|Hitching down from London, which took a long time considering it was only short hop, we arrived at the campsite early in the afternoon the day before the show. We'd arranged to meet up with a bunch of folks from the Midlands and we supposed that we would find them somehow. It proved surprisingly easy. We were just standing around , having pitched our miserable excuse of a tent, when this blue transit van packed to the gills with Hippies lurched towards, us, horn blaring and lights flashing - it was the Scruvious Piv, grinning fit to bust as usual and as the van shuddered to a halt , the rear doors opened to disgorge The Time Tortoise, Deanne, the Rabbit of Fantasy and a few other coves whose names I've forgotten .|
( NB: from now on each
part of this narrative that deals with the bands performances is repeated on
the individual band pages within the Knebworth site.In general theres more detail
on these pages. If you are only interested in a particular band go there as
you will also get more info on setlists and personnel where available, however,
if you do want to read on , these links are repeated at the bottom of the page)
Recording, setlist and band line up info.
|Most people seemed to take little notice of Buckley and apart from the fact that he performed well - but to little effect- I have no recollections of what he actually played . This is probably due to the fact that we were busy eating breakfast , as we found had found master Nick Ellis squatting over a pot full of potatoes and other veggies in the middle of the crowd and this helped to assuage the hangovers and provide an energy hit , so Buckley was missed due to our hunger pangs. Sitting back eating the stew , and before I was rudely attacked by my dear wife for some minor transgression ( left ) , I was most impressed by the setting and the facilities at Knebworth. Set in the grounds of Knebworth House, the arena was surrounded by magnificent oak trees , the weather was fine for a change, although there was bit of a breeze , which although it kept temperatures from being unpleasant , had the potential to blow away the sound on occasions.|
However, the organisers had seen fit to provide one of the best outdoor PA systems that I've ever heard at a festival and , given this was 26 years ago , it must have been state of the art for the time. A massive stack of speakers which were directed through huge horns ensured that the sound was crystal clear whilst being also very loud, ( apparently they could be heard miles away ) so wherever one was in the audience, one got a great sound. This was nowhere more evident that during the Mahavishnu Orchestras set, where the sound quality was just stupendous. Neil Rice adds this little addedum to the nature of the PA loudness
I live near Knebworth and remember the freedom of being able to bring alcohol, crates of wine and jugs of Abbot Ale, into the gig and going back out to the nearby pub, The Lytton Arms, to re-fill the beer jugs when we ran out - those were the days !
My then business partner went home early - I can't remember why -and literally took an early bath at his home in nearby Welwyn village. He recalls lying in his bath with the window open listening to The Allmans 60,000 Watt PA (slightly more powerful than Windsor !) as the wind was blowing his way.
At the time this was the biggest PA ever seen (heard) in England . Sound has since been tempered at Knebworth by the local authorities.
Chris Quayle adds this about the sound system
PA for the 1974 Knebworth bash was provided by a London company called International Entertainers Services or IES for short. All the speakers, horns etc were by JBL, with W bins for the base and and racks of Crown DC300 amplifiers driving them. The mixing desks were designed in house and were rugged custom designs in shielded steel cases to stop rfi. I worked for IES in London from May 1974 up till late 1976 as a mixer design engineer and was part of the team at the '74 Knebworth gig. Excellent site BTW. Have just spent most of the afternoon in silly old fart mode browsing 60's nostalgia sites ;-).
Anyway, after Tim Buckley, the next act was the Sensational Alex Harvey Band , who proved to be very entertaining - not only musically - but theatrically as well . Alex Harvey, a Scot, now deceased, was a pretty inventive guy, his music was a mix of styles, predominantly heavy , with pop overtones and quite infectious. It was however, the way that he presented it that was innovative. His band was a mixture of Kiss ( with the difference being that Alex had some good tunes and taste) and Punkish glam rock, with the guitarists sporting garishly painted faces and lurex costumes and indulging in a campy , choreographed stage act which was sufficiently different to catch the attention of the audience, who although they were there to watch a bunch of Hippie bands ,were able to enjoy the proceedings and give Alex and his merry men a decent reception.
The Mahavishnu Orchestra were as far removed from the Alex Harvey band as a rain forest is from a desert . Whereas Harvey was theatrical , loud and in your face, McLaughlin's crew were otherworldly, reserved and mystical. They were my favourite band of the day. I never was all that keen on the original Mahavishnu band, as I felt that they were just too full on, so blindingly fast and heavy in their approach that at times it was draining to listen to them. This version, the biggest outfit that McLaughlin ever assembled, was far more to my liking, as there was more light and shade to the playing. Rigged out in white robes, including a section of strings, which provided very surreal and warped phrases at times, this was a great band . The set they performed was long and intense. Over 100 minutes- my audience tape cuts out and there's still more of the show to come - I believe it features mostly songs from Apocalypse - ( I still have to identify most of them )- its main highlight was a brilliant violin , guitar duet between McLaughlin and ace violinist Jean Luc Ponty, which received a lot of applause from the audience.
The set began quietly with a slow buildup of strings, drums and guitar
, with McLaughlin then taking off with a lengthy solo featuring
immensely fast flurries of notes, punctuated with slow , thoughtful passages
and interwoven with occasional phrases played by Ponty and echoed by the strings
. The whole propelled along with churning staccato drum work , it built
up to huge peaks, dropped down into peaceful valleys, than roared back
up to the heights once more. This opening medley, some 20 minutes long, created
a brilliant beginning to the set and this was then followed by the epic Ponty
/McLaughlin workout which lasted for an age and flowed onto the second
side of the tape , where Ponty just blows everything away for about five minutes,
playing impossibly fast and high the tone of his violin seeming to cut right
though to the cerebral cortex , with a gradually developing bass line pushing
the music faster and faster until it was all consumingly epic !. If this had
been the end of the track Ponty would have gotten a huge encore, but once
again the pace was dropped to crawl by the strings,discordant and grating and
then McLaughlin began another solo, this time using a weird tone to his guitar
which reminded me of a cross between a marimba and a electronic bee. This went
on for perhaps 10 minutes and then the strings dropped in again with a superb
grating theme, one of those typically ever ascending Mahavishnu trademarks which
pulls out all the stops. Finally they were finished, it had been about 40 minutes
since the last break in the music.
We then get the band intros from McLaughlin but unfortunately this is somewhat garbled. By this time 60 or so minutes had passed and the band had only paused once .This was difficult music , no catchy tunes, no vocals , no overt crowd appeal with scantily clad chick singers or leather trousered groin splitting guitarists- just top quality playing which was totally original and inspired in its concept and which made some big demands of its listeners.
The next track was Hymn to Him which featured an excellent keyboard solo and then the band moved into another unknown track in which bass player Ralphe Armstrong got to strut his stuff for a minute or two and then, unfortunately , the tape cut.
McLaughlin's always unique guitar sound was largely a highlight of this show, but this was not by any means just a vehicle for him to show off his prowess as an axe man, anything but. This bands music echoed its leaders spiritual leanings , always searching , striving to reach for a numinous , mystical state and often succeeding, but also in turns funky and powerful - rarely have I come across a better performance at a festival. There was very solid applause at the end of this set, which was great , considering the lack of commerciality of the entire set.
Morrison followed and was a complete success,
delivering a spirited set with many highlights, not the least of which
was Into the Mystic
from Astral Weeks. Fronting a three piece band, of Peter Van Hook drums , Jerome
Rimson Bass and Pete Wingfield on piano - Van said very little to
the audience and was as usual pretty nervous looking on stage . He played
sax on a few occasions and some cool harp on a great bluesy version of
Help Me which
had the audience clapping along during the quiet bits .As the set progressed
it became more soulful, Help Me
was followed by ìI believe to my soul ìwith more great piano ,
in fact one the highlights of this band was the keyboard work , the piano player
was really up front in the mix and he was no slouch. Next came a blazing version
of I've Been Working
which was anchored by the frantic piano and shuffling percussive work, with
Van delivering some short bursts of whooping combined with his frantic harp
work, which then segued into Take your Hand Out
Of My Pocket , with some great barrelhouse
piano and impassioned vocals from Van. Rapturous applause followed this number,
with much vociferous shouting for more and then the band funked way into Naked
in the Jungle , which really rocked , with Van
hollering repeatedly - Breakout, Breakout, Breakout - and you can hear the audience
whoop in agreement .
Massive applause after this one and then the tape cuts to the encore Brown Eyed Girl which was short sharp and oh so sweet. Van definitely made a few converts with this show .
Two sets of Brothers to finish off the show and there were some similarities between the two acts . Both featured double drums and top notch guitarists, but there were also huge differences in the directions in which their music lead and the audiences they attracted.
The Doobie Brothers were something of a mainstream band , at least if one judged them by their records, but live they were another matter, on stage they were a funky and soulful outfit . They were billed above Van Morrison on the strength of a few hits such as Listen to the Music and Jesus is Just Alright . I was expecting to be mildly entertained , but the band were extremely good . Not an outfit who were going to go in any different directions on any given night, but still a highly professional band of talented musos who were capable of stirring up a crowd and giving them a good time, mainly driven by the twin guitars of Pat Simmons and Tom Johnston, soulful vocals and a tight rhythm section. They also had more than a few damn good songs and the combination of the twin intermingled guitars and spot on vocal harmonies was hard to resist. This show was hot and featured most of their big hits. By the end of their set they had most of the crowd on their feet and dancing madly to their music.
Lastly the band many had come to see - largely on their reputation as
a jamming band - The Allman
Brothers . Everyone had of course heard of
the tragic set of circumstances that had hit the Allman's in the early 70s when
guitar genius Duane Allman
got himself killed in an offering to the god of motorcycle accidents .
Bassist Berry Oakley
suffered the same fate a year or so later, many say in his grief over Duaneís
I was a big Allman's fan early on , being fixated on the Fillmore East live Album for quite a while when it first came out and I was always sorry I had never gotten a look a Duane in the live arena. Not that I would have had a chance as they had never toured the UK when he was alive.However, the band had survived and come through the carnage with some competent new members , Dickie Betts on lead making up some of the ground lost when Duane was offed .
I suppose I liked the Allman's as I saw them as occupying much of the same territory as my fave band The Grateful Dead. Both bands had shared the same bill in 1973 at the massive Watkins Glen festival , playing to a gi-normous crowd of something like 500, 000. However, although both bands had a reputation for jamming , there were big differences in their approach and musical roots. The Allman's did not often go OUT THERE as much as the Dead, although they were capable of playing around with one song for about 20 minutes or more, the jamming was mostly in the blues style on which most of their music was based. Sure the Dead had a hard core of blues in their music too , but they were really was a lot more folk , funk, jazz and freeform influences in their music than that of the Allman's and it was this that I found somewhat missing from this very long show. The Allman's played forever, at least three hours, giving damn good value and they played very , very well , but eventually I found myself losing interest in them , something I rarely ever did with the Dead, unless they had an off night ( when they could be bloody awful ) . Ultimately, I think I preferred the Doobies ( heresy I know, but thats how I and most of the others I was with felt at the time ) because they got to do what they did in a lot less time ( although ultimately their music had far less to say, but it worked better in the festival environment ) and they had more visual interest than the Allman's. Probably we were all just too tired by the end of the day to fully appreciate this show as we had only had about three hours sleep over nearly two days . Whatever, this was a very long show , with a set break, just like the Dead , and many jams and a few shorter blues based numbers .The band did two lengthy encores of no less than four numbers , finishing with a big Whipping Post which was excellent .By then we were wrecked from the effects of the night before and the Festival days consumption and we toddled off to the tent to get some much needed shut eye.
So there it was , my only Knebworth Festival. I would have liked to have attended some of the others, but babies and work intervened over the following years and I never got round to going again to any big festival in the UK , although I still went to see lots of bands whenever I could . I resumed my festival career back in the nineties in Australia when they invented Womad and by then Festivals were very different beasts , both in their organisation and the type of music they offered . But still, there is something about a festival which no other musical event offers , the smoke of the campfires, the marathon element of coming back again and again to the stages day after day , the sense of freedom one has in a large campsite or arena and the buzz one gets off the music in the outdoor setting that does not seem to exist in the confines of the conventional concert hall or club.
Yep, you could say I'm addicted to festivals, I for one intend to keep
attending until I'm not capable of going anymore .Hope to see you at one someday
, you'll know who I am , I'm the old bastard with grey hair down the front
shouting for MORE .......
you can read the individual
Band reviews which also contain recording details, set list and band line up info as well as links to each artist where available..
Can we get a witness ?
We have been endeavouring to collect as many recordings of the artists that featured at these concerts as possible, so we can effectively review the performances, provide set lists and band line-ups. Any info displayed on these pages or which is sent to us for review remains the copyright of the contributor and the Archive makes NO PROFIT from its use. The intention is to also display as many personal histories of the festival as possible for the benefit of readers of the site and we welcome all written contributions, no matter how long or short.
If you can contribute in any way, with tapes, reviews , photos or personal histories, please Contact us.
Knebworth Concerts 1974-86
Back to the main Archive.