From Stonehenge to Priddy: The Green ’n’ White Story
Yellow Tipi in Rhayadar, Elan Valley, 1976
It was cramped in the back of the van. I was used to cramped travelling conditions after hitch-hiking round Europe. I had hitch-hiked to India and when you’re hitch-hiking around India you get used to being cramped…nevertheless it was cramped going from Bath to Trentishoe, in early June 1976. The guy with the van had packed it with everything he would need for a week at a festival in north Devon, then he’d put his girlfriend and a couple of mates in, then he’d called at our squat in Bath to score a blim, and that’s where Terry and I got in. So when the van stopped and someone said to me and Terry and the others in the windowless back of the van, “we’re here,” I said “good”…and was completely unprepared for what happened next.
The door slid back and framed in that doorway, in the summertime English countryside, on the other side of a valley with a stream tumbling down its crevice was a large yellow North American Indian tipi…I was completely gobsmacked…what the fuck is going on here, I thought, I had been to a couple of the Windsors, I had been to Watchfield…but I had never seen anything like this. It wasn’t the structure of the tipi itself, they make them for movies, it was the fact that such a massive one was at a fairly random free festival where I knew I was going to be amongst friends and on home ground when it came to alternative thinking and living. Most people came with a rucksack and a small tent, or a car or van…the presence of the tipi made me aware that something more than individuals and small groups of friends were attending the free festivals…to get this thing here, across the stream in the valley and erected on the far side must of taken some serious effort…who did that?
I didn’t find out. We made our camp with our small tents and the van, stayed for the weekend and went back to Bath. Then Terry went to Stonehenge, came back and said there had been a site meeting, the festival was moving from the Henge to Elan Valley outside Rhayader, mid-Wales. I hitched up there, coming out of Rhayader, on the “mountain” road to Elan Valley I got picked up by some people in a Mini Minor, cramped again, we came over the top of this hill, the valley lay spread out below us and there it was, the massive Yellow Tipi, surrounded by smaller tipis, tents and a festival…in this setting the view from the van at Trentishoe was relinquished to a taster, here it was omnipotent, completely at home in the large rolling Welsh landscape…the sight of it cut through the trivial shallow efforts of 20th-century motorways, television and all the other meaningless trappings of modern society to something almost timeless, that was just so right with the landscape that had been here before any of us…and this time I got involved.
That festival got evicted, the land belonged to the Water Board…having arrived with my rucksack and small tent I teamed up with Copper Paul from Bath, who had a van. We were going to make a tipi. We went to Cheap Charlies in Newtown and bought some army marquee walls for canvas, we went up in the forestry and bought some poles off some guys with chainsaws. We were skinning the bark off the poles when several bus loads of police turned up and evicted us. The unity that had brought the festival from Stonehenge carried through. A site about 10 miles away had been scouted and the whole festival moved down there, Pontrhydygroes. Paul had a large van, we packed our makings of a tipi on, took some women and children and loads of people’s belongings and drove slowly past this long column of walkers, new age refugees from a fucked up society heading for the next camp.
At Pontrhydygroes we pitched a tent that vaguely resembled a tipi and asked someone to keep an eye on it while we went back to Bath. I had to sign on and Paul had some business to attend to…he never made it back but I did…and found we had pitched next to the Yellow Tipi people…they were a free food kitchen…the tipi had an open door policy…no-one actually owned it…I was about to get involved in tipis and the people who lived in them…
In the spring of 1979 I was living in a squat in Rochester Road, Kentish Town, north London. A large four story terrace house, it mainly had people from the free festival circuit staying in it, people who had been connected to the Yellow Tipi which had been a free food kitchen during 1976 and ’77. One evening in the large communal front room a conversation was taking place that I had a distinct interest in. A deal was going down in a nearby pub and it involved an unwanted tipi that was causing a problem. I walked round the corner to the pub, a typical large Victorian London pub, ran by a Turkish landlord who catered to the local working population. It was busy with early evening trade. Opposite the long bar, with tables and chairs grouped in front of it, was a small stage with a girl going through a striptease routine on it, and at a table off to the side of the stage were the three people I was looking for. Nick Jelinek, John Elric and Sinister Dave, I joined them and got the story as to why there was an unwanted tipi. Continue reading