Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections: Mathew Clayton

Mathew Clayton | 28th December 2017

As the year draws to a close, we ask our friends and collaborators to look back on the past twelve months and share their significant moments. From Mathew Clayton:

All Night Long

Twenty Five Years Ago… August 1992

All Night Long

Part One

Twenty Five Years Ago… August 1992

My family lived opposite the park, in a row of large detached houses built after the war to accommodate the new army of commuters that travelled on the train each day, from the foothills of the South Downs to London. Next door to us were the Andulea’s, an East End couple made good, who earned a living breeding and racing greyhounds. Sometime in the mid 70s, burglars broke into their house and tied them up—unaware that Mrs Andulea came from a circus family and was a trained escapologist. She quickly freed herself and called the police who apprehended the robbers as they made a rather slow getaway. The village was two parts John Boorman’s Hope and Glory to one part David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. I only recognise this looking back. At the time it just felt like a very ordinary place.

When I was ten, I made friends with some children in the park. We stayed friends through our teenage years and by 1992 we had become a tight knit group. We spent a lot of time together, more so that summer because Joe’s parents had gone away and we had the run of their house. The day after they left, Andy crashed their car. The first weekend of August started like many others with a dull evening at the Thatched Inn, the one village pub we could drink in without the threat of physical violence. Our friend Dawn had told us about a birthday party happening on the South Downs that everyone was welcome to attend. Only after time had been called did we decide to give it a shot, a group of us piling into Math’s beaten up canary yellow Datsun and heading for Plumpton a village a few miles away.

On arrival we were directed into a field where a few cars were parked. We started walking up the hill not feeling very optimistic. The walk took forever but eventually we got to the top and made our way towards some music drifting out of a nearby copse. There was a small fire with about thirty unhappy looking people huddled around it. A little petrol generator powered a big ghettoblaster. It was not much of a party. We drank a few cans, smoked a few cigarettes and waited for one of us to suggest we head back to Joe’s.

Sure enough twenty minutes later we started walking back to the car, but then out of the corner of the field a girl appeared. She was very tall with long blonde hair and was wearing a floor length chalk white dress. Around her wrist was a large metal bracelet I later recognised as having been fashioned into a Sussex knot. She came from a different universe to the people in the wood. As she passed Math said, ‘Where did you come from?’ She pointed to the corner of the field, ‘the party, it’s over there’. We retraced her footsteps across the empty ploughed field. It was a beautiful, clear, warm night. Above us Orion’s belt twinkled. Everything was quiet. But there was an inkling, a little tremor between us that maybe, just maybe something was about to happen. Our pace quickened. We came to a gate, turned a corner and there it was; thousands of people dancing in a hidden valley in the Downs. Running down the hill to join in, we couldn’t believe our luck, couldn’t believe we had come so close to missing it. At day break the valley filled with thousands, maybe millions of white butterflies. I have never seen anything like it before or since.

Eventually we started making our way back to the car, it was morning now and getting everyone together was taking some time. I stopped for a moment and looked out over the Sussex Weald. I could see my parent’s house, the park opposite, my first school, the Roman catholic church where I went to mass, the greenhouses where I got my first summer job, even the graveyard where my grandparents were buried. A childhood spread over just a few villages and fields. It suddenly struck me how small the world was I inhabited. It was time to move away.

I got a job in Brighton, saved a deposit and by Christmas was living in Clapham with my brother. Joe’s sister started putting on raves in South London. Weekends were spent with the same group of friends dancing in a series of depressing railway arches, photographer’s studios, empty offices and dilapidated gyms. I had decent job but I felt adrift. When that feeling got too much I would head down to Sussex and spend the day walking on the Downs. It always made me feel better.

Five year ago. August 2012
I am back on the Downs with Andy. A lot has happened in the intervening years. Eventually we all moved to London and rented a Brookside style house together in Camden. Then Math got a job in Bow and persuaded us to move to a flat on Roman Road in Bethnal Green. His workmate Harry lived in a shared house on Cheshire Street just off Brick Lane. A year or so later Harry moved out and we moved in. The rent was £50 a week, way cheaper than anywhere else I had lived in London. My bedroom was on the top floor, the windows looked straight across the street into a derelict warehouse. The roof was collapsing, the windows were all broken and on every floor were piles and piles of old carpet tiles. The whole of the East End seemed to be full of carpet tiles.

On my first weekend I saw in Time Out there was a walking tour of the area. I was the only person on it. The guide showed me the Mosque on Brick Lane that had previously served the community as a synagogue and a chapel, Hawksmoor’s Christ Church with its basement soup kitchen, the café where Gilbert and George had their breakfast each morning and the Jack the Ripper alley way off Gunthorpe Street. The tour ended with us drinking tea with Dennis Severs in his extraordinary house on Folgate St. It was the end of the 90s, I had been away from the village for five years but it felt like I had finally arrived in the London I’d always imagined. I felt at home.

Math got a part time job in the Cantaloupe on Charlotte Road and we hung out there and in the Bricklayer’s, the Barley Mow, the Strong Room, the Reliance, the Vibe Bar, Mother, Charlie Wright’s, the Pride of Spitalfield, and at George Parish’s Tardis Studios next to Farringdon Station. When Tina moved in we took her to the local pub that had the guaranteed lock-in. The landlady, like many others I remember from that time, was well into her seventies. Sometime after midnight a donkey jacketed Irish navvy punched a white suited cockney loud mouth. His tooth flew in a long arc across the bar and landed at our feet. We kicked it under our table hoping no-one would notice. When Reggie Kray died his coffin was paraded round the local streets like a hero. I joked that I should have been one of the pall bearers representing the new middle class that was moving into the East End.

The derelict warehouse opposite was knocked down and turned into posh floats. The aged landlady died and the pub locked its doors for the final time. Things were changing, not just around us in Cheshire St, but in our lives: mortgages, marriage and children. We had all moved away from from Sussex but slowly we started creeping back.

Andy, though, had stayed in London and five years ago we spent a day together walking along the Downs. Half way through the afternoon we crossed a path.
‘Hang on’ Andy said, ‘Isn’t this where we came to get to that party, the one we almost missed, with the goddess of the Downs – the white lady. The best party that ever happened. Whose party was it?
‘I don’t know’
‘Why was it so special?’
‘I think maybe it was because of the things that weren’t there’.
‘Like what?’
‘No guest list, no line-up, no fences, no security guards, no branding, no wristbands, no table service, no VIP area, no sponsors, no hashtag, no smartphones in the air… just some music and some people in the countryside dancing all night long’.

Part Two

A walk on the South Downs with Felix Dickinson…

After that afternoon with Andy, I thought I should track down the person who organised the rave and tell how him how much it meant to us all. I called Math and asked if he knew who was behind it amazingly he did.
‘I think it was a guy called Felix he was something to do with the sound system Tonka’.
So I tracked Felix down and asked him to tell his side of the story from that glorious lost weekend. We met at his mother’s house in Plumpton early on a beautiful spring day and then walked up to the Downs to the site of the party. This is what Felix told me…

I was born in the North East of England, but then my mum left my dad when I was two. She moved down here when I was 15 or 16. I am from quite a big family, and I am the youngest. She allowed us all to have a 21st birthday party. The first rave I went to was a week after I left school. It was on the front lawn of my mum’s house. Tonka provided the music. They were from Cambridge. My mum married a guy from there and so his children knew all the Tonka guys. And when my step brother Jules had his 21st birthday he got Tonka involved. I would have been 17 or 18 and there were these big yellow speakers on the lawn, a couple of hundred people and they had a party that went on all weekend. My mum was ok about it but I think she got a couple of complaints, so when I said I wanted something similar she said ‘well have it on top of the hill no-one will be able to hear it’. My mum owned some farmland up there but she rents it out to the local agricultural college on a very long lease. I think my mother was expecting me to have something like my step brother Jules, which I suppose I was, but I probably invited a few more people (laughs). I had been going to parties for a couple of years and I just wanted to put something back. The rave scene had changed my life and inspired me – going to all these free parties and meeting all these amazing people. It was a big thing. I felt part of something very special. I was obviously young but I thought there was a cultural revolution happening in the UK and it was opening people’s mind and it was going to bring in this new age of freedom, celebration, appreciation of nature and community. It was the first time I had enjoyed being in the countryside. I had met loads of people from different walks of life that you didn’t meet at school or through your parents. It was life without a price tag attached. I wrote to the agricultural college and they said it was fine for me to have a party on my mum’s land.

She went away for the weekend on purpose because she didn’t want to be kept up all night or get shocked by what I was up to. She was, however, quite shocked when she got back and saw what had happened. The police reported that 4000 people came along. Beforehand, my mum had seen the amount of work I had put in, with big flow charts saying when everyone was arriving and she was worried that enough people wouldn’t turn up! But I had been going out a lot in the previous two years and I had pretty much made friends with everyone I met – as you do. I sent flyers to DiY and they just photocopied them up and gave them out at all their club nights and I did the same thing to Fraser Clarke from the Encylopedia Psychedelia.

I originally wanted Tonka to do it but, I think, their sound system might have been a bit ill at that point. A friend of mine from Brighton, Rebekah Kortokraks recommended I get in touch with DiY from Nottingham who were one of the only sound systems at the time that were playing house music rather techno or hardcore. I got in touch with them, told them my plans and they got involved. I just rang them up – I think Rebecca recommended me. They came down on the Friday afternoon in three trucks as they had a pretty big sound system. They were a little bit older than me – amazing guys. They knew what they were doing and had clearly done this thing many times. I organised someone to come up and do food and I hired some toilets. I think the whole thing cost me about £800.

That first night there were about 1000 people there. It got chaotic quite quickly. I was running around trying to move people’s cars that had parked on the road. I remember being at the bottom of the hill and some people arrived saying ‘we are on the guest list’. And i had to say ‘there isn’t a guest list’. And they were like ‘how much is it? I will give you twenty quid’. ‘You don’t have to it’s free’. People came from all over.

On Saturday morning the police caught up with me. I think they had been there all night but not managed to find me. They had put up roadblocks about four miles away to stop people getting here. They said we had to stop the party because there were too many people. I told them I didn’t think there were too many people. They then said there was loads of damage to the neighbouring farms and that people had driven all over the hedgerows and sheep had escaped. I didn’t trust the police so I borrowed a mobile phone, rang up Directory Enquires and got the number of the farmer. I rang him up – there had been no complaints, the police were lying. By now, there was a police helicopter going over the top but I knew my rights. I told them it was a private party on private land and that they couldn’t stop it. It was before the Criminal Justice Act. They were freaked out because of Castlemorton earlier in the year which had gone on for about a week. They thought that maybe this was going to happen here. There was a plague of fun going on across the country and they wanted to wipe it out.

On Saturday afternoon another sound system Bedlam turned up. I had invited them thinking that because it was going to go on all weekend, we would have DiY on the first night and when more people come we would make the sound system bigger so I had invited them to come down but I wanted them to just plug into DiY. There was a misunderstanding, probably i wasn’t clear enough with them beforehand. They wanted to set up separately. They had come a long way and their DJ’s really wanted to play. There was a bit of an exchange but in the end it was fine. And they carried on partying, they didn’t leave. So there were moments of stress but also it was hugely enjoyable I was rushing from the whole thing.

The big plan was that we would have Friday, Saturday, Sunday and on Monday we would get everyone off the land and all go to Tonka at the Zap. And after that we would have another party on the beach at Brighton which was something Tonka did each week. At some point on Monday we had a big clear up operation and everyone helped. We left it immaculate. Some people I had met for the first time that weekend had a truck that they drove that up and took all the rubbish away. On Monday night the field was clear. It was just the catering truck that was stuck because their Land Rover was broken. We then headed for the Zap. It was pretty crazy. There were a couple of hundred people that couldn’t get in. We were in the club until two in the morning, it was always Harvey, Choci and Rev that played. . I think Harvey’s son Harley was born that weekend so he wasn’t there. Marky Mark had come over specially from San Francisco. He used to play for Tonka and then he went over to California and started the Wicked parties. And him and Choci got into a bit of a disagreement about who should play when. I was all blissed out at the end of this amazing weekend. ‘Come on man don’t argue there is so much love’. The weekend ended with the sun coming up on Brighton beach on Tuesday morning.


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Caught by the River