Here’s the first proper extract from the forthcoming Festivalized: Music, Politics, Alternative Culture. In this section we discuss the Aktivator ‘88 festival, which, while not strictly being a free festival, is very much of the free festival vive and ilk, and is notable in Hawkwind legend for being Richard Chadwick’s first gig with the band – probably in that summer’s ‘Hawkdog’ or ‘Agents of Chaos’ by-line.
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“The doctor’s wife went around and told all the old people to get their relatives to come and stay with them and lock up their garden sheds.”
Aktivator ’88, named after a Steve Hillage track, took place over the weekend of 12th – 14th August, 1988 and featured a collection of West Country bands, many hailing from the Bath scene. Nik Turner’s All-Stars, Rhythmites, Jonah and the Wail, Ozric Tentacles, Childe Roland, and the Hippy Slags were all listed on the flyers for this festival, whilst it also passed into Hawkwind folklore as the first appearance with the band of drummer Richard Chadwick, who would go on to become their second-longest serving member.
Not a free festival per se, it had a gate charge of £5 to raise funds for the travellers’ ‘Skool Bus’, a mobile educational establishment intended to follow the travelling community across the country, the registered keeper of which was Richie Cotterill. “Conflicts are arising amongst the travellers over where the Skool Bus should be,” noted its newsletter the following year. “The Skool Bus is a large, symbolic accumulation of the energy which has been put into this project but is only the beginning of this manifestation. It may not be long before the poisoned attitudes of our critics will destroy what little faith the travellers had in the whole project and after that, nothing will work.”
Hippy Slags at Aktivator ‘88 (Bridget Wishart Collection)
Sheila Wynter (Landowner): The farm was about ninety-eight acres, and then we bought another twenty, so it was quite a small farm. We had four fields down by the Severn and when it flooded, which it did every year between November and February, most of it went underwater, which was most inconvenient! We had a Rainbow Camp just before Aktivator started. They’d get in touch with a farm and say, ‘Can we do it?’ and they wouldn’t tell people where it was until the last minute. They’d get people signed up and then they’d say, ‘You go to this place on the OS map.’ They came with beautiful tents and organised a lot of talking and practical workshops. They knew me from the Farmers’ Third World Network. It was well organised, people came with tepees; they put up a wonderful shower that had a big boiler and they lit a fire and people would run out of their tents, all completely naked. There was a stuffy old Colonel who lived near the bottom of our garden and he was out with his binoculars every morning… someone caught him doing that! I sat in on some of their workshops and they’d have a talking stick which was passed around, and if you had something to say you’d say it while you held the stick, and if you didn’t you just passed it on. They talked about all sorts of topics, philosophy and religion; they had speakers and wonderful food in their kitchens and it was lovely.
“The Rainbow Circle is primarily dedicated to planetary healing, personal awareness and inner growth. Our aim is to provide a beautiful and protected village atmosphere for people who seek genuine human communication. The camp provides a focused space for experimental learning, knowledge sharing and ceremony.”
Quote from Rainbow Camp information flyer
Nigel Mazlyn Jones: At the last Stonehenge I remember a meeting of the people that had ‘organised’ it saying that its mayhem gave the authorities the excuse to dump on it big time. That ‘spiritually’ it was indicating these events had become too huge. That was the core issue. It was suffocating the beauty, the mystique and the atmosphere that Stonehenge could give to a smaller gathering. It had become out of hand, thus creating the reaction it got from the establishment. What came out of the meeting was that those who cared about having a gathering that was sacred and mystical should go and celebrate the other sacred sites in Britain in small gatherings. I was astonished that it worked, because out of it came the Rainbow Circle camps which were always paid for by a hat gathering and deliberately not advertised and avoided getting the druggies from London coming to deal and people abusing it. It very much spawned lots of little festivals that took on various cloaks of what they were trying to achieve. So whilst it appeared to all blow up, it actually created a whole other thing. Rainbow Camps were acoustically based and there were no generators allowed, no electric music, no star names, and no huge expenditure. No massive drug use – some of them were very specific: no drug use at all. I know lots of people who helped run these things and had children, and I’ve seen them grow up and become fine people, education professionals out there in the world doing all sorts of things. Children of those, if you like, wandering, searching adults.
Sheila Wynter: My husband was an alcoholic and had got himself into a really bad state and had taken himself off to a treatment centre, where he was for a very long time. [My son] Adrian talked about hosting a little music festival; I suppose I said ‘Okay,’ but I didn’t think much about it. Adrian had been saying, ‘We’re doing this for the Skool Bus’ and he kept talking about this young couple who were organising this collection to keep it running. Aktivator took over nearly the whole farm, we estimated about seven thousand attendees. We heard there were great queues of travellers coming down from Wales, which is when the police got interested – they were very worried. As the travellers came into the village, we got them in at a gate before the farm and we’d put a fence so that we could get lots of vehicles in all the way down. Then we got the caravans with horses into the paddock at the end. They were lovely because they brought with them their chickens and goats, and all their horses were having foals.
Bridget Wishart: [On travelling with horses]. You were, at that point, still able to do it. You needed the support of the people around you but you could just take to the road. Because of the animals’ needs they tended to park in one place, they weren’t part of the Brew Crew types because they had responsibilities to their animals. Yet they partied like other people but they had responsibilities that other people didn’t have. Some [normal travellers] would steal a vehicle to get to festivals and then abandon them and move on.
Dancers. Sheila Wynter.
Sheila Wynter: The travellers didn’t pay on the way in, but they paid on the way out because they’d had such a good time. The weather was good, there were no accidents - but there was one case of sheep-worrying and the villagers were terrified. The village didn’t really like us anyway and they were furious. They’d had the Rainbow Camp, which didn’t do any harm at all, but then all this lot came and the doctor’s wife went around and told all the old people to get their relatives to come and stay with them and lock up their garden sheds. All sorts of things, winding them up and saying it was dangerous – these people with earrings and coloured hair! They didn’t phone up or come around much, but there were a few threats.
Bridget Wishart: There was that whole thing… it would be portrayed on the news as ‘travellers are coming to your area’ and they’d have kind of, ‘Farmers, lock up your daughters and protect your land.’ Farmers and other landowners were blocking access to their land with huge stones so that travellers couldn’t pull onto it.
Stage at Aktivator. Sheila Wynter
Keith Bailey: At Megan’s Fayre, up in the mountains of Wales, a small festival with maybe five or ten thousand people, the local farmers got together and drove around spraying everybody with pig shit, which got rid of us for sure and we ended up on some barren hillside with no water or anything. The people who’d put it together had spent weeks and weeks on the site putting up these amazing facilities. Everything was made from wood and the people who set it up were just such nice people and the whole vibe was excellent. And that got turned over by the local authorities because the farmers around it hated us doing it. You’d get the progressive thinking people in any area who’d welcome it with open arms and say ‘look, it’s good for local businesses,’ because the shops would sell out of everything nearly overnight, but then you’d get the Colonel Blimps who were dyed-in-the-wool nimbies.
Sheila Wynter: There was a strong police presence; they took over a barn just up the hill, and there were helicopters as well. It was really feared that ‘things’ were going to happen. We sat around the kitchen table and a lot of the police chiefs came and Adrian explained what we’d done, and what we were doing. They said that they were going to keep an eye on it and it all seemed very solemn but there wasn’t any trouble, apart from the one sheep-worrying incident. The dogs were the worst thing, a lot of the travellers had dogs and they fought a bit and then they’d run off and there was one sheep killed, which was a bad thing and caused terrible anger. But nobody was defecating on the village green, which was what the villagers had all been warned they were going to do!
Bender being established, Sheila Wynter
Sheila Wynter: We thought that if we fed and watered and rested the people who were in charge of those coming in, and made sure they all had wood for their fires and the loos worked and laid on water… if we serviced them really well, the thing was much more likely to work. Adrian hired a digger and made two really big pits and had eighteen-hole loos. And he’d managed to find a timber yard that was selling up and said ‘I’ll buy all the wood’ and found some lorries to bring it all up to the farm, because otherwise they’d have taken down all our precious trees to make fires to cook with. So this wood was brought in, and Adrian arranged to have skips brought in each day to take all the rubbish away. He was only twenty at the time, but he was a brilliant organiser. There was a chap that did a morning and an afternoon newsletter letting people know what was happening. We had the Aga and we made bread constantly, and as soon as it was made we cut it into vegetarian and vegan sandwiches and took them up to the people who were dealing with things and taking the money. And we took all the money and put the cash in margarine containers in the fridge and then someone else took the cartons up to Tewkesbury and hid them under a bed! So when Adrian needed to pay the bands, someone else went and got the cash – and in the end there was about three thousand pounds left over for the Skool Bus. At the end he went up to the barn and said to the police, ‘Well, you’ve had a great time while we’ve had the festival. You’ve sat here the whole time playing cards, you haven’t had to do anything. Could you give us a donation for the Travellers’ Skool Bus?’ I don’t know whether they did, but they were fine and were really surprised. I liked the travellers and met a lot of them; there were bad ones of course and a lot of druggies. But you know, when people were really down and out and they got below the social services [radar] and they didn’t have an address, they were advised to go to the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army couldn’t really help them, because it had rules, quite reasonable rules but some of them couldn’t take that either, so the Salvation Army suggested they join the travellers. There was one woman who had a London bus with forests painted all over it and she had her own children but she’d also taken in some very sad cases and helped them. I thought she was a wonderful person. Some of the kids she’d taken in were from middle-class families, who’d got chucked out because of their behaviour. The travellers had their own First Aid unit, who were a lovely lot because you couldn’t get the Red Cross or St. Johns to come in. I had some old sheets and they wanted those to make bandages and stuff, not that there was much trouble… and there wasn’t too much trouble with drugs though we did have one chap who came into the farmhouse and said he’d been spiked and was very ill. He was all right, he got through, but that was a bit frightening.
Bridget Wishart: Jock, who was a healer and a homeopath, he and his wife Sally used to help people out; there were people who you knew, like you could say ‘Go and see her on the red bus, she’s got some herbal teas.’ But there were a slow but steady stream of people who would go and visit Sally and Jock to have various injuries and traumas tended. Sally always had her homeopathies with her. And she cooked the most amazing pea fritters!
Steve Bemand: Many times people off their heads or drunk would cause a rumpus of one kind or other. But it usually got chilled by people around them before a mass brawl could erupt, and the trouble-makers were always in the minority.
Jerry Richards: People would look out for one another. Someone came to our tent at one festival and said, ‘I’ve got this Timothy Leary acid here,’ and we said, ‘Yeah, sure, sure you have mate.’ But he said ‘No, seriously, I’m a chemist and I’ve got the formula together and made this stuff up.’ He got this blotter out that looked really professional, some sort of holographic paper and Steve Mills, the Tubilah Dog singer, and I, said we’d have some to try and it was really powerful stuff. Anyway, this guy at the same festival had tried it and was really off his head and going around hitting children because he was so far gone he said that they were ‘like demons, small demons.’ Of course, people spotted what was going on and grabbed hold of him, sat him down and tried to calm him, gave him a pipe and something to drink. But he was raving, and so someone put him on a flatbed truck and took him out of the festival site and into the nearest town and dropped him off. He wasn’t abandoned, because he was somewhere he could get some help. He was just beyond our help.
Tractor lads watching the Hippy Slags. Sheila Wynter
Sheila Wynter: Afterwards we got some of the travellers and went up to the top fields and we had about twenty people in a line and we went over the whole lot in case there were any needles. I don’t think we found anything. We had a few travellers who didn’t leave at the end and that caused a lot of trouble. I think it was difficult for some of them to move on for one reason or another, they should have done but didn’t. They all did go away eventually. One sinister lot had a big black hearse, there were about six of them and they weren’t very popular. But it was a very difficult time for me; the farmer who’d lost a sheep came over and there was a terrible row in the kitchen. I had neighbours coming down and shouting at me, and that was very unpleasant. The village never forgave me, but then quite soon afterwards I had to sell the farm anyway – and they were very glad to get rid of me. I was one of the oldest inhabitants of the village by the time I left, but I’d say hello and people who I’d known for years, I was there for thirty-odd years, would just turn away from me in the street or shout at me. At one time I had a letter from Malvern Hills District Council saying that they were prosecuting me for making a noise after midnight for four nights running and they were charging me something like seven thousand pounds. Someone said to me ‘What about this letter, this prosecution? What are you going to do about it?’ Well, I didn’t know what I was going to do about it because I didn’t have seven thousand pounds so I said, ‘Well, I suppose I’ll have to go to prison.’ I didn’t realise it, but someone from the press was listening to this and they put it on Radio Gloucester, and Malvern Hills Council had farmers’ wives from all over the place phoning up saying, ‘What are you doing? You’re going to put a farmer’s wife in prison just because the children have been having a music festival!’ They couldn’t prosecute me because I didn’t own the land, my husband did. I did take exception to [being prosecuted] though because we were [in those days] having planes coming zooming over the farm making a noise, but this was music… and noise and making music are very different things. It took about ten days to get everyone off the farm, and then we had to dispose of the abandoned cars. There was a scam with the AA, because they did a deal that guaranteed to get you from A to B if you broke down, no matter what condition your car was in. So a whole lot of cars arrived that were total wrecks – some were towed in because they didn’t have any engines at all. The AA came in and took some of them to the next festival but others were just abandoned. Of course, the AA put that loophole right very quickly but the travellers caught this thing where they paid up at the beginning of the year and the AA towed them from festival to festival!