Alternative music reviews

May 26, 2006

Memory Of A Free Festival

Filed under: nostalgia — @ 2:44 pm Comments (19)

It was 1974, a long time ago and I only have hazy recollections. I can’t even remember whether I went on the Sunday or Monday night but according to one source it was Monday. But I’d better write something before all trace of it vanishes from my deteriorating memory.

The Windsor Free Festival was in Windsor Great Park, a place open to all people by law just down the road from the Queen and Windsor Castle. When I say Free, I mean the bands played for free, no fences, no wristbands, no security guards checking your bags to see if you were smuggling in your own food or drink. Free as in not licensed. Such an event could never happen today, imagine the furore if there were such blatant transgressions of Health and Safety regulations as to allow glass bottles in a festival. Someone could cut their finger!

This was the tail end of the Hippy generation. Long hair, Afghan coats or Greatcoats, kaftans. The smell of hash pervading the air. Announcements on the tannoy about beware of the Yellow Acid. I was young and didn’t know what a ’straight’ was when asked - luckily enough the hippy used sign language to indicate he wanted a normal cigarette and the language barrier was broken - “Thanks man” he said, not meaning that he had conferrred adulthood on me but that we were brothers. I was offered a ’skewer’ (I think) at one point and I still don’t know what one of those is. There was one very good game. Every time you saw two men with short hair, t-shirts and shiny black boots you had to shout PIG! Most entertaining but the Pigs would have their revenge.

Not many memories of the music since I was just overwhelmed with the experience. I remember Hawkwind playing and they were always a great band live. After them was the French band Gong. A bigger bunch of hippies you couldn’t imagine. Highlight of the act - the band pointing into the night sky and saying “Look a flying teapot” (I won’t explain because you would have to partake of illegal substances to understand). So, it was a night of Spaced Progressive Rock. I left that night, relying on my inbuilt sense of direction to walk to London - luckily enough a hippy Roadie picked me and my mate up on the motorway and gave us a lift.

On the Thursday when the numbers had dropped, the Police moved in. They gave people 10 minutes to leave and then waded in with truncheons. Cracked a few hippy heads, used truncheons on at least two pregnant women. I saw the fighting on the television news - or rather I saw the Police attacking long-haired people (fighting implies two sides).

All a bit disjointed I know - I’m trying to stop myself going into a rant about the loss of freedom, state oppression, and revolution against the capitalist system. It was all a long time ago and the possibilities that seemed to exist then have been killed off.

(Edit) I found this picture of what is believed to be Hawkwind at Windsor Free Festival 1973 just the year before I went:

Hawkwind

more on Windsor 74

19 Comments

  1. 1974… the year of my birth!
    ;)

    Comment by K — May 28, 2006 @ 5:03 pm

  2. I was there !!…got picked up coming from the station carrying a small amount of banned substances…and ended up in the “cells” which was a large school hall or something similar, got let out on the monday after court and joined the festival……. as you recollect we got kicked out very early a few days later…… funny thing was i had loads more stuff wrapped up in my sleeping bag that they never found……….:)

    ahhh memories :)

    rgds

    Dave

    Comment by dave stewart — October 18, 2008 @ 11:05 pm

  3. ok….ps

    today is my birthday……..yeahhhhh

    i’m ONLY 54

    dave

    Comment by dave stewart — October 18, 2008 @ 11:07 pm

  4. Happy birthday dave!

    Dave

    Comment by Cool Noise — October 18, 2008 @ 11:12 pm

  5. Thanks bud….

    was at a number of festivals including stonehenge in 73 onwards windsor 74 watchfield 75 Buxton ???? about 75 - 76 ish rod stewart played and got booed :)……..memory getting hazy now but wouldnt change ANYTHING…..

    peace love to all

    Dave

    Comment by dave stewart — October 18, 2008 @ 11:32 pm

  6. drove through it all on my way to town with me mum,dad and sister . i was 6 sis was 8 , we had a right giggle when the ol’ man said ” dont look ” poor fella didn’t know it was on ,bless him . sort of made me who i am today . must go there soon and hug those amazing old trees ! peace brothers x

    Comment by jimmy witts — May 15, 2010 @ 8:11 am

  7. Dave, if you are still out there, I just had to comment. I was also picked up at the station with my mate Steve and spent a night in that hall! I think I might just remember you. If so, you used to call people “bud” even then. Brummie accent perhaps?? Someone, maybe you, had a copy of the Kool Aid Acid Test book?.
    Funny thing is I only googled the festival because I needed the date of the conviction for a security form!
    Andy

    Comment by Andy — August 10, 2010 @ 9:49 pm

  8. Hi Andy….Was your name something european, maybe of polish descent…katczinas or something similar ?….great times had, great times (half) remembered…but more importantly friends made

    good luck

    best wishes

    Dave

    Comment by Dave Stewart — August 11, 2010 @ 12:43 pm

  9. That is definitely Hawkwind in the photo. That is Lemmy playing bass and their dancer Stacia out front. Also, Hawkwind’s ‘Space Ritual’ artwork, similar to the album cover, is decorating the right hand bass drum.

    Comment by Jon Dathen — October 16, 2010 @ 9:52 am

  10. Dave or Andy please get in touch with me
    wallyhopesociety@yahoo.co.uk

    Comment by Wally Dean — October 23, 2010 @ 1:23 am

  11. Hi!

    Great to see more memories of this great free festival.

    I was there! I’ve written a short piece about it which i posted up on the fantastic UKrock festivals site :)

    I am also pictured sat on the grass right by Hawkwind (as above). I was just a 14 yr old kid!! Off my head and high as a kite. And a bit embarrassed at the guy who’d taken all his kit off LOL. You can see the pic on the ukrock site.
    I was at the festival on my own!!! Unbelievable, eh? Would never happen these days.

    I remember some of the bands who played (gong, white as white and twice as dirty, wooden lion, hawkwind and a few others…)

    I wish there was video footage of the fest!

    I also went to Watchfield festival in 1975.

    Please come and say hi to me via:
    myspace/foxyladydee

    Always good to meet old hippy/rockers from the 70s!!

    cheers

    Dolores

    Dolores

    Comment by Dolores — November 6, 2010 @ 4:15 pm

  12. A great read.I was there and remember Jeremy Spencer out of
    Fleetwood Mac doing a late night set with a Children of God
    scratch band.We were still around for Thames Valley’s bit of
    job satisfaction,but left before the Battle of Stage C.
    Nostalgia’s not what it used to be !!

    Comment by Kev O'Neill — January 6, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

  13. I was there aged 20. No tent just a sleeping bag. Stayed for quite a few days maybe 10 or more and left just before the police moved in. There was so much acid there we were tripping for days. Saw Hawkwind but I don’t remember Gong (flying teapots). Best ten days of my life. Made some lifelong friends there. But couldn’t find Wally!

    Comment by ukeugene — February 2, 2011 @ 1:17 am

  14. Memories of the last Windsor FF I attended include a planning meeting in a posh empty residence in Portland Place (?) with Gabby et al (maybe Sid and Wally?) tho I don’t remember Ubi there; I do remember him on site at windsor tho, like an old testament prophet, haranguing all and sundry and totally fearless. The sticker we paced in a rear window of the Commer van we used to get to Windsor read: “Bring what you expect to find” (though I did need to have the meaning explained).

    Before that I had missed the Ally Pally do in 1966 but did the hippy trail hitching out as far as Afghanistan in 1969 on the £50 which was the maximum you were allowed to take out of the country at the time. While in Teheran met a guy who must have been sittin on the low branch of a tree behind me at Hyde Park for the Blind Faith concert the previous year (I remember lookin round and wondering just how many more people could sit on it before it broke). The followin year it was the Isle of Wight (on a total budget of £5), Hendrix and Hawkwind and meeting an ol friend as I walked up the hill behind the fence, a chance of one in ten thousand I guess.

    Back to the 1974 windsor FF (I was 26 at that time). Me and girlfriend plus 3 kids set up camp and prepared the ground for a children’s area during which I made a polite but firm request to nearby group of Hells Angels to have their fight elsewhere (alerted to latter by cry of “no knives!” from one Angel). Amazingly they simply decamped.

    More rock bands than you could shake a stick at and a self proclaimed rock promoter declaiming from the front of Stage C his conversion to the cause of free events and music; hot air balloons (made from low density polythene and tea lights) hovering in the night sky, and the low hum of conversation as I walked between tents, occasionally tripping (if you take my drift).

    I found friends, made new friends and my only fellow deviant relative in a short space of time; devoured low cost food featuring exotic items such as tahini and even found a dope shop; where on earth did we get water though?

    Rumours and counter rumours of imminent police activity to break up the festival generally treated as gossip rather than reasons for paranoia tho when they did arrive there was really no plan; that would not have been anarchy after all. I remember being dragged by the hair from a line formed to protect stage C
    and thrown to the ground tho this was pretty minor compared to others experiences. A group of musicians with an especially loud bass drum kept spirits up while a group surrounding a police van containing some hippies and an Irish voice urging us to take direct action now (or never).

    So, how did we come out of it - sadder but wiser? neither but I suppose in the words of Scott Heron, the revolution will not be televised, and that’s the point; politicians and policy wonks at the BBC and other media outlets knew they were losing the battle for control of the public mind and what had become almost a stampede away from the values and culture of television.

    Most households had a TV, but an increasing number didn’t and in any case when people came round it was common practice that the TV went off. In a way this was the rational for Monty Python and similar whacky stuff as a panic reaction / trojan horse in order to regain an iron grip on the public imagination.

    Comment by John Carnelly — April 25, 2011 @ 10:59 am

  15. I was at all the Windsor Free Festivals. I was a young tripper. Off my head. Loving it all. First festival a rental van, turn tables in the back and speakers. Me sitting under the speakers, tripping. The police rushed the van and the speakers fell on my head. A woman pulled me out as the Hell’s Angles battled the police away and into retreat.
    The second one I met a beautiful woman, I was her Irish leprechaun.
    Francesca Miller. Never forgot her. I ended getting busted and going to remand for three weeks and we lost touch. I saw her at the next Windsor, the last one. Only she was pregnant and in a relationship. Anyone know what became of her? At the time her parents owned a pub.

    Comment by Tárlach Ó Maoláin — July 12, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

  16. I was there but got busted in a pub by Special Branch goons after they searched my car, I remember having to fight my way out of a pub packed with freaks so I could get my collar felt. I spent the Saturday afternoon in the aforementoined hall, it was in the Guards barracks, I had just dropped some acid and I was searched by a cop who had been at an old school of mine! I told him I had taken some acid and if he would keep an eye on me in case I freaked out but I had the best trip ever, met up with some South African guys and we had fun when it was discovered we had been sitting by an open door and someone had escaped! If we had realised this, the whole hippy mass of us could have legged it! After being put in a cell with a weeping Hells Angel who I had to console, had a swift hearing, £25 fine and was released back to the festival to meet my mates. Met an ex girlfriend the next day and took her to see the sights in an adjoining corn field where much fun was had! Great memories, if Barry, Paddy or Sean from Hillingdon see this, all the best guys we had so much fun!

    Comment by Bob Wrightson — October 31, 2012 @ 11:44 am

  17. I was there in the 1973 festival, it was a great.

    Comment by Manuel Garibay — March 19, 2013 @ 4:20 am

  18. I went to windsor 74 ( I was 17 ). Within half an hour I scored a tab of black acid for 50p, which incredibly produced a trip lasting 36 hours. I remember Magma and the light show, although I had something of my own light show by then, seeing coloured rain and hearing musical trees.
    I had never seen such a weird collection of people gathered at that festival, although I had been to plenty of gigs in Birmingham. The whole experience changed my life ( very much for the better ) and I often think about it.
    At the time you just enjoy yourself, but in later life ( I am now 56 ) you realise just how much of an event it was.
    A few weeks later it was back to grammar school, but somehow life was never the same again.
    In my thirties I took to acid again for about 5 years, and although it was a good hit everything today seems measured. In those days you did not know if you were ever going to return to normal.
    Some of the bands at Windsor were just amazing, and they just seemed to go on and on, ( and all for free ).
    Does anyone recall a band called the Half Human Band ? I have never heard of them since, but I am sure they were there ?

    Comment by Martin — May 11, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

  19. First thing I have seen on this ever. I have strong memories of 74. With some friends from N London, we pooled resources and rented a van, and bought a whole ton of fruit, veggies, pita pouches and tahini sauce. We set up making pita pouch salad/veggie things and sold em for a few pence to cover the costs. One of us also was selling home made bead necklaces. On the way into the site on the first day, the cops were pulling everyone over to search them, and they did to us. They didn’t find the illicits, but they did find the beads and necklaces. They bought a few strands from the guy selling them and the DS were using them as part of their ‘disguise’! We had them make announcements from the stages about short-haired guys walking round wearing these very distinctive necklaces, and to be wary of them… that helped! Lots of Hallucinogens, some finding their way into the Tahini mix we were making up. That all sold out in a day or so, so we made another run up to replenish supplies in London, and got back the evening before the big breakup. I was caught up in the whole thing and was tripping my head off as it all went down. I ended up taking a news camera crew around with me and showing them what was going on, got into the thick of things around Stage C with them… I have a recollection of watching the cops beating up a pregnant lady and getting the camera crew to film that, pushing people aside to let them through. I managed to avoid getting arrested, but remember going to try and get people out of the temporary ‘jail’ in town. It was like a hippy war zone after! long hairs all over the place…
    After the event, we went back up to London, and I immediately turned round and hitched back down to Stonehenge to join the people gathering there, but it was just not the same. Something definitely died at Windsor for me, and the new militancy was just not my cup of tea, although I tried to get involved with Sid et al. I wound up drifting after that, got more work in the music biz and been on the road ever since… Seeing the bands those nights in that setting definitely coloured my views on music and touring, and I have held onto those beliefs ever since.

    Comment by Chris — May 27, 2013 @ 12:49 pm

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