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"Could that many people gather together today with only minimal communal organisation and such a relatively small amount of trouble but so much pleasure? The question is irrelevant. They would never allow us."

Stonehenge Free Festivals chronology.



The Stones, week one of the festival 1981 © Paul Seaton


Stonehenge Free Festival

June 1981

UK music press reports of the Henge line-ups.

    By the 80s the festival had grown to be a major event attracting up to 65,000 in 1984. Yet brief reports are the only coverage we have been able to find of the festivals in the mainstream press. Since the festival was closely allied to Glastonbury , we have included photos of the adverts for this festival so you can look up the bands who were likely to have played at Stonehenge as well as the mainstream festival. Click on them to see a larger version .


Right : the 1981 poster .This poster is a hybrid . Somebody took the lettering and format of the 1975 poster created by Roger Hutchinson and added the picture of the child and the new dates.

Poster courtesy of Big Steve.

click on most graphics to see larger versions

Pillars of Rock at Stonehenge Festival .

    Stonehenge free festival reaches its musical peak this weekend , with a non -stop succession of bands over the midsummer solstice . The organisers say that among the acts who' ve agreed to appear are The Selecter, The Thompson Twins and Black Widow .(Friday ). Merger, Misty In Roots ,Nightdoctor , African Star and Man to Man ( Saturday ) and the Androids of Mu , Inner City Unit , Andy Allens Future , Stolen Pets , The Lightning Raiders and The Deaf Aids. ( Sunday )

   Its likely that Spirit, Killing Joke, Ruts Dc and Black Slate will show up , as well as surprise guests - who are likely to b some of the acts from the simultaneous Glastonbury festival , unable to be named in advance because of their contractual commitment to that event. The Stonehenge festival is expected to continue until the middle and perhaps even the end of next week - being a free event , its duration is flexible and depends largely upon bands continuing to turn up during the course of the week .

    The organisers advise people to be particularly wary of police 'stop and search' tactics on the way to the festival. They believe these are likely to be stepped up this year.

List of bands who appeared at the 81 festival -from a list supplied by Big Steve, follow the link and see photos of the Polytantric stage used at the festival.

Red Ice, Selector, Theatre of hate, Sugar Minott ,Doll by Doll, Thompson Twins, Night Doctor, Merger, Androids of Mu, Deaf Aids Killer Hertz, The Raincoats, Thandoy, Foxes and Rats, ICU Lightning Raiders, Psycho Hampster, Misty in Roots, Andy Allens future,Inner Visions, Red Beat, Man to Man Triumphant, Stolen Pets,Seeds of Creation, Coxone Sound System Black Widow, Here and Now, Hawkwind, Steel and Skin, The Lines, Play Dead, Lighting by Shoe, Flux of Pink Indians, The Mob, Treatment, Popular History of Signs, The Wystic Mankers, Elsie Steer and Cosmic Dave.



An excerpt from the Festival Music Appreciation Society newsletter from May 1981 , we don't know if the tape of the 1980 festival referred to in the upper portion of the article was ever released - anyone have details ?

courtesy Anthony Hewitt

Two views taken at about the same spot show how the site changed over time and its position relative to the Stones . © Paul Seaton

   There was no doubt that Stonehenge proved to be a liberating and seminal experience for many of those who attended, Kevin Hegan from the band Nukli had this to say

Krishnas rock it up © Paul Seaton

KH: It sounds corny, but going to the Stonehenge Festival changed my life. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it. It really was anarchy in action. This thing didn't happen in the U.K.!

Right in the middle of Thatchers reign - an alternative state existing outside of the law of this country.

A free festival has such a different atmosphere to a paying festival. I had already been to Glastonbury, which had given me a taste of this kind of life, but Stonehenge hit me over the head like a mallet.

It was so different to anything I had seen before. It had the feel of a medieval encampment. There was so much going on - stages on every corner - stalls - and people providing weird tripping environments. It was like an activity camp for trippers! And everyone was doing it because they wanted to - not because they wanted to earn money (although it did degenerate into a drug dealers convention towards the end).

© Paul Seaton

The first year I went with Psi we didn't have a drummer, but it didn't matter - we always seemed to find drummers (it was our first hookup with Generator Jon). Again, some of the jams are on the first tape. After being seemingly in a vacuum as far as our musical style, suddenly everyone's band you heard were playing trippy improvised music with echo guitar. I felt I had found my spiritual home.

Used by kind permission of Doug Shaver, visit his great site Aural Innovations to find out more about Nukli and bands of that ilk .


Left : Dusk onsite at Stonehenge 1981 © Paul Seaton

Darting Tongues at Stonehenge 1981© Clive.

I dug out the attached photo of Darting Tongues the band I was in at the time playing on the sunny Sunday afternoon of 21st June 1981 at 4 o'clock, we couldn't get on the main stage but got a slot on the stage run by the band Beat Treatment from Bristol, can't remember any of their names but they were a nice bunch.


courtesy Big Steve

Tibetan Ukranian Mountain Troupe

The Blue and White Tibetan Ukranian Mountain Troupe tent nestles amongst the busses and vans of the 1981 festival

© Paul Seaton

The infamous pranksters of the Tibetan Ukranian Mountain Troupe were a fixture at Stonehenge during the 80s . Here is an extract from the 1981 Book of the Road, detailing how their busses arrived at the Henge around dawn ......

    And so , after Lunch trek , through the night with the infallible Star Fleet Tib UK , we arrive at Stonehenge. The first rays of the sun have not yet dispersed the early morning mist and as most there are still asleep the Tib UK bus trekkers bus, truck in slow grumble around the site looking for prime pitch . We drop anchor in the first space big enough to accommodate our modest enterprise with a good view of the Stones .
" Naw man the Stones will never turn up here man ,I heard some guy say that Spirit might drop by though .... "

     Its now about 7 am Sat June 12th . The troupe is all totally spaced on no sleep and night driving . I've just gone for a little walk round the site and sold out of lysergic gasket paper. As I look back to where the busses are parked something deep within me stirs as I see half a dozen figures, all in blue overalls with white faces and red eyes and totally blank expressions zipping about putting up the marquee . And all this before breakfast ! We are not alone !

   And indeed we are not alone as by now the rest of the festival is waking up. Stonehenge Freedom Festival 1981 is waking up !


Right :Henge free festival poster - probably from 1981 .

courtesy Anthony Hewitt

The Polytantric stage

   The Polytantric pyramidical stage on the left was something of an institution at many of the free festivals of the 80s . Originally used by the band Sphynx in the late 70s, and designed by Harry Williamson who played with Mother Gong.

   The Sphynx set was based on the Egyptian book of the Dead, thus the pyramid shape of the stage .The stage with its highly distinctive shape, which echoed the much larger structure used at the second Glastonbury festival of 1971 - survived several lightning strikes and was used by Nik Turners various bands throughout the early 80s as well as at the Stonehenge free festival.

Big Steve , stagemanager of the Polytantric stage from 1981 to 84 has these recollections of the 1981 festival

    Martin , who you can see right- brought down the PA with Nik . The base and some lights were supplied by the polytantric and put up with the help of Kristoff and Willy X and many volunteers.

   The pyramid top was supplied by Nik Turner. Generator hired from a builders suppliers in Devizes along with additional scaffold polls for the ramp etc ....

   Unfortunately for me a 18 ft scaffold pole was dropped on the third eye by two hippies, drongoed from day one and after receiving six stiches and two very black eyes I returned as fast as I could from from Salisbury general hospital ......... sound checks to do, etc (trying too hard)

   The next day I bought some Hendrix records from a second hand stall on site to add to the records I had brought to DJ. Band of Gypsies, Rainbow Bridge.

   I pitched my tent inside the pyramid to guard the gear and we had a ball.the festival was a success and the music and the bands great six days and six nights of entertainment ...............

  After the show was over and we were packed up we had a little party for ourselves on one of the tumuli staring up at the stars Sparks dancing in the summer breeze before the long trip home......................

Photo kindly provided by Big Steve -

The Pyramid stage peeks its head above the sea of tents and vehicles at the 1981 festival © Paul Seaton

Some idea of the size of the 1981 festival can be judged by the warped photo left ,which is of the main drag.

Nik Turners stage can be seen centre left, although just what Jerry Garcia is doing there on the right I can't say, as he was supposed to be in the states playing Alaska at the time of this festival , musta been a doppleganger ! :-)

You can view three separate versions of this photo. A 750 pixel version of the complete photo (click on the photo on the left )- or the photo split into two sections which shows more detail .

We've also added a series of photogalleries in Sept 2012 thanks to Al Stokes allowing us to use his voluminous portfoilo of pix of the 1981 festival. Al has several ebooks worth checking out , one about his festival experiences "Strange Tales From The New Age" and the other about the infamous/revered abobe of the legendary TUM Troupe in Norwich entitled "A Brief History of Argyle Street"




    The sheer scale of the event was beginning to tax the resources of the area, people needed wood for fires and would break branches off trees in order to get it . This became such a problem that the police formed special plain clothes squads to arrest those who were wood hunting ( see Henge police) . Those who ventured off site were liable to be stopped and searched for drugs as well as having their vehicles checked for MOT and tax infringements. ( see newsletters )

Henge Documents

Henge History :1972-1984


Peace Convoy:1982-85

Free festivals in the UK 1960-1992

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Free rock festivals of the 70s and 80s

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