erected a large projection screen which was complemented by a H shaped tower situated about 100 foot back that housed the sound mixer and lightshow projectors. It was functional but not very visually dynamic in the plain light of day.
The weather was overcast giving a lemon yellow pallor to the light but it was dry and the morning passed quickly as a constant series of encounters with friends old and new dropped by to maintain their high state of consciousness. In barter for six copies of the Stonehenge poster I got two small blue microdot tabs of acid. The chap was a stranger to me with a Welsh accent and said they were the ‘welsh acid’ and accordingly way twice the strength of the London LSD so I better be careful. Everything on the site seemed relaxed and together so I decided to start the festival on the next level of awareness and swallowed one. The early afternoon revelry was broken by the P.A. squawking into life and this drew everyone from their encampments to gather by the stage. Shortly after, the first band, Visitor 3206 (?), exploded into life. Pertaining to be visitors from the future – the year 3206, they managed to be quite convincing in this illusion with their high-powered funk-jazz and some of the audience even began to dance to the complicated rhythms. They were warmly applauded after a number of encores since they had braved the siege of thousands of police to play for us for free! (I’ve still got their only album and it still sounds good)
The field, part of Graveney Marshes, was a rough triangle of grass with the Festival covering about a third of the site and it was surrounded by a reed choked drainage ditch, which defied any casual attempts to cross it. Now due to the circumstances that had led to the festival being held here there wasn’t much spare resources that resulted in necessities like screened toilets. So as the microdot began to take control of my system the one thing that I hadn’t got sorted out before swallowing was having a dump and this under the influence of strong LSD began to take on the dimensions of a mighty quest.
I wandered the confines of the field fruitlessly seeking a private spot to unburden myself until I came to the slit trench to one side of the performance area. Squatting over it, with pants down, were two lads with ecstatic expressions in full view of the audience and particularly the band! Their obvious pleasure at achieving relief made their public exposure a small petty consideration in comparison and in seconds I had joined them, shedding a 100 years of Victorian social conditioning in one movement.
I melted in joy as I expelled my physical and mental burden and as we shared my damp bog roll my spirits rose to new heights as now I could really take off! Luckily it was the synth player from (my favourite band) Gong – Tim Blake, on stage next and he was a revelation as he coaxed his Crystal Machine to take us all on an amazing journey. With the efforts of the lightshow technicians and Tim himself, the tawdry setting was transformed into a galactic arena with celestial music to match!
It was nice way to go up and be gently brought down again.
The following day trying to affect some repairs to the decaying tent with some borrowed safety pins, I noticed a group of students with a 16mm cine camera taking shots about the site. I left my fruitless task and joined them, interested in their activities. It transpired that they were from a Film School based in Oxford and they had spent the past six months documenting the story of the Peoples Free Festival of 76 through all its twists and turns from Tangmere to Seasalter. In filming a backtracking shot, the cameraman walked backwards into an unsuspecting punter and his tent which tore and collapsed. Profuse apologies were given but it was me who repaired the damage to the cheap nylon affair so it was habitable again. I’ve often wondered what happened to the finished film - does a 16mm copy or video transfer still exist? It would be a unique record of all the protagonists involved in either organising the festival or stopping it.
Kick Off the Clothes Brothers and Sisters!
People Power expressed itself on the third day when the police harassment of everyone who tried to approach the site or leave it, had became intolerable and untenable - legally or financially.
Dr John, as I knew him, from the Polytantric Community in Chalk Farm, along with others, called a site meeting to discuss tactics in an attempt to stop the distressing problem. Publicity in the media of our plight was one agreed point and then how to get that attention from the jaded journos/photographers was another. The weather was still indifferent - grey and windy so there hadn’t been much nudity to visually spice up a few column inches about the Festival in the red top papers. So it was decided to stage a naked demo that afternoon, with appropriate signs and banners to get our point across. After a hurried few hours thinking up and drawing out concise statements we were ready and clothes were shed and skin exposed to an unforgiving breeze but with a repetitious chorus of 'No More Strip Searches!' we marched forth to the gate.
stood at the side taking photos to document the occasion as the mass of goosebumped
skin slowly approached the rise up onto the coast road. The slowness was deliberate
as this would give the media representatives time to get out of the nearest
pub and fulfil our needs. The police vans parked up either side spewed out
a stream of panicky plods racing towards us to prevent us leaving the site.
Well, the few members of the press still paid to hang around on the off-chance
of a story had all their wishes fulfilled and cameras clicked to capture all
the chilly willies and brass monkey boobs and tape recorders whirred to catch
the tedious litany of No More Strip Searches. The Chief Inspector whizzed
up in a Rover and tried to install a note of dignity and sensible dialogue
but it was all bit chaotic and they soon realised that they were dealing with
an angry, powerful and intelligent mob who were not going to take no for an
answer. So they left leaving the press to get a few tasty close ups and the
plods to stop us getting out, so the naked demo just turned round and headed
back to their encampments for warm clothes, a debriefing over a cup of tea
and a spliff.
The impact of the action, that day, didn’t immediately change the police checks/harassment, some of the papers mentioned it with a few lines accompanied by a few photos of hairy naked freaks with a slant that indicated that they deserved everything the police threw at them. In saying that, the police actions did became less assiduous simply due to the fact that they were turning up very little to justify the expenditure of energy and resources on their part so became more selective in who they stopped.
The following day, the weather was brighter and Pete decided (or more likely his girlfriend) to leave and go home which was a surprising move as he seemed to be enjoying himself. This left me stranded with all my kit but I was confident of sorting something out so waved them goodbye around midday after a busy half hour smoking all their draw before they confronted the police with their presence. With the big black van gone I had a clear view of the stage but about an hour later, a very heavy shower swept in from the sea and I suddenly found myself sharing the canopy with at least 50 others who had been listening to a band on the nearby stage. The social mix of people was delicious, with burly hell angels, orange draped Hari Krishnas, and a eclectic mix of short hairs to over-the-edge freaks all crammed in together. But we all got along fine with food and spliffs being circulated to while away the time until the deluge was over and the brittle sunlight gleamed forth over the dripping campsite.
Until now I had left my small dome packed up in Pete’s van but now it lay by the tent and I decided to fit the small geodesic dome together and place it by the tent to increase the windbreak from the north easterly breeze under the canopy. I had made this structure from lengths of doweling that were connected pvc hose hubs with the whole assembly wrapped in a sheet of clear polythene leaving a hole at the top to give ventilation (see Dome Building Instructions sheet )
I was feeling good about how organised I was and with my birthday about to start that midnight I decided it was time for another trip. I dropped another tab and off I went again on an increasingly magical mystery tour around the encampments of benders, tents and tipis. With old friends and new I whirled away the hours dancing to the bands, eating and drinking until I came full circle and found myself back at my white canopy again. This time I found it in occupation by a Dutch couple and my old mate Nigel and his girl from Romford who had pitched his tent where Pete’s van was. Nig introduced us all saying the he had met the Dutch couple on the road to the site and since they had nowhere to crash suggested that they waited for me to turn up and ask if they could sleep in the newly erected dome. I said ‘fine!’ as I had no other plans other that sitting in it on a cold day (they’re like a greenhouse).
After a convivial chat and smoke, Nigel and his friends wandered off to look about as dusk fell and since there was a definite chill in the air I lit a fire from the sack of wood that had also been offloaded from Pete’s van. Wood was scarce on site as it all had to be brought through the police cordon, so my fire attracted a number of warmth seeking bodies clutching bottles of cheer and other goodies. Nigel and his girlfriend returned and slipped into their tent where they were faintly heard to make nookie but no-one seemed to notice. A few more logs of the fire to combat the deepening chill from the now rising wind sent pretty sparks up and downwind toward the lover’s tent and we all moved closer to the flames to feel their benefit.
Around us canvas begun to flap and crack as the last band finished on stage, the audience gratefully dispersed and we were left with the hum of a generator and the shouts of people starting to make adjustments to their various shelters in the teeth of a modest gale. The only illumination in the area was a madly swinging 150watt light bulb hanging from a cable mid-way between the top of the projector screen and the Mixer/lighting tower.
My companions began to thin out leaving me with Ian, Dave and the Dutch couple and a few others when a strong gust caught the fire and tore the flames and embers in a mad flurry into the end wall of Nigel’s cheap nylon tent. To my horror and the others amusement, it instantly melted into a ragged gaping sieve, revealing two shocked faces - one upside down. "Oi!" exclaimed Nigel and his companion squeaked in embarrassment as I moved to snuff out the fanned blaze with a bowl of water, which turned to steam and enveloped their tent. Nigel was out in a moment, buttoning his loon pants only to feel the first horizontal bolts of cold hard rain.
" Shit, shit, shit!" Cried Nigel in post-coital shock, anger and pain (he had also stubbed his bare foot on a tent peg) and hobbled around to assess the damage to his borrowed tent. But we had all dived into the dome situated under the canopy to escape the freezing torrent and gale that threatened to destroy the structure by distorting it and thus pulling the struts from the hubs. "Hold them together like this", I shouted to the others as I squeezed a vulnerable hub in each hand and so there we were, seven people in a mad dance of sudden darting moves – a bit like that stupid game Twister, all contained within a 3 metre hemisphere as hands sought to stop the inevitable happening. The safety pin repairs to my old tent gave up the fight and as we crouched and stretched within the shaking web of struts the I could dimly see and clearly hear the wet tearing sound and ultimate dissolution of the smelly thing. Fortunately, to keep my sleeping bag and kit free from damp I had wrapped everything within black dustbin bags so I had no concern on that matter. But now we were more exposed than ever after the collapse of the tent and the storm’s fury shook the dome with renewed vigour. We held on grimly, now all experts in our desperate battle.
All around us was an audio soundtrack of ensuing chaos with shouts of help, toiling vehicle engines and cracks and tearing sounds as the storm increased its ferocity – the wind seemingly carrying the contents of the North Sea onto the exposed and beleaguered festival site. I could hear the manic plastic flapping of the bin bag that Nigel had used to affect repairs to his holey tent but from what I could discern of the heated discussion from within the tent it was not stopping much of the wind and rain.
I wanted to be out there being of assistance to others but we were held by necessity to our desperate task of maintaining our fragile shelter from disintegrating by the full employment of fourteen cramped hands. "Any chance of a spliff - someone?" asked Ian in his plaintive Scots voice over the howling wind and creaking structure. We all looked at each other but since there was now more dome joints to hold together than there were hands to achieve it. I couldn't keep this together any longer and neither could they , so I had to do some thinking to resolve the situation without anyone getting wet.
I was still very high….
" Right!" I commanded, "We are going to move the dome to the other end of the canopy and to do that we must remove the pegs that hold the base ring to the ground. If you can see a peg - see if you can ease it out with one hand, but lets do this one at a time!"
With some hassle, the six wire pegs were removed and carefully we managed to move the geodesic dome to the downwind side of the canopy without too many crises. I felt in complete control but the others looked quite scared and then shocked as I quickly stripped naked and slipped outside. My reasoning was that if I was going to get wet to the skin why get a good set of clothes wet too.
The full force of the storm on my naked flesh was very stimulating and I was shouting and laughing – revelling in the power of nature as I started to adapt the shape of the canopy. This was achieved by removing three of the poles on the wind side and pegging it directly down to the ground and dispensing with all the guy ropes except for those holding up the last pole. That roughly done, I dashed back under the canopy and told them to let go of the dome but stay where they were. I pushed the lightweight web of struts and polythene over and out into the gale, which seized it and our last sight of it was it spinning up and away into the darkness shedding components. This was all too much for the Dutch couple who fled also into the night never to be seen again.
Once I had cleared all the remaining debris of the other tent and collected my dry stuff together I made the final adjustments to ensure the canopy would stay safe. And with the shorter corner poles to hold up the roof against the mighty push of the wind we found ourselves as snug as bugs on a nice dry carpet with plenty of sack cushions and no more work to do. I shouted to Nigel to join us as there was plenty of room under the PVC sheet and seconds later they both bundled in with their kit saying that the damaged end of their tent had collapsed completely and they were getting frightened.
But no sooner than I had reached into my bag to start getting dressed then a scream of help came from the stage area. It didn’t take much reasoning to why there was a problem as the H tower had a small-unsupported footprint and in that storm, things must be getting dangerous.
I stepped out back into the gale and made my way to the performance area where I found a couple of lads holding onto ropes attached to the tower which looked more like the mast of a old sailing ship in a storm as the rain proof coverings, protecting the mixer and projectors were billowing out like sails.
" The bastard is going over!", one of them screamed, "The Merc van behind is full of people – get them out!". A sharp gust jerked them forward so without further ado I ran to the van and hammered on the side shouting, "The towers coming down – get out!" I needed to repeat this several times along with more flat handed thumping of the bodywork before a bleary face appeared at a side window. What he saw was a naked lad with long wet hair plastered about his torso and manic gleaming expression
" What’s the fuck up?" He mouthed through the glass.
|" The fucking towers blowing over an’ its going to land on this van!", I screamed back at him but he was looking up past me at the silhouette of the towering tower teetering on the brink of his disaster. "Fuck!" He mouthed and disappeared but a split second later emerged from their warm frugg with a three other bodies desperately pulling on warm clothes. As the Mixer and Lightshow crew, they were freaked at the situation but decided that the best way to deal with the problem was to remove the canvas coverings that were acting as sails that were pulling the tower over. More people from the site joined us on the ropes and as we strained against the force of the wind on the tower, we were treated to a death-defying act of desperation as they swarmed up the scaffolding with the necessary implements to slash free the green canvas.|
epic tableau was further enhanced by the dancing spot of intense harsh light,
overhead, as every shadow swung and veered about, adding another mad dimension
to an already crazy scene. A ragged cheer went up as a large section of the
canvas flew free, wheeling away into the blackness of the storm like a giant
bat, and immediately the pressure on our ropes thankfully lessened. This was
followed by another piece and finally they attempted to save the exposed projectors
and mixer gear by handing it down into our outreached arms. Once this arduous
task was achieved by the sodden and wind lashed group there were just a few
"Cheers mates" exchanged then someone killed the generator along
with the illumination transforming the place into one of indiscernible shadowy
forms and everybody quickly dispersed to a place out of the storm.
I felt ok, in fact more alive than I had ever felt despite being numb with cold. I skipped back to the canopy and slipped inside to see a circle of faces around a guttering candle in the old bedpan. "What’s been happening?", Was the general question but I was too spaced to answer except grin and grabbed my towel to start the long journey back to being warm and dry.
Just like other basic human needs, the sensation of warmth returning to my limbs and torso was very nice indeed and cocooned within my dry sleeping bag, I told them of the adventures that I had had just 50 yards away in the storm. The big joint (thanks Dave) in my trembling hand made me wax lyrical in a loud voice above the battering we were still receiving. The food and other needs were pooled between us within the shelter and we wanted for nothing - when outside we heard the serious enquiry from seriously wet representatives from Festival Welfare to our well-being. We laughed and were more concerned about these two kind women who we invited inside to be safe from the storm but they selflessly refused and vanished, seeking the next destitute victim of the storm. It was going to be a long night and one by one we all succumbed to our relative comfort and fell asleep.
Running the Gauntlet
The next morning was surprisingly sunny with a stiff breeze from the same North Sea torn fragments of cloud tore across the sky, a modest remnant of the night before . Extracting myself, stiff, muzzy headed but back in reality, from my cosy bag, I looked about in amazement at the devastation about me. Smoke was wracked across the site as haggard folk attempted to dry their goods and processions around dubiously fuelled fires on improvised washing lines. It had the epic scale of a post-apocalypse movie with hundreds of extras in authentic costume and ratty wigs busying themselves with a host of tasks all centred on survival. Many manufactured nylon tents had bitten the mud during the night while all the tipis and benders were in generally fine shape but visually added to the organic nature of the battle for recovery from a major natural disaster.
I found my Essex friends, Colin and Sheila, collecting together the remains of their canvas covered dome and it was obvious that they were heading back home as they were loading their small van. Sheila made a pot of nourishing tea and while we were sipping gratefully, Colin asked what was my plans were, glancing over at the odd sight of the reconstructed canopy. It was then brought home to me that I was transportless with a viable structure that I wished to keep and although I didn't want to go how else could I save it for another day ? Colin made up my mind by kindly offering to take the canopy and me back to my parents house in Essex as it was only ten miles out of his way. "You can always come back tomorrow", he suggested and with that I headed back to the canopy and gently told the slumbering inhabitants that they had to move as I was packing up. Like bugs disturbed upon lifting a stone they all scurried off to other safe ports about the site and within minutes I was adding my gear to Colin's , plus Ian and Dave who had decided to see what Thurrock was like.
It took sometime to load the van due to the quantity of gear and the fact that we had to smoke all the drugs before facing the police outside. We got in the back van and Colin pack the remainder of the gear about us so we could hardly move and then we joined the queue of vehicles heading off-site. Despite being 'clean' we did not relish being stopped and searched so we were relieved to make it onto the M2 without any problems. Breathing easier, we looked forward to getting back to a bath and clean clothes when a police car overtook us and clearly indicated that we should take the next exit of the motorway. Reluctantly we followed with no thoughts of trying to escape because the overloaded van couldn’t manage much more than 40 mph.
a side road on a modern estate south of Faversham we all stopped and another
police car pulled up behind us, and then started the big unpacking of us from
the back of the van. They made us stand by a tall garden wall while they slowly
emptied the entire contents of the van out onto the road and pavement. As
they searched every item with astonishing care, I was feeling very tired so
sat down against a lamppost and fell asleep. I must have been out for an hour
when I awoke to see my compatriots tucking their clothes back in. 'You awake,
eh?' asked Colin, 'You’re lucky, they didn’t bother strip searching
you because you were asleep', he added ruefully. I stood and felt in my pockets
of my donkey jacket for my roll ups and felt something long and hard and to
my amazement and shock, pulled out an encrusted hash pipe! This had been a
possession of mine but had given it to Nigel who accidentally had left behind
and Dave had put in my jacket pocket while it was on the ground during the
de-rigging the canopy that morning.
Without saying anything I surreptitiously flicked the offending item behind me over the wall where we heard the breaking of glass. ‘Shit!’ I thought, "I’ve hit a greenhouse or something!"A copper outside our van looked up at us very intently and we all looked innocently at anything but the wall at our backs.
Just at that moment the sniffer dog, a great big slobbery Alsatian began to bark loudly, inside the van by the front seats. The handler dragged it back and the copper fumble about and with a triumphant look on his red face, drew out a jar of…. Marmite!
" Oh wow! He’s found the Marmite! We’ve looking for that all week!" Cried Sheila. Upon which we all burst into fits of giggles. The coppers looked really pissed off as they had wasted two hours of delving into wet muddy gear and found absolutely nothing at all to incriminate us and after exchanging looks between themselves, they gruffly told us to get our friggin’ shit back in that heap and fuck off!
Which we did, with surprising efficiency although I found my plastic Russian OMO camera with open and broken hatch, with the exposed and useless transparency film coiled next to it. I was well pissed off at this although better of expressing sheer fury at their destruction of my photos and held my tongue. Still seething I was packed back into the van and we all headed back to the M2 and Essex, within two hours I was back at home base. (I had forgotten, until writing this account, this incident with the camera and I had been fruitlessly searching for the photos, on and off for months, that really only existed in my mind as images seen through the viewfinder) A leisurely bath sorted me mentally and physically and I cooked a family meal and was all ready by the time my folks got in from work.
After dinner (I didn’t have to do the washing up that night because it was my Birthday) during which I gave a heavily censored version of recent events to my folks, I walked out the front door and popped over to see my girlfriend Angie. She couldn't get the time off from her hospital job to go to Seasalter, and she lived in Rainham near the north shore of the Thames. I was hoping I could persuade her to come to Seasalter at the weekend if she wasn't on a shift. She was surprised and overjoyed to see me as she opened the front door of the terraced house especially since it was my Birthday and after a accepting a glass of whisky from her dad we escaped the cramped house to go for a walk on Rainham Marshes.
I had met Angie 3 months earlier through a friend who cunningly matchmaked us. She was Irish, recently moved to Essex from Wexford with her parents and was a sweet, naive girl who I quite liked. But I occasionally glimpsed the plans behind her eyes for our combined futures through based solidly on her own dreams of security and motherhood. We split up due to "intellectual differences", 3 months later and I heard that she married a rich Egyptian Gynaecologist.
In those days, the desolate marsh resembled Seasalter in it’s flatness except that it had been used by the military as an artillery range and there were was a chain of electricity pylons striding across the lonely spot. It was a clear starlit night as we strolled across the rough pasture towards an old machine-gun emplacement where we could sit out of the breeze. After being at the festival being indoors was always claustrophobic so it was very pleasant sitting watching the dark sky while warming ourselves by a small fire. We became quite cosy and were having a deep developing snog when Angie pulled away and pointed to the eastern sky.
© R Hutchinson
|I turned my head and followed her finger and there, hanging just above the almost black horizon, was a bright orange globe. As the hairs on my neck rose we watched it change colour and turned red and simultaneously move towards us at an angle, following the row of pylons where it stopped again. Projected downwards from the now pulsing globe, now grown to the size of the moon, was a blue shaft of light – like a laser beam. We said nothing but held each other tightly in an unconscious grip as a faint blue fire travelled either way along the hi – tension power lines from the connection with what could only be described as a UFO. We were both held by this hypnotic vision that blotted out the rest of reality.|
Heaveee", I murmured and Angie squeaked and gripped my arm harder in
The globe seemed to wobble or pulse and in doing so, changed colour again to a light green and shot straight up at a tremendous speed to be out of sight in a couple of seconds. This final act left us frozen by a dying fire staring at the sky in shock.
I said in a strained, uncertain voice. Predictably, Angie said she was really scared and understandably wanted to go home right then. Although the whole show lasted less than two minutes the effect on us was very powerful and as we both stood I felt very flaky and leant on Angie but she felt the same and we sat down again on the old wall. My heart was thumping and I looked at the spliff (last of the emergency stash) in my hand that I had recently lit and it was just a roach, puzzled, I flicked it, annoyed, into the fire. Angie picked up the bottle of Tizer she had brought for refreshments and we both had a swig of the flat liquid. Feeling revived we attempted to walk back and the further we walked the better we felt and climbing out over the overgrown rifle butts we could see again the bright lights under the orange glow of Rainham and the industrial plants by the river.
" Surely someone else saw that happen",
I remarked to
a tight-lipped Angie and I told her breathlessly of a local man I met, while
working in Rainham a few years earlier, saying that UFO’s had been seen
here in the past. This didn’t reassure her and she made to get off the
marshes as quickly as possible with me following right behind. At her front
door, the goodbye was perfunctory and hurried and any ideas of her coming
back to Seasalter were forgotten so I walked to the bus stop to travel home.
The next morning I lay there in bed and pondered the events of my 23rd Birthday that had seemed like a crazy trip especially with the related lost periods in time. Incidentally, the time spent on the marshes was an hour longer than I had estimated and I nearly missed catching the last bus. But never the less, these speculations would have to wait as I had to face the day as one of my folks conditions of staying at home was that I contributed to the running of the house. I dressed and mentally shrugging on a pleasant demeanour I made a cup of tea for my parents to kick-start their working day.
I wanted to go back to Seasalter as there was still the forthcoming weekend to go, with more bands and new people expected. So I thought through my plans and headed first to the bank to get some cash and then to the printers to pick up another batch of Stonehenge posters to sell at the festival. I then visited the library in Harold Wood where I scoured the shelves to find an Ordinance Survey Map of the Whitstable area that included Seasalter. Sitting at the table in the study section, I copied, in Biro, a large detailed map of the landscape around the festival site then I cycled back home to pack.
The special equipment that I thought would be useful in my return trip was collected and stored in my rucksack with a clean set of clothes and sleeping bag along with some of my frozen meals from the freezer. I took no canopy or tent as I wanted to travel light this time due to constraints that processions demand. I crossed the Thames at Tilbury on the dinky passenger ferry and soon picked up a hitch from a lorry driver on the old Dover road and by 4 pm I was approaching the police danger zone , so I jumped out just past Faversham and made off towards the London to Whitstable railway line. Dressed in dull blue and the cloud casting a dull pallor over the landscape I was fairly camouflaged but to walk with impunity down a railway line you need to look the part so I took out a BR safety vest and a cap and put it on and carried the rucksack by a handle and set off eastwards beside the tracks.
I came to Graveney where I saw a lad and two women sitting behind the hedge as a jam sandwich with two familiar officers drove past on the other side and crossed the line by the bridge over the cutting towards the Festival site. I waved to them and called them over, pulling off my cap to reveal my long hair, which spurred them to action. I told them what I was doing and how conditions around the site was really tough, hence the disguise.
They had hitched from Bath that morning but the last few miles had been hell due to the Bizzies being very busy. We introduced ourselves. Greg, Maggi and Sarah appeared to be taking commendable precautions to avoid even being seen and I asked for fun if they were carrying (I was clean of course) and Sarah started to say something about six candles when Greg hissed at Sarah to shut the fuck up. I told them if they were carrying it better be well hidden and briefly told them about my experience when the van was searched the day before. Greg mellowed a bit and admitted to having some in a candle, 'but you can’t tell or smell', he added. 'Better not', I said and suggested they follow me and 'lets see if we can get there without being spotted'. I tucked my hair up again under my authentic platelayers hat. (I had been involved in steam railway preservation groups in my early teens and had used this ploy to trespass to nick old signs and other railway paraphernalia that was unused)
Roger in 1973 .© Roger Hutchinson
continued up the line, Greg, Maggi, and Sarah trying to keep low while I strode
along in full view whilst keeping ears and eyes open for trains , until we
got to the jumping off point and started northwards across the fields to the
site. The map had shown me where farmers small access bridges across the drainage
ditches were located , so by using whatever natural cover was offered, we
zig-zagged though the pastures with their placid cows and sheep. This way,
we were able to approach the site unseen through the gloom, all the while
spotting the Bizzies with their blue flashing lights over a mile away on the
It was about half a mile to the site when I spotted a strut that had come from my dome that we had pitched out into the storm the night before and a wander in that direction brought me to several others. Then wrapped about a drinking trough was the remainder of the dome – the skin and many struts and hubs, so I dismantled the parts and wrapped them in the polythene skin for easy portage to the site for immediate future use.
We made the final hurdle of the ditch that surrounded the site with nothing worse than treading in some cowpats. They looked at me ask if to query my map reading skills A band on stage commenced their set and to the rhythm I looked for a suitable place to cross. At a gap in the reeds that thickly bordered the eight foot wide ditch, I stopped and pulled out a beach Li-Lo from my rucksack. I handed the cheap pink and powder blue PVC bundle to the others and told them start blowing it up hard while I made preparations by pulling out a number of bin bags and taking off my clothes and putting them inside. I unravelled lengths of string and joined them in their huffing and puffing to tie a length to either end of the growing inflatable. Now dressed just in a T shirt and pants I put the air mattress on the water and gave the end of one length to Greg to hold while I gathered up the other and carefully lowered myself onto the unstable Li-Lo. With one leg I pushed out across the twelve foot gap into the reeds on the other side . The water was cold but I avoided getting my leg covered in the black ooze from the bottom of the ditch . Gingerly getting off onto the bank I was pleased to find that I was only slightly wet on my front. Greg pulled the Li-Lo back and Sarah, now in similar garb climbed on and I pulled her across and helped her up onto the field almost dry. Maggi followed, keenly watched by Greg, then we ferried the bags across. Finally it was Greg’s turn and he managed to soak himself when he clumsily flopped down on the inflatable but he wasn’t annoyed for he kissed the grass on the other side, having arrived without any police confrontations.
Greg led the way, squelching into the centre of the site and I introduced them to a group of campers who I had socialised with previously and they built up the fire to help dry out Greg. Magi fussed over Greg, making him change out of his wet clothes while I chatted to our hosts and got to know Sarah better. The journey since meeting on the railway line had absorbed our concentration but I had noticed that Greg and Maggi were an item. Sarah explained that Greg was a student in Bristol studying Chemistry and had been Maggi's boyfriend for a year whereas Sarah had known her from junior school. It was a typical friendship in some ways since Maggi was a striking brunette while Sarah was less so with a bad scar below her nose that twisted up her upper lip. She had come to the festival in support of Maggi and I got the feeling that she didn't approve of the thickset lad who came between them. Greg and Maggi stayed in the old battered frame tent for a while, fiddling with something, then they joined us and handed me a plastic bag that I saw contained a big lump of resin.
As I had helped them to get safely on site, the pair (although I suspected it was Maggi who had made the gift) wanted me to take it in return for the favour. I speedily assembled a large spliff to cater for the needs of everyone around the fire and Greg proceeded to tell us of how he had come by the dope. It transpired that his uncle had brought a consignment back from north Africa under guise of sailing a millionaire’s yacht back to the UK at the end of the summer season and had given him a potion to sell to raise funds for his education costs. He showed us the candle he had hidden it in which Maggi had made by placing the tightly wrapped lump of dope in a bowl shaped depression in a box of sand. She added a wick and on top she poured dark green perfumed wax, once set, the sand had adhered to the wax thus forming a bowl of sand filled with a candle. To remove the dope meant destroying the candle, it seemed a lot of trouble to me but then stoned ideas usually were….
Carry on Camping
It was getting dark so I made a start to fashion a shelter out of the remained of my old dome and Sarah offered to help and together with a flysheet from one of the storms wrecked tents, still lying around, we made a very cosy place. Greg and Maggi erected the tent they had brought and even I could see it was just a two man tent, Maggi confronted Greg about this, saying that he had claimed in the pub before coming down that it could easily sleep three. He tried to deny this to Maggi, who was looking at her friend but Sarah smiled and asked me if I minded her sharing my tent. I looked at Sarah with new interest and agreed and she got her bag and moved in without another word. Maggi looked pleased and smiled at me, Greg looked grateful that he had been let off the hook in his devious plan to separate the two friends.
I got out the defrosted meals I had brought with me, borrowed a few pots to heat it all up and that night so we dined on vegetable and chicken curry with brown rice and toasted stale sliced bread , washed down with orange squash. It was all very convivial sitting around the fire with full stomachs, sharing a spliff or two, smiling faces lit by the flickering flames provided by the last of a rotten gatepost. I thought it was good moment to relate the tale of the previous night’s UFO encounter (being vague about who I had been with, of course), which held them spellbound. Greg was dubious and thought it must have been an aircraft and said I was winding them up until big Dave from Brentwood spoke up and said he had heard someone talking about a strange light in the sky seen low over the Thames that night. Then other stories of a similar nature were told and eyes started to look up fearfully to the stars above .
A band started up which broke the tense atmosphere and I stood unsteadily up and said, ‘Lets get back to reality and see a band!’ and we walked the short distance to the stage to have a bop. Later, by now totally knackered, Sarah and I meandered back to our abode and with the illumination from one of Maggi's broken candles we rolled out our bags , me trying not to show my rising expectation of what might happen. Sarah removed her outer clothes with her back to me as I knelt, pulling my jumper off over my head to see her lying snug in her bag with her back to me. "Good night " she said and turned her head to give me a sweet smile and that was that. I wriggled into my bag and within minutes was asleep, too tired to ponder on what might have been.
The following sunny morning, after a breakfast of porridge and muesli and while Sarah and Maggi were off site looking for a proper toilet, Greg and I wandered around trying to spot new arrivals to sell posters to. Evidence of the storm was now hard to spot, with many new tents, vehicles and friends we hadn't met yet, down for the last weekend of the Peoples Free Festival. Greg had no problem moving his stock as it was of good quality, below street price and was generally scarce on site. But the money he was apparently making was making him paranoid and he kept disappearing to stash it away in his tent.
Meanwhile offsite, the police had calmed down, becoming bored with their annoying games since their was so little reward for all the effort that they had put in at the beginning. The truth was, those high up were asking questions to the cost of the operation and the number of ordinary Bizzies had been cut back. Anyway short of a site invasion like that of Windsor 74, there was no way they could stop the event now.
The rest of the day burred into a pleasant haze of oral gratification and hot music.
Sarah became my constant companion as we interacted with the people and the festival, I felt that our relationship seemed to be developing well especially after last night’s slight disappointment for me. This was my first free festival to be accompanied by a close member of the opposite sex and it was really nice to share the experience with someone who seemed to take such an interest. Surprisingly this was Sarah’s first free festival and Seasalter was not the most romantic experience of all the festivals given the location, the effects of the storm and the heavy police harassment. But she took to it very well and got on with everyone and gave herself into it wholeheartedly, we even litter picked and cleared most the remaining debris of the storm into a convenient pile. I had noticed that Sarah even stopped her habit of holding her hand over her mouth to hide her scar and wore her long fair hair up in a big plait revealing her pale face.
She suggested that we have a rest, sitting down in the long lush grass away from the tents and asked me to roll up a spliff. As I assemble the doings, she shyly thanked me for not bothering her during the night but she wanted to be sure of me before taking things further. She produced a packet of condoms and lay them on my lap with one of her special twisted smiles, "I got these for us".
The half assembled spliff fell off my crotch onto the grass due to a sudden swelling under the rolling board. I looked about intently but she laughed, accurately determining the reason for my visual search and added, "It can wait until later - can’t it?" and gave me the first of her unusual tactile kisses that did nothing for the ability to balance a rolling board on my lap.
Saturday night was the big last night and our ranks were boosted by many more people from the region, coming just for the night. I’m sorry that after 26 years I can't remember who played as I had never seen any them before and never heard of them since but it was a good evenings rocking with an excellent light show. It was cold with a northerly breeze and a fire had been lit in the centre of the audience area. Being the last big night, people had plundered their own woodpiles to feed it and it grew quite large and the crowd condensed around it gratefully warming themselves. Just then one of the stage crew walked over and cried, 'you’ve gotta put that fucking fire out! Its on top of the mixer-cable - you’ll melt it! 'Somebody laughed and there was some jeering then a bloke started to piss onto the flames, exclaiming, 'it’s a fucking start!' - (predictably to great cheers). Through the crowd pushed two more of the crew carrying four spades, I took one and together we pushed the fire to one side and within ten minutes it blazed back up with the crowd back around it, enjoying the music once more.
stood back with the crew breathing hard from the effort and two of them recognised
me from the night of the storm. The bloke who I had noisily encouraged to
leave his van didn't recognise me at first and I had to give him a clue saying
that he saw a lot more of my skin during the storm. He burst out laughing
and slapped me on the back, thanking me for saving their kit and skins during
the storm. I told him I was just a foot soldier answering the call of duty
and honestly, I only did it because I was tripping, under normal circumstances
I would have been huddled in the remains of my tent like most others. We walked
back to the rear of the tower and he reached inside the cab of his Merc and
passed me a bottle of home brewed wine as a gift and so Sarah and I watched
the next band, sharing the bottle between us. Sarah suggested slyly, during
the band’s second encore, that we retire to the dome. We exchanged knowing
looks, so I picked up our rubbish and followed her through the crowd. Of course,
its always the way that when you have something you urgent want to do in the
heat of the moment, fate steps in. I kept encountering friends old and new
that demanded my time to socialise and I kept excusing ourselves saying we
were tired and needed some sleep and we got back were leery chuckles and sniggers.
As we approached the dome I noticed that it brilliantly illuminated. I ran forward with Sarah close behind and ducked through the door. The candle, that Sarah left burning to keep the damp off the dome’s interior had melted and had ignited a magazine it stood on which in turn, had melted one side of my sleeping bag which was folded up in a bin bag. Thankfully it hadn't caught fire yet but I could see the bag was totalled . I used the bundle to snuff out the fire and we plunged into a smoky darkness which caused heavy breathing and coughing. I picked up the smouldering lump and took it outside and went round to open a hole in the dome cover to ventilate the smoke away. We sat by the dome shivering, due to the woodpile being somewhat depleted. Sarah snuggled up and said with hint of a giggle, ‘I suppose you better share my sleeping bag with me tonight, as it was my fault your bag was burnt.’
I laughed at the situation but replied that it was Maggi's fault really as her candle was good as a container but lousy as a candle. It smelt better inside but now freezing cold so I close the opening, got in and blew up the Li-Lo which had served as the domes hot pink door. We slowly undressed, touching each other teasingly, each layer of fabric revealing more flesh to the chill air. Sarah stripped naked, her teeth excitedly chattering and insisted I took off everything too, 'We’ll soon be warm', she said seductively in low voice. We tentatively arranged ourselves tightly together on her open sleeping bag and she reached behind me and struggled to pull up the zip. Thus cocooned we gently began with some serious arousing, bare skin touching with a frisson of excitement. The bag allowed little physical manoeuvring, so being frustrated, I was forced to unzip again and share Sarah’s body heat with the now frigid air in a pumping bellows effect – sort of out of a sauna and into a cold bath and back again, twice a second!
I came to, in blazing sunshine, awoken by the sound of activity around us and the need to relieve my bladder. It was like a greenhouse inside the structure as the flysheet had slipped off at some point in the night, I was just licking the end of Sarah's nose to rouse her when the truncated dome collapsed slowly down on us. The plastic hubs had become so soft in the heat that the geodesic structure failed and we had to struggle to extract ourselves out of the tight bag and from the ruin. There was laughter from around the campfire with jocular comments like; "Surely you make the earth move - not bring the house down!" and the like.
Over a cuppa tea, shielding my eyes from the smoke and smoke, I considered my limited options for the day, as I had to be back in Earls Court on Monday morning. This was due to my arts company going off to Hamburg in Germany on the Tuesday and there was much packing and sorting to do and I had to get home in Essex first. This meant I needed to leave about midday but it was really sad having to turn my back and leave my friends, especially Sarah, but I had commitments and I didn't want to miss the Hamburg SF Festival as it could mean more foreign gigs in the future.
I told Sarah of my options and she helped me to pack which involved collecting the remains of the dome and depositing them on the rubbish pile – including the Li-Lo (it split in the night!) and the burnt sleeping bag. This resulted in a very light rucksack. Sarah was also heading off with Greg and Maggi who had managed to blag a lift to Reading in a big van but there was no room for me. Sarah agonised about coming with me but she too had to be back in Bath where she had an unexciting job with some window company.
Many others were also moving out and the Festival was quickly becoming unravelled.
© Roger Hutchinson, restored by GW Shark
walked round with me as I sought a lift in a vehicle and she was really
cut up about us parting as I was. The life at a festival was so ‘here
and now’ that the future wasn't considered but now we were faced
with trying to make sense of this new relationship outside of the communal
festival dream. We exchanged addresses, promising to call and write
asap. My address being the old church hall in Earls Court where I lived
and worked most of the time and Sarah wrote her home address in Twerton
in Bath on a discarded fag packet.
Chris gave me a lift to the Dartford Tunnel with no hassle and after two quick hitches I was home and two days later walking through Hamburg.