‘Bob Dylan was 10 feet away from me’: Isle of Wight festival, 1969

“Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were sitting behind us. The talk of the festival was that they might join Dylan on stage.”

Penny Warder

Bob Dylan concert
Penny Warder, front right, waits for Bob Dylan at the Isle of Wight festival, 31 August 1969. Photograph: Medina Publishing

The organisers of the 1969 Isle of Wight festival, brothers Ronnie and Ray Foulk, had managed to pull off the amazing coup of getting Bob Dylan to headline. Woodstock, which had taken place two weeks earlier on his doorstep in upstate New York, had tried to persuade him but he’d turned them down. He’d been in semi-retirement for three years after a motorbike accident, and this was his comeback.

In this picture, we’re waiting in the VIP area just below the stage for him to come on; it took about two hours because there were some problems with microphones. The chap sitting next to me is Vernon Warder, my boyfriend of the time. He had long holidays from art college and was working at the festival, doing artwork for the signs on the front of the stage, and helping with security and management. As a result, he had a VIP pass and, being his partner, I got one, too. Otherwise it was £2 for a ticket.

I was aware that Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were sitting behind us. The talk of the festival was that they might join Dylan on stage. It never happened. I was a huge Beatles fan, but had not seen them live; I kept turning round to look at them. We were about three rows from the front and could smell the hash that someone was smoking behind us.

When Dylan finally came on, he was barely 10 feet away from me. It was so exciting. He played for only an hour, for which he got some stick in the press, but it was incredibly exhilarating. He did two encores.

After he finished, I went back to my parents’ house on the island, where I grew up. Even though I had been away at college for two years, there was no way they would allow me to stay out all night. I remember it was a real struggle trying to find a lift, because we didn’t have cars and couldn’t afford taxis.

Throughout the festival, I went back and forth between the VIP arena and backstage. I once bumped into Lennon and remember thinking, “Oh, he’s not very tall, is he?” I remember being really excited about going into a portable toilet after Ono had been in there. I wasn’t even aware of the celebrities: Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Taylor and Eric Clapton were all there. That’s how young and naive I was.

I first saw this photo last summer. Some friends of mine who live on the Isle of Wight went to the launch of Ray Foulk’s book, Stealing Dylan From Woodstock, his account of the festival. One of them texted me: “Were you sitting in front of the Beatles at the 1969 festival?” I said yes, and she wrote back: “Your photo’s in the book!”

This was my first festival. I went to the Isle of Wight the following year, when Jimi Hendrix played shortly before his death. I’ve been to others since, but nothing will match those two experiences.

Interview: Erica Buist (Guardian 5/8/16)

The Beatles Live at De Montfort Hall in Leicester, U.K. 1st December 1963

This is a re-post of Catherine Turnell’s blog about the Beatles in Leicester U.K. The original can be found here http://leicestershirelalala.com/the-beatles-at-de-montfort-hall-in-leicester/

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The Beatles played at De Montfort Hall three times. Sunday, March 31, 1963, December 1, 1963 and October 10, 1964.

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It was as if time at De Montfort Hall had gone into some kind of gloopy slow motion. From the back of the stage, John, Paul, George and Ringo confidently strode towards the crowd – and into a deafening wall of hysterical screaming.

It was Sunday, December 1, 1963, and Beatlemania had touched down in Leicester.

Popular music, here and the world over, was already in a state of shock.

For the 3,000 children, teenagers and adults who got tickets at 3/6d each, the concert had been feverishly anticipated for weeks.

In the village of Burbage, brothers Paul and Roy Wheatcroft had fed their Beatles hunger by poring over every scrap of inky newspaper they could find. On discovering the band were playing in Leicester, the 12 and 10 year old knew they had to be there.

Tickets were going on sale at the Rugby Road offices of Hinckley’s Mr Showbiz – Arthur Kimbrell – at 9am on a midweek morning. Mr Kimbrell, praise his name, was the concert’s promoter.

De Montfort Hall Concert promoter Arthur Kimbrell, (1961) gave thousands of people the best nights out of their lives. Mr Kinmbrell arranged appearances at De Montfort Hall by such stars as the Beatles, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and Engelbert Humperdinck

However, The Beatles had actually been to Leicester before, the March previous, but without fanfare.

“Roy and I went to bed early so we could be at the office – a mile’s walk away – before 2am. We arrived to find six people before us, but we were the youngest.

“At about 6am a policeman turned up to keep his eye on the growing crowd. He spoke to Mr Kimbrell and we were allowed into the inner sanctum an hour early to pick up our tickets.”

As it turned out, they managed to get prime seats on the front row and brought friend Nigel Dawson, 13, with them.

“The Fab Four,” remembers Paul, “had given an interview shortly before the performance saying that their favourite sweets were jelly babies. And so, during the journey to Leicester, my dad stopped his Ford Escort and my little brother bought a box.”

As it turns out later, they weren’t the only ones to stop off for the jellied sweets.

However, getting Beatles tickets in Leicester was a little more fraught.

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George Harrison fan Jennifer Fivaz (nee Woods) from Melton, was a schoolgirl living in West Knighton.

“The main thing I remember was queuing all night for the tickets. I must have been 16 and we must have been right at the beginning of the queue.

“We started queuing at 9pm and we were getting the tickets the following morning.

“I remember being wrapped in a sleeping bag. In the early hours there were a lot of people in front of us.

“Police were doing crowd control and they had Alsatian dogs, pushing us up against the wall and the dogs were snapping at our ankles. It was quite frightening.

“Of course,” she remembers, “the biggest and strongest pushed straight to the front.”

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On the night of the performance, the gloom had set in for WPc Frances Harris (nee Edginton) who was working at Charles Street police station.

She was vexed to discover she wasn’t going to keep an eye on The Beatles during her shift – three hundred officers had already been chosen for duty.

Back then, WPcs were allowed to go backstage at the hall and with that, the biggest band in Britain had been within tantalising grasp of the 20 year old fan.

Frances was given messages to take to CID men in the traffic office and stomped out into the police station’s cobbled yard, and into the traffic room.

On the return journey she half noticed a dark car in the quad, and marched back to the control room still fuming.

Sensing her displeasure, the traffic sergeant started asking her about The Beatles, and if she liked them.

Of course she did, was her response. Although she didn’t let slip that John Lennon was her favourite.

“He said ‘they are in our enclosure, in the quad’,” recalls Frances.

“They’d brought them in the side door and just left them in the car, to keep them safe from the fans. I didn’t even think to look in.

“He went on to say they looked as if they needed a good shave.”

Squashed in the van, the lads kept themselves to themselves and passed the time listening to a radio.

Sadly, the car had gone by the time the WPc had learned the truth. “I probably got nearer to them than anybody,” says Frances, who lives in Leicester’s Narborough Road South.

“I was so annoyed I didn’t even think. It was evening and it was dark in there. It taught me a lesson: You keep your eyes open.

“I don’t mind telling you, I hope they thought ‘that’s a good looking WPc’.”

The screams and heat inside De Montfort Hall were escalating as The Beatles, the biggest band in England, arrived ignominiously in the back of a Leicestershire Constabulary dog van.

All night, no-one had heard a note from support acts the Vernon Girls or Peter Jay and the Jay Walkers.

And then, the time had come.

The Beatles, entering from the back and middle of the stage, took up their positions. The crowd went wild.

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“It was absolute bedlam,” remembers Geoffrey Freeman, a semi-retired warehouseman from Evington. “When they came on stage you couldn’t hear a thing.

“It was fantastic. I could see the stage and I could see John and Paul and George. There was a post, and so I couldn’t see Ringo or his drum kit.

“I think there was just one song they played I could actually hear. I think it was Please Please Me and most of the time all I could see was people jumping up and down in front of me.

“I’d always been a Beatles fan, right from the start,” says Geoffrey, who was 19. “I’d picked up on it early.

“I’ve been to various other concerts since and I’ve never seen an atmosphere like that ever.”

It wasn’t long before the heat and hysteria took its toll. Within minutes, girl after girl started fainting, and the police, along with St John Ambulance, had a fight on their hands.

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Janice Benfield (nee Barnwell), was 18, and working at Frears and Black bakery, where Abbey Park’s B&Q is today. She went with three other girls from work.

It was steaming inside De Montfort and very, very loud, she recalls.

“Some girl who fainted was passed over our heads, nearly knocking our hair off!” she says. “It was very, very noisy and very hot. God was it hot.

“Girls were crying ‘Oh John! Oh Paul!’

“Oh God,” she sniggers, “I was one of them girls. I loved John. I loved him. I had my eyes on him all night. I couldn’t hear the music; they only had to move and the screams went up. It didn’t spoil the show, though. They only had to open their mouths and the girls would go bonkers.

“It was a brilliant night, I’ve never forgotten what it was like.

“The Beatles was my first big gig and it really opened my eyes.”

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Eric Bridding, a pensioner from Lincolnshire, was six rows from the front and “never heard a sound all night”. “But,” he says, “I did see their mouths move. Mind you, I was old even then,” he laughs.

Fourteen year old Jo Harrison (nee Meadows) spent most of the evening stood on a chair in Row Y, seat 39.

The mum of two from Oadby was with friend Sheila Angrave and the pair were schoolgirls at Oadby’s Beauchamp College.

“It was quite scary, just the sheer hysteria. You were there and everyone around you was screaming. I wasn’t very big and I’m not very tall now.

“We stood on chairs rather than sit down. I remember the screaming starting fairly early. Although, when they came on stage, it went so loud that it went into a hiss.

“This is really embarrassing,” says Jo with a dry chuckle, “there was a Beatles song Til There Was You and it had one line about ‘sweet fragrant meadows’. When they played it my friend looked at me and said “he said your name”. I was a Meadows then and I knew it was coming.”

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Jo, a retired children’s speech therapist, still has the gold brochure from the gig and priceless memories.

“You couldn’t believe you were seeing them, it was just amazing to see them. At the time I just adored Paul McCartney.”

Of course, the room wasn’t just full of hysterical screaming fans. It was also full of hysterical screaming fans with bags of Jelly Babies. The Beatles had told a radio presenter they were the band’s favourite confectionery.

Teenagers Carole Digby and cousin Sandra Boyer were among the numbers at De Montfort.

“We’d heard that Paul McCartney liked Jelly Babies, so we went to Woolworths and bought a 1lb bag,” says Carole, a teaching assistant at English Martyrs.

“The security guards had threatened to throw people out if any more were thrown on stage, but we carried on.

“My cousin’s father worked at De Montfort Hall and he got me all their photographs and autographs. I wish I still had them now.”

It was raining Jelly Babies a few seats forward on the front row, remembers Paul Wheatcroft.

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“Within minutes of The Beatles being on stage, one or two people started to throw the occasional jelly baby but soon it was a barrage. My brother opened his box and threw one or two and a policeman in front of the stage pointed at him and shook his head. So my brother had to continue throwing cautiously.

“It was during a duet with Paul and John singing into the same microphone when my brother launched a jelly baby which sailed through the air and hit John Lennon squarely on the neck. The pair burst out laughing and stopped playing for a short time. To this day, that’s my brother’s claim to fame.”

Forklift truck driver Nigel Dawson was sat next to Paul and his brother Roy.

For all three, The Beatles were the first band they ever saw live.

“Yes, I suppose it is quite something,” says Nigel, from Burbage. “That’s not bad, is it?”

“I remember at the end of the concert there was a chap who jumped over from the right hand side of the balcony. He lowered himself down so far and jumped the final distance onto the stage, walked over to them and they all walked off together to the right. I wonder who he was?”

Teresa Ashton (nee Richardson) was 14 and living on Eyres Monsell estate with her family. She was a fan of blond boy wonder Adam Faith at the time and The Beatles meant nothing to her.

ENTERTAINMENT.The Beatles at De Montfort Hall, December 1, 1963PICTURE WILL JOHNSTON

If it wasn’t for her good friend Ann Lawrence’s convincing entreaties, she would never have gone.

But, lucky for her, she did: “It was the most wonderful experience ever,” she says, reminiscing from her home in Barrow on Soar. “It was very noisy and happy; I made several new friends that night. I particularly remember coming out with a sore throat with all the screaming and shouting.

“I also got into a lot of trouble when I got home late.

“From that concert, several of us off the estate never missed a pop concert there again,” she says, happily, “and I’ve been a Beatles fan ever since.”

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(Written by Catherine Turnell. A similar version to this story was first published in the Leicestershire Chronicle. Images copyright the Leicester Mercury)

Trip to Liverpool

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Well, I spent Wednesday to Friday last week in Liverpool staying with my old school friend Nev, and what a fascinating place it is. Apart from visiting the International Slavery Museum for a short time several years back it is the first time I’ve been in the city. I don’t know why really. What with the Beatles and the sea and the docks and the culture I should have been there lots of times, but I haven’t. Time to make up for it now!

First impressions were good. Nev picked me up from the station and took me back to his house where I settled in pretty quickly. We then went to the Casbah Coffee Club which according to Trip Adviser is the number one attraction in Liverpool. This may come as a surprise to many Liverpudlians who have never heard of it!

Casbah Coffee Club
Casbah Coffee Club

It was not that easy to find and it looked like it was closed but we finally managed to attract someone’s attention! Roag Best, the brother of Pete who was the original drummer of the Beatles, gave us a highly entertaining tour of the club which closed in 1962 but is remarkably well-preserved. It is where the Beatles first played and many of the paintings and decorations were done by them. A truly remarkable place.

An early picture of the Beatles at the Casbah Club. Not enough room to swing a cat!
An early picture of the Beatles at the Casbah Club. Not enough room to swing a cat!
As the Beatles got more popular a bigger stage was built with security rails!
As the Beatles got more popular a bigger stage was built with security rails!
Ceiling decorated by John Lennon. Fake Egyptian style!
Ceiling decorated by John Lennon. Fake Egyptian style!

It is amazing the amount of interest the Beatles attract worldwide. They truly were a phenomenon and fifty years later they are even more popular than they were then! It’s almost unbelievable.

Anyway, I bought a tee-shirt from the Casbah and went back to Nev’s where Francine cooked a fantastic pasta dish. Mmm, delicious. The rhubarb crumble was also pretty fantastic! Here’s a picture of the table with fruit.

Table with fruit. Very colourful!
Table with fruit. Very colourful!

That night we all went out to discover the live music scene. First stop was the open mic at Bier bar. It was busy with a mainly young crowd. Nice atmosphere and I did three songs early on that went down pretty well AND I got a free beer. Jolly good!

View out the window of Bier bar.
View out the window of Bier bar.

We then went to another bar Osqa’s Arena Bar where the Everyman Folk Club meets. This is a club that has been running for years with a mainly older crowd. The music and singing were really good and I did two songs there. Very enjoyable.

Next day we went to town on the bus and had a look round town and saw an interesting exhibition of Beatles photographs (you can’t get away from them!) and had a fantastic trip on the Mersey ferry. There are some amazing views of Liverpool from the ferry reminiscent in some ways of the New York skyline.

Liverpool from the ferry
Liverpool from the ferry
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A bit like New York from the Hudson!

That night I hit town on my own and went first to the open mic at the Lomax. I walked past Mathew Street on the way and had a look outside the Cavern but I didn’t go in. Seemed a bit commercial and by now I was suffering from Beatles overkill! The Lomax is a live music club that reminds me of the Shed in Leicester. The open mic was in a basement with live groups upstairs. There weren’t many in but I had a good time and got a free drink. The life of a star!! I then crossed town and went to Pogue Mahone. This was pretty good until it got invaded by a student pub crawl. Ended up doing loads of Irish singalongs which was fun but not what I was really looking for!

Pogue Mahone pub.
Pogue Mahone pub.
Pogue Mahone open mic
Pogue Mahone open mic

Next day I booked a guided tour with Eric Lynch of the Liverpool Slavery Trail. This was both fascinating and disturbing. He made it quite clear about the importance of the slave trade to Liverpool and how many of the landmarks referred to it. Slavery is a very emotive subject. It’s hard to be objective about something that is so abhorrent and inhumane. Eric Lynch often used the phrase “arrogance of power” in his talk. I know what he means but what came to mind with me was the phrase “banality of evil”.The merchants who were involved in the slave trade just saw things on a business level. All they were bothered about was making a profit. They approached slavery in a similar way to the Nazis exterminating Jews; in an efficient and business- like way. This is what is so terrifying about it!  It was a very good tour that I would recommend.

African children holding bags of gold representing the wealth of Africa on a bank building!
African children holding bags of gold representing the wealth of Africa on a bank building!
Streets named after slave traders
Streets named after slave traders. There are many more than this including the famous Bold Street!
Monument at the Exchange showing French prisoners of war. They built Albert Docks.
Monument at the Exchange showing French prisoners of war. They built Albert Docks one of the main slaving ports. An inscription on it says “England expects that every man will do his duty” a quote from Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar.

The Decline of the 1960s Counterculture and the Rise of Thatcherism

In the past few weeks I have been reading widely about the 1960s Counterculture both here and in America. This interest was inspired by two things. Writing an account of My Life in Music, which included my experience of the Counterculture in Leicester, and visiting an exhibition of sculptures by Francis Upritchard at Nottingham Contemporary and seeing James Riley’s talk about the perceived end of the Counterculture into “bad craziness” in the early 1970s.

My original piece was just based on memory with no reference to any other sources but I was struck by how close my experience was to the sequence of events described by James Riley. I was also intrigued by Francis Upritchard’s description of hippies in New Zealand when she says that “all the things that hippies hoped would happen, or felt might happen, didn’t.” In one sense her exhibition is about the failure of the 1960s and 70s counter-culture that is still celebrated at festivals – and its gaudy, individualistic “alternative” aftermath.

At this point it might be worthwhile to describe what I think the Counterculture is (or was). The Counterculture appeared in the 1960s both in the UK and America and became influential throughout the Western World and also in Eastern Europe. It’s protaganists were mainly young but there were significant influences from older artists and intellectuals. It’s not really clear why or how it came about but it epitomised what became known as the Generation Gap. This could be described as the difference between people who became adults before World War 2 and those who were adults after it.

Jeff Nuttall in his seminal book Bomb Culture(1968)  thinks that alternative attitudes in the UK grew out of the shadow and fear of the H Bomb. As the Cold War developed there was a constant reminder with the proliferation of nuclear weapons that the World could end any minute. This lead to massive demonstrations in the UK organised by CND (The Aldermaston Marches). Although these were attended by many thousands of people it became clear by the early sixties that the government had no intention of disarming or stopping the arms race. This lead to disillusionment and a feeling of alienation. Many young people began to reject the growing Affluent Society and started creating their own culture much to the bewilderment of the older generation who, as Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said at the time, had “never had it so good”. A youth subculture emerged called The Beatniks by the press. They grew their hair, played trad jazz and folk music, frequented coffee bars and hitchhiked around the country, influenced by American beat writers like Jack Kerouac. In the UK this is where the Counterculture had it’s roots. Here is an unintentionally hilarious TV report about Beatniks in Cornwall in 1960:

Of note in this film is the playing and singing of Whiz Jones. You may think he is influenced by Bob Dylan but you’d be wrong. It was two years before Dylan’s first album was released, he hadn’t even arrived in New York by then. The guitar and singing style was undoubtedly learnt from American folk singer Ramblin’ Jack Elliot who was in England at the time and influenced a whole generation of British guitarists including Donovan (he was also a big influence on Bob Dylan!).

The roots of the American Counterculture are slightly different. Although there was the same fear of nuclear annihilation especially with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 when the Soviet Union based nuclear missiles in Cuba within easy reach of the USA. Another factor was the Civil Rights Movement that was working to end racial segregation in the South and also the Vietnam War especially when conscription was accelerated from 1964. Out of this milieu a counterculture was created that eventually became what are known as Hippies. This movement had a profound effect both in America and the rest of the World during the 1960s and it’s legacy has continued until now as I hope to demonstrate.

The UK and American countercultures influenced each other. Initially, the British counterculture imitated the Americans especially in the areas of poetry and the creation of Underground newspapers and magazines. As time progressed the British started influencing the Americans especially in the areas of art, fashion  and music. The Beatles became the most popular and influential group in the World and embraced many countercultural ideas like drugs, mysticism and experimentalism. Paul McCartney was closely linked to the English Underground and was a main financier of the International Times, an important countercultural paper that had a wide distribution. Pink Floyd emerged out of the British Underground with their take on psychedelic rock and, again, eventually became one of the most popular groups in the World.

The name Underground started to be increasingly used for the Counterculture although, really, this was a misnomer. The main players and self styled leaders were media savvy and natural experts in self promotion.  (This was especially true of American Yippies Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. They achieved international fame at the Chicago Conspiracy Trial where the American justice system managed to appear both brutal and ridiculous.  In a rare display of humour a member of the conventional left described their antics as Groucho Marxism!) It never really became underground until the 1970s when the mainstream media and press began to lose interest in it.

The Underground did not have a coherent political agenda. Although there was much talk of Revolution it was not clear what this really meant. This was true both in Britain and America. It definitely did not mean the same thing as what the old left referred to . The Communist states were seen as no better than the Capitalist ones and probably worse. Even Cuba, apart from the love for Che Guevara (who in the spirit of rock n roll died young and left a good looking corpse. He became the poster boy of the Revolution with his long hair and revolutionary beret!) was treated with suspicion. There was no strict ideology but general beliefs in the use of drugs (particularly marijuana and LSD), rejection of alcohol, free love, anti-war, anti-materialism, anti-consumerism, individualism, creativity, opposition to alienating work, rejection of television and advertising, caring for and living with the natural environment etc. The list could get very long and forms a general philosophy which is hard to formally categorise. The Revolution consisted of all these things. Slogans appeared that would have done justice to the best copywriters of Madison Avenue like “make love not war”, “turn on, tune in, drop out” and “do your own thing”.

So, why did the Revolution fail and where did it go wrong? Conventional wisdom would say that three events in 1969 caused a massive shift in attitudes. The infamous Charles Manson murders, The Woodstock Festival and the killing of a member of the audience by Hell’s Angels at Altamont Free Festival. The death of 60s idealism and the lost innocence of rock n roll is the theme of Don McLean’s song American Pie.

Charles Manson and his Family inverted the ideas of a hippy commune and went on a killing spree based on a psychotic interpretation of the Beatles White Album.

Woodstock is widely seen as the epitome and apotheosis of the Love Generation but can also be seen as the start of a megalithic, bloated and commercial music industry involving large scale festivals and stadium gigs. In order to attract popular acts large amounts of money were paid. Jimi Hendrix is reputed to have received $50,000, an incredible amount at the time equivalent to more than half a million now. Joan Baez virtually destroyed her credibility by accepting $10,000 even though she was using much of her own money to support radical causes. The festival made a colossal loss although that was recouped by subsequent sales of the film rights and DVD. A very interesting book about the making of this festival is Barefoot in Babylon by Robert Stephen Fitz. Rather than the music being an expression of the Counterculture a new commercial aristocracy was formed. The divorce between the music and the Counterculture was perhaps most symbolically shown when Pete Townshend of the Who knocked Abbie Hoffman off the stage with his guitar when Hoffman invaded the stage and tried to make an impromptu speech. It affected both people for years afterwards and effectively ended Hoffman’s political career. The clown prince of politics had been made to appear ridiculous and ineffective! Pete Townshend showed he wasn’t too enamoured with peace and love as this audio clip shows.

To deflect criticism of the cost of tickets on their 1969 tour of America the Rolling Stones gave a free concert at Altamont Speedway in California. This remarkably badly organised festival has become immortalised in the film Gimme Shelter (No, the Revolution wasn’t televised but it was often caught on film, which provided a good source of income from “Free” Festivals. The Stones had already done this with the Hyde Park Free Festival). The general air of chaos and violence is palpable with at least three deaths and a murder.

However, I don’t subscribe to conventional wisdom. Nor do I think that the Counterculture ended in 1969. As James Riley has said these events could just be coincidence and don’t signify anything. Personally, I think that after 1972 the Counterculture actually did go Underground. It was no longer really visible and it also became separated from the Music Industry which had become a large and profitable globalised industry. The press and media also lost interest  until it gained notoriety again in the 1980s as the Peace Convoy and the New Age Travellers. This culminated in the savagery and brutality of mainstream culture under Thatcherism at the Battle of the Beanfield. This is an Observer article about this event twenty years later:

* Tony Thompson, crime correspondent
* The Observer, Sunday 12 June 2005

It looked just like a carnival – at first. The weather was sunny and music played as the 140 vehicles set off towards Stonehenge. The 600 or so Travellers were on their way to attend the annual free festival on squatted land beside the ancient stones.

A few hours later the convoy had been ambushed by more than 1,300 police officers; dozens of Travellers were injured, all but a handful were arrested, and every one of their vehicles was destroyed.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of what has become known as the Battle of the Beanfield. Despite four months’ planning, the police operation to stop the convoy was a shambles. Faulty police intelligence suggested the Travellers were armed with chainsaws, hammers, petrol bombs and even firearms. All this information was false.

Plans to stop the convoy near the A303 collapsed when a convoy outrider spotted the roadblock and directed the travellers down a side road, where they encountered a second roadblock. After a first wave of violent assaults by the police, in which windscreens were smashed and the occupants dragged out screaming, most of the vehicles broke into a neighbouring field, derailing the police plan further.

For the next four hours there was a standoff, while Assistant Chief Constable Lionel Grundy, the officer in charge, insisted all Travellers had to be arrested.

The final assault began at 7pm, by which time all the officers had changed into riot gear. Pregnant women were clubbed with truncheons, as were those holding babies. The journalist Nick Davies, then working for The Observer, saw the violence. ‘They were like flies around rotten meat,’ he wrote, ‘and there was no question of trying to make a lawful arrest. They crawled all over, truncheons flailing, hitting anybody they could reach. It was extremely violent and very sickening.’

When some of those remaining tried to get away, driving their vehicles through the beanfield, the police threw anything they could lay their hands on – fire extinguishers, stones, shields and truncheons – at them in order to bring them to a halt. The empty vehicles were then systematically smashed to pieces and several were set on fire. Seven healthy dogs belonging to the Travellers were put down by officers from the RSPCA. In total, 537 people were arrested – the most arrests to take place on any single day since the Second World War.

All those arrested were charged with obstruction of the police and the highway, but most of the charges were dismissed in the courts. The Travellers’ unexpected saviour was the Earl of Cardigan, whose family owned the forest where the convoy had stayed the night before. Cardigan had tagged along out of interest, and his descriptions of the violence prevented what might otherwise have become a major miscarriage of justice.

Cardigan recalled that in many cases ‘the smashing up of the vehicles and the instructions to ‘Get Out! Get Out! Get Out!’ and hand over your keys were given simultaneously and therefore there was no chance to understand what was being shouted at you, and to comply before your vehicle started disintegrating around you with your windscreen broken in and your side panels beaten by truncheons and so on.’

It remains a mystery why the police felt compelled to use such violence. With evidence that radio logs of conversations between officers on the day have been altered, the full story may never be known.

‘The Battle of the Beanfield remains a black day for British justice and civil liberties,’ says Andy Worthington, whose book on the event is published this week. ‘From the anti-Traveller legislation of the 1986 Public Order Act and the 1994 Criminal Justice Act to the current hysteria surrounding Gypsy and traveller settlements, the repercussions are still being felt.‘”

The 1986 Public Order Act caused many New Age Travellers to leave England to more tolerant places like Spain and New Zealand. Interestingly, the hippies that Francis Upritchard came across may have been refugees from this time.

Margaret Thatcher was an enigma. Behind the authoritarian Iron Lady facade she wasn’t even really a Tory. She is considered to be the first of what are called conviction politicians. She appeared motivated by a mission and set of beliefs. Tony Blair and David Cameron have also used this approach and in some ways are seen as her successors. Thatcher’s beliefs had more to do with 19th Century Economic Liberalism than traditional Tory concerns. Her mission was to restore the British nation to it’s former glory and roll back the tide of National Debt, Trade Unions holding the country to ransom and encourage Free Trade and Private Enterprise. She famously hated the sixties and virtually saw that period as the main cause of the country’s woes with it’s strong Trade Unions, Nationalised industries and Social Liberal values.

Margaret Thatcher was ruthlessly effective and she chose her battles well. By defeating the Miner’s Strike and legislating against the Closed Shop she seriously reduced the power of the Trade Unions. At the same time she closed down most of the old heavy industries like steel, ship building and coal mines. By deregulating the banks, Privatising Nationalised businesses like energy and telecommunications and giving council house tenants the Right to Buy she effectively created a new capitalist society which boomed on the back of investments, services and rising house prices. It seemed to work so well that with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Cold War political economist Francis Fukuyama declared “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such…. That is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”  Mind you, considering events that happened in 2008, this was probably a bit premature!

But, I would still contend that the ideas of the 60s Counterculture permeated this period. As I have already said, Hippie ideals were resurrected with the Peace Convoy which was attracting many people to it, especially the legion of unemployed created by Thatcher’s early policies. But the ideas had also influenced the mainstream. The new bankers and brokers of the “Greed is Good” years were not the conservative bowler hatted bores of yesteryear but cocaine sniffing, champagne swilling hedonists who roared round London in new Porsches. They were into conspicuous consumption and, dare I say, a rock n roll life style. Also, the type of entrepreneurs that Thatcher was trying to encourage already existed in businesses started in the 60s. Although not British, clothing store chain The Gap, started as a “head shop” in San Francisco. Global business Time Out started when Tony Elliot took over the listings page from International Times because no one else could be bothered to do it! It became an immensely profitable business. Perhaps the most well known business with counterculture roots was Richard Branson with his Virgin brand. This started off as a mail order record company in the late 60s. All of these businesses brought a more relaxed, casual style and in the case of Branson a kind of celebrity status that would never have happened in the past. Basically, countercultural ideas had been assimilated by the mainstream.

However, the real Underground continued both in the Peace Convoy, the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp and more recently with the Occupy Movement which has become a global phenomenon. I will say more about this later!