The Music of Stonehenge.

2 03 2021

For anyone who has ever been to Stonehenge for one of the four solar festivals – Summer or Winter solstice; Spring or Autumn equinox – it is impossible to think of it without thinking of some kind of music: the drumming circle that sometimes last all night, building up to a crescendo at dawn (and then continuing as the perpetual soundtrack of the sunrise celebration); the melodies of a wandering minstrel, strangely-attired saxophonist, opportunist young band with full kit, community choir, or scratch protest band; the chanting of Hare Krishnas, Pagans, Druids, and enthusiastic crowds; or even just the countless pilgrimage mixtapes listened to on the way there and again. It seems the unique Neolithic monument was designed for sound, as all who have stood within the inner circle when a great chant or cheer has been raised would agree – the stones act as tuning forks, and the circle seems to come alive with song.

              Archaeacoustic theories about Stonehenge, and other prehistoric monuments, have been around for a long time, but a 2020 study by the Salford Innovation Research Centre, based at the University of Salford, confirms the design intentionality of this. The researchers rebuilt a precise 3-D printed scale model of a complete Stonehenge in their sound lab, and used this to recreate the acoustics of the third phase, when all the trilithons were locked into place, and the inner ring of bluestones from West Wales stood sentinel like a ready-made (or reconfigured) stone audience. As an aside to the latest discovery of what appears to be the proto-Stonehenge at Waun Mawn, it is interesting to note that to this day the National Eisteddfod of Wales conducts its bardic inaugurations in specially constructed stone circles, as a symbolic recreation of the ‘pocketful of stones’ its spiritual founder, Iolo Morganwg, used to create a sacred circle on Primrose Hill, in 1792.  The Cornish scholar, Alan M. Kent, has noted how the Kernow Mystery Play tradition had their own equivalent Gorseth circle, the Plen an Gwari, or ‘playing place’ (with two surviving, the Plain in St Just, Penwith; and St Pirran’s Round in Perranporth). And across the Greco-Roman world the amphitheatre took this basic concept to its zenith, such as in the theatre of Epidaurus, which could seat 14,000 people, who were able to hear a stage whisper from a performer standing on its proscenium stage. And yet, according to the scientific modelling of the Salford researchers, it seems Stonehenge was not designed to enhance this acoustic effect for a large gathering, but only those standing within the inner circle. Susan Greaney, senior properties historian for English Heritage, concludes that:  ‘the results show that music, voices or percussion sounds made at the monument could only really be heard by those standing within the stone circle, suggesting that any rituals that took place there were intimate events.’

              Writer Paul Deveraux has made an in-depth study of archeoacoustics, which he summarises in his 2001 book, Stone Age Soundtracks. It is hard to disavow the heightened acoustics of sites like the underground Neolithic temple, Metageum, in Malta, or of Newgrange (where, it has been noted, drumming creates observable patterns in the dust-mote laden shards of sunlight that seem to be encoded in the chevrons and spirals of the petroglyphs adorning its passage and entrance stones). The ‘vibes’ of such places have led to artistes like Julian Cope actually recording within chambered barrows (‘Paranormal in the West Country’, from his 1994 album Autogeddon, was recorded in West Kennet long barrow). The Beatles visited Stony Littleton long barrow, while the guests of Sergeant Peppers’ cover artist, Peter Blake, in Wellow. Whether they made any music there is unknown, but Ringo apocryphally said, ‘It’s a great place to get stoned.’

              Yet, even with a plethora of educated guesses there is a telling absence of instruction tablets from the archeoarchitects, So, pending the discovery of a ‘Rosetta Stone’, the jury is still out on whether prehistoric monuments were sonic temples, or if the phenomenon is just an interesting side-effect.

              Nevertheless, the Counter Culture has not shirked in providing its own Stone Age soundtrack for Stonehenge. Most people associate Stonehenge with one song, the satirical rock anthem, ‘Stonehenge’ from This is Spinal Tap (1984). It is hard not to think of it without images of diminutive descending megaliths and pratfalling little people being conjured from the dry ice of movie memory. 

And yet in the same year as Rob Reiner’s comedy classic, the prog-rock band who is entwined with Stonehenge more than any other, Hawkwind, was playing an epic summer solstice set at what was to be the last Stonehenge Free Festival. With their lysergically-enhanced sci-fi flavoured psychedelia, legendary light shows,  epic lyrics by New Wave author Michael Moorcock, body-painted dancers, and Warp Factor 10 wildness, Hawkwind were the unofficial laureates of Stonehenge.

When the Stonehenge Free Festival was smashed in the Battle of the Beanfield of 1985 it seemed like the silver machine of the Counter Culture had been shot down in flames, but its spirit re-emerged in the road protest movement that was to be a rallying point throughout the late 80s and 90s. During a 15 year exclusion zone around Stonehenge during the times of the solstices, raggle-taggle bands like the Spacegoats and the Poison Girls kept the spirit of the Free Festival going, their pixie-punk offerings conveying messages of ecological awareness and anarchy. 

With the opening up of access for the summer solstice in 2000 many old veterans were reunited and new bloods were initiated into the Stonehenge family, a Hakim Bey ‘temporary autonomous zone’ or Brigadoon that continues to manifest (excluding periods of pandemic lockdown) at the solar festivals once more, albeit in a more civilised, co-ordinated way – with infrastructure such as parking, toilets, lighting, and walkways, provided by English Heritage, to manage the often large crowds. And new stars have emerged in this Neolithic platform for a new millennium – made internationally famous by the news crews and, increasingly so, by the smartphone footage shared on social media – including the striking crimson ensemble known as the Shakti Sing Choir, who introduce some quality harmonies to an often ragged, and discordant, free-for-all. Yet Stonehenge is nothing if not a broad church, and all are welcomed – whatever their ability. This is part of its popularity, resilience, and unique ambience – it offers a chance for everyone to shine, to have their moment in the sun, ‘under the eye of light’ as the druids say.  It offers a world-famous platform for exhibitionists, the ultimate busking spot, but also for everyone to dress up, strut their stuff, and have a good time. Some have used Stonehenge as a backdrop for their own pop videos or comedy routines – the Norwegian comedy duo, Ylvis, combined the two in their own mock-anthem of 2013, ‘Stonehenge’; Germanic rapper Kellegah throws Stonehenge into the mix in his song of 2019 without any apparent significance; while Soundgarden’s grungy  ‘Exit Stonehenge’ of 1994 starts with the memorable line, ‘Jesus I can’t feel my penis.’ And yet, in contrast, gentle, heartfelt songs such as Kellianna’s ‘Stonehenge’ evoke the spiritual feelings of many a pilgrim to the stones.  Without a doubt, music and spirituality go hand-in-hand at Stonehenge – it provides an expression of belief system, ideology, and lifestyle.

Let us end our brief foray into the music of Stonehenge with a song which, although it doesn’t mention the iconic stone circle and was composed amid the concrete sarsens of the capitol, seems to evoke the spirit of the very best of the gatherings to have graced such places over the years – David Bowie’s ‘Memory of a Free Festival’ from his second self-titled album of 1969. This was actually inspired by a free festival he had helped organise at the bandstand of Croydon Road Recreational Ground in Beckenham on 16th August, 1969, to raise funds for the Beckenham Arts Lab, which was formative to his artistic development. Both a paean and a eulogy for a golden day, it ends with a chorus that could sum up the hopes of many a pilgrim-reveller, making their way to the stones for the solstice, ‘The song machine is coming down and we’re gonna have a party…’

If this has whetted your appetite and you want to experience Stonehenge for yourself then why not book a Stonehenge inner circle experience tour or join the celebrations at the Summer Solstice

Guest Blogger: Dr Kevan Manwaring is an author, lecturer, and specialist tour-guide. His books include The Long Woman (a novel which features Stonehenge and Avebury), Lost Islands, Turning the Wheel: seasonal Britain on two wheels, Desiring Dragons, Oxfordshire Folk Tales, Northamptonshire Folk Tales, and Herepath: a Wiltshire songline. He is a keen walker and loves exploring the ancient landscape of the Marlborough Downs (where he lives) and beyond.  www.kevanmanwaring.co.uk

The Music:
Spinal Tap – ‘Stonehenge’ (1984)
Hawkwind – ‘Hawkwind Solstice At Stonehenge’ (1984)
Shatki Sings Choir – ‘May We Live in Peace’ (2015)
Ylvis – ‘Stonehenge’ (2013)
Spacegoats – ‘Thirteen Moons in Motion’ (1994)
Soundgarden – ‘Exit Stonehenge’ (1994)
Poison Girls – ‘Stonehenge’ (2004)
Kellianna – ‘Stonehenge’ (2004):
Paul Oakenfield – ‘b2b CARL COX at Stonehenge

Relevant Stonehenge Links:
Heavy rock music: Stonehenge was a ‘neolithic rave venue’ – Daily Mail
The first-ever scale model of Stonehenge that lets researchers explore how the monument would have sounded in its heyday has been created by UK researchers. – Stonehenge News Blog
Salford scientists reveal the ‘sound of Stonehenge’ – The Guardian
Stonehenge Private Access Inner Circle Tours – Stonehenge Guided Tours
Stonehenge enhanced sounds like voices or music for people inside the monument – Science News
Scientists recreate prehistoric acoustics of Stonehenge – The Independent
Stonehenge enhanced voices and music within the stone ring – Science for Students
Stonehenge Solstice and Equinox Tours – The Stonehenge Tour Company
The lost sounds of Stonehenge – BBC

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Druid Leader King Arthur Uther Pendragon, Head of the Loyal Arthurian Warband.

10 12 2016

King Arthur Uther Pendragon is the Chosen Chief and titular Head of the Loyal Arthurian Warband, a highly political modern Druid order that campaigns on a variety of issues primarily to do with Stonehenge.

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These issues include protesting against the inclusion of human remains in English Heritage’s visitor centre exhibition, championing the right of celebrants to freely attend Solstices and Equinoxes at Stonehenge without having to “pay to pray” and calling for the return of the cremated remains that have been excavated from the Aubrey Holes and removed from the site by archaeologists.

He’s also got a long history as an eco-warrior and civil rights activist, protesting against road developments (notably the Newbury Bypass and Twyford Down) and of standing as an independent Parliamentary candidate for the Salisbury constituency.

When the media are looking for a soundbite from the rapidly growing pagan community in the UK, they invariably call Arthur and as a result the perception of many of the public is that he is the King of all the Druids. This tends to annoy some other people in the pagan and Druid community who resent the implication that Arthur speaks for all of them. Arthur, however, doesn’t claim this for himself.

What Arthur does believe is that he’s the modern reincarnation of the archetypal King Arthur of legend – returned to do battle for Truth, Honour and Justice in Britain’s hour of need.

arthur-closeupIn 1986 he changed his name from John Rothwell (ex biker and ex Army serviceman) by deed poll and he is unique in that his passport – in the name of Arthur Uther Pendragon – shows him wearing his crown.

The sword that he carries – Excalibur, naturally – is one of the originals made for the film of the same name. Its previous owner initially refused to part with it, on the basis that he’d only sell if the real King Arthur showed up to claim it. Arthur promptly presented his passport, much to the surprise of the owner!

His life story is too involved and full of startling magical coincidence to go into here but his biography “The Trials of Arthur” (C. J. Stone and A. U. Pendragon, Element Books, 2003) is worth reading if you want to better understand the man and his motivation.

After the government shut down the Stonehenge Free Festival with the infamous and appalling police violence of the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985, an exclusion zone was established around Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice complete with roadblocks, razor wire, helicopters, horses and dogs. Years of conflict between the festival community and the authorities followed.

Arthur was a key figure in the campaign to re-open Stonehenge to celebrants and eventually took the government to the European Court in 1998, claiming that the exclusion zone breached his freedom of thought, conscience, religion and freedom of expression, in contravention of Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The exclusion zone was lifted in 1999 and in 2000 the first of the Summer Solstice Managed Open Access events took place, with around 5000 people attending a celebration through the night in pouring rain.

arthur-ceremony

These open accesses have continued ever since at Solstices and Equinoxes and it is doubtful that they would have ever begun if not for the campaigning of Arthur and others.

In the great British tradition of eccentrics, Arthur stands out proudly – he is the grit in the oyster, a thorn in the side of bureaucracy and passionate about the causes he champions.

You may or may not agree with him, you may like or dislike him, but you can’t deny that he gets out there and tries to change things in the face of almost overwhelming odds.

Without him the world would be a much less colourful place – as a nation, we could do with more of his kind.

Article by guest blogger and local Stonehenge historian Simon Banton

Loyal Arthurian Warband website: http://www.warband.org.uk
“The Trials of Arthur” Book review
Follow King Arthur on Twitter
King Arthur live periscope broadcast at the Autumn Equinox
King Arthur and Stonehenge images on Flickr

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2016 Stonehenge Summer Solstice Information

17 06 2016

Once upon a time (until 1977, actually) it was possible to turn up and wander around the world-famous prehistoric monument of Stonehenge, touching ancient stones and experiencing wonderment at being in such an atmospheric place, often alone. Not any more – all those hands were contributing to erosion and today’s multitudinous visitors may look but not touch.

druids-equinox

Stonehenge began as a circular ditch and earth bank constructed around 3100 BC, with the standing stone circle erected some nine centuries later. Research suggests that Stonehenge marked an important burial site, but this prosaic explanation is not accepted by everyone.  The purpose of Stonehenge has long been passionately debated with diverse theories mooted – these include religious ritual, astronomical observation and assorted complex and often outlandish supernatural notions. Was it really a landing site for space travellers? Probably not.

Whatever the truth, the place retains an aura of mystery. It was the site of the
Stonehenge Free Festival
1972 and 1984, when revellers gathered to celebrate alternative culture at the summer solstice. That laid-back era came to end in 1985 when the police did battle with ‘New Agers’ bent on reaching Stonehenge after the festival was banned.

Guardians English Heritage relented in 1999, and those who wish to experience the summer solstice in the company of like-minded people are now permitted to do so. Many thousands who gather to do just that invariably experience powerful emotion at the moment when the sun rises over the mystical circle on solstice morning, and find themselves amidst all sorts of alternative believers like neo-pagans and druids in fantastic garb who are conducting esoteric ceremonies. It’s a magical moment, but reality soon intrudes – the site must be cleared by 08.00 so Stonehenge can revert to lucrative ‘tourist business as usual’. (content extracted from 501 Must-be-there Events (501 Series) by David Brown and Arthur Findlay)

English Heritage are pleased to welcome people to Stonehenge to celebrate this year’s Summer Solstice. This is the 17th year that English Heritage has provided access to the stones and are looking forward to a peaceful and sober celebration.

MONDAY 20th JUNE
Access to monument field – 7pm
Sunset – 9:26pm
TUESDAY 21st JUNE
Sunrise – 4:52am
Monument field closes – 8am

 Timings for Summer Solstice at Stonehenge
    • SOLSTICE CAR PARK OPENS 19.00 hours (7pm) 20 June (see new charges)
    • ACCESS TO STONEHENGE MONUMENT FIELD 19.00 hours (7pm) 20 June
    • LAST ADMISSION TO SOLSTICE CAR PARK 06.00 hours (6am) 21 June – or earlier if full
    • STONEHENGE MONUMENT FIELD CLOSES 08.00 hours (8am) 21 June
    • SOLSTICE CAR PARK TO BE VACATED 12.00 hours (12 Noon) 21 Jun

“We strongly advise anyone planning to come to Stonehenge for solstice to leave their cars at home and travel by public transport. Salisbury is easily accessible by train and the local Salisbury Reds bus company will be running a special service from Salisbury to Stonehenge through Saturday night and into the next day. Solstice Events are offering their usual transport from Bath and Stonehenge Guided Tours are offering their popular annual tour / transfer from London.

 

Bus service information: including timetables and costs can be found on Salisbury Reds website.
Train service information: trains run regularly to Salisbury from London, Bristol, Bath and Southampton. Train times, tickets and further information for your train journey can be found at:
South West Trains
South West Trains
Tel: 0845 6000 650
Great Western Railways
Great Western
Tel: 0845 7000 125
National Rail Enquiries
National Rail Enquiries
Tel: 0845 7484 950

Follow @St0nehenge @EH_Stonehenge @HighwaysEngland @Wiltshirepolice and @VistWiltshire for #summersolstice updates on the night.

If you are unable to visit Stonehenge on the Solstice you can watch our LIVE PERISCOPE BROADCAST

The Stonehege News Blog
Respect the Stones and each other!
Follow the Solstice News on Twitter: @St0nehenge  and Facebook

 

 

 








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