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Bickershaw Festival 1972

Bickershaw Festival - 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 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.

Bickershaw Festival 1972
The glamorous Bickershaw festival

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.

 

Bickershaw Music Festival

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, with sets from Jonathan Kelly and Wishbone Ash.

 

Bickershaw Music FestivalHawkwind 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".

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.

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). 

Incredible String Band at Bickershaw

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. Almost as funny were Cheech and Chong.

Captain Beyond got their boogie on and got the crowd going, as did Sam Apple Pie. Family played a typically roistering set, complete with microphone-stand abuse from Roger Chapman. 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.

But none of the above, with respect, could hold a candle to Captain Beefheart.

The good Captain
The good Captain

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. Pity the band - Pacific Gas And Electric - who came on after 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, and the New Riders Of The Purple Sage warmed the crowd up for the Dead.

New Riders on stage at BickershawNew Riders on stage at Bickershaw

They played a blinding, four hour masterclass, opening with Truckin' and including stellar versions of Casey Jones and a lovely Dark Star.

Captain Trips arrives in Lancashire
Captain Trips arrives in Lancashire

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.

The Dead @ BickershawThe Dead @ Bickershaw

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. A DVD produced of the festival is still available. It’s not a high production job, indeed it’s quite fragmented, amateurish and scratchy but that’s probably quite in-tune with the event itself.