I think it was around 2004 that Steve Hillage’s ‘Deeply Vale’ double album
set was first officially released on CD by the ever industrious Chris Hewitt at
OzIt-Morpheus Records, who has made something of a cottage industry out of
repackaging, re-releasing and reissuing material from the late 70s Deeply Vale
scene. There’s something about an economic recession which drives the British
out into the countryside to stage and attend music festivals, as a consequence
of which the mid to late 1970s were peppered with such events. The festival
scene was neutered by the conscienceless Thatcher government (the notorious
“Isle of Wight Act”), and then all but killed off altogether by the rampant
consumerism and red tape of Blair era, and only in the past few years has the
counter-culture started to gather pace again with the economy heading ever
further into the doldrums – just about every weekend now there’s a festival
happening in an English park, wood or a field somewhere, which can only be a
good thing for live music generally.
Deeply Vale was one of the smaller festivals (nowadays termed “boutique” events) to spring up during the last recession, four of them taking place annually from 1976 onwards, set in a wooded valley that lies between Bury and Rochdale in the North West of England. One of the high-spots of the July 1978 event was a headline set by none other than Steve Hillage, the high priest of bobble hats and guru of the glissando guitar. Hillage’s ‘Live Herald’ double album, collated from various concerts played during 1977-78 (along with some new studio recordings) and released in early 1979, has long been acclaimed as one of the touchstone live LPs of the era; but the Deeply Vale set, which didn’t see the light of day until 25 years later, makes a far better job of transporting the listener to a place filled with hippies, sunshine, teepees and exotic aromas; a place where Hillage’s music fills the air and eternally belongs. The set is made up as you’d expect of songs from ‘Fish Rising’, ‘L’, ‘Motivation Radio’ and (my personal favourite) ‘Green’, which was recorded during the previous April using primarily American session musicians, the only permanent fixtures being synth player Miquette Giraudy and Steve himself. The group which toured the U.K. and Europe in the Spring and Summer of 1978 and which features on this album is significantly different, with Steve and Miquette accompanied by amongst others the late Christian Boulé (guitar), drummer Andy Anderson (who later went on to play with The Cure), and the Global Village Trucking Company’s John McKenzie on bass (John later went on to join the Man band).
So, a beautifully produced live album featuring some of the ‘70s greatest at the peak of their stoned prowess, pressed on 180 gram psychedelic vinyl and housed in a thick card sleeve – what is there not to like?
Also available from the same label (and similarly highly recommended) are repackaged deluxe vinyl represses of albums by Tractor and The Way We Live, both albums which I know for sure the Terrascope has reviewed and featured in the past, so we'll move swiftly on to a couple of related DVD releases.
Hillage’s ‘Searching for the Spark’ from the above set also appears on a DVD released by OzIt-Morpheus entitled ‘Deeply Vale Festivals’, available from the same source. Overall it’s a bit heavy on the documentary and light on performance for my tastes, but Gong completists will no doubt want to snaffle it.
To my mind a more watchable DVD (also from OzIt-Morpheus) is a celebration of the legendary 1972 Bickershaw festival, organised on what turned out to be wet May bank holiday weekend in a bleak mining village of the same name, a suburb of Wigan in the Northwest of England by future TV presenter Jeremy Beadle (with a young Chris Hewitt helping out by distributing leaflets). The location may have been less than inspirational but the music is never less than captivating, with live performances from the Incredible String Band, Grateful Dead, Donovan, Kinks, Family and Captain Beefheart amongst others.
Interestingly, what today is seen as the pinnacle of the rampantly commercial megafestivals, Glastonbury, was originally planned as a model of the alternative society, a serious attempt to put the counter-culture ideal into practice. The September 1970 Glastonbury Festival, staged 24 hours after Jimi Hendrix’s death, saw Pilton dairy farmer Michael Eavis charging people just a pound each to see Tyrannosaurus Rex, Al Stewart, Steamhammer, Stackridge and Keith Christmas. The June 1971 Summer Solstice Festival on the same site was not only intended to be a free festival but also had far loftier ideals: a medieval fair encompassing music, dance, poetry, theatre, a pyramid stage and lights, principally organised by two fallen scions of the landed gentry – Andrew Kerr and Arabella Churchill (grand-daughter of the wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill. Sadly she died in 2007, having acted as an adviser to Michael Eavis at all the subsequent Glastonbury Festivals to date).
There was little advertising beyond hand-bills given out at gigs. No names of the artists appearing were pre-released to the press, the organisers trusting that people would come to Pilton having heard about the event by word of mouth alone. Much as I’d love to do the same at Terrastock, I’m not brave enough to do that even today with the internet spanning the globe – so this was a considerable leap of faith for 1971! Nevertheless, between seven and ten thousand people turned up, and were treated to performances by amongst others Bronco, Terry Reid, David Bowie, Gong, Traffic, Magic Michael, Help Yourself, Mighty Baby, Skin Alley, Brinsley Schwarz, Quintessence, Quiver, Henry Cow, Linda Lewis, Fairport Convention, Edgar Broughton, Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies. Inevitably rumours of the Grateful Dead appearing were unfounded (apparently the band themselves wanted to play, but Andrew Kerr had a disagreement with Warner Brothers over the spelling of the word Fayre/Fair, so Warners prevented them... I have to say, the more I see and hear about Andrew Kerr, the more I like this guy!)
As well as the subsequent release of a triple gatefold sleeve LP celebrating the event, with live recordings from the gig itself plus contributions from many of the names listed above – including a whole live side donated by the Grateful Dead to make up for their non-appearance - the festival was filmed, primarily by Si Litvinoff, Peter Neal and Nic Roeg (whose debut feature film ‘Performance’ had just been released). The footage wasn’t edited and assembled until a year or two later, and rather pleasingly majors on the people attending the event, on the festival as an entity of itself, on the mystique of Glastonbury and the social aspects rather than purely on musical performances, though there are plenty of these as well – notably Traffic, Terry Reid (with Kaleidoscope’s David Lindley on guitar), Pink Fairies, Magic Michael, Quintessence, Arthur Brown, Fairport Convention, Melanie, Linda Lewis and Family (with Roger Chapman’s legendary ‘electric goat’ vocals proving too much for the microphones in places – a perennial problem for the film-makers, the soundtrack to the movie was later overdubbed by some of the bands involved).
The movie received a short theatrical run in 1973, but aside from the occasional festival and late night TV screening it’s been unseen ever since.