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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.

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