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24 September 2014
Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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 Inside Out East: Monday September 15, 2003

WHEN WEELEY ROCKED

Behind the scenes footage
Band on stage at the Weeley festival
Back in the summer of '71
Watch behind the scens footage
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Forget Glastonbury or Woodstock, in the summer of 1971, anyone who was anyone was heading to Weeley - a small town outside Clacton - for a music festival on an epic scale.

So squeeze yourself into those hotpants, grab your platforms and spacehopper yourself back to the wildest event of '71.

Marc Bolan, T-Rex and Rod Stewart are impressive festival headliners by anyone's standards, but when you consider the festival organisers where the Clacton Round Table, you have to applaud their efforts.

Donkey's days were over

Man playing the guitar outside a tent
Weeley's peaceful countryside became home to 150,000 festival goers

Had you arrived in Weeley in previous summers, you would have been treated to the annual Donkey Derby charity event organised by the Round Table.

But this was the 70s and even the Round Table were ready for a change.

So in '71 the 'Tablers' waved goodbye to the donkeys and began to organise a small concert with half a dozen local bands instead.

The most they could hope for was a few thousand visitors with friends and family organising the catering.

Humble beginnings

Mungo Jerry who had had a number one that year was the first to be booked by the organisers.

Expected numbers rose from a few thousand to 10 thousand.

Artistic director Colin King was brought on board securing acts such as Rod Stewart and the Faces, T-Rex and Marc Bolan.

"Rod Stewart and the Faces, T-Rex - this was little old Weeley," marvels Mike Sams of the Clacton Gazette.

Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel fame playing the guitar
Steve recaptures the spirit of Weeley

"No-one had ever heard of it and here was T-Rex coming down - marvellous!"

And little old Weeley never looked back.

"It was almost an exodus," recalls Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel fame.

"Thousands upon thousands of us coming from all over Britain."

"Hitching, walking, anyway you could to get to a place most of us had never actually heard of."

Peace and love

Ticket sales reached 100,000 just days before the concert and in the end, more than 150,000 attended over the August bank holiday.

There were so many bands involved that they played continuously from Friday night through to Sunday morning.

Despite being full to capacity, the event went without a hitch thanks to security provided by the Hell's Angels (small bust up with the caterers aside!), making it one of the most peaceful events ever.

"Of all the experiences I have had in my life before or since, Weeley was pretty special," recalls Steve.

Once in a lifetime

View of the stage at the Weeley festival
Despite huge attendance, the festival didn't make huge amounts for charity

Despite the huge numbers attending, the event didn't end up raising a huge amount for charity.

"In hindsight we didn't do what we set out to do - raise serious money for charity," explains Graham Syrett,
ex-Clacton Round Table.

"We had an experience."

"As it turned out, it was a bit too big for us to handle really. Perhaps we should have stuck to our donkey derbies."

But the thousands attending the festival were glad they didn't.

Whilst it was an unforgettable experience for both festival goers and the Round Table alike, it was also and unrepeatable one.

"It was something I was glad I was involved in, but never want to be involved in another," says Graham.

But for one glorious summer, Weeley rocked and to a generation of Brits, the name Weeley will be synonymous with an amazing atmosphere, some fantastic bands and of course, the Round Table!

See also ...

Inside Out: East
More great stories

On bbc.co.uk
BBC: Rock and Pop years - 1971

On the rest of the web
Weeley Festival
The Round Table

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Myrtle Fisher
Being a 13 year old paper girl at the time it was really weird seeing all the people comming of the 7am train, it looked like a load of ants comming up the street! People lost their milk off the doorstep, the bakers sold out of bread, the roads were blocked all week end.

I was not allowed to attend the site until the sunday when I went with my mum, brother and sister. It really was something quite different to what Weeley had ever seen. The only other people to have camped on the 'barracks' were the army in the war.

With my mum and the school kitched staff, I helped to serve food and drinks to the police who had taken over the local primary school, St Andrews. My dad helped to build the enclosure for the stage area but due to the numbers and the heat this had to be pulled down.

My husband also attended the festival in the Salvation Army soup kitchen, as most of the peopel attending soon ran out of money. It was a great time never to be repeated sadly. BUt I can say I was there!! Thanks for the memory.

John Newson
many thanks for your piece the other night i have been a barclay james harvest fan for over 30 years and it brought memories flooding back to see the footage of the festival my memory is of bjh playing at 2am with a 40 piece orchestra and rod stewart wearing a pink suit singing maggie may if there is any further footage available of the festival i and no doubt many others would be interested to hear.

James Samuel
yes i was there. We hitched down from Watton in Norfolk and arrived around midnight. We managed to stay awake for most of the time but like another contributer missed King Crimson.

Our tent suffered from the various fires that were started and we ended up "camping" in the middle of the arena. It was however an unforgettable weekend with one of my still favourite bands Barclay James Harvest starring.

Stewart Goldring
I appeared with Gnidrolog at Weeley and remember it well.

Sandra Willis
As a girl of 14 living in Weeley, I remeber it well, especially the sounds and the smell. There were so many interesting people coming to the village. It was a fantastic experience. I saw Mungo Jerry and T Rex.

30 years on I still live in weeley and now run the village post office and store.

Robert Robinson
I had been trying for a while to work out when I went to the Weeley Festival with my mates and low and behold it appeared on the tele! I must admit that i did not appreciate the magnitude of the event at the time. I recall having a great time, but i was only nineteen so i could handle sleeping in a field.

It was not until i returned home from the festival that i discovered that the newspapers were only interested in reporting the trouble that the Hells Angels caused and not the thousands that had a memorable experience.

My memory highlight was Barclay James Harvest playing 'Mocking Bird', i'm sure they played it twice. Other groups that i can still see in my head are The Faces (great) and T Rex, who did not get a very good reception as they had gone'pop'.

There were shouts for WALLY that regularly went up during the weekend. Did he exist? Other memories are the wooden perimeter fence (it was never going to last was it)and the toilets, lets face it scaffold poles were not meant for that purpose.

I now live near Colchester and seems impossible that a mega music festival took place nearby but at least i now know that it really did happen.

Alan Wilkinson
I was at Weeley. I was 16 and it was a life-changing exoerience. Apart from the brilliant music, being with 200,000+ people in peace and love seemed unbelievable. I knew then that my adult life was starting and that there was a whole different world to explore.

My parents only saw the media coverage at the time, which featured Hell's Angels and security guys fighting, but I never even saw that. They were amazed that I came home in one piece (at least outwardly).

I am 48 now and I live in Ipswich. My work often takes me through Weeley, but I cannot get the geography sorted out. I would love to see which fields it was in again.

This was one of the most memorable events in my life, I saw some of the greatest rock bands, I stood next to an old local lady whilst watching Edgar Broughton and she was really cool about it. The toilets were pretty awful, but the atmosphere was wonderful. I may have been naive then, but even now, the ideal of a world of peace and love does not seem such a bad concept.

I was so sorry to catch only the tail end of the programme, I never knew there was such footage available and hope I can get to see the whole thing sometime.

Alan Farrington
This was the first festival I had attended and I was amazed at the number of people that turned up. The Hell's Angels were truly frightening to a 17-year old long-haired weekend hippy! They were walking around with pieces of sawn up scaffolding as weapons.

I also only used the toilets after dark. They were very dangerous, only being guarded by a piece of scaffolding and I'm not surprised that someone fell in!

I have always thought of Weeley as the forgotten festival as I've heard nothing about it in all these years. I especially remember Barclay James Harvest playing in the middle of the night with the shouts of Wally every few minutes. The flags were good including one that had Wally form Weeley on it.

After a number of days I remember that with the dry conditions and the number of people tramping around, the ground became "springy". I had a thoroughly good time and didn't smell too good when I returned home! Keep up the good work. I would love to see more footage of the festival on T.V. (if any exists?).

Dick Farrow
I was the doctor in charge of the medical facilities at Weeley when the medical staff saw over 1700 patients in three days - these were all catalogued. I subsequently had a paper published in a leading medical journal which was distributed worldwide.

I was also a member of the Government Advisory Committee on Pop Festivals. I have a comprehensive portfolio on the festival( including the original programme and have given many talks on Weeley over the past 30 years - and still doing so.It still remains to me as one of the most amazing and unforgettable experiences of my life.

Mick Lench (Pickles)
I was 19,and remember it as if it yesterday.I saw Rod Stewart do his set, then went off to buy "every picture etc" L.P. I bought it from the Virgin record stall, I wonder if it was Richard Branson who sold me it.

There was a Buzz went round that Joe Cocker was going to make an appearance with the Greaseband.So we waited all thru the nite, I thnk they came on about 3am. but alas no Joe.Also I remember T.REX getting booed onto the stage,but getting a fantastic ovation off. they were incredible .Does anyone remember WALLY?"

Hollie Maddock
when this was advertised on the television, my dad jumped up and announced that he was there and that it was the first ever festival that he had ever been to which got me thinking, the days when my dad used to be a 'hippy' must have been the best days of his life. He likes to tell us about them with such enthusiasm, I hope my partying days will be just as memerable.

John Woodhouse
There I am on your programme. 32 years ago I was at Weeley and I am in the background of one of your interviews. Those days appear a distant memory as I now a happily married respectable respectable businessman with two grown up children and living in Felixstowe.

I went to Weeley to see a number of groups particularly King Crimson. Unfortunately I waited up mos of the night to see them but fell asleep during their performance about 3 am. I also remember the toilets but perferred the woods! Keep up the good work. John.

Baz O'Connell
God what rich memories of it. My parents had moved to Clacton-on-Sea from the East End and I was in the forces, I was amazed that a place you call a town more a village a right one horse village was choosen for a venue for one of the greatest rock festival ever.

My god it was electric there was two camps one the locals going mental mickey at the invasion, the other was those who come from all four corners of the country and come to that the world to a small tiny village called???where ???

god you could hear all in Clacton-on-Sea five miles away. It was outstanding how the Lions ever made asking the local to give money again amazes me even me to this day.

I was told it took a brave person to use the karzis at the site and it took weeks to remove the all the rubbish, yet trouble was minor other than the bikers having ruck with the caters, no it was just a great gathering and great fun with great music. You will not ever see this ever again, sadly well back to my slippers and pipe and memories of goldern age in a goldern period. I am glad I witness this truly wonderful event.

Michelle Barker
im 30 and have lived in weeley now since i was born... at the time of the festival my mum and dad lived in thorpe le soken 2 miles away and they have said that you could hear it as clear as day from there.... i lived just five mins from the site now.... i could not imagine how loud it would be from here.... but it is still talked about today.