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The Weeley Festival.
Clacton On Sea . Essex.
August 27th-29th 1971.
Geoff Noble's recollections .
Weeley Festival 1971
I’m not sure whose idea it was, but I went down to the Weeley Festival with my mates Billy, Chris and Theo in the latter’s Triumph Herald, well provisioned and prepared with groundsheets and sleeping bags. I was only 17 and they were all a couple of years older, so I was doing my best to stay cool all weekend. I remember arriving late Friday, tired and a bit stoned, but enjoyed Hakensack and Edgar Broughton (I think) before falling asleep. Looking at the running order I know for certain that the bands didn’t play in anything like that order, or even on those days (surely it should be Sat, Sun Mon if you’re starting at midnight?) but I’m also not entirely sure exactly what the actual order was. This is because:
1. I wasn’t taking notes
2. We had some rather good grass in our possession
3. It was a fucking long time ago
I woke up to Juicy Lucy fronted by Glenn ‘Fernando’ Campbell doing a bit of a Keith Emerson with a steel guitar. An extended version of their hit, Bo Didley’s ‘Who do You Love?’ earned them a good response; however Status Quo were, to the best of my recollection, the first band to really take off that morning. Within ten years they’d become a bit of a joke, but at that point they were the proverbial canine gonads. Their solid riffs and twin lead guitars were even rewarded by some sunshine, not to mention an encore.
By this time I needed to use the facilities, so set off on an expedition with the sudden realisation that I needed them DESPERATELY! Thus a steady stroll turned into quite a cracking pace, utilising all the dodging skills I’d acquired playing rugby at school. I finally found ‘The Gents’ which turned out to be a trench about 10 foot deep, feebly screened by some rotting canvas, held up by scaffold poles. In front of the trench was some more scaffolding forming a railing at the top of the ditch. As I began to empty my overfull bladder, sighing with relief, there was a yell, followed by a great deal of laughter to my right. I looked across to see some poor bastard who had managed to slip under the rail, up to his waist in a lake of piss at the bottom of the trench. Sympathy was in short supply – in fact his ‘mates’ then began to urinate prolifically all over him. Carefully minding my footing, I retreated as more lads (and, I recall, a few lassies) came to see what all the fuss was about.
Amazingly I found Billy and Theo again without too much trouble. We’d managed to stake out a patch pretty much in the dead centre of the field with excellent sound and vision. Our ample provisions were shared with those around us and supplemented by blokes coming round with trays hanging from their necks like ice-cream ladies in the cinema. A sign on the front usually advertised their wares, typically:
We bought some BIG skins and settled back to enjoy some really great, or at least tolerable entertainment. Fairly sure it included Stone the Crows in the first category and Gnidrolog in the second. I think this was perhaps when we first noticed the Wally shouting, which slowly gathered pace over the weekend.
Although my fading memory tells me that Mungo Jerry graced us with their presence on Sunday, it would appear that everyone else on this site has them down for Saturday. Whatever and whenever they played, it was an absolutely appalling set (without doubt the worst I saw). I suspect the only people that enjoyed them were also as pissed and lacking in musical ability as they were.
I recall going for another wander, this time to the right of the stage and finding lots of Hells Angels sat around their motorbikes with distinctly malevolent expressions. I suddenly got that feeling like when you swim out from a beach, then look back to discover you’ve been swept further out than you really want to be. Trying not to trip over any of them or make any kind of eye contact I headed back to join my friends. Gaggles of security men (were these the legendary pie-men?) were also hanging around, some openly displaying clubs and menacing grins. Peace and love this was not. Once again I found Theo, Chris and Billy with relative ease and reported what I’d seen of the stand off. My suspicions were confirmed when Hells Angels kept coming onto the stage and people began first jeering then openly shouting “Fuck off!” At one point I clearly remember one of their leaders grabbing a microphone and commencing some sort of speech in a broad West Country accent with, "This is Cloive from the Bristol Chapter ..…"
Strangely, although drugs tend to confuse the brain’s ability to remember and register the sequence of events, some of the clearest memories of the whole weekend were when we dropped acid, which took us through Saturday night and into the morning. I’d had a couple of trips before that I hadn’t entirely enjoyed – this one was the best ever. Meanwhile the couple in front of us, who were also tripping, began smearing each other with butter and cavorting around in a style known as ‘Idiot Dancing’. But this alternative cabaret was just the warm up.
As it got dark and the lysergic kicked in, Barclay James Harvest took the stage after a long time setting up. They were really just a fairly average, sometimes embarrassing, prog-rock band; but they had thoughtfully brought along a fifty-piece orchestra. In my altered state of consciousness this not only sounded incredible, but looked surreal, with the focal point being the conductor in a burgundy shirt, like an iridescent drop of blood. They started with ‘Mocking Bird’, which was repeated as an encore with ‘She Said’ somewhere in between. I had the album that they came from and still occasionally play those two tracks, like some guilty pleasure.
Al Stewart came on and did a solo set of material we were unfamiliar with. When he got into ‘Love Chronicles’ we were falling about laughing at lines like, "….but it was less like fucking, and more like making love." Billy could take it no longer, "He’s making it up!" he yelled, in a broad Scots accent..
Colosseum, fronted by Chris Farlowe, were next. I saw Chris play the Flowerpot in Derby in 2008 and he still has a soulful voce that doesn’t just sound black, it is black. Sadly elements of the audience took a dislike to him, which wasn’t helped when he started ad-libbing or scat singing, as Jazz people say. "There’s a d-d-d-dog on the stage, it’s outasight ….," just somehow didn’t compare with Al Stewart’s earlier ribald lyrics.
" Fuck off, Farlowe," heckled one wag, in response.
I’d seen King Crimson’s new line-up at Leicester De Montfort Hall earlier in the year, but was not the least disappointed when they repeated pretty much the same set, starting with ‘Pictures of a City’ and terminating with ‘Schizoid Man’ and ‘Devil’s Triangle’. Their sound was enhanced by the addition of their PA to the quite impressive Marshall system. Just before they started a voice in the darkness panned across the stage, "….. left, left left – right, right ,right….. That’s it, the Altecs should give you a bit more poke".
As the acid wore off I dozed whilst the night shift rocked on.
The first band I regained consciousness for on Sunday morning were Mott the Hoople, who had the difficult job of livening up thousands of hung-over hippies who didn’t ‘do’ mornings. After a couple of songs Ian Hunter wandered up to the mic and yelled, “Wake up you lazy bastards.” This seemed to do the trick and ensured at least half the audience vaguely regained consciousness (you could tell by the way they were nodding with their eyes open) and occasionally clapped within 30 seconds of the end of a song.
Rory Gallagher kicked off with a breakneck version of ‘Laundromat’, but it was the acoustic ‘Going to My Home Town’ (played on mandolin?) that really won the audience over. The Groundhogs then really got things going with songs mainly drawn from ‘Thank Christ for The Bomb’ and ‘Split’ – ‘Cherry Red’ being, perhaps, their finest hour.
The sun came out to some mixed performances by acts including (I think) Quintessence, Heads, Hands and Feet and Julie Felix. I met Julie a couple of years ago when I introduced her in concert. She’s still very bright eyed and passionate, but her repertoire still (sadly) contains that bloody awful ‘Zoo’ song.
By this time the ‘Wally’ shouting had reached a pitch with Billy being one of its most prolific participants. In fact wherever we went for months after he would roar the legendary name, sometimes to gain a responding echo from other festival-goers. To be honest none of us had a fucking clue why we did it. Perhaps it was a kind of Monty Python surrealism; it wasn’t big and it wasn’t clever, but at the time was the best way to have fun with your clothes on.
Meanwhile the tension between Hells Angels and Security Guards had resulted in an altercation, the aftermath of which I was witness to. On one final stroll I discovered several smashed up motorbikes, some covered in blood. It turned out that the security/pie men had launched a pre-emptive sledgehammer attack upon the machines, which the Angels had tried to defend with their bodies to no avail. I suspect Cloive and many of his mates probably ended up sampling the local hospital food.
Finally co-headliners The Faces bounced onto the stage. Rod had a lightweight alloy mic-stand that he threw up in the air, where I seemed to freeze, resembling the space station in 2001. I wasn’t a big fan, but they just took over – utterly brilliant. ‘Three Button Hand me Down’ kicked off a set that just had everybody on their feet, summoning reserves of energy that kindled in the warm sunshine to produce a most euphoric empathy.
As the Faces finally left the stage to a massive and well-deserved, ovation we gathered our belongings and headed for the car. Not wishing to risk another dose of aural torture following Mungo Jerry’s abysmal performance, we’d decided to play clever and give T Rex a miss. To our surprise we were not alone as masses of people made a dash for the exit, whilst the Bopping Elf was still applying too much mascara and deciding which silver jacket to wear.
As we drove out of the site Theo opened the sun-roof and I stood up like some hippie tank commander to survey the departing hoards, flashing peace signs and exchanging the occasional 'Wally'.
Hours later we were close to home in cold, dark South Derbyshire, when to our disbelief a ‘Pig’ pulled us over and, noticing we had long hair and bell-bottoms, decided he’d better search the car for drugs. He found our BIG skins in the glove compartment and gleefully asked what they were for. "We like big cigarettes," replied Theo, laconically to which Billy added, "Are those police uniforms warm, mate, because we’re fucking freezing?!!!". He reluctantly let us go, but as we drove off Billy wound down the window and awoke the echoes with just one more ‘Wally!’
Post script – Although I occasionally bump into Theo still (he hasn’t changed a bit!), Billy moved on not long after and I’ve no idea what happened to Chris. I was the organist in a band when I went to Weeley and always dreamed of playing to such a huge crowd. Despite continuing to perform to this day, now on guitar and vocals, I’ve never realised this ambition. My band, Delusions of Grandeur have to be content with more modest audiences, usually dozens rather than thousands ! Check us out or leave a message at:
Don’t worry, it’s a ‘Wally’-free zone!
Updated Jan 2016
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