Digging Deeply Vale

It's where `Hurry Up Harry' met Hare Krishna, where punks met hippies to spawn crusties. John O'Reilly delves into the secret history of Rochdale's very own free festival
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The Independent Culture
Here's a question for fans of rock trivia: where is the only place that Oasis and Nirvana played together? Rochdale. Rochdale is not only birthplace of the Co-op and home to two Nobel prize-winners and Don Estelle, it has a crucial place in the genealogy of modern music. Gracie Fields aside, it was also the site of the North-west's own Woodstock, at a place called Deeply Vale, an unfeasibly beautiful natural amphitheatre on the borders of Rochdale and Bury.

In four years in the late Seventies, the festival was transformed from a gathering of local youth into a Stonehenge with black pudding. With its eventual mix of punk, new wave and hippie it gave birth to the proto- crustie. And the proxy festival held nearby in '81 was the forerunner of future bloody battles between travellers and police. The secret history of Deeply Vale and the events surrounding its demise is a microhistory of British rock and subcultures.

On 27 March, organisers and performers gathered together at Rochdale's magnificently restored Carlton Club to celebrate its 20th anniversary and to mark the first step on the way to its revival. The Carlton was filled to the brim with hippies who would never be old enough to know better and awash with ex-hippies and punks happily submerged in waves of nostalgia. They listened glassy-eyed to the guitar blues of Tony Crabtree (blind guitarist and organist of the Rochdale band Nirvana, 1976-78) and laughed at the creatively arranged psychoses of the self-described "Entertainer and TV Blacksmith" Edward Kleydiss.

The origins of Deeply Vale reads like a social history written by Vic Reeves. Chris Hewitt, who owned the only music shop in Rochdale, also managed a prog-rock band from Rochdale called Tractor, signed to John Peel's Dandelion Records label. Hewitt had the business acumen and the hardware that allowed the first festival to take place.

A group of hippies in a commune in Rochdale decided they wanted their own Glastonbury. But because there was no money, this small group got on their bikes, hustled, and became experts in stage construction, electrics and lighting. And above all else they would go round each year to the local farmer, get him drunk and persuade him to sign a contract to rent out the land.

What started as a local event with 300 people in 1976 had become in 1979 a festival with an audience of 20,000 from all over the world. Aside from the likes of Steve Hillage, others to play there included Nik Turner from Hawkwind, Guitar George from Dire Straits, The Fall, The Ruts, Durutti Column, Misty in Roots and Mick Hucknall's first band, the Frantic Elevators. It also offered an early platform for bands from Factory Records, and Tony Wilson was a compere in 1978. Joy Division recorded "Love Will Tear Us Apart" in the studio above Hewitt's music shop, with equipment financed by Dandelion.

Those involved tell of the remarkable organisation from a bunch of amateurs. Grant Showbiz, who played at Deeply Vale and later became producer of The Fall, Billy Bragg and the final Smiths album, says: "Deeply Vale was created out of nothing by disaffected and discarded people with no influence. The organisation was brilliant from people who had been thrown away, thrown out of school, told they were shit and could never do anything. Deeply Vale was one of the first punk festivals. You had punk kids with no tents or festival experience collapsing when they could no longer move. On the other hand, there were festival veterans with long hair and their kids and bloody flowers everywhere and this whole thing when punk met hippie turned into crustie."

Not everyone was happy about the transformation from a strictly hippie and rock event into something multi-tribal. John "The Hat" from Heywood, a 52-year-old wizened hippie who danced the night away in the Carlton Club, regretted the arrival of new wave. "I wasn't up for punk rock. I liked the first two festivals. I got up on stage in '77 and sang some Enrico Caruso. I remember a woman called Wendy who sold homemade dope cakes - naked. I was sure Arthur Brown came and ate fire but I was told I was on acid at the time."

In fact, at the time Arthur Brown was living in a monastery with the sometime tepee dweller and traveller Sid Rawle. Rawle was part of The Convoy, the original New Age travellers, and was one of many travellers who remained afterwards in tepees, braving the bitter Rochdale winter because of their belief in the valley's geographical karma. The travellers held that ley lines of cosmic significance converged on the festival site.

Rawle was also initially unhappy with the new music. He was enraged by the discordant and notoriously bad adolescent Rochdale punk band Willfull Damage. Rachel, an ex-crustie turned social worker who travelled up to the Carlton Club from London, recalls Rawle screaming: "What the fuck is this?" before jumping on stage and hurling the singer into the crowd. She also remembers with touching fondness being gobbed at by a band while snogging her boyfriend.

In the first two years little beer was sold, dope being the narcotic of choice. And in 1978, the story goes that the young punks waited for the hippies and dealers to get stoned before relieving them of the readies. But everyone, hippie and punk alike, talked of the togetherness. The local novelist Nicholas Blincoe remembers the roar of approval at the Deeply Vale DJ's mix of "Hurry up Harry" by Sham 69 with George Harrison's "Hare Krishna".

He recalls the punk band Spizz Energi singing their Top 10 hit "Where's Captain Kirk?" and his mum singing the chorus of the B-side on the way home, "Amnesia! Amnesia! Amnesia!"

Oddly enough, perhaps there is some strange synchronicity here: the lyrics to "Where's Captain Kirk?" reflects the peculiar freefall dynamic of the festival;

I was aboard the Starship Enterprise

What I felt, what I saw was a total surprise

I looked around what can this be?

Is it a start of insanity

O but it's true as we went warp factor two

And I saw all of the crew

Where's Captain Kirk?

As the festival extended itself, the absence of Captain Kirk made it difficult for the authorities. They wanted to be taken to a leader. But with its alien, eco-anarchist structure the Deeply Vale enterprise was running itself, perhaps sometimes badly and haphazardly. It began to implode under the force of its own success.

The last festival at Deeply Vale was in 1979. Two other Deeply Vale festivals by proxy were held at different locations. Out of genuine worries about drugs and mismanagement, the politics of ownership (the site was now rented for grazing cattle by the son of the Tory politician Airey Neave) and moral panic, the council refused permission for the Deeply Vale site to be used. The last festival of '81, in a dry run of the Stonehenge's Battle of the Beanfield, produced pitched battles with police on the moors.

If the values of the free festival permeated Deeply Vale, what gave it its unique sensibility, what made possible the creative clash of styles and the mutant crusty culture it spawned was Rochdale itself. The sublimely wild landscape of the moors that surround it constructed a mental geography where hippies had bite and punks had soul. Henry Kleydiss, brother of Edward, who was a teacher and one of the original organisers, and is now production manager on The Bill, recalls returning from university to "the wildest place in England. It was a major drug centre and was also the home of one of the highest circulation alternative magazines in Europe: RAP (Rochdale Alternative Press)." On the sanity scale, Grant Showbiz gives Rochdale "maximum points for madness". Rochdale is wired at heart. The night at the Carlton, I was stalked by a six foot six mentally unzipped psycho-hippie - the kind of mean mother who would pluck out Dennis Hopper's eyeballs and piss in the sockets rather than look for a loo.

Confirming the truism that once a hippie, always a hippie, all those involved claim that for a moment in time there was a "synchronicity" in Deeply Vale. With all the mythologising drifting around the Carlton Club, I was reminded of the punk motto "never trust a hippie". I waited for someone to try and sell me a wrap of talcum powder or a knob of liquorice. Then John "The Hat" burst into Rigoletto, bought me a whiskey and I signed over my incredulity.