GOOD OL’ GRATEFUL DEADCAST
Season 5, Episode 6
- Dennis “Wiz” Leonard, by Blair Jackson, This Is All a Dream We Dreamed, 2011.
- Jeremy Beadle & Jerry Garcia, Rewinder (BBC Radio 4), 1972/2019.
JESSE: An estimated 40 to 60,000 people attended the three-day long Bickershaw Festival in Northern England in May 1972. Not all of them paid; it became a free festival at some point. And not all of them saw the Grateful Dead, who played a headlining set at the end of a long rainy weekend, but most did. It was far and away the Dead’s biggest show of the Europe ‘72 tour, and—for that matter—the biggest show they ever played overseas. It was also a handy pay day on a tour where they’d been playing for far below their usual market rate.
During this season of the Deadcast, we’ve looked at the Dead through the eyes of many fans who saw them on the Europe ‘72 tour, usually for the first time, usually revelatory, who’ve given us a variety of perspectives on what it meant to be an open-eared music head in Europe in 1972. And today is no exception, except that the first of our guests today has proven not only one of music history’s great listeners, but one of its great songwriters. He’s almost certainly the only Bickershaw attendee with a great new album out this year on EMI/Capitol.
AUDIO: “Farewell, OK” [Elvis Costello, The Boy Named If] (0:00-0:33) - [Spotify]
JESSE: That was “Farewell, OK” the first song on The Boy Named If, the new album by a guest who had a most unusual path into the Dead’s music and who I can’t believe I’m introducing. Please welcome to the Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast, Elvis Costello.
ELVIS COSTELLO: I was actually raised by my mother, who was a Gramophone record assistant, as they call them, when she left school in 1943. So to say that records have a big part in my life is something of an understatement, when you consider that my parents met across the counter of a record shop — the one that my dad went into. [He] was a local jazz trumpet player, and there's this woman, a young woman there, who knows about jazz and other kinds of music. So music was all the way through my life. Now in the late ‘60s, my dad, who had sung up until then in a very popular commercial dance band—singing the hits of the day, and singing in different languages and strict tempo stuff as well—he had some sort of revelation and decided that he didn't want to slick his hair back. He was only in his 40s; he wasn't like an old man. But he had worn a tuxedo since 1955. He wore horn-rimmed glasses like mine. But other than that, he kind of looked like a dance band singer of the day — with the hair slicked back kind of smooth. He's only a little guy. In ‘69, he decided to grow his hair long, and that was obviously unacceptable to a band like that. And he quit! He said, “I'm going to do my own thing. I'm gonna go and sing songs of peace and love to the working people of the UK.”
Now, you’ve got to understand, in those days, a lot of the entertainment in the north of England were social clubs attached to factories and mines. So my dad who, by now, had hair down to here, and was wearing beads and a caftan, an Afghan jacket and a silver cross, and had knee-high kind of boots and a Victorian policeman’s cape — he would turn up at these clubs in Durham in the north of England, very tough kind of miners’ clubs. He would install his liquid light projector and his little portable strobe light, and he would sing “Everything is Beautiful” by Ray Stevens and “Come Away Melinda,” all these songs that were largely optimistic. He would sing a few Irish songs. He would sing a couple of hits of the day, but ones he chose, and play the trumpet, which he had been [playing]. He would play a little bit of “Georgia [On My Mind]” or something like that: [sings] “Georgia, Georgia…” So it was very extraordinary that I had short hair — I was still at school because you had short hair at school—certainly in the late ‘60s, I was listening to Motown and Stax and Beatles still, stuff like that.
One day, my dad came around to see me because my parents were separated, and he said, “I've got these records — I was listening to [them with] my friend.” I think he had a few young friends by then… I don't know how to put this exactly. But let's put it this way: for a while, he had a little part-time group, and they were called the Hand Embroidered Lemon Peel. It involved a flute and a harp, and my dad singing poetry. He was going to be like the Incredible String Band. I always thought when I was about 14, 15… I don’t know whether you remember this time, when you start to see through the alibis of adults? Like, your teachers — you start to realize they're people and they can make mistakes? With my dad, I sort of think I was just getting the inkling of what all this kind of stuff was about: “I think some of this, the Hand Embroidered Lemon Peel thing…”—I can say this now, because he's been gone 10 years, and everybody that cares is dead—I said, “I have a feeling this is all a subterfuge to get hippie girls into bed. I don't really think that he's really on this trip for enlightenment.” I started to suspect there were a couple of motives. Or maybe I was just imagining that.
But anyway, he came around with these records. One of them was Oh Yeah by [Charles] Mingus. Another was Surrealistic Pillow by the Jefferson Airplane. And the third one was the first Grateful Dead record. There was a Marvin Gaye record in that pile, and a Joni Mitchell record. That was a pretty good starter kit. Those were all records I could afford with pocket money, you know. And so that's, you know, the Golden Road to unlimited devotion began there.
ELVIS COSTELLO: That was a mind-blowing answer, wasn’t it? You didn’t expect that! If I’m really truthful, I don’t think we should be too… like, ‘everything is great.’ I thought it sounded like bad out-of-tune blues. Because I’d already heard Howlin’ Wolf and Slim Harpo by then, because of the Rolling Stones. I didn’t even buy the Rolling Stones. I was a real snob at that point about certain types of music, for the main reasons of two words: ‘Peter,’ and ‘Green.’ The real Fleetwood Mac—never mind the other stuff with Stevie Nicks—the real Fleetwood Mac—[Peter is] easily the best blues guitar player ever born in Bethnal Green, or possibly in England, with all due respect to some other people who are more famous. Peter Green was the whole reason I picked up the guitar — not, sadly, Jerry. That music… they had access to things they'd learned from Otis Rush. I got a little bit of [a] starter course: I had one EP of Muddy Waters in Newport. Once I’d heard that, the Yardbirds, the Downliners Sect, even the Stones’ early stuff — it just sounded like a bunch of kids trying to wear their dad’s clothes. Of course, five minutes later, they’re making “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and it’s the greatest thing you’ve ever heard in your life. That’s the thing — I think they would probably admit that, but it was done with such affection. And now, when I listen to the first Dead record, I hear the same thing. I hear how much music was feeding into all of it: the bluegrass, the folk, blues. Was it the greatest record? Not really. But the next one, on the other hand, that’s a record.
ELVIS COSTELLO: That’s really outta sight — that's a mind blower. That was the one. Skip ahead a couple of years, I'd learned to play the guitar a little bit myself by then, and I’d started to play in public. My mom and I went to live in Liverpool, and there was a very big adjustment. When I got to Liverpool, they asked me what music I liked, when I got to class. I was a little past the age we had to fight your way into the school, 16. If it had been 14, [I] definitely would have had to go out in the yard and sort it out. But they were mostly fairly tolerant of me, even though I was, to their ear, a Southerner. It didn't matter that my mother was from Liverpool; I sounded like a Southerner to them. There was a bit, of course, of suspicion. When I told them I like Otis Redding and Lee Dorsey, they looked at me blankly, like: “Nobody likes that music. What else do you like?” “Tamla?”—as we used to call it—”Rocksteady?” This is all the stuff I had been going to parties and listening to. As far as that’s concerned, there were only two records that I needed: Motown Chartbusters Vol. 3, and Tighten Up [Vol.] 2, which is a rocksteady record, a rocksteady reggae record. I get up there, and everybody’s listening to The Soft Machine, and that awful group called Pink Floyd. Just dreadful… 12-minute guitar solos.
So I thought, Well, I’d better get myself a group. Otherwise there’s this peer pressure. And I told them, “Well, I actually like the Grateful Dead,” and everybody backed away from me. They were so frightening to most people because they were… let’s face it — Bobby Weir aside, they were not really a super handsome-looking bunch of guys. They look like they’ll come kill you. They didn’t know anything about ‘em. I said, “I like the Grateful Dead,” and the name was enough to make people back off. I don’t think anybody actually really ever heard them. But that was a good alibi, because I was playing all sorts of music. In the evenings, I was playing in the folk clubs. I formed a group with my friend Allan Mayes called Rusty. We played songs by Dylan and songs by Van Morrison and John Martyn, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I don’t recall us ever playing any Dead songs. I don’t think Allan liked the Grateful Dead; he didn’t really buy it.
AUDIO: “Warm House” [Rusty, 1972 home demo] (0:21-1:00)
JESSE: That was Rusty’s 1972 home demo of “Warm House,” an early original by the artist then known as D.P. MacManus where you can totally hear the CSN influence. Thanks, D.P.
ELVIS COSTELLO: Workingman’s Dead came out, and that changed it. Because then you could hear… you could actually play one of those songs yourself. You can’t really sit down in a bedroom and play “Dark Star.” You just can’t. Well, you can, but it sounds weird. But the minute you have things like “Dire Wolf” — they’re songs you can pick out on the guitar.
ELVIS COSTELLO: They're in a vernacular, and the whole idea of that secret history of America that was embodied in The Band and a lot of groups in that time, some of the Dylan songs at that time, was really persuasive. And the country side of the Byrds. It was all happening at once. I was picking up these records in a second-hand record shop — an independent record shop as we called it. It’s called Probe [Records], which is still in existence. I remember a guy there called Jeff, I think he owned it. I went in and I said, “I’ve got four pounds. Should I buy this record, or this record?” He said, “That record.” The first record was maybe Loggins and Messina, something quite shiny. And the other one was the New Riders of the Purple Sage. I bought that one because it had a Dead connection, the first New Riders record.
AUDIO: “Henry” [New Riders of the Purple Sage, New Riders of the Purple Sage] (0:38-0:46) - [Spotify]
ELVIS COSTELLO: Of course, American Beauty was out by then, which was even more astonishing because of the really supernatural kind of vocal harmonies. I never really worked out until many, many years later, when I got to sing one of those songs, how very imaginative they were, as pieces of music. They're obviously beautiful melodies. That was really the deepest time for me of really identifying with the songwriting, and particularly Hunter and Garcia. I couldn’t write like that. I certainly could play the guitar to save my life. Still can’t. Those songs were very, very amazing: Phil’s song, “Box of Rain.” And “Brokedown Palace,” I love [that song] so much. They have this incredible sadness to them.
ELVIS COSTELLO: The other record that fills in between American Beauty and Wake of the Flood is the Garcia record, which has three or four of his greatest songs on it. “Deal,” “Sugaree” — these are things that come from a deep root. You can go back and hear Elizabeth Coton singing the original folk version of “Sugaree,” which Jerry would have known for sure. That’s the stuff he came out of, with the jug bands and the bluegrass. These are things that I went deeper and deeper into, partly introduced by bands, from their introduction to this world of rich American music: The Band; the Dead of that early ‘70s period; the Byrds, when Gram Parsons was with them. That was a huge education to people [who] had really grown up on Beat group music, which was really largely filched from American R&B, into which Motown, with its ability to communicate as pop music, completely disrupted everything. In the mid-’60s, when we called it Tamla, you can imagine what a shock it was to have Marvin Gaye and the Temptations set up on television — making everybody look like amateurs, except the Beatles. So we got our education in music because it had to travel so far. There was no Internet to look it up on. You had to wait until somebody interpreted a song. You’d say, “Well, who’s this person? Oh, that’s Lee Dorsey.” “Who wrote that song?” Allen Toussaint. That’s how I learned who that was. “There’s Dr. John, what’s that music he’s playing?” Professor Longhair. Jerry’s pulling things from Sonny Terry, from Blind Boy Fuller, from all of these songs. It all goes round, and there’s so much down these roads. Woody Guthrie, the Louvin Brothers…. so much music.
I went to a festival in ‘71. I'd seen the Byrds play acoustic, a whole bunch of great people. Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Tim Hardin. It was a one-day event, and it was magical, summer sun. Had a bunch of people like in the English folk scene. It ended with the Byrds and James Taylor and Buffy Sainte-Marie.
AUDIO: “Mr. Tambourine Man” [The Byrds, 7/24/71] (2:26-2:49)
JESSE: That was from the Byrds’ acoustic mini set at the Lincoln Folk Festival on July 24th, 1971. Ask a taper.
ELVIS COSTELLO: I was really anxious to go to another festival and have that kind of experience. That was all acoustic music, as you may have noticed, but then they announced the Grateful Dead were gonna play near Wigan in Lancashire, and I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe the Dead were gonna play 30 miles from where I lived. The festival was a three-day festival and, by now, we’d seen the Woodstock film. Of course that meant: festivals, that’s where girls take their clothes off. That looks like a good place to be — not thinking about the fact that it rained a lot during Woodstock, but it rains all the time in England, particularly in summer. There was not going to be any nakedness; there was going to be a lot of mud. When you’re a teenager, you’re thinking: this is gonna be fantastic. Everybody’s gonna throw all caution and modesty to the wind and heaven knows what excitement will prevail.
JESSE: We’ll get back to the story of 17-year old musician D.P. MacManus soon. It was a big gig for the Dead in every way. Grateful Dead archivist and legacy manager David Lemieux.
DAVID LEMIEUX: I've seen the Europe ‘72 payment fee structure for the entire tour. For the entire tour, the Grateful Dead were paid the exact same fee for every show: whether it was Wembley or whether it was Amsterdam, they were playing [for] the exact same fee. It wasn't a lot, which is why that album was very important to them. But Bickershaw paid them eight times what they were paid for every other show on the tour.
JESSE: When we last left it, the Grateful Dead equipment truck had broken down en route to Lille, the band canceled their gig, and chaos ensued. We got pretty deep into it in our last episode. To pick up that story, we have Dennis “Wiz” Leonard of the Alembic recording crew. Like a lot of heads pointed towards Bickershaw, Wiz had a pretty memorable road trip. Thanks so much to Blair Jackson for this audio.
DENNIS “WIZ” LEONARD : So we canceled the gig, a near-riot happened.We scrambled and got back to the hotel. Then at five o'clock in the morning, my phone goes off and it's [Sam] Cutler saying, “Get your ass down to the lobby — we gotta go into town.” We got in some cabs, and went down to this little teeny town outside of Paris, which was where the truck was still broken down. The pressure was on because we had to make a specific ferry to get across the Channel with the gear, in order to be able to make Bickershaw. Bickerhsaw was a big guarantee — things would have been really fucked up if we didn't make [the gig].
The pressure was on. We get down there and there's two mechanics working on the red truck. Cutler's smoking three cigarettes at a time… not literally. [He’s] running in and out of this little cafe making phone calls, and he says, “Okay, I’ve got a trailer coming up. It's coming with a tractor that's not going to be the one we have, but we'll get a tractor.” Voilà, a trailer pulls up and it backs up to the back of the red truck. We cross-pack everything, which is really difficult because it’s like a backwards pack. The truck was a traditional English lorry with a big box that was over the cab itself. We used that for spares and people's personal crap. After we had gotten most of the gear into the trailer, I think Parish said, “Go up there and hand me down the shit.” We had a couple of cardboard boxes because people would just throw clothes up there that needed to go in the laundry. Just gathering shit, putting it in a cardboard box. I grab a pair of jeans, and I feel moisture. I reach into the pocket and there’s a brown glass bottle, an eyedropper. So I tighten up the top and lick my hands off, and lick the bottle off.
I was a really experienced voyager — I figured, Well, nice ride to France, to Calais. Ram Rod sees me [and says], “What did you just do?” I said, “This thing was leaking, and I tightened it up.” And he said, “Good that you tightened it up.” And I looked at it and I said, “Eh, I might have gotten two or three drops’ worth.” And he said, “Wiz… it’s concentrate.” And… yeah. So [I’m like], “Okay, gonna… Have a nice day.”
JESSE: Gonna interject here slightly, in case you didn’t catch our last episode. In Paris, the band had gotten a new batch of LSD, but Ram Rod had miscalibrated and it came out something like 10 times stronger than expected. It was the night Donna Jean Godchaux ended up under the piano in a non-metaphorical way. So to clarify, Wiz just accidentally on purpose dosed himself with an even more concentrated version of that.
DENNIS “WIZ” LEONARD : And then Cutler comes running out and says, “The fucking tractor we need isn't gonna make it.” He’s freakin’, and meanwhile, all of a sudden, the red truck starts up. We look at the red truck, they have a hose stuck into the fuel tank —
JESSE: Blair had to flip his tape here, so we missed a few sentences. So, close your eyes for a second and imagine total fucking chaos escalating, Sam Cutler smoking another pack of cigarettes in a parking lot in the French countryside and eventually they get the red truck working and Wiz and Joe Winslow hop in, Winslow behind the wheel, and start following the lead truck driver, Barry, through France, en route to the ferry back to the UK.
DENNIS “WIZ” LEONARD : We’re going pedal to the metal, and then we’re going through western France on the way to Calais. And Barry, the English driver, seems to be taking amazing chances passing people. We’re having a hard time keeping up with him, Winslow and I — I’m like really fuckin’ high. I feel like I’m on a roller coaster, that the road is undulating. I can still talk to Joe. We look at each other and realize: Oh shit — he’s doing that because we might not make it. So the trip across France was breakneck. We pull up and we’re the last two vehicles in the queue for the last ferry that we could make the gig with. It’s just so much tension and energy that I was basically straight. Winslow looks like a deer in the headlights. I said, “What’s wrong, Joe?” He said, “I can’t find my fucking passport.” I said, “Get in the back of the fucking truck, and just hide behind the 16-tracks. Fuck that shit… we’re going to England.” So we sneak out in the back of the truck, just inching forward getting on the ferry. All of a sudden: boom, boom, boom. He grabbed his bag and brought it back in there with the flashlight. I jumped out, just — got it, we got it, we got it. We make it on the ferry. To add some insult to injury, we get to English customs, and we hand them posters and all this shit that we would hand out to try and smooth things [over]. This one customs guy wants to go through the carnet, see things. And the one object he picks is this fake amplifier that has a stash in it. I pull it out, and we show him the serial number: “Okay, boy, thank you very much.” It was a sigh of relief. We drove from Dover up to London. We now had time, and Barry had called his wife. We get to London at three or four o’clock in the morning and Hazel, Barry’s wife, has made us a wonderful breakfast. There was another truck that was delivered there… two trucks, actually. We were replacing the big red truck with two trucks. A friend of Barry’s drove one up to Bickershaw and I drove the other. That was the first time I had driven on the left side of the road. On the way out of London, I took the side of a car off and never looked back.
JESSE: It was quite a day.
DENNIS “WIZ” LEONARD : You had to be able to do that. That was the Acid Test. I mean, that's what came out of the Acid Test: you can sit down and meditate and chant, but can you change the tire on the bus? Can you get us out of trouble with this cop? Shit like that. That was the key paradigm. Push it to the edge. I think that that was essentially what the Grateful Dead was about.
JESSE: At the other end of Wiz’s Acid Test was the Bickershaw Festival. With funds from unnamed Manchester businessmen, the organizer was an enterprising and charming young head called Jeremy Beadle.
JEREMY BEADLE : Personally, I think I think we're talking about 75,000. But we've laid on facilities for 100,000.
NEWSCASTER : At what point do you start breaking even financially?
JEREMY BEADLE : I'll tell you that after the festival.
JESSE: British listeners might recognize the late Jeremy Beadle as a popular BBC host in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but in 1972 he was just an ex-journalist looking to make his way. Sadly, Jeremy Beadle passed away in 2008. Festival fever had hit Europe with full force after Woodstock and a festival scene was sprouting. In some ways, it mirrored what was happening in the United States, but each country’s scene had its own singular twists. Free festivals had taken root in the United Kingdom in a deep way, with week-long solstice celebrations near Stonehenge and a circuit that was somewhere between Dead tour and the more anarchistic Rainbow Gatherings. But there were also plenty of festivals in the Woodstock model — big bands playing to big crowds from a big stage, put on with the intention of making a big profit. In some ways, Bickershaw followed Woodstock quite closely.
NEWSCASTER : Where does the money come from? In fact, who's backing you?
JEREMY BEADLE : I am not actually being backed. I'm working for the people who are putting the money in, And they are a group of Northern businessmen. They're very nice. I like them, and so does my mum.
NEWSCASTER : The faceless anonymous. Who are they?
JEREMY BEADLE : Well, they're still faceless and anonymous.
JESSE: Like Woodstock, Bickershaw had a charismatic longhair up front, and solid straight world money behind it. As far as I can tell, nobody has yet figured out who put in the money for the Bickershaw Festival, but it surely looked like a good proposition. Like Woodstock, it was going to be 3 days of music. Like Woodstock, there was a lot of mud. Did we mention the mud yet? Sorry if that spoils anything. And like Woodstock, they hired the Fillmore East light show — then known as the Joshua Light Show, now Joe’s Lights, including our friend Allan Arkush.
ALLAN ARKUSH: We also did a festival — the Bickershaw Festival, where it rained all weekend in the north of England. Cheech and Chong were there, the Kinks, and a lot of other people.
JESSE: From the perspective of the 21st music century music head, it’s just an incredible bill. Naming just a few, Friday night included Dr. John and Hawkwind. Saturday morning was for jazz, including Annette Peacock and Paul Bley, as well as Maynard Ferguson. The afternoon was for folk, including Donovan and the Incredible String Band, and Saturday night was for the Kinks, the Flamin’ Groovies, and Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. Sunday had Country Joe, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, and the Grateful Dead. Like Woodstock, Bickershaw had Country Joe. And like Woodstock, they had rain. Lots of rain.
ALLAN ARKUSH: Maybe we didn't do light show because of the rain. We spent almost the entire weekend in this little motorhome, because it was pouring so hard. And it was so cold. We had so much trouble with the electricity on the stage, and getting our equipment up on the stage and down again. There were no lifts — we had to lift it up ourselves. And we didn't have roadies, so we would have to get there early, set up the light show, get everything working, do the show and then take it down ourselves.
JESSE: Like a lot of festivals, Bickershaw faced opposition, including an imminent so-called Night Assemblies Bill, which sputtered out in Parliament that May before a proposed protest concert with the Rolling Stones could take place. And, like Woodstock, and many other festivals, Bickershaw would be an absolutely epic weekend for nearly everybody who attended, an unforgettable touchstone. Unlike Woodstock, the Grateful Dead absolutely brought it. The weather might not have held at Bickershaw, but the vibes did. Alan Trist.
ALAN TRIST: That was the one occasion in Europe where the band really showed the festival chops so to speak. It was a full-on festival, and it was great. There weren't crowds like that anywhere else except Wembley Pool and somewhere in Germany — maybe it was the Munich show, [that] was pretty big too.
JESSE: Though the recording sounds like every other well-balanced master pulled in the Alembic truck, the experience in the crowd was considerably different. Surely every gig on the tour was meaningful to audiences, but Bickershaw was transformative for many. So let’s hang with the heads, starting with Barbara Nellist.
BARBARA NELLIST: I had a group of hippie friends who were students in Durham. We sort of shared a hippie dream of all living together and having a commune and all those things were all rolling on in 1972. So I kind of tagged on to their love of the Dead. A couple of them had been to Newcastle to see the Dead a bit earlier in ‘72. [For] the chance to see them again, they were wanting to go to Bickershaw in a couple of cars. I went with them. I’d moved to Leeds by then. We were still close, and we’re still close now.
JESSE: Steven Feldman.
STEVEN FELDMAN: I was a student at Cambridge University from ‘69 to ‘72, and I got turned on to the Grateful Dead back in ‘69, listening to “Dark Star” and “St. Stephen” and stuff. Most of my pals at university were also Dead Heads. It turned out that we listened to some Grateful Dead tracks almost every night during those three years. When the Dead came to England in ‘72, I was at the first Wembley gig and absolutely blown away. But when Bickershaw was announced, we knew that this was going to be the event that we had to get to. 10 or 12 of my friends from university got together, we hired a panel van, we took all the mattresses off our beds and lined them with mattresses, stocked up with food and booze and drugs and stuff.
JESSE: Brian Petheram, aka Peth, was the enterprising sort.
BRIAN PETHERAM: My first Dead show was the Saturday at the Empire Pool, the 8th of April, and I certainly wanted to see them again. The next chance was at the Bickershaw Festival, which was unfortunately at the other end of the country, in the northwest of England. However, there was a ticket agent in London who had a package with tickets and coach travel. So I decided, as I just had my student maintenance grant, to invest in hiring the whole coach and reselling the tickets with the help of a friend who had a bit of money as well. So we had 60-odd heads in the coach; to sweeten the deal, everyone got a tab of mescaline as part of the package. We had a hell of a time. It all worked like clockwork.
JESSE: You may remember some of these voices from our episode about the tour-opening Empire Pool shows in London. Many were ready for another dose. Chris Jones.
CHRIS JONES: As soon as I heard of Bickershaw though, I wanted to go. It had a lot of bands which I really liked: Captain Beefheart, he was another one. Wasn’t so big in America as he was in Europe.
JESSE: Adam Gotley.
ADAM GOTLEY: A friend of mine had just passed his driving test and he took three of us up in his very old second hand Ford Anglia — probably not a car that you’ve got in the States. In those days, motorways were very limited in the UK. I can't remember how long it took us to get there, but it was an awfully long time. I guess it would have been about 300 miles, 250, 300 miles. It seemed to take the best part of a day. We got there the night before it started.
JESSE: Bill Giles, now of the Grateful Dudes.
BILL GILES: We went up together in a VW bus. We stopped at a fair, probably a few miles, maybe 20 miles, from Bickershaw. There was a wall of death — motorbike riders, who go round a circulating wall. They’d go up, so they end up being horizontal to the ground. So we all trooped up and we saw this. Anthony, the guy who was driving, was really keen to see it. That was a pretty spacey sort of experience. I’ve never seen one of those before.
JESSE: Chris Jones.
CHRIS JONES: To get to this place, you have to get up to London, then take a train to Wigan station. Wigan, which is the nearest one to Bickershaw. Wigan was a very rundown Northern town, compared with, say, London, which was vibrant and hip and everything. It seemed to be such a weird place to put a festival in a way, because most of us hadn’t hardly heard of Wigan. It was associated with a form of rugby called rugby league, which was strictly for Northerners. In the South, you played a different sort of rugby, which was rugby union — which was all the posh boys, but the public school rules—we you’d call private schools, we’d call public schools —they weren’t open to the public at all. It was very much a lower-class, working-class area with a lot of unemployment and stuff, back-to-back terraced houses. A pretty poor thing. But you get to Wigan and then we had to get a bus to within a few miles of the campsite, then wander on from there on foot. I remember it taking a long time to walk to the festival itself.
JESSE: Simon Phillips.
SIMON PHILLIPS: We got a bus from Manchester to the village of Bickershaw, raining all the way I remember that. We were really concerned about the weather. We had a tent with us, that was all. It was awful when we got off the bus — it was sort of an industrial wasteland. It was a former mining community, drizzling and raining and cold. There’s a famous painter in the UK, [L.S.] Lowry — used to paint people coming out of factories, all hunched over against the wind and the rain. Everybody looked like that. But there were a lot of people around with long hair, so we knew we were in the right place and made our way to the festival grounds. It really was… my memory of the town is what we call a one-horse town: just a main street, and that was it. A few shops, terraced houses and then across the road, there was a fence and a field, and you go straight into the field.
JESSE: If you’re familiar with the Grateful Dead tape trading world, you might recognize the handle Sir Mick. Please welcome to the Deadcast, Mick Etherington.
SIR MICK: I went up Friday night with a late friend of mine, Paul, he owned a Triumph sports car at that time. We'd arranged to meet three or four other friends when we got there. The windscreen wiper on the driver's side died. Not to be defeated, Paul spent quite a lot of time out of the window, trying to wipe the rain away. However, as he wore spectacles, it really served no purpose, as he got wet instead. How we got there, I don’t know. It was pretty late when we did get there, and I can remember hearing Dr. John on stage. But we never got to see him as we were putting our tent up and trying to get somewhere dry.
JESSE: While Sir Mick gets settled, and other heads make their way to the festival site, we’re going to take a detour, but only a very slight one. Playing before the Friday night Dr. John headlining set at Bickershaw was the British band Hawkwind.
AUDIO: “Silver Machine” [Hawkwind, Greasy Truckers Party box set edition, 2/13/72] (0:45-1:15) - [Spotify]
JESSE: That was Hawkwind doing “Silver Machine” at the Roundhouse in London, a few months earlier. There’s no tape of their Bickershaw set, for reasons which we’ll get to. In a lot of ways, Hawkwind might actually be seen as a British equivalent to the Grateful Dead.
When British music fans picked up a copy of the May 12th issue of the underground newspaper Frendz, they found Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir on the front cover, Bill Kreutzmann on the back. British publications followed the American practice of being on the street ahead of their cover date, and it’s quite possible heads may’ve had the issue en route to Bickershaw. Just below Grateful Dead on the cover, it advertised Mike Moorcock’s New Novel.
Michael Moorcock was not only an eminent British science fiction writer, but helped usher in sci fi’s so-called New Wave as editor of the publication New Worlds starting in 1964, bending fiction into radical new forms. And later in 1972, while continuing to publish novels, he also became a contributing lyricist for, and occasional performer with, Hawkwind. I recently read the fantastic new book from PM Press, Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950-1955, and was compelled to figure out if Michael Moorcock also dug the Dead. I came across an interview in which he was asked what he listened to while writing.
His answer: “Grateful Dead. Messiaen. Mozart. Dylan. Mahler. John Prine. New Riders. John Fogerty. Ravel. Schoenberg. Ives. Chet Baker. Williams. Elgar. Grateful Dead. Robert Johnson. Howlin’ Wolf. Glenn Miller, Noel Coward. Beatles. Gus Elen. Grateful Dead. Next question. That last one’s not a group, it’s an exit strategy.”
We are so honored to welcome to the Deadcast, Michael Moorcock.
MICHAEL MOORCOCK: I was in Hawkwind, which was the nearest band in terms of social effect I suppose, or ambience. We were the nearest band to the Dead in England. We were a people’s band; we did more free gigs than we did paid gigs. A lot of the time, we were losing money.
We had the same sort of following, when I was still performing [with them], definitely. The audience follows the Dead no matter where they’re performing; you’ve got a core audience that tends to follow the band. It’s the same with Hawkwind: every gig you turn up at, it’s going to be a core of the same people almost. Which is a lot easier in England than it is in America. We took families with us, our kids, that sort of thing.
JESSE: In later years, as the British festival scene evolved on its own slightly grittier parallel course, Hawkwind became known as perhaps the British festival band, with their sound evolving alongside the free festivals. In the early days, though, they were Dead fans.
MICHAEL MOORCOCK: Nik Turner and Terry Ollis, quite a few members of the band were keen Dead fans. They played the Dead enough in the buses. I think they saw them as fellow spirits, very much part of the same thing. I think the Dead had a more coherent vision than Hawkwind, frankly. [chuckles] But that’s another story.
JESSE: I emailed an urgent follow up that I’d forgotten to ask: “What about Lemmy?” Mike responds, “I don't remember Lemmy liking the Dead. His persona was anti-hippy...” Sounds about right. In the UK, the connections between underground music and science fiction ran deep.
MICHAEL MOORCOCK: I lived in Ladbroke Grove — Ladbroke Grove and Portobello Road were, I suppose, the equivalent of Haight Ashbury in San Francisco at the time. I was editing New Worlds, which was not an underground magazine. We shared printers, with IT and a couple of others. There was a lot of interaction between us, just naturally. Because I lived in that area and a lot of other people lived in that area, my front room became sort of one of the meeting hubs I suppose.
JESSE: He was truly part of the culture. In fact, Mike Moorcock had sat in for the Grateful Dead interview in the same issue of Frendz that came out the same week as Bickershaw.
MICHAEL MOORCOCK: I was sitting in my room one day. John Trux came round. John was seriously… not a raving fan, but a solid fan of the Dead. And he introduced me to the Dead in the first place.
JESSE: And on this afternoon in early April 1972, John Trux was off to meet the Dead.
MICHAEL MOORCOCK: I said, Sure, I didn't have anything else to do. We just walked down to the Kensington Palace Hotel. Trux was asking all the questions; I didn’t know what questions to ask. I didn't know a lot about the band as such, I just liked their music. I was just there really, I suspect, to give John a little bit of confidence, to have somebody with him when he went when he went to talk to him. He talked to Phil Lesh quite a long time, he talked to Jerry quite a long time. Pigpen.
JESSE: I haven’t yet tracked down a copy of the article, but looking forward to reading at some point.
MICHAEL MOORCOCK: It's a good substantial piece with long quotes from Phil Lesh about Neal Cassady and stuff like that.
JESSE: When we asked what Michael’s favorite Dead music was, I wasn’t quite expecting the answer we got, though I shouldn’t be too surprised.
MICHAEL MOORCOCK: I use the Dead, two Dead records, to get me started. Just the two: Workingman’s Dead, and the other one that goes with [it], American Beauty. Because they're very good for getting you into a nice working mood, or at least me into a nice working mood.
JESSE: I guess I was expecting “Dark Star,” less because of the outer space lyrics and more because it might be a vibey writing soundtrack for writing sci-fi, but who doesn’t love Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty? Thank you so much, Michael. If you’re interested in the deep and layered connections between science fiction and the counterculture, I really do recommend the new book Dangerous Visions & New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950-1985, available from PM Press, also a publisher of Michael’s writing. We’ll transition back to Bickershaw now by way of “The Black Corridor,” a Hawkwind song written by Michael Moorcock, here performed on the BBC in September 1972.
AUDIO: “The Black Corridor” [Hawkwind, Hawkwind: At the BBC - 1972, 9/72] (0:09-0:31) - [Spotify]
JESSE: It’s all true. Bill Giles.
BILL GILES: We got there on a Saturday evening, I think probably after dark. And then somehow, we got into the backstage area. So we were behind this metal fence that was separating the stage from the rest of the ground. This metal fence, wire fence, thousands of people in the mud. I had an image that it looked like something out of World War I. There was just something about the nature of… the number of people, the wetness and of course the fence. Gave rather gave it a strange atmosphere.
JESSE: The young musician then known as D.P. MacManus, and now known as Elvis Costello, had a show on Friday night with his band, Rusty.
ELVIS COSTELLO: So I'm playing a gig with my little band, which [was] by now down to a two-piece, but we still kept the band name. And we’re opening up at St. George’s Hall, little St. George’s Hall. Right in the center of Liverpool is this spectacular, Victorian Palace that looks like a Greek building, a big Parthenon-style building. Victorian monolith, has a small theater in it where Charles Dickens read. So it goes way back, [it] has some history. Me and my pal Alan are opening up for Tir Na Nog, an Irish joe, and we're just the opening act. I stick around to hear a couple of Tir Na Nog’s songs, and then I hit Lime Street because I'm going to go to Bickershaw the next day. I come out into Lime Street, and there’s rain coming at about a 35-degree angle to the ground. It's like needles, and it never occurred to me that it might be a bit wet at Bickershaw. I got the bus home with my guitar, it wasn’t very complicated then. The next day, I got up and headed off. I’m leaving and I got there on the Saturday afternoon. All I had was a pair of boots and a blanket — I had no tent. I had not thought about the fact that I’d be sleeping in the field… I hadn't thought about that. I wandered around this disaster zone that looked like behind the lines during the First World War, without the blood. Well, with some blood, but a lot of mud — and it was completely a disaster. You couldn't get from one side of the field to the other, because parts of it were completely submerged. People were looking miserable, people had bits of plastic over them. It kept raining periodically. Every time the sun came out, it went in again.
JESSE: Adam Gotley.
ADAM GOTLEY: I don't think the rain is actually as bad as people seem to remember. The cold was awful. There was a really cold wind blowing in off the Irish Sea and that… to me, that was the killer. There were a lot of very smelly fires all around the festival grounds and we huddled close. But oddly enough, it didn't really seem to matter that much.
JESSE: Barbara Nellist.
BARBARA NELLIST: The year before, I'd been to Glastonbury and that was really like hot sun, naked people, peace and love, all that. Bickershaw was a bit hard. It was wet, it was muddy. But the atmosphere was great. It was safe and fun. It was really good. Lots of people there, lots of dope, some acid. There was no trouble. It was a lovely atmosphere, although the weather was crap. The sound wasn’t great — I think the weather was against us. So it was more the atmosphere and being there with likeminded people.
JESSE: The UK Dead shows also marked the beginning of the UK taping scene. Simon Phillips.
SIMON PHILLIPS: I was very new to taping. I didn't even know there was a taping scene, although I got into it very quickly after the Europe ‘72 tour. I had recorded the first night at Wembley, but I had only bought the tape recorder that morning. So I was unfamiliar with how to get a clear line of sight, so to speak. There were five of us who lived in a house together at the university. One of my other friends who didn't come with us, he had bought himself a little cassette player and recorded Roxy Music two weeks earlier. I thought, That's a neat idea, because he's got a little something to remind him of the show.
I recorded the Wembley show because I wanted a sort of record — like when you were a kid you took holiday snaps and they reminded me of a holiday? This was very much for me — not to trade or anything, just to remind me what they played. I was really paranoid; there was no checking with bags. But I didn't know if I was allowed to do this: it was a security guard standing maybe 10 feet away from me, raised up on some steps. So I kept the microphone down on my lap, not knowing I needed a clear line between the microphone and the sound. So mine's very muffled.
JESSE: Yeah, but it’s a muffled recording of an awesome Dead show that didn’t really circulate from a good source for another 40 years. And it gave him a first round of practice before Bickershaw. Chris Jones.
CHRIS JONES: I spent a lot of time on my own there because I had decided to tape the show. I bought a tape recorder, and I had what I call my crappy mono tape record with a handheld mic. It was one of those big bulky handheld mics, really rough and ready. It was only a cheap one, and I bought cheap tapes. I didn't know anything about it back then.
SIMON PHILLIPS: My brother wanted to go but he couldn't, so I managed to tape bits of other artists. He was into an English band called Wishbone Ash — I managed to tape maybe 20, 30 minutes of them. I taped a bit of Country Joe and the Fish, where they chanted “fuck Nixon” rather than just “fuck.” That tape’s long since gone, but I didn’t want to use too much tape because I wasn’t sure how long the Dead were playing.
CHRIS JONES: I was inspired because I wanted to catch what I'd heard; I wanted to be able to play it back again, for me and for my friends, and we did. I was living in a flat by then, my apartment and a whole bunch of hippies. We’d play that — it wasn’t the best-quality recording, but it was music, it was good. A few snippets of Captain Beefheart —
AUDIO: “Abba Zabba” [Captain Beefheart, 5/6/72] (0:57-1:07)
CHRIS JONES: The Kinks —
AUDIO: “You Really Got Me” [The Kinks, 5/6/72] (0:08-0:38)
CHRIS JONES: — and the Flamin’ Groovies.
AUDIO: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” [Flamin’ Groovies, 5/6/72] (0:32-0:45)
CHRIS JONES: Not very much of any of them.
SIMON PHILLIPS: My friend and I—God knows where we found it—we found a huge sheet of clear plastic, which we used to sit on in the mud. We’d pull it up, behind and over us, and around the sides, just keep some holes that we could look out. I seem to remember—maybe it's one of the other acts—but I certainly remember pushing the microphone out through this hole, pointing into the stage.
JESSE: The incredibly comprehensive site UKRockFestivals.com has attempted to collate setlists for all the performers at Bickershaw. It includes a setlist for Hawkwind’s Friday night appearance with the note, “Confirmation of a tape of Hawkwind's set is in existence received in April 2003, however, it appears that both this and the Wishbone Ash set have been erased by the taper’s brother!” Geeze, bummer.
SIMON PHILLIPS: On this tape I gave to my brother, they had a hit record in the UK called “Silver Machine.” I taped that one song for him.
JESSE: And nothing’s gonna bring it back. Adam Gotley.
ADAM GOTLEY: What was nice about it is it was mainly American bands, but the English bands who were there, by and large, [were] ones that I would like to have seen. So it felt like a nice mix. The Kinks played a good set.
ELVIS COSTELLO: I remember seeing the Flamin’ Groovies. I remember seeing The Kinks for a minute. It all just goes into a big mess.
SIR MICK: On Saturday, I remember watching The Kinks, and I'm sure they were really drunk. Not all that unusual for them, but it was enjoyable. Later in the day, I attempted to tape Donovan and got a place very close to the stage. From what I can remember, it didn't come out too bad, but it's long since disappeared.
JESSE: Also in the crowd at Bickershaw was 19-year-old John Mellor. Like D.P. MacManus, he’d find his own rock and roll name a few years later when he became Joe Strummer and co-founded The Clash.
ELVIS COSTELLO: Later on, I found out Joe Strummer was there as well. Joe was a great one for the festivals. He used to go to Glastonbury and have a big scene. I didn't really return to the festivals unless I was on the stage after that.
JESSE: There’s a Joe Strummer quote that circulates about Bickershaw, which seems to come from a letter to a friend in which he wrote, "Captain Beefheart’s set in the early hours of the morning at Bickershaw Festival was the best concert I ever went to in my life.” Based on the memories of the heads we spoke to, I wouldn’t actually doubt it. Adam Gotley.
ADAM GOTLEY: I think you'll find anybody who was there will say that the Captain Beefheart set… I mean, that was extraordinary. Fabian, a friend of mine who was with me a Bickershaw, was possibly an even bigger Beefheart fan than a Dead fan — for him, that's the musical highlight of his life, quite literally.
AUDIO: “Alice in Blunderland” [Captain Beefheart, 5/6/72] (4:39-5:09)
JESSE: Zoot Horn Rollo, everybody. Chris Jones.
CHRIS JONES: One of the other big acts which I really wanted to see was Captain Beefheart. He always put on a show in a way that Jerry Garcia never did. He was never a showman. But Captain Beefheart always was — that was part of his appeal, part of his mystique. I wish I had a reasonable recording of that.
JESSE: Bill Giles.
BILL GILES: I remember seeing you know, Dr. John, Maynard Ferguson, jazz trumpeter, and then the Captain Beefheart set that was just quite extraordinary, all this weird music going on. But the guys walking back and forth across the stage really was a discombobulating experience.
JESSE: Barbara Nellist.
BARBARA NELLIST: The beginning of May in Lancashire is cold, a bit miserable. But I think there was a bit of a wartime spirit. Everybody was so thrilled to be there, to be seeing all these great bands. We were camping in the festival; now, you kind of camp a mile away and walk to the festival. Where we were camping, there were fires around us. It was chaotic. We had a tent and we had sleeping bags, and we had our pitch, which we went away from and came back to. I can't remember being really wet all the time — I think we must have had some kind of comfort. We had a pretty good tent, so we were okay as far as that was concerned.
JESSE: Simon Phillips.
SIMON PHILLIPS: We got there before it started, because there was a tent [we took] with us. There was a field right next to the arena area where they allowed camping. So we had a little two-man tent, a little white tent. We pitched that in the camping field, and as we came through the gate into the main arena, we looked back and we said, “Well, there will be more tents later on, but we'll find it. If we follow the line from this gate to that tree at the far side, we're bound to hit our tent.” Little known that at two o'clock the following morning—when it's pitch dark and we couldn't see the tree, and there’s now about 500 little white tents in the field—we never did find the tent. We ended up sleeping in a marquee that slept about 100 people. So my tent may still be pitched in the field.
JESSE: In British English, “marquee” means a large tent with open sides. This gringo learns something new every day. Elvis Costello.
ELVIS COSTELLO: A miracle prevailed. I was wandering around the site, and I heard my name. Somebody called my name — I turned around, and there was this lovely couple who had run folk clubs in Liverpool that I'd played for, Vinnie and Jen. Very warm kind of hippie couple that ran the… [they] paid me the first money I ever got paid for playing music, one pound 50. Opening up at the bottom of the bill in the basement of the St. George's Project in Liverpool, on the edge of Chinatown. By now, I had bought a human-sized messenger bag, which some enterprising person was selling, like a jiffy bag as we call them — a giant paper bag, a disposable sleeping bag. And they said, “You're gonna die if you sleep out here in the middle of this field, even in that cardboard bag, that paper bag.” They let me sleep at the end of their tent, sideways. Which, of course, given the fact they'd been there already a day, I had their feet in my face.
JESSE: Adam Gotley.
ADAM GOTLEY: Yeah, we bought tents, but I don't remember sleeping that much to be honest. It was kind of like… yeah, the tents were wet. I was 17 / 18, you don't worry too much about those kinds of things at that age.
ELVIS COSTELLO: I woke up at about two o'clock in the morning, and I thought the Martians had landed, because there was this distorted noise and it was Captain Beefheart. He was yelling through I guess a Shure bullet mic: “I’m gonna booglarize you! I’m gonna booglarize you!”
AUDIO: “I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby” [Captain Beefheart, 5/6/72] (3:58-4:28)
ELVIS COSTELLO: And he was in the middle of this set. The music, as you can probably guess, was not on a very tight schedule.
AUDIO: “I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby” [Captain Beefheart, 5/6/72] (4:28-4:44)
JESSE: Sleeping quarters varied.
BILL GILES: We crashed in the VW. I think we got a lot less wet than an awful lot of people.
CHRIS JONES: There was a big field — it must have been an old farm or something, and the stage [at the] front, a big pit with loads of people at the front. That's the area which I think got really, really muddy. I stayed at the side, stayed at the back. And around the side, there were these big concrete cattle sheds, and they cleaned them out, and that's where I slept each night. In one of those. I’d take in a rucksack with a sleeping bag and stuff. So I slept there. They could sleep several hundred, 3 or 400 people, each of these big barns. I didn’t count them at the time, but they’re just huge and a lot of people [were] crashing there. I was fine: kept dry, and went out during the day and recorded.
SIR MICK: Sunday arrived and the organizers decided to let in the locals for free. Quite a few of them wandered around in their Sunday best, looking at us poor muddy souls. For them, it was probably a visit to the zoo to see what the hippies had gotten up to.
JESSE: Simon Phillips.
SIMON PHILLIPS: I remember on the final day, a lot of the locals came in because it was free to them. You turned around and you had all these middle-aged people watching behind you.
ELVIS COSTELLO: We woke up on Sunday and, by this point, the audience has had it with the site. Brinsley Schwarz went up — Nick Lowe's band, they played. I was a huge fan of theirs. I played all Nick’s songs, me and my pal Allan, that was half our set. Nobody knew the songs. So I think half the time they thought we'd written these good songs, so we didn't tell them and we were playing in pubs and things. Sometimes they'd be asking for things out of the charts, by T Rex or something like that. But they knew nothing about this American music that we liked.
AUDIO: “Country Girl” [Brinsley Schwarz, Live in Sheffield] (0:58-1:28) - [Spotify]
JESSE: No tapes of Brinsley Schwarz at Bickershaw seem to survive, but that was “Country Girl,” one of the Nick Lowe songs covered by Rusty, from a 1974 show released as Live at Sheffield. Elvis would use the Bickershaw set as a conversation opener with Nick Lowe a few months later, beginning a long friendship. Sometime early on Saturday, the Grateful Dead and the New Riders of the Purple Sage and their extended family rolled onto the site. A news crew cornered Jerry Garcia for a brief interview backstage.
NEWSCASTER [5/72]: Jerry Garcia, it’s pouring with rain up here —
JERRY GARCIA [5/72]: Yes.
NEWSCASTER [5/72]: What does the site look towards tonight?
JERRY GARCIA [5/72]: Well, muddy of course.
NEWSCASTER [5/72]: But you’re still going to play?
JERRY GARCIA [5/72]: Oh yeah, I think we're gonna play. What you can do for a thing like rain or cold is, like, questionable. You know, what can you really do? Not really much.
JESSE: And like at Woodstock, the light show didn’t happen. But Allan Arkush got some hang out time.
ALLAN ARKUSH: Everyone was complaining about how cold it was, and their fingers. I remember the New Riders being there, and Donovan. It just poured, and they must have drank a million bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale — because it was just ale bottles and mud. I don't have any memory of that show, except that it was raining.
JESSE: Mountain Girl.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: Bickershaw… I had my camera, I took pictures. What a blowout — oh my god. I can’t even tell you about the sanitation there… this is a family radio show, right? It was a mud hole beyond mud holes. There were just so many people there. It was just jammed, and it had obviously been raining for some time. The ground was like 6-inch deep of mud. It was one of those mud holes. Those are the things I remember about Bickershaw — those are the things that stick in your mind. I just remember going and sitting in the bus at Bickershaw, because there was no place to put your booty down. You couldn’t win there. You had to hold on to all your stuff, not let it touch the ground. It was a rough one.
NEWSCASTER [5/72]: Do you think they failed abysmally in this particular instance?
JERRY GARCIA [5/72]: Well, I haven't been here enough to really determine. In my mind, most of the people I think are, you know, sort of accepting what's going on. I mean, it doesn't seem to me that anybody is really super uptight. But like I say, I'm not really 100% in touch with the whole thing you know, so I can only give you, like, my own fleeting impressions.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: There was a huge crowd out there — it was a really big crowd. We were stunned. So how big… how many people were there?
JESSE: Conservative estimates have it around 40,000, but we’re no conservatives, and others put it closer to 60,000. Either way, as Arlo Guthrie put it, lotta freaks!
NEWSCASTER [5/72]: A lot of people want to put restrictions on festivals in this country, as to the size and magnitude of open-air festivals—
JERRY GARCIA [5/72]: Yeah?
NEWSCASTER [5/72]: Do you think festivals like this should have rules?
JERRY GARCIA [5/72]: Well, that presupposes that I think that there should be festivals…
JESSE: Touché, Garcia. Janet Furman of Alembic.
JANET FURMAN: We did an outdoor festival I think it was called the Bickershaw Festival — that was in England, and it was kind of a little mini-Woodstock. I think it rained, got muddy. That was a fun show — of course it was a lot better being on stage than being out in the crowd. [chuckles]
JESSE: If you look at photos of the festival, it seems like everybody and their commune-mate are crammed into the wings on the giant stage. Back to Wiz.
DENNIS “WIZ” LEONARD : We had a bunch of caravans back behind [the] stage, and Cutler got someone to go out and get us a bunch of steaks. We had a steak lunch.
JESSE: John Morris, who’d helped build the tour with Sam Cutler, came up for the festival.
JOHN MORRIS: That's the first time I discovered that there were in fact Winnebagos in England. We’d done some stuff in the States with Winnebagos: a place where you could have a bathroom, sit down, make a meal. We cooked these great steaks in the Winnebago. But that's not all I remember.
JESSE: But if you were working, it was quite a different story.
DENNIS “WIZ” LEONARD : The weather was fucked. It's just a festival, and everybody was glad to get there and get it over with. One memorable thing is they had a huge PA and we put the Alembic PA up anyway.
JESSE: Steve Parish.
STEVE PARISH: The thing about Bickershaw was we were up in the north of England — it was a big, big scene, man. And the stagehands they had were coal miners from Newcastle and they were fuckin’ rugged, boy They didn't like our attitude; we didn't like theirs. It almost came to murderous blows, man. This guy came up to me, he said, “If there’s any throats to be cut, we’ll be cuttin’ ‘em here, we’ll tell you that!” I was talking to fuckin’ Robert Newton here, Captain Bligh or somebody like that. He sounded like a pirate or a whaler — these guys were fuckin’ really, really tough.
JESSE: Alan Trist.
ALAN TRIST: It rained, and then it didn't rain. I think it was on-and-off raining, I do remember that. Healy was very concerned about the generator, which wasn't properly grounded. In the rain, that could become a real danger to musicians on stage. There’ve been incidents. So I remember he had me going back and forth to talk to the promoters about making sure that this would be properly grounded, or the band wouldn't play. So it was a big kerfuffle over that.
JESSE: But the road crew taught the locals some new tricks.
STEVE PARISH: We would roll our joints in those days exactly like a Camel cigarette, because we found that to be safer than smoking what looked like a joint in some of the places we were in. It brought attention to you, we could get away with it. So we had our joints rolled like that. And this one guy, he wouldn't believe it that it wasn't a cigarette. I let him smoke one and he got kind of out of his mind — they had to take him out the stretcher, because he wasn’t used to smoking our strong weed, which we had. That would happen occasionally in other places too. Our weed was always strong. And don't forget, weed is a psychedelic. In those days, the powerful weed that we had—the Mexican weed, grown in the mountains of Michoacan, Sinaloa is what we brought—it was beautiful, lime green with these red seed caps. I can see it before me right now. ‘Til Nixon started fuckin’ with Intercept on the border. But those seeds went to a lot of places and started whole new crops and new kinds of strains. Anyway, why do you guys want to know so much about weed?
JESSE: We’ll ask the questions here, Parish. Adam Gotley.
ADAM GOTLEY: I seem to remember some clowns at one point. It was kind of like a very old-fashioned, in the nicest possible way, sort of show like that. It wasn't just the music.
JESSE: On the festival poster, there’s also a whole docket listed under Theatre Arts. And, unlike Joe’s Lights, it seems like they did perform despite the weather. Bill Giles.
BILL GILES: There was a high diving act, right at the side of the stage. Enormous bloody ladder — so many miles up, and then you sort of dive into a paddling pool, like your kids might play in. That happened sometime on the Sunday before the Dead played, if I remember rightly.
ADAM GOTLEY: Basically, there were these big tanks on either side of the stage. They were climbing up thes steel ladders to the top of them; there must have been a residual platform. And they were just diving off into this. It was a bit weird.
JESSE: Sir Mick.
SIR MICK: There is one event which is burned into my memory. There was a high diver who climbed up a ladder maybe 50 feet high, then dived into a pool which didn't really look big enough. Anyway, he was successful and everyone cheered.
JESSE: If you look online, there’s some shaky home movie footage of the pool. Not only does one of the performers climb the scaffolding above the stage, but somehow, somebody lights the pool on fire and the dude jumps into a tiny swimming pool full of flames.
SIR MICK: Later on, the contents of the tank were emptied onto the ground in front of the stage. And we got more mud…
ADAM GOTLEY: Oh yeah, there were bonfires; the fences all disappeared. The fences probably got sold for scrap metal. It was a funny area: an old sort of derelict mining area, but there was lots of scrub wood around, an old derelict wooden building. So there was plenty of material to set fire to.
JESSE: Please welcome back to the Deadcast, Alex Allan, proprietor of the essential Dead lyrics site, whitegum.com.
ALEX ALLAN: We must have set off pretty early from Cambridge as far as I remember. It is right across the country: Cambridge is in the East of England, and Bickershaw is in the Northwest, so it must have been at least three or four hours. I had a couple of friends — we drove up. I had an old Mini Cooper, and we drove up through driving rain and got there, but only went up to the day, just the Sunday. I didn't go for the whole festival. It was incredibly wet. I'd been incredibly organized: I had a lot of plastic sheets, a whole bunch of them. So you could sit on one and have another one over your head while you were watching. And then when that got sodden, you could sort of roll that up and put up another one. So I was very organized, I remember. We must have gone up there quite early, because I remember the earlier acts. There was Brinsley Schwarz, and then Country Joe.
SIR MICK: It was cold, and very wet. And muddy… oh boy, was a lot of mud. Woodstock had nothing on this. I got to see who I wanted to, and I spent a lot of time under a sound tower trying to stay dry. By Sunday afternoon, we were starting to feel a little tired. I didn't get a lot of sleep for the whole three days.
ADAM GOTLEY: Fabian announced before the concert he was going to go backstage to meet Garcia, and did I want to come with him? I said, “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re not going to get close to him.” And I went with him, and I’ve still got the photographs of Fabian and Garcia talking… Dave has become an extremely good photographer. Even then, he was quite good. He discovered that there was a hole in the stage, and he managed to somehow climb up to the hole and take photographs of the Dead and the New Riders from virtually point blank range.
I know this is gonna sound odd: I got the impression that the audience [at Empire Pool] were there out of curiosity, rather than there being huge numbers of Dead Heads. And yet, the opposite was true at Bickershaw, where it was quite clear that everybody was there to see the Dead. Nobody left, and the weather conditions dictated that people should leave. But nobody left: everybody was still there on the Sunday night.
JESSE: Remember Steven Feldman, who’d come up in the van?
STEVEN FELDMAN: Through some strange quirk, we managed to get the van backstage where all the people working on the gig were. I think one of my friends had a contact, or knew someone who knew someone. So we were there backstage and able to walk right to the very front of the stage to watch the gig. Started off that night — it was a Sunday night, and it started off with the New Riders.
ALEX ALLAN: The New Riders came on, and I remember at least the rain [eased] when they came on.
AUDIO: “Truck Drivin’ Man” [New Riders of the Purple Sage, 5/7/72] (0:34-1:00)
JESSE: There are only audience tapes. Please welcome back to the Deadcast, David Nelson of the New Riders of the Purple Sage.
DAVID NELSON: We were lucky to get on the thing; we were added at the last minute. Sam Cutler and Chesley Millikin talked him into it. They were all ready to go and everything, and there was some kind of meeting or talking,and they said, “Okay, you guys you're on for your Europe.”
JESSE: So with the Bickershaw Festival, the New Riders of the Purple Sage launched a Europe ‘72 tour all their own. It’s not quite as documented as the tour we’re currently following, but our good buddy Corry Arnold has been doing his best to rectify that over at his Hooterollin blog. For at least one New Rider — singer John “Marmaduke” Dawson — it was an excellent day at Bickershaw, where he met his future wife. The Riders would play a few more shows in England, then hit the Continent, perform at a few more enormous festivals with the likes of Pink Floyd, The Faces, and others, and reconvene with the Dead in London. They’d even tape an appearance on the Beat-Club in Germany, just like the Dead did. But for audiences at Bickershaw, it created the full experience sometimes billed as an Evening With the Grateful Dead — a set of the New Riders, followed by a full Grateful Dead blowout. Elvis Costello.
ELVIS COSTELLO: Then the New Riders play, and they were great. And I thought, well, what's gonna happen now? Are the Dead gonna play for 20 minutes? It’s gettin’ on late. I don’t know, you’ve probably got a record of how long that set lasted. But I remember it being about four hours long. I mean, is it possible they could have played for that long?
JESSE: It is, actually.
ADAM GOTLEY: I remember the incredible sense of anticipation. I don't just mean mine — you could just feel it in the crowd. I can't remember who was on immediately before the Dead, but it seemed to be a very, very long pause. It was Sunday night. I was going to turn 18 at midnight, and I was desperately hoping the Dead would be playing. They came on at half past seven. And I thought, Oh, God, there's no way they're going to play in this weather for four and a half hours. But boy, was I wrong.
JESSE: The contract for the festival was not only generous in its payment, but seemingly had some unusual provisions. Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux.
DAVID LEMIEUX: It's an amazing fee structure. As part of the Bickershaw contract… and remember, contracts in 1972 were not 55-page legal documents; they were one page. It was like yeah, you’ve gotta show up, you play from this time to this time. One of the things in the Bickershaw contract was that the Grateful Dead would play obviously not their entire repertoire, but a complete overview of their recordings to this date. So, point was that they would play a long show: two sets, a couple hours each. To me, that specific line item in their contract is why it was the only show on the tour that got both a “Dark Star” and an “Other One.” And they’re both complete — they’re both half-hour long [versions]. I always kind of figured that that’s why they did the two, is because they were getting paid so much money, and they’d specifically been requested — similar to Bill Graham at the closing of Winterland, saying: Look, guys, you’re gonna play what you want, but know that this is a show where people are gonna be expecting and wanting you to play some things. They played “Dark Star” and “St. Stephen,” “We Bid You Goodnight.” So they did, they busted it out for Winterland. And I think the same thing happened here, where every night on the Europe tour was either “Dark Star” or “The Other One,” like clockwork — except at Bickershaw, where they played both.
JESSE: The advance hype for the show definitely included mentions of the Dead’s extended set time and promise to go deep into their catalog. Simon Phillips.
SIMON PHILLIPS: The papers were saying they were going to leave it open-ended to the Dead to play as long as they wanted. There were rumors they could play for up to nine hours, which was ridiculous. So I actually took enough tape, just in case they did play nine and a half hours. And it was a shitty little tape recorder, a Phillips one: 10 inches long, maybe six or eight inches wide. And a little handheld microphone. I knew to take spare batteries.
JESSE: Tour architect Sam Cutler.
SAM CUTLER: The Grateful Dead have always… they've always brought a slightly different quality to their trip outdoors. So they shone there — it was wonderful. They love playing outdoors. It was special: it was special for the audience. Again, this audience has been raised on Pink Floyd and all kinds of psychedelic bands in England. So the bigger sort of festival was far out. [46:31]
JESSE: And tour architect Sam Cutler.
SAM CUTLER [5/7/72]: And, for all our muddy friends: the Grateful Dead…
JESSE: Adam Gotley.
ADAM GOTLEY: As soon as the Dead came on, the sun came out for the first time in three days. That really did happen. I think we all thought there was a certain inevitability to that.
JESSE: Alex Allan.
ALEX ALLAN: When the Dead came on, it dried up and the sun came out. It was magical. It was still pretty… it was incredibly wet and muddy still. But you could actually sort of stand up and not get soaked, and watch them play or listen to them play, both.
STEVEN FELDMAN: And then, just as the sun was starting to go down, the Dead came on stage and immediately got into the best run. I think of all the Grateful Dead gigs that I've seen—and I've seen every single one that they've played in the UK, and a couple in the US—this was the best-ever gig they did. Of course, the mescaline may have helped…
ADAM GOTLEY: What I do remember is, right from the word ‘go,’ they started off with a really lively version of “Truckin’.” And it just got the audience going: everybody was dancing in the mud. It was fantastic. I think even the first set was about two hours long.
ALEX ALLAN: Something like “Truckin’” was [a song] I knew from American Beauty, but actually hearing it live was a completely different experience. That was true of several of the songs, that the live experience just was… the studio albums, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, they’re perfect. But they’re nothing like the live performances. And the live performances have an energy that the studio performances… they’re beautiful, but they don’t have the same energy.
JESSE: Mountain Girl.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: As I recall, they were playin’ really, really well: the worse the conditions, the better they played. Also, you’ve gotta think — the arc of this tour, they have the chance to talk to each other for hours on end between the gigs, because we’re all riding on the same bus. So I think the communication in the band was at a real high peak at that point. They wouldn’t have anybody else to talk to except Steve and Kidd, and their girlfriends.
ADAM GOTLEY: Unfortunately, [a heater was] throwing out some horrible fumes, which we could smell down below the stage… so it must have been pretty awful on the stage. But they coped with it. I mean, Weir moaned about the weather, but he often does.
BILL GILES: I do remember a jet, sort of a jet engine-type thing, an industrial heater on stage, because it was cold and it was blowing. At some point, you hear Weir talks about being “hit by jet breath.” I think I got turned off at some point, because it must have been really unpleasant to have that kerosene-type smell, and singing against that.
BOB WEIR [5/7/72]: You see, all the time we’re playin’ here, we’ve got about, oh, 20, 30 knots and about 90, 100 degrees of jet breath, comin’ in on us from these space heaters over here. They smell like burning kerosene and make you dizzy — and make your guitar go out of tune… but without them, all of this would not be possible.
SIMON PHILLIPS: Bob Weir talks about it on stage, but I remember this huge space heater that they had onstage because they were so cold. I think he called it dragon breath. But I remember seeing that — a huge thing, like a cannon, a medieval cannon.
JESSE: But despite the adverse conditions, things were going fairly smashingly. There were new songs left and right from all three of the band’s lead singers.
ALEX ALLAN: The Garcia first solo album had come out before that, but I don't think the Bob Weir Ace album had come out. The Garcia tracks like “Sugaree” I was familiar with. But the Weir tracks like “Black-Throated Wind” were new to me at the time. They were playing stuff I hadn’t heard, but [it was] just the sheer number of songs that was a surprise.
JESSE: Elvis Costello.
ELVIS COSTELLO: The most shocking thing about it was the debut of that richer seam of Hunter-Garcia songs, as far as we're concerned. People, I guess, had come with the idea, those that had had this dream of the Haight-Ashbury kind of band that was gonna freak out, and everybody would go into outer space with them… that wasn't really what was happening. What was actually happening in the first set, as I remember, was one after another really great, tightly-composed songs. And it had this kind of what we now would call Americana, but in a really open way, it was very recognizably them. But I think I'm right in saying—you've got the record, so you can contradict me—”Tennessee Jed,” “Ramble On Rose,” “Jack Straw.” Hearing those all in a line was pretty shocking. They weren’t back-to-back in the set. But it all gets kind of jumbled up in a way, because it was such a transporting thing.
JESSE: The “Ramble On Rose” from Bickershaw is one of Wiz’s favorites.
DENNIS “WIZ” LEONARD : The “Ramble On Rose” in there… it’s like one of the best recordings of the band I’ve ever heard. It’s the quintessential Weir, howling between verses. I know everybody’s high at every gig. You listen to Jerry’s lyrical delivery, and you can see the smile on his face.
ELVIS COSTELLO: Plus, Jerry was playing just about as great as you can play. I mean, he was doing these endlessly unfolding solos in [songs] like “Tennessee Jed” — it would just be a lot of these quick chromatic movements that you couldn't believe kept stepping up in intensity, because the tempos weren't very fast. It had a groove; it really had a groove.
JESSE: There’s an anecdote that goes around that says that when Elvis Costello saw the Dead at Bickershaw, he was inspired to start his own band. But Elvis already had his own band by 1972, Rusty, which we heard from earlier. It didn’t come up when we spoke, but we followed up and he confirmed that the story is nonsense. But it was still a mindbender.
ELVIS COSTELLO: It was very, very wonderful.
JESSE: It was a revelatory experience for audience and band alike. Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay had a particularly flash-filled experience at Bickershaw.
DONNA JEAN GODCHAUX-MACKAY: The Dead Heads were just like they were in America. And that blew my mind: they get it! They get it. There's this ocean between, and they totally get it just like they do in America. And that stuns me. I don't know why I wasn't expecting that. It stuck out because that's where I really got the flash — the real, Okay, these people in Europe don’t even have to understand what the words are to the songs, because the music is speaking. I just got the whole concept of music as a universal language, and it just blew my mind. I’d never really thought about it; I’d never been out of the country before, and so I never had those kinds of thoughts. I remember, especially at that large outdoor gig, just getting that realization, how huge and important that concept was, that music is universal.
JESSE: There was a little business to take care of from stage.
BOB WEIR [5/7/72]: By the way, folks, we’ve got a birthday boy with us tonight! That’s our drummer, Billy, and I’d sure like it if you’d all aid in helping me… helping me and all of us, wish a great big happy birthday to Billy.
JESSE: Statistically speaking, this is the extraordinarily rare instance of Bob Weir wishing a happy birthday to Bill Kreutzmann on stage when it was actually Bill Kreutzmann’s birthday.
BOB WEIR [5/7/72]: And it goes like this [band joins in with musical accompaniment]: “Happy birthday to you/happy birthday to you/happy birthday dear Billy/happy birthday to… you!”
JESSE: Ben Haller of the lighting crew got his own perspective on the festival.
BEN HALLER: Bickershaw was… it was so friggin’ cold. And yet, there was an area in front of the stage [that] was a big puddle of water, and there were naked English kids splashing around in the water! We’d been on this nice tour and wore nice shirts, maybe a light coat or something, and suddenly [we’re] going, “Where’s my down jacket? I wish I had a down jacket…”
Lille and Bickershaw and maybe one other place was [in the] daytime, and that’s a relief for me. Generally what would happen is I’d have to go over, and there’d be some electrical problem which I could suss out. You don’t know how many times I’ve gone from the stage, following the snake out through the audience.
There’s a whole structure, the way the audience is, because in front of the stage there [were] a lot of recording people, with all their little weird recorders; and right behind the mixing booth would be all the couples making love. So depending on how the snake went from the stage to the mixing booth, you had to fight first with the recording people, and then you’re moving naked bodies so you can get: Please don’t drive my connectors into the mud… come on, make love next to the cable, not on top of the cable.
JESSE: The chaos was continuing to unfold in the pit. Adam Gotley.
ADAM GOTLEY: During the Dead set, I went right down to the front of the stage. That was an absolute morass of mud, because they had these… I'm sure you know about these, these high divers, and they just entered the pools that they've been high diving into, and off the edge of the stage. So it really was muddy there. It really was muddy, but it was fun.
JESSE: Chris Jones.
CHRIS JONES: The water tank broke open or something — it all splashed down 10,000 gallons, all over the place. Of course, not being used to being a taper, I was singing along to all the words I know. So you get the old: “Riding that train/high on cocaine…”
ADAM GOTLEY: They finished the first set with “Casey Jones” and Fabian and I were doing the twist in the mud…, believe it or not. I think he got down to about his knees… Just seemed like the right thing to do.
JESSE: There were some ways it was totally like Woodstock. Sam Cutler to the mike.
SAM CUTLER [5/7/72]: One, two, one, two… listen, uh, you remember when Country Joe McDonald was saying all that stuff about the tower? Well, there’s now too many people on the tower again. So those people know who they are — get off the tower. There’s good folks, thank you…
BOB WEIR [5/7/72]: You don’t want to cause a bloomin’ catastrophe, so get the fuck down…
JESSE: Bickershaw had its own pyro display planned, but heads weren’t exactly waiting.
[band tunes up for “Greatest Story Ever Told” as the sound of pyrotechnics whirr by]
BOB WEIR [5/7/72]: Watch your heads!
[crowd cheers, fireworks pop, then sounds of collective confusion]
BOB WEIR [5/7/72]: Oops.
PHIL LESH [5/7/72]: I think that was a bad shot.
BOB WEIR [5/7/72]: In the future we’ll want to aim those a little higher, whoever’s doing that…
ADAM GOTLEY: It got dark, I should think about halfway through the first set. It was completely dark here. It started what I think was the greatest “Greatest Story” I’ve ever heard. I just think it’s an absolutely brilliant version. I don’t think we even knew in Britain that the Godchauxs existed until the Dead arrived here. To hear Donna Jean singing on the “Greatest Story,” I thought, Oh wow, this is gonna be a real asset to the band.
JESSE: But, as Elvis and all remember, it was time to jam.
ELVIS COSTELLO: In the second half, we did go into the outer space element. That was perhaps harder [for me] because, by then, as the band is taking off into “Dark Star,” we are gradually sinking into the underworld, literally. Our boots, and I’m now up to my ankles in mud.
JESSE: To navigate us through the mud and space, please welcome back musicologist Graeme Boone. We’re going to moon-chute our way into the first “Dark Star” jam.
GRAEME BOONE: A lot of open space in this jam, each player in the band is doing something different. Jerry gets into a little bit of Tiger jamming, but then goes beyond it. Always interesting to listen for the colors — not just the notes, but the colors of sound, especially in these spacey jams. Phil, coming in with his “Dark Star” riff in the middle of the spacey sound. Bob’s settling into A major… It's like the spaceship lands.
JESSE: By the time the sun went down, audience members could see one of the other’s innovations — screens on either side of the stage. Peth.
BRIAN PETHERAM: It was the first time I'd seen a big screen, so it was wonderful to see the concentration on Billy's face during “Dark Star,” things like that. [It] was beautiful.
GRAEME BOONE: After the first verse and chorus here, they're settling into this very open space: moving to E minor, but with sustained notes, flourishes. Rich growling sounds from Phil, feedback from Bob. Notice the switch from notes to colors. You can feel deep space coming into view… playing with feedback. It’s like being surrounded by cosmic light. Wide open, free playing. Bill’s drums start to take center stage.
JESSE: Chris Jones.
CHRIS JONES: But the thing about Bickershaw… there was this huge “Dark Star,” and the huge firework display. That was superb, it really was — the atmosphere. People will say it was a muddy festival; I don’t think it rained while the Dead were on. I don’t think it rained while the New Riders were on. I was able to stay dry. I wasn’t one of those people to get right up to the front and get in the mud and things. I liked to hang back a bit, so I could take in the whole thing. And these fireworks, amazing fireworks, came while [they were] playing “Dark Star.” Ah… it was absolute heaven. Absolute bliss.
JESSE: From the sounds of things on the circulating audience recording, the fireworks begin midway through the drum break by birthday boy Billy Kreutzmann. We’ve got Simon Phillips to thank for the circulating audience tape, so thank you Simon!
SIMON PHILLIPS: You can't hear them on the board tapes, obviously. But all I recall is rockets going up, just over the stage. We’re looking at them like children, when they see fireworks. “Whoa!”
AUDIO: “Drums” [5/7/72 audience tape] (1:00-1:28)
[faint audience ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as the fireworks explode]
JESSE: Okay, so fireworks are a bit hard to convey on a podcast.
ADAM GOTLEY: My dad was really big into fireworks. So it took a lot to impress me, and this impressed me, so… I can't remember the details on them, but it was good.
JESSE: Not only were they cool fireworks, they were heady fireworks. Please welcome to the Deadcast, the designer of the Bickershaw fireworks, artist Peter Kuttner.
PETER KUTTNER: In 1964, I shared a flat with Roger Waters and Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, though of course, this was before the Pink Floyd existed. Our landlord was the architect Mike Leonard, who taught some of the Floyd architecture at the Central London Polytechnic, and was the presiding genius of the Light/Sound Workshop, which I joined when I started at Hornsey College of Art. The Light/Sound Workshop pioneered abstract light projection on multiple screens, a forerunner of rock light shows, and incorporated radiophonic sound. Members of the Floyd would occasionally improvise in our studio to the light projection. Later in the ‘60s, I belonged to a group of young artists with a freewheeling agenda supported by two older artists with established reputations, which helped us book venues and get publicity. As a group, we rejected the prevalent view of art as a commodity typified by the gallery system.
JESSE: They created events around the Middle Earth club in London.
PETER KUTTNER: We expended immense creative energy on our ephemeral art events. The show would begin at 8 PM and last about two hours. There might be a piece with a man dressed in black; spring, a woman dressed in white with water. Or there might be a sequence with a pair of robots gliding around a space with flashing lights, and they were sort of humanoid so they could raise their arms and so on. For one show, I engaged a Hyde Park orator that's from [Speakers’] Corner in Marble Arch. This is a very famous British institution, where people can just get up and say whatever they want to the passing crowd. And this man was just an absolute master — he just held… well, he rang the audience, but he really held them spellbound, and he agreed to come along to one of our events. And sure enough, the audience just loved him and he harangued them too.
JESSE: As things did—and as they hopefully still do—they got a little more expansive.
PETER KUTTNER: Later, we took our events out into the streets, bringing our work to where people were. Because when they came to the Middle Earth, they were coming to a venue — they were making the journey to get there, just the same as if they were going to an art gallery and exhibition. So by going out into the streets, the people were there anyway, so they could involve themselves or not, as the case may be. But the main thing was they didn't have to make any effort to experience what we were doing.
At the time, public firework displays were uncommon. I was fascinated by marine and drainage smoke signals, which were carried over great distances — great plumes of orange and yellow smoke. Very, very dramatic. Phosphorus flares with the most brilliant illumination—you could see the brilliance in daylight—and parachute distress flares, which lit up a huge surface area as they descended to the ground. All these were obtainable from ship chandlers’ stores, and I used them as sole effects prior to Bickershaw at smaller music festivals. The display was devised to accompany the Grateful Dead who were the headline act. I networked over the phone from a huge contact list.
Once I undertook to provide the display, I had to find people qualified to carry it out. I couldn't use firework display businesses because of the cost, so I hit upon the idea of asking special effects guys from the film industry, who are good with that sort of thing. A contact put me in touch with a terrific guy called Pat, who was about my age. He was a special effects expert and he loved the idea of a firework display at Bickershaw, and wrote some mates in to join him. From memory, there were probably three in the crew.
I remember that it was extremely muddy underfoot, typical for a pop festival in a farmer’s field in the UK summer. The band would have indicated when they wanted the display to begin. It must have been after the drum solo. I remember marveling at “Dark Star” — it was such a radical thing to do, rock improvisation. I listened to it again the other day, and it was just amazing.
JESSE: Even on the audience tape, it’s hard to tell when the fireworks are going. There are occasional whizzes but it’s too loud to hear any oohing and aahing, so you’ll just have to imagine that.
AUDIO: “The Other One” [5/7/72 audience tape] (2:54-3:22)
PETER KUTTNER: I think it lasted between 10 and 15 minutes. The aerial fireworks were set up away from the audience behind the stage. The waterfall was a spectacular effect familiar to the special effects guys, which is now an essential feature of large public displays in Australia, but would have been unheard of then. It was strung between sound towers, with the Dead having the best view of it from the stage. I'm sorry to have to tell you that front of mind for me during the display was hoping that the promoters would pay the balance of the fee on the night. There were numerous instances of promoters ripping artists and contractors off. You can imagine me not wanting to tell the special effects guys that I couldn't pay them.
JESSE: And not unfairly. By Sunday night, it was pretty clear that the festival had undersold their estimates, despite being a success on a lot of other levels. But, as far as we can tell from this vantage, everybody did get paid.
PETER KUTTNER: I was also anxious to know what the Dead thought of the display, hoping that they weren't pissed off. It was a huge relief when Jerry Garcia told me how much he liked it.
JESSE: Adam Gotley.
ADAM GOTLEY: [It was] a weird “Other One.” At one point, they almost stopped and must have been retuning, which I guess is inevitable in that cold weather. But it was an “Other One” that got right to me, and got to a lot of other people. You can see by the audience reaction. There was a fireworks show during “The Other One,” and everybody was just jumping, dancing like crazy. The atmosphere was fantastic.
JESSE: Bill the Drummer takes a long pause — long enough to walk briskly to the local pub, have a drink, and come back, if there wasn’t a crowd in the way.
ADAM GOTLEY: And then you have that sort of fantastic last [sequence]: “Sugar Magnolia,” “[Turn On Your] Lovelight,” “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad,” “Not Fade Away, “One More Saturday [Night]”. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom — very good versions of all of them, apart from Bobby making a right mess of one verse of “Sugar Magnolia,” which makes me laugh every time I hear it.
ADAM GOTLEY: As I said, I was gonna turn 18 at midnight, and I thought there was no chance. I didn’t think they still had half an hour left in them. It was “Lovelight” they were playing—which was brilliant, from my point of view—when midnight came. It just went on and on. It seemed like they were really getting into it as well.
JESSE: After an hour-long sequence involving “Dark Star,” the fireworks, “The Other One,” and Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home,” there was still another segment launched by “Turn On Your Lovelight.” More than a decade later, Bob Weir would encounter Joe Strummer of the Clash in a Philadelphia hotel and The Clash guitarist would pledge allegiance to Pigpen, presumably won over by his own solid night at Bickershaw, which could constitute an entire single LP of its own, were one so inclined to compile it. In the end, there was 4 full hours of stage time, not counting the setbreak, one of the longest Dead shows in history. Bill Giles.
BILL GILES: That must have created more Dead Heads in the UK, I think, than any other event. Because a lot of people would have gone to Bickershaw to see other acts, and the Grateful Dead would have been a mystery, and they would have discovered the Grateful Dead. It was a pretty key event in UK Dead Head history.
JESSE: Chris Jones.
CHRIS JONES: I remember it taking a long time to walk to the festival itself, and then a fair bit of time when we came back. Well, I don't know… coming back after that high, I was still on cloud nine after that. I did consume a lot of substances, not all of it legal. So I was still pretty out of my box all the way home. I was just on a high — the whole thing: the festival, the music, the setting, the substances, and seeing the Grateful Dead play [those] song[s]. Just amazing to me that anybody could play for that long. It really was.
JESSE: Adam Gotley.
ADAM GOTLEY: We were covered in mud, we were wet. We didn’t care. I think what we did, from my memory, is we struck camp and we sort of all slept in Chris’s car for a few hours, maybe three or four hours. Then we headed home because, as I said, it was my birthday. It was also my mother’s birthday, so I was quite keen to get home. I remember we arrived that early afternoon, something like that. She was absolutely appalled to see the state of me, covered in mud…
JESSE: Alex Allan.
ALEX ALLAN: We drove up early in the morning and drove back late at night. We must have got back very very late — but in student days, you didn’t think about that too much.
JESSE: Barbara Nellist.
BARBARA NELLIST: We were pleased to be getting out of the mud as the weekend progressed. It had been really safe in the festival, so many people. Then we all left, and the guy who picked me up from Leeds, he was going back up to Durham. So he dropped me off on a roundabout to hitch back to Leeds. As soon as he dropped me off, I was terrified. I’d never hitched on my own. But I was feeling so chilled out and everything, and then suddenly I was in this situation of having to hitch an hour down the road. Nothing happened; it was fine. But it was a bit of a shock having been in a cocoon of like-minded hippies, and then suddenly I was on a major road, all alone with my thumb out.
JESSE: The local newspapers were quick to jump on Bickershaw as a failure, with horrible weather conditions compounded by a lack of facilities and expensive amenities. But many also acknowledged that people actually did have a great time. “Fans love it but festival cash flop” read the headline in the Yorkshire Post, and that’s pretty much what our conversations show.
Charles Shaar Murray snarked in the magazine Oz, “‘Bickershaw Nation’ is still hilariously unlikely, and tens of thousands of freaks are still scraping large parts of Lancashire off their boots.” Yeah, well, maybe, but Murray’s review also cops to missing the performances by Captain Beefheart and the Dead. And, I suspect, if you went to the Bickershaw Festival to see Captain Beefheart and/or the Grateful Dead, you probably had one of the most memorable weekends of your life. And thanks to our friends the tapers, it was possible to relive it quickly. Chris Jones.
CHRIS JONES: I recorded it. To me, that was a memento afterwards. I was one of the early tapers, if you like… wasn’t quite to Owsley’s standard. But nevertheless, it was fun listening to that afterwards. It was another experience for me. Then later on, of course, I didn’t know that there was this big taper scene, and didn’t know anything about it. Suddenly, I was exposed to the big taper scene, and suddenly my little tapes were of some value, a historic document of what the actual setlists were.
JESSE: For Simon Phillips, the Bickershaw tape taught him a classic Dead Head lesson — one tape can beget many other tapes.
SIMON PHILLIPS: I don't recall anybody interested in my Wembley tape, but I had a reasonably listenable version of Bickershaw. A few weeks later, in a trade paper music paper, in the classified ads, somebody was advertising a recording of the Tivoli show from Europe ‘72. So I had no means of copying tapes, and he lived an hour from me. So I contacted him, drove to his house with my tapes and my hi-fi recorder. We copied each others’ tapes, so I came away from there having gotten the Bickershaw tape and the Tivoli tape. Obviously Tivoli was a step up, better quality than my Bickershaw. I seem to remember somebody… my next tape was definitely the Harding Theater broadcast from late ‘71, the radio broadcast. So I got that one — I can’t remember the tape to trade, but suddenly, I had three really good ones, and that was in stereo. And suddenly, it just took off. I ended up, in ‘73, trading with people like Les Kippel, Jeff Tamarkin, Bob Minkin the photographer, Ken Genetti. God, Ken just sent me box after box of tapes — wasn’t even trading. It was just his generosity, sending stuff over to me. The closing Winterland ‘78, New Years Eve — I was listening to that in the UK on the 4th of January. Just arrived in a box, un-asked for. So generous, some of these traders. So Bickershaw was the start of my tape trading, and that carried on right through the ‘70s.
JESSE: Elvis Costello also had some takeaways from Bickershaw.
ELVIS COSTELLO: I don't think I even ever attempted to clean those boots. I think I just took them out in the back garden and burnt them. I think, in fact, my mother burnt all my clothes when I got back because it was so disgusting.
But it was a magical thing.The thing with that thread of songs, if we can just be serious about it, was very inspiring. I can find old lyrics of mine, I can see [it] on the page. I’ve got notebooks from that period — there are a few recordings of songs I wrote in that time, very few. But I have got notebooks full of lyrics, and I can see the way they run on the page [that] they’re imitating Hunter. I don’t even remember [the songs]; I’ve long since forgotten the songs. But there’s little paradoxes and things which he likes in his lyrics. I became completely immersed in the next few records. They were not too regular.
I went to Alexandra Palace to see the Dead twice, unbelievably. The first time was around the release of From the Mars Hotel. I can’t remember if it was before or after the record came out; it might have been before, because I seem to recall I went home with the same experiences as Europe ‘72. We had to wait until that tour was finished for that record to emerge.
JESSE: That was “Scarlet Begonias” from September 9th, 1974 at the Alexandra Palace. Elvis Costello’s connection to the Dead was hardly finished.
ELVIS COSTELLO: I had a great friend and educator named John Goddard, who ran Village Music for many years, from my first trip to Mill Valley in ‘77. That was my first stop when I went to San Francisco. Bear in mind, I stayed in the HoJo’s in Mill Valley the first time I ever stayed in America, the first night I ever slept in America. It was pretty close, but not walking distance. I would go there on every available afternoon to go through the racks at John’s place. I knew that people in the Dead orbit went there. I played this annual party at Sweetwater, a great tavern in the center of Mill Valley. And he surprised me, John hired me to do the annual party, invited me to do it. Then he got Nick Lowe to come play with me, then he got James Burton to come play with me. There’s other people: my friend Austin de Lone is playing on piano, Charles Brown did a set. And then, suddenly, Jerry was there. So we had myself, Jerry, and James Burton all on the stage together. But at this point, it had been sort of, somebody would hand the guitar to somebody, ‘you play on this.’ At one point, James was playing my Martin, and I was playing James’s Tele[caster] for some reason. And I handed Jerry my Jazzmaster, which has my name up the neck. I remember that he looked at it, like: ‘And where is the fifth fret on this?’ If you look at some of his guitars, he had guitars with incredible inlay on them. But like anything, you get used to your guitar. I think he played one number on my guitar, then we got him on James’s Telecaster and everything was fine. We only did a couple songs, maybe three songs or something. But it was one of the thrills to stand next to him, in a little club. And not playing bluegrass or something — it wasn’t like Old and In the Way. We were playing “You Win Again.”
AUDIO: “You Win Again” [Elvis Cosello, 4/24/89] (1:22-1:52)
JESSE: There’s video of the whole April 24th, 1989 Sweetwater jam online. The late ‘80s Elvis and Jerry bromance also included a joint interview and shared front cover on Musician magazine.
ELVIS COSTELLO: It was fun… it was fun. I’m sure it sounded awful because it was like nobody knew the beginning and ends, but it didn’t matter. It’s supposed to be like that. It was lovely. That’s a really beautiful memory. It was a lot of drinking… there was a lot of drinking going on.
AUDIO: “You Win Again” [Elvis Costello, 4/24/89] (2:00-2:27)
JESSE: And there was of course, Elvis’s great cover of “Ship of Fools” on the 1991 Deadicated tribute, plus a few other tunes that showed up in his live repertoire every now and again, including a collaboration with Robert Hunter only played live once.
AUDIO: “Ship of Fools” [Elvis Costello, Deadicated: A Tribute to the Grateful Dead] (1:10-1:30)
ELVIS COSTELLO: Quite near the end of his life, I found myself staying in a bungalow in one of those hotels that have separate bungalows, near San Diego. I think the Dead were playing up the road the next night, and I was just coming back from my gig and I saw him, either coming in or out, and he came in and we had a cup of tea. It was the loveliest thing: somebody I stood in feet of mud to hear play, and he was such a kind of human with me. Gentle, really. And that is… that’s the beginning and the end of the story, really — from my dad giving me that record, to saying goodnight to him that night. It's a very funny feeling to have, because I know how lucky I was to have that time with all the people that revere him, some of them in kind of, frankly, insane ways.
JESSE: Feeling seen Elvis, feeling seen. See you next time.