Friday, 10 June 2016

Festivalized Extract - The Convoy

Here's a second extract from 'Festivalized: Music, Politics, Alternative Culture', this time dealing with the Convoy...

We all sprayed ‘Peace Convoy’ on our vehicles.

Jake Stratton-Kent: I don’t know if anyone really knows where the Convoy came from. It was connected to the earliest festivals at Stonehenge and to Tepee Valley. You also had eco-warriors who refused to drive trucks and used handcarts and horse-drawn carriages.

Nik Turner: People were more enthusiastic about festivals in the 80s. In the 70s it had started to become a movement and towards the end of the 70s you had this whole itinerant crowd developing who were living in run-down vehicles and having trouble getting around and that’s what became termed the Convoy. Now, a lot of people that I knew on the Convoy had previously lived at Talley, so the Convoy absorbed the festival movement which was, to a large degree, perpetuated by people who lived at Talley and were pyramid dwellers.

Rory Cargill: You had this village that floated from festival to festival. This is what the Convoy was. You would have a group of people; Sid Rawle, John Pendragon, Phil the Biker, and a few others. They were like a core and you’d get to a festival and they would organise things. The Tepee Circle goes here, the shit pits go there, the stage is going to go here. The Babylon marquee with all the little traders is going to go there. You build it up and you mark it out and shepherd people in and out of the place. It was quite organised in that sense. The Convoy as such was the equivalent of a travelling circus. The people who were travelling were sometimes the bands, in other words the circus acts. Most of the time it was just the worker crew who were setting it up, organizing it, putting in the groundwork, the spade work at the actual site. Then the punters would arrive. In come the campers and bands and whatever, and it was a pretty stable routine. So the Convoy already existed. When I joined the festivals in ‘76 it was largely made up from expatriates from the Tepee colony near Lampeter which had just closed that spring. The guy who owned the land had decided he was going to sell up, so everyone had to hit the road. That caused a big migration from there, before they ended up where they are now at Cwmdu near Llandeilo; Tepee Valley. That, essentially, became the Convoy and was the only convoy that existed in ‘76/’77, that crowd of people, led by Sid Rawle who, shall we say, had been evicted from Lampeter and were on their way to find a new home. The migration of the Jews led by Moses, going around the country partaking in many drugs and festivals on the way, as you do! That kicked open a door, the idea that you could have this alternate circus of sorts travelling around, setting up festivals.

Keith Bailey: The first time that Here & Now turned up at Stonehenge with a bus, it was amazing. A queue of people right around the festival wanted to come on board and have a look and understand how you did this thing. Lo and behold, by ’77 there’d be a couple of dozen buses appearing at Stonehenge and it really caught on. All those people began interrelating and building up this thing that became ‘The Convoy.’ That was kind of weird. By the time it’d got to the mid-80s, to 1984 and the last Stonehenge you had a few smack dealers and those sorts of people involved with the Convoy and the whole influence wasn’t good, I felt.

Self-policing at Stonehenge – smack dealer’s car burned out
Boris Atha

Glenda Pescado:  It started out as the Peace Convoy and it was, in 1982, that huge Convoy from Stonehenge to Greenham Common. We all sprayed ‘Peace Convoy’ on our vehicles. I mean, it was very definite who the Peace Convoy was at the time. Having said that, some people weren’t happy about having ‘Peace Convoy’ stencilled on their vehicles so they had it sprayed on to bin liners and taped them on the side of their vehicles. That got a lot of press and it changed the scene. People in the cities, disillusioned people, were reading about that stuff and thinking, ‘Hang on, that sounds great.’ The Convoy, and the free festival circuit, started attracting all those people who hadn’t really come into it with the ideology that had started the whole scene in the first place. They were coming at it from somewhere else and that changed things.

Martin: It seemed like the Convoy became an entity. I remember in 1984 being on the London Road in Bath when the Convoy started coming through, and it came and came and came and there were loads of people. There was a sort of excitement about it. There was a guy jumping out and shouting ‘Come on, come with us,’ this raggle-taggle band of buses and trucks and all sorts of different vehicles. One guy was parked up in the middle of Bath in a truck, broken down. But there were a lot of vehicles moving together. Before that, up to the early 80s, there were disparate bands of travellers, but then it conglomerated into a whole. I worked with a guy more recently, who used to be a traveller, and he kept away from the main Convoy because he didn’t want to be a part of it, it wasn’t what he was in it for. For a lot of people it was the start of the big, greedy, 80s. There was a lot of money around for some people but others, many others, were disenfranchised. So it was an opportunity for a lot of people to buy a vehicle, not necessarily taxed and insured, and get out on the road with a group of like-minded people. One time, I heard the Convoy was going to be at Bannerdown, which is just outside Bath on the way to Stonehenge. This was at the time that there were big conflicts at Stonehenge and [the authorities] were going to clamp down on it. It was about ’83 and the traveller thing was building up and they were on the move and might say they were going somewhere but they’d go somewhere else. I went from Fishponds in Bristol to Bannerdown and there was nobody to be seen. Perhaps I had in the back of my mind that it was going to be free and easy and have some mushrooms under the stars and it would all be great. But there was nobody there and I cycled back to Fishponds again!

The Convoy to Glastonbury reaches Street
Mark Wright

Jake Stratton-Kent: From fairly early on, people at festivals had trucks; the Tibetan Ukrainian Mountain Troupe, the cooler, more together types. After a while they’d travel together in convoys; safety in numbers when you were up against the police. Initially a lot of it wasn’t hard, they weren’t bad people; they were the more together, more pleasant types from the scene. But they were totally demonised by the press. There was this guy in The Daily Mail, ‘The Convoy has been totally smashed by the police, well done to the boys in blue.’ This was from up North, and I was living in the South West at the time and there was a lot of sympathy for the festival movement down there, a lot of the people who’d grown up down there, the Warminster punk musicians, were very into Stonehenge and we organised our own Convoy. Just after the Convoy had supposedly been beaten, they had to announce that it had come back and labelled it the ‘Convoy of Doom’ to make us sinister and demonic from the very beginning, like an even nastier Convoy had appeared. Sid Rawle appeared in the woods where we were camped up and congratulated us on starting a new Convoy and getting into the media. Not my favourite character, but it was good to be appreciated.

Glenda Pescado: In 1982 The Sun had the headline ‘Gun Convoy Hippies Attack Police.’ That kind of opened our eyes a bit and we thought, ‘Hang on, we don’t want to be tarred with this brush.’ It started to drive the Tibetans abroad, because it was in 1982 that we first started travelling around Europe. So whilst we did come back in the summer to do a few festivals, it was a big push on us going abroad.

Jeremy Cunningham: I just ended up on the road… it was like the last refuge of scoundrels, really [Laughs]. I didn’t have any money so I was living in a squat, I’d done the squatting thing for a long time and I was just, ‘Jeez, it would be great to get on the road because then I’ll own my own house and can take it anywhere I want to go.’ As soon as I managed to scratch together four hundred quid, I bought my first truck and that was it, really. I got another one after that, about four years later… a Dodge 450 Crew Carrier, which they used to use on the railways, a big Renault chassis with a cab at the front and then a big box on the back with windows… that was really nice to live in. It had a Perkins diesel engine, which is the best engine in the world, never goes wrong. The electrics used to fall apart all the time, but the engine… you’d put a blowtorch in it in the winter to start it, you could take the air filter off and put the blowtorch straight into the engine and it’d go bang, start first time. I loved that lifestyle, I couldn’t do it now but in my late teens, early twenties, it was fucking great!

Daryn Manchip: In the early 80s I hung around with bikers. This form of transport was the cheapest means of getting around, and coming from a rural area of West Devon you needed transport. I knew and formed strong friendships with people and family groups who lived in buses and trucks in the lanes and byways of the West Devon district. At that time, family groups could park up with little disturbance from the police. That said it was usually local people who caused problems for my friends. It wasn’t unusual to hear that friends’ buses and trucks had been vandalised with windows broken by local rednecks. Our group in the summer months held parties at remote spots on the western fringes of Dartmoor such as Blackrock, Belston Common, Spitwich. Many of our traveller friends would attend and it was always fun.

Jake Stratton-Kent: There was a young girl getting into one of the trucks when we first set out. She was a bit nervous about it all but she had been reassured by the fact that Jake and Kinger were in the lead vehicle. I was really flattered by this because Kinger was this huge monster of a guy and I was a tiny little bloke but had a reputation for being militant and standing up for what I believed in. This Convoy was a good thing, a real buzz moving from one festival to another. Stonehenge had started off with quite a lot of goodwill from Joe Public and really did involve quite pleasant people… besides which Philip Russell had presented them quite well. The Miners’ Strike was at its height and they weren’t going to dislike the Convoy just because the Tory media told them to. And there was this nice edge to the Convoy, somewhat romantic, new age gypsies and all that. The lead vehicle, for a lot of the Convoys, was called the Unicorn because it had this sign above the cabin… Unicorn. A guy called Spider used to drive that and he was definitely The Man. But there was this thing about having to be rough and tough to survive in those days, there was a lot of unemployed youth who’d decided they’d rather be unemployed in the countryside than in the cities and they joined the Convoy. Some of the hippie bikers had also graduated to the Convoy; you had motorcycle outriders going ahead seeing if there were police roadblocks, and also letting us know if anyone had broken down and been left behind.

Nik Turner: I don’t think the Convoy was inherently negative. I think it became rather negative because of the drugs, through being exploited by drug-dealers who saw it as a means to make money and who got a lot of the people on the Convoy working for them. Possibly people started to see it as a way of making a living or something to identify with that they didn’t previously have, and it became corrupted by the drugs, a bit of a low-life thing. The essence of it, the positive side of it became [swamped] by the negative, though I’m not saying that all the people who were involved with it were drug-dealers or negative people. A lot were very good people.

Martin: I was on the fringes of the festival scene with my brother and mates going off to Stonehenge. A friend of mine at Sixth Form told me how he went off to Inglestone Common to score and was met by a guy as he arrived simply asking him ‘Hard drugs or soft drugs?’ The festival scene seemed to empty Bristol of the people who I associated with. It was a pain for me as the people I’d buy dope from would disappear off to the festivals. This sometimes led me to head down to the Black and White in Grosvenor Road, St Paul’s to score. Always nerve wracking and invariably you’d get badly ripped off. My brother was washing up in Greek restaurants in Redland and Clifton at the time, trying to save some money. Increasingly, the people we knew were getting into heroin as it became more and more readily available in Bristol in the early 80s. He wanted to buy a vehicle to get on the road and out of Bristol. He planned that we’d both go. I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do but just didn’t have the heart to tell him. Eventually, he bought a converted ambulance and joined the convoy. Later, the travellers squatted some land by a big house in Weston, in Bath, and I went up to visit my brother. The place didn’t have a good feel about it. It was January, muddy, cold and the whole place had a bit of a siege mentality about it. The dream seemed to have gone a bit sour. I didn’t see my brother for a while but when I did run into him somebody had been messing about on a site somewhere and had driven his ambulance into a river. That was that, he couldn’t stay on the road and went home to my parents.

Jake Stratton-Kent: The Convoy did get rougher, because it was more urban in origin, but it was totally demonised by the press, and undeservedly to a large extent. Folks like the TUMT were just gentle hippies. Eventually things got too rough for them and a lot of them moved to France or Portugal to maintain that lifestyle in a more congenial climate. Those that were left behind had to get tougher just to survive. Generally the Convoy would turn up and take a site, and bring the festival with them. It became a much more spontaneous thing, festivals happening in places they never happened before just because the Convoy had to have somewhere to park. Get a stage, get musicians; obviously you got drugs as well because drug-dealing was going on. But the Brew Crew, what earlier on would have been called drongos, they spoilt it for a lot of other people; they spoilt the festivals and they spoilt the Convoy. The Convoy came to be seen as synonymous with the Brew Crew types. The Home Office didn’t like the movement and really began to crack down on it at the same time as the Brew Crew arose. So you had these two separate forces. Things are always more complicated than a single issue, but the Brew Crew appeared just when we needed all the good-will that we’d created in the past. It was bad timing, terrible timing. Whilst there were always tough guys on the Convoy and festival scene, they were nice tough guys by and large. When we were parked up on the track leading up to Stonehenge, bunches of yobs used to come and drive their cars at breakneck speed down that track while there were kids wandering about. So we did things like building towers out of stage scaffolding, put a line from one tower to the next… some of these cars coming down would bring down the scaffolding on them. ‘Come down here with our kids wandering about, you’re going to find yourselves in trouble.’ We were being tough guys, but we weren’t being bad guys; they were the bad guys coming to pick on the hippies. But the Brew Crew was nothing like that; whenever there was any trouble, the Brew Crew was nowhere to be seen. They made things unpleasant for everyone else but they weren’t prepared to take the flak. That was left to the ordinary people who couldn’t go on holiday because they didn’t have a job, so they went to Stonehenge instead. That’s who we were, poor young people, and not so young people, wanting to have some kind of life, some kind of fun.

Martin: It seemed to me in the early 80s that the festival scene fused into and became synonymous with the traveller scene that was coming to a critical mass. The festivals had been self-policing to some extent but the anarchic, chaotic nature just tipped over and it just seemed to become totally centred around the drugs. With that comes inertia, self-interest, greed and paranoia. Things which were probably always there - drugs are about money after all - but which became dominant and caused the whole thing to implode.

Police Roadblock
Steve Bubble

Glenda Pescado: A lot of people sat up in 1982, after that initial Convoy, and recognised it was changing. Up until then there was a lot of dope and a lot of acid, but that all changed around that time. A lot of harder drugs came in and people were actively using the festivals to deal. People were coming on site to buy a load of drugs and then take them away again. So the Peace Convoy thing, that was a turning point. It wasn’t all bad after that by any means, there were some fantastic festivals, like the Nenthead Festivals – the Blue Moon, the Green Moon, the Silver Moon – but it had changed, though that’s the nature of the universe, isn’t it? Everything changes, nothing is set in stone.

Janet Henbane: In 1982 I helped organise the Blue Moon festival in Cumbria; we had a friend who had the land and we went for it. We went to the Greenham Common gathering in February, 1982 to do 'PR' for it, took some flyers. There were about seven core ‘organisers’; we ate, drank, slept and crapped organising the Blue Moon for three months. Because I knew such a lot of folk on the festival scene it was like having our own big party; I was able to spread the word and the TUMT came up here, Thandoy, Nik Turner with his family, and also a band who I’d got to know, who were part of the free music indie scene, called the Instant Automatons, and a band from London called Amazulu. When word spread across the north that a festival was happening we were inundated with bands wanting to play, it was crazy and because this was our first festival we foolishly said we'd pay everyone... when it came to paying bands and performers we ran out of money and the people who really deserved some dosh towards fuel, like the TUMT got nowt, or virtually nowt, so that was a big mistake because a lot of small unknown bands will play for just a bit of fuel dosh or for free just to have an audience. I remember big arguments about what would happen to any money that was made, some of us in favour of it going to CND and others wanting it to go to a Guru but we could have saved ourselves all that hassle because it made a loss! The following two years saw the Green Moon and then the Silver Moon, which has gone down in the annals because the patrolling coppers were pelted with tomatoes and eggs. There was quite a heavy police presence because of the Convoy, but apart from the usual complainers, and sad funless people, most locals and incomers alike loved the festivals.

Keith Bailey: In the beginning, the whole free festival feeling was really liberating and quite wonderful on that level. The police didn’t have a government brief on how to deal with the festivals or treat the people involved and the government itself was mostly unprepared for it.  So you did have a strong sense of people working for each other. It was very idealistic and probably rather naïve but that allowed a whole cultural movement to be born. By the beginning of the 80s things had changed. I wouldn’t blame it on Maggie Thatcher entirely, I think it was that whole neo-con movement and the writing was on the wall that things were not necessarily getting better. That started to radicalise people already within the culture of the festivals who began to wake up and think, ‘We can’t help ourselves because they have other things to say about that.’  Once anything starts to get radicalised you get these extremist elements and I think that whatever shape or form that takes is always dangerous. And that’s whether it’s religious or political or even in cultural terms. Then the infiltration of the Convoy by all these heavy drug-dealers … the people who’d started it off in their idealistic, naïve way were powerless to do anything about that. That was because of the ethos of the way the thing was, well, not run… the ethos of the way it was not run, if you see what I mean? So they couldn’t do anything about it and of course a lot of those guys [the infiltrators] saw it as to their advantage that the police were made less than welcome.