BICKERSHAW (part one)
It was Thursday night 4th May 1972, I missed Hawkwind’s lorry that left Greenwich market for Wigan. Me and Swiss Dave were getting hammered. We never had a car to take us up the motorway to Wigan. I rang David Palmer-Jones at midnight for a favour,
“Can you lend me your car till Monday?”
He said “Maybe, if you tell me the score.”
Told him we were planning on heading up North to see the Grateful Dead at the Bickershaw Festival.
“Get me twenty Marlboro from the garage down the road, and you can take my car all the way to Wigan, have a real great time man, dancing to the Dead, make sure you don’t drive too far out of your head.”
Swiss Dave and I drove through the Blackwall tunnel, heading for the motorway we blew an exhaust gasket, the engine noise coming straight out of the manifold was excruciatingly loud but we carried on driving from Leytonstone to Wigan. It sounded like a fucking tank. I had to keep rolling large joints as we made our way slowly through the motorway network to Bickershaw, arriving mid Friday morning at the gates of the back stage area.
Luckily I spotted Dik Mik in his Cuban heeled cowboy boots and he managed to convince the sceptical security guards that we were a vital part of the Hawkwind entourage. The gates were duly opened and we drove onto the site. Swiss Dave parked the car which promptly sank into the mud, up to the axles, all four wheels encased in the black gloop. We didn’t care, we were there, even though it was raining, we were happy, I span up yet another number to celebrate. This was how it was back then in the nineteen seventies, festival backstage security was fairly lax to say the least.
In my pocket I carried a silver watchcase containing 8 caps of mescaline and a quarter of an ounce of Citrali hashish. I managed to swap six caps of mescaline for two tabs of LSD plus four capsules of Tuinal and four Mandrax tablets, I was well equipped to have a totally Hunteresque weekend. We stowed our sleeping bags in the Hawkwind tipi, and set off for the front of stage area. There was Dik Mik watching a famous singer chopping out lines of Charlie of the bonnet of one of Johnny Harpers ex-army Austin Champs that were being used to cope with the vast number of cars, vans and caravans that were stuck in the quagmire that the site had become. Whoever decided to have a major festival on what was effectively a flood plain deserved to be shot. I digress, just as Dik Mik and his buddy were about to snort the four neat lines of coke an enormous police horse suddenly appeared from behind one of the tour coaches. Dik Mik was so shocked he fell over in front of the horse, looked up at the policeman riding it and said “Fuck me, it’s the sheriff!”, even the cop laughed, as he sauntered away. This was the thing about that festival, it seemed as if the police had adopted a totally liberal approach to drugs.
Swiss Dave and I found ourselves a relatively dry spot under the side stage scaffolding from where we had a perfect view of the main stage. We spent a couple of hours smoking dope and watched Stackridge do their fine slot. I wandered off about five pm and found a stall selling vegetarian Indian food, I bought some onion bhajis and a couple of samosas. After this splendid repast I dropped one of the acid tabs. It took about 40 minutes to start coming on by which time it was about 7.00pm. I bought a blue plastic electric yo-yo that lit up when you used it, it was amazingly bright and I was flipping it about in all directions. The acid made the yo-yo seem like some kind of laser sword preceding Star Wars by about five years. Later that night I swung it out too frenetically and it disintegrated into a thousand shards of scintillating blue as it smashed into the scaffolding. That was a shame I really liked that yo-yo, hey ho, so goes the yo-yo.
Hawkwind came on stage when it got dark with Stacia baring all as she danced naked in the flashing light of Hawkwind’s trademark giant strobes, whirling around with a black cape like some wild matador with gigantic breasts, kneeling in front of the band throwing handfuls of glitter powder into the air, much of which finished up in the mud in front of the stage giving it a shimmering opalescence that just enhanced the whole scene. The band played The beast of chaos, You shouldn’t do that, This is your Captain Speaking, You Know Your Only Dreaming, Master Of The Universe, Paranoia, Born To Go, The Wakening, Silver Machine and Starfarers Despatch. I only know this because I Googled it, there is no way I could reasonably be expected to remember their set as the acid was well and truly in control by that time.
It was all getting rather electric and I needed to chill out for a bit after Hawkwind came off stage. I stumbled into the tipi and there were about twenty hippies sat round in a circle each with a joint in their hands talking the normal hippy shit about the meaning of life, the universe and infinity etc, so I joined them and was happy to have a bit of respite from the visual orgasm I had just experienced, I span up a joint with some of the Citrali and was happily smoking and spouting inanely with a girl with very long blond hair that kept moving about of it’s own accord when the tipi flap opened and two policemen entered the circle. The air was so full of dope smoke that you could of cut a square out of it, wrapped it in three Rizlas and rolled another joint out of it. All us stoned hippies just froze with joints in mid air, an amazing tableau of stunned caught red handedness, everybody was overtaken with instant paranoia, certain that we were all gonna be busted and offered up to the media as sacrificial lambs on Mary Whitehouse’s alter of straight indignation. What actually happened was the old bill said “Sorry to bother you folks, we are looking for a lost child….” and went on to describe a blond six year old boy who was missing and asked us all to let them know if we came across him. We all promised that if we did we would to which the cop with the three stripes on his arm said “OK folks, carry on, don’t let us interrupt your evening.” And then they were gone as suddenly as they had appeared. As soon as the flap closed we all looked at each other and then just started laughing, as much out of relief at not being nicked as at the bizarreness of the situation.
I managed to get back to Swiss Dave under the scaffolding and settled down to watch Jonathan Kelly perform most of his “All Around The Houses” album. The lighting for this was especially bright and the colours were very vivid and it was at this point that I experienced synaesthesia, that strange psychological effect where the brain interprets the senses in different ways to normal, I started to smell the colours and it was one of the strangest experiences I have ever had. This feeling was heightened by the strangeness of the music, it is hard to put it into words but I definitely know that the strong cellophanous yellow light bathing the stage area equated to the smell of Trebor Fruit Salad chew bars.
This trip was getting strange, but then they always did… I looked around me at the state of play with the audience out front. There were thousands of hippies sitting or lying on the ground swathed in polythene sheeting in what can only be described as a sea of mud. I became aware that the steady and relentless gentle drizzle, what in Ireland is known as “soft” weather, must have something to do with the fact that nobody gave a monkey’s about comfort any more. I built a whole scenario in my mind that what was falling out of the sky was not natural rain at all but was in fact contact LSD being sprayed over the whole of Bickershaw, festival site and village included, by The Merry Pranksters, and that therefore the whole of the fifty thousand plus audience, all of the residents of the village, the festival organisers and security staff, the media entourage, and even the old bill were tripping out of their skulls and therefore would never give a shit about anything as minor as a bit of mud. I convinced myself that the power generators behind the stage used to drive the massive PA system were in fact super sophisticated gigantic garden sprinkler pumps set to fine spray. The evening was very surreal, the more I looked at people the stranger they became, in the darkness the use of glitter face paint by some people backstage developed, in my view, into a full blown kaleidoscopic parade of rainbow faced beings who seemed to be from another planet.
By the time Wishbone Ash came on stage I was feeling decidedly Paranoid and decided that I was no longer enjoying the acid, this was mainly because a group of Hells Angels with the obligatory German army helmets had occupied the surrounding space underneath the scaffolding and wanted me and Swiss Dave to fuck off (their very words), this induced a certain amount of paranoia in me and, fearing I might get beaten up by what I now considered to be a hoard of Nazi thugs, I went back to the tipi, got my sleeping bag, found myself a corner in large unoccupied frame tent with inflated mattresses in it, dropped a couple of tuinal and crashed out into dream-land, thus missing both Wishbone Ash and Dr John, a source of some regret as I look back at it from this point in time some forty years later, but hey I was tired and somewhat fragile by then and needed to recharge my batteries. The tuinal worked well, I went out like a light. Thus ended my first day at Bickershaw.
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