The 1970 Yorkshire Folk, Blues and Jazz Festival, at Krumlin in Calderdale, should have been one of the major events of the year — but a freak storm on the Saturday night, plus an almost farcical series of misfortunes, turned it into one of the year’s biggest disasters instead. Ben Graham chronicles all in a new book. Jon Berry reviews.
In the summer of 1990, a modest crowd gathered in a Kentish Field for Canterbury University’s inaugural UKC festival; a three-day affair headlined by the (then) ubiquitous Levellers, Caravan and others, and which never quite took off. I was there with my unremarkable college band, The Bronchial Disorders, afforded a brief slot in a minor tent where we plied our low-rent psychedelic blues. We played an improvised set to twenty loyal followers and slept in the sun. Weeks later, I attended the post-mortem in the student union bar and heard that it had failed to break even. A follow-up wasn’t planned. But, as one of the organisers remarked at the time, ‘at least the weather was good’.
Twenty summers earlier, the inaugural Yorkshire Folk, Blues and Jazz Festival fared less well. Known by most as the Krumlin Festival, this ambitious attempt to harness the spirit of Woodstock and the Isle of Wight in a steep valley outside Halifax was blighted by storms, financial chicanery, bands not arriving, others advertised but never booked and, eventually, abandonment as scores of ‘weirdies’ sought treatment for hypothermia. In August.
It’s a gripping tale, sitting somewhere between Altamont, Spinal Tap’s Puppet Show appearance and Old Testament meteorological fury. Ben Graham has written the definitive account in a book which captures not only the madness and innocence of the enterprise, but a special moment in a very English narrative, when beardy folk gave way to prog and a certain Mr Eavis found inspiration for something altogether bigger. Krumlin was a disaster, certainly, but Graham’s re-telling leaves us in no doubt about its significance at a pivotal point in social history.
The detail in Fogbound is forensic. Graham lists the ever-changing (and highly-speculative) line-ups as they evolve in the months preceding the festival, the organisers happily dropping names like The Who, the Kinks and even The Beatles when, frankly, they had little or no reason to do so. Similarly, negotiations with an unenthusiastic local council are recalled, as are the chaotic scaled ticket pricing and financial ruin at the hands of local touts. It’s a familiar story of unpaid artists, bankruptcy and baseless rumour (there are still some who insist that Nick Drake was there), all set in a valley below a sheep farm, with no running water. Perhaps the person who fares best in it all is a young and then unknown Elton John, who played on the Friday night. Imagine that.
Graham helpfully describes some of the lesser-known acts who might now be unfamiliar to readers. Alongside those who found subsequent fame, there are old folk-scene stalwarts and bottom-of-the-bill staples, and some like Jo Ann Kelly who never reached the heights their work deserved. We can only regret that the festival’s Sunday-morning cancellation deprived us of Jan Jukes De Grey and a 70-piece Choir – with ballet. Imagine that, too.
The Foreword is written by Brian Highley – the only surviving organiser, and a man who went on to write for The Two Ronnies , Spitting Image, the Trivial Pursuit board game and that heaviest of heads, Esther Rantzen. That in itself is a treat. What follows is a story worth knowing, brilliantly told.
Dig out your best Aran knit, your greatcoat or poncho, pour some cheap cider and enjoy.
Pink Floyd Are Fogbound in Paris: The Story of the 1970 Krumlin Fesitval by Ben Graham is available here, priced £10.