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from the FPG Chronicles / Genesis

Born without a clue. A lifetime later, situation largely unchanged. Nevertheless, one perseveres.....

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Chichester ‘81

Around this time, I was still pondering how I could repay some of these clever, ingenious, inspired festival people. I was so struck and moved by their ideas and performances that I felt I had to do something. It was a very long rumination period by any standard, but the essence of the evolved thinking went something like this:

  • At all these events, after the main stage acts finished, peace and quiet would descend on to the performing areas and the surrounding camp sites. Punters and performers alike would revert to relaxing around campfires and engaging in quiet discussions or simple joint staring into the flames. I thought to myself, that would be the time to pay them back.

One winter I was on a government retraining course (as an electrician, kicked off for “attitudes inappropriate to the industry”!) at Chichester College. At the time I had finally succumbed to the urge to learn to play guitar and had discovered how much easier it was to play electric than the acoustic I had been struggling with. In the course of all this I met a fellow student and guitarist called Pete who offered to spend some lunch times with me to go through some of the basics of playing guitar. And he did. He opened my eyes to simpler possibilities and, combined with my previous experience of rudimentary bluegrass banjo picking, I realised I was beginning to develop a “style”. Pete was accommodating and forgiving and so supportive that I even began to hatch a plan for involving him in my madcap scheme to re-pay the festival people. As I explained gradually emerging elements of the plan to him, he would simply say, laconically, “Okay.”

So, I had a plan and an electric guitar and I had Pete. No excuses now. I went out and bought two white boiler suits, two black wooly balaclavas, two sets of military webbing, and two battery powered “SoundMaster” portable guitar amps.

Our first gig was at the college itself, in broad daylight. We were dropped by accomplices at one end of the complex and simply wandered through, anonymised by the balaclavas, playing as we went. We’d timed it for the lunch break, so played a limited concert in the canteen before moving on as a security guard began to show interest. Our accomplices waited in the getaway car at the other end of the complex and we escaped unharmed. I think we also dropped in at one or two of the local pubs. Gigs were severely limited by my novice repertoire - two instrumentals, no songs, but the idea took root and The Flying Patrol Group (a combination of the National Union of Miners’ flying pickets and the gang of Metropolitan police pick handle thugs and psychopaths called “the Special Patrol Group”) was born - the world’s first rough terrain band.

Later that summer I was touring the festivals with my combine harvester “landship” and co-running a tea and cake stall with my friend Nikki back in East Anglia.

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In the absence of Pete, I had to go it alone. I suited up and, in the dark, I made my way to the main tent where I knew Gurn, the site manager, and other staff and performers were gathering for the farewell party. The side of the marquee was low so I first appeared without my head and shoulders being visible. I heard the sounds inside subside as they clocked the guitar, amp, and lower part of the white boiler suit. So I started playing my first piece, and then dropped to my knees. The applause was rippled with hilarity as they now clocked the balaclava’d head. I stepped inside, finished my number, and then indicated that they should start bending their knees. “He wants us to kneel,” said somebody. I vigorously shook my head but rocked slowly up and down from my knees until they gradually followed suit. Then I started playing my second piece, a reggae number, in time to the communal knee bending and we all danced together for a few peaceful moments. Then, as we danced, I slowly backed out again, still playing, and disappeared into the night. I carried on round the site, playing at friendly looking campfires, wordlessly, then fading back into the dark. I was rubbish and wracked with nerves, but I gathered next day that the visuals had been enough to carry the day. And of course, nobody could figure out who the mute musician might be.

In the following weeks of that and the following summer, I teamed up with various individuals and tried to polish the routine. I realised, given the limitations of my guitar playing, I would have to sing, so I introduced a small battery powered pre-amp, plugged in a headphone mike, and found that both the mike and the guitar could output through the little SoundMaster without any distortion or confusion. In fact, it resulted in a surprisingly clear sound that had many punters wondering how many thousands I’d spent on the gear. But it meant I had to lift the balaclava off my face and wear it as woolly hat instead. To preserve anonymity I additionally incorporated wrap around sunglasses, as did my ragtag assortment of partners. I also felt trying to “patrol” during daylight hours was nowhere near as rewarding, for us or for the punters, as night playing, so, sunglasses and all, we focussed only on after dark activity.

When I could motivate my succession of partners (including one woman, Fiona), we also played demos and blockades and picket lines. Depending on the event, these often included some combination of daylight hours and night patrols.

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