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The Weeley Festival.
Clacton On Sea . Essex.
August 27th-29th 1971.
Dick Wolff's Diary .
The festival was intended as a fund-raiser for charity, and that is how the Hillingdon unit of the IVS (International Voluntary Service) came to be invited to help run it. They were a group of local volunteers in West London, whose normal work was gardening and decorating for old people who couldn’t afford to pay a firm to do it. How much of the money taken (before the festival was declared a free festival) actually made it to the Round Table organisers is uncertain : there was a rumour that the ‘heavies’ referred to in the diary — presumably a security firm — siphoned off a lot of it. The diary is 'as written' shortly after the event, although a couple of explanatory footnotes have been added. I was 18 at the time.
© Dick Wolff, 2004
Memories of the Weeley Pop Festival 1971
(August Bank Holiday)
Geoff is suffering from worn-out leaf springs on the rear axle of his Vauxhall, so he takes Sue Stevens and Simon’s and my luggage (collecting Paul en route), whilst Simon and I go by train. Simon and I wander round the (pretty deserted) site getting to know the general layout until we meet up with the others at about three o’clock in the official car park in front of the church. We all go into Clacton by train, shopping for various eating utensils (having come without any between us), and having a meal — of which mine consisted mainly of tomato sauce with a few chips thrown in — in a rather grotty sea-front café. On returning, had an IVS meeting in the general information tent, getting to know some of the people from Colchester who are supposed to be organising us. Simon and I go backstage and claim the empty tent which we naturally presumed to be ours. Hillingdon IVS spends a comfortable night (and a pretty early one) in the abovementioned tent, while Colchester and others, lacking the persuasive powers to get backstage without a backstage pass, spend it sleeping on tables in the info tent. Only event of the night was being woken up at about half three in the morning by four exuberant females who were suffering under the misapprehension that we were T Rex (it was quite dark at the time).
Friday arrives! All up early (seven o’clock? That’s what it felt like, anyway) for no apparent reason. We make our way back to the official car park for a breakfast of (cold) baked beans and rice pudding. Well at least it helped to remove my queaze due to excess tomato sauce! In order to get over this wonderful meal we lie around in the hay and sunshine listening to . . . . Tony Blackburn (remember Olivia Newton-John’s hit single If Not For You written by Dylan?) and watching group after group of people build houses of straw and then get moved on by car park attendants! About 10:30 Paul the intrepid press photographer leaps to his feet and rushes off to the main campsite over the track to get close-up photographs of a fire : the moral to which is : people in straw houses shouldn’t light Calor Gas burners. After a while we get up enough energy to creep over to the info tent and demand our rights and backstage passes.
After such exertion, what better than a drink? Sue goes back to the car and falls asleep while we stroll a mile or so to the White Hart for a drink or two in the garden, whilst the locals stroll backwards and forwards trying to appear inconspicuous but having a good look at us anyway. Not that IVS looks hairy — I had the longest hair but made up for it by wearing pit boots, donkey jacket, IVS T-shirt and deerstalker. Simon in jackboots and bearskin (plastic) coat! Suitably inebriated, back to the gates at 2:00pm for a six-hour spell selling tickets with our ex- South African secret police (no kid!) and ex-paratroop friends. Good clean fun, though . . . we must have taken nearly £5,000 between us — quite a battle stopping it all blowing away.
Tried to organise a mass IVS entry into the arena where the music was due to start about ten o'clock. However, Paul and Geoff volunteer to stay on the gates overnight (under arc lights) and Colchester seem to have ideas of their own, so eventually leaving Sue, Simon and myself in sleeping bags in the arena, listening to Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Barbarian and Hendrix's Wind Cries Mary and Purple Haze before the live acts begin. We watch the light shows with something akin to amazement — two screens 50 feet square either side of the stage and incredible light patterns. Hackensack, Principal Edwards and Edgar Broughton are enough to send us to sleep — besides, it's pretty cold being a very clear night.
We awake about seven to the sound of Juicy Lucy, who play quite a good set, although the audience isn’t really in best form! We make our way back to the gate for an 8:00am - 2:00pm shift. On arriving we discover Geoff and Paul still on the gate, being helped by Jon Cape and Alan Cunningham. Paul and Geoff go off for an hour or so to get something to eat. They return about half ten so that the entire Hillingdon IVS is then on the gate. I am directing traffic coming through the second gate and acting as a car park attendant. Pit boots very useful here — my feet must have been run over at least five times. All in all a very hairy task — especially when I try to stop two chapters of Hells Angels which the heavies, without telling me, have decided to let through free to save trouble.
After a short spell selling tickets the unanimous feeling is one of thirst. After spending an hour-odd at the White Hart (which seems to close and open whenever it feels like it) laughing at Anglia Television trying to make a documentary and having very little success filming 'typical hairies' mainly because they choose to film members of the Pink Fairies who insist on making obscene gestures and doing a song-and-dance routine, it then occurs to us that we don't have any food, so, not wishing to live on hot dogs and Coke at 10p a time, we decide to do some shopping. The shop 800 yards on from the White Hart turns out to be closed, and on the return all we manage to get is bread and fizzy drinks — at a broken-down garage-cum-workshop. So we go back to the gates where Geoff’s car is. Geoff goes shopping in Clacton with Sue while we (me, Paul, Simon, Jon and Alan) guard his parking place and laugh at some poor bloke trying to sell programmes to entering cars. Paul gets the photographic urge and starts taking photographs of the heavies (especially 'Tiny '. . a friendly 7ft 2in) and some girl up above us on the road bridge. Eventually, being unable to resist his urge any more, he disappears with his camera for about half an hour leaving us to wave at all the sightseers in the trains as they go past (slowed down specially) and throw peanuts and apple cores to them accompanied by cries of "Look, mate — he hasn't got any trousers on! "
Eventually Geoff and Sue return laden with such goodies as cheese, milk and . . rice pudding? Thus rewarded, we return to our tent backstage, leaving Geoff on the gates. Outside our tent we find ourselves picking our way through a large number of Hells Angels and their bikes, who seem to have taken over our end of the backstage arena. Having dumped our stuff in the tent we pick our way out again and talk our way into the press enclosure to watch a magnificent set from Stone the Crows. The next act (I forget who) promise to be boring so we leave to find a very different scene. The only Angels left are on stretchers and the bikes consist largely of twisted metal. The neighbouring tent is decorated with a number of slashes intermingled with assorted bloodstains. All good clean fun! Apparently what happened was that they had been cornered there by the police for taking Mungo Jerry off the stage, and the heavies, being a trifle bored, had decided to solve the problem on a more permanent basis. Forty down, ten or so to go — they went over the fence! To our delight we find in our tent some Windsor Chapter colours and Nazi helmet — what a souvenir! However, some well-meaning fuzz decides that to save reprisals against us he’d better have them — and I'll bet they are adorning his bedroom wall still! After a while mucking around a few of us go into festival town to collect a fluorescent orange IVS sign we’d asked some people to do for us, so that we could put it on the outside of our tent. Whilst there, and as darkness starts to fall, Paul, Geoff and I hear tales of Angels massing at the main gates in ugly mood (over the walkie-talkie). Paul and Geoff set off for the gates.
As far as I'm concerned, though, discretion is the better part of valour and besides, King Crimson are due on in a while — and I want to be alive to hear them! On arriving backstage I find the preceding set is nowhere near starting so I make for the IVS residence, where it appears two barrels of Tartan have fallen out of the holes in the neighbouring tent, and a cross-legged long-haired gentleman is acting as barman. A full barrel is a dissatisfactory state of affairs, so using borrowed plastic cups (5,000 of them) IVS starts to do its duty. Fortunately the first barrel is almost empty before the fuzz arrive, at the same time as Paul and Geoff return with news of a false alarm and that the gates are going to remain open and unmanned henceforth.
The ensuing conversation goes along these lines :
" Christ Jesus, it’s the Keystone Cops!"
" Cheeky bugger, aren’t you, lad? That barrel isn’t nicked is it?"
" Fuck off "
" I thought so. In that case it seems only fair to let me have a drink, doesn’t it?" (Hint of blackmail)
" Grunt, moan, reluctant assent . ."
On downing it in one, the sergeant asks if some of his friends can have a drink as well. Pulling back the tent flap reveals about twenty uniformed policemen in a queue. Noting a distinct lack of choice, we invite them in and a very amazing social ensues. A number of fuzz start on the chat-up (some had brought their own ladies, two of which had the distinct appearance of groupies) whilst another one starts a drinking contest with Geoff, beating him quite convincingly. Needless to say, the second barrel doesn't last very long. Apart from the haircuts and uniforms the only way to detect the fuzz amongst us is by the way they keep hold of their helmets all the time. Trust comes into that somewhere, I think.
Eventually they all disperse, and at this point we note a distinct absence of Alan. Sue, Simon, Jon and I get into the press enclosure again hopefully in time for King Crimson. A bit of bad stage management is apparent here since the preceding band, Colosseum, have only just started . We wait patiently — which is difficult when Hiseman decides to do a three quarters of an hour drum solo, towards the end of which Jon and Simon, who don't fancy standing any longer, go out and sit on the scaffolding — anything's better than nothing. Eventually Crimso arrive and take centuries tuning up in the darkness. When the lights go on and Pictures of a City starts up, Sue and I hardly have the energy to stand. It's a pretty mediocre set, really — I fall asleep in the middle of 21st Century Schizoid Man! We creep out as Rory Gallagher starts up and hit the sack with a thump.
Sunday dawns and intrepid IVS Hillingdon is up first, thanks being due to Paul, though Geoff (having spent a night feeling a trifle unwell) was not overkeen to give them, if you see what I mean. We stroll through the early morning mist to a canteen tent and some rather bad tea, together with X from Colchester IVS. After hanging around for a bit we go over to the information tent to get our backstage passes signed on the back by the organisers since it seems that backstage security is going to be tightened up. It’s a pretty cold and blustery morning and since we have nothing to do we walk up to Geoff’s car for something to eat and . . a wash? There's a huge amount of confusion at the gates — the main road has been jammed since six o’clock since it leaked out it's now a free festival. Since it's getting on for eleven o'clock we amble along to the White Hart, noting with some amazement how far the original camping area has spread — right across the fields as far as the pub. The landlord has decided not to open until twelve, so despite consistent orders to move we sit in the pub garden till opening time. (Alan is with us, by the way — he had gone into Clacton last night) The small queue that has formed by opening time is sufficient to deprive the pub of most of its beer before Geoff and Simon can get there. It’s the first and only time I've seen a pub drunk dry. However, IVS finishes off the job by drinking out of cans.
By now the weather’s a bit damp, and so we make our way back to the tent, where we decide to eat in the refreshment tent backstage — except myself, who still has half a loaf and a lump of cheese. We sit in the refreshment tent for a long time, drinking endless cups of coffee — a touch of luxury. On leaving, someone hears that we are wanted in the information tent so we wander pretty aimlessly over there, where we learn that there is a group of spastics in the middle of the crowd that Colchester IVS is supposed to be looking after. Colchester seems to have disappeared, and one of the spastics wants to get out of the crowd. Paul naturally fears the worst (i.e. maybe he's had a heart attack or an epileptic fit or . . or . .) So a massive rescue operation (or at least as massive as five people can be) is initiated. Needless to say, just when we need to we can’t get into the press enclosure, so we stand at its entrance waving backstage and official passes and IVS cards and using much obscene language. In the end the druggie on the enclosure door lets Geoff and Simon through while Paul and I rush round the long way and Jon hangs off the fence waving at us all (?) Paul and I eventually arrive under the Confederate flag where this guy's supposed to be, having clumped through 200 yards of people (to the clang of steel-capped pit boots on Coke cans — it’s amazing how people get out of the way!) to find that Simon and Geoff have beaten us to it. So we wave at Jon — still dangling from the fence — turn round and go backstage again to find Geoff and Simon with this spastic (who’s enjoying every minute of it — he only wanted to get out to see if his tent was OK) propped up against a groupie van. At this stage, further havoc is caused by the arrival of T Rex with two Rolls Royces, which can only just fit in the space left, let alone turn round or back out. Combined with Quintessence coming offstage with all their equipment the jam is quite unbelievable. Geoff and Simon go off pushing this spastic bloke (we never did find out his name) and Paul and I go back to the tent.
Paul seizes his cameras and disappears. After another chew of stale loaf I go off in search of Jon. I don’t have far to go. Still hot from his exertions he is propped up outside the backstage bar. After remarkably little consideration, I decide to join him in a drink. By now the time is getting on for four o’clock and the Groundhogs are making a very nasty noise on stage. We stroll back to the tent and Paul, Simon, Jon and I proceed to indulge in a game of volleyball with a balloon over the light cable between the two poles, much to the annoyance of Geoff, who, trying to get some sleep, is intermittently woken up with foot (usually Alan’s) in mouth. After a while, we are visited by a very amiable (particularly towards some of the girls amongst us) drugged-up and elderly hippie gentleman, who amuses us for some time with tales of the Atlanta Festival in the States. Eventually he leaves, bedroll over shoulder, never to be seen again except by myself, who noticed him partaking of sexual intercourse beneath an orange stall at the big concert at the Oval some weeks later.
Shortly after this a tremendous racket starts up from outside. We rush out to see what is happening, and having climbed the barrier we see that everyone in the crowd (that’s over 250,000) is standing up and banging Coke cans together in time, and flinging paper plates into the air — quite an amazing sight. This follows a magnificent set from Barclay James Harvest, who had received quite an ovation. Colin King, the stage manager, is to be seen strolling around looking the ultimate queen in knee-length silver boots, tight black crushed velvet trousers and dark red velvet coat saying to everyone in sight "Oh good grief hasn't anybody seen Lindisfarne?" (In a fit of absent-mindedness he had forgotten to look in the backstage bar tent). Shortly after this (I believe) occurred the now-famous Simon Holmes interview with the one and only Marc Bolan, which went something like :
MB : "Excuse, have you got a light?"
SH : "Sorry, I don’t smoke"
. . an event which will surely be remembered for all time in the histories of Hillingdon IVS. Having jumped off the fence into the middle of a Melody Maker interview with Bob Fripp (King Crimson) and nearly tripped over Julie Felix I eventually join the others in the press enclosure for what turns out to be tremendous set from Lindisfarne. Their reception is tremendous, and their encore, the Clear White Light, will be very difficult to forget. The masses are reluctant to let them go but the voice of Colin King assisted by over 5,000 watts of amplification wins through with "Let’s hear it again for Lindisfarne for an amazing set. Now — do you want to hear Julie Felix?" (Crowd :) “Ye-e-e-s! The Faces? Ye-e-e-s! T Rex? NO-O-O-O!!" And I can’t hear a single voice say "Yes"!
Not wishing to hear Julie Felix we leave and go for a walk to see what’s happening over the camping areas. The fields are a sea of tents as far as the eye can see, only broken by the trees and small woods. As we pass the church we see that a wedding is taking place — not any of the festival brethren but obviously a local 'do'— the bride’s in full get-up with page boys to boot. Somebody’s going to remember their wedding day all right! Paul is in photographic mood and is shooting film left, right and centre. We go as far as the gates where the police are trying to solve the traffic problem still — and not making a very good job of it. On the way back we see a number of burnt-out 'residences'— fire engines have been apparent just lately as people have been rather careless with fires and the weather (now quite hot) has dried up all the grass.
By the time we return backstage, having witnessed a genuine Hare Krishna freak-out/service (delete whichever you fancy) the Faces have taken the stage and the crowds are really warming up now. This is a sight not to be missed and we watch the whole scene from the scaffolding holding the two hundred speaker boxes on stage left, giving a clear view over the barrier and on to the front of the stage. The light is just beginning to fade but you can still pick out the brilliant colours of the thousands of flags in the crowd (used as markers so you can find your friends — as the group of spastics with their Confederate flag — which otherwise is a literally impossible task) blowing in the slight breeze. Then the big lights go on in the lighting tower and the stage is flooded with light, revealing Rod Stewart in all his white-suited splendour strutting backwards and forwards flailing about with his . . mike stand (of course). Geoff decides to go and get some doughnuts from a stall just below us, and as he is in the process of doing so, a really rough-looking proverbial shithouse door groupie clothed in fluorescent orange culotte suit and heavy makeup starts to seduce him — which to his dismay we find highly amusing. However, he manages to disentangle himself and retreats up the scaffolding to safety.
Whilst sitting at the top admiring the view I notice the girl that Paul was taking pictures of on the bridge yesterday (was it only yesterday?) afternoon. So I climb down and try to attract her attention through the cracks in the wooden barrier separating the backstage area from the crowds, making myself look something of an idiot in the process. Having succeeded, and having convinced her that I'm not (totally) mad, I manage to get her name and address and leave her with the promise that we'll send her some copies of the pictures if they come out. (They didn't, as it turned out).
The Faces' set finishes. I go back to the tent and sit around with the people, polishing off the loaf that Geoff brought back from Clacton yesterday. Simon lets off a hydrogen-filled balloon with my name attached : it bursts before it gets further than 100ft up (much to his dismay). By now it's dark and after a quick nap I find they've all gone. Guessing where, I make for the bar tent, outside which ‘Legs’ Larry Smith and Big Viv Stanshall (Bonzo Dog Band) are entertaining various groupies by standing on their heads and smoking two cigars through their nose respectively. Inside, I manage to scrounge a drink off 'my mate' Tiny and have a chat with his 'heavy friends'. Being a bouncer at a pop festival is hard work, and after the fracas yesterday several of them are carrying rather unpleasant battle scars. After failing to scrounge another (and not wishing to argue) I join the mob in the corner, who seem to be making more noise than the rest of the crowd put together. Paul is having a great argument with whats-her-name from Colchester about her unit skiving off. Geoff and I manage to stop it. As the evening wears on, the party gets better and noisier — and needless to say more alcoholic. Simon and I go round the back of the tent and are relieving ourselves when we get the feeling we’re being watched. On turning round I notice a pair of grannies admiring us (I like to think) from the other side of the wire netting between the backstage arena and the woods. Noticing a rather mutilated rabbit lying close by (presumably a relic of yesterday's battle) I get rid of them by lobbing the poor creature over the fence at them. I never knew grannies could run!
Before going back to the tent we go over to the barrier and climb it to watch T Rex, who, despite the impression the crowds gave earlier this evening, are getting a tremendous reception. Even Geoff is enthusiastic about T Rex and is to be seen bopping away at the top of the scaffolding. Eventually, exhausted, we turn in — ready for a six o’clock getaway tomorrow morning! I have an exceptionally bad night’s sleep since someone’s filled the tent with hay — and I suffer from hay fever. One consolation though it means I am awake to witness a very fine firework display at about 4:30 . . though where the rockets are coming from is impossible to tell. Much later on, I actually fall asleep but am woken up after what seems like a few seconds by Paul who, typically, is up first.
Within five minutes we are all up, dressed, and on our way to the main gates. Geoff starts off with our sleeping bags and Sue (who is awake) — expecting to take a very long time getting back. Already the main road is solid with hitch-hikers.
As a master stroke, we had previously bought tickets to Clacton — the idea being that once in Clacton there would be no lengthy queues for London — as indeed there already are on the opposite platform, which is so tightly packed with people they are intermittently dropping off on to the track. After waiting on our platform, which is quite deserted, for about half an hour, with an old school friend who also knows Simon and Alan quite well, we start wondering when the first train is. Having found the station master, we learn that it’s at 11:30, which considering it's only seven o'clock is rather funny. A train comes in the other way and people start jumping off our platform and climbing into it from the wrong side. Why didn't we think of that? It’s followed shortly by another one, so we all rush across the bridge ready to do a bit of queue-barging. In the rush we are not noticed, and manage to all get in one compartment by making straight for the back of the train (which is much longer than the platform) and climbing up from the track.
The journey back to Liverpool Street is pretty boring, and involves standing most of the way — a blow that is amply made up for by waving goodbye to my old schoolfriend Colin, who is still standing like a mug on the eastbound platform as we pull out. The gestures he made at us were photographed but the pictures didn't come out.
The scenes at Liverpool Street station are quite amazing as the train empties. Cries of "Wally!" are heard everywhere. (Wally is a fictional character who originated in the bus queue at last year's Isle of Wight Festival, and who has been much in evidence this year as well) and every now and then there is a "Give me a 'W' . . . Give me an 'A'. . Give me an 'L'. ." etc. The whole station reverberates on the final "What have you got? WALLY!" The implacable London businessmen do very well in pretending not to notice the crowds (which must be a good 3,000) but when somebody tries the same trick with a "Give me an 'F' . ." etc the final cry seems to stop all the 'civilians' dead in their tracks and gawp.
Once through the ticket barrier it would be true to say that the festival weekend was over. After a hilarious attempt at getting something to eat in the station café we stagger home where, at Paul's house, we are greeted by the press on the phone. The stories Paul told them made the headlines in the local paper the following day and the publicity it gave to IVS gave us five new volunteers within the next fortnight.
Quite how an IVS unit in Hillingdon (West London) came to be asked to assist at the Festival I don't know, although from my diary I see that there was an IVS unit in Colchester, so maybe they'd put out a plea for help. You'll gather from this diary that despite being initially very willing to help make the festival work the organisation was so chaotic that we weren't really used and became pretty much hangers-on, albeit with backstage passes. I realise now that some of my comments about crap sound probably reflect the fact that I was hearing it from backstage.
Quite who the 'heavies' were we were supposed to be working with I don't know. I remember somebody said there was a South African ex-paratrooper or two there, but I don't recall hearing any South African accents (although being young and fairly naive I mightn't have recognised one). I definitely remember 'Tiny' — and he was well over the 6ft 4in suggested in one of your pages. I couldn't swear to the fact the the Hells Angels 'colours' we had were *Windsor* Chapter. Windsor Chapter had a fearsome reputation at the time. I'm reasonably sure they were there at some point, though — I remember trying to get money off them at the gates. One of them had a (recently) dead pigeon hanging round his neck and down his back — very impressive.
A sign of the ludicrous organisation : I remember we didn't have anything to put the gate takings in. We were under the railway arches and the wind was whipping through. I had a cardboard box under my trestle table in which I put the banknotes, and then stopped them blowing away by holding
them down with my feet.
Updated Jan 2016
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