Festivalized by Ian Abrahams & Bridget Wishart

by stephenpalmersf

Although a few books have dealt with aspects of the alternative/free festival/underground scene – “The Battle of the Beanfield” edited by Andy Worthington comes to mind – none has provided the reader with quite such sumptuous detail as Ian Abrahams and Bridget Wishart’s Festivalized. Covering a period from the hazy, early days of free festi culture in the 1970s through to the last true free festival at Castlemorton, the book tells its tale with a sympathetic, yet never rose-tinted viewpoint, via the recollections, opinions and stories of many from the scene – famous individuals and ordinary punters alike. It’s a terrific read, and everyone who has come across the scene, whether tangentially, or in its entirety like the numerous musicians, artists and travellers who lived on the road, will want to check the book out.

The work not only follows the general flow of free festival history, it covers numerous aspects of the scene, from smaller things like the food, through larger considerations such as the politics and the drugs situation, to major events like the Battle of the Beanfield. Contributors come from all sides – musicians such as Joie of the Ozrics, Nik Turner, Swordfish of the Magic Mushroom Band, Cornish troubadour and all-round 12-string wizard Nigel Mazlyn Jones, Simon Williams of Mandragora… and many more: counter cultural free-thinkers like Penny Rimbaud and Mick Farren; plus a huge array of folk who were there… Oz Hardwick, Michael Dog, Jake Stratton-Kent to name just three. It’s a glittering array of contributors.

Particularly moving are the less pleasant memories. Many contributors dwell on likely reasons for the demise of the scene, not least the Brew Crew, the immense amounts of drugs, and a change in some communities’ perception (fuelled by a demonising right-wing press) of so-called New Age Travellers. Bridget contributes a sad epitaph as she recounts battling her particular demons (albeit with a happy ending). There is lots of positive stuff too of course, not least the cultural contributions that, alas, only underground types would recognise, and which Tory grandees in their great big houses failed even to recognise, let alone understand. Thatcher’s brutal inhumanity will never be forgotten in this country. Then there’s the music, the coming together of common people in mostly peaceful circumstances, the veggie curries, the buses, the wigged-out conversations around the camp fire…

This work could have been a freaked-out howl of rage against the rigidly class-structured, prejudiced conservatism of Britain. Instead it’s a measured, superbly put together, moving, funny, serious, thought-provoking account of a wonderful time in the alternative culture of our country. It deserves to be recognised as a historical document.

Highly recommended to all who have lived, learned from, or just admired at weekends British alternative culture and the magical promise of the free festival.