Limited live footage mars festival retrospective..
'Bickershaw Festival 1972 Rare Festival Footage' to give it is full title is a fair attempt to capture one of the most sodden festivals of the early 70's. Of course being held in the North West the rain was never going to be far from hand, but even by this summer's standards the weather at Bickershaw was desperate. And as the documentary unfolds it becomes the tale of resilience, whether seen through the ever smiling but undoubtedly stressed organiser Jeremy Beadle (yes the very same), the musicians (Joe McDonald who battles gamely on with his politic folk in the face of some unrelenting miserable weather), or the fans who never seemed to stand still. In fact there's one memorable clip where you initially think the fans are busy moving along with the usual ebbs and flow of a festival, until you realise they are just stamping their feet to stay warm!
It is in fact this kind of clip and those of fans arriving and subsequently leaving the festival and pouring into the town that makes 'Bickershaw Festival' both a worthwhile and interesting documentary that will be a must for those that were there. On the downside there just isn't enough live band footage to dispel the disappointment of seeing the initial running order of the bands dissipate into short lived clips often with a different accompanying audio track, or as in the case of the Kinks, no clips at all, but plenty of press cutting from the time.
There are a couple of excellent interviews from the time with Jeremy Beadle who when confronted by obvious gate crashers, smartly asks them to identify the leader of the Grateful Dead. And there is also a telling interview with Garcia who prefaces his observations of events by taking both a professional view and a fans view.
The spirit of the times are in part captured by the snippets and pictures of Family and The Incredible String Band, while Donovan's set comes courtesy of a stage right hand-held camera, that peers in between the stage stanchion to suggest - rain or not - he still used his magic carpet.
Nic Turner is lucid up to a point and when asked for his recollections concludes by saying everything that the interviewer Chris Hewitt suggests might well be right, and that although he did remember being here, the LSD got the better of him. Still I guess that's one way of dealing with the unremitting dreary rain.
For the rest the overall research and accompanying booklet are both excellent, but there are gaps in the film that could have been filled with interviews, most notably when the two overhead planes add virtually nothing to the film while an interminable drum solo, apparently by Captain Beyond, merely leaves the viewer with a headache. The post film interviews are too often half drowned by soundtracks culled from the festival, but they should have separated if only for the sake of clarity.
Ultimately this DVD falls between the two stools of high expectation and the de facto limited amount of footage of how it really was. The fact there isn't enough of the latter should not put you off exploring the results of the hard work that has gone into making this DVD. It's just that you can't help but feel that those fans who do buy this DVD will do so with those high expectations that aren't quite met by the limited resources that director Chris Hewitt had at his disposal.
Buy it by all means but treat as a documentary rather than a music DVD.
Review by Pete Feenstra