It was 1980 when Gipsies of the New Age first gathered besides the River Yare for what was called "Norwich's first free festival."
"Could have picked a better site" mused one as his converted bus sank up to its axles in the mud.
But the sun shone, a marquee went up, musicians played and children ran about. The site was Eaton-by-the-River on the Common opposite Keswick Mill. The brave travellers forever after dubbed it "Eaten-by-the-Mosquitos." The festival was not particularly well planned but there was enough time for the Festival Welfare Service to send Penny Mellor along and write the following report:
Psycho-geographers have spent many hours searching for the lost fystical mestival site but emboldened with the above information I have marked YE FESTIVAL SWAMP on yonder map:
Attendance was small because the site was so hard to find. Flyers gave site directions down a track off Church Lane in Eaton, past the Norfolk Scouts' camp and over the above-mentioned level crossing. The cluster of buildings over the river to the right is Keswick Mill.
Edgar Broughton and band were scheduled to play plus others. The first to arrive were the six buses of the freewheeling Tibetan Ukranian Mountain Troupe with their band, stage, generator and distinctive blue and white marquee. Other Tibetans included a juggler, fire-eater and a performing dog. But the dog ran off.
Pics courtesy of Chas Pink. The buses at Eaton / Keswick in 1980 before the Tibetans discovered paint.
The local press covered the festival favourably and included several pictures.
As they slowly sank into the Norfolk loam the drug squad picked three festival goers off and it was time to move on to Glastonbury and the Albion Fair at Rougham.
But, a bigger and better Free Fair was organised for 1981 which you can see below:
After the festival of 1980 Norwich City Council decided that they would try and prevent a repetition in 1981. They put up a barrier of wooden poles at the entrance to the site to try and stop anyone driving on. But about 100 people were already camped on a corner of the common and hundreds more were expected and ditches were easily filled in to allow the buses and trucks on to the common.
The site was confirmed as common land by the Commons Commission at a hearing many years before but a city council spokesman said that the council was entitled to take whatever steps necessary to ensure the wider public could enjoy the amenity. Peter Rossen, the assistant director of administration, advised that it was against the law for people to drive vehicles on common land or to put up tents. "It's there for the enjoyment of the public, and if its obstructed, it's an interference of those rights," he said.
The fair was organised by the Polytantric Circle who also organised the Stonehenge free festivals and the line-up of bands were familiar stalwarts of the free festival scene. And what a line-up! Legends of free festivals The Edgar Broughton Band headlined with Nik Turner's Inner City Unit; The Frestonia squat-band Here and Now with home-made synthesisers, gigs with the 101ers, travelling and living in their converted bus to Glastonbury, Deeply Vale, Stonehenge and ....Eaton; The Androids of Mu were an international female anarchist band that also developed in Frestonia and vocalist Suze the Blooze had associations with Gong, Here & Now and the Mob. In 1980 the Androids did a free tour called The Wierd Tales tour with Zounds and the Mob; "TreaTmenT - a strangely unremarkable name for remarkably strange group" wrote the NME in 1981. TreaTmenT were known for their steaming cauldrons of mushroom tea prepared in advance of gigs. According to Melody Maker they were the "ultimate trip" and genuinely psychedelic. Treatment came from Colchester as did the Psycho Hamsters. This amazing synthesis of squatting, music and fairs coming together in a remote Norfolk meadow has roots in the London squat scene but also, since December 1979, Norwich's Argyle St. Free festival bands Thandoy and Karma Kanix developed here and are looked at more closely on the Argyle Street pages.
The Tibetan Ukranian Mountain Troupe were also back and this Here & Now video shows quite a few photos of the squats at Brougham Road, Hackney and the abandoned Dalston bus garage.
Brougham Rd was used by both The Mob and the Tibetan Ukranian Mountain Troupe (TUMT).
Eaton '81 was a very interesting free event which was solely funded by crowd donations and as such most of the acts would be out of pocket. Never-the-less they would attempt to return in 1982.
George from the Tibetan Ukranian Mountain Troupe