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Rivington Pike free festival

( AKA North Country Fair )

Lancashire 1976-78.


The laid back Rivington Pike Festival 1976. Photo © Chris Hewitt

   Confusingly entitled the North Country Fair in its first incarnation in 1976, this small festival was actually held at Rivington Pike, situated near Bolton . The Pike is 361 metres high and is a well known tourist spot, sporting a tower at its top, rather similar to Glastonbury Tor, although considerably more windswept.

   A number of well known Northern bands played at the festival in 1976-77, but eventually it faded away after 1978, possibly due to the latrines on the site polluting ground water that was used for local conurbations.

Flyer courtesy Roger Hutchinson and Chris Hewitt


Photo © Chris Hewitt

Thanks go to Julian Bond who has provided a first hand account of all three festivals

  This weekend was probably the best festival I ever went to. It started with My Mentor (met during a gap year job) sending out hand painted invitations with a picture of an old school ambulance and promises of mayhem. 12 people were invited and 4 turned up at his flat early on a Friday morning. He couldn't come due to a death in the family, so these 4 men who had never met before started the journey north from London.

  Packed in the rented ambulance (Further!) were some orange acid, thai sticks, moroccan, two guerilla suits, face paints, fireworks, a guitar, bongos, panpipes, etc etc. At the last services on the M6 we picked up a girl hitchhiker heading for Glasgow. She was soon convinced to join us. On the road from Chorley we picked up another guy with a guitar.


1976 . Photo © Chris Hewitt

    The Rivington site is a folly and a broken down Chinese garden built in the late 1800s by a local butcher's son who had gone to India and come back somewhat changed (didn't we all). It covers 10 or 20 acres on the side of the hill looking West out to Liverpool with reservoirs below it on the plain. Lots of walkways and levels to wander around in and several ponds in among the woods. In the middle is a clearing with just enough room for a stage. To get up there, there's an unmade road over a ford. It's well worth a visit if you're ever up that way and I've spent many nights camped out there under the stars on various trips to Scotland.

The stage -1976 © Chris Hewitt

    The first night we ran out of petrol at the ford and had to cadge a few pints from another vehicle before getting Fish and Chips in the local town.The next morning we dressed up, applied the face paints and dropped the acid before walking down the hill to the reservoirs. As it was coming on strong, we were wading about in all our finery in the shallows when the local bailiffs came to turf us out. It was all well meaning but a somewhat bizarre conversation .After half an hour of lazing in the sunshine and grass, the party scattered to the 4 winds. It took me another 4 hours to slowly wend my way back up to the festival with many small adventures including hearing a disembodied voice shout out from above me; "This is the weather forecast, tonight it will be dark!". That evening we somehow found each other again and watched the sun go down from the top of the hill.

   I know there was music and a stage but I can't picture or remember it. The whole place had a wonderfully laid back, relaxed feel. A few police turned up to make sure nothing crazy was happening, but I never saw any unpleasantness.

   When we finally got back to The Mentor's flat, late on a sunday night, we all got mashed again. Except we had to return the ambulance to the other side of London. I got picked as the most responsible to drive it back and had a frankly terrifying journey although we all survived more or less intact.

     There's a postscript to this. Two years later, I was walking across the paddy fields in Manali in northern India. Coming towards me was one of my fellow journeyers from the Rivington weekend. Those are the only two times I've ever met him.

Julian Bond

The stage in glorious technicolour

© Chris Hewitt

Rivington Pike -1977

The 1977 poster © Chris Hewitt


Festival Welfare Services report 1977.

  At the 77-Rivington, I rode another motorcycle up to an old School and Uni friend in Huddersfield. We then crossed the pennines to Rivington approaching it from the East. This year it was all more organised with a trench and plank, communal loo. There was a good stage and we pitched our tent maybe a 100 yards back from it. Again I can't remember who played. I do remember one whole day spent in a cycle of smoke, eat, fall asleep, wake up, smoke, eat , fall asleep, wake up, smoke, etc ! Somebody was doing wonderful flapjacks and spicy veg chapati rolls.

  The highlight as mentioned elsewhere were the Hells Angels. They were hardcore, ragged hair, tattoos and at least 5 layers of greasy denims with the top 4 layers shredded. They were ok for a day, but there was some problem with a shotgun that brought the police out. Up above and to one side of the stage clearing was a ruined platform where you could stand and look down on the crowd. We stood and laughed as the police rooted about in the undergrowth for the shotgun. Never were they more like pigs!

  Despite all this, the police weren't after us and there were announcements from the PA that there was hash brownies behind the stage and it "was all cool, man". The Angels were hustled away and we all got back to the serious business of having fun. Although there were a few police still wandering around, I don't recall anyone getting busted or having any problems with them.


The Angels © Chris Hewitt

   This festival was the first time I bumped into the hot air balloon man. His speciality was home made hot air balloons powered by nightlights. They'd float slowly up into the late sunset before often bursting into flames. I saw him again at Stonehenge, Glastonbury and Rivington the following year. At the last he'd taken to tethering the balloon on a long piece of cotton so it hovered above him as he wandered around.

Julian Bond

Rivington Pike Festival 1976 and 1977

    I had come back to the North West from London in the early summer of 1976 having had a year's sabbatical from working on management and production with Tractor whilst I worked in London mixing sound for Ian Dury's Kilburn and the High Roads, Carol Grimes Band and Sheer Elegance to name a few .I put Tractor out gigging again from early summer 1976 as a three piece Jim Milne - guitar Steve Clayton- drums and new member Dave Addison on bass guitar and as well as playing Manchester's Electric Circus we did regular concerts at the college in Bolton known as Bolton Institute of Technology [ I think the Buzzcocks were students there??] We also did a concert joint billing with Trapeze featuring Glenn Hughes at the Albert Halls in Bolton so Tractor had begun to get a following in the Bolton area.

The balcony - note broken stonework © Chris Hewitt

   We were told about the festival at Rivington Pike between Bolton and Chorley and Tractor decided they would like to play there so we played both the 1976 and 1977 festivals. Beautiful site and I have great memories of meeting up with our friends [ and now of course record labelmates] Body backstage in 1977 who went on just after Tractor's set on a beautiful summer's evening. There had been some trouble in 1977 with the Hells Angels types and a shotgun and they had been apparently threatening punk bands as they turned up to play [ reminiscent of Sid Rawle's intolerance towards punk band Wilful Damage at Deeply Vale in 1978 that would be the turning point when almost all the festival goers in the North West accepted punk was as much a part of free festivals as anything else] Tractor and Body were lucky at Rivington- the biker fraternity regularly turned up to see both bands at their indoor concerts - we were invited to their camp for a drink. I was glad when the police took the shotgun away though.

   We took Tractor Music worker mad American Dave Beickel [ originally from Portland Oregon and living in Rochdale until the 1990's before going back to the USA ] to Rivington Pike Free Festival and he was renowned for his cider drinking capacity and after Tractor had finished their set and Body had finished theirs we said goodbye to Body who set off back to Liverpool in their bus, and were just about to set off in our long green wheelbase Transit minibus with winged Tractor symbols on the side when Dave Beickel asked us to hold on while he had a piss before getting in the van- after about fifteen minutes of him urinating a stream of piss near the side of the stage we told him if he didn't stop and get in the Transit we were going without him. My most brilliant memory of Rivington was the sun setting on a beautiful site and a mad American from Portland Oregon urinating non stop for 15 minutes.

   There was a guy called Seth who had a false leg and rode a motorcycle who came to stay at the commune in Oldham Road Rochdale in 1976 and he was involved in the organising of 1976 Rivington Festival and the start of 1976 Deeply Vale Festival before he disappeared. There were two buildings involved in the start of Deeply Vale in 1976- the commune on Oldham Road in Balderstone, Rochdale and Tractor Music at 115 Oldham Road Rochdale, a hippy music shop and rehearsal rooms and PA hire company- the two places were about a mile apart and there was a constant stream of free festival type people between these two buildings in summer 1976 and Seth one of the 1976 Rivington organisers was constantly between the two buildings in summer 1976.

Chris Hewitt

Repaired stonework 2009 © Chris Hewitt


    I remember at least the first night of Rivington Pike very well… We arrived late and set up our tent next to a bush that turned out to be being used as a toilet by most of the site! We had come rather ill prepared, we had some draw but no skins and the only tobacco we had was some condor flake tobacco. We also had nothing to drink except some really dry scrumpy that someone was selling on the site. So the first night was spent smoking spliffs rolled with pipe tobacco & newspaper, daring each other to take swigs of the most vile scrumpy whilst being treated to the sounds and scents of a public lavatory!

    It got a lot better. It was a kind of weird scene when the Angels were run off site as none I spoke to at the time knew what had happened. Later on that night someone was giving out free acid in front of the stage and it turned into a really beautiful and mellow night….

Regs, Mike

Rivington - 1978

The area where the stage stood - circa 2009 © Chris Hewitt

1977© Chris Hewitt

   After the two previous years of wonderful Rivington festivals, 78 was a bit of a let down. The problem as I heard it was that the festival site was on the water table feed for the reservoirs that supply Liverpool with water. The somewhat improvised latrines were just not good enough and a potential health hazard. It makes a certain sense but who knows. Anyway our party of six arrived in our VW camper to find a single policeman at the bottom of the unmade road turning people away. We went back into Rivington and met up with some other festival goers who led us to a green field site with maybe 15-20 vans and tents. We stayed there for a couple of days.

   On the last day I made some hash fudge and took it round the tents selling it for a pound a piece. I think I sold about half of it and gave the rest away. I got a bit of abuse from a woman in one of the tents that giving her man fudge was disaster for her because he'd just nod out and do nothing for the next 4 hours. Wasn't that what we were here for? That last day was also notable for exchanging some fudge for a bag of mushrooms...

Julian Bond

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Acidia Lightshow Lightshow for Windsor festival and Stonehenge in the 1970s.

Traveller Daves Website - Chock full of of free festival photos !

Many, many thanks go to Roger Hutchinson , Big Steve , Roger Duncan, Celia, Will , Chazz, Jeza ,Chris Hewitt ,The Fabulous Time Tortoise , Peter Piwowarski - ( 70s music site/photos ) Martin S, Steve Austin ,Traveller Dave, Herb, Tim Brighton, Vin Miles, Haze Evans , Noddy Guevara, Chris Brown, Janet Thompson, David Stooke, Gary Gibbons , Nigel Ayers, Rich Deakin ,Glenda Pescardo,Justin Warman,Brian F, Steve Bayfield, Kev Ellis, Paul Seaton and many other minor contributors for their help in providing the archival material related to these free festivals which has at enabled us to construct the site .

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