Confirmed line-up (roughly in order of appearance)
The Pretty Things
All-night folk concert (actual running order unknown)
Draught Porridge (AKA Noel Murphy & Shaggis)
Johnny Silvo & Dave Moses
Jo Ann Kelly
Alexis Korner and the New Church
Graham Bond Organisation
Alan Price & Zoot Money
Manfred Mann Chapter III (sound-checked, but didn’t get to play)
Sunday 16th (cancelled due to poor weather)
The Anchor Big Band
Alex Welsh Band
Jan Dukes De Grey
Greatest Show On Earth
National Head Band
Edgar Broughton Band
Ginger Baker’s Air Force with special guest Peter Green
Also advertised were The Who (cancelled), Pink Floyd (didn’t turn up), The Kinks (cancelled), Trader Horne (cancelled), Amazing Blondel (turned up, but didn’t get to play), Brett Marvin & The Thunderbolts, Champion Jack Dupree, Dave Shannon & Sam Bracken, Gillian McPherson, and the Jugular Vein Jug Band. The Move was a last-minute, unadvertised booking; they actually turned up and would have headlined Saturday night if weather hadn’t stopped play.
Contrary to press reports in the immediate aftermath, no-one died at Krumlin. But 400 people were treated for exposure after freezing, gale-force winds and torrential rain caused the festival to be cancelled late on Saturday night. On Sunday morning the sun rose on a scene of complete devastation, with the Courier’s banner headline comparing it, somewhat excessively, to “Another Hiroshima”.
Marquees, tents, and dry stone walls that had stood for generations were flattened, with the waterlogged main stage the only structure left standing. The two young, inexperienced promoters were left bankrupt. One had simply walked away from the festival on the Friday evening, wandering onto the remote Yorkshire moors in what was described as a “fugue-like state” and wasn’t seen or heard from again until nearly a week later. Meanwhile, 25,000 soaked and shivering fans undertook the long walk down into the Ryburn valley and on to Halifax, where they gathered in the Upper George to commiserate, compare war stories and wonder how a weekend that looked so good on paper had gone so horribly wrong.
25-year-old Brian Highley was landlord of the Anchor pub in Mill Bank. The son of a dance band leader, with a flair for publicity and a taste for showbiz, Highley had promoted concerts in his student days and had enlivened trade at the Anchor with regular folk nights, where acts included soon-to-be-legendary Irish singer-songwriter Christy Moore, as well as other names drawn from a vibrant local folk scene.
Moore was then living in a high-rise council flat in Mixenden with his informal manager, Derek McEwen: a folk fan and promoter who by day was an advertising salesman for the Halifax Evening Courier. The 30-year-old McEwen was a friend of Highley’s and a regular at the Anchor, which backed onto rolling fields that the two idly considered might be suitable for a folk festival. Unfortunately the fields didn’t actually belong to the Anchor, and when the landowner turned them down in no uncertain terms, the pair began looking for an alternative site: one that would accommodate a far larger event than the folk jamboree they originally had in mind.
This was late 1969, when Woodstock had captured the imagination of the world. That too had taken place in an overlooked rural backwater, home to a loose community of artists and musicians, as well as conservative townspeople and traditional farmers, before the festival had put it on the map. Why shouldn’t Halifax and Calderdale have a Woodstock of their own? Using McEwen’s contacts at the Courier, the pair placed a news story stating that they were looking for a large field suitable for a “colossal” event.
They were soon approached by Neil ‘Pop’ Hirst, who offered them his 40-acre hill farm close to the tiny village of Krumlin. The sloping fields formed a natural amphitheatre, and although high on the moors and only accessible by steep, narrow winding lanes it was close to the Lancashire border, where the M62 motorway joining the two counties was under construction. This meant that Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Halifax and Huddersfield were all within easy travelling distance, and Highley and McEwen calculated that, with a decent line-up, they could attract up to 150,000 music fans to Hirst’s Banquet House Farm.
In February of 1970 the Courier announced that August 14-16 would see the first Yorkshire Folk, Blues and Jazz Festival at Krumlin. The local council immediately complained that it was the first they’d heard of it, making panicked statements about the affect an influx of “weirdies” could have on this sleepy Pennine village. “It is all very well to be ‘with it’ but if you are actually ‘with it’ in Krumlin it might be most inconvenient,” one councillor was quoted as saying. “These drop-outs and weirdies will not be keen enough to withstand the rain, which might fall even though the event is in August,” another added. “They will break out of the ring fence that is being erected around the area and make for cover. This might mean breaking into property.”
A more pressing concern for the promoters however was lack of money. They’d launched the event with no capital, grants or funding, and although financial backers were approached none came through. A handful of tickets were sold for just three shillings each, in order to pay for press ads where the first official tickets were 30/-, to go up to £3 when the headline acts were announced. Highley was also borrowing money from his pub takings to cover costs, something that would have dire repercussions later on.
The initial line-up leaned heavily on McEwen’s folk connections, and included Christy Moore alongside Ralph McTell, Bonnie Dobson and American blues legend Champion Jack Dupree, then living in a Halifax council house. Pentangle were booked for £400, while Georgie Fame and Alan Price cost £350 each. The folk world also provided Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny’s newly-formed Fotheringay, and the Humblebums, featuring Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly. But Highley’s biggest scoop was securing the then-unknown Elton John for £75, after being impressed by his unsuccessful debut album Empty Sky.
Jo Ann Kelly and The Groundhogs bolstered the blues line-up, while jazz-rock was represented by Mike Westbrook, Alexis Korner, Graham Bond and Manfred Mann Chapter III. Fans of uncategorisable acid-folk-prog weirdness got Leeds-based Jan Dukes de Grey, advertised as performing with a seventy-piece choir and members of the Royal Ballet, and Scunthorpe’s Amazing Blondel, who were briefly managed by Highley.
It was clear however that bigger names were needed for the amount of tickets Highley and McEwen needed to sell, and on May 9 the Courier ran an exclusive story announcing that The Who had turned down a lucrative US tour in order to headline the Saturday night at Krumlin.
“Signing them has cost us well into four figures,” Highley told the paper. “They’ve rejected events in Plumpton and the Isle of Wight, and a big American festival, to come to the West Riding.” Unfortunately the signing appears to have been little more than a handshake deal, possibly with an associate who had no right to offer the band in the first place. It was also undertaken while The Who were still negotiating with the much higher profile and bigger budget Isle of Wight Festival. Once their headlining appearance there was confirmed there was no way they could also headline another UK festival just two weeks earlier.
Nevertheless The Who were advertised as headliners till the beginning of August, when the band told Melody Maker they’d never been approached to play, let alone agreed. They’d been due to premier their new Lifehouse double album in full at the festival, but just like that ill-fated LP, The Who at Krumlin never happened. They were replaced at the last minute by The Kinks, but just one day before the festival Ray Davies and co. also announced they wouldn’t be appearing.
Other additions included The Pretty Things, Yes, Mungo Jerry (then riding high with their #1 hit, ‘In The Summertime’), Atomic Rooster, Taste, Edgar Broughton, Quintessence, Juicy Lucy and Steamhammer. Ginger Baker’s Air Force were confirmed as Sunday night headliners, with Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green lined up as a secret special guest, while Pink Floyd were also added to the bill.
With The Pretty Things now topping the Friday night bill and Saturday night headliners still to be announced, campers started arriving at Krumlin early in the week. Taking advantage of the school and college holidays, it was a youthful crowd, many dressed just in shorts and T-shirts, and some not bothering with sleeping bags or tents. Most came from across the North of England, but some travelled from further afield, including Europe, Africa and the United States; though one hapless pair from New Hampshire arrived a week late and missed the proceedings entirely.
While a fair number of advance tickets had been sold, Highley and McEwen were relying on substantial walk-up sales to provide them with money to pay artists and crew. Acts whose fees and expenses hadn’t been settled in advance insisted on receiving them in cash either before or immediately after their performance. Unfortunately, local lads employed as gate stewards were letting their mates in for free, and a widespread scamming operation led to huge numbers of forged tickets being sold, including some still being flogged just outside the site. Meanwhile stall-holders were threatened for protection money by a criminal gang that had come up from London specifically to shake down traders at the festival.
On Friday afternoon, Derek McEwen set out to collect the first lot of takings from the various ticket booths. Looking at the numbers flowing through the gates, he expected to pick up around £5000. Returning with just £48, he began to get an inkling that the festival was not going to be the great success he and Highley had envisaged. Overhead, dark clouds were gathering, and the temperature was beginning to drop.
Live music started several hours later than advertised, and following an opening set by The Humblebums, Elton John made his UK festival debut at Krumlin early on Friday evening. “I hope this dispels the myth that I’m Radio One Club and Tony Blackburn,” Elton crowed after a stunning performance, further enhanced by his passing beakers of brandy to the wind-chilled front rows. Drawing on material from Elton John and the yet-to-be-released Tumbleweed Connection, Elton won the first encore of the weekend and made an excellent impression on Melody Maker’s Chris Charlesworth, who gave him a rave review. Almost immediately afterwards, Elton would set out on his first US tour, including the August 25 show at the Troubadour in West Hollywood that made him a global superstar almost overnight.
Georgie Fame, Atomic Rooster, The Pretty Things and Juicy Lucy followed on the main stage, before an all-night folk concert inside an inflatable marquee. The bill ran over onto the main stage on Saturday, opened by Jo Ann Kelly, Ralph McTell, Rochdale-based folk-pop trio The Honeydew and Irish close-harmony act The Johnstons, featuring guitarist Paul Brady. Later in the afternoon Pentangle, Alexis Korner and The Groundhogs all played well-received sets, the latter using photos from their performance on the cover of their next album, 1971’s Split.
Backstage however all was not well, as word spread that there wasn’t enough money for everyone to be paid. The scaffolding crew downed tools, refusing to fix the huge holes in the fence through which hundreds got in for free. With the long delays and confusion over running order, many musicians holed up in the backstage bar. Fairport Convention and Fotheringay were among the worst casualties, with Brian Highley having to virtually carry a drunken Sandy Denny onstage.
Fairport swerved on with pints in one hand and guitars in the other, admitting that they’d been drinking heavily for several hours while waiting to go on. Richard Thompson later recalled that while the band were playing the sensitive Irish ballad ‘A Bonnie Bunch Of Roses’, Simon Nicol continued playing an Indian raga in a completely different key until forcibly unplugged. Violinist Dave Swarbrick was caught short and stuck his member through a gap in the backstage canvas to urinate directly into the press area, while bassist Dave Pegg actually shat himself onstage. He kept his back to the audience, but his mishap was nevertheless clear to the musicians and journalists watching from behind.
Instead of a tannoy system, a state-of-the-art electronic messaging board over the stage was used for announcing delays and cancellations, with the infamous phrase “Pink Floyd are fogbound in Paris” flashing up to mass groans. Temperatures dropped again as darkness fell, and the intermittent showers became more persistent. Alexis Korner returned, unpaid, joining Graham Bond for a lengthy set covering for absentees, before Alan Price and special guest Zoot Money provided what proved to be the final act of the festival.
They began around 10, just as the storm broke, and 30 minutes in rain started to pour onto the stage from holes in the canvas. The drummer erected an umbrella over his kit and kept playing, but Price was dangerously exposed, playing an electric organ stage front with puddles and cables around his feet, and rain blowing down the hillside into his face as well as pouring down from overhead. When the main spotlights fused, the PA kept short-circuiting and the equipment began throwing off sparks, Brian Highley and stage manager Huw Price made the decision to cancel the show.
Waiting in the wings were Manfred Mann Chapter III and The Move, who had turned up unexpectedly and were happy to go on as a surprise headline act. It wasn’t to be, however: out front, 25,000 fans were facing the full brunt of the freak storm that had blown up out of nowhere, with rain blasting across the exposed Pennine moors like thrown buckets of ice water. Tents were ripped from their moorings and audience members sought shelter in the inflatable marquee that had hosted the all-night folk concert. But sometime around midnight the generator failed and the tent began to slowly deflate, undulating violently in the gale.
This left the beer tent as the only source of shelter out front, but that too collapsed in the early hours while packed with steaming bodies, when the winds proved too powerful and the central pole snapped under their force. Rochdale Civil Aid, on hand to assist with catering and logistics, did their best to provide warm soup in whatever receptacles were available, chopping up the marquee poles for firewood to heat their boiler.
Derek McEwen was still missing and hadn’t been seen since Friday night; he was thought to have suffered a nervous breakdown and walked out onto the moors. Some campers fled the site and were taken in by local people or took shelter in the village church. As the scale of the disaster became known, the Griffin Hotel opened its doors to festival refugees, while ambulances struggled to reach the site via the steep, narrow lanes. Festival-goers suffering from exposure were removed on improvised mountain sledges.
The decision to cancel the festival had been made overnight, but was officially announced at a press conference the next morning. Brian Highley was interviewed by future Labour MP Austin Mitchell, then a presenter on Yorkshire TV’s early evening news show Calendar, in front of what was left of the main stage. Although Highley had held it together all through the weekend and the chaos of the Saturday night, when asked where McEwen was, he finally broke down. “I don’t know” he confessed with a sob, as the cameras showed the scenes of devastation that their festival dreams had come to.
Five days later, Highley received an apologetic postcard from McEwen. Apparently he had left the festival on Friday evening intending to get a few hours’ sleep but had just kept walking, eventually hitching a lift to the house of friends in Bradford. After sleeping for two days straight he travelled to Glasgow, to lay low until the dust settled.
The two were reunited in bankruptcy court, facing a net loss of nearly £32,000. This included £2500 due to Pink Floyd: Highley had called their people on the Saturday and cancelled their set because he couldn’t afford to pay them. Ironically there was a storm clause in their contract meaning that if he’d cancelled because of the weather a few hours later then he wouldn’t have owed them anything at all.
Highley lost his pub, and with it his home and marriage. He eventually bounced back in spectacular style however, writing all the questions for many different editions of Trivial Pursuit and becoming the public face of the game in the UK market for over two decades. McEwen meanwhile set up as a magazine editor and then a successful antiquarian bookseller, dying in 2002.
Ben Graham’s book on the Krumlin Festival, Pink Floyd Are Fogbound In Paris, is available from https://bleedingcheekpress.bigcartel.com