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The Great Western Express Festival. Bardney . Lincolnshire.
May 26th-29th 1972.

Press articles .

    "Somebody leaped out at her from behind the bushes in our driveway", explained a seething Lieutenant Colonel Michael Underwood "and gave her a black eye ".

     January wasn't the best of months for Rosalind Underwood, wife of  the 33 year old colonel: formerly of the ex -Queens own Cameron Highlanders and owner of a 47 and a half acre estate in the Kent village of Bishopsbourne ( pop 160 or 320 depending on who you believe.) The site publicly announced for the Great Western Festival to take place over the Whitsun Holiday weekend in May.

         Some of the villagers weren't quite as enthusiastic as old Etonian Colonel Underwood. " A small minority have behaved with viciousness and in an abominable fashion " said the colonel from his 30 room Regency mansion ." I have had all the signs leading up to my property torn down ì . Worse still, a small crowd had surrounded his wife's car as it drove up to the house and rocked it around a bit. Then there had been the bomb hoaxes , threatening letters and other "undesirable things sent through the post to my wife "
All in all reflected the Colonel " the atmosphere of the village towards my family is dreadful and not what we are used to."

    A week or so earlier the good lady was involved in a brief lunch time  skirmish  in the local pub with Colonel Geoffrey Elliot , 61, leader of the anti- festival faction. He was out collecting funds for the campaign when all of a sudden , he says, " the lady said something about selling the estate to 200,000 Pakistanis . I just turned around and the next thing I knew a pint of beer was being poured over me. " Colonel Elliot kept his cool and added " this sort of thing doesn't bother me" and then went to the bank to deposit the $400 that he'd collected from the supporters.

   There was no way at all , said Malcolm Nixon of the Great Western Festival company, that the steam rolling festival could be stopped from taking place in Bishopsbourne. No way. " we are on a private estate . We have done our homework, legally and in every way. The fact that people don't like it is unfortunate...... ensure they are not disturbed.... etc.... we are raising pop festivals to a new level".
A few days later the villagers got what they wanted - a letter from the promoters saying that the festival wouldn't be held within the 20 miles of Bishopsbourne , the hideaway hamlet where Joseph Conrad wrote his last two novels. " The champagne will be flowing in the village pub ì said Colonel Elliotî If some people think its a victory " replied a rather tetchy Colonel Underwood" then its a very hollow victory,  both my wife and I have been sitting ducks for the past two months....."
 Neither of the two figureheads of the promoting company,Lord Harlech and actor Stanley Baker,
( r ) were around to add their piece. Baker was somewhere in Wales and Lord Harlech was in South Africa, working on the Pearce commissions investigation into African opinion of the proposed future of their country.

      Then halfway through April the teasing had to stop and a real site was announced. - a farm near Bardney in Lincolnshire. Once again the locals were quick to gather up cash and hire sure footed lawyer to try to stop the festival . By this time the festival had taken on a political angle , with the Night Assemblies Bill before Parliament  and the future of festivals in general becoming a civil liberties cause celebre.

The two sides lined up and both found themselves with strange bed mates.

   On the one hand were Lord Harlech , former British Ambassador in Washington and a shareholder in Great Western Festivals along with Stanley Baker , film producer, Mike Deeley ( Robbery and Zulu) financier Chris Levin and Russell Taylor another financier whose connections include De Vere Hotels and Restaurants and the Hambros merchant banking organization. On the other side were local landowners, the town councils of nearby villages and the more radical members of the underground who saw in Lord Harlech's consortium all the ingredients of a stereotype festival rip off.

   The solution was a compromise.. The festival could be held , said the court, but if it was done "In such a manner as to cause a nuisance", then the promoters would face hefty fines and possibly jail sentences. The Vicar of Bardney, Peter Clarke, agreed to hold a bond of 10.000 pounds to pay for any damages caused by " hooligans."

    The scene for the final act was almost set. Lord Harlech and Baker had become two most unlikely folk heroes , their images hardly being dented when the security arrangements for the festival were revealed. - a 7000 yard corrugated metal fence with searchlights on top and a 300 strong security force led by ex Scotland Yard Det Supt Raymond Dagg. In addition the Lincolnshire police force made available 700 men , some of them being billeted at nearby air force and army camps.  Nobody seemed to be believing Lord Harlech when he said attendance would be kept down to 50,000.

    Several farming families equipped themselves with cameras and formed photographic vigilante parties, walking around the site snapping anything that moved. A group of Hell's Angels arrived , took one look at the 12 foot high fence , told officials it was obvious that they could manage without them and left. A couple of days before it all started somebody let loose with a shotgun after a construction worker got into an argument with a local man. The stage collapsed the day before the festival began and then the security chief left the site , never to return. The public relations company said that his daughter was ill.

   The four hour drive from London ended in narrow winding country lanes and the scene was familiar. Groups of damp policemen standing by deserted hot dog stands. A few rain sodden freaks wandering through the village , one half-heartedly sticking out a thumb at a passing bread delivery van,. A few miles further out a few fields full of cars, tents water logged and looking precarious in gusting winds that often reached gale force. Low grey clouds without a break. 

   The roof of the main stage consisted of  polyethylene sheets held up by a crane . A large marquee ( circus tent ) had collapsed and been abandoned. The people running the concession stands looked worried  and came on with the hard sell. The word was they would be lucky to break even . No more than 40, 000 people came and many of them did not stick out the full four days. The organizers were going to end up with a loss of 100.000 pounds., having forgotten that ticket sellers know a dozen ways to line their own pockets and that pass out tickets can be resold with ease.

    The rain chilled every ones performance but Buddy Miles raised a few weak cheers and Rory Gallagher, who really knows how to handle open air playing , set some huddled bodies moving under the protective plastic  coverings.

     By now the site was a mud bath . The first person to stir up any excitement was Steve Goodman , making his UK debut . Wishbone Ash's set was a reasonable explanation of why their Argus  album is zooming up the charts . But without doubt the peak of the day was reached when Maggie Bell and Stone The Crows took the stage . An emotional event in nay case , with guitarist Steve Howe of Yes replacing Les Harvey , who died tragically a few weeks ago after being electrocuted on stage , but without all that Maggie Bell still deserved ever cheer and whistle she got.

The first highlight was the fantastic reception given to Lindesfarne , with half the audience apparently claiming to be from the groups home town of Newcastle. The bill toppers for the Sabbath were the Beach Boys and for them it was one of the more bulls eye success on this their best relieved UK tour ever.

  Monday, everyone was waiting for Joe Cocker , the festivals closing set and headline attraction. But first a succession of medium rank British artists like Johnathon Kelly, Jackson Heights and Vinegar Joe . And then immediately before Cocker, came the group which for many people stole the show. Sha Na Na, already pretty big over here, the British feel for nostalgia being what it is . The sun shone for a few seconds and the group had to do three encores.
Joe Cocker had already lost but it was made worse by the damp hour wait that preceded his set. He didn't look thrilled by his reception , didn't seem to care. He sang well, but it was his blasé attitude that largely turned off the audience. No Golden Oldies that night and the customers weren't satisfied.

  But there were plenty of Golden Oldies to be found elsewhere. The Bishop of Lincoln, Dr Kenneth Riches , toured the site and announced, " They have a lot to teach us, at least in the way they live so simply . These people have proved themselves ". Police chief George Terry said that in future he'd have to reconsider his decision not to let his men loose inside the site. " the misuse of drugs on the site was so great it must be amounting to to a threat to society " he said" you only had to see the degradation we saw amongst the people that we had to arrest- young and otherwise decent people on an LSD trip and stinking of cannabis."

  Melody Maker called it "one of the most successful of all British Festivals ". The News Of The World called it the " Great Western Flop " . The ubiquitous Julie Ege , actress and model, told a reporter " its the first time I've been to a pop festival ... I love all the the fresh air, the marvellous music and the surroundings. But I couldn't have managed without my waterproof hat."

Press articles part 2.


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