Stonehenge Free Festival 1984, diary

1984 diary pages

As I remember several small groups of us hitched down from Hull to Stonehenge, ex-students, lefties, anarchists, a white Rasta from Scunny. We passed on the motorway convoys of police vans heading north to sort out the striking miners. That was a scary sight, but we stuck our fingers up at them anyway. It felt like the country was falling apart, descending into an authoritarian regime, & the year really was 1984. I’d just somehow finished my degree—I even wrote my BA dissertation on dystopia—& was waiting for the result, 23 yrs of age.

I kept a daily diary for a number of years then; with hindsight I was teaching myself slowly how to write, the craft & the discipline. These diary notes are from three or four days of writing around 19-22 June, transcribed from the handwritten pages I did at the festival, probably sitting in or around our tent. One of the things I like about them (apart from the fact that the diaries have survived & are still all in my possession) is that they capture the progression kind of from alienation to liberation I seem to have felt about being at, being part of, Stonehenge. And we really did get dropped at the gate by a peer of the realm in his old car—I remember it as a Morris Minor but the diary says it was a Vauxhall, &, you know, Trust the Words.

I drew on parts of the 1984 diary for the free festival chapter of my first book Senseless Acts of Beauty, in 1996. There are photographs and memoirs of this Stonehenge as well as all the others  from 1972 to 1985 on the terrific UK Rock Festivals archive website, here. We didn’t know this would be the last Stonehenge People’s Free Festival, though perhaps we did? Our challenge was, it seems, too strong to bear: ‘it is so alternative … so powerful and present.’

With its peculiarly unimpressing stones. Maybe on Midsummer’s Eve when the druids dance it’ll seem more exciting. Hitching was great and we get here real early—only 4 hours from Nottingham, and straight to the gate. Just coming up a hill and round the corner in a retired Lord’s faithful Vauxhall we first see the two sights. On the left of the road the ramshackle rocks looking like lost fainting guards, and on the right the shimmer silver through the heat haze of the hundreds of tents and tipis. It’s frightening and exhilarating. All you do is walk through the gate and you’re part of some other. This takes a surprising amount of nerve.

The most amazing early sight is the decrepit twig and polythene benders lining the entry path selling all kinds of drugs. Brazen flaunting of authority—when will something give? Everyone is selling everything here—small business free (man) enterprise lives and thrives. Get down to Stonedhenge Maggie see your utopia. I saw a big bus full of equally decrepit hippies though who had a big sign (small, actually) saying ‘Fuck all for sale’. Tents are everywhere, mingled like allotments with hired vans, stolen cars, ancient buses, predominantly British bikes, nudes (alive), nudes (dead), and human-dog shit. For a supposedly ecologically-aware subculture there is much live wood burnt and litter everywhere.

There’s a main stage, shaped like a pyramid, with a dope leaf motif 5 feet high at the front, two or three smaller stages in ramshackle tents with PAs tipped out of coaches. There are more interesting sideshows. There are some fine-looking hippy women here with long hair, long legs flashing through thin baggy dresses. Someone is atop a theatre company transit van adjusting a flag made from a patterned dress, ones like sold in Head In The Clouds. I’ve yet to see any band that’s not completely mediocre. The hippies don’t mind though. Their idea seems to be to sit in a field with many a similar type for all the summer months and destroy brain and body cells.

I got up and had a wash in a trough and went back and sat and lay in the almost oppressive heat for what seems like the rest of the day. No-one has watches. Only the St John’s people are busy, well them and the dealers. For breakfast a cup of tea and a jam buttie, as the sun belts down melting me like margarine. The guy in the tent next to ours blares out superloud headache-inducing guitar hero heavy metal.

Gets claustrophobic, though. You see strange unfamiliarized faces in the throng–clean village girls up to see the annual strangeness, American tourists camera-ready and in vain for rocks, youth unused to atmosphere. Men and women walk round naked, like at the Isle of Wight all those years ago, yeah?  I don’t find the atmosphere of this festival so free, more oppressing or intimidating a bit. Dunno, maybe I’m just feeling the collective force of challenge that a two-generation (hippies and punks) alternative can offer, and that might not be an altogether enjoyable experience.

Last night was it I fell asleep before the summer solstice dawn rose. Eventually we go to see the stones, and the druids (looking remarkably like a bunch of smashed ramshackle hippies) were performing one of their ceremonies. It wasn’t very pagan, though I did get blessed by one chief man with a daub of holy mud on my forehead. Bongos and assorted drums beat out an earth rhythm, which all right did have the hypnotic effect of feeling sort of like mother nature’s heartbeat or whatever. We were inside the broken rings, sitting on the stones, right in the middle of any force that might call upon us or forth from us.

‘You’re never too old for a happy childhood’ (old hippie saying)? And/or the infantilisation of radicalism. Jeremy Deller’s inflatable bouncy-castle Stonehenge, 2012

I begin to feel really more free and comfortable and I suppose peaceful here, after a couple of days and the dawning of familiarity. It is so alternative in many ways—like when the ceremony is on at the stones, it’s one of the few times that they actually take away all of the fences and let anyone and everyone wander round and touch the rocks where and as they were once touched by the people who made them. We who gather here in Nineteen Eighty-Four—for Christ’s sake!—are a challenge and alternative to what normally goes on, and that generates fear (viz. police helicopter constantly buzzing overhead, weary and war-worn from picket duty, and some of the pubs in the village signing refusal to serve festival-goers).

When you look round at the hippies and punks here you see how merging they have become over the years, which is maybe a surprise to many of the young people who first came alive with punk (like me), seen as a movement against everything hippy stood for. The thing is that a lot of the ‘punk’ musicians were older and from that hippy generation. Amalgamation maybe inevitable because both came to offer youth alternatives, and there are a finite number of variations on the basic theme of alternative lifestyles. Bands like Crass and Poison Girls had a lot to do with uniting the two, because of the combination of their anarchist / pacifist / vegetarian politics and their (early, at least) aggressive punk sound. They are good because they actually live their alternative, their independence (like through their record company set-up).

When you look at the throngs of young people here (very few stray sixties survivors) the punks & hippies even almost dress the same, esp. the women, with their long frilly skirts, varied tops, bare and dirty feet, dark skin and easy smiles, tons of belts and bangles to herald their arrival. Sometimes only the hair colour tells the difference. The hippy blokes wear straight trousers (hardly any flares at all), punk blokes have long hair. It is just so powerful and present (what I mean is the fact that it’s actually happening, it’s actually (sic) here and now, alive)—intense presence of unification of ideas and lifestyles here is a positive, energising, almost tangible feeling. I love it here. I am comfortable and at ease and I suppose peaceful in this place. Working up to a walk round the site, the stalls, dealers, people drugged up and down, people normal, dusty roads with home-dug speed bumps to slow down dodging British motorbikes, signs for dope everywhere, stages with crews incessantly fixing up equipment but never a band playing.

10 replies on “Stonehenge Free Festival 1984, diary”

Drove down from Southport with guys from local punk groups. I wasn’t prepared for the vastness, the drugs and nudity. It was totally overwhelming. First day I had my first hot knife and had to be left at the tent to be collected later ?. I then dropped a tab with my mates (again the first) and soon was startled to hear everyone speaking Russian. I have no memory of any bands, I do recall being on a burial mound at some point. I was very relieved to be with 3 blokes who I felt safe with. Next morning I had a peach for breakfast and it was the most delicious thing I’d ever tasted. My car broke down soon after leaving and although I was a member of RAC (not very punk I know), they wouldn’t come for 6 hours because they knew we’d been at the festival and thought we’d attack them. Frankly, it was too hot for us to bother with any attacking that day.

That’s a kind offer, Martin. Would love to see that. I will email you to get in touch–thanks, George

Thanks Ospur. That’s quite a long hitch to Stonehenge. I remember we hitched too, and on the M62 or A1 south lots of busloads of police heading north to the coalfields to ‘sort out’ the striking miners… GM

Hitch hiked from Glasgow, took two days, got split up from my mates Davy Martin and Drummy Henderson, Amazingly enough bumped into them within an hour! Great times, remember the free food tent, bumping into loads of people from Drumchapel. Alas we got collared on the way home on the 303, bloody took us back 30mile to nick us!

I would like any info on a band called Shinook, they played on the pyramid stage at the 1984 Stonehenge free festival and went on stage on the Thursday before the Cardiacs.

I would like any info please about a band called Shinook, they played on the pyramid stage at the 1984 Stonehenge free festival, they went on stage on the Thursday before the Cardiacs.

I was there too and also don’t agree about the claustrophobic atmosphere.

I’m sure I remember reports of “hard” drug dealers being hounded off the site and their cars being trashed. There was every kind of hash being sold, though. Hash Brownies were a favourite I seem to remember.

There was so much nudity that you didn’t notice after the first day. Everone got stripped off down at the troughs to get washed.

Went to Glastonbury the weekend after and the atmosphere didn’t seem quite so free. But all in all, it was the best two weeks of my adulthood.

And then bloody Thatcher put an end to it all with her blue army smashing up motorhomes and caravans the year after.

Nostalgia, eh

well thank you for *your* ‘flashback’ re Stonehenge Festival, 1984! Very evocative. Strong memories, yes.

“I Was There”. My girlfriend (now my wife) dropped in on our way to Glastonbury. Do Remember something like Hells Angels Riding around on Motorbikes throwing an axe at a target!! Also remember the Police Helicopters and the We sell any Drugs signs being openly sold, on site.
We arrived as it was being set up as I dont remember seeing so many people parking up. Must have been the Thursday as Glastonbury started on Friday..
Thanks for the flash back.
I did agree with your feeling claustrophobic and slightly intimidated and excited at the same time.Some very colourful characters. I loved the feeling of lawlessness….for the 1st 30 minutes or so, but relised it was not sustainable with the heavy mix of Hippy meets Punk Meets Heavy metal!! It a strong impression and added to a great week end at Glastonbury.
Thanks for the Flashback


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