28 August, 1971
It was all very Midsomer at first. The intentions were good. Someone on the local Round Table suggested giving the annual Donkey Derby a rest. Perhaps, he mused, one or two pop bands could be invited to play a concert and the proceeds be donated to charity. And so it began for the little Essex village of Weeley (population 951) – a venture that would grab the headlines in every newspaper in the country.
Everything got a bit out of hand. It seemed that half of Britain’s rock acts were heading for Weeley, with one reviewer describing the bill as “DeMille gone mad!” With tickets at just £1.50 or £2 on the gate, the Faces were signed as headliners for the three-day event. Others included T.Rex, Groundhogs, Rory Gallagher, Julie Felix, King Crimson, Stone The Crows, Caravan, Colosseum, Barclay James Harvest, Mott The Hoople, Juicy Lucy, Comus, Principal Edwards Magic Theatre, Mungo Jerry and Van der Graaf Generator. Ralph Ibbotson, one the organisers, told The Guardian: “Our original idea was not for anything like this but we realised as we went along that we would lose money unless we did the job properly.”
Everything was made to seem inviting. The site was filled with colourful tents, topped with pennants flying in a manner that, to one onlooker, revived images of “the eve of Agincourt”. Certainly the toilet facilities appeared to be modelled on Henry V’s era. The men’s facility was a 200-yard-long trench, while the thoughtfully titled ‘Chicks Bog’ proved to be a number of chemical toilets without a screen between them.
Hell's Angels Cause Havoc
Security became the biggest problem. Not that there was a lack of it. A number of Hell’s Angels tried to help with various tasks, such as assisting to extinguish the many fires that got out of hand. Other security was provided by locals and also by Fun Caterers of Battersea, who ran the event’s food concession. Anger flared when some Angels were thrown out of a beer tent and beaten by a guard: they retaliated by wiping out a concession stand and generally causing havoc. The International Times reported what happened next, under the headline “Mad Piemen Slay Angels”, claiming: “Then the Caterers men went wild and laid into the Angels mercilessly, knocking one man down with a 14lb sledgehammer and leaving others bruised and bleeding. After which they smashed up their expensive bikes.”
Meanwhile, the soundtrack from the myriad bands on-stage continued. It had begun at midnight on Friday and ran continuously, without any major halt, through to the Sunday, the music often punctuated by calls for “Wally” – a chant that had earlier filled the air at the Isle Of Wight festival, and seemed set to become a theme for many similar events.
Musically, the NME nailed it with the headline “Weeley – A One Group Festival. And that was The Faces!” Indeed, the Faces stormed the place, Rod Stewart in a pink silk suit, keeping the party going with feelgood booze-alongs including Maggie May, Gasoline Alley and Every Picture Tells A Story. In truth, Rod and his mates were actually second on the bill to T.Rex.
Melody Maker reported that, “Earlier in the day an announcer had apologised for not allowing a group an encore. He shouted: ‘Do you want to see the Faces?’ gaining a resounding ‘Yes’ from the crowd. ‘Do you want to see T.Rex?’ he shouted again. ‘No’, yelled the crowd.”
So when Marc Bolan took the stage and mischievously announced: “I’m Marc Bolan, you may have seen me on Top Of The Pops”, jeers predominated and a few tin cans were lobbed in his direction, though he eventually won the crowd over, closing with an irresistible triple whammy of Ride A White Swan, Hot Love and Get It On.
There’d been plenty of good reactions to such as Lindisfarne, The Edgar Broughton Band, Mungo Jerry and even Al Stewart, who had settled for delivering a low-key Love Chronicles. But there were mixed fortunes for others. Some bands appeared as they arrived, others had to wait hours to appear, while some, including Curved Air and Paul Brett’s Sage went home after waiting too long to appear.
Even so, Weeley, shambles as much of it may have been, remains a fond memory in the minds of the approximate 110,000 attendees. “Of all the experiences I have had in my life before or since, Weeley was pretty special,” recalls Steve Harley. The thoughts of Major-General Francis Piggott, who resided at the nearby large house, are not recorded.