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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Coal as Capital

NCB tank engine near Dalmellington 1960s

No coal? No capitalism! Discuss.

Inspired by this book of photos of Ayrshire mines and miners-
Mining: Ayrshire’s Lost Industry- Guthrie Hutton, Stenlake Publishing, 1996

I was brought up in a house beside a railway to the small town and port of Kirkcudbright 10 miles away. The railway passed underneath a road which led to the much larger town and port of Ayr 50 miles away. Before it closed in 1965, I travelled by steam train to Kirkcudbright a couple of times. After it was closed, I missed seeing and hearing the steam trains, but for another ten years or so the road to Ayr offered a glimpse of steam in action around the coal mines at Dalmellington.

The Ayr road (A 713) winds its way up through the green valley/ glen of the rivers Dee, Ken and Deuch which are part of a hydro-electric scheme built in the 1930s. Beyond Dalry the road climbs up onto a mix of moorland and forestry and the tiny village of Carsphairn between by the Rhinns of Kells and Cairnsmore of Carsphairn  which are 2500 feet high hill ranges. Beyond Carsphairn the road crosses the watershed between rivers flowing south and rivers flowing north.  It then enters a narrow rocky ravine, winding and twisting beside the Muck Water as it drops down towards Dalmellington. From Dalmellington down to Ayr, the road was joined by a railway, originally planned in the 1840s to carry on past Dalmellington  down through Galloway to the Solway Firth at Balcary Bay near Auchencairn. Back in 1803, a canal following a similar route had been planned to give Galloway access to the coal already being mined around Dalmellington - since despite several efforts, no coal had been found (since it did not exist) in Galloway.

Rhinns of Kells from Carsphairn

Since there was also iron ore in the hills around Dalmellington, the Dalmellington Iron Company was set up in 1847- but had to wait until 1856 for the railway to reach the town and the link on to Galloway was never built. The iron works lasted until the 1920s, but the associated coal mines  survived until 1978 and open cast coal mining continues in the area. The many coal mines in the area around  Dalmellington  still used  small industrial steam engines to haul the coal down to the docks at Ayr - where most of it was exported to northern Ireland. The railway is still open, but nowadays the open cast coal is hauled out by diesel-electric engines.

Back in the late sixties/ early seventies, when the steam engines, the mines and the huge ‘bing’ (a large mound of waste from the iron works and coal mines)  at Waterside were still part of the landscape, the contrast between rural Galloway and industrial Ayrshire was very dramatic and powerful. In the course of a few miles a shift from a still essentially eighteenth century (despite the hydro-electric dams and power stations) to the nineteenth century occurred.  Between Carsphairn and Dalmellington, the industrial revolution suddenly happened. There was also, although I didn’t realise at the time, a political  and cultural  shift from Conservative voting Galloway to Labour voting Ayrshire.

Beoch drift mine, opened 1936, closed 1968. North-east of Dalmellington, at 1068 feet, was highest coal mine in Scotland.

Thinking about it now, if coal had been found in Galloway, would this have lessened  the economic, political and cultural difference between Ayrshire and Galloway? Probably it would. I now know that a small group of young men from  the Glenkens (on the non-coal side of the geological divide) moved to  north-west England in the late eighteenth century as apprentices to a machine maker (who also came from the same area) and went on to found the two biggest cotton spinning businesses in Manchester. [Kennedy and McConell and A and G Murray]. They were amongst the first to successfully use steam power to spin cotton and one (John Kennedy of Knocknalling and Ancoats)  was  closely involved in the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the first ‘inter-city’ railway. [Older railway were built to link coal mines with ports].

The growth of the Manchester cotton industry as an ’industrial revolution’  was observed at first hand by Friedrich  Engels in 1842/3.  These observations influenced both Engels and Karl Marx.

The Proletariat originated in the industrial revolution, which took place in England in the last half of the last (18th) century, and which has since then been repeated in all the civilized countries of the world. This industrial revolution was precipitated by the discovery of the steam engine, various spinning machines, the mechanical loom, and a whole series of other mechanical devices. These machines, which were very expensive and hence could be bought only by big capitalists, altered the whole mode of production and displaced the former workers, because the machines turned out cheaper and better commodities than the workers could produce with their inefficient spinning wheels and handlooms. The machines delivered industry wholly into the hands of the big capitalists and rendered entirely worthless the meagre property of the workers (tools, looms, etc.). The result was that the capitalists soon had everything in their hands and nothing remained to the workers. This marked the introduction of the factory system into the textile industry. [Freidrich Engels, 1847, The Principles of Communism ]

However, missing from Marx and Engels’ critiques of  political economy was an understanding of the ‘thermodynamics of capitalism’. The science of thermodynamics  developed in the nineteenth century as attempts were made to better understand the scientific principles of steam (heat) engines. The practical  improvement of steam engines from Newcomen’s 1712 atmospheric engine through the Watt engine to Trevithick’s high-pressure steam engine were based on technological/ engineering trial and error rather than abstract science.

Marx and Engels concentrated on the concrete - human labour; rather than the abstract - fossilised energy; in their attempts to understand the dynamics of capitalism. But, as Tony Wrigley argues in ‘Energy and the English Industrial Revolution’ [ Cambridge, 2011] without coal there would have been no industrial revolution. And so no proletariat.

The problem is growth. As David Harvey [The Enigma of Capital, 2010] explains it, capitalism depends on economic growth, on a cycle through which the capital invested at the beginning of the productive cycle has increased by the end of the productive cycle.  Labour, human work, is essential to this process, adding value to the capital invested since only part of the value added is returned to labour (the workers) via wages.  Most of the value added is creamed off as ‘profit’, which is then re-invested to start the cycle working again. Without growth, without economic expansion, the system would not work.. Without coal, the ability to expand and grow would have been limited by a whole set of natural limitations. Huge forests would have been needed to provide timber for fuel while at the same time huge amounts of land would have been needed to grow fodder for horse transport and food for the industrial  work force. Coal replaced wood as fuel (including iron smelting) and was the energy source for the steam engines which increased the speed of production and distribution. Coal was the fuel which powered the unlimited expansion of capital.
Late eighteenth century English coal mine.

Working forward from the history of the Galloway Levellers uprising of 1724 to the later eighteenth century improvement of agriculture in Galloway, I found it went hand in hand with attempts to create a cotton industry in Galloway - as a way to provide employment for the people cleared off the land by improvement. The local cotton factories were water powered and lost out to Manchester‘s steam powered cotton mills. So Galloway remained a rural/ farming economy and society. But , as I discovered, a group of young men (teenagers) who left Galloway to become apprentices near Manchester were able [see above] to become leading cotton spinning factory owners in Manchester.

Then, a few days ago, I found Guthrie Hutton’s book on  the coal mining industry in Ayrshire. There is not much text, it is mainly 200 or so photographs from the 1880s to the 1960s. The photographs are of the mines (above and below ground), the miners and the ‘rows’ they lived in. Some are of the mines I remember seeing forty years ago. Looking through the book has been a revelation, has shifted my perception and understanding of ‘local’ history in the same way that discovering the links to Manchester did.

Realistically, the cotton industry could never have taken off in Galloway, could never have transformed its towns and villages into industrial cities. But if coal had been found beneath the fields and moors of Galloway, then Galloway’s development would have been similar to that of Ayrshire. Mines would have been dug, rows of shoddy houses put up for the miners and their families and a network of industrial railways (or canals) built to carry away the coal. The whole culture- social, economic and political - of the region would have been different.
Sorn drift mine, east Aysrhire. Closed 1983.

So if I ask the question now “What is the history of Galloway?” - my answer is “An accident of geology.”

Could capitalism be the product of a similar ‘accident of geology’?  If the British coal fields had been buried just a bit deeper, the early shallow coal mines could not have been developed so the early industrial revolution  would not have been able to take-off in places like Manchester. Without shallow mined coal from Newcastle, London could not have grown so large in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Without the demand for coal, the need to push mines deeper would not have existed and so Newcomen’s atmospheric steam engine would not have been needed…so James Watt would not have developed his improved engine…

The counter argument is that the culture of scientific knowledge and technological improvement fostered by the Enlightenment would have led to such developments anyway. I am not so sure.

The reality of thousands of men, women and children hacking out the coal and hauling it to the surface is not very ‘Enlightened’.

To be continued…

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Festivalization of Punk

The Festivalization of Punk: Punking up the Festivals
1981-when the Puppy Collective met The Mob

"Now we will see real class war" 10 June 1983.
Margaret Thatcher had just got re-elected on a wave of imperial nostalgia. As dawn broke and the horror hit us, Tony Drayton and myself grabbed a tin of paint and wrote those words on a wall overlooking the North London Railway. A few days later the Kill Your Pet Puppy Collective plus The Mob set off for Stonehenge free festival. I stayed to feed the cats and go to work at London Rubber.

I wrote Encyclopaedia of Ecstasy Volume One then and later some pages for Kill Your Pet Puppy Number Six. It was to be the last KYPP. The Mob played their last (until 2012) gig in November 1983. Fast forward to 24 June 2016 and the results of the EU referendum came through. It was a similar shock, as if the ghost of Margaret Thatcher had risen from the grave...

I started this- third- review of a book 'Festivalized'- before 23 June. It was difficult to finish, the future overshadowing the past. To make a connection between now and then, I have taken an old greengalloway post and interlaced new text between the pages of KYPP 6.

Warning- this book will blow your mind! It is called Festivalized and it is about the music, politics and alternative culture of the free-festival movement. It is 320 pages long but I read it in a day. The day was the 1 June, the 31st anniversary of the Battle of the Beanfield. Two weeks later and the memories and connections the book sparked off are still haunting me.

What makes the book so fascinating is the way it weaves together ‘music, politics and alternative culture’ through 40+ personal accounts to build up a dynamic picture of the free-festival movement. Steve Lake of Zounds is one of the people interviewed for the book. Steve mentions how Zounds met The Mob -‘a punk band who were travelling with Here and Now’- at a free-festival. [Page 108] In August 1981 the Kill Your Pet Puppy collective met up with The Mob at mini free-festival. It was a very creatively fruitful encounter. I remember discussing  how to finance what was to become ‘Let the Tribe Increase’ with Mark Wilson in the kitchen of Puppy Mansions in 1982 and in 1983 the theme of KYPP 6 was a  Mob inspired journey to Stonehenge free festival.

This intertwining of punk and the free-festival movement which ‘Festivalized’ documents was touched on but not developed by Jon Savage in his account of punk’s immediate  (1975) origins in ’England’s Dreaming’ (1991, pp 111-112).

[Squatting] was a harsher version of the hippie dream, with a sound track by the group Hawkwind, but it was none the less potent. With the dole, squatting made living in central London accessible and affordable. This access allowed the rapid city-transits of the Punk period.


The first free-festivals were held in Windsor Great Park 1972-74, followed by the first Stonehenge festival in 1974. The bizarre state sponsored Watchfield free festival took place in August 1975. The first Sex Pistols gig took place in November 1975. When punk band ATV played at Stonehenge in 1978, there were only about 4000 people there. By 1983 there were about 40 000. It was only in 1976 that there were enough free-festivals for people to travel from one to another rather than returning home in between.

In other words the free-festivals grew and developed in parallel with punk and were in their own way a response and reaction to the recuperation of the 60s cultural revolution by the music business and mainstream media.

The 60s cultural revolution was inspired by acid, H-bombs and automation. Automation was the technology of a future without work where computers and robots would create a world of abundance rather than scarcity. It would be the fulfilment through capitalism of Marx’s vision of  a communist society

where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. [German Ideology, 1845]


Adding acid to the mix immanentized the eschaton [see http://illuminatus.wikia.com/wiki/Immanentizing_the_Eschaton ]

What is to come tomorrow
Let it come today
What is to come today
Let it come right now
Say not, now and then
Oh lord white as jasmine

We want the world
And we want it
We want the world
And we want it…
[Jim Morrison]

Automation didn’t deliver and the H-bombs never fell. But as the sixties gave way to the seventies the acid inspired visions of UBut thanks to the H-bomb this potential future was at any moment liable to be vapourised. bi Dwyer and Wally Hope (Phil Russell) drove the psychedelic revolution forward into confrontation with the British state.

Dwyer organised three free festivals held in Windsor Great Park between 1972 and 1974. Windsor is a Royal Park, close to Windsor castle#, one of the many official residences of the UK royal; family. Holding a free festival at Windsor, squatting the Queen’s back garden, was a politically symbolic act and the British state responded by violently evicting the psychedelic  squatters in 1974.

The first Stonehenge free festival was held in June 1974 but attracted only two or three hundred people. Its location was as symbolic as Windsor, but at a different deeper level. Stonehenge is older than England and its kings and queens. It is older than Glastonbury with its myths of the Holy Grail and which had been attracting mystically inclined hippies since the late 1960s.

In 1978, when ATV, Here and Now and The Mob played, the festival only attracted about 5 or 6000 people. By 1984, the last year it was held, numbers had grown to between 40 and 60 000. If it had continued numbers attending could easily have reached 100 000. For comparison the highest recorded attendance at Glastonbury unfree festival was 153 000 in 2005.

One of the most fascinating things about ‘Festivalized’ is the way the multiple accounts of the participants highlights the crucial difference between unfree festivals like Glastonbury and the free festivals. Unlike  unfree festivals, at free festivals the music was only part of what was going on. The main appeal of free festivals was the discovery by those who went that the festivals were not manufactured products to passively consume but collectively constructed situations to be actively experienced.

No doubt the acid helped, but in ‘Senseless Acts of Beauty’ (1996, pp 19-21) George McKay gives an account of his experience of Stonehenge free festival 1984 and how he changed from feeling an alienated outsider to an integrated insider ‘comfortable and at ease’ with the festival. As part of the punk generation, McKay was also struck by the blurring of difference between hippies and punks in the eight years since the year zero of 1976.

What is interesting about Anthony Barnett’s discussion of Englishness and Britishness is that he sees a separation between the two as emerging since 1999 when Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but not England gained powers devolved from the UK parliament. Many voters in England are annoyed because they feel that England is missing out through not having its own devolved parliament.

But if such a parliament was created, it would diminish the power of the British/ UK parliament and lead to a Disunited Kingdom. Who would be more powerful -the First Minister of an English parliament? Or the Prime Minister of the Westminster/ UK parliament?

To avoid this situation neither Tory nor Labour have supported moves towards setting up an English parliament. Barnett argues that this has led to a displacement of English resentment from a focus on the Westminster parliament onto the EU, which Ukip and anti-EU Tories have exploited.

But if a section of English society were at least uncomfortable and at most outraged by Margaret Thatcher’s Falklands era British/English nationalism, the separation of British from English identity had begun long before devolution in 1999. And one of the first signs of this disaffection is the ’Union Jack with Smiley Face’ flag used by Wally Hope/Phil Russell and the Wallies at Stonehenge in 1974.

While Jamie Reid stuck a defaced queen on the union jack for the Sex Pistols, the Wally flag reduces the flag and all its stands for to inanity. Like watching the Trooping of the Colours or the State Opening of Parliament on acid when the whole monstrous solemnity of the events flips over into a spectacle of side-splitting hilarity, the Wally flag mocks the pretensions of the past.


Even before the Sex Pistols, the alternative culture saw no future in England’s endless imperial dreaming. It dreamt of William Blake’s Albion and of a time at once before and after Empire.

The golden age of the future comes
That which was dreamed of in the past
Where freedom reigns on minds at peace
Minds rich in wisdom to the last
We are the children of the sun
And this is our inheritance
No longer chaos and confusion
But love and laughter, song and dance
[Hawkwind ‘Children of the Sun’, on ‘In Search of Space’, 1971]

That the reality of free festivals, even in the early days, could be chaos, confusion and violence is documented in ‘Festivalized’. But the vision of an alternative England they represented became increasingly attractive as the patriotic frenzy unleashed by the Falklands War sent shock-waves through the fabric of English society.

The economic policies of the Thatcher government had already torn the heart out of manufacturing industry, creating a reserve army of the unemployed which fatally weakened the trade unions and organised labour. What the Falklands War allowed was an intensification of this class war. As the miners were to discover, if the Argentineans were the ‘enemy without’ then they could be classified as the ‘enemy within’.

The revival of the Cold War added to the sense of crisis. Plans to allocate the UK nuclear Cruise missiles saw a rapid rise in CND membership and the establishment of dozens of peace camps at nuclear bases around the country.

The cumulative effect then was to increase the pool of people who were attracted to the Stonehenge free festival as an actually existing alternative to Thatcher’s England. Unlike other free festivals, the Henge, through its proximity to the Stones, was able to tap into a mythical version of Englishness which could be counterpoised to Maggie’s manic vision.

But was it ‘Englishness’? I think so. No equivalent of the Stonehenge festival emerged in Scotland or Wales. It was unique in its size and its connection to a powerful symbol of an ‘England before England’, a deep dreamtine in which all of England’s history could be dissolved and recombined in an endless kaleidoscope of other Englands. Brian Aldiss’ 1969 psychedelic sf novel ‘Barefoot in the Head’ reads like documentary of the time.

Aldiss's story begins in the aftermath of a new World War, during
which bombs filled with hallucinogenics fell on many European cities. Peace now reigns, but social norms and institutions have collapsed as citizens struggle to distinguish between reality and drug-induced fantasy. Building are intact, but the minds of the citizenry have been pharmaceuticalized…

Was the attempt to create an alternative England really a threat to the British state?  An inconvenience no doubt, but a threat? Hardly. Yet great efforts were made to stop the Stonehenge festival and break up the related travelling culture.

If there was a threat it lay in the subversive appeal of refusal. A refusal of the neoliberal consensus which has become even more dominant since the Thatcher era. But although the Thatcher era is associated the rise of neoliberalism, there is nothing particularly English about neoliberalism, it is just the latest version of global capitalism. Indeed there is a contradiction in here. Neoliberalism is destructive of historic local (national) identities because they resist the free flow of capital, of commodities and labour. Marx and Engels noted this in 1848.

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.

The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.


It is quite confusing. I have just been reading ‘The Englishness of English Punk: Sex Pistols, Subcultures and Nostalgia’ by Ruth Adams (2008) suggested by Matthew Worley. A quote…

The Pistols, then, might be regarded as unlikely guardians of English Heritage, albeit expressing a history which stressed the popular cultural and the radical dissenting pamphleteering elements of that heritage rather than the more conventional (pro)monarchical and aristocratic aspects.

But there was more to punk than the Pistols and by the time Kill Your Pet Puppy 6 came out the Pistols had been over for five years- although it seemed more like 50 due to the intensity of the Thatcher years.

Unlike previous KYPPs or Ripped and Torns before them (R & T started in late 1976), KYPP 6 was a narrative, the story of a journey from the punks squats of London to a free festival at Stonehenge. The shift in perspective was influenced by Mark Wilson and The Mob who -as mentioned above - we met at a micro-free festival on Parliament Hills in August 1981. By 1983 Mark and Josef (ex-Zounds, then drummer with The Mob, later of Blithe Power) were living in the same Black Sheep Housing Co-op as the Puppy Collective.

It is quite confusing. I have just been reading ‘The Englishness of English Punk: Sex Pistols, Subcultures and Nostalgia’ by Ruth Adams (2008) suggested by Matthew Worley. A quote…

The Pistols, then, might be regarded as unlikely guardians of English Heritage, albeit expressing a history which stressed the popular cultural and the radical dissenting pamphleteering elements of that heritage rather than the more conventional (pro)monarchical and aristocratic aspects.

But there was more to punk than the Pistols and by the time Kill Your Pet Puppy 6 came out the Pistols had been over for five years- although it seemed more like 50 due to the intensity of the Thatcher years.

Unlike previous KYPPs or Ripped and Torns before them (R & T started in late 1976), KYPP 6 was a narrative, the story of a journey from the punks squats of London to a free festival at Stonehenge. The shift in perspective was influenced by Mark Wilson and The Mob who -as mentioned above - we met at a micro-free festival on Parliament Hills in August 1981. By 1983 Mark and Josef (ex-Zounds, then drummer with The Mob, later of Blithe Power) were living in the same Black Sheep Housing Co-op as the Puppy Collective.


The Mob had played at Stonehenge in 1978 at later festivals. The Mob connection inspired not just KYPP 6 but actual trips to Stonehenge in 1982, 83 and 84.  As ‘Festivalized’ shows, this was part of a wider crossover between punk and the free festivals.

But was this all part of the construction of an alternative Englishness rather an alternative Britishness? I have been living back in Scotland for 19 years and from that perspective, especially from the intense two years of the Scottish independence referendum campaign and its aftermath, it does seem more English than British. If it had been British, then the free-festival/ punk intersection would have had  an impact in Scotland. Punk certainly did, but not the later, 1980s, developments. Those developments simply did not register in Scotland  and the whole era is unknown. Viewed from Scotland, alternative England as it was and is, is invisible.

But then, even within England, unless you were part of the alternative culture it is also invisible. Instead, reactionary Englishness, the Englishness which saw the Falklands War as a ‘Nazi invasion of Ambridge’, of Nigel Farage and Ukip, of the ‘take our country back’ Leave campaign appears to prevail
If it was easy to define as percentage vote based on the EU referendum, then 53.4 % of England is reactionary and 46.6%  of England is radical. Nothing is ever that straightforward though, but on a best guess using social media interactions, alternative England voted remain. Not through love of the EU, but because of the Leave campaign represented precisely that England the alternative culture  was an alternative to.

To take England back to a time before the EU is to take the country back to the late sixties /early seventies when the alternative culture emerged and  to the intertwined origins of the free festivals and punk in 1974 when the Labour government elected in October promised to hold the first EU (EEC/ Common Market then) referendum…

1974. For future punks it was the year of the Diamond Dogs and for pot-head pixies the year Gong released You. The year of the last Windsor free festival and the first Stonehenge one.

And then here we are now, these words tucked away between the pages of Kill Your Pet Puppy Six, written in 1983, so close to 1984, so far from here in 2016.

Were the words and images, which surround these words and images, part of an alternative England? Of an alternative future? The soundtrack to KYPP 6 is 'Let the Tribe Increase' by The Mob. There is not much escapism in the songs, they are angry and punk as fuck.They are also defiant.We had no illusions about the future, we knew that it was going to be hard. Yet there was also a determination that we would not give up, that we would carry on and continue. That, as George McKay was to put it later, that ours was a culture of resistance.

It was, it still is a culture of hope and celebration. Mob gigs were not gloomy events, they were joyful, colourful, uplifting events. There was a powerful sense of solidarity which has endured. More the 30 years on the friendships and connections made then are still there.

Idealism tempered by realism. Realism inspired by idealism.

Yeah, that sounds about right.


Ozrics Tentacles Greenlands Farm 1985

In October 1985, Ozrics Tentacles played a gig in the orchard at Greenlands farm near Glastonbury. Pinki and I were living in bender there at the time and I remember the gig. I found this track from the 'Live Ethereal Cereal' album while searching for 'Greenlands Farm'. I hadn't realised the gig had been recorded.

I was digging up the past because on 16 July 2012 the Mob 1983 album 'Let the Tribe Increase' will be re-released on vinyl by Overground Records. Then on 19 July 2012, the paperback edition of Andy Roberts' Albion Dreaming - a popular history of LSD in Britain will be published.

The connecting link between album, book and Greenlands Farm is Stonehenge Free Festival. Members of the Mob attended the Festival in 1977 and played at the Festival in 1978. The Mob came from Yeovil in Somerset and as Mark Wilson of the Mob explains (in my sleeve notes on re-release of ' Let the Tribe Increase')-
The real shining light of living in Yeovil for me was the closeness of Stonehenge. We would go on school trips to London and would pass the festival which at the time was only 2 or 300 people. I remember vividly thinking "That’s for me". From about 77 or 78 the whole Yeovil scene would decamp to Stonehenge for weeks on end.  Most of the songs were written hitch- hiking up and down the A303 to London.  
In 1983,when Tribe was first released, Mark (and Josef, then drummer in the Mob, later of Blyth Power) was living in one of the four Black Sheep Housing Co-op houses in London where Tony D, editor of Ripped and Torn (1976-1979) and Kill Your Pet Puppy (1979-1983) myself and many others (including Bob Short of Blood and Roses and Andy Palmer of Crass) also lived. The last issue of Kill Your Pet Puppy was written by Tony and myself and was based around a fictionalised trip to Stonehenge Festival with Mark and Josef as  leading characters.

Stonehenge was just one (if the biggest ) of many free-festivals.
The free-festival movement, building on its success in the Seventies was, in the early Eighties, massive and going from strength to  strength… If  the much- vaunted LSD revolution was anywhere it lay at the heart of the free-festival culture whose anarchy, acceptance and desire  to live a life  not defined by laws or materialism seemed to be the living embodiment of the psychedelic experience…But more and more unemployed young people [aka punks], driven out of squats or bored with low paid jobs were becoming attracted to the travelling life, squatting in the winter, going to festivals in the summer…Fee festival veterans did their best to be inclusive of these newcomers, many of whom were LSD users keen to become part of the travellers’ subculture. But many failed to understand the history and culture that the original hippie travelling community were rooted in and frictions inevitably arose.[Albion Dreaming, 2008, p 205]
Then on 1 June 1985 came the infamous Battle of the Beanfield  This had been preceded on 6 February 1985 by the eviction of the Rainbow Village Peace Camp at RAF Molesworth by 1500 soldiers and police. Some of those evicted in February were part of the convoy of travellers vehicles attacked by the police on 1 June. Many of the survivors found refuge at Greenlands Farm (then owned by Alison Collyer) just outside Glastonbury.

In late summer 1985, a meeting was held at Greenlands Farm to discuss the future of the Stonehenge Free Festival and myself and Pinki came up from Hackney to take part. Pinki was an active member of the Stonehenge Campaign, set up after the Battle of the Beanfield. [See Pinki and the Druids ] We were still there in October when Ozrics Tentacles played their gig there.

We had gone back to Hackney, but had been asked to return by Carol, who was one of the 'healers' who lived there. The other healer was Maggie (I think). One night I heard a woman sobbing in the field outside our bender. I went outside and found Maggie in a state of extreme distress. There had been an incident earlier. It had involved a guy having a row with his partner, getting drunk and trying to drive of in his truck/ bus- and crashing into a bender and almost killing its occupants. He had been hauled out of the vehicle and beaten up. He was then thrown off-site, but before then Maggie had had to patch him up and the whole fucking stupidity of the situation had been too much for her and she had a breakdown.

I found her and took her back to her caravan and spent most of the night with her doing my best to 'heal the healer'. This must have impressed her and Carol. So after me and Pinki had gone back to Hackney, Carol and Charley Barley turned up at our council flat and asked us to go back. Carol was very persuasive, she had a vision of how the (new) travelling community were taking in young people who had no future in the cities and teaching them how to live different lives through the festivals and traveller sites, connecting them back to the land their ancestors and once lived on. I think she and Charley saw myself and Pinki as people who could help bridge the cultural gap [see the Andy Roberts quote above] between 'punks' and 'hippies'.

So we went back with them to Greenlands farm and so were there for the Ozrics gig. Then a few weeks later our bender blew down in a gale and cold and wet we returned to the city. Pinki had lived through several winters at the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp and knew how hard it would be to stay any longer.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dark Age Punks?

Late Medieval painting of Pictish Adam and Eve

Describing the Picts to me when I visited the Galloway Picts Project dig at Trusty's Hill, archaeologist Ronan Toolis said they were like the punks of the Dark Ages- the people the Romans could not conquer. They were the fiercely independent people who lived beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire.

The people who lived in Galloway (south west Scotland) were not Picts and were (for about 100 years) part of the Roman Empire. But just as the images and symbols of punk became widespread, so did those of the Picts. The symbols below are carved on a rock at the entrance to a hill fort (Trusty's Hill) in Galloway. The one on the left is Pictish, the one on the right is not.
No one knows what they mean. One theory is that they were carved by a Pictish raiding party after they attacked the fort. Alternatively (and more likely) they represent some kind of alliance between the Picts and the local people - but from the sixth century, after the Romans had left Britain.

In 1500 years time, if a future archaeologist finds this symbol buried in a layer of debris, I wonder what they will make of it?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Dirty Water-Birth of Punk Attitude 1 and 2

Kris Needs presents... Dirty Water The Birth of Punk Attitude. Volumes One and Two.
Available from Year Zero/ Future Noise

First up - major thank you to Mick Baxter for sending me these. Second up, thanks to Kris Needs  for assembling such a boundary/ mind expanding collection of  tunes. There are 72 tracks altogether, ranging from Woody Guthrie to Sun Ra, from Gene Vincent to Tapper Zukie…and about a thousand points in between. Or maybe even an infinite number, like a mathematical paradox in which no matter how many extra tracks are added, the Yero Zero of punk can never quite be reached.

Listening through the whole 72 tracks as I have just done, one minute you are swooping down on a wave of sound which is punk as fuck and the next  you are whooshing off into some other musical universe. But then as Kris  defines/ describes it  ‘Punk was an attitude born of either struggle or limited means, which could exist in anything from  rooftop doo wop crooners, circuit abusing alchemists or bands picking up guitars and recording  themselves with little idea of tradition in their chosen musical genre.’

One way of listening to this sonic assemblage is to hear it as a range of possible/ potential ‘punk’ styles, any one set of which could have become actualised as punk in Year Zero.  From the perspective of Year Thirty Six, we know what punk really sounds like so certain tracks jump out as being ancestral to punk. But right up until Year Zero itself  this would have been impossible. Only after Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Mclaren had commodified/fetishised the punk attitude was it possible to do so. Once punk became a product, a saleable commodity, then distinctions between what was and was not punk could be made.

In February 1977, the front cover of International Times (launched in 1966) announced ’Punk is Dead’. By June 1977,  Kris Needs was having conversations with various (well known) punks ‘who all bemoaned, in their individual ways, the predictable cliché mentality  sweeping a movement  supposed to be injecting freshness and destroying old orders. By that summer, punk was increasingly dominated by an ever-swelling army sporting the requisite leather and studs uniforms behaving  how they’d read  about the Sex Pistols  doing in the tabloids, seemingly destined to go the way of the teddy boys….’

One way of visualising this is to imagine an upside down funnel. The broad end of the funnel represents the various  potential forms of punk as illustrated by the ‘Dirty Water’ tracks, the narrow end the actuality of punk in 1977. Then  imagine a right-way up funnel to represent the post-77 explosion of diversity as creative experimentation began pushing against the boundaries of  actualised punk. Mark Perry’s  movement through punk as potential, punk as actuality and then on to the possibilities of post-punk illustrate this movement through the phase-spaces of punk.

And then? It all falls apart and what seemed so solid melts into air.  In his book ‘England’s Dreamimg’, Jon Savage exhaustively documented the origins of punk as Year Zero. It is a weighty, compelling  and compulsive text which seems to explain everything and has the creative tensions of the relationship between Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Mclaren at its heart. By giving birth to the Sex Pistols, Westwood and Mclaren gave birth to punk through ‘Sex’ (their shop)  and stamped their DNA all over it. It is a still powerful myth- but is it history?

The more I listen to ‘Dirty Waters’, the more it begins to wash away the encrusted mythology of punk to reveal the outlines of a more confusing and complex history of punk. This is simultaneously disconcerting and exhilarating. Jon Savage and many others who have written about the origins of punk in the UK focus on the economic crises of the mid-seventies - the shocks caused by the oil price rise which followed the 1973 Arab-Israel war and the conflict between Ted Heath’s Tory government and trades unions/ miners - which led to the 3 day week and power cuts over the winter of 1973/4. Which was then followed by two general elections in 1974 and a minority Labour government which experienced a financial crisis in 1975 when the UK had to be bailed out by the International Monetary Fund.

This creates the impression that punk was in some way a response to these immediate crises- which get mixed up in hindsight with the 1978/9 ‘winter of discontent’ when dead bodies piled up in mounds in the streets. [Allegedly]. This ‘broken Britain’ narrative leads on to the election of Margaret Thatcher in May 1979 and a political/ economic/ social lurch to the right which has lasted down  to the present. Punk then becomes a signifier for major social change.

But if the origins of the punk attitude extend further back in time than 1974/5 this narrative loses some of its immediacy. As revised by Kris Needs, punk becomes less unique and its boundaries become blurred. What starts to emerge is punk as part of a long tradition of popular resistance/ opposition to the dominant/ruling structures of society. The music has its origins in the anti-establishment ballads of folk song and the fanzines in the similar broadsheets of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Dig beneath the surface of any historical era and you will find evidence of radical countercultures and of upsurges in political activity which lead to riots and occasionally even civil wars and revolutions.

In the particular case of punk, the deeper historical dimension can be traced back to Malcolm Mclaren and Jamie Reid’s 1970 attempt to document the history of Oxford Street via an unfinished film. ‘The film ends with a grand parade of London stores. In the middle of this spectacle is a scene straight from Situationist demonology: Smoke seen coming from a building, a restaurant is on fire. Procession stops’. The Gordon Riots of  June 1780 are also included. Mclaren and Reid’s account begins ‘ The middle class started it against the Catholics. Then hundreds of shop keepers, carpenters, servants, soldiers and sailors rushed into the streets. There were only a few Catholic houses to smash. So they started to smash all the rich houses. The middle classes  did nor want anything to do with this. The rioters then burned down all five London prisons. They wanted to knock down everything that stopped them having fun and made them unhappy. They wanted to set all the mad people free and free the lions from the Tower of London’. [ From Jon Savage, England’s Dreaming, 1991, page 41]  

The Gordon Riots were just that. No revolution followed them. But nine years later on the 14 July 1789 in Paris a similar explosion of unrest led to the storming of the Bastille prison and the French Revolution. 1793 became Year One of the new French  revolutionary calendar and thus the historical origin of punk’s ‘Year Zero’. If the events of May 1968 in Paris/ France had (as the Situationists hoped) led to a new revolution, this would have been another Year Zero. The mythology and rhetoric of the Situationists, if not their critical analysis of modern capitalism, was recycled into punk as a vaguely anarchic sensibility. As punk music mutated into post-punk in 1979/80, the anarchic aspects of punk attitude gave rise to anarcho-punk a few years later. The evolution can be traced through the pages of Ripped and Torn and its successor, Kill Your Pet Puppy.

The last issue of KYPP, No. 6, was published in 1983 and described a (fictionalised) journey to Stonehenge Free Festival. Musically and culturally, this journey marked the re-convergence of punk with the pre/post punk counterculture, with the broader narrative of punk as an attitude which Kris Needs has so effectively presented in the two volumes of ‘Dirty Water’.


Friday, June 08, 2012

Interview with Tony D.

Just found this in a book published May 2012.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Threave ospreys- may have an egg

Karl Munday of NTS Threave has just told me that the NTS Dumfries and Galloway Ranger service now have their own blog http://dandgrangers.blogspot.co.uk/

This is the latest (31 May 2012) Update


Down at the opsrey nest there seems to be some positive signs. The opsreys appear to be showing behaviour indicative of incubation of an egg. The opsreys have been seen to be constantly sitting on the nest, which hopefully means we have some eggs in there. Luckily within a month or two we will see some little opsrey faces poking their beaks out of the nest.