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The Weeley Festival.
Clacton On Sea . Essex.
August 27th-29th 1971.
Bill Greenwell's Recollections .
He was totally incoherent at first, but the words 'mates' and 'spades' eventually emerged. He was sweating and frightened. The full sentence, when it finally transpired, was 'They done my mates over with spades'. It was backstage at Weeley, and he'd run from the area in front of the stadium, where there was a compound. Inside this compound, there were very large men with Alsatian dogs, and jeeps. Their function was to protect the hot-dog vendors.
They were Security (I've often wondered if it was a protection racket). But then, I was Security, too. And so were the group of Clacton painters, decorators etc.: Security hired by the local shopkeepers who had originally set the thing up. To these three Securities were inevitably added a fourth: the local chapter of Hell's Angels, who regarded it as their inalienable right etc. to mind the stage. With four lots of Security, it's no surprise people ended up doing each other over with spades. And clubs, I was about to discover, in my innocent way.
left: inert bodies of Angels who had been 'done over " by the Pie Men © Adam Tailor
I first heard about Weeley early that summer. I was an ex-public school and damp-behind-the-ears Oxford undergraduate, not quite nineteen, and I was hitching to High Wycombe. A battered van stopped for me, and its driver impressed me by rolling a joint and managing the steering wheel at the same time. Very impressive. We talked about the Isle of Wight the previous year, and he told me that the 1971 re-run was definitely off. The promoters had run into difficulty, but had re-located at a place near Clacton. He had a mate who was in charge of Security there. Did I want a job? I most certainly did. Free entrance to a festival! Payment to be at a festival! This was far more than the medicine man had ordered. When I returned to college, I duly phoned the number. £3 a day, turn up on the Thursday, and the firm was called Marshall Security.
But I turned up much earlier, having idly hitched around East Anglia for an unproductive few days (romantic problems). When I arrived at Weeley, there were about 200 festival-goers already encamped. The two blokes running 'Marshall Security' seemed pleased to see me. "You're the third, Bill," they told me. "You can be in charge of the walkie-talkies." I slept the first night in a tent with the walkie-talkies, feeling very self-important indeed. I was Number Three. I had My Own Walkie-Talkie. For a still spotty teenager, this was unbelievable power. I was catapulted into the hierarchy of the organisation which, so I was told, had been hired by the promoters to run the show. I had a backstage pass. In a couple of days time, I would be told I was 'in charge of backstage security'. My head was not turned so much as sent on a continuous swivel.
Weeley was always going to be a disaster. By the end of the week, I had most of the story straight. The local Round Table held an annual event for charity. Usually, it was a donkey derby, but someone who'd been watching too much TV decided that a 'pop festival' would be an interesting departure. They had a site, and they lined up a few bands, with the optimistic intention of attracting 5000 people. In no time at all, these scions of Clacton's shopkeeping class would be out of their depth. When the Isle of Wight plans folded, the organisers latched on to Weeley. At some point, the organising committee must have had imaginary wads of cash flashed before their eyes, because they naively let the whole thing mushroom. They had no proper facilities. And they had no idea of what might happen at a rock festival. The Round Table did, however, take the precaution of hiring in local lads as Security - the chemists and the dentists hiring the painters and the brickies.
A guard , plus dogg © Molesworth
On the second day, armed with my walkie-talkie, I set off to meet my bosses. "We're putting you in charge of the money," they said. They threw in an ex US Army jeep (a 'Champ' with four gears in reverse as well as forward). And they gave me a bodyguard. The bodyguard was huge - at least 6' 4", maybe taller. He was one of the local Clacton men. At this stage 'being in charge of the money' was a fairly minor responsibility. There was a trickle of custom. The arrivals paid the local blokes, who sat at a trestle table. I suggested keeping track of how many were coming in, a suggestion that was curiously deflected. When you are a naive not-quite-nineteen-year-old, it never occurs to you that money is there for putting in capacity back pockets. The 'takings' rapidly became beyond my control, and I was assigned to the more serious problem of watching holes in the fence for those attempting to elude payment.
The fence © Molesworth
Number Three was now in charge of a fair number of fence watchers, and drove his jeep about the perimeter with mounting megalomania. The walkie-talkie network was expanding, and the airwaves crackled with chit-chat. The fire-watchers (all Welsh, for some reason) had a line which they used to transmit Radio Luxembourg to the others in the evenings. And fire was a problem. The heat helped produce some nasty flash fires, although the worst casualty I saw was a motor-bike. Several tents went up, and allowed me yet another Big Thrill. I was allowed to do A Stage Announcement. Addressing the sweaty multitude through the massed banks of speakers was the unbelievable privilege dreamed of by my generation of Woodstock-watchers. I was to appeal on behalf of all those who'd lost their belongings in fires. It makes me cringe just to think of it. "Listen, people," I began in a faintly transatlantic drawl. A few coke-cans full of cash came back to the stage.
Weird scenes backstage © Molesworth
I hope I am creating an impression of organisational chaos, because that's what was happening. The takings were being siphoned away; the man in charge of the Round Table was hit by personal disaster in the middle of the week (his daughter was drowned); after he vanished to sort out his life, re-appearing only to accept a large cheque from Julie Felix, there was not even the semblance of order. I can't remember his name. I think he realised the mess he and his colleagues had been led into. He was quiet and unassuming, instantly generous. He lent me his car to drive into Clacton (I had to take someone to fetch something), and I managed to dent it by taking a corner too quickly. There were no recriminations.
By this time (about the time the actual music started with a band called Hackensack) I can only have been poncing about. Before the bands began to play, I was ready for sterling efforts like climbing the lighting tower to work out why the person on top with the walkie-talkie wasn'tresponding. After that, I relaxed most of my braincells. I attempted a sleep. Because I was wearing the then-trendy plastic trainers, in the days before OdorEaters, and because I had not removed them for a week, the incense-heavy backstage Hare Krishna tent was the only possible place to sleep, and even here there were complaints. The toilet facilities were by now serious hazards to health. There was one full Elsan backstage. For the hoi-polloi, there were two long iron poles (pee between them, or crap by sitting on the lower bar and resting against the top one), and there was a malodorous trench. Into it someone inevitably fell. I saw him emerge. His comment on this unusual experience was understated cliche of the first order. "That was a bad trip," he announced, vaguely.
In the meantime, the Alsatian-filled compound had been set up, and the Hell's Angels had arrived. Backstage Security (Head of) took the view that que sera sera, and that there was no point interfering with nature. Alas, Backstage Security (Head of) was enjoying the above-mentioned sleep when the main fracas started. The Hell's Angels had not taken kindly to a member of the hot-dog traders' heavies, and had thrown him clean across the stage. This was what triggered a pitched battle, and what led to the man running backstage, gasping that 'they done my mates over with spades'. Several eyes alighted on me. Here was I, Number Three on the walkie-talkie system, In Charge (although I can remember doing nothing to justify my post), and there were people fighting?
Fun with the Austin champ
In Gerard Hoffnung's monologue about the bricklayer, there is the famous line "At this point I must have lost my presence of mind." The extent of mine's presence was questionable in the first place, but anything remaining vanished at this point.
With a fatal mixture of earnest outrage and total naivety, I set off, barefoot, to 'sort it out'. I remember getting to the other side of the arena, only to find some vaguely dazed people mumbling about a fight. "Where are the Angels?" I asked, and was pointed to the path leading round the arena towards backstage (i.e. to follow them I had to complete the circle). I came upon four or five disconsolate Angels.
I promise you this happened.
"Look," I called out, "what exactly has been going on?"
I had no idea what I was doing. Here was I, a spotty undergraduate in a ragged football shirt and jeans, apparently about to lecture some greasy bikers about non-violence. They turned towards me, mumbling something about "not their fault", and then suddenly gazed fearfully at me. Eh? I looked over my shoulder. Oh.
About ten or twelve very large men, carrying improvised clubs, and from the compound, were stalking towards me. I played the hero while the Angels dashed off. I stood in the middle of the path, and said, "This has got to stop," or something equally vacuous. One of them clubbed me into the ditch (he apologised later). They went on to smash up the Angels' bikes, and I went off, feeling very bruised, for some brandy. I remember seeing the Angels wheeling the shattered machines away. They were crying. It was very peculiar.
The Angels decamp- very fast ..... © Adam Tailor
Numbers One and Two had by this time done a bunk, and someone else was in charge, which was the end of my delusions of grandeur. I was sent back to fence-watching, which was what I'd signed up for. But I soon packed that in, and spent the remains of the festival watching the music or vaguely 'being backstage' in the classic fashion of a hanger-on. The music, incidentally, was only so-so, what I saw. King Crimson were efficient, and Marc Bolan turned out to be a far better guitarist than expected. It was an all-British event, and Bolan was taking a chance by appearing, since T. Rex were deemed a sell-out in practically everyone's book. The Faces were riding high on Rod Stewart's solo album Every Picture Tells A Story, and its single, Maggie May. But I remember acts like Heads, Hands and Feet with more affection, and I also wonder what ever happened to the singer with Gringo, whose only album I bought on the basis of their performance. I must have missed several acts through being brain-dead or otherwise engaged, as in the weird task of helping some wheelchair-bound physically-handicapped people, possibly against their will, to places in front of the lighting tower while Stone The Crows were playing.
The trashing of the Angels bikes © Adam Tailor
A few of the casualties
I left Weeley with £12 (pay), an inflated ego, and most of my innocence in place. The festival lost money - most of it astray, and it was plain whose pockets it filled. I used to have several slides - of my gargantuan bodyguard, of the Scots Hare Krishna devotee I met. The only one remaining, now warped, is a melancholy picture taken from the stage of the white detritus left in the wake of the departed fans. I went hop-picking for a few weeks, and expanded the bruises on my back into a tale of amazing invention.
I often wonder what happened to the poor sods in Clacton who had to pick up the many tabs. Do they still run donkey derbies?
Updated Jan 2021
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