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For some reason, the early 70s saw festivals in the UK played out on bleak hillsides and rain-lashed moorlands. It was as if the upstanding straight folk had banished the patchouli-drenched hoards to the most punishing extremes of society, as some sort of penance merely for liking the Groundhogs. The Buxton Festivals of 1973 and 1974 have gone down in British rock history as legendary in this respect.
People like this turned up and had themselves a real good time, despite the environment resembling a post-nuclear apocalypse.
The bill was Canned Heat, Chuck Berry, Nazareth, Edgar Broughton Band, The Groundhogs, Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Medicine Head, Brewers Droop, Roy Wood and Wizzard. Sadly the ‘hogs didn’t turn up, Wizzard did but when they saw the state of the place, they legged it.
Buxton, for those who don’t know it, is a spa town perched 1000 feet up up on the moors of Derbyshire. But the one-day fest wasn’t held there, that’d have upset the genteel residents, it was held on Booth Farm, high on the moors above the town in what appeared to be an abandoned World War II army camp, behind a wrought iron fence.
The promised ‘5-acre shopping site and licensed bars’ was in fact, one insanitary hot dog stall and someone selling those big party cans of beer from the back of a car. No it wasn’t sponsored by American Express, nor was it brought to you by Bud Lite.
The toilets were also known as The Moors.
Now, it can be cold and wet even at the height of summer up on the moors as this photo well shows. You had to really, really want to get your rock n roll groove on to do it here.
The stage was reportedly not a stage at all but the roof of an old single story building - the sort of place you’d find on a wartime airfield. No, a Health & Safety assessment wasn't done!
Hells Angels turned up, of course, as they were always prone to do and patrolled the area demanding money with menaces, riding motorbikes through the crowd and, at one point, one of their brethren was dancing on stage alongside Chuck Berry. Chuck, not enamoured with this turn of events, left after a couple of numbers, presumably wondering what on earth he was doing duck-walking on a moorland in the rain in England 1000 foot up in the Peak District.
This did not stop people having a good time drinking beer, taking drugs, frugging to the likes of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, The Edgar Broughton Band and Nazareth and engaging in horizontal dancing under plastic sheets. Erk Alors! as the Lone Groover may have put it.
What is sexier than humping on a wet moorland, surrounded by hairy youths, bikers and bad acid, while Medicine Head play their hit single? Just as well Brewer's Droop was not on stage, huh. Arf.
However, despite the privations, the bands that played a full set were all reported as on top form. You had to be made of tough stuff to play the UK festival circuit and the likes of SAHB certainly were. Alex Harvey jumped off stage at one point, to confront a Hells Angels who was beating someone up. You don’t mess with a Glaswegian in a stripy top, and so, afraid of getting the malky, the biker let his grip on the poor hairy drop. Vambo Rules.
DJ John Peel was supposed to be MC-ing the event but he was offski before too long to be replaced by another Hells Angel. Lord knows what Canned Heat were doing there, but they choog-a-looged their way through a storming set, Nazareth - more Scotsmen made of stern stuff - rocked it up, and the Edgar Broughton Band, battle hardened after many years playing festivals like this, probably thought it was absolutely luxury.
You wouldn’t have thought this carnage would’ve encouraged promoters to do it all again the following year, but oh, it did. Oh yes and 1974 would be a two-day event. More of which I shall enlighten you about on another day.