The Wire

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In Writing

Transcript: Penny Rimbaud

October 2014

Read a short extract from Phil England's four hour interview with Penny Rimbaud (for The Wire 343), on the suspicious death of underground figure Wally Hope, the Stonehenge Free festivals and the birth of Crass. Rimbaud's Shibboleth has recently been republished by Exitstencil Press

Penny Rimbaud: Stonehenge originated in the mind of a guy called Wally Hope or Philip Russell which was his proper name. He visited here in the very early 1970s. Quite a few of the local village kids used to visit [Dial House] and we were pleased that we could offer them a situation where they could put their energies towards creativity rather than sitting round the back of sheds smoking dope all day. That was the element of hippy that they’d picked up on and all of them threw that out to get on and do nice creative things. They became filmmakers, musicians, all sorts of things. Wally wasn’t part of them but they were his contacts.

That’s how he turned up here with the idea of doing a festival at Stonehenge which I thought was bloody absurd and I wasn’t particularly interested but he was so enthusiastic that I was infected by his enthusiasm not his ideas. So we helped here do all the logistics for the first and all the logistics for the second festival during which he was incarcerated. So I was working for two years creating, or helping create, Stonehenge. And we helped create by doing all the posters, doing a lot of the logistical work, getting in touch with people who might be interested. Getting in touch with a lot of people who weren’t in the least bit interested, etcetera. We always had silkscreen here so we could knock out stuff. It wasn’t until Crass that we got machines. We got a Gestetner so we could do handouts much easier.

I think it was 74 the first Stonehenge festival, 75 Wally was incarcerated. At the end of 75, following my very thorough investigation into the caused of his death, I continue to maintain he was assassinated by the state. It took me about a year and a half to prove categorically that he had been taken out.

Somebody in the police, Special Branch or whatever thought ‘this guy’s a threat to the state’?

Definitely. He was viciously treated. He was arrested on his way down to the second Stonehenge festival. He’d been pamphletting a lot around Notting Hill in particular, dressed in his robes, with his tepee on top of his old rainbow van. He was a very colourful, very noticeable character.

They had greatly embarrassed the government and the Ministry of Defence the year before through the eviction trial at the High Court. It had become the story of the summer silly season. It embarrassed them if only because it brought attention to Portland Down. The main objection to the hippies being at Stonehenge wasn’t Stonehenge because nobody in those days cared a bollocks about Stonehenge. The fact that the major military, chemical warfare department was half a second up the road was something which I think was the main reason. And in fact we were actually squatting military land not English Heritage land or whatever it was in those days. I think that was why they were so heavy handed.

My father was in Washington DC at the time and moved in political circles. When I was there he was categorical that the state had two great fears. One was the growth of the Black Panther movement and the other was the growth of the hippy movement, which at the time I thought, why? But that was regarded as a serious threat to the State, which is why it was so seriously undermined through the usual CIA method of heroin.

Wally came back after being incarcerated as a schizophrenic – which he wasn’t – for two or three months. During that period he was treated with horrifically over prescribed psychotropic mind controlling drugs which gave him a condition called chronic dyskinesia which basically is chemical lobotomy. He was pretty helpless. He could still talk but a bit muffled. Physically he was ruined.

I think they probably thought they’d put him out of action sufficiently. He was freed the day the last hippie left the site of the festival. He was left to find his own way home. It took him two days to drive from Salisbury to here. He could deal with about ten or twenty minutes then he had to get out and have a break, start again. He couldn’t even walk properly. He had been disabled. After about a month here trying to cure him with herbal remedies, Gee would be training him how to walk again, the government suddenly offered the hippies Watchfield as a festival site – an old disused airbase. So all the hippies gathered there and Wally really, really wanted to go. We didn’t want him to go. It seemed like a murderously stupid thing to do. Anyway, he went, was seen, returned, not on this occasion to us but to his guardians in Ongar where the young hippies who had introduced him to us lived. Then about three days later he was dead.

Well, I spent the next year and a half investigating his death. And a sort of similar death of another Wally in Epping Forest who was found dead tied to a tree with a joint in his hand.

The conclusive proof came through dates. I had a huge chart on the wall, the room was absolutely packed with stuff about psychiatry, psychiatric treatment… I really informed myself at that time so I knew what I was talking about. Boxes of documents that I managed to collect from people, references, everything you do to try and put a story together. It was really great having the chart because one day I remember I was just looking and then suddenly I saw it – it was a discrepancy in dates. That was the proof. Because one of the things that had featured was the needle mark that had been on his body had been in the first police report, but subsequently disappeared. I was lucky enough to see the document before it disappeared because his guardian, who was a doctor, saw the document. There was no way he would ever have used needles. He used dope in what he stated was a religious sacrament. I believed that. He used it with great care and would always use it as a form of meditation. He’d been busted for possession of two or three acid tabs – all the numbers would vary depending on what report one got. It’s a long tale – I can’t begin to explain it all.

I sort of felt that I’d completely proven that he had been murdered. By then he’d already been cremated. He was cremated a week before the coroner’s report was completed, so any chance of going back to the body was impossible. That in itself was fishy. You get rid of the body before you start talking about it. The whole thing was riddled with inconsistencies. But the trouble is then you’ve just got a jigsaw on the floor.

It did take a year and a half to put the whole jigsaw together. By then this place was like a dark hell hole. At the beginning of that period, there were six or seven people living here and one by one they just disappeared. The last person to disappear was Gee which on the one hand was heartbreaking because up until that point we’d been in a relationship. But I was just no company. I was completely obsessed with "I’m not going to allow this to have happened". And after Gee had gone I started getting really frightened. I’d had two death threats during the period I’d been working on the thing. The police were becoming overly interested and not too humourous because they knew I’d been investigating, they knew I’d figured out very strong links between the Essex police and the Brighton mafia which has since become a proven set up. There’s always been a form of duplicity between the Essex police and the East End because traditionally this is where the hoods live and as long as they behave here that’s fine. It’s the Met’s problem what they do in the East End but out here it’s always been a hidey-hole for East End hoods.

I was on my own here then. Traditionally in summer I would sleep in the garden, only I was too nervous, felt too vulnerable so I slept inside. Then one day I just thought, ‘I just can’t fucking deal with this.’ So I just started a bonfire and burnt the whole fucking lot. The only stuff I didn’t burn belonged to other people and I sent back. I’ve still have got a small file of stuff which I haven’t got anyone to send it to and that just remained here, which is what I based the Shibboleth version of the story on.

I don’t suppose I particularly recognised the significance of it at the time. The fact that it was a [One Flew Over The] Cuckoo’s Nest story. It was the sort of thing that most even left-thinking people hadn’t yet come to understand that the state was perfectly happy to take people out.

It was a massive education for me. It certainly informed me that an organic garden and a guerrilla music, free art outfit wasn’t good enough and something more had to be done. I was living here in demonstration of possibility and one of the outcomes of that was Stonehenge and Wally’s death. So obviously there was something slightly amiss in the programme – political awareness.

Wally used to say that drums and guitars were our weapons. I can’t remember exactly how he put it. He was quite a poet. Nice stuff. Very [William] Blake oriented. He was always using the metaphor of instruments being our weapons. And inevitably, in a way that’s how Crass came about. I was very, very angry. Very hurt, very bitter that that had happened because he was a sweet guy.

So when everyone had gone and Steve turned up, there was someone to chat to and smoke too much dope and drink too much beer with, which is one of the only periods in my life that I’ve done that because I was upset and I was trying to escape. And that’s how Crass came about. Through my embitterment and Steve’s downright just pure working class frustration and anger. You put the two together – a fairly articulate middle class rebel and a very, very angry street kid and you’ve got a powerful combination. Which is what I think the essence of Crass was.

Phil England's interview with Penny Rimbaud & Gee Vaucher appeared in The Wire 343. Penny Rimbaud's Shibboleth has recently been republished by Exitstencil Press.

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