Universe was a fantastic addition to the rave scene; the organisers were in tune with their guests and understood that a festival without all-night entertainment was just a big gig in a field…which was exactly what The Phoenix Festival was…or was meant to be.
As part of the Smart Drinks Soundsystem, we’d already played Glastonbury and were booked for a new festival at Long Marsden airfield in Wawrickshire – a featureless but rutted dustbowl offering no shade and even less soul.
Organised by Vince Power’s Mean Fiddler group, the line up was strong. This is what they’d been doing very well since the mid ‘80’s in venues across North London; putting on good bands, selling lots of drinks and then sending everyone home to bed.
But it was 1993, not 1983. There was a rave new world of large licensed all night parties and even the Vale of Avalon throbbed to a kick drum all-night long. The genie was out of the bottle…and it wasn’t Jack Daniel’s.
When the central area was cleared at 11pm and everyone was told to go to bed on Friday with no campfires or music allowed, it led to rioting. People tried to scale the fence to the central area with the stages and bars. A pitched battle ensued. The crowd were repelled again and again by security who for a few hours were besieged like a medieval castle. They had removed their security shirts which carried an identifiable number, and used broken up wooden pallets a batons to beat the crowd with.
We had our plug pulled and were assigned four gorillas in polo shirts who guarded the generator, in case we tried to strike her up again.
Dawn arrived with tales of beatings, fires and as the red sun slowly turned golden, the golden crowd slowly tuned red, as anger and resentment festered as we ate overpriced chips and watched The Buzzcocks melting in the mid-afternoon sun in their thick, black bondage outfits; a perfect metaphor for the festival – uncomfortably stuck in the past.
A standing sign which spelt the letters of the festival had been party toppled.
It now read P O X FESTIVAL
By Saturday evening we were prepared for a huge battle. An eerie silence hung in the air as smouldering resentment rose. Security nervously patrolled in twos and threes. It was clear we were going have to fight for the right to party. I hadn’t spent the previous four years campaigning for the right to stay up and dance only to see it quashed - and I wasn’t the only one.
At sunset, an ominous dusk descended. The air crackled with tension. I stood in a queue at a stall selling fruit smoothies. Another advertised “Riot Lager”.
Their tinny transistor radio bleating Rat Trap by The Boomtown Rats, “…and said tonight of all nights, there’s gonna be a fight.” People exchanged grins. That’s the point I knew it was going to go off bigtime.
Around 10pm I was playing a sunset balearic set. Behind the crowd, a delegation of stern-faced security appeared on a golf buggy, parked up, and after conferring, started walking purposefully towards the stall, the crowd reluctantly parting to let them through. Jeers and boos started up. There were around 300 people at this stage.
“As head of festival security and I’m ordering you to continue playing through the night”
“Sorry, can you repeat that?” He did.
Someone who was ear wigging shouted, “It’s a trap! They just want an excuse to raid us and kick the shit out of us”
The bloke shook his head in denial, “Can I have a quiet word?”
I put on Frankie Knuckles’ The Whistle Song, a carefree pacifier to soothe the crowd, removed my headphones, and met the security delegation at the back of the marquee. Amongst the chugging of generators, he explained that they’d realised they couldn’t tell 22,000 people to go to bed at midnight but didn’t want to manage countless sound systems. So, if we agreed to continue through until 5am, he would direct everyone over to us. He appeared genuine. Don Eales, co-owner of Smart Drinks who’d joined the conversation stoked his chin, remaining silent.
For fucks sake, Don, I thought, we’ve got official dispensation to play through the night as the only sound system and you’re deliberating?
Finally, he spoke. Fixing the bloke with narrowed eyes, he said, “Is the 5am curfew negotiable?”
“If there’s been no trouble - and that means no inflammatory remarks over the microphone - we’ll let you go play longer”
There was no trouble, in addition to myself, Doctor D from 808 State collective The Spinmasters and Beamish, we accommodated some DJs from the other sound systems which through no fault of their own weren’t allowed to play, we ensured no troublemakers got onto the mic and they let us play until 5.30am, averting a ‘Woodstock 99’ scenario developing, and guaranteeing that never again would a festival promoter expect their guests to go to bed at midnight. Vince Power personally thanked Don the following morning for helping to avert a riot.
Julian Cope’s site ‘Head Heritage’ claims that when the list of security personnel was given to the police to run checks on them after the event, after they requested it, it is alleged that several of them had arrest warrants issued for various violent crimes. The Mean Fiddler maintained the trouble had been caused by fence jumpers, but then they would say that, wouldn’t they?
Shortly after I was invited to his private cove in 2013 by a mutual friend Don Eales, Paul Shurey tragically died after suffering a fall whilst on holiday in Goa. He was only 53. Paul had it all; a great marketing mind, a kind heart, and a party soul. Anyone who attended Tribal Gathering should light a candle for him.
The Phoenix never really recovered the trust and goodwill it had lost in ’93 and despite some strong line-ups which included Sex Pistols, Prodigy and David Bowie, ended four years later. From 2001-14, the venue hosted Global Gathering. Everyone stayed up way past their bedtime on those nights.