Bickershaw DVD

The filmed festivals

Bickershaw is a small and sedate place. Nestled between Leigh and Wigan, it’s a place that keeps itself to itself and gets on with life. Yet, for four days in 1972, it played host to what is arguably the North-West's greatest open-air music festival.

The Bickershaw Festival saw 40,000 music lovers turn up for four rain-soaked days of fun, which saw sets from Donovan, The Grateful Dead, Captain Beefheart, The Incredible String Band and The Kinks.

Sadly, the organisers needed 100,000 to make it a financial success, and as a result, the festival never ran again. Now, thanks to the hard-work of one of the attendees, Chris Hewitt, and his team, the events of those four days are available for the first time for us all to take a look at on a new DVD.

Hard work

And it really was hard work. The team have spent the best part of a decade working on the film of Bickershaw, along with one that covers the later Deeply Vale Festivals, building their own digital film editing suite along the way and learning how to do all the production themselves, due to what Chris says were "spiralling costs".

That said, the money wasn’t the only reason for the delay. Chris says that it simply "took forever to track down audio and video footage and stills from all over the country and the world."

Eventually, the team felt they had enough to do the festivals justice, though chris says it was hard to know when to go into production.

"We felt this year, 35 years after Bickershaw and 30 years after Deeply Vale, was a good time to get them out. I’m proud of them but I do feel frustrated because more stuff has already turned up that I would have liked to put in, including an interview with Jeremy Beadle, who was one of the organisers and who has never spoken about the festival before."

An important time

That said, the opportunity to see and hear Bickershaw is one every music fan should savour. After all, the concert marks a major point not only in the North West music scene’s lineage, but also in the careers of two very important musicians.

Amongst the crowd were Joe Strummer and Elvis Costello. Costello says his life changed as he stood transfixed for the four hours that the Grateful Dead played, while Strummer held that the Captain Beefheart set was his favourite ever performance.

"We felt this year, 35 years after Bickershaw and 30 years after Deeply Vale, was a good time to get them out."
Chris Hewitt on why the films are being released now

Bickershaw: the return?

Chris has also spent the last few years trying to resurrect Bickershaw and Deeply Vale festivals under one banner. 2007 was supposed to witness that return, though as Chris explains, circumstances conspired against it happening.

"My son, who helped produce the films, was seriously ill this spring, as was one of the partners from Musical Associates who were going to co-produce the festival, so things never got off the ground.

"That said, seeing the summer weather and the amount of cancelled festivals over the past few months, perhaps we were lucky not to go for it 2007. We’d like to go for late summer 2008, but we would need major sponsors and good weather."

So it's a case of wait and see, but until Greater Manchester gets a new camping festival, there's always these DVDs to remind us just what we can do.

Bickershaw Festival 1972 and Deeply Vale Festivals - The DVD are out now

BBC – Manchester
19th August 2007