DVD review: Deeply Vale Festival - 40th Anniversary Weekend

Pete Feenstra
Get Ready To Rock
June 14, 2017

Steve Hillage the big headliner at the groundbreaking 1978 Deeply Vale Festival describes the event as: "a legendary seminal event at an important moment in the development of British music culture in terms of free festivals."

He remembers "picking up the energy of the people". And its that energy that the indefatigable festival co-founder Chris Hewitt continues to pour into this landmark 40th Anniversary triple DVD set.

To say that Deeply Vale was a broad church is to underestimate the shifting musical glaciers of the middle to late 70's, when psychedelic /prog rock met punk and new wave full on, all within the free festival parameters. The unlikely musical bedfellows means the 40th anniversary weekend straddles folk, Christian rock, punk, blues, cover bands, acid rock, techno and beyond.

Disc 2 notably sags under the weight of too many reformed hopefuls, but on Disc 1 there's still some unexpected highlights, including the refreshing Americana of the Crude Oil Inc, the ethereal sounds of Shankara Andy Bole and even the spiky punk attitude of The Drones who roll the years back with 'Persecution Complex'.

Best of all best of all is the splendidly preserved grey bearded Victor Brox, who at 75 could give many blues musicians a run for their money. He doubles on guitar and piano, tearing into a seminal 'High Heel Sneakers.'

Fellow septuagenarian Nik Turner on sax is joined by percussionist Jaki Windmill for a wobbly dip into his Hawkwind back catalogue, though he later redeems himself in the company of Steve Hillage and electric violinist Graham Clark.

"Guitar George" Borowski and Gaynor Wilson add some gorgeous harmonies in a spirited set that finishes in anthemic style.

Chris Hewitt paints the historic context by telling us that the festival grew exponentially over 3 years, building from 300 to an incredible 20,000 plus, while co-founder Cliff Jackson notes the significance of the festival to the careers of people like The Ruts (who reputedly formed in a festival tent), Spizz, The Falls' Mark E. Smith and The Drones.

The Rev.Mike Huck another rocking 75 year old, best exemplifies the spirit of then and now with his reflective interview and his brand of Christian rock with Movement Banned.

It's also good to see Andy Sharrocks still fronting Accident On The East Lancs, as part of a festival project he was very much a part of from the start. His closing song 'Salvation In Disguise, still hits the spot.

DVD 2 carries less musical weight, despite a promising opening set by former Cliff Richard acoustic guitarist (don't laugh, he's excellent) Brian John Lewis and passionate singer-songwriter Teri Birtwistle.

The Things sound like a good club band who ran out of songs, while Potential Victims build a big wall of sound to match their post punk energy.
Mudanzas take their name from the Stray album and mine similar riff-led rock, but with a prog feel.

Segs from The Ruts applies his seemingly photographic memory to events gone by, but for the rest its provincial post punk fare, best understood in the DIY spirit of the time, rather than in the unforgiving world of 2017.

Disc 3 is for the big hitters and draws us into the contemporary techno world as electric violinist Graham Clark and 808 State's techno master Graham Massey set the template for the rest of the weekend.

Steve Hillage's System 7 initially finds his restrained guitar playing bathed in echo, reverb and Miquette Giraudy's electronics. The techno beats explore different moods and shifting tempos on an ever evolving aural landscape. that includes a pre-recorded 'Love My Way' by The Psychedelic Furs', on which Hillage invites the crowd to sing-along.

Guitarist Stephen Lewry - aka Steffe Sharpstrings - teams up with Gong bassist Mike Howlett and drummer Steve Cassidy for a Here & Now style set that at its most dense evokes acid rock (normally they gig as a four piece with a keyboard player and are then known as Sentient) The guitarist shreds, taps, bows and wrenches every last psychedelic nuance from wall of sound punctuated by Cassidy's snare and Howlett's intricate bass lines.

A final musical call to unity leads to an extended jam and enveloping groove topped by anthematic rap.

Hillage returns to add judicious guitar noodles and bows his guitar neck on the 'Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows'. Much like a musical chef, he adds small but significant sonic detail to an extant pre-recorded classic.
Techno and trance may be viewed as the logical extension of his previous Gong and solo career, but given the choice between Sharpstring's band set up and 2 anonymous characters subtly changing the beats behind a psychedelic light show, I'd take the former.

You could saddle Hillage with the 'old wine in new bottles' tag, but that would be to diminish his willingness to innovate. He's belatedly joined by Turner, Howlett and Sharpstrings on a great jam of Gong's 'Master Builder' from 'You', which eclipses all that has gone before and this track alone makes the DVD worth purchasing.

The box set is really about the 'can do' spirit that leads to Steffe Sharpstrings to call Deeply Vale: "the most together festival of them all".

With over ten and half hours of music, interviews and a 24 page hard back book for your 30, this is a true labour of love.

The book-ended archive clip shows the 1980 spartan festival site when it had left the beautiful valley of Deeply Vale for the unforgiving moorland of Pickup Bank near Darwen .But it’s good to know that the enduring optimistic core values of the time still remain.