Space Rock and Free Festival Bands

Once a month at Jubilee Library, there’s a free music talk – everyone is welcome! Dan from Resident Records was kind enough to come in and give March’s talk and in case you missed it:

Space Rock and Free Festival Bands

My talk here today, is on topic that I am passionate about, but understand that it is from a personal perspective. So, there may be a few bands that I’ve missed or bits left out. I hope you enjoy it, all the same.

Anyone who knows me will know my love of Space Rock. But what is Space Rock I hear you ask?

According to Wikipedia, space rock is a music genre characterized by loose and lengthy song structures centred on instrumental textures that typically produce a hypnotic, otherworldly sound. But there is much more to it than just that. The bands that define the genre have a sense of community, spirituality, mysticism and links with the cosmos. Their music has the ability to take you away to far off lands and encounter the weird and the wonderful.

I guess it fits in between psychedelia, kraut rock and prog if I was going to categorize it. But I’m not going to. Let’s just say its great music.

Gong
MTgong

The first band I’m going to talk about, and one of my favourite bands of all time, is Gong. Led by musician, artist, activist and poet Daevid Allen (aka Bert Camembert, Dingo Virgin and many other aliases). They fused free form jazz with the avant garde, to create magic.

I think the first album I heard from Gong was Camembert Electrique. It has amazing artwork, beautifully drawn by Daevid Allen, depicting Pot Head Pixies and the Planet Gong. It also has a photo of the Gong line up, taken at their run down commune in France. Recorded during the full moons of 1971, it was and still is, an incredible album, which always manages to make me smile when I hear it. Here is my favourite track from that album – Fohat digs holes in space.

Such a great track! It has a real groove to it. This is space rock!

Hearing this album made me want to explore more. I sought out the trilogy of Flying Teapot, Angels Egg and You albums. Getting stoned and getting lost in these albums became a great way to spend my days. It was easy to get lost in those sounds.

Some of my favourite tracks from this era are, Selene, Oily Way, Flying Teapot, Zero the Hero and the witches spell, and Master builder. Such great tunes, and a pleasure for the ears.

The Gong sound developed over these albums. Their sound became more spacey, with the space whisper, electronics and glissando. Plus, you had the ongoing story of the Planet Gong, in both the artwork and lyrics. Talk of aliens and other worlds that catapult the listeners imagination into the stratosphere.

To some, they were a joke band, who clearly had smoked too much and taken too much acid. But to me and many others, they were from another planet, spreading their music, visions and love to anyone that would listen to them.

For me, the classic line-up of Daevid, Gilli Smyth, Steve Hillage, Tim Blake, Didier Malherbe, Mike Howlett and Pierre Moerlen, is when they were on fire.

Gong were pure magic live. They stole the show at the 1971 Glastonbury Festival. If you check out some of their early 70’s stuff on Youtube, make sure you watch them doing ‘I never glid before’ from 1973. Such great musicianship. Great stuff!

Daevid left Gong in 1975, after he said that he was being prevented from getting on stage by an invisible force field. Steve Hillage left to go solo, releasing many fine albums, including Fish Rising in 1975 and the album featured a lot of the Gong family. Tim Blake also left to do his own thing – The Crystal Machine. But, in the words of Daevid – ‘Gong, the sound that goes on forever’, the band continued, with many different line-ups, including Daevid returning to the Gong family. I saw Gong and Daevid play, including their 25th anniversary birthday party in 1994. And without doubt, I would have been stoned out of my tree. But I can still remember them still looking like they were having fun, doing what they love, and blowing the crowds minds.

Daevid left this planet in 2015, and I remember my girlfriend telling me. I felt sad off course, but also thankful for the joy that he had bought into my life and many others. He penned a song called ‘Now is the happiest time of your life’, and I think he firmly believed that sentiment and showed the world the kind of person he was.

Up next we have the mighty Hawkwind. Are there any Hawkwind fans here today?

Greetings Hawkfriendz.

The band that put the Space in Space Rock. Formed in the Ladbroke Grove / Notting Hill Gate area of London by Dave Brock in 1969. They were known as the people’s band, because they often played for free, did benefit gigs for worthy causes, and were instrumental in the Free Festival scene.

Hawkwind
MThw

was introduced to Hawkwind with their 1971 album ‘In search of space’. It is an astonishing album, and to this day, my favourite Hawkwind studio album. From the opening bass line of ‘Master of the Universe’, I was truly hooked.

The original fold-out sleeve of ‘In search of space’ was designed by long-term collaborator, graphic artist Barney Bubbles. And initial copies of the album came with a log book of science fiction writings by Robert Calvert. The words, the art and the music combined to create a space rock masterpiece.

Here is a taster from the album – ‘You know you’re only dreaming’.

Hawkwind, like Gong, had constant personnel changes and ever-changing line-up, except for the constant – Dave Brock, who sang, played guitar and wrote most of the songs. Other notable members from the classic line up are Nik Turner on sax and flute, who added the mysticism, Dik Mik and Del Dettmar took care of the synthesisers and strange noises and Simon King on drum duties. Terry Ollis played drums on ‘In search of Space’ but loved his pharmaceuticals way too much, became a liability and was replaced. And lest we forget a certain Lemmy Kilminster on bass, who gave Hawkwind their edge, got booted out for being a speed freak, and then formed Motorhead. Rest in peace.

Nik Turner & Tim Blake
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As most Hawkwind fans would agree, their golden era was 1971 – 1975, with their studio records – In search of space, Doremi Fasol Latido, Hall of the mountain grill and Warrior on the edge of time. During this time Hawkwind released one of the greatest live albums of all time – Space Ritual. It captured the band in full swing, and showed any critics that they could really play.

I’ve always wished that I could have seen them in their heyday. The sonic attack of their music with the Liquid Len lightshow and Stacia dancing around the stage – what a trip that would have been. They all looked cool, played cosmic music, lived in squats or on the road, and did loads of drugs – they were my heroes.

Hawkwind were part of the Underground scene. They believed that music, as well as people, should be free. This ideal prompted them to play outside of the 1970 Isle of Wight festival with the Pink Fairies. Although the entry ticket to the festival was only £3.00, a lot of the underground preferred to pitch up their tents outside the gates, in the alternative festival with ‘Pinkwind’ (Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies) playing all day and all night. For 5 days straight they played.

Hawkwind became the main attraction at a lot of the free festivals around the country, especially at Stonehenge. A lot of the people involved in the underground were involved in the squat scene and with the travellers. Hawkwind and the people who went to the festivals were kindred spirits, who had the same outlook on life. The music that Hawkwind played connected to certain people, and had wonderous effects. They played the free festivals from 1970 to the late 80’s, and will always be in the hearts and minds of the travelling community. And in the true spirit of Hawkwind, they appeared on a 1988 compilation album to raise funds for the Travellers Aid Trust. Much needed, for it was a time when the travellers needed all the help they could get.

Hawkwind soared through the early seventies, developing their sound, and going further into space with the help of science fiction author Michael Moorcock. The music got heavier, the amazing artwork more out of this world.

Hawkwind continue to fly, and probably will always do so. Dave Brock is still ever present at the helm. They celebrate their 50th birthday this year and are out on the road to celebrate.

Next up is Here & Now. Another firm favourite on the free festival scene. I got into them through their album with Daevid Allen under the name ‘Planet Gong’ from 1977. A bit heavier than the Gong sound, but still space rock.

My favourite album by Here & Now is a split album they did with Alternative TV called ‘What you see is what you are’ from 1978. Here is them live from that album.

Here & Now played many of the Free Festivals, starting with Watchfield in 1975. They also provided the PA, staging and lighting for the Stonehenge free festival for many years. It cost them a lot of money and effort, but that festival was a creature very close to their collective free-floating-anarchic hearts, and ensured them a likewise warm place in the hearts of everyone who took part in those mystical,

magical events.

Here & Now
MTherenow

I saw Here & Now play many times in the 90’s, including a reformed Planet Gong line-up with Daevid Allen (or Dingbat Alien as he called himself then). I remember one particular gig at the Dome in Tufnell Park where they were totally on fire.

No talk on space rock would be complete without the Ozric Tentacles. They formed at the Stonehenge free festival in 1983, and continue to this day. They fused many different styles of music, but space rock was the driving force behind their early sound.

I first came across the Ozrics at a dingy pub called the George Robey in Finsbury Park, London. The Club Dog crew would transform the pub into a mini festival, with music, decoration and psychedelic light shows by Fruit Salad. This place was amazing and I still have great memories from those nights. I remember seeing some cassettes on a table and one of them was ‘Live ethereal cereal’ by the Ozric Tentacles. Here is the opening track, Erpriff.

Sorry about the quality of the track, but you get the idea.

The Ozrics adopted the DIY ethic of releasing their own music on cassette, as did many bands at the time.

I have some hazy memories of seeing the Ozrics live. I caught them at the Strawberry Fair free festival in Cambridge, but was too wasted to remember many more of the details, except that I had a great time. I do remember more about seeing them at the Kilburn National in London. It was 1992. The support came from Eat Static, an offshoot from the Ozrics, who created dance music for the crusties. It was such an exciting time, and I was part of it – illegal raves, squat parties and festivals were the place to be for me and my friends.

The Ozrics had an abundance of creativity, and channelled it through their many offshoot bands, including Eat Static, Nodens Ictus and the Oroonies.

Here is a track from the Oroonies. Again, it’s from a cassette so not the best quality.

The free festival movement started in the late 1960’s. Most people would have heard of the summer solstice festivals held at Stonehenge. The festival at the stones started in 1974 and was the brainchild of Wally Hope. It started as a relatively small affair, but it grew with each year, and by the early 80’s it was attracting thousands of like-minded individuals. In 1984, the crowds were estimated at 30,000 people.

Stonehenge 70’s
MTstonehenge

Another festival of note was at Windsor, in the Queens back garden! Although the festival ran successfully for several years, there was trouble with the police which forced the festival to move to a new location, and the Watchfield festival was born.

The free festival movement continued to grow, and allowed people to spend their summers on the road, going from festival to festival. People could earn a living by selling stuff at the festivals, and not just drugs! It enabled the city folk to get out into the countryside, listen to some great music, see friends and make new ones too.

The motto of the festivals was – ‘bring what you expect to find’, which says it all really.

Does anyone have some memories of going to a free festival that they would like to share?

I remember picking up a flyer in the early 90’s. It had a list of the different festivals happening over the summer, all across England and Wales. They had great names like Torpedo Town, White Goddess, Treworgy Tree and Happy Daze. I had visions of getting my driving licence, buying a vehicle, and hitting the road. That never happened, but we did manage to get to a few festivals, including Happy Daze in Wales in ‘91.

Heading for Stonehenge 1985
MThsteonhenge2

There are so many bands that became part of the free festival movement. And they weren’t all just playing space rock. Key bands include Culture Shock, RDF, Rhythmites, Hippy Slags, Cardiacs, Back to the Planet, Citizen Fish, Mandragora, The Magic Mushroom Band and many more. All genres, from ambient to punk to reggae. These bands weren’t in it to become famous and to make millions. They did it to put smiles on the faces of the people who came to watch, and to tell people about the injustices of the world, to those who’d listen.

One of my favourite free festival bands are Culture Shock. A blend of punk and ska, with some of the most thought-provoking lyrics around. They sang about social problems, inequality, government and politics and many other important issues. They wrote a track about Stonehenge and the plight of the travellers, with all proceeds going to helping people get to the stones for solstice and equinox. Released as a backlash to the horrific police brutality experienced by the travellers at Stonehenge in 1985, otherwise known as the battle of the Beanfield, it also highlighted the importance of the solstice and Stonehenge, as a means for celebration.

Beanfield
MTbeanfeild

Here is a track from Culture Shock’s first album; Messed Up.

The authorities sought to wipe out the travellers and their alternative lifestyle that day. But as the slogan goes; you can’t kill the spirit!

The illegal sound systems like Spiral Tribe and Bedlam introduced a new sound to the free festivals in the early 90’s. New age travellers and ravers – side by side. Me and some friends went to many of the illegal parties in the early 90’s, but that is another talk altogether.

This new lease of life enabled festivals to go ahead, culminating in the Castlemorton festival in 1992. The media estimated 40,000 people attended. This lead the government to pass the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act in 1994, which gave the police and authorities more powers to stop such events from taking place and also the council’s duty to provide permanent sites for travellers would be repealed, police would have new powers of unsupervised stop and search, and the criminalisation of “disruptive trespass” would have far-reaching consequences for squatters, travellers and protesters alike. Me and my friends joined the fight against the bill, with 50,000 other protestors we marched through central London to show the politicians what we thought of their bill. But to no avail and the bill was passed anyway and the party was over.

Castlemorton 1992
MTcastlemorton

The free festival movement had died. The travellers dispersed, most being forced to leave the life on the road behind them. The sound systems went to Europe and started the Teknivals. It must seem like an alien concept to the youth of today that they could attend a festival for free, which is organised by the people, for the people. Instead they have to pay a fortune to attend festivals that are so corporate, where the organisers are more interested in profit than people.

Urban Free Festival
MThurban

But the spirit lives on in the hearts, minds and stories of the people who were there, and the legacy of the music that is still enjoyed to this day and hopefully in the future. The space rock sound continues to influence many bands, including Spacemen 3 and later Spiritualized.

Here is a track from their 1997 masterpiece – Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space. No god, only religion.

This is space rock – Do not panic.

Thank you for listening Magic Brothers & Mystic Sisters and I hope you enjoyed the talk.

 

By Dan Robertson
From his talk at Jubilee Library Music Club, 1st March 2019

 

Don’t want to miss the next music club talk? Here are the upcoming dates!
It’s 4pm-4:45pm on a Friday, once a month.
2019 MUSIC

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