Sunday, March 17, 2019

Stop playing the reality management game

A pleasure to have been able to add my voice to the appraisals of the K-Punk collected works, in the FT, and here belatedly is the link. Non-subscribers should be able to access this via the tweet.
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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Cosmic scouse trip

A couple of pictures from my mate Tommy from Psychfest in Liverpool in late September, and a link to my review in the FT (about time I got more stuff done there, rather than just editing others' efforts). It was a cracking two-day festival put on in the city's camp and furnace district. There was a bit of regret that we didn't see more acts, but you download the app, pick out your preferences and make an itinerary around that. Still, of those we saw Laetitia Sadier, Träd, Gräs & Stenar, the Telescopes, Novella, Songhoy Blues, Loop, The Bug vs Dylan Carlson, Wolf People, A Place to Bury Strangers, W.I.T.C.H (We Intend to Cause Havoc), Black Angels, The Comet is Coming and the Bongolian all left pleasurable and in some cases punishing traces. As did some of the Pzyk Pryzm installations.
APTBS doing their in-crowd finale

Bamako via Timbuktu Malians Songhoy Blues

Loop (no "Black Sun", alas)

Outlawed 70s Zambians W.I.T.C.H
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Monday, July 10, 2017

Only missing the Vicks

A school hall in deepest Kent, late Saturday night. Pounding beats and unbridled dancing in a sweatbox. Yes, the Rave for Refugees fundraiser threw 80 or so punters back, way back, into the mid-90s shangri-la of their imaginings.

The concept was simple - put on a night with a few proper DJs and a few amateurs (the organisers!) and the proceeds go to charities. They had done ‘Wyebiza’ the year before for Help Refugees, and this time added the Cystic Fibrosis Trust as a beneficiary. You could book online, although Marc and co were not averse to running round town spreading the word too. As is the way in the sticks, they faced competition that night from a 50th and a church concert, although it was said the vicar would try and pop in after the arias.

But would the punters be offering simple charitable support, or turning up in the spirit intended, to rave away like back in the day?

And it was great to see that after the first hour or so, people really went for it. Glow sticks were waved around, glow bracelets and glasses must-have accessories. The sound system they hired really helped, crisp and punchy, with lights bouncing off in response. Marc and Martin did their set of 90s bangers to get everyone going. Poorly mixed through their desktop app, they would freely admit, but those old-school classics were delivered with love - Altern-8, La Luna, Roses remixes, Chemical Brothers and a lot of Leftfield. Marc loves his Leftfield. So many more in that mid-90s sweet spot between house and trance. They finished on Born Slippy (breakdown below), the tune that eroded the boundaries between the discerning ravers pushing the culture on and the all-purpose general beery hedonists forever out ‘getting on it’. The change cut both ways, where I used to look down on the likes of Faithless as too populist for more progressive tastes, I slowly learned their value and now see them as a benign signifier of those times.

Then the pros came on, the experienced Ben Nevis and his mate, and kept things going until the end. I admired the fact that for the first hour or so they were mainly playing stuff which to an older crowd would be largely unknown (like the big Eric Prydz number they started with, shown below). All brilliantly mixed and well chosen, I’d add, but unable to bend any nostalgic synapses. Then they seemed to consciously relent and bring in Stuff that People Actually Knew, a bit of speed garage, Timo Maas, more of that peaktime mid-to-late 90s business. My gunfingers were out.

It was a simple concept that most importantly raised a few quid for good causes but also played to the older trend of obsolescent ravers still wanting the odd night of cutting loose (events such as Bop Local in Manchester, Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet in Hither Green in southeast London). If packaged right, it doesn’t have to default to soul, funk and the usual generic, evergreen reliables; it can be the sounds that made you freak, broadly the sounds that are still fuelling youthful hedonism today. Looking forward to the next one!

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Get on the mixcloud

I'm calling this mix 'Trek Five'. It aims to be a diverse, multistage journey through modern music, often with an African or African diasporic flavour or a dash of electronic marginalia. The 80-minute mix reps music from the 70s onwards and from Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana,  Kenya, Morocco, Niger and South Africa as well as major western centres of immigration such as Lisbon and London. Embedded is the link to the Mixcloud, and another one to the Spotify playlist of the tunes that were available on the Swedish streaming website.

As ever, the mix reflects recent listening habits, which since a trip to Ghana four years ago have increasingly been tuned to modern (and not-so modern) African dance music from all corners of the continent. It takes in the tranced out gnawa excursions of the master Maalem Mahmoud Guinia (his visit to london to play his collaborations with James Holden live was a real treat), urban, funky and grime joints from London ('Slewisham' boy Elf Kid was inspired by his trip to Ethiopia), western producers paying obvious due to African influences, a few nods to Lisbon's polyglot sound, dashes of marginal electronic music and even the sound of an artistic installation to kick the mix off.

Trek Five has a quintet of more atmospheric moments presaging the next stage of rhythmic combinations. Listeners may balk at some of the connections, and i wouldn't pretend to have expertise of any specific scene or country's output - if something grabs me on a website, I explore further to see if they are worth downloading; standard practice. Congolese outfit Mbongwana Star, a Kinshasa outfit formed by an Irish producer, former members of Staff Benda Bilili and other Kinshasa scenesters, is a case in point - having been linked in Okay Africa's recent list of acts to watch from the continent.

We keep hearing about the death of the download but the majority came from purchased digital files, with only one originating on vinyl and streamed into the computer via USB. But with modern tastes in mind, I'm also sharing a Spotify playlist of the mix. Hopefully that will help people go exploring too.

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mix these riffs Lorenzo!

I have not yet bothered to timestamp where the riffs start in each video, but i may do.
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Monday, February 13, 2017

Paying tribute

(now updated with some of my fave bits of Mark's output)
On Sunday February 12 a couple of hundred mourners gathered at the great hall of Goldsmiths College to pay a painful but powerful tribute to Mark Fisher, after news of his tragic passing reached the public a month ago.

Energised by the 'hyperstitional' mutations of a postrave culture, fascinated by what he defined as the 'hauntological' role older British popular culture played in the modern mindset yet also buffetted and unnerved like so many of us by a narrowminded neoliberal turn in the socio political culture in the UK as elsewhere, Mark's contribution to a deep and critical analysis of contempoary culture, in every area from UK garage to the crisis in mental healthcare, had no equals. As many have said, for a while a new K-punk post was the critical equivalent of a hot new musical release - you read it and reread it, came to revere it but also crucially to engage with it, repurpose it as a departure point for one's own investigations. As others have suggested, that was what Mark wanted - we were building open networks of resistance, networks of possibility, here. He had his critics for some of his ideas but where that critique was more than mere spiteful trolling, he welcomed it.

I'd seen his articles first on Hyperdub but it was the K-punk blog-vehicle for his 'abstract dynamics' that was my main introduction to his fierce but friendly oeuvre. Soon, the blog could not contain him. He built forums with comrades, did audio projects with others, was in high demand from every half decent magazine or website publisher wanting the golddust of his provocative ideas. The books followed, initially from an imprint in which he was the driving force. Academically, he was sought after for courses and conferences. This was not a time for idle talk of revolution but to diagnose sickness at the heart of capitalist realism and look for alternatives away from its stranglehold.

Did this make excessive demands of him? Almost certainly, but his generosity of spirit rarely dimmed. In the circle I'd found myself in I'd got to meet several Warwick alumni and soon I met Mark. In this mid-noughties period I'd see him at NoiseTheoryNoise afterparties in Tottenham or parties he hosted in that gothic Brockley flat. Other times I'd be round there visiting Bruce, and he'd be assessing the works of William Basinski while watching the Technorati pings indicating more bloggers had linked or referred to his latest post. The open season that would come with social media was still not fully with us.

What Mark and others - but mainly Mark - afforded during this period I will always hold dear. I and a few others had been doing our Cull zine, proffering our so-called rabid commentaries and cognitive dissonance. He helped intensify our focus, lift our energies, flipped our fashionable apathy to look at more systemic pathologies. It was the first period I felt connected to a world of ideas, a milieu where it wasnt seen as indulgent to talk about formative experiences of hardcore and jungle raves. What Mark and other brilliant minds offered was an academic's weight of learning with a willingness to engage beyond the institution. It was new and intoxicating to me. I had not direct contact with him for years, the last time being emails around his Minus the Shooting euros blog in 2012, but his influence was always there.

Everybody's contributions in the service, from Mark Stewart's eulogy to Robin Mackay's painful evocation of his own depression then despair upon the realisation that the spectre of future communion with Mark was taken from him, to Jeremy Gilbert's tantalising talk of the acid communism project, were at times uneasy but always enlightening. And of course the words from his wife Zoe and his father (especially on the debilitating spectacle of state violence against the working class as witnessed at Hillsborough) were harrowing, everybody welling up, lumps in the throat, tears streaming unchecked.

As many suggested we are distraught to realise we can no longer engage with Mark. But we all - and legions more after us - can still always connect with his ideas, the body of work, his art-i-facts. RIP, komrade.

Some memorable bits of Mark's work, not the most iconic pieces necessarily, but selected for range of format and type of product more than anything else:

Billie Jean and Jacksonism: "Shopping malls, VHS videos, charity records and TV commercials became interchangable aspects of the same commodity-media landscape: consensual sentimentality as videodrome. Well, it was new then, all that, but it's very old now, and scarcely visible to us any more now that we have grown habituated to living inside it". But we still had Billie Jean, one of the century's finest artworks.

Mark and Justin's londonunderlondon exploration - as Deeptime, who has reposted it, says, a CD version was available to Dissensus members (i lost one CD; the other one is still lying around).

Memorex for the Krakens - his glorious trinity on the Fall. Parts I, II and III (And to assess Mark E Smith's psychosis with Ian's neurosis, have his piece on the existential authenticity of Joy Division as well).

Mark in conversation with Green Gartside at Whitstable’s Off the Page festival in 2011. Nice the way Mark directs Green onto fertile areas in illness, politics, managerialism, music.

The crackle of dissent / Autonomy in the UK: the Wire piece on the student led/Occupy protests in 2010-11 (pdf). Unfortunately our 'No Future' did not come to an end that year, or any since....

#markfisher #goldsmithsuniversity

A photo posted by Karl (@dynamicbaddog) on

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Three gigs, with economy

Back in September, Transcender was a superb join-the-dots night of deep media music, at St Luke's Church in Old Street, London. First, Zombie Zombie producer and saxophonist Etienne Jaumet joined Sonic Boom and Dhrupad-style vocalist Celine Wadier. The combination of Jaumet's channelled licks through his bank of effects, Sonic Boom's meandering oscillations and Wadier's deep warbles was a powerful one, setting things up well for the main event - James Holden's jam with Maalem Houssam Guinia and his Gnawa boys. Houssam has taken over the master (maalem) mantle from his deceased father (whose work with Holden and F Points on this ep i can never recommend enough) and, apart from a few false starts where Houssam couldn't get his guembri to do his bidding, really hit the spot with those driving lines, lively percussion, devotional style chanting and Holden's synth embellishments. One for the heads certainly.

... Sonic Boom with Etienne Jaumet and Celine Wadier oscillating widely/meditating deeply

A photo posted by Murray Withers (@muzzboxx) on

Fast forward a month or so and i was fortunate enough to get a trip to Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum to catch one night of Kraftwerk's run of performances of their classic albums - in 3D! In truth, they only played 3 or 4 of the scheduled Trans Europe Express, but this was a minor quibble as classic after classic came, the 3D imagery sucked you in and the Spanish/Basque contingent, in particular, seemed to really go for it. There is no surprising treatment of these familiar tunes, and the robotic, rail and other now-quaintly high-tech imagery too is familiar to anyone even roughly acquainted with their kraft, but that doesn't matter. There is a simple but profound joy in hearing these foundational moments of techno, pop and everything in between beautifully rendered on a great soundsystem and in the symapathetic surroundings of the Guggenheim's cavernous atrium. The 'boys' do a few encores until the finale sees three take their turns to exit stage right, leaving Ralf Hutter to bask in the fullest applause. As I said, a real treat to 'tick off' one of the retro acts on such a night, in such a great city.

Finally last week I caught Nadja's latest appearance at Dalston's Cafe Oto. We were fairly unmoved by Aidan Baker's solo more ambient diversions in the warm-up, though it sounded better after a refresher outside, but as a duo Baker and Leah Buckareff made a dark ocean of noise as twin guitar lines and incidental sounds are looped, distorted and embellished with growing intensity in one hypnotic set. With Buckareff's back to the crowd and Aidan slightly more of a performer, the walls of sounds built, little iterations having a big effect and eventually a dubstep-like low oscillation kicking in with real pressure. Whether it was generated live or off a preset, I had no idea, and neither was there any hint of individual tracks. Tommy and I both mused whether we'd like to see the narrative arc build and climax over three or four separate songs, but this was not what we got and it mattered little as the crushing sound took on a meditative effect. Their back catalogue is well worth a listen snd a look, as most of the punters did of their table of FX did when they'd finished.

(pictures from tommy)
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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Endless 80s - a mix

A controlled mixing exercise, Paul's Box solely uses records from a box my brother in law gave me that his mum had found in the attic. The box was almost entirely 80s gear - electro, soul-funk and early house/rave 12 inches, compilations and albums (although there are decent late 70s long players from the likes of Lonnie Liston Smith and Ramsey Lewis, and, er, novelties like the Hitler Rap), and so is the mix. The batch seemed to veer from expensive mailed out 12s to his childhood house in Aldershot and more standard issue, humdrum gear from the local Our Price. It was a pleasure to discover and a pleasure to put together.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Celtic away

We had qualified for a ticket to City away at Parkhead, truly one to cross off the List of Grounds to Visit. Unrestricted tickets were available on our points, they said, so I booked two. Train and accommodation were then needed. Cheaper the better – not easy given that the champions league draw was announced on 25 August, but tickets arrangements announced three weeks later and our place only secured 12 days before.

But it was for Parkhead, Celtic Park. ‘Raucous’ home of Celtic FC, according to Google Maps, which either has affective monitoring software or a committed Bhoy on its team. ‘Paradise’ is the club’s own hyperbolic moniker for the ground. Delusional self-congratulation? We’d find out.

Before we took on the Hoops, several of the administrative type had to be negotiated. Before you got your hands on a precious match ticket you need to remember to pack your IDs – seasoncard, plus photo ID plus letter showing confirmation of booking – and take all that down to the designated ticket pick-up point, at the Old Fruitmarkets in the rebranded Merchant City area at the eastern edge of the city centre.

Our first attempt got nowhere. The queues snaked around the ground and onto the main road, and Blues were grumbling about a two-hour wait. Fuck. That. We changed plan, went to eat and drink first and hoped the queues would die down nearer to kick off. Some fans can take this in their stride, seeing it as a necessary part of top-tier European football where safety and security (and fan homogeneity) are prerequisites, but I make no apologies for being more selfish, feeling that I have spent hundreds of pounds and risked a partner’s ire for a trip that shouldn’t be sullied by officious box-ticking exercises. Whether the club or UEFA take more responsibility for the initiative is moot, but City could have put more people on to make it a swifter process. But after about half an hour, we finally got ours, were processed out into a side street and had a last pint before pitching up about the dry zone that is a Champion’s League stadium – and make sure you are 30 minutes early and also wearing that armband you were given. This week, it would seem the anger and subsequent petitioning of some was vindicated as City scrapped the scheme for the other two group away UCL games.

En route to the east end, our cab driver told us about the Scottish league’s crazy idea to have the second Old Firm derby of the season a few hours before the Hogmanay celebrations. He’s looking to the uptick in fares, but much of the hospitality industry in town is not.

Land / Sea / Morumbi.

A photo posted by Citizen Corinthian (@ctzncorinthian) on

Again, as a ruling the UCL stadium booze ban could be seen as small beer but it’s a rank slice of exclusion that those in executive seats can drink away while those of us in the *cheap* seats cannot enjoy their ritualistic pint before the match or at half time. The justification that no alcohol brands can be seen by the TV cameras is even more nonsensical when we’re talking about a pint in an unmarked plastic pint in a concourse too far away to compete with the Heineken hoardings.

Out came the teams, City sporting their latest “Buy This” orange and mauve number (described as sick by my twins) where our traditional sky blue would do against a team in green and white. I don’t know whether Celtic fans were protesting the fine for holding aloft Palestinian flags but that ticket ordeal meant our habitual booing of the ‘Champion’s League anthem’ (Marc calls the adaptation of “Zadok the Priest” Lasaaagne – go on try it) would not cease as our hot new manager Guardiola would like. With ex-United executive David Gill doing his best to ensure the traditional elite stay as such, and after some ridiculous bans and fines as well as the FFP fiasco, some of our fans are far from ready to give up our sense of outsider status yet.

We'd be drowned out by 55,000 Celtic fans of course, but Blues were in raucous voice themselves. And there was only the odd “Rule Britannia” chant to ignore, with just a few City wind-up merchants sporting Union Jacks. But then the pro-Rangers, loyalist element of City has always been played up in contradistinction to United’s Catholic links. Celtic’s main ties are to Liverpool – though you could have added Arsenal in the 70s. Favouring a united Ireland, Celtic as the mainland representatives of that aspiration always won my backing and I admire their determination to promote solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Nonetheless, part of me is beginning to think the club should dial down the sectarian identity several notches (both Glasgow clubs are not allowed to sing their songs of hatred but routinely still do).

For most of the game these bureaucratic niggles and supporter differences could be forgotten as City and Celtic slugged it out in a thrilling 3-3, and City fans could only be impressed by the regular wall of noise coming from all corners of the home crowd, not least the much vaunted safe standing corner. English fans regularly dismiss anything choreographed in the form of fans with loudspeakers leading the charts, prompting everyone jumping up and down at the same time, but this was impressive. New Celtic manager Brendan Rogers said he had previously not heard a din like it there, so clearly there was something in this Battle of Britain that fired the imagination more than, say, a 5-1 thrashing of Rangers earlier that month.

Back out after a pulsating match, only slightly disappointed City couldn’t quite find the winner, and the police presence is still highly visible, only fading out half a mile or so along the London Road. I muttered something probably factually incorrect about the SNP sorting out the public sector spending up here. It did seem OTT to an English fan used to minimal policing operations, but I did not hear any reports of trouble in Glasgow that day. It was after about 25 minutes walking in ever worsening rain that we decided to duck into a fast food place. Truly soaked, we needed to dry off – and have a kebab or a chana daal as to taste. We eventually got a night out, a Scottish friend showing us a couple of great bars that saw us into the early hours.


A photo posted by Citizen Corinthian (@ctzncorinthian) on

As many point out, the system particularly at UEFA Champions League games is an active turn-off for matchgoing fans who are a long way down the priority list from Official Sponsors and worldwide viewers seeing the simulacrum on TV. Yet a more intelligent version of the ticketing system probably needs to be in place to stop people buying up loads of tickets and passing them on - loads more needs to be done to stop too many ending up in the hands of 'official' touts too. Oh and the seats did have restricted view.

Nevertheless, we’d look back on the game, as others did, as a restorative blast of noise and passion, the type that makes you want to come back again and again in search of a similar experience despite the multiple inconveniences and rip-off prices.

Twitter pic mine. Instas Marc's

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016


It was an event we had long planned for our twins, born 10 weeks early on June 21 2006. Take them to summer solstice at Stonehenge for their 10th birthday, and the year had arrived. It would not be officially sanctioned by school of course - unless we turn Druid, then it becomes a religious matter - but they were fine to take the days as sickies. It was an arguably immodest proposal that was usually met with much disbelief: no we are not staying anywhere, no, tents are not allowed, yes they will be up the best part of all night, yes they will be exposed to ‘freaks’, ‘druggies’ and all kinds of assorted fringe elements. Yet with typical suburban misplaced concern, we fretted more about the logistics of getting there, and getting out.

But we timed it about right, turning off the A303 shortly before the car park opened so we only had to berth up for a bit on nearby lanes before we joined the queue to get in. Here we found remnants of the old-school traveller/cider punk hardcore - rightly protesting against English Heritage’s decision to charge entry for solstice for the first time ever (and at £15 per car setting the bar quite steep straight away). In the pictures below you’ll see Liz on the back of her mate’s van, and they had a go at ‘not paying to pray’ until a swift word from the Wiltshire fuzz (basically ‘pay or fuck off’) killed the matter for that group. Whatever their justification, English Heritage were cashing in on worshippers and revellers’ desire to see solstice.

We parked up and, after the walk from that field near that garish new visitor centre (complete with replicas of iron age dwellings), were probably in the first 1000 or so on site, enabling us to set up base near one of the stones not in the inner ring but the next set out, so very close (basing any nearer would have been possible but misguided given the constant flow of people in and out of the epicentre). Security’s attempt to keep people off the pair of sloped stones (perfect for a vantage point into the hub) just in front of us was adhered to initially but became a losing battle as darkness fell. Generally the booze ban was observed and with us having to make the evening work for the kids was not an issue for us.

We caught a little of the blessing ceremonies and the bit where anybody can take the floor, do a spoken or musical turn to generally good reception. One women’s leading of the People Get Ready / A Change is Gonna Come song was very effective. As the Strawberry Moon came and went, the drums got louder and more insistent and slowly the more polemical/faith-based nature of the ceremonies gives way to your basic hedonic activity.

It’s a great and liberatory thing, having no dj or band to give you your event’s soundtrack. You are the musicker. You Are the sound system. If you want to lead proceedings you just head on into the centre and freak the loudest. It will help if you have a didgeridoo or a drum, of course.

The best part of the evening on these terms was unmistakably the late night and early morning, when the centre circle was constantly being regenerated. The vibes here were generally great, though at times there was as much ‘look at me I’m here / woop, woop ’ mitherings from younguns constantly filming proceedings on their phones as there were transgressive moments when the various drummers near the centre of the circle coalesce into some kind of form and you could groove away (I should say here that with the kids our wonderings into the centre were only occasional but we were in constant aural connection). But i’ll remember the old sax dude tearing it up with his impressionistic blowing over various drum patterns, and one young Druidy type with a drum starting up a great rhythm as a means to protest his ‘no pay to pray, this is my temple’ spiel and winning over much of the throng.

The freeform and participatory nature of the evenings and the need to keep it going generate inadvertent weirdness - at one stage i was hearing a rendition of Wonderwall from the main circle for christ’s sakes (bit of Euro 2016 infection there?). Other popular and memetic numbers such as Who Let the Dogs Out got an airing too. Nearby, there are drunken drama guys bellowing songs like Bohemian Rhapsody and Tainted Love to anyone who would listen. and of course there is always one who has to clamber up one of the bigger stones, then realise the drop down is bigger than he thought and is there for ages working out his descent. I wonder elsewhere and see the Hare Krishna mobile tent gathering quite a crowd around it, with its mix of chanting and free food.

There was a relative lull around 2-3am, and breakout bits of drumming away from the centre that win substantial attention. But soon enough the dark skies brighten and the throng starts preparing for that moment: a cloudy sunrise arrives, and with it many more arrivals who turn up just for this bit of the day. At this stage everyone even around the outer henges is standing up and photographing the views their memory may not sustain and I had one last wonder into the communal centre. The sky was rapidly brightening up at this stage and it looked like it would be a special early morning assembly but the kids had gone on the journey with us to 5am already so it would have been harsh to ask them to keep going some more. Driving back having had no sleep (me as passenger, partner as driver) was misguided but we made it.

How did the kids cope? Very well, considering their proximity to the action, getting about an hour and a half of sleep each. I'm glossing over losing our son for a bit - he woke up disoriented, went to the wrong set of toilets and couldn't work out his way back but remembered our mobile number to a guard. There were much younger kids in the thick of it too, and I’ll remember the daughter of the Manc crowd, themselves constantly toking, doing some crystal power thing with the stones on the behest of a hippie couple and her mother. Tuning in here had no lower age boundary.

Would we do it again? Absolutely, although English Heritage’s prices and some of its policies are offputting. Coming down just for sunrise would be tempting. And we’re absolutely delighted this time worked out too.

Here's Liz riding the protest van

A lovely image of the kids walking to the site in the adjacent field
Mistress of ceremonies
Hypnotic sax man
Sunrise, give or take a few minutes
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