Sunday, 18 June 2017


They don’t do festivals like they used to……………..even the smallest boutique festivals today are, usually, pretty well organised with the bands running on time, plenty of decent food/drink, well thought out camping areas and the security not provided by the local biker gang. Heavy on images but a bit light on text, Memory Of A Free Festival (The Golden Era Of The British Underground Festival Scene) by writer Sam Knee collects together a load of photos, many previously unpublished, from the polite, CND supporting Jazz festivals of the early 60s all through to the mid 80s Stonehenge Festival where a meeting of minds of the original 60s/70s Freeks and the 80s Anarcho-Punks brought down the wrath of Thatchers Government, using the Police Force as state sponsored stormtroopers. Arranged in chronological order and held together by Sam Knee’s brief text putting the pictures in context, the photos document a lost world, maybe more innocent and certainly less money orientated than nowadays, that maybe only exists now in the farflung fields at Glastonbury well away from the main stage. It’s not the definitive history of the late 60s/early 70s UK festival scene, that book has yet to be written, and is light on the social/political ideas of the time that informed many of the festivals from that era but is a interesting meander through recent history with many of the photos unofficial, personal memories of the people who where there.
Memory Of A Free Festival charts a path through the gentile Jazz, Blues and Folk Festivals inspired by the Newport Folk Festival, (although there was a massive rumble at the 3rd Beaulieu Jazz Festival between fans of Trad Jazz and Modern Jazz which sounds wonderfully surreal in 2017), through to the floating anarchy at Stonehenge and stopping at all points in between. The title of the book is more of an opportunity to squeeze in a Bowie reference (although there are pictures of the free festival organised by the Beckenham Arts Lab that inspired the song from the Space Oddity album……“The sun machine is coming down and we’re gonna have a party”, but bring a rain coat just in case) and also includes pictures from the freak festivals that charged admission, so you get great 60s pictures/posters/flyers from the National Jazz & Blues Festival as it slowly went psychedelic, the 14 hr Technicolour Dream, the Festival Of Flower Children at Woburn Abbey, the iconic free concerts in Hyde Park.
The early 70s were the real golden age of the Underground Festival…………………in the wake of Woodstock there were several “bread-head” festivals such as the massive Isle Of Wight festival which surpassed Woodstock in numbers, and got it’s fence torn down by French anarchists turning it into a free festival, The Bickershaw Festival was held in a swamp near Wigan, totally chaotic as it pissed down with rain all weekend, and of course the hardy Reading Festival which has always reflected the changing tastes in rock music (the line up in 1973 featured Rory Gallagher, The Faces, Quo, S.A.H.B, Magma, Genesis and John Martyn among others)…………………elsewhere the freak flag was being flown at events like the acid soaked car crash of a festival Phun City, a creepily misogynistic relocation of the Notting Hill freek scene to a field in Worthing, the authority baiting Windsor Free Festival whose final year in 1974 was broken up by an massively violent Police over reaction and the legendary early festivals at Glastonbury. There are pages of really interesting pictures from this era, more about the vibe about these events than the bands that were playing, it will be an eye opener to anyone who’s first recollection of festivals is the heavily commercialised big modern events that are part of the social calender than a freak scene right of passage. The final section of the book covers the more politically driven RAR events and the anarchy of the early 80s festival scene where along with Stonehenge, Glastonbury was still like the Wild West with cool bands a good 15 years before the fence went up. More personal recollections than the history of the UK festivals, if you where there it’s a blast from the past………….if you were too young, it’s a snap shot of what festivals were like before big money sucked the soul out of them.
Ok, we admit we are looking at the 70s/80s Underground with rose tinted shades, it wasn't all gentle freaks and groovy people that turned up to these festivals as there was always an element of shady characters and right nasty bastards that you had to be wary of……..we are a bit too young to have gone to the iconic early 70s festivals, we started going late 70s but knew we had to keep our wits about us to prevent wandering into really fucked up situations and watch out for scallies and thieving grebos. The large scale free festival was killed off when the law came down on the rave at Castlemorton like a ton of bricks, but even if the bands are a bit shit nowadays festivals have improved…….the bogs are no longer stinking cess pits, festival food has come a long way from just being botulism burgers and warm beer and you are unlikely to get a kicking from the local biker gang. There are still some really cool, low key festivals out there if you look.
Published by Cicada Books, Memory Of A Free Festival is out NOW and available from good book shops and the usual on line outlets.

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