The Bickershaw Festival : The DVD .

   The task faced by those who wish to create documentaries about the festivals of the 1970s is daunting. Apart from the 1970 IOW festival, almost no one who organised these events bothered to properly document the events by arranging for film crews to attend. Unfortunately - those that did usually cocked things up by not ensuring that :

  1. The crews were familiar with the equipment, not rank amateurs who just happened to be available at the time.
  2. That if they WERE capable of using the equipment - they weren't dosed and rendered incapable of functioning ( as happened at Hollywood in 1970 ) .
  3. That those in charge of the film crews weren't possibly off their rockers ( hiding away the footage for the next 30 years or so , i.e. : Phun City ) or had such ideological agendas that they did not record the performances (because the artists were part of a rip off capitalist system ) but instead concentrated on interviewing radicals in the audience.
  4. That they DID film the bands, BUT they projected the footage on screens and did NOT record the performances for posterity , leaving us all to wonder just what might have been ….

   So when I heard that OZIT had made a DVD of all the existing footage of the fabled Bickershaw festival I was ecstatic, finally, they had pulled it off, they had retrieved the long lost documentary aired shortly after the festival on commercial TV, roped in a lot of other cool stuff that no one had ever seen and finally we would see the Dead, Incredible String Band, Captain Beefheart et al onstage and wowing our socks off after all these years !

   Well the bad news is, it ain’t quite that, but the good news is, that we finally have some moving images of the festival on which to feast our rapidly fading eyes and for all the reservations that I have about this documentary we should heartily thank Chris and Tom Hewitt for that.

   To be as objective as possible I viewed the disc with another Bickershaw veteran, my good friend Ianto. Showing people how to create films is part of my job and I sometimes feel I am too critical about production values - so I wanted to see if a person who was not involved in the media would share my reservations. We both thought that the movie scored 3 out of five stars.

   Firstly, Ozit has made a nice job out of the packaging , it looks really cool, and a T-shirt is also available utilising much of the same design as well , they also seem to have convinced Jeremy Beadle that the production works , he wrote :

Dear Chris at Ozit Morpheus Records
It's the job of historians like yourself to put things in context and explain their worth from a contemporary and present viewpoint.
You have succeeded brilliantly.
Like most people I've forgotten just how awful and just how fantastic Bickershaw was.

Jeremy Beadle - Bickershaw Festival Organiser

  The biggest plus of this film is that, as Ianto said, they have shown him images that he never though he would ever see again. There's about 20 minutes or so of footage sourced from the TV company who covered the festival and this is mostly in colour and is quite professionally filmed . There's also a lot of 8mm footage which is in colour and which is of the village, the crowds and also has some coverage of the bands. This is also well filmed in the main. We get to see a pretty good cross section of what the festival was about , the diver who flooded the front of stage when he emptied his tank after diving into a wall of fire, , the huge queues outside the only village pub. There are shots and a few interviews with cloth capped locals. Many shots of the audience, either ankle deep in mud or camping under corrugated iron benders around smoky fires. We can peruse the useless turnstiles at the entrance to the site and we have a couple of interviews with the hapless Jeremy Beadle before and after the festival.

Jerry chatting to fans backstage at the Stones mobile

Bickershaw 1972

    For Deadheads there are a few tidbits, but not a host of treasures, Black Throated Wind is sourced from the circulating improved audience tapes , but is too long to sustain the available footage , so we get a few shots of the band onstage playing , complete with big stealie banner floating blissfully above their heads. Unfortunately the live footage runs out and is padded out with stills and a few snippets from 1972 which appeared on the video Psychedelia. There's a great little interview backstage with Jerry which is all too short , but it is nice to see him being Mr Good Vibes once more .
    The biggest problem is that there just isn't enough film footage to justify including some of these tracks. Beefheart and the Kinks do not feature any film footage from Bickershaw at all. The moving images are taken from other venues and most of their format is a series of stills, some from the festival, others not, sometimes they are repeated.This technique has had to be resorted to for almost all of the tracks – There's about 2/3rds film footage included for both Country Joe and the New Riders and this is where the DVD is most successful. We both thought that these tracks were very enjoyable.

    It IS possible to make stills interesting to view, but it needs a deft creative touch and I am afraid that this is largely missing in the stills department. Stills are repeatedly cut in, instead of being dissolved so they integrate more seamlessly with the moving footage. There is no use of the "Ken Burns" effect, where movement is created by panning and zooming in or out across the photographs, this would have made a huge difference to the watchability of the still sections . Sound quality varies considerably, as most of the recordings are from the audience. This isn't too much of a problem as they are all listenable but don’t expect commercial CD quality. Unfortunately where background music is used behind interviews there are a few occasions where its not been mixed down enough and its difficult to hear the interviewee speak , this was most noticeable in one section of the Mick Muddles interview.

    Ianto in particular bewailed the omission of a consecutive timeline. The Dead appear almost at the start of the film and yet they finished the event. The acts appear in non chronological order and There's not much mention of any of the highlights on Friday such as Dr John. It would have been nice to have included interviews with people who were there on Friday and who could comment on their sets. Although this is the most obvious way to tell the story of the festival it probably would have been the best.

   Overall it’s a brave attempt to document a stellar musical event (even though the arena was a shitpit- being there was fun ) but there could have been better ways to use the material and perhaps it might have been better to wait and see if more material could have been gathered together.

   This is probably rather carping, but we have to be truthful in our opinions as people are paying good money for this DVD. Overall we both thought that we are very lucky to see this stuff, no one else has bothered to try to do a lengthy documentary on a UK rock festival of the 70s. Often it costs a great deal to use archive footage and there was one major photo resource that the Hewitt’s would have liked to have used who was not eager to give a figure as to how much dough they wanted to enable their media to be included. We know of other caches of photographs that are being hoarded , as their owners would not allow them to be used here at the Archive, it’s a generally thankless job compiling a project such as this and doubly so when one sees stuff that could be used either unavailable or out of reach financially.

   So thanks OZIT for doing this, even though both of us have reservations, we were glad to see anything from the festival available for the general public to purchase, ( are you listening - those of you who own the Bath festival/ Phun City footage ?) People who attended the festival and who want to relive the experience should give the DVD a go, (*you might even see yourself on there !), but non attendees might feel a bit short changed.

Really, you had to be there to truly appreciate this DVD . Those of you who weren't will marvel at the squallor we endured - younger viewers in particular will ask - how in the hell could you have a good time in all that SHIT ? .