Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Deeply Vale - The Fall, Fast Cars, The Ruts

Deeply Vale, as a series of annual free festivals, is one of the events on the festival calendar of the late ‘70s, early ‘80s that’s pretty central to the account of the scene’s history that will soon be published as Festivalized. As part of our examination of this part of the legacy of the festivals, Bridget and I were lucky enough to have an extensive interview with Chris Hewitt of Ozit Records, one of the key players in the Deeply Vale festivals. Ozit have been something of the custodians of the Deeply Vale archive, for want of a better expression, and have released a number of live recordings from various years (Steve Hillage, Nik Turner, The Fall, Fast Cars and The Ruts amongst them) and have recently put out a handsomely packaged double-LP of the Hillage appearance from 1978.

I’ll write about the Hillage vinyl in more depth on a future posting, but Chris kindly also sent me along CD copies of The Fall, Fast Cars and The Ruts and so this entry is really intended as an overview of these releases, along with extracts from the interview with Chris, conducted over the summer.

To start with The Fall, here’s a band that I’ve always felt I should have some interest in but have never really been able to turn a sympathetic ear to. Up until I received this CD, the only Fall record that had ever entered my possession was the album Extricate, which I bought having heard the title-track played by John Peel one evening – and to my recollection, its time span in my collection was rather short-lived when the remainder of the record failed to live up to expectations. So approaching a recording of lower generation quality, from a very early point in Mark E. Smith’s career, wasn’t something that immediately inspired me but actually I found that this one was rather interesting. It’s a capture of the band at the 1978 Deeply Vale, when they were making the first of a couple of unlikely free festival appearances, having been encouraged into the scene by the Here & Now band and its soundman, Grant Showbiz. They might have eventually dropped off of the Here & Now ‘free tour’ idea, despairing of not eating for two days whilst playing to “these kids with brandies,” and complained bitterly about playing to one 10th of the audience at the Leeds Science Fiction Festival in 1979 whilst the remainder “watched Hawkwind’s gear being set up,” but just for a couple of brief moments in time, and as unlikely as it seems, The Fall did the festivals.

Now, let’s be clear, this is definitely a lo-fi recording, but it’s one of such historic interest in the context of the hippie free festival ideal meeting the oncoming storm of the post-punk generation that to have it in general circulation is a very valuable archive statement, since Deeply Vale has to its credit that whole ‘merging of scenes’ thing that meant that different musical cultures could start to combine in new and interesting ways. Mark E’s ranting and haranguing of his lyrics, clinging to an equally raw soundtrack is totally compelling from the opening gambit of ‘Repetition’ onwards. I’m still not going to be a convert, but there’s a untamed ideological determination in this set that gets the blood pulsing, and for once I can hear what others here in this most left-field, idiosyncratic of bands.

The Ruts is a much better quality recording of one of the leading bands of the second wave of punk. Some of its members were already Deeply Vale veterans, having performed there as early as 1977, playing jazz-rock under the name Hit and Run, whilst The Ruts themselves fitted the Deeply Vale ethos perfectly, with their friendship with Misty in Roots and their alignment to Rock Against Racism, a cause that Deeply Vale and Manchester rightly adopted and supported. Of course, The Ruts never had the chance to really grow as an outfit, due to the untimely heroin-induced death of Malcolm Owen but here they’re bringing the inner city anxiety to the great outdoors: ‘Dope For Guns’, ‘Jah Wars’, ‘Sus’ and the indispensable ‘Babylon’s Burning’ making this a set crackling with energy, defiance and urban angst; a brilliant capture of a absolutely vital band.

Which you can’t really say about Fast Cars, honestly, because their set is one that is mired in the two-chord thrash of the day without really having the spark and the political or social nous of, say, The Ruts or The Fall, to lay a marker down to what either could have been or would be. They took their name from a Steve Diggle song, and Mick Middles in his liner notes that, and I absolutely get where he’s coming from, as because “Steve Diggle had the unpretentious street edge” compared to fellow Buzzcock Pete Shelley’s “fey art school love lorn edge.” But then Mick wants to present them as a latter-day Eddie and the Hot Rods and I’d agree if it was because they shared the lack of pretensions and the lust for a good time that the Hot Rods sang about but I just don’t hear it coming across in their very stark and underdeveloped work. To me, they sound like just another band trying to work up some street credibility but really just hitting glam or teeny-bop themes and poses but thinking that if they played it super fast and swore like London dockers between and across every song, it somehow made them authentic punk. It didn’t. So, ‘The Kids Just Wanna Dance’, fun in its own way but like the majority of the remainder of their set, stuck in its own time-trap. Except, curiously, for a number called ‘Teenage ‘Art’, containing, apparently, “a verse for the cool guys and a chorus for the nutters”, but a considered, slower, track that had slivers of potential in it for sure. But over all? A bit like a lot of the bands of the day, really one thing but trying to be another. Again though, it’s certainly a set that when you take it in the context of a line-up that would also have encompassed Hillage, or Here & Now, or others of festivals-past, it’s a guide to how the content of the open air festival was developing.

Chris Hewitt Q&A

You brought these bands together in the late ‘70s and a lot of the punk scene came out of the free festival scene, people like Strummer, John Perry from The Only Ones, people like that and of course Lydon was a great rock fan, a Hawkwind fan. But punk had that “never trust a hippy” label that McLaren had pushed on it…

I think that was a very Malcolm McLaren/London thing because…

Sure, but leading on from that, I wondered how the two different audiences interacted in the festival environment?

Very well, really, I think because one common ground that they had of course was reggae, because I think all the hippies and all the punks liked Bob Marley and they liked Misty in Roots, so I think reggae was a common denominator. I think Rock Against Racism was a common denominator for punks and hippies and I also think that where it perhaps differed at Deeply Vale and where it perhaps differed in the North West was that there weren’t enough venues that could substantiate or support a separate scene. So for instance the Electric Circus, you would have The Enid or Motorhead or Stray or Strife on one night and perhaps The Adverts or The Damned or The Sex Pistols or The Buzzcocks on other nights and you’d actually get a crossover of people because people in the north tended to be just more music fans. There were a lot of hippies cut their hair and became punks. I think there was much less of a kids’ thing and more a lot of over-20s actually became new-wavers. In Manchester what you had was the same venues from the very start, the same venues that put on the prog and psyche put on the punk bands and it wasn’t like a whole new scene as it were. So I think there was much more of a crossover in the north than perhaps there was in the south.

That makes perfect sense and certainly in London it was all McLaren’s, and to a lesser extent Bernie Rhodes, agendas I guess, but once you got further out from the epicentre then you can get more of a merging maybe?

Yes I think at the end of the day perhaps in London a punk record shop or a punk clothes shop could survive in the Kings Road but in terms of once you got out into the sticks then you just have a venue or a record shop or a clothes shop and it had to cater to multi cultures.

Just talk a little bit about yourself as the custodian and the issuer of the Deeply Vale CDs and the documentary DVD [Truly, Madly, Deeply Vale]...

All those are really interesting. We had a Deeply Vale anniversary in 1996 which basically just was an exhibition and a collection of photographs. We came up with the idea of perhaps looking for more photographs and video footage and sound recordings and generally just recording the event. I went to ITV with the idea of making a programme and they said “No, we’re not interested.” So I pursued doing it myself and we put a little bit of Deeply Vale bonus footage, I think 2004 we put out a Tractor DVD and we put a small section about Deeply Vale on the end of the Tractor DVD and the next day after ITV had received a copy of it they rang me up, eight years after they said they weren’t interested in making a programme, and said “We’d love to make a programme about Deeply Vale,” so I did the deal with them that they could have access to my archives as long as I could have the rights to the programme and extend it for DVD afterwards. It’s the first time ITV have ever done a deal like that. But we managed to push it through and then after we’d done the Deeply Vale DVD we decided to do the Bickershaw DVD and we did the John Peel DVD and we’ve just carried on in that direction so we’re doing I suppose hippy-related rock DVDs more on the counter culture side of things.

You’ve also done CD releases of various different bands at Deeply Vale, Nik, and Steve Hillage and The Fall and The Ruts and Fast Cars. Were those tapes that you had from your archive, or stuff that you sort out?

Some of the tapes had from my archive, the Hillage one for instance we had an audience tape and we were going to put that out, we’d cleaned it up and done lots of work on it and we were going to put it out. We’d agreed with Steve to put it out and then at the last minute Steve rang me and said “Look, I’ve actually found… you must have recorded it off the mixing desk and given me the cassette.” I said, “Yeah, we did have a tape machine running by the mixing desk for several days recording cassettes.” Steve actually found a desk recording so that became the main part of the Steve Hillage album whereas initially we were going to put an audience recording of it out so the audience recording became the bonus footage on the CD. There are bits of cine film and photographs turning up all the time. We are doing a Deeply Vale 5 CD set eventually which will have a couple of tracks from most of the names that ever played there. At the moment finances haven’t allowed me to finish the lavish artwork they’ll want to go with it.

Where do you see Deeply Vale in the overall free festival history?

Within the counter-culture there is this certain Stonehenge / Glastonbury / Hawkwind almost elitist hierarchy, and I think one of the things that we did with the crew at Deeply Vale was perhaps broke the mould of that and we certainly broke the mould in terms of tolerance of punk bands and perhaps tolerance of the fact that you didn’t have to be some sort of person who came from Ladbroke Grove and then had some sort of cool album out to actually get on the stage and perform. I think the problem is that it perhaps then went too much the other way and you get this “the stage belongs to the people” chaos. There has to be some sort of fine balance and I think that’s perhaps where we had an artistic policy which perhaps wasn’t quite free-for-all and I think when it became free-for-all in terms of festival structure and everything that’s where the whole free festival scene fell apart.

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