Monday, 16 February 2009

Lichfield Anarchists

Window: The Ultimate in DIY, published by the small group of anarchists, peace activists and greens in Lichfield in 1984. If only we'd added an 's' we could have sued Bill Gates. Long evenings with a typewriter and Letraset, I seem to remember. There's a site about the music scene in the area at that time here. Bands such as Artful Dodger were the local soundtrack to the many shenanigans, along with punk poets like Rabid David and System of Oppression, and the occasional visit from Israel Movements.

After much in the way of Peace Camps, CND demos(I remember Alconbury being the most scary in terms of the numbers and attitude of the police) and Stop the City fun in Brum (I seem to remember causing a degree of amusement amongst the assembled punks as I was wearing a skirt!) people started to drift away towards the end of 85/86.

Russ eventually set off for Birmingham, where he became heavily involved in the Birmingham Anarchist Group. I went to college in a failed attempt to become an archaeologist before removing myself to Yorkshire where, coincidentally, one of the most committed Greens from Lichfield had relocated. Nick Harvey went on to become, I think, the first elected Councillor in the country for the Green Party, in Huddersfield. Although he stood only once, I believe the area has voted Green subsequently.

My record player from 82 - 86 saw a mixed bag: Here & Now, Gong, Karmakanix, Israel Movements, Planxty, The Bothy Band, Seamus Ennis, Crass, Patrik Fitzgerald, Omega Tribe, The Slits, John Martyn, Pentangle, Roy Harper, De Danann, Alan Stivell, Tim Blake, Conflict, Steve Hillage etc.

It was a mad and fun few years in the West Midlands, loads of good music, good people, but all good things must come to an end. In Yorkshire it felt like apathy and conformism reigned.

Friday, 13 February 2009

1984 continued - dazed & confused into 85

.... Nenthead, Silver Moon Gathering, August 84 ...
Now here's a thing about memory. I thought my chronology for the summer of 84 was Molesworth, Cantlin Stone then the Silver Moon, but I've just read Rosie aka Dodoze's account of Nenthead which says the Convoy went to Molesworth after Nenthead. Well there you go, my memory is crap! Not really a revelation I suppose.

So, checking the chronolgy on, I went to Cantlin Stone, then Nenthead, then Molesworth. Well, that's that sorted. The second point gleaned from Rosie's account is that there was trouble at Nenthead, which I was blissfully unaware of at the time. We did only go for the weekend, so presumably this kicked off after we'd gone.

Well back to my personal memory retension programme ... arrived at the site after a bumpy ride from Tyneside in the back of someone's transit van and blagged our way in as striking miners. How the hell the guy on the gate fell for that one I don't know, as I'm sure we looked very much like a van full of hippies. Who thought of doing that and why (I don't think the entrance charge was very much) I don't know - not me, guv.

The site was on the sloped side of a small valley, with a road running along the top, and was divided by gullys running down the side of the hill. The first impression was of a crazy market place. It seemed everyone was selling stuff, mostly acid & mushrooms from what I remember, and after partaking I don't remember too much. My first ever tab kicked in as I sat watching Big Amongst Sheep (I think it was them) while the ground undulated underneath me. There was a guy with an ice cream van who I couldn't look at for too long as he started to look like the stuff he was selling - strawberry red face and white fluffy hair. An evening round the fire finished off with a spot of teleportation to the local mushroom tea store and then .... blank. Waking up with my feet in the fire place, and a gorgeous hot and sunny day. We walked to the local village store and I filled up on several mars bars. I remember there was a police van parked on the top road with a couple of local bobbies watching the proceedings, but don't recall any bother over the weekend. Bands? Wouldn't have a clue, didn't seem to be a priority, but there were a couple of marquees with people playing I think. Mostly the weekend was a haze of acid tinged mental wanderings, soaking up the very weird atmosphere. And I can't remember leaving this one either!

And then, so other people's memory tells me, it was off to the Green Gathering at Molesworth (see previous post)....

... I went back to Molesworth later in the year with Russ & Sheila in an old Busby BT van. The atmosphere was a bit subdued as I recall, but kind of relaxing. Maybe it was October, as it was getting cold. The free food tent was great, with a raven or crow that perched wherever, totally oblivious to the noise and commotion. And a couple of people, one with a sitar(?), playing old Irish & folk songs. They struck a chord with me as I was just starting to listen to Planxty, and starting out on the long road of Irish Traditional music (still there). I remember drifting off to sleep across the front seats of the van with them playing around a camp fire really softly (was it Lakes of Pontchartrain?). Wonderful. And Eirene, the peace chapel, with loads of stuff cemented into the walls, like the harmonica which you could still play as it sat in the wall. Think it was this visit where the wheat was harvested for Eritrea. The next visit was in February 1985, two days after the eviction. We heard almost straight away, don't know how, and hastily arranged transport down, only to find everything over and done. A few people had set up a small camp at the gate, can't recall who, but the Quakers were still there. And I went back one more time, to the big CND organised demo, where we wandered round the razor wire perimeter closely shadowed by military police on the other side. With all the later concentration on what would happen in Wiltshire that June, I sometimes think that the Rainbow Village at Molesworth and the eviction there goes quietly forgotten, which is a shame. Try searching for it on the web ...

Thursday, 12 February 2009

1984 and all that .... freedom, festivals and anarchy.

I've no idea who did this wonderful picture, from 86? Stonehenge Free Festival campaign, but I remember getting a load of stickers and plastering them wherever I could. Possibly Polytantrics? Anyway, I coloured it for a t-shirt for an old friend whose first Stonehenge festival was sadly the last in 1984. I missed the festival, so never had the dubious pleasure, but began my brief free festival life that very summer at the Green/Rainbow Gathering at Molesworth.

We turned up at Molesworth quite late in the day, after a hard slog hitching from the West Midlands. Not far, I know, but the lifts were few and far between. I luckily had the pleasure of hitching with a wonderful woman called Sheila, who was great company and a lovely person. It was a good start to a good few days of sunshine and thunderstorms.

The first thing to do when we arrived was to have a smoke and, as it was getting late, rather than pitch up we decided to enjoy the evenings entertainment (Wystic Mankers?) in the Tibetan marquee and kip there for the night with bails of straw for pillows. One fantastic nights sleep!

Now much of the few happy days spent in what was to become the Rainbow Village is pretty hazy in my memory, but there are a few things that have stuck, and maybe in the course of writing I'll dredge up more.

We managed to pitch up right next to the Tibetan's so the entertainment was never lacking. Apart from endless acrobatics and improvised jamming, the thing that really sticks in my mind is the dusk ceremony one sunset. A huge wicker CND symbol was created and suspended over a fire. The symbol burned to the beautiful sound of the TUMTs conches and horns. And to top it all off nature answered back with a prolonged display of lightning which, in my memory at least, appeared to surround us completely on the horizon (Molesworth is incredibly flat!, but as I think back there were trees on the south side so can't have seen the horizon there). I've had a few eerie experiences in my life, but that one is definitely up there, despite the overactive 16 year old mind and large quanties of red leb.

Other bits spring to mind, like the huge guy from the Convoy who sat on a rug like some bronze age warlord, pawing his partners breast while he told the tale of Nostell Priory. Of course, how much of these memories are real or the over exaggerations of a teenage mind is still unclear! Avidly reading the Polytantric newsletter & Green Line (can't remember if Green Anarchist had started at the point). Talking to Riff Raff poet Dennis Gould, my anti-hero of the time mainly because I could never get poetry, but I got his. Sheila's partner Russ, one of the driving forces behind our towns green-anarcho-counterculture scene, being so serious and comic at the same time, and endless stoned political conversations. I just can't remember leaving!

Much of that summer of 84 was spent in the old house at Leomansley with Russ and Sheila, producing our local anarcho-DIY philosophy magazine (of which we only managed to produce one issue, called 'Window - a DIY manual, or how to smash the cistern'), organising gigs/cabarets, drinking tea. The house was beautiful, owned by an old artist called Eilidh Armour-Brown, who was away in America and had asked Russ and Sheila to look after it. Eilidh and her husband had acquired it back in the fifties when it was three separate and derelict mill cottages. They lovingly turned it into one mad house, tucked away in the woods and every bit as wild as it's surroundings. When she sadly died in 1994 I think there must have been no-one to look after it, as it became derelict and was eventually bought by someone with pots of money. They've turned it into some sort of mock mansion and removed most of the surrounding woodland, replacing it with large fences. I have wonderful memories of stumbling up the unmade track in the pitch black coming back from the pub, talking with Sheila about Carlos Castaneda and the nature of reality, to get back to a meal and drink, before working through the night on the magazine in Eilidh's huge conservatory/art studio, finally crashing as the dawn began to penetrate the garden. I remember mornings at the house, being first up to see the wild rabbits sitting on the doorstep at the front, watching them race away when they noticed me, into the flowers and ferns by Leomansley Brook, which ran right past the front of the house. Sadly all gone, replaced by tarmac and gravel. Although I never met Eilidh I still have very happy memories of the times in her house. When my daughter was born we decided to name her Eilidh, in memory of a great artist who poured her art into her surroundings as well as onto canvas.

Towards the end of the summer I decided to adventure with my old friend from the North (the t-shirt girl) Janet, out to Cantlin Stone on the borders of Wales. We had a job finding the place, if it hadn't been for an old (probably wasn't, but we were only 16) traveller in a white Mini van we would have probably given up the ghost. The only trouble was his Mini couldn't make it up the final hill with us in it. So out we got, leaving all our bags. Once he'd driven off that mild panic set in. What if he wasn't at the festival, just some local nutter with a dislike of hippy kids? Never been so relieved to see someone sitting on the bonnet of a mini skinning up! Cantlin Stone was a wash out for us though, we picked a really crap spot to pitch our tent in the middle of the gorse and there didn't seem to be much happening. We smoked a fair bit, engrossed in conversation on a balmy night, then left in the morning for Janet to face her intense fear of ......sheep!! Loads of the buggers on the way down to Newcastle(?). Oh, and a bull which Janet kindly informed me would probably not appreciate the bells I had dangling from my bag. Well, suffice to say that we survived these savage creatures to make it back up to Tyneside in time to pile into a van full of poeple and head off to the Silver Moon Gathering at Nenthead.

Now Nenthead was a real eye-opener for me, total culture-shock, and I loved it. But I'll continue this tale of my 1984 another time.... tbc