Posts Tagged ‘Knebworth’

The sun’s coming out

June 23, 2020

(A day late – and a dollar short! My fault, Ed. This is what Tim Summers remembers…)

35 years since ‘The Return of the Knebworth Fayre’? How did that happen then? Deep Purple Mk 2’s first show in the UK since 1973 was a big, no, HUGE deal – certainly for me, a then 19-year old student living in a shared house in Leeds, still on a fanboy high from the previous year’s reformation. Whilst I’d seen all the members of Mk 2 previously (in Rainbow, Gillan, Whitesnake and Gary Moore’s band), the prospect of seeing THE band all together on one stage had always seemed like an impossible dream – various reformation rumours in the early 80’s having been shot down almost as soon as they’d arisen.

And yet here we were – I returned to my student digs one night after being in the pub (where else?) with some friends from my course to find my rock-loving housemate Alvy (a pseudo-cockney who called everyone ‘barsteads’) raving about a music festival which was to be headlined by Deep Purple and held at Knebworth (‘Where? Oh, that Led Zeppelin place…?’) – he’d already rung up and secured tickets and said that we could stay at his parents’ house in Essex when the time came. Essex is down south somewhere too, so it’s probably close by, right?

Knebworth weekend eventually arrived and I got up early on the Friday for the long coach journey down south – I remember that Radio 1 were (uncharacteristically) playing the Glenn Hughes-sung ‘Dance with the Devil’ from the first ‘Phenomena’ album as I snatched some breakfast. A good sign!

Kneb-85-poster-

After what seemed like an all-day journey, I arrived at Victoria Coach Station in London, to be met by Alvy (he’d sensibly travelled down by train the day before) and we made our way to his house in Brentwood where his Spanish parents treated me like royalty. For our entire 2 years together at Uni, Alvy had gone on and on about his local beer ‘Ruddles County’, claiming that it was superior to the northern brews I was used to. He and a couple of his mates-from-home watched in anticipation as I tried a pint of the reddish ale in his local boozer that night. “It’s ok”, I proclaimed (it was nice actually, but I wasn’t going to go overboard…).

The next day we got up and after a huge breakfast, began our journey to Hertfordshire. Alvy mentioned that the singer in Bernie Marsden’s Alaska (who were due to open the show), Rob Hawthorne, lived in Brentwood too, and joked that we should go and ask him for a lift to the festival grounds (we didn’t). From memory, I think we caught a local train into London, and then there were special trains laid on to Stevenage (with buses up to the site itself, I think…).

Once there I bought a DP baseball shirt (with a sort of vandalised toilet design on the back) and a programme – and we made our way through the gate and into the showground itself, which seemed to be a h-u-g-e sloping field with a big tree or two, a couple of large mixing desk/lighting(?) structures , and then at the bottom (but raised up), a stage the size of a football field. None of those new-fangled giant screens that the kids today take for granted. We made our way down to a position reasonably close – there were already quite a lot of people there – and waited for the bands to begin (around midday, I think?).

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Alaska duly opened proceedings and were…fine. It was good to see Bernie M, but I guess many would have rather seen a more Whitesnakey kind of band. ‘I Really Want to Know’ is still a good song though. Mountain put in a decent performance (I wasn’t familiar with their stuff at all at the time – beyond ‘Nantucket Sleighride’). Mama’s Boys were next – a fine Irish band who somehow never fulfilled their potential – a sort of perennial somewhere-in-the-middle of the festival bill outfit it seemed (I saw them again in ‘86 at Milton Keynes – although thinking about it, they opened the show there – unfulfilled potential). I was looking forward to Blackfoot, having followed them for a little while. Some fans felt they’d recently sold out their southern US rock roots by incorporating ex-Heepster Ken Hensley on keyboards, but I had no complaints at the time. UFO, again I was looking forward to, but again I was probably in a minority by being a fan of their latest – slightly AOR-y – direction. A fight broke out in the crowd just near us whilst they were on – and singer Phil Mogg wore a workman’s yellow hardhat for a bit. ‘Night Run’ sounded good though – and I think we were told to cheer loudly as we were briefly live on Radio 1.

Meatloaf was next. He felt like a slightly odd booking to be honest, and as he lumbered about the sodden stage (did I mention the abysmal weather yet?) with his broken leg in plaster, he was on a hiding to nothing really. Some (traditional) plastic bottles (filled with the customary straw-coloured liquid) were hurled at the stage, and the biggest cheer Mr Loaf got was when he slipped over. The Scorpions followed – Alvy and his mates-from-home were huge fans of theirs – more so than DP – whereas I thought they were just ‘ok’ (genuinely this time). Rightly or wrongly, I think I was slightly more impressed with their ability to form a human pyramid than I was with their music.

But then, but then… as darkness began to fall (proper night-time now, rather than due to black rain clouds) the PA blasted out some of Ritchie’s favourite songs (including Sylvia by Focus, as I recall), the roadies completed the changeover on stage (just the one stage in those days), a Hammond organ coated in plastic sheeting could be spied and then over the PA ‘Tocata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565’ blasted out. It might have been written by Bach, but there was no mistaking that this version was being played by Mr Jon Lord, and as the final note of its famous intro rose and sustained, there they were. Together. On stage. Playing ‘Highway Star’. I’m not crying, you’re crying! Just sheer magic to see and hear – nothing else mattered in that moment, not the rain, not the cold, not the mud – oh god, the mud – all forgotten for the next nearly-two hours as Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord and Paice did their thing. ‘The sun’s coming out in about 10 minutes’ joked Ian G at one point (it was properly night-time dark by then). A pleasing mix of the new album and the old Mk 2 classics, played by a band that seemed as happy to be there as we were to see them. And all too soon it was over, with a massive firework display at the finale (one of which went off early – it can happen to us all – causing Rog to point to the heavens as it whizzed over whilst they were still playing).

Random memories – watching as a fan somehow managed to climb up to the skyscraper stage, giving Rog the fright of his life, before being dived on, and escorted away by road crew; seeing Motorhead’s Lemmy trying to free his van from the mud on the way out (looking back, maybe it wasn’t even him); Ian Gillan telling us that we were ‘the greatest audience in the world’; using the makeshift urinal (before DP came on) which had formed between the back of the kebab stall and a fence – as it was too far to walk right to the back of the site to use the official ones – and seeing a drunken guy slide (in slow motion, it seemed) mid-pee, to the muddy, urine-soaked ground, only to be covered up with a sheet of cardboard by his mate (“He’ll be all right”). He’s probably still there; Ian G’s naughty intro to ‘Knocking at Your Backdoor’ (edited out of the radio transmission/official release); taking most of the night to get back to Alvy’s parents’ house on the train(s); waking up the next afternoon to find my favourite boots (which I’d assumed were ruined by the damp and the mud) shining like new, having been tended to by Alvy’s army-trained dad; Ritchie swapping his guitar for Rog’s bass (and vice versa) towards the end of the show; Alvy somehow spotting my mate-from-home, red-headed Dave (who he’d only met once) in the crowd of 70,000 – I returned from a trip to the kebab stall toilets to find, to my amazement, Dave with our little group. Apparently Alvy saw what he thought was him in the distance and just yelled (with a mockney twang) “Dive! Dive! Oi, Dive, ya ginger-haired barstead!” (and then when he turned round “Oh, thank god it IS you!”); Roger standing and saluting during the ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ part of ‘Under the Gun’ (which had been introduced in ‘German’); Laser-wig van Beethoven conducting along during ‘Difficult to Cure’; Ian G starting to sing the wrong verse to ‘Gypsy’s Kiss’ and inventing new lyrics on the spot (t’was ever thus); Ritchie walking across the stage to Jon, shaking his head during the intro to ‘Woman From Tokyo’ (did he think that one of them was playing it wrong?); the ‘Burn’ riff during ‘Speed King’; everyone singing along during ‘Smoke’ (attempting to lift the clouds), as Ian G told us “THIS is the highlight of the tour”; Deep Purple! I’d seen Deep Bluddy Purple!

Seems like yesterday and a lifetime ago. Forever etched in the rosy (and yes, muddy) glow of memory. Tim Summers.

My thanks to Tim. Photos from the show at deep-purple.net, our archived site.

http://www.deep-purple.net/gallery/knebworth/knebworth-1985.htm

Simon’s condensed version is also on there (from DTB Issue 32 nostalgia fans).

http://www.deep-purple.net/DPASmags/dtb32.htm#kneb

He has also jotted his recollections down of preparing the 1991 LP / CD release of the concert for Connoisseur Records on his design site.

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