50th anniversary of Yorkshire's first ever major music festival

It was meant to be the UK’s answer to Woodstock. It turned into an unmitigated disaster.

On Friday 14th August 1970 thousands of long haired music fans descended on the tiny Pennine village of Krumlin for the Yorkshire Folk, Blues and Jazz festival.

Some of the biggest artists of the age were billed to appear, such as Pentangle, Manfred Mann Chapter 3, Fairport Convention and Pink Floyd. It was meant to be a celebration of music and youth culture.

Festival brochure. Credit: John Wharton

The origins of what has since become known as the Krumlin festival began four miles up the road in the village of Mill Bank.

The Anchor Inn regularly held folk nights and was a centre for music lovers to meet and discuss their favourite bands over a pint.

The Anchor outside the pub in Mill Bank. Credit: Editorial

In August 1969 the landlord at the Anchor, 25 year old Brian Highley, had been seduced by stories of the riches on offer for organisers of festivals such as those held in the Isle of Wight and Woodstock just weeks earlier.

He and one of the regulars Derek McEwen, a man with connections in the local music scene, decided that whatever the Yanks could do, so could the Yorkies.

Brian Highley (left) and Derek McEwen (right) outside the Anchor Inn in Mill Bank. Credit: Brian Highley

Initially, the pair tried to secure land at the back of the pub to hold a folk festival. However the local farmer wasn’t keen and they had to find a plan B.

It just so happened that Derek worked for the Halifax Courier, so an article was written stating they were looking for a site.

Pop Hirst, a farmer in Krumlin, read the article and agreed a fee with the entrepreneurial duo.

The original site for the festival behind the Anchor Inn in Mill Bank. Credit: Editorial

Derek’s musical connections in Halifax secured a number of the artists, including Christy Moore – an Irish folk singer who was living with Derek in Halifax at the time.

He’s since released countless albums and in 2007 was voted Ireland’s greatest living musician at RTE’s People of the Year Awards.

As word began to spread, with the help of articles in Melody Maker and NME, big names were soon lining up to appear.

Brian paid Pink Floyd £2,500 to headline on the final night of the three day festival, but balked at the £33,000 fee suggested to sign up Simon and Garfunkle.

Brian thought he’d landed The Who, but was misled by someone claiming to be the band’s manager’s brother.

It didn’t stop Brian shouting from the rooftops that he’d landed one of the country’s biggest acts of the day.

Festival flyer. Credit: John Wharton

Local residents in Krumlin were concerned at what they thought would be an invasion of “weirdies” to their village.

However, the land owners remained quiet. Suitably compensated by organisers Brian and Derek.

The site of the festival in Krumlin. Credit: Editorial

As the week of the festival arrived, so did the hordes. Hippies traipsed through fields and climbed over dry stoned walls to find the site of what had now become a musical mecca. The UK pop scene had come to Yorkshire.

According to some of those who attended, the first sign that there may be trouble ahead was when the opening night’s festivities were delayed.

Despite taking place in the middle of August, the weather could be described as inclement rather than miserable.

Still the punters were having the time of their lives pitching their tents, drinking beer and listening to bands such as the Humblebums – whose singers were the future Scottish comedian Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty.

But for many the star of the opening set was a piano playing extrovert called Elton John.

Elton had just released his first album at this time and was a relative unknown. But his bravado and panache on stage was an obvious contrast to the bleak moors and gloomy weather that accompanied his set.

Further endearing himself to the crowd, Elton handed out cups of brandy to those on the front row to keep them warm. He was a crowd pleaser even then!

Elton John. Credit: PA Stills

As the sun rose the following day Brian and Derek were starting to realise things weren’t panning out as they’d hoped.

With a crowd of around 15,000 on site, Derek went to collect takings from a steward on the gate expecting in the region of £5,000 but returned with £48. Knowing that bands needing paying and with money drying up, Derek fled.

As the day went on the weather turned. Temperatures dropped and heavy rain began falling on the valley.

People huddled together in plastic sheets and sought shelter wherever they could. Brian could see that there was potential for his dream to turn into a disaster.

The boat had hit the iceberg but the bands played on. Fairport Convention had been waiting to get on stage after a dispute over payment so had wasted no time enjoying the privileges afforded to them in the beer tent.

When they did eventually go on stage their set was certainly memorable. Dave Pegg wore white jeans, but struggled to control his bodily functions and they were white no longer.

Dave Swarbrick answered a call of nature through the back of the stage onto the assembled press hordes, no doubt having a big impact on their review in Melody Maker.

As the rain turned to sleet it was soon evident this couldn’t go on much longer. Sparks were flying from the electrical instruments and equipment. Manfred Mann were waiting to go on but they never made it. The plug was pulled.

Credit: Huddersfield Daily Examiner/MEN Media

That night the wind and rain blew tents from their moorings, an inflatable marquee was punctured and hundreds were left to spend the night on the cold wet moors.

Some sought shelter in the houses of friendly locals. Some huddled in the porch of the local church.

Credit: Huddersfield Daily Examiner/MEN Media

The next day emergency services arrived. One spectator said it looked like a refugee camp. Hundreds were taken to hospital suffering from exposure.

With Derek still missing, Brian was left to face the music. Speaking to Calendar’s Austin Mitchell he almost broken down when the full extent of what had transpired dawned on him.

Former Calendar rerporter Austin Mitchell at the site in Krumlin. Credit: Editorial

Spectators trudged off site some searching for transport away from the madness, others finding refuge in the local pubs where war stories were exchanged over a pint of Tetleys bitter.

Two weeks later Derek surfaced. He revealed in an interview with Calendar that he’s slept on the wild moors before walking to Bradford where he stayed with a friend.

He might have escaped the madness of the festival but neither he nor Brian could walk away from the financial repercussion. Both were declared bankrupt.

Newspaper clipping. Credit: John Wharton

Derek kept a low profile and ran a local book shop later in life.

He sadly passed away in 2002. Brian bounced back from the disaster of Krumlin re-inventing himself as first a script writer for ITV’s Spitting Image and then a quiz master for the board game Trivial Pursuit.

He’s still a big music fan and regularly attends the Glastonbury festival.

For many Krumlin will forever be remembered as one of the greatest and earliest festival disasters.

But those who were there to experience it will never forget the weekend the hills were alive with the sound of music and mayhem.

Well Calendar's cameras were there back in 1970 and this week we've returned to find out why it all went so horribly wrong. Chris Dawkes reports.

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