Weeley's On Fire: Hell's Angels and flaming fields at the British Woodstock

Weeley Festival 1973
Weeley's on fire (Image credit: Dick Farrow)

“There was blood pouring out of the wound, which he touched and said, ‘Are you stupid? If you stitch this up there’ll be no scar; this’ll be a battle scar.’ He got up, pushed me out of the way and said, ‘I don’t want any stitching.‘”

Originally planned as a small country and folk festival catering to 2000 fans in the Essex coastal resort of Clacton-On-Sea, 1973’s Weeley Festival had become somewhat unmanageable by the time Nigel Davers of the Clacton Round Table started to see casualties. Fires were burning, the Hells Angels were engaged in running battles with stallholders, and a crowd somewhere north of 100,000 had gathered to watch sets by the likes of The Faces, T.Rex, Status Quo, Mungo Jerry, Mott the Hoople, Pink Fairies, King Crimson and Rory Gallagher.

The Great British Woodstock: The Incredible Story Of The Weeley 1971 tells the story of the festival, from its local roots to spectacular staging. It’s written by Ray Clark, author Radio Caroline: The True Story Of The Boat That Rocked. “I’ve found the subject of the Weeley Festival fascinating since buying my ticket for the event in 1971,” says Clark. “I was just 17 years old, but my interest in the festival hasn’t diminished in the nearly fifty years since.”

The calm before the storm

The calm before the storm (Image credit: Derrick Byford)

Over the years, the festival has become more famous for the events that surrounded it than what the onstage action. Whilst the Woodstock performances of Joe Cocker, Ten Years After and Santana may have become iconic as a result of Michael Wadleigh’s movie, the only people reporting on events at Weeley were the newspapers, who typically preferred to concentrate on events away from the stage. But amidst all the reports of violence, and fires caused by the tinder-dry conditions, and mind-boggling queues, and insufficient facilities, a successful rock festival unfolded.

“Weeley Festival changed my life,” says Davers. “It was one of the most fantastic experiences of my life. Before the festival I was probably a bit of a square and it gave me a whole new outlook on the music. I never realised at that time there were so many happy people around: positive thinking, easy and laid-back. I’ve travelled the world and seen lots of things, studied and worked with lots of cultures… but I’ve never had an experience like Weeley.”

Check out our gallery, below. The Great British Woodstock: The Incredible Story Of The Weeley Festrival 1971 is out now.

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Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.