Barbeque ’67 – the bizarre story of the UK’s ‘first ever rock festival’

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  • Jimi Hendrix
    Jimi Hendrix
    American guitarist, singer and songwriter
  • Syd Barrett
    Syd Barrett
    British musician, co-founder of Pink Floyd (1946-2006)
  • Geno Washington
    American musician
  • Eric Clapton
    Eric Clapton
    English musician
  • Brian Thompson
    American actor

Perhaps it’s the name, which seems to imply that blackened sausages in Sunblest finger rolls shared the bill with Syd Barrett, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. Or maybe it’s the faint aroma of cabbages and cows*** that linger in some revellers’ memories rather than the usual clichés of incense and clouds of marijuana smoke.

Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix on stage in 1967

Whatever it is, Barbeque ’67 – Spalding’s one and only entry into the annals of 1960s counter culture – is a curious footnote in the history of rock festivals.

‘The UK’s first rock festival’

The ‘UK’s first rock festival’ wasn’t exactly Monterey or Woodstock. The line-up was something of a car-crash between mid-sixties mod sounds and the burgeoning flower power movement – appropriate enough for an event taking place inside a dilapidated corrugated iron shed usually reserved for auctioning off tulip bulbs.

Until now Britain’s R&B boom and fledgling psychedelic scene had been played out in sweaty cellar bars to no more than a couple of hundred people at a time. Promoter Brian Thompson came up with the idea of putting together something much, much bigger.

The wildly eclectic line-up was actually something of a fluke. When Thompson booked The Move and rabble-rousing local favourite Geno Washington for a gig in Spalding, he was persuaded to add a few other acts to the bill by their London management company.

Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band
Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band were huge on the live circuit

After a bit of toing and froing, Jimi Hendrix, Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, Pink Floyd and Cream were all roped in to play too. A bigger venue was needed, and Thompson knew just the agricultural outbuilding to book.

Thousands ended up gatecrashing the party

But despite tickets to see this mind-boggling line-up going for just a quid a pop – hotdogs extra –the paranoid promoter hedged his bets and booked popular local band Sounds Force Five to make sure a few people turned up. Instead of playing bottom of the bill, they actually ended up playing about eight times, dutifully trotting out a well-trodden R&B and soul repertoire every time one of the headlining act’s equipment was dragged on and off stage to make the whole thing a bit less awkward.

Concerns about Barbeque ‘67’s pulling power were laughably wide of the mark. Spurning the chance to buy an advance ticket through ads in the music press (“please enclose a stamped, addressed envelope”), thousands opted to gatecrash the party, tearing down a perimeter fence and throwing so much cash in the direction of the amateurish security guards they could barely stuff it all into their pockets.

The original Barbeque '67 poster
The original Barbeque ’67 poster

Initially, a few people wondered if tearing down that fence was worth it. Pink Floyd, fresh from a couple of offbeat pop hits and with their psychedelic oil projections in tow, conjured up a mixture of mirth and bafflement, while appalling sound dogged most of the acts.

Jimi Hendrix’s ‘worst f***king nightmare’

Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band were moved up the bill when it became obvious the crowd were less interested in tuning in and turning on than downing pints and doing the mashed potato. Geno himself describes Barbecue 67 as Cream and Hendrix’s “worst f***ing nightmare”, recalling that Eric Clapton was even pelted with toilet rolls. “People just wanted to party,” he hoots, “not listen to that bulls***.”

And it’s true that for all the big names on the bill, Barbeque ‘67 belonged to Geno. The pancake-flat landscapes of Lincolnshire were his patch: the Ram Jam Band was named after a pub a few miles down the road in Stretton, and he was stationed in nearby Suffolk. As ill-tempered, muffled sets by Cream and Hendrix made glaringly apparent, for all the way-out fashions spotted in Spalding that day, the local youth would still rather stomp to supercharged Stax covers than roll in the mud to Syd Barrett singing about gnomes.

Pink Floyd
Syd’ Barrett’s Pink Floyd were a bit baffling for some in the audience

It was hot, sweaty, ridiculously oversubscribed – and utterly joyful. Sounds Force Five drummer Colin Ward remembers the front few rows of the crowd ending up underneath the stage after one particularly forceful surge. He simply carried on banging the drums while dozens of fingers poked their way up through the gaps in the stage underneath him.

‘The kids were restive and abusive’

A 28-year-old Germaine Greer was there, and recalled seeing Hendrix’s irritable set in a gloriously of-its-time piece for underground magazine Oz shortly after his death. “The first time I saw him he was trapped by a huge dooby-crowd on a high stage in a cattle-shed,” it begins. “The air was hot and rank because all the sliding cattle doors were shut but one and there were no windows. As usual an unlimited number of tickets had been sold and the promoter had split, leaving the kids to struggle in the heat and the dirt while the police snooped around them with dogs trained to sniff out the drugs that none of them had the money to buy.

Germaine Greer
A young Germaine Greer was in the audience

“We got in, in the chaos, for nothing, and there was Jimi caught like a bright bird underneath the corrugated iron roof in the stink of cattle shit and sweating English youth. The crowd was so dense that those who fainted couldn’t even fall down. Jimi was wrestling to get his guitar in tune, and cursing the Orange gear that they had to use, as crappy then as now. The kids were restive and abusive Jimi began to play and the sound was terrible so he stopped. They jeered so he stepped and yelled “Fuck you. I’m gonna get my guitar in tune if it takes me all fucking night. Then as now they didn’t even care whether ‘Hey Joe’ was in tune or not. They just wanted to hear noise and adulate.”

Hendrix’s guitar ended up in landfill

The edgy Hendrix set climaxed with the usual guitar pyrotechnics, his Strat taking eventually taking such a pasting that it ended up broken in two pieces. According to local legend, it was simply thrown in a skip and remains buried somewhere under 50 years’ worth of Lincolnshire landfill.

Still, any ill feeling was confined to the stage. Barbecue ‘67 was endearingly free of the inflated egos and excess the 1970s would usher in, with bands sharing the back of a lorry as a makeshift dressing room and peeing alongside one-another using the rudimentary toilet facilities. Hendrix was ferried to the festival in the back of the support act’s car, squeezing his fedora and feather boa into the back of a green Vauxhall Velux Estate, and spent the night upstairs in a pub, where local folklore has it he tied up the bedsheets into a makeshift rope and dropped it down to some adoring teenage girls below.

Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton in 1967
Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton together in 1967

The morning after

The day after Barbeque ’67, Spalding woke up with an almighty hangover, and civic leaders were faced with the job of clearing up after 30,000 assorted hippies, mods and beatniks who’d flopped down in any doorway they could find. A non-league football ground became a makeshift campsite, with dozens of wonky tents housing the wide-eyed teenagers who’d made their way from all over the country and just didn’t want to go home. This warm post-gig afterglow is what stays with many of the people who were there that day. Despite the bands playing through a set up more suited to a village hall than a rock festival attended by thousands, the sheer thrill of the occasion trumped any complaints about tinny sound and mumbled vocals.

Barbeque 67 would be the first and only time Spalding played host to a music festival of this size, and was considered enough of a success for the promoter to work on another festival, this time over two days, in nearby Whittlesey. This time Fairport Convention, Fleetwood Mac and Donovan joined The Move. Stubbornly ignoring the trend for pastoral, whimsical names like the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream and the Festival of Flower Children, he stuck to his guns.

This one was called the Whittlesey Barn Barbecue Concert and Dance.

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