THAT SUMMER; No sex, no drugs - just rock

In '71, everybody staged festivals. So no one thought it strange that Clacton Round Table should join the rock bandwagon. Simon Calder continues our series on summers past

Simon Calder
Friday 28 June 1996 23:02

Today in Hyde Park, 150,000 people will be a quarter-century too late. They will pay pounds 8 each for eight hours of rock music. Twenty-five years ago they could have got much more for less. At the start of '71, I queued all night outside the Big Apple in Brighton and paid 18 shillings (90p) to see the Rolling Stones. And as the year aged, the music blossomed. The summer of 1971 was when travel and British rock music converged for a glorious five-month binge of outdoor gigs.

It was the year the Glastonbury Festival began, with a promise from the organisers that "We are tapping the Universe". Unfortunately it was the warning from the welfare charity release that: "There are no facilities. At the moment there is one toilet and half a trench dug. No water supplies, nothing"which persuaded my parents this would be a gig too far. But from Crystal Palace to the Oval, via Hyde Park and Clacton, that summer seemed miraculous for the young traveller in search of music.

Before you began to hitch around southern England from one muddy field to the next, you had to look the part. Fortunately, this was a simple matter of not cutting your hair for six months, and buying accoutrements by mail order: maroon Loon Pants, 28-inch flare, pounds 2.85; self-assembly fringed moccasins, pounds 5.97 1/2; Warlock of Love (an anthology of poetry by Marc Bolan), 75p. Then the summer began.

May: the most underrated park in the capital is the elaborate confection of Crystal Palace. An Eiffel-esque television transmitter exclaims that this is the highest point in London. Beside it, a ghostly space the size of several football fields lies bereft of anything more than a few scruffy weeds. Yet this was the site of the Crystal Palace, a glass structure that brought the hopes and designs of the Victorian world to London SE19. The venue for the Great Exhibition was destroyed by fire in 1936, and since then the grounds have been abandoned to seed.

A scruffy weed myself, I travelled to the Pink Floyd concert in ignorance of the significance of the site. With a loaf of sliced white bread, and a tin of Spam that would become a motif for the summer, I followed the cloud of joss-stick smoke emitting from be-flared hippies gathered around the giant concrete shell that served as a stage.

Beneath a threatening sky that sometimes darkened to the colour of black vinyl, we squeezed like Japanese commuters into an arena several sizes too small for the 15,000 crowd. Unwilling and unable to move, we waited with bursting bladders to find if Pink Floyd would close with "Atom Heart Mother" or "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun". It was the latter.

June: the month when I went nowhere more exotic that the isolation ward of Crawley Hospital was also the most mobilising. A dose of teenage meningitis kept me horizontal while I unravelled a whole new world from the pages of a brand-new book. My parents, no doubt anxious to offload one of their surplus young for the summer, gave me the very first edition of the Hitch- hikers' Guide to Europe as a get-well present.

Nowadays, Traveller's-Rough-Survival-Guides are ten-a-nation. But in the summer of '71, the idea that you could spend pounds 1.25 on book subtitled "How to see Europe by the skin of your teeth" was as revolutionary as the five-track single released that month by Jethro Tull, "Life is a long song".

July: Liz Haywood was training to be a teacher in Bognor Regis. My good fortune in having two indulgent older sisters, with car-owning friends, meant I was taken to gigs that should have been well beyond my dreams. While Van Der Graaf Generator laboured through a particularly dreary set one night at Bognor College, I got talking to Liz. Though we shared nothing more intimate than a couple of inmate-thin roll-ups (Old Holborn, blue Rizlas), we vowed to meet again. And 3 July was supposed to be the day. With 48 hours to go, she cancelled, no doubt because of a better offer - it would not need to be much of an offer to improve upon spending a Saturday with a youth, four years her junior, enduring possibly the loudest and certainly the worst rock and roll band in the world.

Grand Funk Railroad had taken out full-page ads in the music press thanking the Department of the Environment for permission to stage the free concert. In retrospect, the Minister responsible, Peter Walker, should have resigned. Mark, Don and Mel comprised a kind of Satanic version of Peter, Paul and Mary. At the time Michael Watts, now a colleague at The Independent, described them in Melody Maker as "shallow, dull, trite and mediocre". After a two-hour set, without Liz Haywood for company, I regarded his review as too kind. If there is any justice in the music business, the trio will nowadays be pumping gas somewhere towards the rough end of New Jersey.

Humble Pie provided admirable support, but the biggest cheer of the afternoon was when the DJ played Lola by the Kinks. The idea of going to a club in old Soho with someone who "walked like a women but talked like a man" was racy talk in a nation only just mastering decimal currency.

August: If you aim for Clacton but stop seven miles short, you will find yourself in the middle of a field. Welcome to Weeley.

In '71, everyone was holding festivals. So no one thought it strange that Clacton Round Table should climb aboard the rock bandwagon and promote three days of the best of British music in aid of local charities. The Weeley Festival of Progressive Rock was a kind of village fete gone ballistic.

Vic Speck was the unlikely name behind this event. He persuaded T Rex and Lindisfarne, Rod Stewart and Status Quo to turn up at a venue which had no track record and has not been used for anything other than pasture ever since the event. Most of the 140,000 audience arrived by train, at a tiny station straight out of The Railway Children. For three days and nights we (and, unhappily, the Spam) sweated through the hottest Bank Holiday for years, as a procession of bands and 4,000 watts of Marshall PA tore through the calm, still air of Constable country.

Barclay James Harvest turned up for their set with a 45-piece orchestra, but most of the musicians were drowned out by the scream of sirens belonging to the Essex fire brigade. Enterprising festival-goers had constructed straw igloos from bales left in the fields by farmers. Add hot, dry weather, a joss stick and a joint or two and you have the ideal ingredients for a succession of fires. No one was hurt, which was sadly not the case during the T Rex set. Marc Bolan's band followed - or rather failed to follow - Rod Stewart and the Faces. A shower of bottles and cans rained down upon the stage.

September: "Less Music by Dead Guys" promises Coast 97.3, a North Carolina radio station. But today's show in Hyde Park demonstrates how the music of '71 has endured. In May, The Who released their best album, Who's Next. Tonight the surviving members of the band will tackle "Won't Get Fooled Again" less frantically than they did at the Oval on 18 September 1971.

New York's concert in aid of the people of the newly independent Bangladesh took place at Madison Square Garden and featured George Harrison and Bob Dylan. Ours was beneath a gasometer in south London, at the home of Surrey County Cricket Club. The tender turf of the Oval was covered in rope matting in order that 35,000 fans could pay pounds 1.25 each to see Emerson Lake and Palmer warm up the crowd for The Who, at the Vauxhall end. The previous summer, Jimi Hendrix had set the trend for guitar destruction by smashing his Stratocaster at the Isle of Wight festival. After "windmilling" (rotating the plectrum-wielding arm wildly) his way through "Won't Get Fooled Again", Pete Townshend doused his bloody hand in a mug of whisky to anaethetise it. Then he set about destroying his brand-new Gibson and hurling the wreckage into the crowd. Then the soon-to-be-late Keith Moon chose to exit the stage by the novel method of trampling through his drum kit - a final violent cadence to the closest Britain ever came to a summer of love.

Melody Maker headlines that summer:

Peel hits at BBC drugs ban

At last: Radio 1 goes heavy

Folk on Radio 1: what's going on?

T Rex: the shine has worn off

Morrison leaves $3 million

Jethro Tull in US riots - "Like World War Three"

Common Market pop: we say NON!

Sarstedt: where did he go to?

Elvis heading for UK

Elton to play for Kennedys

Elton bores 'em at the Palace

BB King, Lennon to jam?

Harrison and Moon join Beach Boys

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