DVD - Tractor "Beyond Deeply Vale"

The Observer, August 2004

Free for all

Love and revolution were in the air, no one paid, everyone ate bean stew. Luke Bainbridge's childhood memory of tepees and Steve Hillage at the Deeply Vale festivals of the Seventies are stirred by a new DVD.

The uninitiated could be forgiven a smirk at the poster for the third Deeply Vale 'people's free festival'. 'We invite all our brothers and sisters to join us on the dark side of the Pennines for a week from 20-27 June 1978', it proclaims, describing a 'secluded wooded valley with lakes for swimming', and promising 'free food', before exclaiming, 'All you need is love . . . but the revolution needs you'.

It may not register much with today's Glastonbury punter, but in the mid-Seventies, when many free festivals started changing and charging - to the chagrin of the hippies - here, on the dark side of the Pennines, the dream lived on. For four years running, up to 20,000 converged on the moors above Rochdale and Bury to see the likes of Tractor, Steve Hillage and embryonic appearances by the Fall and the Frantic Elevators, to mingle with tepee dwellers, suffer bean burgers and witness stand-offs with Hell's Angels.

Now, with a DVD out, and a documentary and book to follow, Deeply Vale seems to be finally gaining recognition.

One of the original organisers, Chris Hewitt, is the driving force behind the new projects. He's extremely excited when I catch up with him, having just tracked down someone in Japan who has an audio tape of the festival's joint rolling competition.

'A group of people from Rochdale had been to Watchfield then Rivington Pike, near Chorley, in August 1976. They just came back and said, "Let's look around for somewhere in Rochdale to do a festival."'

Local prog rockers Tractor, signed to John Peel's Dandelion imprint, played a big part. 'There was a feeling up north that we were being ignored,' explains Steve Clayton of Tractor. 'Everyone was talking about festivals down south and we knew there were a lot of good bands in the area, and people wanted their own festival.'

Impressively, they pulled off the first festival in a mere three weeks, thanks to a strong network of musicians and the thriving local scene (at the time RAP - Rochdale Alternative Press - was one of Europe's biggest alternative newspapers).

'Once the ball was rolling we were inundated with bands who wanted to play, from all over the country,' Hewitt recalls.

Despite the rocketing scale, organisers were determined that Deeply Vale should remain free. This ethos even extended to the food; bean burgers, bean stew and egg butties.

'It was a beautiful site, but it also had a reputation for being organised. People who went to Glastonbury and Stonehenge came back and said Deeply Vale was more organised. We had a running schedule long before they had one. The PA arrived on time, and the stage would be ready. Lots of other free festivals relied more on so-and-so said he was bringing something . . . then everyone sat round, smoked a joint and it never materialised.'

By the third year, fans would arrive from all over the country, their numbers swelled by the largest gathering of North American tepees in Europe - whose inhabitants spent the year travelling the continent, moving from festival to festival - plus a healthy percentage of locals.

Most of those who were there seem to have slightly hazy memories of events, some no doubt due to narcotics, but others, like myself, because we were inquisitive five-year-olds taken to this other worldly place on our doorstep. For Deeply Vale kids, it was the hippies, tepees and amoras that stayed with you, rather than Steve Hillage's apparently legendary set.

Rivington Pike had problems with Hell's Angels in 1977. 'The year the first punk bands played,' recalls Chris, 'the Angels didn't like punks, so they fired a shotgun over their heads while they were playing.' At Vale, however, 'enough people stood up to them and eventually they backed off'.

Film-makers at Granada are now working on a documentary, Truly, Madly, Deeply Vale. 'It's a story that needs to be told,' explains director David Nolan. 'You could say it was one of the last times people tried to do anything in the free festival spirit before the onset of Eighties consumerism; but you can also say this was one of the daftest music festivals ever held. I've got an audio recording and you can hear an announcement asking if anyone can spare some petrol for the generator so the next band can play . . .'

Tractor: Beyond Deeply Vale is out now on Ozit Records.

Truly, Madly, Deeply is on ITV1, 26 November