1973 marked a turning point for the future trajectory of Dial House and those who made a home there. It all began when Phillip Russell arrived. Even by crazy freewheeling hippie standards, he was an eccentric. Russell went by a number of aliases, his most famous being Wally Hope. According to Nigel Ayers the use of the name ‘Wally’ by hippies “had come from an early seventies festival in-joke, when the call `Wally!' and `Where's Wally?' would go round at nightfall. It may have been the name of a lost sound engineer at the first Glastonbury festival, or a lost dog at the 1969 Isle of Wight festival. There have been other suggestions for its origins, but it was a regular shout at almost any festival event.”[i]
From what I’ve read of the man it seems that one thing Phillip Russell had was a heart full of hope, for the earth and its people. It thus seems fitting he called himself Wally Hope. Just as his heart was filled and brimming, so his head was full of ideas.
One of his ideas was to take back the Stonehenge monument for the people of Britain, and he planned to do it by staging a Free Festival there. Wally thought Dial House would be the perfect HQ for his nascent operation. By that time Penny Rimbaud and Wally had become fast friends and Rimbaud was quickly recruited for the project, leading him to become a co-founder of the fest. Despite significant backlash from the authorities, whom the hippies and proto punks thumbed their noses at, Wally’s inspiration and dedication led to the first Stonehenge Free Festival in 1974.
In The Last of the Hippies, Rimbaud’s book about Russell and the events surrounding the first few years of the festival he writes of his motivation in helping Russell see his vision come to be. “We shared Phil’s disgust with ‘straight’ society, a society that puts more value on property than people, that respects wealth more than it does wisdom. We supported his vision of a world where people took back from the state what the state had stolen from the people. Squatting as a political statement has its roots in that way of thought. Why should we have to pay for what is rightfully ours? Whose world is this? Maybe squatting Stonehenge wasn’t such a bad idea.”
That first year the gathering was small, and the gathered multi-subcultural tribe lived in an improvised fort around the ancient monument. It was essentially a megalithic squat. Expecting to be turned out by the System, the squatters had all previously agreed that when the authorities tried to remove them they would only answer to the name Wally. The Department of the Environment who were the keepers of Stonehenge issued the ‘wallies’ what amounted to an eviction notice: they were told to clear off and keep off. When the London High Courts tried to bring the people who had squatted at Stonehenge to trial they were faced with the absurdity of the names on the summons papers: Willy Wally, Sid Wally, Phil Wally and more. The newspapers had a heyday with the trials, and in a mercurial manner helped to spread word of what had happened, priming the pump and setting things into motion for another, bigger, Stonehenge Free Festival the next year. The Wallies lost the court trial against them but as Wally Hope said, they had really “won” the day.
An article from the August 13, 1974 Times has it thus, “A strange hippie cult calling themselves 'Wallies' claim God told them to camp at Stonehenge. The Wallies of Wiltshire turned up in force at the High Court today. There was Kris Wally, Alan Wally, Fritz Wally, Sir Walter Wally, Wally Egypt and a few other wandering Wallys. The sober calm of the High Court was shattered as the Wallies of Stonehenge sought justice. A lady Wally called Egypt with bare feet and bells on her ankles blew soap bubbles in the rarefied legal air and knelt to meditate. Sir Walter Wally wore a theatrical Elizabethan doublet with blue jeans and spoke of peace and equality and hot dogs. Kevin Wally chain-smoked through a grotesque mask and gave the victory sign to embarrassed pin-striped lawyers. And tartan-blanketed Kris Wally – ‘My mates built Stonehenge’ - climbed a lamp-post in the Strand outside the Law Courts and stopped bemused tourists in their tracks.
The Wallies (motto `Everyone's a Wally: Everyday's a Sun Day') - made the pilgrimage to the High Court to defend what was their squatter right to camp on Stonehenge. . . the Department of the Environment is bringing an action in the High Court to evict the Wallies from the meadow, a quarter of a mile from the sarsen circle of standing stones, which is held by the National Trust on behalf of the nation. The document, delivered by the Department to the camp is a masterpiece of po-faced humour, addressed to ‘one known as Arthur Wally, another known as Philip Wally, another known as Ron Wally and four others each known as Wally’.
For instance, paragraph seven begins resoundingly: ‘There were four male adults in the tent and I asked each one in turn his name. Each replied `I'm Wally’'. There are a soft core of about two dozen, peace-loving, sun worshipping Wallies - including Wally Woof the mongrel dog. Hitch-hikers thumbing their way through Wiltshire from Israel, North America, France, Germany and Scotland have swollen their numbers. Egypt Wally wouldn't say exactly where she was from - only that she was born 12,870 years ago in the cosmic sun and had a certain affinity with white negative. Last night they were squatting on the grass and meditating on the news.”
[i] See: WHERE'S WALLY? a personal account of a multiple-use-name entanglement
by Nigel Ayers https://www.earthlydelights.co.uk/netnews/wally.html Nigel Ayers was a regular attendee at the Stonehenge Free Festival. He later went on to found the influential, multiple-genre band, Nocturnal Emissions. Nigel’s explorations of Britain’s sacred and mythic landscape, and megalithic sites, can see and heard throughout his body of work.
If the druid hippie punks were the winners in the eyes of the public, the forces and people at play within the State were sore from the egg thrown on their face by the media. Someone had to be taught a lesson.
In 1975 preparations for the next iteration of the Festival began and the counterculture rallied around the cause. Word of mouth spread it around the underground and handbills and flyers had been printed up in the Dial House studio for further dissemination. Things were shaping up for it to be a success. In May before the second festival was to be launched Russel went off on a jaunt to Cornwall to rest for a spell in his tepee before it began. He left in good spirits and high health. These activities weren’t going unnoticed by the State and the people involved in them unwatched.
Only a few days later he had gotten arrested, sectioned and incarcerated in the psyche ward for possession of three tabs of LSD. It just so happened that the police mounted a raid on a squat he had been staying in for the night. The cops claimed they were looking for an army deserter. Wally somewhat fit the description of “the deserter” because he had taken to wearing an eclectic mixture of middle-eastern military uniforms and Scottish tartans. When they searched his coat they found the contraband substance and nabbed him. Of course no one had really been trailing him, no one knew who it really was: the guy who’d made the British courts look like fools when prosecuting the hippies who had staged the Stonehenge coup. Upon his arrest Wally was refused bail, kept in prison, given no access to phone or the ability to write letters to his friends. His father was dead and his sister and mother had cut ties with him.
Held against his will in a psychiatric hospital, no one in Dial House saw him until a month later when they finally learned of his predicament. When they did manage to visit him he was a changed man. He had lost weight, was nervous and hesitant in his speech, and was always on the lookout for authorities. After their first visit they attempted to secure his release looking first to do so in a way that was legal. When they hit the blockades set in place by the System they hatched an escape plan but the psychiatric drugs Wally was being fed and injected with had taken a toll on all aspects of his health. To execute their plan would have caused him more damage. Rimbaud and the other plotters weren’t sure if he could physically and psychologically cope with an escape that would place him under further strain and demands. So they had to let it go, and leave he was, even though their hearts were tortured by this decision.
Meanwhile the second Stonehenge festival went on whilst the visionary who had instigated it was suffering the side effects of modecate injections. This time thousands of people had turned up for it, whereas the first year estimates were in the realm of a few hundred to five hundred attendees. This time the authorities were powerless to stop the gathering.
Eventually Wally Hope was let go, but the prescription drug treatment the authorities had forced him to take while on the inside had taken their toll. He was in a bad way, incapacitated, zombie zonked on government sanctioned psych meds. Three weeks later he was dead. The official verdict was suicide from sleeping pills, but Rimbaud disputed this, and delved into his own investigation of the matter over the next year. Later he wrote about his friend and the case and concluded that Russel had been assassinated by the state.[i]
Other’s aren’t quite so sure and see his death as existing more in the grey area of the acid casualty. Certainly the System pumping him full of drugs had done him no good. It is hard to know how his own previous and pre-prison profligate experimentation with psychedelics precipitated his decline.
Nigel Ayers who attended the festival in the years ’74, ‘75, ’76 witnessed the buildup of the legend surrounding Wally Hope. He writes of him, “I last saw Russell, seeming rather subdued, in 1975, at the Watchfield Free Festival.[ii] A few weeks later I saw a report in the local paper that he had died in mysterious circumstances. The next year at the Stonehenge festival, a whisper went round that someone had turned up with the ashes from Wally's cremation. At midday, within the sarsen circle, Sid Rawle said a few mystical words over a small wooden box and a bunch of us scattered Wally's mortal remains over the stones. I took a handful of ashes out to sprinkle on the Heel stone, and as I did so, a breeze blew up and I got a bit of Wally in my eye.”
[i] Footnote: All of this is detailed in Rimbaud’s book The Last of the Hippies: an Hysterical Romance. It was first published in 1982 in conjunction with the Crass record Christ: The Album.
[ii] This would have been shortly after his release from psychiatric confinement.
Punks weren’t the first subculture to cram a bunch of bodies into a house to share chores, living expenses and cut costs while working on projects they loved and do things they needed to do to survive. While various quasi-communal living arrangements have been enjoyed down the centuries in various forms, we only have to travel back in time to the late 1930’s and early 40’s to see the dream of a shared house established among the first nerds of science fiction fandom. Yes, I’m talking about Slan Shacks.
But what the heck is a Slan Shack anyway? The name Slan came from the novel of the same name by A.E. van Vogt, first serialized in Astounding Science Fiction in 1940 and later published as a hardcover by Arkham House in 1946.[i] In the story Slans are super intelligent evolved humans in possession of psychic abilities, a high degree of stamina, strength, speed and “nerves of steel”. Named after their alleged creator, Samuel Lann, when a Slan gets ill or injured they go into an automatic healing trance until their powers are recovered.
SF heads came up with the slogan “Fans are Slans” after Vogt’s book came out as a way of expressing their perceived superiority, greater intelligence and imaginative ability over non-science fiction readers, so called “mundanes”. Though some considered this to be elitist, others just thought it was a natural reaction against the derogatory way science fiction and its fans were often treated by those who thought the pulps were trash literature. Later, when groups of fans and aspiring SF writers started living together as a way to share expenses, the homes were named Slan Shacks.
According to the science fiction Fancyclopedia its “a tongue-in-cheek reference to Deglerism, which came to mean any household with two or more unrelated fans (or, provided three or more fans were involved, could include married couples).” The Fancyclopedia goes on to say, “Although many early New York fans, attempting to economize while seeking a pro career, shared apartments in the Big Apple, the first Slan Shack so dubbed came into being in late 1943 in Battle Creek, Michigan; it lasted only two years, breaking up in September 1945 when its occupants moved to California, but gave its name to the practice. The best known fans of the ‘original’ Slan Shack included E. E. Evans, Walt Liebscher, Jack Wiedenbeck and Al & Abby Lu Ashley.”[ii]
The Slan Shack or the idea of it if not the name, had actually been around a bit earlier than this, since 1938. One such group was the Galactic Roomers, a pun from the name of SF club the Galactic Roamers based in Michigan and centered around the work of writer E. E. “Doc” Smith. The idea was basically the same as a punk house, a place where science fiction fans could share the costs and loads of living, bum around and off each other, store their collections of books and pulp magazines, and decorate the place as they pleased. Other shacks group up out of fandom as well and these included, the Flat in London, England, then the Futurian House and in 1943 the Slan Shack itself. The name stuck for these dens of high geekdom.
The punk movement evolved out of and in retaliation to the hippie subculture, and the punk house is similar to the crash pads of the 1960’s. Andy Warhol’s Factory was a foundational precursor and model for the punk house as it developed in New York City. Across the pond in Essex the Dial House formed in the late 60’s later to become the birthplace and home of the band Crass. I consider Dial House even more than the Factory to be one of the foundational templates of the punk house. It still exists today. The Positive Force house in Arlington, Virginia served as a locus for the Washington D.C. hardcore and straight edge scene of the mid-80’s. The alternative art and collaborative space ABC No Rio grew out of the squatter scene taking place in New York’s Lower East. Taking a detailed look at each of these places will give insights into what has been done, and what is possible. Let’s start with Dial House.
[i] Slan by A.E. van Vogt, 1946: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slan
[ii] See Fancyclopedia 3: http://fancyclopedia.org/slan-shack
Though the punk house is especially suited for urban areas, especially when groups of individuals take over an abandoned building or spaces to homestead, the principal may also be applied to a home on a piece of property in the country. The rambling farm cottage that became Dial House was originally built in the 16th century. Set on the idyllic land of Epping Forest in south-west Essex, England, one could easily imagine it as a haven for hippies and others in the back to earth crowd. But punks? Dial house was launched in 1967 and had been heavily influenced by the hippie subculture. In the book Teenage: the Creation of Youth Culture, Jon Savage described punk as bricolage, combing and mixing and blending together elements from all the previous youth culture in the industrialized West going back to WWII, and as he says, it was all “stuck together with safety pins.”[i] Various philosophies and artistic styles that could more broadly be described as bohemian were all collaged together by the nascent punk rockers. Anything that wasn’t nailed to the floor was taken and glued to something that had been dumpster dived from somewhere else.
Dial House was an alembic for this yeasty form of cultural fermentation and a variety of influences were baked into its foundation when they first started launching artistic spores out into the world in 1967. The building itself was the former home of Primrose McConnell, a tenant farmer and the author of The Agricultural Notebook (1883), a standard reference work for the European farming industry. By the late 60s the property had sat derelict, its gardens overgrown with brambles, and was ripe to be taken over by some starving artists who needed a place to set up shop.
It began with resident Penny “Lapsang” Rimbaud. Penny is a writer, artist, philosopher, musician and jazz aficionado who at the time was working as a lecturer in an art school. Two other teachers joined him on the property and they started working on making improvements, making the cottage livable and the land workable. They were able to sublet the property from an adjacent farm with minimal rent due to the amount of sweat equity they were putting in to make a perfect domicile for the wayward.
By 1970 Dial House had become something of a bohemian salon. Creative thinkers of various stripes were attracted by the atmosphere Rimbaud and his cohorts had started to create. Seeing the possibilities afforded by low rent and collaboration Penny decided to quit his job in order to expand on the further potentials for developing a self-sufficient lifestyle free from the time constraints the cramping day job. He also wanted the place to be a free space open to anyone and everyone. Rimbaud said that Dial House would operate with an “open door, open heart” policy. To that end all the locks were removed from all of the doors. Anyone who wants to drop in and stay may do so, and is welcomed, though they are encouraged to help out with the chores.
Penny writes of his motivations, “I was fortunate enough to have found a large country house at very low rent, and felt I wanted to share my luck. I had wanted to create a place where people could get together to work and live in a creative atmosphere rather than the stifling, inward looking family environments in which most of us had been brought up. Within weeks of opening the doors, people started turning up out of nowhere. Pretty soon we were a functioning community.
… I had opened up the house to all-comers at a time when many others were doing the same. The so-called ‘Commune Movement’ was the natural result of people like myself wishing to create lives of cooperation, understanding and sharing. Individual housing is one of the most obvious causes for the desperate shortage of homes. Communal living is a practical solution to the problem. If we could learn to share our homes, maybe we could learn to share our world. That is the first step towards a state of sanity.”[ii]
The visual artist, print maker and skilled gardener Gee Vaucher soon joined the household to become its most long-term resident besides Rimbaud himself. The ground floor of Dial House transformed into a shared studio space while the upper rooms were reserved for accommodations. Later a couple of trailers were added to the grounds to accommodate the constant influx of visitors. At this point the house became an ever-shifting interzone populated by artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers who spent their time working on projects and helping to run the house and garden. The garden itself was run on organic principles, guided by Vaucher’s green thumb and intuition about plants. Under her guidance they were also able to set up a cottage industry producing small batch herbal remedies. The place was beginning to develop its own home economy.
With all of the life force bubbling up in the garden, and the creative passions of the visitors and long term residents stewing in the studio, it wasn’t long before new collaborative projects were created. Vaucher and Rimbaud had already been working together as members of the Stanford Rivers Quartet, where they explored the relationship between sound and imagery. The group found its inspiration from the Bauhaus art school, jazz and classical composers such as Lucio Berio and Edgar Varese.[iii]
In 1971 the Stanford Rivers Quartet expanded into an ensemble that sometimes consisted of up to a dozen players and changed their name to Exit. Even more artists and filmmakers got involved to put together “happenings" as was the spirit of the day, and these spawned into circus like proportions. The operational strategy of Exit was guerilla. Unannounced they would turn up at venues to play their music. How this fared for the audience, I’m not sure, but it was a strategy for getting their material out into the world without relying on traditional booking methods.
Around this time Dial House members became involved with various festivals including ICES 72. Exit played at the fest and several related events were held at the House itself. Vaucher, Rimbaud and the other residents proved critical to its success and organization, producing and printing flyers in their print room, and helping the founder Harvey Matusow with the programming. One of the connections they made via ICES was with filmmaker Anthony McCall with whom they would continue to work. The print shop at Dial House became an integral part of their home economy and out of it was born Exitstencil Press.
A collective home with a print shop is potentially a viable way to earn an income, or at least print the kind of things you would like to view and read yourself and to circulate within the subculture. Other homespun efforts may be more or less viable as part of the home economy. Enterprising punks and science fiction freaks will find a way to get it done.
[i] Teenage: the Creation of Youth Culture by Jon Savage, Viking, New York, 2007
[ii] The Last of the Hippies: an Hysterical Romance by Penny Rimbaud, PM Press, 2015.
[iii] The Story of Crass by George Berger, PM Press, 2009.
Justin Patrick Moore
Husband. Father/Grandfather. Writer. Green wizard. Ham radio operator (KE8COY). Electronic musician. Library cataloger.