1971 October 6, 2007

The Oval, drugs and rock'n'roll

When the Who and the Faces headlined a rock festival at The Oval



Early arrivals at The Oval © The Cricketer

In last week's Rewind we recalled how in 1971 Surrey, on the verge of bankruptcy, looked for a variety of ways to raise cash. The most ambitious scheme came at the end of the season when The Oval hosted an open-air rock festival.

September 18, 1971 was a gloriously sunny late-summer day, perfect for an outdoor concert, and almost 40,000 people descended on The Oval - about 9000 more than the official capacity - and paid their £1.25 to get in and watch a bill headlined by The Who.

The early arrivals took over the outfield, packing the area in front of the stage at the Vauxhall End; the later ones had to make do with seats in the stands. Given that the 1960s were a fresh memory, the hippies were out in force. "There were beards, long hair and colourful clothes," said Al Hynes. "The women dressed in everything between jeans and t-shirts to full length frocks and skirts."

The police refused to come into the ground. "If you want us," they told Geoffrey Howard, the Surrey secretary, "we'll be outside." So the stewarding and policing inside the ground was handled by Hell's Angels. Despite Howard's initial reservations - "when I saw them I thought 'this is the end'" - the Angels kept the peace.

Given that it was within spitting distance of the flower-power era, drugs were prevalent. Many people brought their own, but it was still on sale inside the ground. Hynes recalled: "A guy was wandering through the crowd shouting, "Spam! Spam! Spam! - yes, we couldn't get away from Monty Python sketches, even in those days - and, in a slightly lower voice "Aciiid! Aciiid! Anyone want acid?" It cost 50p. Not all the wares were bona fide. One of the audience recalled seeing two angry Americans who had "just wasted £20 in scoring an ounce of parsley which they thought was grass".



Relaxing in ths sunshine © Surrey CCC

Inside the ground some of the scenes were surreal. "My main memory of the event was [the Long Room] in the pavilion, which had large windows and commodious seating," recalled Guy Legge. "The walls were adorned with old team pictures and cricketing mementos but the whole place was a mass of long-haired, outlandish types. There was a definite air of substance intake and I encountered one down-hearted individual who recounted how he had just been fleeced of £60 in a dope deal. £60 was a lot of money in 1971."

The concert started at 11am with Jeff Dexter, the MC, dressed up for the occasion in cricket whites, pads and bat. The bill opened with the long-forgotten Cochise; they were followed by Lindisfarne, Quintessence, Mott The Hoople, America and Atomic Rooster. Rod Stewart - clad in a tiger-skin suit which he later auctioned for the Bangladesh charity and raised £500 - then appeared with The Faces before the headline act.

As the sun went down, on they came. "Here they are, all the way from Shepherd's Bush ... The Who" yelled Dexter as John Entwistle, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and Keith Moon ran on stage. Moon grabbed the bat off Dexter as he passed and proceeded to use it as a drumstick for the first number - "I Can't Explain" - throwing it into the audience at the end. Dexter was unimpressed. He had borrowed the bat from Surrey to use as a prop.

The Who played a tight set, but any chance of an encore disappeared as Townshend, as was the norm, shredded his brand new Gibson guitar in a frenzy of destruction, hurling the remnants to the baying audience. Moon, meanwhile, opted to walk through his drum set rather than round it, scattering it everywhere. The gig was over.

As the crowd filtered out, they were handed polythene bags and asked to clear the pitch of rubbish. Many complied, helped by a vague promise from the organisers that they would get free tickets to the next concert as a reward.



The Who's Keith Moon and his improvised drumstick © thewho.net

"The concert went on far too late into the night," Howard recalled. "The cars were parked all haphazard, and the police lifted them all and turned them round so that, when everybody left, they all went straight out ... it was the most magical thing."

"The Oval itself proved an ideal natural venue for staging a rock concert of this magnitude," observed Melody Maker. "The unlikely partnership of the rock business and the establishment of the cricketing world paid off handsomely." Everyone was happy. Around £15,000 was raised for charity - aid to war-torn Bangladesh - and Surrey received a much-needed £3000.

"The lavatories and a lot of the seating were practically ruined," Howard said, "but the backers paid for everything to be repaired."

The following weekend The Oval staged a football game - it was being used as the home ground by Corinthian Casuals, managed by Micky Stewart, Surrey captain. "On the morning the sun was out and I could see all these little things glistening on the pitch," Stewart said. "Crushed plastic glasses. I was scratching my hand to see if I could cut myself ... fortunately, before everyone arrived, the sun went in!"

  • Two more concerts took place a year later in September 16, 1972 with Hawkwind and Frank Zappa headlining the first - poor weather kept the audience numbers down - and a fortnight later a more successful venture featuring Genesis, Focus, Wishbone Ash and Emerson Lake and Palmer. Surrey made good money from both ventures. However, a death at a concert at Crystal Palace in 1973 resulted in Lambeth Council introducing a regulation that the number of tickets sold could not be more than the number of seats available, and in one stroke the staging of concerts at The Oval become unviable.



    Bibliography
    At The Heart Of English Cricket by Stephen Chalke (Fairfield, 2001)
    Oval Reflections (VSP, 2005)
    www.ukrockfestivals.com

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    Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo