Book review: Tales of Deeply Vale Festival by Chris Hewitt

Tales of Deeply Vale Festival by Chris Hewitt

Ozit Morpheous records and books [Publication date October 2014]

‘Tales of Deeply Vale Festival’ is an aptly titled box comprising a book, and 6 CD’s. It was effectively started in 1996, when author Chris Hewitt, Dave Edwards, Cliff Jackson and Jimmy O’Neill started a Deeply Vale archive.  Chris cleverly extended the remit beyond Deeply Vale to include the Greater Manchester free festivals and give himself enough of a historical sweep to fulfil his aim of establishing an archive.

Hewitt has already exhaustively tackled the Bickershaw Festival with a huge box set and now he turns his attention to another great homespun North West festival of the era.

Maybe it’s the fact that the 3 Deeply Vale festivals didn’t peak until 1978’s 20,000 strong crowd, that is has often been overlooked as a significant UK festival.

Tales of Deeply Vale Festival by Chris Hewitt

It was certainly groundbreaking in several aspects, most notably the way it crossed the counter-cultural divide between hippies and punks. There are pointed references to the fact that it was also specifically a northern festival, standing proudly outside of the elitist southern hippies events, albeit Sid Rawle and the tee-pee people did attend and Steve Hillage and Nik Turner also performed. But the subject isn’t given sufficient critical analysis to search out meaningful answers.

Similarly there are references to the Government’s Lord Melchett enquiry on festivals, but you suspect the issue of free versus commercial festivals might potentially throw up some unwelcome contradictions.

On the evidence of the book alone, you can’t help but think that for all his Utopian motivation, Chris Hewitt himself never shirked away from the responsibility or the true cost of anything. Significantly, those issues will have probably bypassed many of the procession of characters in the book.

Here and Now’s Grant Showbiz probably best sums up the original festival thus: “Deeply Vale was created out of nothing by disaffected and discarded people with no influence.”

36 years later, the memories of some of those characters are lovingly gathered and presented to reflect a movement, a time and a spirit of co-operation with enough substance and durability to retain our interest now.

The book’s USP and marketing tool is the way it focuses on several unexpected attendees, ranging from The Fall’s Mark E. Smith and the late TV celeb and Factory records guru Tony Wilson, to The Doves’ Jimi Goodwin (an 8 year old at the time), The Smith’s Andy Rourke, author Mark Hodkinson, Luke Bainbridge (once of The Observer Music Monthly), Q’s Stuart Macconie and probably the lesser known, but most lucid Nigel Lord, once drummer with Fusion and Frogbox.

All of them add to a counter cultural jigsaw, presided over by the author who pitched in with his own hippy music shop, rehearsal room, PA Hire Company, as well as being Rochdale college social secretary, general band booker and an ever reliable set of wheels.

The 273 page book includes 76 pages about the bands that appeared and comes with 6 CD’s. It’s as much an enjoyable sprawl as the movement that spawned the Deeply Vale Festival and related events.

The main body of the book consist of subjective anecdotes underscored by the unspoken collective view of a “people led celebration and community co-operation”.

The book briefly outlines a significant geographic context and John Peel’s connection with Rochdale, while the festival’s movers, shakers and characters – including Dave Smith, Andy Sharrocks, the Rev Mike Huck, Andy T – are all refreshingly given plenty of space to add their memories and thoughts.

Tony Johnson who was then operations officer for Rochdale Civic Aid proves to be an unlikely but seminal source. Less so, are the largely anonymous internet contributors. They may be entertaining, but merely confirm many of them were stoned at the time.

The book could have done with some snappy editing to avoid repetition and scattered chronology, but there’s no denying the painstaking research and first hand accounts of an event that accords with contemporary phrase ‘What just happened?’

Perhaps Ed McDonnell comes closest to Deeply Vale’s shared Utopian ideal when he says: “The collective side of it all was more a sharing of consciousness and (shared) self expression than a practical collective.”

The late Andy Burgoyne is also quoted from a 1996 TV documentary: “It was a political stance as much as anything else; it was about people being free enough to hold their own crowd gatherings and be responsible adults

The 6 CD’s include Steve Hillage, Victor Brox, Tractor, The Fall, Here & Now, The Ruts, Nik Turner’s Sphinx and a joint rolling contest!

There are 3 unreleased live tracks from Durutti Column, 2 by The Fall and 8 from Danny & the Dress Makers (aka Graham Massey from 808 State).

‘Tales Of Deeply Vale Festival’ succeeds in its aim of being a definitive commentary and festival archive. It captures a real vibe – right down to the complimentary joss sticks – that continues to connect people some 36 years later and as such is well worth the £73 to rekindle those memories. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra


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