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Since World War Two numerous youth movements have emerged whether they be mods and rockers, countercultural hippies, or punks. Yet none of those disparate trends quite shook the establishment with the dangerous abandonment of the late eighties/early nineties underground rave scene. Revelling in its outlaw image soundtracked by electronic music and somewhat drug fuelled it struck a major chord throughout the land. Before things got totally out of hand Parliament lawfully stepped in and passed the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

This blog written by Richard Ward, Assistant Archives Officer will assess the background and impact of this most controversial of modern statutes.

Entertainment (Increased Penalties) Act, 1990, HL/PO/PU/1/1990/c.20, Parliamentary Archives)



*Title taken from ‘We Call it Acieed’ by D-Mob featuring Gary Haisman released October 1988.

With tabloid newspaper outrage, market stall ‘Smiley Face’ t-shirts and novelty pop hits by 1989 the Acid House boom was part of the nation’s conversation. The average man of the street was aware of its warehouse settings, 130 beats-per-minute tracks, and use of the drug, Ecstasy (street name Es). Graham Bright was a Conservative Member of Parliament who turned his attention to regulating the rave phenomenon. Alongside John Carlisle, a fellow Luton MP, they sponsored the Entertainment (Increased Penalties) Bill seeking to impose fines amounting to £20,000 for organising large-scale unlicensed parties.

Bright had accompanied the Pay Party Unit taskforce to learn about these nocturnal activities. In debates he quoted The Face magazine and referenced conversations he’d shared with DJ Adamski of Killer fame who was concerned over the rise in criminality attached to events. Despite a well-publicized Freedom to Party rally in Trafalgar Square the Bill was passed just in time for the summer festival season.


two white men standing on the terrace at the Palace of Westminster
Graham Bright MP & John Carlisle MP, 1980, Parliamentary Archives, PUD/A/10781


Handwritten in blue ink
Petition Against the Entertainments (Increased Penalties) Bill, 1990, Parliamentary Archives, HC/CL/JO/4/41/179



*Title taken from ‘Sweet Harmony’ by Liquid released March 1992.

The immersive experience of raving was increasingly monetised in the years following the ‘Bright Bill’. Leading franchises Sunrise and Fantazia could charge up to £50 admittance to their outdoor extravaganzas. What occurred on Castlemorton Common on the May 1992 bank holiday weekend was a defiant response to this free-market philosophy that mushroomed into a national incident. By sheer word of mouth up to 30,000 revellers descended on the sleepy Worcestershire village to dance for free to Spiral Tribe’s all-night sound systems. Captured by television crews on the hunt for a good story this site of ‘special scientific interest’ was obliterated.

Dispatches from the Castlemorton fall-out were relayed by local MP, Michael Spicer to a sympathetic Commons chamber where he highlighted  in detail the siege-like circumstances that his  constituents endured as this motorised ‘army division’ of ravers brought noise-filled anarchy minus latrines. Accused of adopting a too cautionary approach to the Malvern Hills invaders the regional constabulary made it clear that they didn’t have the requisite police powers to metaphorically pull the plug on proceedings. For this to be achievable a fresh set of laws expanding on the previous legislation needed to be put into place. A crackdown was on the cards.


printed text
Castlemorton Common Memorandum – Malvern Hills Conservators, Mid-20th Century, Parliamentary Archives, FCP/2/794


Photograph taken in the House of Commons with John Major at the despatch box
John Major & Michael Howard at the Despatch Box, 1992, Parliamentary Archives, PIC/P/859



*Title taken from ‘One Way’ by The Levellers released 1991.

‘There’s only one way of life and that’s your own’ sang The Levellers providing the undisputed anthem of Glastonbury 1992 and a politicized ode to New Age Travellers who preferred to pursue an ‘opt-out’ nomadic existence. Attracted to the mythical heritage of the South-West region they flocked in a procession of convoys to the Castlemorton gathering. In its aftermath the media let rip on their lifestyle and they found themselves framed as the latest State Enemy Number One. Prime Minister John Major used the Conservative Party Conference platform to declare ‘New Age travellers, not in this age, not in any age’.

Though not exactly perfect bedfellows this unlikely alliance of raver and New Age Traveller sometimes produced an unexpected cross-over of ideals. On Graham Bright’s Bedfordshire patch, the Exodus Collective had purchased a farm for communal purposes on the outskirts of Luton, a symbol of the organisation’s growing social consciousness. When the property was raided in 1993 the protests outside the town’s police station drew a four thousand strong crowd. Under the watch of Home Secretary, Michael Howard the government devised a campaign to alleviate this supposed madness entitled Back to Basics that they hoped would encourage ‘neighbourliness, decency and courtesy’.


printed document
Criminal Justice & Public Order Act – section 63, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/PU/1/1994/c33


*Title taken from ‘It’s a Fine Day’ by Opus III released 1992.

A blueprint for wholesale legislative reforms regarding terrorism, stop and search and the age of consent was recommended by the 1992 Royal Commission on Criminal Justice. The Home Office took the opportunity to make additions to the all-encompassing Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill which tackled the grey area of public order relating to New Age Travellers and ravers. Introduced to the House at the beginning of 1994 the wording of certain sections was greeted by pressure groups like Advance Party with bemusement. Famously Clause 63 defined the offending music as ‘including sounds wholly or predominantly characterized by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats’.

Mass demonstration was still the ultimate expression of dissent as Central London was taken over on three notable occasions by protestors blowing whistles for the ‘Right to Rave’, the numbers greatly exceeding the illegal ‘Ten or More’ assembly rule endorsed by the Bill. High profile figures such as Michael Mansfield QC and Tony Benn supported the cause seeing this issue as a distinct threat to civil liberties. However, little opposition was voiced from Benn’s Labour colleagues as Shadow Home Secretary Tony Blair possibly considering the next General Election didn’t want the party typecasted as being soft on crime and anti-social behaviour.


Criminal Justice & Public Order Bill– section 63, Parliamentary Archives, HL/OF/SC/341


*Title taken from ‘No Good (Start the Dance)’ by The Prodigy released May 1994.

Royal Assent was granted to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill in November 1994. While this took place abseilers ascended the Palace of Westminster’s roof to unfurl a ‘Defy the CJA’ banner. Rave relocated to the ‘Superclub’ a vastly different environment. Liverpool’s Cream and the capital’s Ministry of Sound became figureheads of a dance industry accumulating dividends comparable to the publishing sector. Decimated by trespassing edicts the New Age Traveller community refocused its energies towards a burgeoning anti-roads crusade.

Ecstasy remained a serious problem and was far too easily accessible for many teenagers the consumption of which was seen by some as a rite of passage. Politicians across the board called for change and  Barry Legg MP launched his 1997 Public Entertainments Licences (Drug Misuse) Bill. which was primarily a governmental offensive on the unscrupulous premises that facilitated the sale of ecstasy although he also condemned celebrities boastful of excessive usage.

To rave or not to rave?  A question to which Parliament unequivocally answered NO!



Senseless Acts of Beauty – Cultures of Resistance Since the Sixties by George McKay

Storming the Millennium – New Politics of Change by Tim Jordan & Adam Lent

Altered State – The Story of Ecstasy Culture & Acid House by Matthew Collins

Out of Site, Out of Mind: New Age Travellers by Jim Davis

1990 Entertainment (Increased Penalties) Bill – Standing Committee Debate, HC/OF/SC/314, Parliamentary Archives

1994 Criminal Justice & Public Order Bill – Standing Committee Debate, HC/OF/SC/341, Parliamentary Archives

Everybody in the Place: An Incomplete History of Britain 1984-1992 by Jeremy Deller


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