It’s amazing to think that 50 years ago the village of Tupholme, 11 miles east of Lincoln, was the center of a music festival in late May 1972 that drew 50 000 people to watch some of the biggest bands of the time. . The Great Western Express Festival takes place that year from May 26 to 29 with an impressive line-up.
Acts included: Rory Gallagher, Roxy Music, Wishbone Ash, The Strawbs, Humble Pie, Slade, The Beach Boys, Status Quo, Don McLean, Joe Cocker and Lindisfarne. Rod Stewart – who at the time ran The Faces – tossed footballs into the crowd from the stage in a riotous performance.
But it was an incredible feat that the festival even took place, given the level of opposition from officials and locals who wanted to ban it. However, the biggest threat was the weather. The day before the festival started, the site was battered by strong winds which shattered the stage and destroyed the marquees’ and fans’ tents. Organizers worked through the night to ensure the show would go on, but the weather was terrible.
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Twenty-four hours into the event, the Echo reported: “The mammoth pop festival site is a muddy swamp. There was rain, cold and strong winds. But nothing can stop the fans from flocking. By the time the music started, several hundred fans had been processed for display – many had arrived at the venue already exhausted from their long journey from Lincoln.
Unfortunately, a youngster was killed when the van he was traveling in was involved in an accident on the road between Washingborough and Bardney. Zulu-renowned actor Stanley Baker, one of the stars of the festival, was cheered on by around 40,000 people when he followed Slade onto the stage to thank fans for coming and behaving well.
But as the weekend wore on, there were complaints that at least one pub nearby had had problems. The owner described scenes of “broken glass, fights and naked men dancing on tables”. Many Bardney businesses admitted they had a stellar weekend and with a few exceptions, it looked like the fans had done well.
For the organizers of the event, it had not been a spectacular financial success. The festival had cost £180,000 to stage and something like £150,000 was taken from the doors. Tupholme was chosen as the site for the festival after Great Western Festivals, the London-based entertainment company formed by Lord Harlech and Stanley Baker, struggled to find another location to stage it.
Locations in Kent, Essex and Battle had been the top three picks. But the idea was not met with overwhelming enthusiasm by Lincolnshire residents worried that 50,000 and 150,000 pop fans would descend for the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.
Undaunted, the organizers organized a fantastic public relations operation. In early May 1972, with the festival less than three weeks away, Stanley Baker and Lord Harlech flew to Bardney by helicopter from London. Their high-profile mission was to post a bond of £10,000 to the vicar, the Reverend Peter Clarke, as insurance against any damage that might be caused at the event.
It took place at the site of the planned festival and by then construction work had already begun. Lord Harlech told the Echo: “I think fans and artists deserve fair treatment. It’s one of the most popular forms of entertainment today. You get hundreds of thousands of people who want see this kind of entertainment. They should all get a really fair deal.
But then a High Court order was sought to stop the festival. The action was brought against the company and the landowner by Lindsey County Council, Horncastle Rural District Council, eight landowners with land adjacent to the festival site and the Attorney General, Sir Peter Rawlinson, on their behalf.
The then Bishop of Lincoln, the Very Reverend Kenneth Riches, spoke in favor of the festival and in a letter to the court said he had been so impressed with a folk festival in his diocese l previous year that he intended to organize a special service to this one.
He told Echo readers: ‘There will be a team of young clergy and ministers on site for the duration of the festival and Lincoln parish halls and other venues will open. I can think of few better ways to bridge the generation gap than for those who attend the festival to find that some older people are willing to endure a passing nuisance and meet their needs with love.
The High Court issued an order prohibiting the festival from being held “in such a way as to cause a nuisance” and the organizers appealed. Stanley Baker said: “What the court has done is judged for good conduct not just this festival but a whole generation of young people. The festival will continue as we believe this generation is more than capable of demonstrating that they can have a good time, without harming the interests of others.