Our right to roam – victory for Gypsies and Travellers in High Court challenge

Travellers Times 14 May 2024

‘Anti Traveller’ law declared “unjustified discrimination” by High Court judge

‘Anti Traveller’ law declared “unjustified discrimination” by High Court judge

The High Court has today ruled that certain parts in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 that were introduced in 2022 (the anti-Traveller law), amount to unjustified discrimination against Gypsies and Travellers.

Parliament will now have to review the controversial law to ensure that it complies with human rights.

The High Court challenge was brought by Wendy Smith, a Romani Gypsy. She challenged the anti-Traveller law that gave the police new and extended enforcement powers to evict Romany Gypsies and Travellers from unauthorised encampments, and to seize their homes and send them to prison if they failed to leave.

“The right to roam - our heritage” – Romany Gypsies (Boswell) on South Shore beach, Blackpool, circa 1900 Courtesy of Sharon Heppell

“The right to roam – our heritage” – Romany Gypsies (Boswell) on South Shore beach, Blackpool, circa 1900 Courtesy of Sharon Heppell

The charity Friends, Families and Travellers supported Wendy Smith with the High Court challenge as interveners.

Abbie Kirkby, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Friends, Families and Travellers said:

“The new police powers are part of a wider hostile environment against Gypsies and Travellers, particularly for families who have nowhere else to stop.

But, today’s ruling is a triumph for Gypsy and Traveller people, against one of the government’s flagship policies,” added Abbie Kirkby.

“Whilst some of the main provisions in the Act remain, they have been significantly diluted by this ruling.

We extend our congratulations to Wendy Smith and commend her bravery in standing up for what’s right.”

The right to roam - our heritage and history – Irish Traveller children in Anglesey, Wales - Wikimedia commons by Geoff Charles

The right to roam – our heritage and history – Irish Traveller children in Anglesey, Wales – Wikimedia commons by Geoff Charles

The new police powers made it a criminal offence, punishable with up to three months imprisonment, for Travellers to pull on to land with their homes, and then fail to comply with a request by the owner of the land to leave. The new powers also forbade anyone forced to leave from re-occupying the land within 12 months.

It was this 12 month no return part of the anti-Traveller law that the High Court said was; “unjustified race discrimination in circumstances where there was a lack of authorised transit site provision on which Gypsies and Travellers could camp lawfully.”

The High Court ruling has thrown the use of all parts of the new police powers into doubt, as police must now act within official police guidance, which campaigners say was an attempt by Police chiefs – who have always said that they didn’t want the new law – to water down the draconian powers contained in the original act of parliament.

Kill the Bill

A poster protesting about the ‘police bill’, the Act of Parliament that criminalised the nomadic way of life in 2022 (c) Huw Powell

Marc Willers KC, lead counsel for the claimant, commented:

“This is a hugely significant judgment. In granting the declaration of incompatibility, the Court recognised that there is a lack of lawful stopping places for Gypsies and Travellers and that unless the government increases provision, the law as currently drafted will amount to unjustified race discrimination.”

Chris Johnson, the claimant’s solicitor, commented:

“I am delighted for Ms Smith. Key parts of the enforcement powers introduced by the Police Act have been found to be unlawful race discrimination against Gypsies and Travellers. The National Police Chiefs Council never wanted these new powers and following this judgment, it is hard to see what the new powers will add in practice. I hope that Parliament takes this opportunity to look again at the new powers as a whole.”

Our future and the right to travel. Appleby 2022 © Bela Varadi

The right to roam – our present and our future. Appleby 2022 © Bela Varadi

When the anti-Traveller law was first announced by the Government in 2021, it sparked condemnation among Romany Gypsies and Travellers campaigners, who said it would criminalise the nomadic way of life and destroy their heritage.

Drive 2 Survive, a Romani and Traveller-led organisation founded by Sherrie Smith and Jake Bowers, was set up to specifically challenge the new law by holding protests, raising awareness, and building alliances with other minority groups and causes.


On July 7th, 2021 Romany Gypsies, Irish, Welsh, Scottish and New Travellers, Roma, Van-Dwellers and supporters from all over the UK, flocked to Parliament Square in their hundreds to support the Drive 2 Survive rally and show their unity and opposition to the new law, then known as the ‘Police Bill’.

Jake Bowers

Jake Bowers at the Drive 2 Survive rally, July 2021 (c) Ludovic

Drive 2 Survive’s Jake Bowers said:

“It is fantastic news that the High Court has ruled that the racist anti-Gypsy provisions in the Police Act amount to unjustified discrimination against Gypsies and Travellers.

Coming just days before Romani Resistance day on May 16 which celebrates the only recorded uprising in Auschwitz concentration camp, it just goes to show that when Gypsies and Travellers unite and fight and work directly with powerful lawyers that we are as effective and powerful as any community in Britain.

For those about to go travelling and for those police forces keen on stopping nomadic life, this is a much needed dose of justice.

For the Conservative Party that brought in this piece of ineffective performative cruelty, lets hope it becomes another nail in their electoral coffin. When parliament reviews this legislation it is vital that it changes the law to defend a nomadic right to roam.

Drive 2 Survive was founded to stop this law and it vindicates everything we have done since 2021. We will be congratulating the courageous Romany woman who brought the case and the lawyers and other organisations that supported this crucial fight.”  

Sherrie Smith

Drive 2 Survive co-founder Sherrie Smith (left) with Welsh Romani campaigner Alison Hulmes at the Drive 2 Survive 2021 rally (c) Ludovic

The successful claimant, Wendy Smith, was represented by Marc Willers KC and Ollie Persey of Garden Court Chambers. They were instructed by Chris Johnson of Community Law Partnership (‘CLP’). Chris was assisted by Andy Marlow of CLP.

Stephen Simblet KC and Nadia O’Mara acted for the First Intervener, Friends, Families and Travellers (‘FFT’), instructed by Parminder Sanghera of CLP.

This was Chris Johnson’s final case before retirement. For decades, Chris and his team at CLP have been at the forefront of legal challenges protecting and advancing the rights of Gypsies and Travellers. It is fitting that in his final case the Court has issued a declaration of incompatibility, which will have significant wider implications for Gypsies and Travellers.

Well done to all from the Travellers’ Times, and enjoy your retirement Chris Johnson! What a retirement present – and a gift to our communities!


The right to roam – our present and our future. Appleby 2023 (c) Eszter Halasi

TT News

(Lead photo: Romany Gypsy John Doe leads his cart from Stable Way, Hammersmith, to take campaigners to the Drive 2 Survive 2021 rally in Parliament Square (c) Huw Powell)

Download and read the full High Court judgement

Download and read the full Community Law Partnership press release

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Facebook Pix : Gaza Protest Camp, University of Nottingham. 36 Edit

Gaza Protest Camp, University of Nottingham. Jubilee Campus 36 Edit

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Have you been there? A documentary photography project on medium format film

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Pro-Palestinian Protest, Nottingham 11 May 2024 vid2

Pro-Palestinian Protest, Nottingham 11 May 2024 vid2 Samsung S22 Ultra – 4K Video 3840 x2160

#Gaza #palestine #protest #palestinian #nottingham #samsung #S22ultra

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Pro-Palestinian Protest, Nottingham 11 May 2024 vid1

Pro-Palestinian Protest, Nottingham 11 May 2024 vid1 Samsung S22 Ultra – 4K Video 3840 x2160

#Gaza #palestine #protest #palestinian #nottingham #samsung #S22ultra

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New Media, New Rules: Reimagining Photojournalism

When was the last time you saw a great news picture? Or a piece of reportage that truly made an impact? Regardless of your opinion of the winners, did you see any of the World Press images winners when they were actually published for the first time? If you can’t recall a specific date, don’t worry; it’s not your fault. The places where one could find valued photojournalism have nearly vanished. Major news publications have either disappeared or are mere shadows of their glorious past. In an era when one could discover great news photography in diverse places such as Wired magazine or Ladies Home Journal, we are now extremely lucky if we find an issue of National Geographic with some amazing images.

An extinction event

Print magazines are dying, and with them, the budgets that sustained a whole community of talented photojournalists. We are losing not only these platforms but also an entire audience of avid news seekers eager to consume well-informed visual journalism. While neither are actually gone, there are fewer and fewer places where they can meet—similar to an extinction event due to a lack of water. Photographers can no longer quench the public’s thirst for news images because there are no more watering holes.

We said this before. It’s time for photojournalism to break free from its symbiotic relationship with news publications, which is proving to be detrimental, much like an abusive marriage. Photojournalism should take cues from the success of video journalism, which has found new platforms to carry its message. Platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram offer spaces where anyone can discover and share video news without relying on inexperienced, budget-tight gatekeepers. Granted, these platforms can host dubious content, but perhaps that is exactly where photojournalism needs to be, rather than behind a well-guarded, isolating paywall.

Photojournalism still waits for its traditional mentors—the news media—to find a solution. It imposes artificial boundaries on itself, dramatically limiting its reach and effectiveness. Even as platforms like Instagram or WhatsApp have gained immense popularity as sources of image consumption, photojournalists have continually dismissed them as being too lowbrow. Yet, with a savvy strategy, one can achieve far more views and impact with a well-crafted Instagram strategy than by being published in all the magazines in the world. But such strategies need to be built thoughtfully, not as an afterthought.

And that’s the challenge for photojournalism: finding the right format to fit the right medium.

New mediums require new formats and new grammatical rules, which photojournalism needs to learn. It needs to understand which story fits where for which audience. The same way audiences select their content, photojournalists need to select their audience via their media of choice. Yes, even TikTok if it suits the story. Why not? That’s more views than TV Guide at its peak.

So what’s the answer?

Bring photojournalism to the XXI century by sheddings its overbearing grammatical and structural chains:

Escaping the traditional photo essay/reportage format that benefited its magazine era but is now suffocating it. There are no more double-page spreads; in fact, there are hardly any horizontal formats left. The opening image, the close-up—all these refer to layouts that have long died. Even the concept of a photo essay is becoming obsolete. If you’re lucky, you might get a slideshow on a news website, but it does not care about your carefully crafted visual narrative. Each image boringly pushes the other away, and the format really dislikes verticals. Think in powerful unique images. Tell a story in one image.

Reduce the over-reliance on captions. Captions should complement well-crafted images, not serve as their explanation. News images ought to be easily understood without text, particularly when published in a relevant context. Depending too much on captions can lead to uninspiring visuals. By minimizing this reliance, photojournalism can seamlessly integrate into fast-paced media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest, where quick visual comprehension is crucial. Embrace the use of idioms, symbols, and signs to convey meaning visually.

One major barrier for photojournalism to break free from its restrictive ties with traditional news media is the issue of credibility. Previously, a news image had to be published by a well-respected publication to be considered credible. This is no longer the case.

With the adoption of frameworks like Content Credentials or Liccium, photojournalism can now self-certify, eliminating the need for third-party authenticity checks. As support from traditional news media dwindles, it’s essential to transition to a platform-agnostic approach. News images should stand as self-validating units of truth, accessible and shareable across any platform, at any time. The primary focus must shift to maximizing impact and raising awareness.

Finally, we can mimic the advertising world. For decades now, it has relied on AI to analyze and understand what images work where for whom. Why not use the same data to create more impactful content targeting a specific audience? After all, aren’t photojournalists also selling ( in this case, a story)? This data-powered visual approach can also serve in determining ahead of the shoot which platform would have the most impact as well as recommending format, dominant colors and publishing platforms for maximum impact and reach in for a targeted demographic. Thus, instead of relying on who will buy your reportage, become proactively active in reaching  directly to the core target for maximum reach and impact. Go after the audience instead of waiting for it to come to you. Yes, ethical clickbait photojournalism.

And the money in all that?

As we have all witnessed, in this world, audience equals money. If you can raise an audience, you can convert it into income. Magazines have lived off this premise for decades, why not photojournalists ?

The landscape of media is not just changing; it has already changed. Traditional news media, once the lifeblood of photojournalism, have become its chains. If photojournalists continue to cling to outdated formats and channels, they risk irrelevance in a world where content is king and distribution is queen. We must seize the tools of our era—data analytics, mobile platforms, social media—and wield them not just competently, but with groundbreaking creativity. Photojournalists must become their own publishers, their own advocates, and, most importantly, their own validators. The time for waiting is over. The time to act is now, using every tool at our disposal to ensure that the stories that matter don’t just survive, but thrive. Let us not be content with mere adaptation. Instead, let us redefine the very essence of what it means to communicate visually in the digital age.


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Facebook Pix : Pro-Palestinian Protest, Nottingham. 11 May 2024 72edit

Facebook Pix : Pro-Palestinian Protest, Nottingham. 11May 2024 72edit


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Peregrine : First chick … 3 more to go xx

Peregrine Falcon, a first chick … 3 more to go. High up on the Newton Building, Nottingham Trent University


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Di Peasey NUJ Speech on killing of Journalists in Gaza by Israeli Forces and elsewhere, MayDay 2024

Di Peasey NUJ Speech on killing of Journalists in Gaza by Israeli Forces and elsewhere, Nottingham Mayday Rally, 4th May 2024 Insta360 Ace Pro – 4K Video 3840 x2160 #cuts #nottingham #NUJ #unions #protest #insta360 #acepro #4k

Attacks on press freedom around the world are intensifying, index reveals

In the past year, in virtually every region, journalists and independent media outlets faced increasing repression

Annie Kelly Fri 3 May 2024 05.00 BST

Political attacks on press freedom, including the detention of journalists, suppression of independent media outlets and widespread dissemination of misinformation, have significantly intensified in the past year, according to the annual World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The index ranks 180 countries on the ability of journalists to work and report freely and independently.

In a year when more than half the world’s population will go to the polls in democratic elections, the RSF’s index shows an overall decline in press freedom globally and a steep rise in the political repression of journalists and independent media outlets.

“RSF sees a worrying decline in support and respect for media autonomy and an increase in pressure from the state or other political actors,” said Anne Bocandé, RSF editorial director. “States and other political forces are playing a decreasing role in protecting press freedom. This disempowerment sometimes goes hand in hand with more hostile actions that undermine the role of journalists, or even instrumentalise the media through campaigns of harassment or disinformation.”

Quick Guide Press Freedom

The Maghreb and Middle East regions performed the worst in terms of restrictions on press freedom by government forces, according to the report. In the past year, said RSF, governments across the region have attempted to control and curtail the media through violence, arrests and draconian laws, compounded by “systematic impunity for crimes of violence against journalists”.

The RSF says that, since October 2023, more than 100 Palestinian reporters have been killed by in Gaza, including at least 22 in the course of their work.

Members of the press in the Gaza Strip, carry banners reading ‘the press is free and cannot be silenced’ during a demonstration due to being targeted by the Israeli army
Members of the press carry banners that read: ‘The press is free and cannot be silenced’ in a protest over the Israeli army, in Rafah, Gaza, January 2024. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

Elsewhere in the region, journalists have been killed in Sudan, where there have been serious attempts to curb independent reporting of violence and civil war. The situation for media professionals in Syria has also deteriorated, with journalists who have fled press repression in their home country threatened with expulsion from neighbouring Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. The RSF also says that four of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists – Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran – have continued to attack and detain them.

The RSF says that Latin America is also showing alarming indicators of political repression of journalism. In Argentina, the new president, Javier Milei, has boasted about his assault on the free press and has shut down the country’s biggest new agency. Press freedom is also under sustained political attack in Peru and El Salvador.

The US has performed badly due to increasing attacks on journalists from political officials, including public calls to imprison reporters.

Elections in sub-Saharan Africa saw violence against journalists fuelled by political attacks on media freedom. In Nigeria nearly 20 reporters were attacked in early 2023, and in Madagascar, reporters were targeted while covering pre-election protests. More recently, Burkino Faso has suspended dozens of foreign news organisations, including the Guardian, over reporting of an alleged massacre of hundreds of civilians by the Burkinabe army.

In Europe, the index showed Russia dropping down the ranks of countries mounting attacks on press freedom for what the RSF terms its “crusade” against independent journalism. More than 1,500 Russian journalists have fled abroad since the invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Journalist Antonina Favorskaya, who filmed the last video of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny before he died, is escorted into a Moscow courtroom last month.
Journalist Antonina Favorskaya, who filmed the last video of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny before he died, is escorted into a Moscow courtroom last month. Photograph: Dmitry Serebryakov/AP

Belarus’s position near the bottom of the RSF’s index is due to the persistent persecution of journalists under the pretext of combating “extremism”.

Last week, a report by the German-based Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties) warned that press freedom is “perilously close to breaking point” in several European countries.

A police officer points a finger at the photographer as a man and woman hug in a large crowd of protesters and police

Repression of the free press also worsened in the Asia-Pacific region. The RSF says that the region’s dictatorial governments have been tightening their hold over news and information with “increasing vigour” in countries such as Afghanistan, where the Taliban have all but destroyed independent journalism, and North Korea and China’s “all-out persecution” of local media. Vietnam and Myanmar also fell in the rankings this year due to their pursuit of mass imprisonment of media professionals.

The RSF also painted a bleak picture of the increasing use of artificial intelligence, calling its use in the arsenal of disinformation for political purposes “disturbing”, with deepfakes being used to influence the course of elections.

Reporting on the war against nature is also proving increasingly dangerous. Forty-four journalists have been killed for covering environment stories over the past 15 years, according to a separate report by Unesco, which organises today’s World Press Freedom Day.


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Mayday Parade in Nottingham : Unions : Cuts : Gaza

Mayday Parade : Unions : Cuts : Gaza Insta360 Ace Pro – 4K Video 3840 x2160 #mayday #cuts #nottingham #council #unions #protest #insta360 #acepro #4k

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Dance in protest: 30 years of the UK’s anti-rave Criminal Justice Bill

DJmag HAROLD HEATH 1 May 2024, 14:30

1st May 1994 was the first big London protest against the looming Criminal Justice Bill, the piece of legislation that first proscribed a genre of music — rave music, “wholly or predominantly categorised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats” — in law. Despite widespread demonstrations at what was seen as draconian power-grabs by the UK authorities, the Bill became law later in 1994. Here, Harold Heath looks back at the reaction from the dance music community at the time, and the Act’s lasting impact on the rave scene today

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act was passed into UK law in November 1994. Infamous for targeting events that played music “wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”, the act gave the police sweeping new powers to “remove persons attending or preparing for a rave” — yes, they actually legislated specifically against raves.

A rave was defined as any gathering of ten people or more; police could order such gatherings to disperse, and could turn back anyone within a mile radius, with three-month prison sentences or £2,500 fines for non-compliance. The bill also targeted, amongst other things, squatters, eco-protesters, hunt saboteurs and so-called ‘new age’ travellers, as though the ruling Conservative Party had launched an attack on every single subculture that they felt somehow threatened traditional British decency and law and order.

The Criminal Justice Bill (soon abbreviated to ‘CJB’ – it was a ‘bill’ before it was passed, an ‘act’ after) was an ill-thought-out, rushed and vindictive reaction to — chiefly — the legendary Castlemorton festival in spring ’92. For a week, between 20 and 30 thousand people (estimates vary) took part in one of the single most beautiful expressions of dance music’s power to create community — or took part in the end of civilisation as we know it via the ‘Evil acid house cult’ (TM The Sun newspaper), depending on your point of view.

At the time, the co-founder of DiY Sound System, Grace Sands, was one half of DJ duo Digs (Grace) and Woosh (Pete Birch RIP). “The CJB was the response to the Castlemorton Festival,” she recalls. “DiY Sound System were there, playing house, funk and disco, alongside Spiral Tribe, Circus Warp, Circus Normal and other sound systems playing tougher ravey sounds and techno. It was a huge, fun, illegal gathering with waves of people coming over the weekend to shake a booty and get wild. The powers that be weren’t impressed at all! It was bittersweet that such a great week could have such a negative reaction.”

Photo of a large crowd of people protesting against the Criminal Justice Bill

Credit: Matt Smith

“It was a knee-jerk reaction from an establishment shit-scared that ‘we’ — a mixed bunch of townies, crusties, clubbers, ravers, gays and straights — could organise ourselves that well.” – Grace Sands, Digs & Woosh

Simone ‘Sim Simmer’ Feeney, Spiral Tribe co-founder and the Tribe’s MC, felt the full weight of the state’s attention following Castlemorton. “We were just a bunch of ravers that wanted their music to go on a bit longer than we were allowed to,” she remembers, “but just from that small action we felt the wrath of politics breathing down our necks, and the reactions at the time were just crazy.”

Those reactions included police becoming more heavy-handed, like when they violently broke up one of Spiral Tribe’s parties in ’92 using a JCB industrial digger to smash through a wall. Tribe DJ and producer Ixindamix was there that night too. “We got beaten up by riot police at a party in Acton Lane in April 1992,” she tells DJ Mag. “It was most certainly police and government intervention — starting at Acton and culminating with having the sound system, trucks and all our possessions confiscated after being arrested leaving Castlemorton — that influenced our decision to leave Britain in order to go party elsewhere.”

The Criminal Justice Bill (CJB) was the latest in a series of government attempts to end illegal raves, following the failure of the Entertainments (Increased Penalties) Act in July 1990 to have much effect at all, as demonstrated by the flourishing illegal rave scene in ’91/‘92. “The movement had grown across the summer from ’91 to ’92 when all the raves moved outside,” Simone says, “and we’d joined up with the travellers and reignited the flame of the free festivals. And then obviously Castlemorton was massive and put the fear of God into the authorities, which is why they took us to court — it was all a political stitch-up.” Following one of the most expensive trials in UK history, in 1994, all 13 Spiral Tribe members who’d been arrested after Castlemorton were found innocent. “And it was shortly after that,” Simone recalls, “that they introduced the Criminal Justice Bill.”

It’s difficult not to view the sections of the act that dealt with raves as a demonstration of how fearful the government were at the sight of thousands of young, often working class people organising themselves through self-made, covert networks and gathering together, often on the land of the Conservative gentry. Grace attempts to sum it up: “It was a knee-jerk reaction from an establishment shit-scared that ‘we’ — a mixed bunch of townies, crusties, clubbers, ravers, gays and straights — could organise ourselves that well.”

Photo of people protesting against the Criminal Justice Bill on a white background with orange embellishments

Credit: Matt Smith

Widely criticised by human rights organisations, the CJB was a piece of legislation that was, in the words of DiY Sound System’s Harry Harrison in his book Dreaming Of Yellow, “…so egregious in its provision that an entire subculture rose up to prevent it becoming law”. Following its announcement at the Tory party conference of October ’93, dancers, DJs, MCs, promoters, musicians and producers united with squatters, eco-protesters, travellers and ‘crusties’ to organise a network of protest and agitation, all based around the UK’s travelling sound systems. Fundraisers were held, protests were organised, literature, posters and placards were produced, and coaches to London protests and support for those arrested at the protests was provided. The fight was on.

Musician, composer and producer Lol Hammond (Spiral Tribe, The Drum Club), along with Dave Watts of Fun-Da-Mental, Charlie Hall from Drum Club, Miquette Giraudy and Steve Hillage, recorded the ‘Repetitive Beats’ EP in protest at the CJB in ‘94. Lol recalls Mr. C from The Shamen paid for the video out of his own pocket, from royalties from The Shamen’s No.1 smash ‘Ebeneezer Goode’. “The CJB was a total kick in the teeth for our rights,” Lol tells us. “That stupid ‘ten people dancing to repetitive beats’ rule… It really politicised people. Our culture has always been seen as very hedonistic, just getting on one and dancing, which is fair enough, but this really galvanised a lot of people — our whole lifestyle was under threat.”

Lol appeared on the front cover of music paper Melody Maker in October ‘94 along with other vocal anti-bill campaigners Andrew Weatherall, Dave Watts, Kris Needs and Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream above the tagline ‘Beat Fighting Men line up against the CJB’. Released on Nina Walsh’s Sabrettes label, ‘Repetitive Beats’ peaked at No.80 in the national charts.

As a former squatter, long-time supporter of human rights organisation Amnesty, and a rave musician, Orbital’s Phil Hartnoll was extremely vocal about the bill at the time. “It was just another attack on dance music and raves,” he says. “And the fuss they made about ecstasy, when how many alcohol-related deaths were there that year?” Phil spoke at a couple of anti-CJB demos, and Orbital released a completely silent ‘Criminal Justice Bill?’ protest mix of their ‘Are We Here’ track which reached No.33 in the UK national chart in September ‘94.

Still reassuringly angry after all these years, Phil, like so many in dance music, was incredulous at the ridiculousness of the legislation: “It was all done under the banner of repetitive beats — so they’re trying to explain what a fucking rave is. ‘Oh, it’s repetitive beat music’, but I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, an orchestra can’t play in fucking time with each other if there isn’t a repetitive beat!’ So that was a load of bollocks!”

Photo of a large crowd of people protesting against the Criminal Justice Bill

Credit: Matt Smith

“It brought everybody from every background together, hugging on the dancefloor: barristers, window cleaners, teachers, nurses, football hooligans, all together, not giving a shit about what your background was or what your views were…” – DJ Graeme Park

DiY and Leeds band Chumbawamba collaborated on their ‘Criminal Injustice’ protest track, while electronicists Autechre put out the ‘Anti’ EP on Warp, a tune programmed to have non-repetitive beats, with profits going to human rights organisation Liberty. Dreadzone’s ‘Fight The Power’ was also released in ’94 to support Liberty in the fight against the bill, and was included on the ‘Taking Liberties’ compilation, which also featured music from Orbital, Galliano, Transglobal Underground, Test Dept, Loop Guru, The Orb, Ultramarine, Zion Train, Aphex Twin under his Caustic Window moniker, and The Shamen. And although Liam Howlett later denied it, it’s hard not to read The Prodigy’s ’94 album ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’ — with its inside sleeve art depicting a raver giving the finger to the police while heading off to a rave, and its ‘How can the government stop young people having a good time fight this bollocks’ sleeve-notes — as a very clear reaction to the bill.

DJ Graeme Park remembers the CJB well: “Ecstasy and acid house meant that you just could not stop people wanting to carry on enjoying themselves communally,” he tells DJ Mag. “It brought everybody from every background together, hugging on the dancefloor: barristers, window cleaners, teachers, nurses, football hooligans, all together, not giving a shit about what your background was or what your views were… With this stupid, ridiculous, reactionary, nonsense bill they were trying to stop a cultural revolution.”

Park recalls receiving a call from dance music aficionado Neil Rushton in early ‘94: “Neil was immediately on the phone, sharp as a knife, and he said ‘I want to do a quick compilation, ‘No Repetitive Beats’.’ I was like, ‘What a brilliant idea’.” Graeme mixed the ‘No Repetitive Beats’ compilation on Six6 Records, which included tunes from Inner City, Glam, Cool Jack and Terrence Parker. Royalties went to DiY’s All Systems No, a grass-roots response to the CJB from DiY and other UK systems.

Word about the CJB’s proposed wide-ranging powers spread rapidly through the counter-cultural underground. “We had an initial meeting with various sound systems from the East Midlands/Yorkshire area including DiY, Smokescreen, SPOOF, Pulse, Rogue, Babble and Breeze,” DiY’s Harry tells us. “We couldn’t believe what we were reading, that our way of life was being criminalised. All Systems No’s mission was to raise as much money as possible to fight the CJB, which resulted in us subsidising several coaches to the demos, printing tens of thousands of flyers and booklets to inform people, and the purchase of a ‘kamikaze’ rig which could be seized by the police without risking our own systems.”

Photo of a large crowd of people protesting against the Criminal Justice Bill

Credit: Matt Smith

Two of the main organisations involved in the three large CJB London protests in 1994 were The Advance Party and The Freedom Network, a broad coalition of sound systems and party-goers, squatters, travellers, civil liberties groups, road protesters, hunt saboteurs and free party organisers. Photographer Matt Smith went with his Sunnyside sound system to the first two marches, and along with other sounds put on a free party on Wanstead Common after the protest. Matt and some friends had moved to Bristol from London in ’93, “with the express intention of opposing the legislation in as many ways as possible,” he says, “simply because we thought it was not right — and Sunnyside came together through that… We threw parties to raise money and raise awareness, using rave as a networking tool to entertain, amuse and inform and to create information dissemination. We ended up taking Bristol to London on a few occasions.”

The first big protest against the CJB, a march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square in central London organised by the Advance Party, took place on Saturday May 1st 1994 — May Day. This was soon followed by a second big mobilisation on July 24th, about twice the size of the first. The first two major protests were largely peaceful. “It was massively celebratory,” says Matt of the first one, “and we were full of naive zeal that we were going to change the fucking world.”

Matt, like many in dance music, had begun to think that just maybe change was possible, that perhaps this huge collective opposition might actually make a difference. Sunnyside parked their rig outside the National Portrait Gallery in central London. “A 10k rig on the back of a seven-and-a-half-tonne truck,” he remembers with a mix of delight and pride, “and that fucking moment when we turned the music on, the whole of Trafalgar Square turned round and roared at us like a football crowd — that was life changing.”

The third London protest took place on 9th October and, following the rally in Hyde Park, violence broke out after the police turned on the protesters with tear gas and horse charges. As the date for the bill to become law approached, there was a growing sense that the end was drawing near. Lol mentions reaching out to well-known and mainstream figures in dance music at the time. “Honestly, I gave it everything, we really fucking went for it, and I’m sure we did raise awareness a bit — but not enough,” he says. “DJ Mag, Mixmag, The Guardian and Melody Maker supported us but it would have been brilliant if we could have got more of the mainstream involved.”

Matt remembers Labour MPs Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the first march, but ultimately Labour Shadow Home Secretary Tony Blair decided not to oppose the bill on its final reading, perhaps not wishing to damage Labour’s prospects in the next election by appearing soft on crime, and the CJA became law in November 1994.

Photo of a large crowd of people protesting against the Criminal Justice Bill

Credit: Matt Smith

“The BBC angle was ‘Everything finished with Castlemorton’, and I’m like ‘Bollocks did it!’ Ten years later there were probably more on Steart Beach than there were at Castlemorton.” – Matt Smith

The accepted narrative is that the act killed illegal raves, moving the scene into licensed venues where profits could be taxed, and closing times, noise levels and quantities of people controlled — and that this fostered the rise of superclubs like Cream and Ministry. As writer Ed Gillett in his excellent Party Lines book states, post-CJA, “UK dance music’s focus shifted to the booming market of superclubs and festivals — dancing not as a form of anti-social defiance, but a fully regulated leisure activity.”

Certainly the act had an immediate effect on the free party scene: in June ’95 a last-ditch attempt at a large-scale Castlemorton-style free party, the ‘Mother’ festival, was forcibly shut down by the police. But Gillett also notes that illegal events weren’t ending, they were “retreating into the shadows”, an important point echoed by several of our contributors. “The police had effectively militarised the South-West in England after Castlemorton,” Harry from DiY says, “so from the summer of ‘93 onwards there was no chance of another big free festival… but from being a huge social movement, the free festival/party scene simply went back underground.”

This is a key point in the CJA’s legacy, perfectly illustrated by how Matt spent the decade that followed. “I spent ten years running free parties throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s all over the country, and never got busted once!” he shares gleefully. “The last thing I ever really got involved with was the 10th anniversary of Castlemorton on Steart Beach in Bridgewater.” The Steart Beach rave, where a huge amount of sound systems — anecdotally, Matt heard it was forty-eight — played host to 16,000 people partying for a week. “The BBC angle was ‘Everything finished with Castlemorton’, and I’m like ‘Bollocks did it!’ Ten years later there were probably more on Steart Beach than there were at Castlemorton.”

Ironically, the protests against the CJB brought many disparate people together in a great cultural networking exercise that ultimately undermined many of the act’s anti-rave aims. “The repression by the state,” says Harry, “had the opposite effect to that intended in that it brought the systems together in a solidarity which endured.” Rather than completely ending illegal raves, the legislation simply meant that party organsiers brave enough to take the risk had to find new locations — often returning to cities and squat-parties — and new strategies to outfox the authorities. “I think the act might have temporarily pushed everyone deeper underground, but it didn’t kill the spirit at all,” Simone tells DJ Mag. “It made the whole movement gain momentum and become stronger… it pushed it deeper underground and the roots spread. You might stop the party, but you can’t stop the future.”

Photo of a large crowd of people protesting against the Criminal Justice Bill

Credit: Alan Lodge

For many of the UK’s intrepid party creators, the party just relocated, as sound systems like Spiral Tribe, Desert Storm and Total Resistance moved to Europe and kick- started the Teknival movement. Others stayed in the UK, developing a strand of clubbing — including Lol’s Drum Club night, Megadog, Return To The Source, Tribal Energy, Megatripolis and Whirl-Y-Gig, amongst many others — which was dedicated to keeping the free festival ethos alive within licensed club nights.

It’s well worth mentioning that the post-CJA rise in legal dance music club culture wasn’t inherently bad, of course; clubbing may have been more expensive and less wild than illegal raves, but there’s no doubt that the club nights that blossomed in the second half of the ‘90s — Metalheadz, Speed, Bugged Out!, Heavenly Social, Manumission, Stealth, Gatecrasher to name just a few — were absolutely world beating; and those that had started before the act, such as Cream, Trade, Slam and Back To Basics, all thrived in the second half of the decade too. As Matt notes: “The criminalisation of the big parties led to more developments in the legal club world… free parties are more of a lifestyle commitment, but by the 2000s everybody was raving and you had the Gatecrasher kids and all those incredible style tribes that came out of that late ‘90s superclub evolution.”

An unexpected effect of the act and the protests was their influence on what became the UK’s festival industry. Matt recalls doing a nationwide tour with a bunch of free party people at the time, many of whom now, like Chris Tofu MBE from Continental Drifts who currently oversees the Shangri-La area at Glastonbury, run the UK festival world. The illegal raves that were created from the unholy alliance between the travellers’ free festivals and the ravers’ parties contained the creative and practical DNA for our current summer-long festival season. As Harry says: “What had been dangerous and radical was sanitised, commodified and sold back to the people.”

Ultimately, if the CJA aimed to kill illegal raves, it failed. It certainly curtailed them, made the stakes higher for the organisers, and literally drove some UK sound systems out of the country. But as Spiral Tribe’s Ixindamix tells DJ Mag: “People will always party and celebrate, dancing to beats is an age-old human instinct. No matter what laws are created, people will always find a way to party together — it’s inevitable.

“Similar acts have been brought in around Europe,” she continues, “we’ve seen horrendous police violence directed at ravers in France, and at the moment there are particularly harsh laws in Italy promising long jail sentences for organisers — but the scene is so popular that people will always find ways around the rules, whether it’s finding cunning ways to elude the police, building ‘suicide rigs’ or simply having smaller events in remote places. The movement will continue.”

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Kent State Shooting. 4th May 1970

54 years ago …. This is all happening again ….

John Filo’s haunting photo from the Kent State massacre on May 4, 1970, has never been more relevant.
Angry student protestors confronted Filo, demanding to know why he was taking pictures, screaming, “What kind of a pig are you?”
Filo responded, “No one’s going to believe this happened,” then pointed to his camera. “This is proof.”

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This is happening again

Then it was Cambodia / Vietnam …. now Israel / Gaza …Same shit

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Kinder Trespassers ‘would today be kettled and labelled extremists’

Bob Smith, Editor
Monday 25 April 2016 01:57 PM GMT

If the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass took place in 2016, its participants would likely have been kettled before getting out of the car park and labelled extremists, an outdoors expert said.

Carey Davies, hillwalking development officer with the British Mountaineering Council, made the point at a meeting to commemorate the 1932 event in the Peak District.

He was speaking at the fourth annual Spirit of Kinder day in Hayfield, the village from which the walkers set out for their attempt to reach the area’s highest hill.

Mr Davies said the longing for a vision of the land ‘for a sense of space and a sense of place’, was universal, describing a recent walk he took through war-torn Palestine.

He said: “With the benefit of hindsight, the Kinder Trespass has now become heritage; an act which mainstream politicians and respectable organisations now feel comfortable endorsing.

“But let’s take a closer look at it. There were 400 young people, many of them unemployed, led by people from ethnic and religious minorities, all following a radical ideology. We shouldn’t lose sight of just how challenging and provocative it was.”

He pointed out there were still barriers of access, social background, ethnicity, gender, mental illness or disability which prevented many people in this country from knowing the lasting satisfaction of a long walk or a hard climb.

He said the BMC was working in partnership with other organisations to try and do what it could to help people overcome these barriers, and crowdfunding campaigns like the BMC’s Mend Our Mountains were repairing badly-eroded paths, such as that below Ringing Roger on Kinder.

“Too many people live lives without landscape, in nondescript and forgotten places which foster a sense of marginalisation and contempt,” Mr Carey said. “Access to the outdoors has to be seen as part of a social whole. I believe the Kinder Trespassers understood this well. Their struggle was always part of a struggle for something bigger.”

The event marked the confrontation between the trespassers, led by Benny Rothman, and the Duke of Devonshire’s staff on the hillside, and was organised jointly by the Kinder Visitor Centre Group and the Kinder & High Peak Advisory Committee. A highlight was readings by pupils from New Mills College and Hayfield Primary School, describing their feelings of freedom after a walk on Kinder.

Dave Toft of the KVCG outlined the story and background to the trespass, and claimed Kinder Scout and access to its moors was the children’s’ birthright. “But according to figures from Natural England, only 8.7 per cent of the country still has free access. So as Benny Rothman would say, our work is not complete.”

Philip Pearson, former senior policy officer at the Trades Union Congress, and a keen hillwalker, spoke about Benny Rothman’s work as a trade union organiser, in addition to his being the leader of the Kinder trespass.

He said that the environment and climate change were major issues for trade unions today, which he felt Benny would have well understood, and he outlined was unions were doing about it. He added that a local pupil had written: “Freedom means everything to me – it allows me to be the person I am.” Mr Pearson said: “This said everything about Benny Rothman, the leader of the trespass.”

Mark Metcalf, author of a new biography of Rothman, explained that Rothman’s four months imprisonment was not wasted, because while he was there he learnt shorthand, which stood him in good stead in his future life as a union negotiator.

Musical interludes were provided by folk singer Brian Peters, who led the traditional final singing of Ewan MacColl’s Manchester Rambler.

Jan Gillett, son of one of the imprisoned trespassers and 86-year-old Alan Edwards of Stockport, who as a two-year-old had been carried there by his elder sister, unveiled a commemorative plaque which will eventually form part of a Trespass Trail.

Exhibitions of work by local children and local artist Sarah Morley were held in the Village Hall. On Sunday walks were led on the trespass route.

Among the organisations attending the event were the Ramblers; Sheffield Campaign for Access to Moorland; British Mountaineering Council; the National Trust; Hayfield Civic Trust; Sustainable Hayfield; the Kinder Mountain Rescue team and Friends of the Peak District.


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Archaeological Dig

Strangely enough was talking to my son Sam Poole yesterday ….. saying I went back to the Beanfield a couple of years after events. In the hedgerow scraping about a bit, you could find bits of glass, metal and rubber. Got to thinking that this is archaeology innit. The sort of thing folks have done in Bosworth fields etc.

Revisiting the ‘Battle of the Beanfield’ site https://alanlodge.co.uk/blog/archives/7745

Google Map: https://www.google.com/maps/@51.1921722,-1.6660082,1355m/data=!3m1!1e3?entry=ttu

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Under the Rainbow : Documents and Artefacts From Five Decades of LGBTQ+ Struggle and Liberation

An Exhibition at Broadway Cinema

25 July – 04 August 2024 – Free Event

In the face of aggressive marginalisation, LGBTQ+ people in Nottingham fought for themselves and stood shoulder to shoulder with others. In doing so, they created their own narratives and built their own support networks.

The documents and artefacts produced in these struggles continue to be an inspiration. They show how people organised themselves and created their own defiant media and spaces.

Born of resistance, it is all the more striking that these items are such vivid and positive depictions of culture, life and love, of a community that not only survived, but thrived.

Once again supported by Peoples’ Histreh and very kindly hosted by Broadway Cinema, the Sparrows’ Nest is excited to share items from their rich collections of donated LGBTQ+ materials, complemented by pictures by local photo journalist Alan Lodge.

The exhibition accompanies the launch of the first volume of CJ DeBarra’s major new work on local LGBTQ+ history Queer Nottingham: 1960-1990, published by Five Leaves, based on years of extensive research and over a hundred oral history interviews.

Please feel free to widely share this article and the promo leaflet!


Thu 25-Jul

7-9pm: Join us for our opening event in the Broadway Gallery (enter through Broadway’s main entrance or via Heathcote Street). We promise to keep the speeches brief!


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The Mass Trespass : Kinder Scout

It is thanks to these guys that we have the National Parks and ‘some’ access to the countryside. Thank you xx

“There were hundreds of young men and women, lads and girls, in their picturesque rambling gear: shorts of every length and colour, flannels and breeches, even overalls, vivid colours and drab khaki…multi-coloured sweaters and pullovers, army packs and rucksacks of every size and shape.” – Benny Rothman, speaking in 1982, recalling the moment he addressed ramblers before setting off on the Mass Trespass.

PHOTOGRAPHY & ARCHIVE: The National Park Authority has limited access to archive material associated with the Mass Trespass, but both the Working Class Movement Library and Picture the Past may be able to assist with further content on the event.

What was the Kinder Mass Trespass?

On 24th April, 1932, hundreds of men and women defied the law to walk over hills and moorland to the plateau of Kinder Scout, Derbyshire, in what would become the Peak District National Park.

The protest was led by 20-year-old Benny Rothman, Lancashire secretary of the British Workers’ Sports Federation (BWSF), which organised walks and cycling trips for young workers from Manchester and surrounding mill towns.

It followed a confrontation with gamekeepers, three weeks earlier, during a BWSF Easter camp when ramblers attempting to reach another peak, Bleaklow, were turned back.

The plan for the Mass Trespass was for ramblers from Manchester to meet up with groups from other places – including Sheffield – at the Kinder plateau.

Estimates vary of the numbers taking part – at the time the Manchester Guardian estimated 400 people had been involved in the Mass Trespass.

The BWSF had called for a rally in the village of Hayfield on 24th April – but this was a diversion, drawing in one third of the Derbyshire police force, which expected Communist unrest. Meanwhile, trespassers met at Bowden Bridge quarry, with Rothman addressing hundreds of ramblers before they set off.

At William Clough, trespassers were confronted by gamekeepers and scuffles broke out. A gamekeeper was injured. The trespassers broke through, running through prohibited land to Kinder plateau and meeting up with ramblers from Sheffield from the ‘other side’.

Trespassers agreed to walk back to Hayfield ‘with heads held high’ – but police were still there, waiting to make arrests.

The arrest of six young men – and subsequent imprisonment of five – unleashed a wave of sympathy for the ramblers and fuelled the ‘right to roam’-movement.

The Kinder Mass Trespass in 1932

Arrests and punishment

Benny Rothman and five other ramblers were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly and breach of the peace. They pleaded not guilty and were remanded to be tried on 7th and 8th July at Derby Assizes.

“We ramblers, after a hard week’s work, in smoky towns and cities, go out rambling for relaxation and fresh air. And we find the finest rambling country is closed to us… our request, or demand, for access to all peaks and uncultivated moorland is nothing unreasonable.” – Benny Rothman, speaking in his defence at the trial at Derby Assizes.

Five of the six were found guilty of riot and received punishments of between two and six months in prison. They were:

  • John Anderson, cotton piecer, aged 21 – six months (riot and assault)
  • Benny Rothman, aged 21 – three months (riot and inciting riot and assault)
  • David Nussbaum, labourer, aged 19 – three months (riot and inciting unlawful trespass)
  • Arthur Walter (Tona) Gillett, student, aged 19 – two months (riot)
  • Julius (Jud) Clyne, machinist, aged 23 – two months (riot and inciting riot and assault)
  • Harry Mendel, machinist, aged 22 – not guilty due to lack of evidence.

Benny Rothman (1st June 1911 – 23rd January 2002)

  • Born in 1911, in Cheetham Hill, Manchester to Romanian Jewish parents who had come to Britain at the turn of the century.
  • The Rothman family was very poor and, though Benny won a scholarship to Manchester’s Central High School for Boys, he had to leave at the age of 14 and start work as an errand boy in the motor trade. He went on to become a trainee mechanic, studying geography and economics in his spare time.
  • He became an outdoor enthusiast at an early age and, by 1932, he was the Lancashire secretary of the British Workers’ Sports Federation (BWSF), organising walks and cycling trips for young workers from Manchester and surrounding mill towns.
  • After serving his jail sentence for his part in the Mass Trespass, Benny went on to work tirelessly in the trade union movement and remained a rambler, climber and activist throughout his life.

What was the right to roam movement?

A growing movement over more than a century for the right of all people to have access to the countryside.

Early 19th century – romantic poets such as Byron, Coleridge and Wordsworth write about the inspirational beauty of the ‘untamed’ countryside.

1884 – the first freedom to roam bill is introduced to Parliament by the MP James Bryce. The bill fails – but the campaign has started.

Early 20th century – there’s a growing appreciation of the great outdoors and the health benefits of exercise in the countryside, especially by people working in industrialised towns and cities. But conflicts emerge between people demanding greater access to the countryside and landowners.

1931 – a government inquiry recommends the creation of a ‘national park authority’ to select areas for designation as national parks. No action is taken and discontent grows.

1932 – the Kinder Mass Trespass and harsh punishment of leader Benny Rothman and his associates unleashes a huge wave of public sympathy and fuels the right to roam cause.

1936 – a voluntary sector Standing Committee on National Parks (SCNP) is formed, arguing the case for national parks and urging the government to act. It is the result of groups of leisure enthusiasts and nature conservationists coming together to lobby the government for measures to protect – and allow access to – the countryside for the benefit of the nation. Parties include the Ramblers Association, the Youth Hostels Association, the Council for the Preservation for Rural England and the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales.

1945 – pressure culminates in the White Paper on National Parks, produced as part of the UK’s post-war reconstruction. A committee is set up under Sir Arthur Hobhouse to prepare for national park legislation while campaigners keep up public pressure.

1949 – a landmark year as the government passes the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, paving the way for the creation of national parks. Lewis Silkin, Minister for Town and Country Planning, describes it as ‘…the most exciting Act of the post-war Parliament.”

17th April 1951 – the Peak District becomes the UK’s first national park.

But the rest of story only begins here! To find out more about more milestones from our 70-year history, see our anniversary timeline.


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The Man in the White Suit

This was my very first intro to electronic tunes, here in the Ealing comedy: The Man in the White Suit


The “Guggle Glub Gurgle” Leitmotif of
The Man in the White Suit (1951)

Whenever Sidney Stratton’s apparatus is bubbling, or whenever he is thinking about his stainless fiber, the musical accompaniment to The Man in the White Suit (1950) plays a samba created from a series of recorded bubbles, gurgles, woofs, and squirts. These sounds were not made using traditional musical instruments but rather laboratory equipment. According to promotional material at the British Film Institute, London, the music was a collaboration of director Alexander Mackendrick and sound editor Mary Habberfield. They worked out a score with a rhythm in samba tempo that read: “Bubble, bubble, high drip, low drip, high drain, low drain.” The bubble sound was obtained by blowing through a glass tube into a viscous glycerin solution. The two drip sounds were obtained by pinging two different sized pieces of brass and glass tubes against the palm of the hand. The drain sound was created by air blowing through a tube into water and then amplifying the bubble sound through a metal tube. After Habberfield captured each sound effect, she mixed them in different combinations by trial-and-error until
she found the leitmotif that would accompany Sidney Stratton and his bubbling apparatus in the movie.

They called it the “Guggle Glub Gurgle”. When Benjamin Frankel wrote the movie’s score, he incorporated their track into his larger composition called “The Guggle Triumphant”.

The “Guggle Glub Gurgle” leitmotif was subsequently used by Jack Parnell and His Rhythm in “The White Suit Samba” that they released on Coral Records in 1952. In 2001, it was re-released on Produced by George Martin.


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CIVIC : my website gallery

Nottingham City Council ceremonies with counsellors and assorted officials. Events covered here include the unveiling of the Brian Clough Statue and the dedication of Speakers Corner. Opening of the Goose Fair. A plaque and memorial stone to honour George Africanus was dedicated by religious leaders including the Bishop of Kingston (Jamaica). A notable resident, he was a West African former slave who became a successful entrepreneur in Nottingham. Also, commemorated, the Annual Act of Remembrance.

Frequent appearances of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood. [they don’t seem as antagonistic with each other now as was once the case].

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A radical British politics rooted in nature is spreading – and the establishment doesn’t like it

From right to roam to anger over polluted rivers, a new breed of activists is pushing back against environmental destruction

Sun 21 Apr 2024 13.00

Something very interesting is happening in the UK, to do with nature, the expanses of land we think of as the countryside, and where all those things sit in our collective consciousness. The change has probably been quietly afoot for 20 or 30 years. Now, it suddenly seems to be blurring over from the cultural sphere into our politics, with one obvious consequence – the belated entry into the national conversation of issues that have long been pushed to the margins, from land access and ownership to the shocking condition of our rivers.

The prevailing British attitude to nature has long been in an equally messed-up state. From the 1600s onwards, endless enclosure acts pushed people off the land and seeded the idea of the countryside as somewhere largely out of bounds. Britain’s rapid industrialisation only accelerated the process. And despite occasional cultural and political tilts in the opposite direction – the bucolic visions of the 18th- and 19th-century Romantics, the mass trespass movement of the 1930s – most of us now show the signs of that long story of loss and estrangement.

Our understanding of the changing of the seasons seems all about the superficialities of heat and light, rather than the much deeper cycles of flora and fauna; to distinguish between different bird calls or spot particular wild flowers would require a level of folk knowledge that now seems almost magical. In 2018, the average UK adult was reckoned to spend 90% of their time inside. Two years before, the Guardian reported that three-quarters of British children spent less than 60 minutes of each day playing outdoors, which left them less acquainted with fresh air than the average prison inmate. In that context, we might be locked into much the same dysfunctional relationship with the natural world as our immediate ancestors.

But maybe that is changing. In the midst of the UK’s Covid lockdowns, the popularity of outdoor walking suddenly surged. At about the same time, ancient and exclusionary cliches about green spaces were being undermined by such inspirational organisations as Muslim Hikers and Black Girls Hike (last week, the latter’s Mancunian founder, Rhiane Fatinikun, received an MBE for “services to nature and diversity”). Not long after, Right to Roam campaigners were given their biggest publicity boost in years when the wealthy landowner Alexander Darwall took legal action to end the long-established right to wild camping on Dartmoor, commencing a battle that looks set to reach the supreme court. In their very different ways, these stories centre on the same key ideas: a rejection of any idea of natural places and spaces being off limits, and the joyous democracy of gathering together to experience something more nourishing than concrete and tarmac.

They also involve a mounting interest in the kind of enchanting, magical aspects of life that we will only find if we connect with nature – and the traces of much older ways of living that pepper our landscape. My favourite example of this latter tendency is Weird Walk, a project set up by three friends who began by “walking an ancient trackway across southern England wearing incorrect footwear”, which has since spawned a book, a regularly published fanzine and an occasional podcast. Their interests include stone circles, enduring local rituals and “lost places”, and how walking heightens instinctive understanding of the mess the planet is in. “If we are to combat the climate change that is disrupting our seasons,” say the Weird Walkers, “perhaps we must also heed the call to embrace viscerally the natural world and its rhythms.”

There is a strand of our revived interest in nature that connects with recent British history, and the upsurge of protests against road-building that happened in the 1990s. These struggles – against such feats of tarmac-based official vandalism as the Newbury bypass and the M3 extension on Twyford Down, near Winchester – fused radical and creative action with a sense of history and mysticism: for their participants and many observers, they represented an inspirational rejection of a money-driven absolutism (one infamous legislative document from that time was titled Roads for Prosperity) that a lot of people thought was too powerful to fight. More than 30 years later, some of that energy is still coursing around: in the past decade or so, I have seen it in the campaigns against a dual carriageway cutting through the Stonehenge world heritage site, the madness of fracking and the nature-destroying effects of HS2.

Moreover, the kind of activism that mixes a deep affinity with the landscape with a hardened political edge is more visible than ever. The two things have an obvious symbiotic relationship: the worse environmental destruction gets, the more precious nature seems and the louder people get. Recently, that has been the essential story of how the treatment of rivers by private water companies has become such a hot political issue. Thanks to that outrage and the endless effects of our heating climate, the notion of giving nature a set of legal rights is edging into political debate: in Lewes in East Sussex last year, for example, the district council passed a motion that opened the way for the River Ouse being granted rights – to flow, be free from pollution and sustain native biodiversity – based on the Universal Declaration of River Rights created via international cooperation in 2017.

Unsurprisingly, the political establishment does not like this stuff at all: earlier this year, the UK delegate to the UN environment assembly insisted that the rejection of rights for nature “is a fundamental principle for the UK and one from which we cannot deviate”. To many people, that will have sounded like someone stubbornly playing their part in a very familiar story, whereby today’s outlandish and unthinkable idea very often becomes tomorrow’s inevitability.

A new kind of politics is brewing here. It is both radical and deeply rooted in our history, and already giving rise to set texts. Next week brings the publication of Wild Service, co-edited by Nick Hayes, who wrote The Book of Trespass, the 2020 travelogue that shone glaring light on the absurdities of land ownership. This new book brings together writers and activists who are all working towards “a new culture that returns nature to the centre of society”. Its title reflects the idea not only of serving the planet by protecting it, but the idea that in doing so, we honour something genuinely sacred. The new breed of protesters, walkers, campers, foragers and wild swimmers are at the heart of it all. “We need people to be intertwined with the land like brambles in the bushes,” says one of the contributors. Nature, in other words, is something we are all part of, and we can only safeguard it from disaster by being joyously and defiantly tangled up in it.

  • John Harris is a Guardian columnist


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