I’ve parked the van on the opening of a farm track, to have a sandwich and scan the area. I’m looking for a quarry which runs alongside the train track. A few years ago, I was a delivery driver, and though I didn’t know the roads, I’d recognise village names with fond memories. On this occasion I’ve turned off through the sleepy Oxfordshire village of Cassington; my memory of it was not so sleepy.
Those reading this too young or not into the south west free party movement of the nineties might wonder why, while those who were will know exactly why, and no doubt will be screaming a delighted, “yes mate, red and blacks!” Later to be referred to as Dennis the Menaces, without concern to what Beano publishers DC Thompson may’ve made of it all.
The distant resonance of an MC echoed through the valley, alas only in my head. “Get off the railway track,” he warned, “that is a live railway track!” A memory abetted by a rave tape capturing the irreplaceable moment, one of thousands I carelessly released into a skip many moons ago, foolish to the notion they’d be sought after.
On rave tapes, we’d either have a “master” or a recorded, taped from Christ knows how many cassettes down the line. Often inaudible by today’s standards, but recorded live at various events, they chartered the era. Endless weekday hours spent cutting up flyers to use as covers, doubles of those already pasted on my bedroom wall. In 1990 I had obtained a few, in the space of a year the wall was covered with them, overlapping to hide the roached edges.
Akin to the accumulation of flyers, my rave tape collection increased like wildfire. From popping into Swindon’s Homeboyz Records, which at the time occupied a loft space in a head shop on Fleet Street, to ask for “the kind of tunes I’ve been hearing at the raves,” in which I was sold two, recorded from Coventry’s Eclipse; Frank De Wulf, and the second, Sasha and Top Buzz, to the point where an entire collapsing shelf was bursting with alphabetically arranged cassette boxes, with the wrong tapes in each. Ah, weekday timewasting activities; we lived for the weekend.
Another delivery driving time, after a few visits to Great Tew, I found the private airfield at Enstone. I recalled arriving there in 1991, one misty morning after a lengthy standoff at Peartree services outside Oxford. These were customary; convoys from every direction flooded in, police would surround them, rumours would circulate they were to search every vehicle moving out, meanwhile the bottleneck swelled, car stereos melded into one colossal clamour as kids danced on the embankments, blowing horns and whistles, undaunted to the likelihood of a tipoff, lawlessness supervened, petrol and spearmint chewing gum went mysteriously missing, and police finally acknowledged they were outnumbered, and allowed free passage out of there.
For the journey my mate spoke of nothing other this track he’d heard. “You remember the don’t talk to strangers’ advert with the boy and his cat, Charlie, went, like, Charlie says……” Yeah, I did, but hadn’t heard the song. Coincidently the DJ spun it as we arrived, and he wasted no time, leaping from the car prior to stopping, yelling “this is it!” and running off headlong into the fog.
I myself got lost in that fog sometime later, asked a friendly crusty if I could climb on his van to see if I could find my friends. The view of synchronised trilby hats and bobbed hair dipping into the low-level mist enticed me to dance, to which he seemed completely content with, as I stomped on top of his van. But as others, noting my joy, decided to do similar, I climbed off, persuading them not to follow my bad example, it was this guy’s home from home.
Charlie did say that, but with these carefree strangers, it didn’t seem to matter, hence the irony in the Prodigy’s song. Everyone had the smile of the Cheshire Cat, everyone would lend you a chewing gum in exchange for a rizla, and right in the moment, that was all that mattered. It was short-lived, a few years of complete bonkers, but it had a profound effect on society. Football fans returned from clubbing the night before, far too intoxicated with love drugs to cause the trouble the sport had become associated with. Football chants were adapted from “you’re going home in a fucking ambulance,” to “you’re going home in a fluffy ambience.”
In a clubland where once, to accidently knock over someone’s pint, or look at their girlfriend for longer than a millisecond, would likely evoke a fight. Now, the clubber sighed, “I know you didn’t mean to spill it, no worries mate,” to which the reply would be “sorry, I’ll get you another.” One clubber said, “is that your girlfriend pal? She’s gorgeous,” and that’d be seen as a compliment, perhaps understandably backed by an informal warning, but it certainly wouldn’t end in a drunken scrap.
Such was the scene expanding, a legendary party at the end of the summer of 91, somewhere near Banbury, extended into a nearby field, with a narrow track joining to two. A continuous stream of pedestrians sauntered to-and-fro, until a BMW hurtled through the wanders. A lone hippy cursed the driver, pleading he slowed down. The car came to a screeching halt and backed up. All four doors opened and some rather mean-looking urbanites, full of sovereign rings and bling stepped out to confront the scrawny fellow. Towering over him, the driver and his passengers asked him to repeat what he said; it was a setting akin to a violent scene of a gangster movie, and the expectant crowd held their breath. The crusty replied he had asked them to slow down, because someone could get hurt. The rude boys considered this, got back into the BMW and drove on, at a snail’s pace all the way to the end, carefully stopping for pedestrians.
An incident I’ll reiterate as an example to how genuinely passive and diplomatic raves were. We policed ourselves, troublemakers were dealt with, often in a medieval fashion. Yet troublemakers were few, unlike nightclubs you had to make reasonable effort to find a party, so most were aligned to the concept we were there for that and only that, to party. So too, if you overstayed a party till its conclusion, you willingly picked up and bin liner and helped clean the area, (okay, there was always a chance of finding some money or hashish, I’ll give you!)
The country suddenly seemed at peace, least it did to us, and the authorities had a problem with this.
There was a frustrated lost terrier, scrambling around in the dark, barking, scared without its owner; it was the Conservative Party. John Major walked into this, and knew if he was to overthrow the shadow of Thatcher, he’d need to take drastic change to society.
Me, my mates? We didn’t give a fuck. Other than the annoyance of the odd rave being broken up, when the police got the itch, we had no political opinion, we had no concern over much at all. Because, we knew there was a happy place, somewhere we could go, freely, and we were in the moment of building our own society, shaped as we wished, policed as we required, but as many adolescent dreams, we thought we knew it all.
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