Levitations and Demons

The levitation of the Vice-Chancellor's residence - "Out Demons Out!"

There is a strong tradition of imaginative and creative student activity and protest at Keele. The turn of the decades of the 1960s and 1970s was a particularly energetic time. Here we weave some very carefully expurgated threads of music, protest and psychic power to recall those heady days....

These events took place on 28 October 1970, with between 250 and 300 students taking an active part. The levitation idea came to Pete Sykes as a way of extricating students from a protest against tuition fees which had resulted in their occupation of the Walter Moberly Building earlier that day. The occasion - along with the eerie humming and musical chants - was captured on audio tape by Gerry Northam (1970), a volunteer at that time for Radio Stoke. In his interview with Gerry, Pete Sykes (1972) stated that the main aim was to achieve "spiritual unity" among the student body and to levitate the Clock House 250 feet into the air, where the view of the motorway was much better. The students decided that by joining hands, chanting and dancing around the building they could raise it off the ground. The Vice-Chancellor W A Campbell-Stewart can be heard in Gerry's report telling students that if they levitate the Clock Tower, "it must be done silently".

"Who remembers trying to levitate the Vice-Chancellor's building (in the Clock House) in the early 1970s? Who were the instigators and who were the perpetrators... and how high did the building get?"

Elizabeth "Fizle" Sagar (1974)

"On October 21, 1967, some 35,000 anti-war protesters organised by the Youth International Party, or Yippies, gathered for a demonstration at the US Defense Department (the "March on the Pentagon"), where they were confronted by some 2,500 armed soldiers. Various peaceful protests ensued that subsequently typified "Flower child" behaviour in the eye of the public. The Yippie leader, Abbie Hoffman, subsequently declared their intention of levitating the Pentagon 300 feet by means of meditation, wobbling it once in mid-air in order to exorcise evil spirits. Several Yippie members maintain to the present day that they were briefly successful in this endeavour - though no independent confirmation is forthcoming. I think the Pentagon protestors chanted 'Out, Demons! Out!' as part of this endeavour and the chant as well as the activity were copied by the Keele lot. The incongruity of the latter would, of course, have been entirely in keeping with the humorous approach to radical politics espoused by Pentagon demo leader Abbie Hofman….. An approach deprecated by more serious minded lefties."

Bernard Martin (1973)

"The finger points firmly at Pete Sykes methinks! As to how high? Some said 'Eight Miles High ' at the time, believed to be a reference to the work of a popular beat combo...'"

Bernard Martin (1973)

"I was at Keele 1972-1976 and the levitation had happened before I arrived, but the event was often spoken of fondly by various members of the Folk Club and Keele Rapper. I recall Grant Glanville (of Keele Rapper) say something along the lines that there was a student demonstration going on (possibly an occupation of Keele Hall, I don't remember that bit). Anyway, people got bored and someone suggested levitating the Vice-Chancellor's house. The idea quickly caught on, and people left the demonstration or occupation much to the angst of the student union officials who were trying to encourage people to stay. When a large number of people had gathered outside and around the Vice Chancellor's house, the Vice Chancellor's wife came out and asked them what they were doing. When some one said that they were levitating it, apparently she said something along the lines of "Alright dear, but put it back when you have finished with it!" It makes an amusing anecdote which I tell in my current role as storyteller!"

Janet Dowling (1976)

"Pete Sykes was, I believe, the intermediate instigator of the levitation of the Vice-Chancellor's building, but of course Abby Hoffman and Jerry Rubin (Yippie activists), who had already tried to levitate the Pentagon, where the prime instigators or "inspirators" we might better say.""

Simon Glynn (1971)

"I don't remember who was the instigator of the attempted levitation of the building with the little clock tower, though it may well have been Peter Sykes. There was probably some pseudo-political rationale for this caper, but it was certainly spurious - a lot of nonsense was generally spouted to justify the pranks that went on, which often seemed to involve students scuttling through the woods pursued by porters. I have to report that, sadly, the building remained safely on terra firma."

Gill (1973)

"I was one of the students who joined in a crowd encircling the Vice-Chancellor's building to try to levitate it. Our levitation was not successful. We blamed the fact that there were not enough of us to join hands completely to encircle the building."

Sorry, name mislaid, please remind us!

"I think the levitation episode, the naked students in the middle of the roundabout and the burning of huts and files were part of a very English and entirely ineffectual protest about students being unable to see their own files. After all there were huge student demonstrations in France and America."

Sue Kunc (Hamlett) (1971)

"I remember it well. I wasn't present, but strange as it seems I heard Gerry Northam doing his famous live commentary about it on Radio Stoke while I was in my room. It was the foundation of his career with the BBC. It would be hard to imagine what the Vice-Chancellor, W A Campbell-Stewart thought. He was always a very kindly gentleman in his contacts with me - but hardly a bundle of laughs."

Pete Varden (1973)

"I seem to remember I was there, with many others, after the word got around that it was to happen. There was no visible movement of the VC's building, or at least not visible without the help of scientific equipment which probably didn't exist at the time. But I didn't go away disappointed - attending the failed attempt by instigators unknown to me or forgotten now was a worthy way to spend the evening and well in keeping with the times. I certainly had nothing better to do that night."

Jurek (George) Kolorz (1972)

"I seem to remember the attempt at levitation was following a gig by the Edgar Broughton Band - a progressive rock band - at the Union in 1969 or 1970 in the summer. Edgar stirred us all up to revolution! A crowd of us ran outside and tried to levitate some huts as a revolutionary act before moving on to greater things! I think Edgar got us chanting about raising the buildings. As we were outside the Vice-Chancellor's building two police cars turned up - so we surrounded them instead. I remember one reversed into a ditch faced with the crowd of students. We cheered - and I think this was the nearest we got to any rebellion. It was a mad summer and these events could have happened over more than one night - memory being what it is."

Ilze Mason (Ulmanis) (1972)

"My recollection is that the general consensus was that the Clock House rose about six inches, give or take about six inches. The instigators were the usual crowd, I would suspect - Dennis Grant, John Attenborough, Garry Little, and pretty much everyone I knew was involved. What is more certain is that this was a copycat event based on the actions of US radical students, who had recently attempted to levitate the Pentagon - an altogether more challenging and even hazardous undertaking. Compared to Nixon, even the most hard-line Keele activist would agree that Vice Chancellor Stewart wasn't in that league. The principal complaint was Stewart's persistent refusal to allow students to see their own records - now illegal as a stance, thanks to the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act - victory! The process, though, was the same: to encircle the building, focusing (I use the word lightly) the mind on the task in hand, whilst chanting "Out Demons, Out!" This chant, a well-known anthem of the radical 70s, has an interesting connection with Keele."

Sorry, name mislaid, please remind us!

"I was the Student Union's Treasurer the year they tried to levitate the Vice-Chancellors building. It was a copy of a similar incident in USA when a group circled the White House to levitate it. That was part of the anti-Vietnam protests. I seem to remember that in our case the instigators were also something to do with the drama society. I think they probably frightened the Vice-Chancellor and his wife, but it was more a bit of fun than anything malicious on the part of 99.9% of the participants."

Stephen Brooks (1973)

"I was also one of those around the Clock House (the Vice-Chancellor's residence on that evening back in whenever, I am intrigued and touched by the replies from many contemporaries whom I haven't seen since '72 to the levitation question - especially as several mentioned Pete Sykes. "Out, Demons, Out!" was the chant, signature, trademark anthem and greatest hit of the Edgar Broughton Band, whose performance on campus was not entirely unrelated to the Clock House event."

Brian Stewart (1972)

Despite the students' best efforts the clock tower never actually levitated. The students at Keele Students were influenced by the so-called 'Yippies' – an anti-war movement in the United States. Led by Abbie Hoffman 50,000 Yippies went to an 'Exorcism of the Pentagon'. Using so-called psychic energy, they wanted to levitate the building and rid it of the evil spirits they claimed had caused the Vietnam war. As with the Clock Tower, the Pentagon didn't noticeably float.

Pete Sykes

The late Pete Sykes (1972) passed away on 25 December 2004. He was Editor of the student magazine "Cygnet" and an active participant in the turbulent years at Keele and involved inspirationally in drama at Keele and afterwards. He appeared prominently in "Dream on the Hill" a memorable documentary about Keele produced by Granada in 1972.

"Pete Sykes is the person to tell you all about drama in the period 1969-73. He was the major player in RAT Theatre after he left Keele. I haven't seen or heard of him since Lyn (my wife) and I met him after a stupendous performance in 'Embers' at Tamworth Arts Centre in the early 1980's."

Peter Varden

"How ironic that Pete Sykes should die on the day designated as the birthday of Jesus. We (RATT) crucified Pete on the library steps in a day long performance art spectacular in 1971. He always aspired to martyrdom. The Universe speaks".

John Attenborough (1972)

And more about Edgar Broughton's infamous chant...

"The chant came from the Edgar Broughton Band who released the single "Out Demons Out" - it may have been picked up by those levitating as the band played Keele a number of times."

Rick Potter (1978)

"I fancy the 'Out Demons Out' chant from the Levitation of the Clock House experiment derived from the fact that it was conceived as part levitation and part exorcism."

Trevor Curnow (1974)

"The chant 'Out Demons Out' originated with the Edgar Broughton Band, who played several gigs at Keele while I was there (68-72). It was one of their regular chants/songs, and they used to get the crowd going with it. Once, I remember, the words appeared painted on the side of the Union building the night after Edgar Broughton had played a concert".

Carol Birch (Fidler) (1972)

""Out Demons Out"was surely by the Edgar Broughton Band - that's the name on their compilation album and it was probably their best known track."

Simon Sweetman (1966)

""Out Demons Out" was a single released in 1970 by the Edgar Broughton Band, who came to Keele in the summer term of 1970. The band played at the student union ballroom, possibly on the same night as the attempted levitation, and I seem to recall that in the excitement of the event the ballroom was damaged by paint (I'm not sure if this was a paint bomb or graffiti). There is an extensive entry in Wikipedia about the band. It says that "Out Demons Out" was an adaptation of The Fugs' song "Exorcising The Demons Out Of The Pentagon". I didn't go to the Edgar Broughton gig or try to levitate the Clock House but I do recall the summer term of 1970 when I was in FY as being particularly eventful."

Bob Smith (1974)

"Out Demons Out was a song by the somewhat anti-establishment blues /rock Edgar Broughton Band. They may have played Keele, but I can't remember. For many years I was amused to see the title graffitied in various places including on a rubbish bin in a lay-by on the A38 Sutton Coldfield by-pass!"

Barry Davies (1973)

""Out Demons, Out!" is the anthem of the Edgar Broughton Band - from the album Wasa Wasa - they still end their show with it - recently at the Rockpalast in Germany - and of course they played at Keele in the Levitate the Chancellor's House era."

Bill Maddison (1978)

"The origin of the chant "Out Demons Out" was a line from a number by the Edgar Broughton Band, regular visitors to Keele in the late 60s and early 70s."

David Harris (1970)

"This chant is something that has stuck in my mind, and I even use it from time to time still. If I remember correctly, I first came across it at the Edgar Broughton Band concert mentioned in the notes about the levitation incident. Students were protesting at the time - about money, I believe - and the concert was all part of the fuss. I recall being there to hear the music and joining in the chanting. The "demons" in this case were the authorities who were raising the fees (or whatever it issue was)."

Sheila Thomas (De Boer) (1973)

"I think the original chant of 'Out Demons Out' came from the march to levitate the Pentagon by Hippies /& Yippies in the late 1960s. It was then used as a chant by the Edgar Broughton Band (whom I mentioned last week in connection to the attempted 'levitation' of the Vice Chancellor's building). I remember seeing the band at Keele several times with the wild man of rock Edgar Broughton urging us (his audience) to join in the chanting. The band even produced a single, I think, called 'Out Demons Out'".

Ilze Mason (Ulmanis) (1972)

"The Edgar Broughton Band is described here: www.answers.com/topic/edgar-broughton-band"

Adrian Stern (1976)

"None other than the Edgar Broughton Band came to the Union in about 1970 and had us all standing on chairs and the like in the ballroom, shouting this mantra. We had no idea who the demons were, or how they were going to be cast out, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. It was only the following day that, sober, I thought it just a trifle foolish."

Linda Whitebread (Western) (1971)

"The origin of the chant "Out Demons, Out" was the Edgar Broughton Band. Track 11 on their album Demons at the Beeb. Steve Broughton, the band's drummer, happened to have been in my class at school. He was expelled in about 1965 when his hair reached his shirt collar and his father, the eponymous Edgar Broughton, led a small protest in front of the school one Saturday morning. Whether they chanted "Out Demons, Out" is lost in the mists of time."

Rob Hirons (1973)

"In autumn 1968, the Pink Floyd played in the Keele Students Union ballroom - they were great. Also great, they hung around a good while afterwards, chatting to us; it was really nice to make their acquaintance. Being a die-hard fan, I hitched up to Manchester the following year to see the legendary Free Trade Hall gig, where they recorded some of Umma-Gumma. Needing a ride down to London, after the gig I asked Roger Waters if I could have a lift back with them. He was very sorry, but they were going on up to Scotland, but he'd sort me a lift with the support band, which he did: they were the Edgar Broughton Band. So passed a very pleasant night in a transit van and Edgar's flat in London. I saw quite a bit of the band over the next year, helping to heave the obligatory Marshall stacks at gigs, and was delighted when they recorded their anthem live song, "Out Demons Out", as a single. Being House Officer for the Students Union, I placed a copy on the Union's Juke Box, where it became the second most popular song (after the Doctor Who theme tune). Mysteriously, large numbers of posters bearing the slogan started appearing all over campus. Sadly, the relationship with the Edgar Broughton Band ended unhappily, in a court case following a musical sit-in of the Union that got rather out of hand. But that's another story. Love and peace."

Martin Williams (1972)

"The Edgar Broughton Band played at the student union ballroom in the summer term of 1970 and in the excitement the ballroom was damaged. I seem to remember that members of the band handed out cans of spray paint and invited students to 'liberate' the ballroom as a gesture against the military-capitalist hegemony. Some more reactionary members of the audience got hold of some of the cans and went down to 'liberate' the band's van in return, pointing out to watchful roadies that since property was theft, Edgar obviously couldn't object. The roadies can't have been as well versed in dialectical materialism as Edgar, telling the would-be liberationists to ... off or there'd be a fight'. I think some paint got on the van, and Edgar was hopping mad."

Peter Rodford (1972)

"I want to overturn the calumny that the students who painted Edgar Broughton's van were in any way "reactionary". They (whoever we were) had a much clearer social and cultural message than Edgar, whose idea of revolution was to encourage the duller students to spray-paint their own union walls:

"Let's make our own place horrible! That will teach the Man a lesson!" One of my fondest memories from Keele is the look on Edgar Broughton's face when he finally realized that some of the students had disobeyed him and that instead of making a mess of their own place they had made a mess of his. "Oy, some [deleted] has painted my van"- and indeed they had."

Owen Kelly (1973)

"As I recall it the Edgar Broughton Band distributed spray-paint aerosols among the audience, probably towards the end of the evening. I can't recall whether it was in connection with them performing 'Out, Demons, Out' or not but, students being students, the paint was put to use on both the interior and exterior walls of the Union building - again, I can't remember what was sprayed but it's a fair bet that (a) Out, demons, out' would have been one slogan and (b) Banksy quality it wasn't! I understand that the University or more probably the Union either threatened to take the band to court to recover the cost of removing the graffiti, or actually did so."

Peter Ball (1972)

"Going back to Edgar Broughton… this group was banned from playing in the SU building and their so-called "concert" took place outdoors in front of the Sports Centre until the power was turned off when, to the chants of "Out Demons Out", the band took itself, its equipment and us into the Union building to finish the concert. Revolutionary times! Power to the people!"

Steve Gillham (1973)

"I was at Keele briefly in 1968 for a few months and then again in 1969-70. Heady times. Milk Train was centre stage for the 'illegal' outdoor Broughton concert and the chaos which ensued - comically, when the band used up almost all the generator juice so it packed up as Edgar launched into "Out Demons Out". The crowd - encouraged by anarchists I expect - assumed that The Establishment had pulled the plug and stormed the union building. Some night - with a presumably fake cable of support from John and Yoko. All this and lots more bizarre fun."

Manfred Roxon (Ropschitz) (1970)

"I started at Keele in 1969 but my memories at Keele are not tied to dates. Much of what I recall involved my own circle of friends rather than general things that others would have been aware of. I do remember listening to the Edgar Broughton band and shouting along with "Out Demons Out!" I also recall the nude sunbathing incident and being taken by surprise somewhat by encountering a naked male shopper in the union shop, carrying a wire basket which struck me as extremely funny. I lived out at Hawthorns so missed quite a lot of what was going on on campus, I suspect. I remember attending the open air music festival in fields somewhere beyond Keele Village."

Sheila Thomas (De Boer) (1973)