Thursday, November 20, 2008

History Of Festivals 18 : Bickershaw 1972

He will be forever emblazoned on the British public consciousness for the inane Beadle’s About (for our US international readers, this was an Eighties TV show where the host played “hilarious” hidden camera jokes on members of the public), but Britain actually owes the late Jeremy Beadle, who died earlier this year, a debt.

For Jeremy was the organiser of the 1972 Bickershaw Festival. Among the attendees was a 19-year-old Joe Strummer, who said that Captain Beefheart’s performance there was a lifelong inspiration to him, and a 17-year-old Elvis Costello, who said that the set he saw from The Grateful Dead made him want to form a band.

Aside from playing a part in the development of two British powerhouses, Jeremy and his co-organisers also ensured that the North West had its first multi-day music festival. The Deeply Dale festivals in Bury picked up the baton in 1976, but this event just outside Wigan was a little bit of a local groundbreaker on 5-7 May 1972.

There was some concern prior to the event about the suitability of the site: there were worries that its location in a valley would provide problems with drainage and water. But a local fanzine The Mole Express hit back at the doom-mongers: “Pay up, shut up – or piss off and pass the oars!” People were ready to party.

More spectacularly, there were also fears that punters might fall into disused coal mines (!) but fortunately nothing like that came to pass. However, the weather played pranks on Jeremy Beadle and unfortunately Bickershaw was a legendarily wet one.

The stage was one of the most innovative yet seen, big screens on either side offering decent views from a long way back, and an efficient backstage set-up allowing relatively small delays for band changeovers.

Things got off to a fairly quiet start on Friday, all a bit folky rock, with sets from Jonathan Kelly and Wishbone Ash.

We called them, simply, ‘Ash.’ And for a while they were one of those great rock bands who had enough melody, folky twists and muscular boogie riffs to satisfy both the hairy male and his ‘lady.’ Girls who flinched at ELP’s radical noise would embrace Argus and, God knows, music aside, we should all love them for that.

Argus was huge. Sounds voted it album of the year. Everyone bloody loved Argus and its no wonder. Folky, proggy and rocky, it satisfied on so many levels. It was one of my most played albums of the 70s. We worshipped Ted Turner. For us he was somehow a slightly mystical character…and no, he didn’t set up CNN! The twin guitar sound with Andy Powell was the most liquid and melodious combo to date. No Ash, no Lizzy, I’m saying. Anyone with me?

Their set At Bickershaw was, for the record, Time Was; Blowin' Free;, Jail Bait;, The King Will Come; The Pilgrim; Warrior; Throw Down The Sword; Phoenix.

As you can see, its Argus heavy. If you get hold of a bootleg of this gig – and they’re out there – for me it’s still Throw Down The Sword that gives me chills. Ambitious and unique sounding, it’s a band on the top of its game.

Hawkwind really got everyone going, in more ways than one, as Stacia danced nude on the left of the stage through great versions of Silver Machine and others. A Lancashire crowd hadn’t seen naked gyrating like this since George Formby overdid it on the brown acid prior to a gig at the Free Trade Hall, freaked out during Chinese Laundry Blues and ripped all his clothes off “because there were ukuleles crawling all over me, mother”.

This was, for me, the classic Hawkwind era. The era covering In Search Of Space, Doremi Fasol Latido, Space Ritual and Hall Of The Mountain Grill when they performed a kind of spaced out trance vibration that was both futuristic and compulsive. Listening to it now is to hear something beyond time and fashion. Like all the greatest art, it transcends.

They were hairy sonic warlords creating a musical architecture that somehow managed to be atavistic and yet sophisticated. There’s a good argument to be had for saying that Hawkwind is the motherlode from which all the dance/trance music of the last 20 years has sprung. I’d buy that deal.

Doctor John was the other stand-out of the first day. Clad in top hat and tails, sliver jewellery in his beard, he looked the business. His nine-piece band, complete with horn section and hot gospel singers, were pretty awesome too. The Doc played lead guitar on Walk On Guilded Splinters and piano on some terrific R and B belters like Let The Good Times Roll. A stonking performance that saw him show off his total command of several different genres.

Thar first Dr John album, Gris Gris, is a spine-tingling voodoo album. And essential for anyone who wants to feel that edgy ju-ju vibe. Gilded Splinters is probably the highlight but call me a philistine, I think Humble Pie’s version on Rockin’ The Fillmore is the primo version; electrified by Marriott and Frampton’s up-to-ten guitars and some incendiary lead breaks, its 27 minutes of pure joy, man.

Linda Lewis also played. you remember her, right? A great servant to the session muso community, she played on co-Bickershaw performer Family’s album Bandstand, and she richly deserved her brief chart success with ‘Rock-a-doodle-do’. Check out the 1973 album, Fathoms Deep its chock full of some of Britain’s best musicians at the time including Family’s Jim Cregan who she was married to. Check her on the Stomu Yamashta Go albums too. There was a brief moment when Stomu was fashionable – Stevie Winwood played on those excellent jazz/rock/fusion albums and if you enjoy a bit of Japanese based noodle, those albums are a spicy treat. Still out there singing 5 octaves, she’s a rare treat and much overlooked. We should have an LL t-shirt. She’s that good!

Saturday had a brilliantly diverse line-up, from jazzers like Brotherhood Of Breath and Mike Westbrook to the Incredible String Band and Donovan (nicely laid-back greatest hits package). The Kinks also played but were a little bit stinky and a very bit pissed, by all accounts. Still, they did throw a piano off the stage.

Though their glory days of cutting edge R & B were behind them, The Kinks were still making great music and having hits. The first single I bought with my own money was the 1972 hit Supersonic Rocketship from the Everyone’s In Show Business Album; an excellent double album that is a mixture of live and studio

Cheech and Chong. They played Bikcershaw, man! I know, how weird is that?

Captain Beyond got their boogie on and got the crowd going, as did Sam Apple Pie.

Sam Apple Pie. If you like late 60s British blues bands then SAP will tickle your blues bone, featuring Malcolm Morley who would later come to marginally greater prominence with the incestuous Welsh stoner collectives of Help Yourself and Man who all produced wonderful records of stoned blissfulness, rambling soloing and drifting melodies better for the smoking of the home grown. Ah you know what I’m talking ‘bout.

Family played a typically roistering set, complete with microphone-stand abuse from Roger Chapman. Leicester’s Family didn’t make anything even approaching a bad album. By 1972 they were coming to the end of their lifetime but still had produced Bandstand – a classic rock album featuring hits like My Friend The Sun and the intense Burlesque. The fact that a band as eclectic and downright odd as Family made it big in the UK and Europe is a testament to the broadmindedness of the rock audience of the early 70s, hungry for any rock in any genre. Hairy people of the early 70s we salute you.

They were a surefire hit at any festival of the era, but an act probably less well-known to the crowd were the Flaming Groovies, who played a fun set of covers including Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Sweet Jane and Heartbreak Hotel. Music paper Frendz called them “a jukebox with balls”, which is a great description.

The Flaming Groovies had started in the late 60s and hadn’t amounted to much despite always being interesting but they got a second wind in ’76/ ’77 when they were kind of lumped in with the emergent American new wave of the Ramones. The 1976 album Shake Some Action was produced by Dave Edmunds and slotted right into the American new wave/power pop/proto punk or whatever other meaningless label you want to use, groove. And they have to have had one of the best band names ever, right?

But none of the above, with respect, could hold a candle to Captain Beefheart. Don and the gang did not get on stage until 4am, when bass player Rockette Morton, smoking a cigar, emerges alone for a throbbing, heavy and acid-dipped bass solo of brilliance and intent. The rest of the band join him - Zoot Horn Rollo in giant hat and tights, Winged Eel Fingerling in shades and quiff, Ed Marimba drumming with panties on his head. Beefheart enters into a spot and When It Blows Its Stacks roars in. Clad in his Sun and Moon cape, he leads his band through a performance of unremitting energy, verve and invention: a master at work. His a capella singing on Old Black Snake is just incredible. They close with Spitball Scalped A Baby.

1972 was Captain Beefheart’s commercial year releasing accessible killer R & B albums Clear Spot and The Spotlight Kid, the former produced by future Van Halen studio man Ted Templeman. Zoot Horn Rollo is on fine form. Check out Big Eyed Beans From Venus if you wanna get your guitar groove on.

Pity the band – Pacific Gas And Electric – who came on after them. As many of you who have known me for a while know, I collect vinyl big, and within that I collect 60s and 70s singles by West coast and blues bands. So I have a complete collection of Steve Miller, Electric Flag, Blues Project and PG&E singles…to name just four. I love them. For me records are art. The labels ; the logos; the font of the text; the black grooves. It’s all good to me. Like, its history in your hands dude. The romance of the 7 inch has never left me.

PG&E were a tasty band. Not that heavy, not that acid, but just good laid back rock with a bit of country & folk in the mix. Anyone who loves today’s type scene e.g. Neal Casal etc. you’d dig them. Worth getting a good compilation and sucking down a good taste of them.

The highlight of Sunday was the performance of the Haydock Brass Band. Only joking: the stars of the final day were, of course, The Grateful Dead. Country Joe and Brinsley Schwarz got things going.

Brinsley Schwartz were a very good band who were badly managed; there was the classic hype gone bad thing – flying loads of journos to the Fillmore for their USA debut went badly wrong. But BS were to be one of those under-the-radar- influential bands whose work would echo later in the 70s in the work of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker as well as, obviously, Nick Lowe and Ian Gomm. Pub rock with some country licks, yeah I’ll drink to that.

And then the New Riders Of The Purple Sage warmed the crowd up for the Dead. Seeing the NRPS out in the rural north of England must have been a trip all in itself. Panama Red is my fave album of theirs. Still satisfies.

They played a blinding, four hour masterclass, opening with Truckin’ and including stellar versions of Casey Jones and a lovely Dark Star. Pigpen rocking out on Good Lovin’ was another joy; and they played new songs Ramble On Rose and Tennessee Jed. Summer of 1972 was one of this great band’s most perfect eras; and the crowd knew they had seen something very special.

Over three days, it is estimated that about 60,000 attended the event and Jeremy Beadle said they took around £60,000 in gate receipts. As the tickets were priced at £2.25 each, even allowing for the traditional attendance exaggeration, it’s clear that a lot of people didn’t pay their way in. People were coming in, getting a pass-out, and then flogging their ticket back to someone else for a knock-down price.

Worse still, the event cost £120,000 to put on. They should have paid more attention in maths class. The blokes doing the gate were the usual “wolf in charge of the sheep pen” chancers, reselling tickets back to people, trousering takings – and all done with not so much a smile, more the threat of a busted head.

But there were just 32 drugs arrests, a few drunk and disorderlies and 18 Hell’s Angels nicked for breach of the peace outside. The weather was disgusting, and the site, in all honesty, was simply unsuitable. Nonetheless, Bickershaw was great for the region – and begat the well-loved Deeply Dale festivals later in the decade. Best of all though, were the two belting performances from the Cap’n and the Dead – inspirations that day to Elvis Costello and Joe Strummer, and to millions before and since and still.

Bickershaw rocked rightously. Part of the the UK's greatest rock days; it deserves its place in history.

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