Jun 17, 2013

May 24, 1970: Hollywood Festival, Britain


You will have read the newspaper reports purporting to describe last weekend's musical activities. By and large, they've settled into a rut reminiscent of the old Aldermaston march reports. "OPEN-AIR POP FESTIVAL: NOT MANY DRUGGED": that's the tenor. Fringe entertainment, at these concerts, can be had by watching the activities of the popular press reporters. In between glum boozing in the press tent, they make forays into the crowd, looking to rustle up a naked fornication, an infuriated local inhabitant, or evidence of violence.
The real story from the festival last weekend at Finney Green, near Newcastle-under-Lyme, was: "BOTCHED PUBLIC ADDRESS SYSTEM RUINS GRATEFUL DEAD CONCERT".
The Grateful Dead was the only great West Coast rock band who had not previously visited Britain. They, above all other bands, depend on the musical dynamic generated in live performance. There is no such thing as a perfect or finished Grateful Dead number. The three guitarists – who all also sing – the two drummers, and the two keyboard men, produce such a permutation of sounds and are so keyed up with each other that they are bound to elaborate and enrich their themes, as if by centrifugal force. Compare their live version of 'St Stephen' on Live-Dead (Warners WS 1830) with that on Aoxomoxoa (Warners WS 1790). Tracks recorded in a studio inevitably sound like attempts to give a song a finished, definitive form. All three studio albums made by the Dead demonstrate their talent, but little of their electricity. 'Dark Star', a 23-minute track on Live-Dead, is their one recorded track which, I am assured, represents them well.
At Finney Lane the sound system they were given was cheapskate and amateur. The result was like giving a painter treacle and blotting paper instead of paint and canvas. Jerry Garcia, the leader and lead guitarist of the Dead, works by reaction. He depends musically on seizing the moment offered him by the rest of the band. At Finney Lane he couldn't hear them properly, and so was often helpless.
The result was a disgrace, both for the band and for the audience.

This month, for the weekend of June 27-28, a music festival is scheduled at Bath, on a 212-acre site at Shepton Mallet, which promises to be the best organised promotion yet set up in the open in Britain. The CBS package which recently toured Europe is booked: Johnny Winter, It's a Beautiful Day, Flock and Santana. Three of the British bands linked with John Mayall will appear: Mayall's own new band; Colisseum; and Keef Hartley. The only British band who can match the Grateful Dead, The Pink Floyd, will be there; and Fairport Convention, now a band of great, delicate talent. Those who like The Moody Blues and Led Zeppelin can see them too. Steppenwolf, notorious for the two tracks 'The Pusher' and 'Born to be Wild', are appearing; also Dr John (The Night Tripper).
Finally, five great West Coast groups are appearing at Bath: Canned Heat, the Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe, Frank Zappa with the (reconstituted) Mothers of Invention, and the Byrds (in their tenth reincarnation). One of the very few great West Coast bands not appearing are the Dead, who were prevented by the Musicians' Union.
You can get tickets from The Bath Festival, Linley House, 1 Pierrepoint Street, Bath. Travel and information sheets will be sent with the tickets, which will cost 50s. There will be no press enclosure, which will be a blessing, except for me. Two hundred and fifty thousand people are expected, more may well come. There will be a round-the-clock catering service; lavatories are promised. And the sound system had better be good.

(by Geoffrey Cannon, from the Guardian, May 29 1970)

See also http://deadsources.blogspot.com/2012/07/may-24-1970-hollywood-festival-england.html for other reviews.


  1. This is quite an interesting glimpse at an early English reaction to the Dead. The first notable thing is that no other band at the festival is even mentioned: for this writer, the Dead concert overshadowed all else!
    He's aware that "little of their electricity" can be heard on their studio albums, and recommends Live-Dead instead. "They, above all other bands, depend on the musical dynamic generated in live performance." And, surprisingly for someone in 1970 who's only seen them once, he says that "there is no such thing as a perfect or finished Grateful Dead number," that the songs are constantly evolving in their live form.

    The description of the show is also of interest, showing how the band could be evidently hobbled by poor sound. Garcia "works by reaction. He depends musically on seizing the moment offered him by the rest of the band. [Here] he couldn't hear them properly, and so was often helpless."
    People watching a show can perceive band interactions like this that aren't apparent on the tape...
    But this matches Garcia's account that "we didn't play for shit."

    Describing the upcoming Bath Festival, the writer mentions that the Dead couldn't appear since they "were prevented by the Musician's Union." I wonder?
    Pink Floyd gets notice as "the only British band who can match the Grateful Dead" - Fairport Convention also gets some praise.

  2. The usual hassle with the Musicians Union at the time was matching tours. For every US act playing the UK (which the Union thought took work away from their members) the Union wanted a UK act to play the States (to give their members work). This took a bit of organising but I'm surprised the Bath Blues Festival couldn't swing it. I have a vague recollection that there was also a limit on the total number of acts per year but that shouldn't have been a problem in June.

  3. In the Guardian the following week, June 5 '70, Cannon wrote a brief followup:
    "I wrote harsh words last week, about the sound system for the Grateful Dead concert. I'd like to apologise to the people who supplied it: 'They' have satisfied me that they supplied equipment to the Dead's specification, and that they could not be faulted."

    Most other reviews didn't complain about the sound system - one reviewer mentioned "a PA and monitoring system that [the musicians] weren't able to hear," another said "the sound just wasn't that good." But others said that the Dead "were incredibly loud" and "played at fearsome volume."
    The Dead brought their own speakers (I don't know whether rented or brought from the US) - one witness complained, "We all sat under the broiling sun for an hour whilst the roadies set up Grateful Dead's rather tatty equipment. Despite bringing a whole removal van full, they ended up using a bare fraction of it, which annoyed the promoters who had warned the Dead they wouldn't need all that stuff."
    Dick Lawson wrote in his lengthy account, "The monitoring system screwed up for the previous bands, but along with their old, battered equipment Ramrod the Quippie and the other Dead handlers fixed their own monitors to form a complete shell of sound. It wasn't perfect: 'all you could hear were the least hearable frequencies, super-low things, and stuff coming out really weird.'"