New Age Origins: A Sixties Phenomenon

To contextualise to the grass roots of the New Age Traveller movement is a difficult one. Its hard to pin down one singular event that kick started it all because it emerged out of various counter cultural circles and music events (mythical groups, music concerts, free festivals). However, all of these were a by-product of the swinging 60s. The summer of 1969 marked the beginnings of the New Age Traveller and free festival movement.

This week’s blog has required me to look to other WordPress blogs for both images and key information. In my introductory blog I used academic sources. However, the grass roots of the New Age traveller movement is not on academic record.

Beyond New Age: Exploring Alternative Spirituality helped me establish a starting point. My role as curator has required me to delve deeper to draw links between this spiritualist movement and the wider counter-cultural music movement.

The angle I shall provide in the curation of this blog is that they perpetually inform one another. After all, free festivals were conceptualised as ‘social experiments’ rooted within hippie bohemia and spirituality.

During my research I discovered some fantastic blogs that have archived both photographs, literature and first-hand accounts. I shall include the links to these blogs at the end of the article.

In the city

There is a centrality to the two key events I want to discuss first, and that centrality is London. The first is the Underground Gandalf’s Garden, a zine and shop that explored mysticism and spirituality. The second, the famous Stones in the park festival.

Gandalf’s Garden

Gandalf’s Garden was a shop in the World’s End district of Chelsea. Gandalf’s Garden first emerged as a periodical in 1968; the Chelsea shop later opened in 1969. The movement served to stimulate the practise of yoga, meditation and other Eastern religious practises within the hippie/freak scene. It is often considered the grassroots of New Age spirituality within British Counterculture.

A close up of a logo

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Issue 2 of the Gandalf Garden magazine

It significant to identify Gandalf’s Garden as a key benefactor of the development of the New Age Traveller movement. For one, it highlights how the surrounding ideologies of new religion and spiritualism are inherently urban. In the proceeding decade, these ideals would later be transferred into the country side through the free festival scene.

A group of people posing for a photo

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Some regulars outside Gandalf’s Garden, Chelsea 1969

Above we see a shot of some of the involved in Gandalf’s Garden taken by Colin Bord. As we can see the fashion here could be considered proto-traveller. Long hair (more kemped and clean that later traveller counter parts) and eastern influenced fashions. Throughout the free festivals throughout 1969-70 we see a similar ‘hippie’ archetype to this in variations. 

Stones It The park

On 5th July 1969 a free festival was organised in Hyde Park with headliners The Rolling Stones and an array of support acts. The festival was The Stones’ historical come back after a 2-year hiatus. The concert drew a crowd of 200,000 to 500,000 people. I won’t drone on too long about the festival as it is already a very well documented event. But if you look the articles I have linked at the end of the article, you will see a ragtag bunch of hippies, hell’s angels, students, bikers in the crowd. These mingling of bikers and hippies will be become a recurring theme for more shambolic free festivals such as Phun City.

What is Stones in the park’s relation to Gandalf’s Garden? Well in the same year we see a congregation of Rock N Roll Bohemia alongside spiritual ideologies within a green space. We can see this gig as a president for all later free festivals and its demographic echoing the populous of the soon to become New Age Traveller movement. In relation to festival culture in the UK, it served as a blueprint for modern day Glastonbury festival attendance sizes.

Cambridge Pop Festival

Large open field festivals also begun to be established in other cities. Just 3 days after the Stones in the Park festival was the Cambridge Pop Festival (8-11th June 1969). It is often considered the first truly free rock festival without corporate sponsors.

A close up of text on a white background

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A poster of Cambridge Midsummer Pop Festival

As you can see with the iconography of the festival poster above, there is a likeness in mystical imagery/typography to the Gandalf’s Garden periodical. Unlike the Stones festival, there is little documentation of the event bar a poster and few images collated on the Rock Festivals blog. What little information we do have is that the event was set up in co-ordination with the Cambridge Arts Group and Cambridge City Council entertainments manager.

Plume City Festival

A close up of a newspaper

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A poster for Phun City festivals featuring the likes of Detroit’s Garage Rock band,Motor Ciy Five.

The proceeding summer of 1970 saw Plume City festival. Plume City is often misconceived as being the first free festivals. However, Plume City is significant as it is the first free festival to take place in a rural space. Ecclesden Common sits by the A27 Dual carriageway outside Worthing.

Furthermore, unlike Cambridge Festival, Plume gained a reputation for being a shambolic affair. An injunction that was served 10 days before the festival made it almost not come to the light of day. The result was a festival that both organisers, Mick Farren & The Deviants, and Hell’s Angels security lost complete control of due to lack of facilities and organisation.

Locals and authorities may have been begrudging toward the Cambridge pop festival and later saw a change of location in the proceeding year. But Plume City festival appears to be one of the first free festivals to have a strong opposition from locals and authorities. Tensions between locals and free festival organisers is narrative we shall see recurring in the political and independent festivals.  

Plume city would go on to inspire other free festivals such as Windsor and Stonehenge that provided a far more political edge.

References: Sources

Ed Vulliamy, Peter Beaumont and Tess Reidy , ‘Hyde Park, 1969: the counterculture’s greatest day. And the Rolling Stones came too’, The Observer , 7 April 2013

Published by O'keefe Literature

I'm a South African born writer who is currently a University student. This is my word press to publish my poetry,prose and other creative works. My works often have a contemporary tone with some influenced by the youth subcultures in the United Kingdom. I may also publish articles on music,subculutres and other topic as I begin to build up the blog. For any inquires contact Thankyou for looking at my blog and I hope you enjoy the content, Calum O'keefe

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