Travelling Daze: a review of a book about New Age Travellers by Alan Dearling & Friends
I’ve met Dean Phillips twice now, both times at Stonehenge at the solstice. Dean is the custodian of the Wally Hope archive and keeper of Wally’s box.
The first time was in the car-park. I’d just parked up and was sipping a beer, when this friendly voice called out to me.
“Is that Mr Stone?”
We were parked in the same row, just a few cars apart. We had arrived at almost the same time.
The thing was, we’d only been in correspondence up till then… and that very day I’d finished off a chapter of a book I was writing, by talking of Wally Hope’s death.
“We can say this, however: that his was probably not the first human sacrifice to be associated with Stonehenge.” Those were the last words I’d written before starting on my journey that morning.
And now here he was, Dean Phillips, with Wally’s box, the one that Penny Rimbaud, had made to carry his ashes, which had been scattered at Stonehenge all those years ago.
Penny Rimbaud was the drummer with Crass, the anarcho-punk band who were formed, in part, to fulfil Wally Hope’s dream: “We want to plant a Garden of Eden with apricots and cherries, where there will be guitars instead of guns and the sun will be our nuclear bomb.” Wally Hope was the guy whose vision it was to start the Stonehenge Free Festival in the first place, way back in 1974.
The reason I’m telling you this is that I’ve been reading Travelling Daze, a book compiled and part-written by Alan Dearling, with help from over 40 of his Traveller friends. That includes Dean, who has written a piece about Wally Hope.
You can’t write a book about the origins of the hippie movement in the UK, without mentioning Wally Hope. He was the martyr of Stonehenge. He died so the festival could live.
The book contains a lot of new information about Wally. It includes a collection of letters written from prison, in the name of Phil Russell - prison number 11413 – from 1967-68, long before he became known as Wally Hope.
They are remarkable documents, not least because of the means by which Alan Dearling acquired them. He was sitting in a pub in Lyme Regis, he says, thinking about Wally, when he fell into conversation with a couple called Victoria and Nick.
As he says: “No such thing as coincidences, but four or five pints later, and I had learned that Nick was Phil Russell’s closest friend back in the Windsor/Stoke Poges area of 1965-67.”
Thus we have a set of remembrances of Phil Russell by one of his friends from the days when they were both just a couple of young men hanging around in the burgeoning hippie scene in the 60s, going to Eel Pie Island to watch the new R’n’B bands which were emerging from the Jazz scene at the time, smoking some weed and imagining a future for themselves; and then some letters Phil wrote from prison after he’d been busted for dope, possibly at the instigation of his crazy mother, in order to teach him a lesson.
There are also facsimiles of some of the postcards Phil sent to his friends, the Hatfields, from Cyprus, and while filming about pirates with Peter Sellers, amongst other things. The writing is bold and lively, and the words are interspersed with little drawings, mainly of the sun in the form of a smiley face, with little beams radiating from it.
That was Phil’s religion. He was a sun worshiper. No wonder he came up with the idea for a midsummer festival at Stonehenge, Britain foremost sun-temple.
And just as you can’t write about the hippie scene without mentioning Wally Hope, so you can’t mention Stonehenge and the free festivals without mentioning New Age Travellers.
That was what the festivals – Stonehenge and Windsor – kick started in Britain, because, while the hippie scene was an American phenomenon transported to the UK, once it had become established here it put down roots and fed from the very soil of these Isles, thus creating its own particular flavour.
That flavour was New Age Travellers, free festivals, the Peace Convoy, the squatter’s movement, communes, punk – the mutant child of hippie anarchism - and our own unique set of bands. Alan Dearling’s beautiful book concentrates on New Age Travellers specifically, but you can feel all the rest swirling around in the design like the DayGlo colours in a psychedelic poster.
We might think that Phil Russell’s story was a one-off – a weird story from a weird time – if it wasn’t for the fact that it is repeated again and again. Not only did Phil Russell have a vision of a large gathering of the tribes in a sacred spot on these Isles, but, remarkably, so did a number of other people too, though the locations weren’t always the same.
One of them, Sid Rawle, has a prominent place in this book. This is because Sid was writing his autobiography before he died, with the help of Cathy Come Home author Jeremy Sandford, which Alan had planned to publish. Unfortunately the memoir was never finished, but there are major extracts in these pages.
Sid tells you a lot about what was wrong with the hippie scene, while at the same time telling you what was right about it too.
Sid was renowned for his promiscuity, and he liked his girls very young. This might have been just about acceptable in the late sixties, when he was still relatively young himself, but it became increasingly a problem as the years went by, and the age difference went from being a gap to a chasm to being almost criminal. Girls young enough to be his grandchildren – barely children themselves - found themselves at the mercy of his groping hands in the sweat-lodge or by the campfire and there are few women who knew him in his later years who have much of a good word to say about him now.
But that tells you something about the era. It was a transitional time. We’d just come out of the austerity and the repression of the post-war years. The hippies emerged from this into a time of renewed hope and prosperity. All the barriers were coming down. Class barriers were being smashed to pieces, particularly by the new bands, many of whom, working class lads, suddenly found themselves the recipients of unimaginable riches. The Who and the Kinks were examples of this.
And sexual mores were changing too. Women had access to the pill and there was a new attitude abroad. The hippie generation were experimenting with free love. We could all share our bodies, they said, naively, without knowing how dangerous this could be. It wasn’t only about STDs: it was about jealousy and heartache and loss of self-esteem and the huge damage that a promiscuous lifestyle could do to your soul. The hippies played fast and loose with love and a lot of them lost their hold on it along the way.
We can blame Sid now for his horrible attitudes to women, but the fact is that his generation paved the way for the time we have now.
In the 50s, there was no such thing as sex before marriage… well there was of course only it was a furtive and secretive pastime, and would often lead to unwanted pregnancies and shotgun weddings followed by a life of unhappiness. In the 60s and 70s things went too far the other way, and everyone was wildly promiscuous; but these days things have settled down again, the youth are allowed to experiment with their sexuality, without being condemned for it, and mostly people find their own way through the emotional storms without losing sight of the main aim, which is to find love and companionship in your life.
It was a revolutionary time, a kind of interregnum not unlike the period after the English Civil War, when all was stirring and a new vision lead the way. The period gave birth to free love and free festivals and free spirituality, to free politics, and free food – often provided by the Krishna Temple – to the search for freedom on the open road, through the Traveller movement, and to free accommodation through the squatter’s movement. The politics of spirituality. The spirituality of politics. The hippies didn’t differentiate. It was a Gnostic time, in which people were seeking their own internal light, rejecting the constraints of the past in favour of visions from God and mystical signs in the heavens.
Wally Hope said he had seen Jesus in Cyprus; Bill Dwyer, who started the Windsor festival, did so after a vision from God; while Andrew Kerr, who started the Glastonbury festival, was following rainbows – literally - and sold his house to pay for it. And Sid Rawle’s great vision was land reform: getting back to nature and everyone renewing their connection with the land.
These are the famous figures of the movement, the visionaries and the martyrs whose names have come down to us through history, but what Travelling Daze does is to fill in the gaps. It tells us about the people who followed up on that vision and who turned it into reality. So you don’t only meet Sid Rawle and Wally Hope: you meet Phil the Beer and Joe Public and George Firsoff and Spider the honest drug dealer… and Amanda Liddle – known as Gemini – who bought a truck and ended up leading the convoy in the year after the infamous Battle of the Beanfield, with the police lined up at every turnoff to block their exit, picking them off one by one, and who only managed to avoid a beating by being unfailingly polite to one of the officers who was about to smash his way into her cab.
“What seems to be the trouble officer?” she said, in her sweetest voice, and defused the situation, allowing the coppers to find their humanity again, and the convoy to go on its way.
The book is full of such stories, of life on the road, of its joys and its hardships. And it is full of pictures too: of photographs by Taff the Photo and Traveller Dave, and paintings by the artist David Stooke and many more. This is where the book really comes into its own: it is A4 landscape, in full colour, with a phantasmagoria of gorgeous images, including many portraits of the central figures in this lost and suppressed movement.
You look at those faces and you see people who have lived life, real life, to its very core. You see the buses and the trucks they lived in, and you see how wonderfully comfortable they were, how plausible this lifestyle was. Because it didn’t die because of any internal failure: it died because it was beaten into submission by a hostile establishment, who recognised the threat to their way of life and who set out to destroy it.
It’s no accident that the Travellers were smashed to a pulp in the same year that the Miners were goaded into a strike.
Both represented a challenge to the dominant mores of Industrial Capitalism in the late 20th century.
Both were very nearly destroyed, although the point about this book is to remind us of the Traveller’s continuing existence and of their extraordinary achievements in the years they flourished. They have not gone away. They still exist, though in smaller numbers, making a decent living out of the new pay-festival circuit, which has sprung up in their wake. To slightly misquote the motto of the book, they have “Endured, Adapted, Evolved” right up to the present day.
And that’s what Dean Phillips is doing too, still “enduring, adapting, evolving” in his never ending quest to bring Wally Hope’s vision back to life.
The next time I met him was in the centre of the circle at Stonehenge, earlier this year.
“Hello Mr Stone,” he said again, and came sort of dancing and swirling through the crowd towards me, with Wally’s box in a velvet case around his neck.
He was wearing silver nail polish and there was a sparkle of glitter around his eyes. He was twinkling at me. He looked like some cosmic jester out of an archetypal miracle play come to bring a message of hope and good humour to the world. He said he’d been sleeping rough around Stonehenge for the last few weeks, though you wouldn’t have thought so to look at him. He looked in remarkably good form.
I asked to see Wally’s box, and he opened up the case to show me. On the inside of the case was an over-sized playing card, stitched into the fabric of the cover.
“The Ace of Hearts,” said Dean. “Wally’s favourite card.”
And after that he sort of jiggled away again, weaving into the crowd, and disappeared.
He reminded me of the Fool in the Tarot deck. It was like he was stepping off the edge of the world into the Great Unknown, trusting in the Ace of Hearts to guide him.
Where you can buy the book
- Travelling Daze - Words and images from the UK's new Travellers and festivals | Enabler Publications
Words and images from the UK's new Travellers and festivals, late 1960s to the here and now. A real 'wow, amazing' kind of book. A4 landscape, full colour, around 200 pps packed with over 600 pics, artwork, images and hundreds of tales from the festi
More by CJ Stone
- The Origins of the Stonehenge Free Festival
The Stonehenge Free Festival started in 1974. People had been meeting at Stonehenge for the solstice for decades before this. There are photographs of solstice-night celebrations dating back many years: to the early 20th Century at least.
- Memories of a Free Festival
So what is a free festival? It's a party. It's a camping trip. It's a social gathering. It's a spiritual occasion. It's a celebration. It's a political protest. It's a rally.
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