ah , how that name stirs up the memories.
Yes I realize its not exactly an exotic name, in fact if it conjures up images for you of an ugly Lancashire mining village with one street and one pub , then you're spot on. But for three days in May 1972 , this was the location of one of the best Rock festivals I EVER attended. This was partly due to the fact that I was treated to some absolutely stunning performances by some the decades finest rock bands , but the reason I remember Bickershaw so well is mainly down to the appalling weather and the crazy people who were with me. Oh ,and the fact it was the first time I ever saw the Grateful Dead .
The main attraction of Bickershaw was of course the bands. I really wanted to see Captain Beefheart again following the wonderful Leicester concert I had witnessed earlier on in the year, Dr John was a major draw card, but most of all I desperately needed to see the Grateful Dead, who were and continue to be, my fave band of all time. Throw in the Incredible String Band, Family, Kinks and a half dozen other good bands and it was little wonder that I found myself in the back of a Bedford van on the motorway en route to a wet Lancashire mining village .
Charlie was a frizzy ginger haired loveable rogue who I'd met somewhere in town , he was a very good guitar player, who never seemed to get it together enough to form a band. He was tall , thin and had a fine line in biting repartee. His attractive girlfriend Ann was American, a part time model at the art college who had no inhibitions and was quite capable of doing almost any sort of crazy stunt without warning. The Skull was not really ALL that skull like, but he got his moniker from the combination of his cropped head and his habit of removing his frontal dentures on occasions which left considerable gaps in his front teeth.A real nutter in the grand British tradition.
The Other One was ( we presumed) an acid casualty who had lost it some time ago. A sad case, he took forever to complete even the simplest of activities . This was due to his habit of making precise calculations and observing obsessive rituals which took excessive amounts of time over the simplest of tasks. He was also incapable of any sort of generosity, so whilst we folks were busy sharing out food, etc as was the custom in those times , he hoarded and kept his things to himself. This didn't exactly make him Mr Popularity, especially with Charlie, who brooded on it , and eventually his miserliness was to rebound on him in spades.
We dubbed him The Other One, after the Dead song of that name, mainly because he seemed set apart from the rest of the group. I realize now that he needed help , but at the time I was a callow youth of but 20 summers and I just had not enough empathy to spare for a casual acquaintance who was very hard to get to know.
Myself ?well, I was known as The Shark in those days and I think I deferred to Charlie & the Skull to some extent as they were older than me. Certainly I did tag along during the many visits to the local pub, as I felt that if I was separated from the main group I would never find them again. However, this would prove disastrous at times as it would mean that I would miss some parts of sets by my favourite bands .
We parked the van on the edge of a muddy field and wended our way to the main gates.
Of course, muggins had already bought a ticket and I handed it over at the turnstile to a disinterested security guard, whereas the others breezed straight through without handing over their tickets. .They then got a pass out on the way out and promptly sold the tickets to ticket less punters at a discount. Drat!. It was all a portent of things to come. By Sunday the security force had vanished and everyone was free to come and go as they pleased.
Friday night was cold and wet. I remember Hawkwindas
being all thumping bass, endless space jams and Stacia undulating nicely
in the nude during Silver Machine. She must have been frozen stiff !!
No doubt she was insulated from the cold by whatever she had been ingesting
I never did like Wishbone
Ash all that much and I can't remember
anything about their set. They did however , go down very well with
the crowd . The twin guitar sound was what got em ! I think we went
down the pub. Certainly there were big enough gaps between sets for
one to walk over to the pub (which was packed to the gills at all times)
endure the endless wait to get served ( we usually bought about three
pints each to avoid having to go back to the bar ) swill back the beer
and then return in time to see the chosen act. Which was of course the
esteemed DR JOHN.
EVERYONE seemed to grok on the good Dr, I've yet to hear of a bad opinion of this set. We were ecstatic. However, that feeling can rapidly evaporate after a show when its bloody freezing , which it was.......so, it was back to (a sort of ) reality .They wanted everyone out so we dutifully left the arena. We were fortunate to have the van as it was a dry place. I pity the poor buggers who were out in tents or huddling under sheets of plastic or tin .No wonder lots of people left by Sunday.
Really, given the weather, I suppose the festival
organizers should have concentrated on hard rock acts to boost
the spirits of the frozen hordes. Its hard to dig laid back solo acts
when your extremities feel like they're about to part company with the
rest of your body, its then the mind needs diverting with mindless boogie
and /or power chords and thats where the likes of Wishbone
Ash and The Flaming
Groovies worked quite well. Its not that either group
were terribly original , but they were loud and lively and that counted
in the circumstances . The Groovies were pretty derivative, but not
as bad as the Melody Maker review suggested they were and the crowd
generally responded well to their set. .
This and the more conventional Family
Entertainment are some of the most original British
rock albums from the late 60ís and early 70ís .
So far Charlie's strategy of moving us all to the pub when it got really wet had worked and we had managed to stay relatively dry. So this sudden wetting of our lower extremities did not go down well. We griped like crazy , especially the Skull. In fact, his false teeth started rattling , but Ann insisted, "hey c'mon guys, what are you ? some sort of fuckin' wimp's , its only a few more yards and we're home and dry".
So we went on and it got deeper and deeper until eventually
we figured we might as well continue as it was further to go back than
it was to go forward . After about 20 minutes enduring bloody freezing
feet and wet legs we reached the promised 'land
of the Burning barn'. Around this structure were some of the
hard core weirdo's of the festival, guys with shaven heads and thin
Buddhist robes , half naked women with kids running around barefoot
, it was bedlam, and they were all dancing round this sodding stinking
burning barn , but at least it was warm and we stayed awhile and
tried to dry our feet. Trouble was it was so hot we scorched our clothes
on one side, whilst we froze on the other. So it was back to the
van and a futile attempt to get some shuteye, because tomorrow
was to be the Day of the Dead
Once in the pub , the usual huge queues to get served meant that we were longer than I would have wished, by the time we started back I could hear songs which were familiar -the bloody Dead were ON-STAGE, we rushed back and were in time to see most of the first set.
By this time most of the fences were down, the security was non existent and the villagers were in the festival grounds watching the good old Grateful Dead and seemingly liking a lot of it too. The first set finished with a rollicking Casey Jones and the assembled multitude erupted in a spasm of chorus singing and dancing , villagers and all. The weak evening sun highlighted the whole weird mix .Frizzy haired freaks in the crowd playing soaking wet, tuneless hand drums next to flat capped miners, women in the traditional northern housewife's headgear of curlers and headscarves and their kids in prams all singing and leaping and becoming one in a flat out good old bacchanalian romp that would have done the ancient Greeks proud.
There was the inevitable break and then the Dead came back and launched into the stellar stuff, first a warm up with a few rockers like Jack Straw and Greatest Story and then into the REAL pudding -DARK STAR, followed by The Other One- both seriously out there versions and as the fireworks and the video screens got worked up nicely in the gloom it finally cleared enough so the entire second set was free of rain . The boys were then getting down to the seemingly endless conclusion of Lovelight > Going Down The Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away when Charlie dropped the bombshell. "We gotta go", he said " I have to be at work tomorrow and its three in the morning. Either stay or come with us. ""
I didn't feel like a long hitch back to the Midlands,
so I reluctantly agreed to go. But what about the Other One ? He had
not been seen for hours, in fact most of the time we'd only seen him
back at the van at the end of the days festivities.
" Sod him " said Charlie "he
can make his own way back, if he's not at the van he can lump it ""
Charlie drove , how he could find the energy I know not, but he was looking pretty chipper and at the service station he nicked a can of oil ,not a good idea considering how much booze was in his system and given the contents of the van. But I was too tired to remonstrate, it had been three long days, with hardly any sleep, long waits between acts , cold, wet, much booze and filthy smoke. It was time to get the head down, sleep and dream about the mess that was Bickershaw.
And yet. there was something magnificent about the whole thing. I don't know whether it was the fact it was my first Dead show, but overall ,despite the discomfort and the vile weather, it was one of the best times of my life and if I had a chance to go again , I'd jump at it, mud and all.
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