Thoughts on the Summer Solstice – and Video of The Four Fathers’ Set for the Virtual Stonehenge Free Festival


A lonely Stonehenge on the summer solstice 2020, and The Four Fathers playing a solstice set for the Virtual Stonehenge Free Festival.

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Normally, for the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, I write an article about Stonehenge, the ancient temple aligned on the solstices, discussing its long and contested history, and the crowds who have gathered there to celebrate the solstice sunrise. If this is of interest, then please feel free to check out my articles from 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

My fascination with Stonehenge dates back 37 years, to when I was a student and visited the Stonehenge Free Festival, in 1983, and subsequently in 1984 — visits that not only awakened in me an interest in ancient sacred sites, but also showed me the reality of an alternative lifestyle outside of the prevailing model of nuclear families in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain.

The festival, which had started in 1974, had grown to become a huge autonomous gathering that occupied the fields opposite Stonehenge for the whole of the month of June — and which has been accurately described as “a working exercise in collective anarchy” — until its violent suppression in 1985, when a convoy of travellers making their way to Stonehenge to set up what would have been the 12th festival were ambushed by 1,400 police from six counties and the MoD, and were then violently “decommissioned”, in one of the most shocking episodes of state brutality against unarmed men, women and children in modern British history, which has become known as the Battle of the Beanfield.

21 years after my first visit to the festival as a 20-year old student, the fascinations awakened by that visit — and the shocking reverberations from the Battle of the Beanfield — found voice in my first book, Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, a counter-cultural history of Stonehenge, in which I told the stories of all the various outsiders drawn to Stonehenge over the centuries, mixing those accounts with reflections on how it was perceived by archaeologists and the state. Because of Stonehenge’s importance to so many colourful individuals and movements, the book was also something of a counter-cultural history of post-war Britain.

My second book, The Battle of the Beanfield, followed in 2005, featuring transcripts of interviews with many of those involved in the events of that dreadful day, as recorded for the 1991 documentary ‘Operation Solstice’, shown on Channel 4, as well as excerpts from the police log, and opening and closing chapters that I wrote, with input from the publisher, Alan Dearling.

Looking back on those times now, the extent to which the state was prepared to go to shut down a modern nomadic movement ought to remain permanently disturbing, but sadly most people don’t know about it, and don’t know how, for the next 14 years, a military-type exclusion zone was established around Stonehenge every summer solstice, which only came to an end in 1999, when the Law Lords, then the highest court in the land, ruled that the exclusion zone was illegal.

In 2000, in response, English Heritage, which manages Stonehenge, was obliged to introduce ’Managed Open Access’ for the summer solstice, allowing visitors to congregate in the stones (which are normally off-limits) for the solstice dawn. The great irony, of course, is that, during the days of the festival, only a few hundred people generally made their way to the stones from the festival site for the solstice dawn, whereas, since 2000, the stones have ended up as the focal point for an all-night party (albeit one without any amplified music) of up to 30,000 people.

This year, of course, ‘Managed Open Access’ was cancelled because of the coronavirus, with English Heritage responding by streaming the solstice live worldwide, from an empty temple, while a handful of Stonehenge aficionados held a ceremony outside.

Elsewhere, meanwhile, other online solstice celebrations took place, including the Virtual Stonehenge Free Festival, which my friend Neil Goodwin (co-director of ‘Operation Solstice’) had set up, and which I helped launch on June 1, the 35th anniversary of the Battle of the Beanfield, with a talk about the Beanfield anniversary on the virtual main stage, followed by a few songs by my band The Four Fathers, played by me and my son Tyler (aka award-winning beatboxer The Wiz-RD), as well as a Wiz-RD solo set. The video is available here (or here).

For the solstice, I arranged with Neil to get together with the rest of the Four Fathers (minus our bassist Paul Rooke, who was on a plane back from San Francisco at the time) for a live session from drummer Bren’s back garden — although in the end, although we played live on the afternoon of June 20, we decided that it was impossible to broadcast it live via Facebook, but that we would, instead, film it and make it available via YouTube.

The video — which was posted on the Virtual Stonehenge Free Festival’s Facebook page — is below, and I think we captured a rather lovely solstice vibe, thanks to Bren’s son Jem Horstead, who filmed it and edited it, and is available for commissions, having just finished a film degree at LSBU.

I hope you agree — and I also hope that, sometime in the not too distant future, we’ll be able to entertain you by playing live somewhere, as the charms of the virtual world — while helping in some ways to overcome the isolation of lockdown — also have their limits. We are, after all, social animals, and we need to be able to come together to celebrate, to protest and to enjoy.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or here for the US, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from seven years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, featuring my thoughts on the summer solstice this year, as COVID-19 kept revellers from Stonehenge for the first time since the 1990s, when an exclusion zone imposed after the Battle of the Beanfield was in place.

    Also included: a video of my band The Four Fathers playing a set of four of our protest songs, filmed in our drummer Bren’s garden, for the Virtual Stonehenge Free Festival set up by my friend Neil Goodwin​ to tide us through these times of isolation.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    A particularly nice song, Andy. Would be nice to read the lyrics too.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    With the exception of ‘The Wheel of Life’, which we’ll be releasing soon, the rest of the songs are available on Bandcamp, Tashi, with the lyrics.
    ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’ is here (although I changed the lyrics to include George Floyd):
    ‘This Time We Win’:
    ‘Fighting Injustice’:

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Alan Dearling wrote:

    Great song – here’s the video I made for the Virtual Stonehenge:

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Excellent, Alan!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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