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Time Tunnel: Buxton Festival 1973 & 1974

We take another trip into the time tunnel as John Barlass recollects his trips to Buxton Festival and the festivals of 1973 and 1974. Enjoy tales of Party Four cans, negligible use of polythene sheets, a lot of rain, and lots of great music.

Amongst our contributors, I personally fall into the category of “older.”  Although I’ve consistently sought and bought albums and regularly attended gigs since my teenage years, I think it’s fair to say that my prime period (that is, when I was keenest to discover new music and attend any gig I could) was during the years 1973-1979. 

During this period, I was lucky enough to see, amongst many others, Zappa and Beefheart in their pomp, Led Zeppelin raising the roof at Preston’s new Guildhall, Paul McCartney turning his back on The Beatles to return to live performance in “small” venues and The Who putting the Boot in at Swansea’s Vetch Field. 

Less fortunately, I sadly missed Pink Floyd’s landmark performance at the 1975 Knebworth Festival because I was throwing my guts up in the first aid tent after an afternoon of tinned chicken washed down with a mix of M&B Mild and a strange brandy/whisky cocktail that was being passed round.  I was also amongst the sell-out audience at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall for the exercise in tedium that was Yes, premiering “Tales From Topographic Oceans” (the show during which, famously/allegedly, Rick Wakeman consumed a takeaway curry behind his bank of keyboards whilst his bandmates “noodled.”).

However, if I am going to write about a “momentous show from the past,” what better place to start than with the performance I still regard as the most exciting that I ever saw?  Some of the shows I’ve already mentioned were brilliant and left a lasting influence on my musical preferences, but anyone who was present at Buxton Festival on Friday 5th July 1974 will agree that Mott The Hoople’s performance that day was awesome and unforgettable.  In truth, before they took the stage, I was wasn’t even a fan!  Cynical in the extreme, they were, to my mind, a “chart” band, not really worthy of their festival billing and, really, only filling in time before the appearance of the “real deal”, Humble Pie, the next day.  How wrong I was!

Fencing circa 1979…

But there’s a preliminary story before we get to Mott’s triumph.  To the attendees of today’s slick, well financed and meticulously organised festivals, Buxton would seem like a throwback to the Neolithic Period.  For a start, the location, Booth’s Farm, high on the Derbyshire Moors between Buxton and Leek was certainly amongst the most unsuitable sites ever chosen for a music event (veterans of the notorious 1970 Krumlin Festival and the 1971 Bickershaw Festival may, however, have considered Buxton to be positively pastoral…) 

The area resembled a lunar landscape, dotted with what were presumably former military bunkhouses and the area chosen for the festival arena was surrounded by ugly spiked metal fencing that looked to have come straight from a POW film set.

The building used as the festival stage.

The site, including the field allocated for camping was on exposed moorland, entirely at the mercy of the Derbyshire weather which, even at the hight of summer was diabolical, with persistent rain falling throughout the entire duration of the festival and, in July 1974, even a threat of snow!

Catering was virtually non-existent, consisting of a couple of hamburger stands and a beer tent selling Watney’s “Party Four” cans (remember them?!) 

For the lucky ones, some sustenance was provided by the attendant Hare Krishna devotees (a ubiquitous presence at festivals in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s) in the form of tubs of creamed cauliflower; the toilets… well,  the toilets would have been closed in a leper colony because they represented too high a health risk!

Buxton Festival – 1973

I’d attended the previous year’s festival as a 17 year-old festival virgin.  From the perspective of 2019, the 1973 festival had been a health and life-threatening shambles; the arena, including the stage itself, had been occupied by actual and would-be Hell’s Angels who spent their time throwing mud at each other and, later, storming into the crowd (some on their motorbikes) and “requesting” money from festival goers. 

Booth’s Farm, Buxton – A Wild and Lonely Place…

When they’d arrived and viewed the chaos, both Roy Wood’s Wizzard and The Groundhogs refused to play and headliner Chuck Berry, almost obscured by stage-occupying Hell’s Angels, duckwalked off the stage during “Johnny B Goode” and disappeared into the wet Derbyshire night. 

Bad acid was evidently in circulation, judging by the screams and hideous twitching from a substantial proportion of the audience – or was it that the combination of extortion, exposure and open-air pornography was just too much? 

But there were high points too – The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, The Edgar Broughton Band and Nazareth all turned in terrific performances and there were entertaining efforts from Medicine Head and Canned Heat.  Those around me were somewhat distracted during Edgar Broughton’s set as the couple behind me decided to indulge in a very public bonk under an inadequate sheet of clear polythene.  All things considered, I loved it, and couldn’t wait to return for the 1974 show!

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Buxton Festival Bill – 1973.  Both Roy Wood and The Groundhogs declined to play.

Buxton Festival – 1974

The 1973 festival had been such a “success” that the organisers decided that, for 1974, they would move upmarket.  The festival duration was extended to two days (Oh Joy!) and a stellar bill, including The Faces, Mott the Hoople and The New York Dolls was announced. 

It later transpired that either because of bad luck or unforeseen circumstances (surely not fraudulent misrepresentation!) the actual bill was very different.  Come the weekend of the festival, of the bands listed in the programme, neither Wally, Chopper, Greenslade nor even the highly billed New York Dolls appeared (not that anyone seemed to mind very much!)

To compensate for the “no-shows,” Lindisfarne’s appearance was shifted to the Saturday itinerary, when they appeared in the slot initially allocated to the New York Dolls, between Chapman/Whitney Streetwalkers and Humble Pie.

Friday’s show was kicked off by Horslips after a seemingly interminable 2-hour wait in freezing wet weather. Horslips’ brand of Irish traditional music with prog rock colourings did warm some of us up, although it had little impact on stemming the flow of exposure sufferers to the first aid facility. 

The JSD Band apparently played, but failed to find a lasting place in my memory and I recall enjoying Man, especially Mickey Jones’s announcement that, despite the stage being engulfed in rainwater, the band were undeterred, as “We’re all going to die soon anyway…” 

As usual, Man ended their set with “Bananas,” a song with sufficient drug references to eventually get at least some of the crowd on its feet. These were still the days when bands played to audiences that sat cross-legged on the floor.  To stand up, even to go to the toilet, was to risk being struck by a flying can or bottle!

Man provided the adrenaline rush we needed to prepare for what was to prove the highlight of the day, of the entire festival and, so far, of my gig-attending career; but I’ll save the best bit until last!

Friends relaxing under polythene in the comfortable surroundings of Buxton Festival, 1974

Saturday’s weather was no better than Friday’s had been and the first aid tent continued to be overwhelmed by exposure sufferers.  Furthermore, Saturday morning saw the beginnings of a huge influx of feather-headed Rod Stewart fans from the surrounding cities of Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham, many of whom commenced football crowd-like faceoffs against each other around the arena and particularly in the beer tent which soon became off-limits for the more peaceable Watney’s Party Four connoisseurs. 

As a result, the first aid facilities were further overwhelmed such that, incredibly, the exposure sufferers were having to receive their treatment in the very weather conditions that had put them in there in first place!

As for the music; I recall that Strider were terrible, although they did provide some entertainment when they threw their guitars into the crowd at the end their set. I’ve always wondered if this was in disgust, or whether they had friends waiting to catch them…? 

Trapeze had recently taken the opportunity to expand to a four-piece lineup, following the departure of Glen Hughes to Deep Purple.  I remember enjoying their set, which included quite a lot of funky numbers, presumably from their recent “You Are The Music, We’re Just the Band” album, in addition to older favourites such as “Jury” and “Black Cloud.”

The musical highlight of Saturday was, for me, the performance by Chapman/Whitney Streetwalkers.  I’d been, and still am, a fan of Family for several years and it was great to see their new all-star band which, in addition to Roger (Chapman) and Charlie (Whitney) also included Mel Collins on saxophone, Tim Hinkley on keyboards, Philip Chen on bass, Ian Wallace on drums and the great Bobby Tench on guitar.  Their set was a mix of material from their recent debut album, interspersed with popular numbers from the Family repertoire.  A particular highlight occurred when, for the first time that weekend, the sun made an appearance during…you’ve guessed it…“My Friend the Sun.”

The Lindisfarne that followed Chapman/Whitney to the stage was the lineup that had formed some months earlier after Rod Clements, Si Cowe and Ray Laidlaw left Lindisfarne to form Jack the Lad. The band comprised Alan Hull on vocals and guitar, Ray Jackson on vocals, harmonica and mandolin, Kenny Craddock on keyboards and vocals, Charlie Harcourt on vocals and guitar, Tommy Duffy on bass and vocals and Paul Nichols on drums. 

They were in the process of touring their “Roll On Ruby” album; a product which history identifies as, perhaps, not one of their best.  The band were entertaining enough but, in hindsight, failed to reach the standard set by the illustrious “Fog On The Tyne” and “Nicely Out Of Tune” periods.  It was noticeable that, during Lindisfarne’s set, the area in front of the stage was starting to fill with ‘Rod’s boys;’ some of whom were reacting somewhat tribally to Lindisfarne’s Geordie bonhomie and, particularly, to the references to their beloved Newcastle United.  At one stage, an aggravated Manchester City-leaning Roddite attempted to scale the fence in front of the stage, and then the bottles started to fly…

Chappo entices the sun to appear

When I set out for the festival, Humble Pie were my favourite band.  I’d seen them three times previously in Manchester and loved their albums, especially their 1972 offering, Smokin’. 

Although they played a lively set at Buxton, opening with the old Small Faces number, ”Whatcha Gonna Do About It?” then covered the bases with favourites such as “30 Days in the Hole,” “Thunderbox” and “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” they somehow left me a little cold and came over as a band in, if not quite its death-throws, then its late middle-age.  Sure enough, after releasing the underwhelming “Street Rats” album a few months after the festival, the band called it a day.

And so to the festival headliners, The Faces; billed as “The Faces With Rod Stewart” – a halfway house to the more showbiz and ultimately fatal “Rod Stewart and the Faces.”  Those of us who had monopolised the front of the stage for the bulk of the weekend made way for the scarf-waving, platform booted hoards as Rod and the boys took to the stage. 

Lindisfarne’s Ray Jackson, Tommy Duffy and Alan Hull

It’s probably evident from my choice of language that I’m not a fan, but I had been and I still enjoy the Faces records on which Ronnie Lane had exerted his restraining influence.  Unfortunately, by the time of Buxton ’74, Ronnie was long gone and his place had been taken by the erratic, forgettable Tetsu Yamauchi.  The Faces were backed on several numbers by the Memphis Horns in their set, the only numbers from which I clearly recall were “Angel” (annoyingly introduced by Rod as “The Dennis Law song”) and “Pool Hall Richard.”  The Faces appearance was primarily memorable for the reaction of Rod’s “fans” when, enraged by the refusal to perform an encore, they bottled the stage, knocking chunks out of Ian Maclagan’s Steinway piano and trashing Kenny Jones’s fancy tartan drum kit in the process.  Somehow, a fitting end to a wearying weekend.

The 1974 running order.

But back to that highlight…

I was down at the front for Mott – urged and encouraged to go there by a friend who was already “in the know.”  A good-natured crowd packed itself together and I was intrigued as the people in my immediate vicinity laughed knowingly at my, by then, open cynicism.  This is not “just a chart band,” they told me, “more a full-on onslaught to your senses.  You’re going to love this.” 

The stage lights illuminated and, to the roars of the converted, Bryan Johnson’s 1960 hit “Looking High High High” erupted from the PA.  “They always play this before coming on,” I was told “it’s Ian Hunter’s favourite piece of music.”  Well I’m still not sure about Ian Hunter’s taste in that particular respect, but I became conscious that the hairs on the back of my neck were beginning to rise as Bryan Johnson segued into “Jupiter,” from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” and there, in all their lycra-clad, high-booted glory stood the men of the moment.

The set opener that evening at Buxton Festival remains the best I’ve ever witnessed.  In a slightly camp voice, Ian Hunter, sat at his piano, sang the opening verse of Don McLean’s “American Pie” as far as the line “the day the music died,” at which point, he paused… then asked “Or Did It?”  at this point the whole band thundered into “The Golden Age of Rock and Roll” and I was hooked.  Incidentally, I was delighted when, earlier this year, the surviving members of that Buxton lineup reconvened for a run of shows and started their set in that very same way.  Awesome!

The band were promoting their recent album, “The Hoople,” and, along with the hits, the bulk of the band’s set comprised material from this album.  The lineup at the time was: Ian Hunter on vocals and rhythm guitar, Ariel Bender on lead guitar and vocals, Buffin on drums, Overend Watts on bass and vocals and Morgan Fisher on keyboards.  The band had tremendous presence, both in their appearance and through the sheer force of the music. 

In terms of appearance, it was Ariel Bender and Overend who particularly caught the eye.  Ariel was clad in panstick makeup and dressed in girly, flouncy gear; Overend was in his all-silver getup, with thigh-length boots and a silver cross painted on his (hairy) chest.  The other band members didn’t shirk in the visual stakes either; Morgan was clothed in his piano keyboard suit and Ian was resplendent in a blue lycra onesie. Only Buffin dressed in a manner that suggested he may have been of this world!

As for the music – well the details of the set are admittedly something of a blur, 45 years after the event, but I still remember the overall buzz and I definitely remember rocking along to “Honaloochie Boogie,” “Violence,” “One of the Boys” and “Roll Away the Stone.”  The set highlights were two songs I hadn’t heard before but which were to become staples on my home stereo – “Crash Street Kids” and the majestic “Marionette” with it’s “Go check your stocks and shares” dig at those in the world who weren’t us.  The finale was, of course, “All the Young Dudes,” dedicated by Ian to “Everyone ‘ere, from the nose of the one at the front, to the arse of the one at the back!”

During the show, Ian had toasted “The bravest bunch of little f**ckers I’ve ever seen in my life,” and, although he was almost hit by a flying beer can for his trouble, who could argue with that.  Mott’s single performance had helped me to rediscover a youth that progressive rock was slowly draining from me and, although I continued to follow my favourite prog bands and also to explore my new love of folk-rock, Mott had ignited a spark; I was now ready for punk and beyond!

Mott the Hoople relive 1974, with the help of Brian May. 
O2 Academy, Shepherd’s Bush. 
26th April 2019

Were you at the Buxton Festivals of 1973/1974 or any other year? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Many thanks to John for his recollections and pictures. You can read more recollections of concerts gone by here.

To find out more about the line ups of Buxton and to see more images and recounts, visit UK Rock Festivals.

19 replies »

  1. I was at Buxton ’73 with my husband. We queued in the rain and I recall the laughter and friendship as joints were passed along the row of bedraggled fans and followers. Huge sheets of clear plastic was available to buy but everyone was soaked and more interested in getting through the gates. The police patrolled on their horses and someone thought it would be funny to blow clouds of marijuana laden smoke at them. The lawmen didn’t seem to care and just laughed it off. I distinctly remember Alex Harvey being a success with their numbers “Midnight Moses” and “Framed”. By the time Roy Wood and Wizard appeared there was hardly anyone left to watch. We all made our way back down to Buxton and the town Council had decided to allow loads of us to sleep in the Town Hall that night. Imagine the scene, hundreds of shivering, soaked, smelly and stoned young people crashed out together happy and grateful to be out of the rain. It was just one of the many experiences of the ’70s I will never forget.

  2. Cheers Patricia! Your recollections are so similar to my own. The things we put up with for our music! But wonderful times, weren’t they?

  3. Sitting in a pub on a Tuesday night (back in 1974) just out of Richmond N.York’s. I say to the guy’s, Buxton fest this weekend, up for it or what?.Ok we were up and running. Drove down and dossed the Thursday night in the van somewhere near Sheffield. Messed about most of Friday got to the fest site. It was about to freeze yer bollocks off.(I think more people were treated for exposure than being busted for drink or drug offenses)? But for me it was Roger Chapman singing (My Friend the Sun) on a pissy wet, cold, Saturday afternoon,, and all of a sudden, one sunbeam lights up the stage/arena. WTF?. I thought the lighting guy’s were up to something, No.Just nature. Even Mr C. could not believe what had just happened. That totally warmed the whole crowed up and I think set the rest of the night. Well apart from the Faces. Not one of my favorite bands. (Must admit though, did enjoy them)? Will never forget Buxton 1974. We went down with four of us and now the gang is down too two. Such is life but great memories. Rock and Roll.

  4. Was at both of these. Just now reading Ian Hunter’s biog “Rock N roll sweepstakes” in which he mentions Buxton. Apparently they weren’t going to play due to the rain and associated electrocution worries the mics were buzzing etc, but a chance remark from Charles Shaar Murray about how they never worried about problems like that spurred them on to play. Buxton and Isle of Man the next day were Aerial Bender’s last gigs, soon to be replaced by Mick Ronson.
    Great days which are a lifetime ago.

  5. Great comments, PT. I wasn’t aware of the pre-show second thoughts you mention – I’ll certainly have to seek out the Ian Hunter biog! It’s always good to hear that people share the same good memories of those times and those events, despite the primitive facilities that would fail the most basic of today’s health and safety standards!

  6. Went with a friend. We were hopelessly unprepared for what awaited us. The weather was awful, the facilities none existent or primitive, and barely any food.

    I remember waiting for the first band to play, I think it was Trapeze, but due to technical issues there was a delay of about an hour. Someone came on stage to explain things and ask for more patience from a restless crowd. That was rewarded by a hail of bottles hitting the stage and kit. He stood still appealing and how he avoided being hit was astonishing. Trapeze were excellent as were Horslips who followed. The Faces were good but shambolic. Never liked Mott the Hoople so missed their show, though could feel the thump of the bass over in the marquee. Needless to say, the marquee was packed with very cold and hungry people, many off their faces on whatever. Nobody got any sleep.

    Humble Pie were superb, with Dave Clempson who had only recently joined to replace Peter Frampton on lead guitar. Steve Marriot was great. Man played a good set despite the rain lashing on stage. I thought someone is going to get electrocuted, but still they played. Street Walkers were superb, though I don’t remember the famous sun coming out moment.

    One particular memory sticks: the dreadful toilets. There was a huge round structure rather like a wheel with spokes. The cubicles were the wedges between the spokes. No doors fitted. I remember a rather large woman wedged in the cubicle, laughing her head off at the grotesque situation there for all to see.

    On leaving the site we found a soup kitchen in Buxton that had been set up by local people, probably from one of the churches. It was full of wet, dirty, tired and hungry people. It was the only food we had that weekend.

    I was lucky enough to get a lift all the way back to Bristol from the first car that appeared once I started hitch hiking.

    Never been to a festival since! Glad I did it though.

  7. Thanks John. I take it you are also a survivor. I think one of the reasons for my not eating that weekend was the spectacle of the toilets. No way could I have faced that fate! Probably those who did use them were beyond caring. It was absolutely awful!

    Another ‘curiosity’ of Buxton ’74 was that I had never seen so many men with very long hair. Waist length in many cases. I had shoulder length hair but felt decidedly inadequate by comparison. My friend Stuart had similar hair length to me. I remember being in the midst of a group of these very hirsute people, some of whom seemed to regard us with some suspicion. Stuart and I were wearing identical green coats, and it occurred to me that perhaps we were suspected of being under-cover police officers!

  8. This is such a blast from the past! I was 14 and had come from London on my own (parental controls being rather weak) without a tent or sleeping bag, and was looking forward to the Large Marquee for Overnight Accommodation (haha). I was a massive Mott fan and it was amazing! Some very kind people took pity on me alone in the Field of Doom and offered me a spot in their large tent and a spare sleeping bag. The next morning, I decided to head home (via a decent breakfast somewhere). I was waiting for the shuttle bus into Buxton when I got chatting to three tartan-clad Scots boys who were down from Glasgow. They couldn’t believe I was leaving before seeing Rod Stewart and after MUCH discussion I agreed to stay, in return for their protection from that point on! They were smashing (there’s a 70s word but it’s the only one which will do) and true to their word, and we had a great time, despite everything. I can’t remember those toilets and it’s probably just as well! I slept in Manchester Piccadilly station on Saturday night, on a bench, after the boys caught their night train back to Glasgow … Can’t imagine it happening now … although the Fyre Festival may be a modern day equivalent … Thank you so much!

    • Hi Lynsey – That’s a great story – scary in parts – but it shows the discomfort we were prepared to endure for the sake of our music and also the care that people were prepared to offer to each other. I’d like to think that the latter of these is still the case and that someone under the same circumstances you describe would get similar help at one of today’s festivals (if there’s ever any such event ever again!)

  9. Me and my mate Kenny Taylor went to Buxton 1974 in his yellow and white Ford Anglia. We were both 18, apprentices from Teesside Steelworks and green as grass. Yes the weather was very wet and Mott The Hoople were excellent on the first night headlining.
    I remember bands pulling out and having to sleep in the front of the Anglia with that big gearstick making it awkward to sleep. You see it was Kenny’s car and he got the comfortable back seat.
    Saturday it was cold and miserable and remember Bob Harris playing Time to wake everyone up.
    Remember Lindisfarne playing and Rodger Chapman and Rod Stewart and The Faces on Saturday night
    After another sleepless night in the Anglia we drove to the nearest garage and waited for hours for it to open so we could fuel the car for our trip back to Middlesbrough. At least I could sleep while Kenny drove.
    My first festival and have never forgot it
    Memories

    • Hi Dale – Some more excellent comments! Your recollections remind me of how low our expectations were in relation to such basic human needs as food, comfort and sleep, but the music made it all worthwhile! When I got home from those early Buxton festivals, I used to go straight to bed and sleep for about 15 hours straight!

      Despite these deprivations, I’m sure that you’ve continued to attend festivals – I know that I did. 2020 was (for obvious reasons) my first year since those early Buxton odysseys that I didn’t manage to get at least one festival. Let’s hope to see a return in 2021!

  10. Buxton 1974! I was living in Stoke-on-Trent at the time and in a covers band playing the local working mens’ clubs. We decided to go for the Saturday, filled a flagon with Armadillo British Sherry from the spigot at the local off-licence and headed up there in the Transit. I don’t remember a lot about it apart from the weather, those traumatic toilets and Strider throwing guitars into the audience, and we had to do a gig (maybe British Legion Rugeley?) that night so we had to leave before the top two acts came on. By the time we got to the gig it became apparent that our lead guitarist had finished off the sherry and his performance was somewhat erratic. When we stopped by the burger van in Hanley he just disappeared. Apparently he hitched a lift home where I found him on the floor having fallen off his bed.. remembered with affection, RIP Martin Rex, recording engineer and producer. Shout out to Keith and Gary, our band mates.

    • Hi Nick – Many thanks for your comments, and what a great story! It reminds me of a similar incident that occurred during my own gigging days in the early-mid 70s. We were playing an estate pub somewhere in South Manchester – I think it was in the Gorton area. We set up, then decided that we would adjourn to a pub away from the estate on one of the main roads. When we got there, we discovered that they sold a beer called Old Tom – a brew that we hadn’t come across before, and we had no idea of its strength – a mighty 8.5%! Our drummer, in particular, over-indulged – so much so that we felt it necessary to hold his head under the cold tap in the pub loo before we could render him remotely fit to play. It didn’t work, and his co-ordination was completely shot – he could only move his hands and legs together, and in the same direction, or not at all. As I recall, the reception we got wasn’t that much different to the one we normally got!

  11. Robinson’s Old Tom from Stockport. Lethal, dark and evil stuff, usually only served in half pint measures for good reason, as the unwary so often discovered…

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