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
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
Being an impoverished
student without the money to see the Dead at the Lyceum for a
series of shows, I was going the el cheapo route . A once off hit ,
so hopefully the band would be on form. Not being able to persuade
any college people with cars to go, I was sharing petrol costs with
my friends Charlie,Dave Kinghorn , Ann, the Skull and the Other One. All of these
folks were pretty crazy in their various ways and the Other
One was probably certifiable .
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. Dave kinghorn was ( and is ) a lovely ceramicist who was in the year below me at Art college, he's the only one of my companions that i'm still in touch with and he was with me when we saw Beefheart at Leicester Poly in 1973, definitely a guy who was into the pudding.
The good ole Grateful Dead © Captain snaps.
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 .
the outskirts of Manchester on the motorway we noticed that the landscape
was not particularly attractive, but we were sure that the festival
site itself would be set in verdant English countryside. We were
of course, completely wrong in every aspect. Bickershaw could very accurately
be described as a DUMP. One row of ugly semi detached and terraced council
houses all finished off in grubby pebble dash , unpromisingly set in
a treeless landscape of marshy low lying fields. The sole pub
was a stolid mid 50s number with little in the way of charisma . We
were, however, to get to know it intimately over the course of the weekend
and it did at least serve good beer . Of course, it had been raining
on and off most of the way to the site.
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 Hawkwind as
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
was one of those acts that should never have been booked for a big rock
festival. Nice enough, but better in a small club.
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.
This was one of the most successful sets of the entire
weekend. The Dr was gussied up in a white suit and top hat.
The band was tight and the lady singers were fun. The Dr often
threw handfuls of what he termed -'goofer dust 'around into the
crowd . The material varied from his early eerie voodoo tinged
stuff from the Night Tripper albums to his later funky
N'Orleans bonaroo, good time pieces. It was probably one of the
best times to see this artist as he was including material from
both eras in his show.
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.
of the morning , I THINK I watched Mike
Westbrook but this is probably wishful
thinking. I did see the band a few years back at Swansea University
when they did a fantastic mixed media event , so I guess I'm confusing
the two events. More likely we were asleep in the van ( as the previous
night was a mega late finish) or back down the pub. I do remember the Incredible String band, who were
charming, fey and delightful as usual, it was a tragedy when they folded,
although they were past their best .
Donovan and Linda Lewis were a bit too pretty
for my taste , they needed sunny days to make an impact. We went down
the pub, where bikers and freaks were reeling around , drinking from
their boots, brazenly smoking dope in the packed lounge and generally
amusing/revolting the locals with their antics.
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. .
had originality enough for a dozen bands and although I'd say
that by 1972 they were past their best ( their
line-up with Jim King on sax /flute was phenomenal and never beaten
in my humble opinion) they still were a great band . Roger Chapman
always seemed capable of exploding on-stage, full of bottled up
energy and madness. His voice, a cross between a strangled sheep
and half a dozen black soul singers , was probably only behind
Beefheart in power and memorability. If you have never heard this
band check out their first album ,
Music from a Dolls House a psychedelic classic,
with amazing producion by Traffic's Dave Mason..
This and the more conventional Family
Entertainment are some of the most original British
rock albums from the late 60ís and early 70ís .
Kinks were pissed and I thought they were
just too sloppy at times , they reminded me of when i saw the Faces and they were pissed, they thought they were terribly amusing but they were acting just like a bunch of tossers. However , lots of people liked them . I have few
recollections of their set, but I do know they didn't impress me and
since I liked most of their music it must mean they were generally Naff.
Beefheart blew them off the stage,
but then, he blew almost everyone off the stage. One of the best shows
I ever saw, ANYWHERE. Go here to read this
It was after the Beef set that we got led into a lake by
Ann. We were damn cold and we were tempted sorely by the blazing
timbers of an old barn that had been set on fire up the back of
the field. But there was an ominous area of black
out there and anyone with half a brain would have come to the
conclusion that if there were no people or tents, it would be
pretty inhospitable .
But the intrepid Ann
piped up, "hey guys follow me , I'll
lead you over there ".Why we figured Ann knew the
way any better than anyone else I don't know, call us gullible
( or under the influence ) but we followed her blindly and after
a while it starts to get damp, then wet and finally we're getting
our feet wet.
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 !
lake, how could we have let her lead us into this !
it was also the Day of the PUB , in fact it could be said it was
the Weekend of the Pub, as we spent so
much time there. The line up of Sunday morning was pretty weak, so after
lying in for quite a while, we moseyed on down to the pub, which was not
quite so crushingly crowded at that time of day. We sunk a few pints
and then sloped off back to see Country Joe,
who got everyone to say the dreaded four letter word a la Woodstock.,
but somehow it wasn't quite the same three years on. The New
Riders were fairly quiet, it started to rain again so
Charlie insisted we all go down the pub. I acquiesced , but on the strict
understanding that we got back in time for the start of the Dead's set.
Riders of the Purple Sage, generally too low key for my
liking on the day.
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.
© Chris McHugo
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 ""
So , with me looking back over my shoulder and
walking backwards when possible so I could savour the last glimpse of
Jerry and the lads, we made our way back to the van. Of course the Other
One wasn't there and how he made it back I do not know.
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.
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.