Chris Hewitt | Interview | Deeply Vale Festival
Chris Hewitt began promoting bands in the early 70s and was involved with the legendary Deeply Vale festival from 1976 to 1978.
From being a roadie to festival organiser and expert on audio equipment, Hewitt has been collecting rare audio gear for many years. In the following interview we will discuss his beginning and current activities.
Where and when did you grow up? Was music a big part of your family life?
Chris Hewitt: I grew up north of Manchester, initially in Middleton and from the age of 12 Rochdale and from aged 11 until until 16 I went to grammar school in Oldham. My dad was a valve computer engineer and built his own hi-fi amplifier probably in the early 60s so a hi-fi system was soon a regular feature in our living room and when I was probably about 9 I got a Dansette record player as a present which went into my bedroom. The first 45 rpm single I bought was ‘Needles and Pins’ by The Searchers and that is a coincidence as for about 23 years since about 1998 I have been designing and manufacturing the CDs they sell at concerts. Subsequent singles purchased in the early 1960s were by The Shadows and The Beatles and my first LP I purchased was ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. About aged 14 I started getting into Bob Dylan and Donovan and at 15 was starting to climb over the school railings at lunchtime and in study periods to go to Oldham Market to a lady called Ma Dobbs who had a fantastic LP stall.
Downstairs in the art department building at school we were allowed a record player at lunchtime and Frank Zappa’s ‘Hot Rats’ seemed to get played regularly. I was asked to leave grammar school at 16 as I was growing my hair long and not wearing a regulation uniform. Several of us from the grammar school ended up at Rochdale College in September 1971 and we, with some other friends who were students already known in the Rochdale hippy scene, became in charge of the Students Union and putting concerts on in Rochdale College Hall. At grammar school there was a guy who was heavily into Zappa and Beefheart and was in a Zappa Beefheart tribute band called Screaming Warthog playing saxophone. We promoted them a couple of times in the summer of 1971 at Rochdale Sculptors Gallery and St Peter’s Church Hall before booking them for the first Student Union Christmas Concert at Rochdale College Hall Screaming Warthog December 1971.
Was there a certain moment when you knew you wanted to get involved with music as much as possible?
Probably 1971 / 1972 whilst at Rochdale College. 1972 was a pivotal year in my life, put The Pink Fairies on in February, followed by another Ladbroke Grove band a month or so later Skin Alley, I worked with The Grateful Dead and many other bands at Bickershaw Festival in May, worked as stage manager at Rochdale Festival in August.
How did you meet Jim Milne and Steve Clayton of Tractor? When did you become manager of Tractor and how did that come about?
Steve Clayton Tractor’s drummer lived in a block of flats opposite Rochdale College, so when I had no lectures at college and having got his address off him when he was crossing the road outside the college one day ,I used to go up to his flat and sit there and listen to music and discuss music. I went to their first concert as Tractor (after the release of their LP earlier that year) on 16th November 1972 at Heywood Civic Hall, my friend Mick Spratt hired them a 200 watt PA system for £10. I then got invited up to a Tractor rehearsal in Heywood in the attic above Steve’s mum and dad’s flat with Steve Clayton and Jim Milne playing. This attic would eventually become Tractor Sound Studios which I was later involved in the building of. On December 23rd 1972 I promoted Tractor’s second ever live appearance as a two piece at Rochdale College Hall to a fairly large crowd. Tractor’s next concert was at a college in Rugby in January 1973 and not long after that they got rid of sound engineer John Brierley and Alan Burgess and I joined as the live sound and recording sound crew. Around 1975 Alan Burgess took a job in the Seychelles Islands and I took over organising most things to do with the band, recording, getting equipment to gigs, booking gigs and mixing the live sound.
Where did you hang out? Where did you get records and what are some that truly changed your life?
I hung out at an alternative bookshop in Rochdale that sold underground magazines called Axis Bookshop, and outside the record shop Bradleys Records, ‘Nice Enough To Eat’ – the Island Records sampler was an early album I bought, ‘Mothers Live at Fillmore East,’ Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, Crazy Horse, Pink Fairies – ‘What a Bunch of Sweeties,’ Hawkwind – ‘Space Ritual,’ Pink Floyd – ‘Ummagumma,’ ‘Dark Side of The Moon’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’ and then later Bob Dylan – ‘Desire’.
What led to the Deeply Vale Free Festival?
I had just opened a music shop and PA hire business on The Landing, Oldham Road in Rochdale around August 1976 having moved back there after doing PA production work in London and some friends who lived further up Oldham Road in a commune asked me would I be interested in finding bands and providing the sound and lights for a free festival in nearby Deeply Vale so on Sept 17th 1976 Deeply Vale happened to about 300 people and then the next year 3000 and then 20,000 in 1978.
Tell us about your production work?
Before coming back to Rochdale I worked in London in 1975/1976 for Carol Grimes and The London Boogie Band, East of Eden, Sheer Elegance and Ian Dury. Back in Rochdale as well as Deeply Vale I was also doing sound at Manchester venue The Electric Circus, and sound for some big outdoor events in Manchester parks Rock Against Racism and Carnival against Cruise Missiles- so that led to work with The Buzzcocks, The Lurkers, Steel Pulse, The Adverts, Chelsea, The Dickies, and Motörhead for either one offs or short tours.
You also had a music shop?
Yes, originally at 115 Oldham Road and then at Kenion St/Drake St in Rochdale.
What did the organization look like?
Totally chaotic. We learned as we went along, but by 1978 in a report it said we were better organised than Bob Dylan at Blackbushe Aerodrome and that was a big promoter with loads of money.
What are some of your favourite memories from the festival?
Steve Hillage has a live album, Misty in Roots, The Fall, Nik Turner, Danny and The Dressmakers, Tractor, Body…
Did you take care of PA and what did it consist of?
JBL 4560 Bass bins loaded with Gauss, ATC 2 x 12 mids, Altec bass bins, RCF and Vitavox horns.
How did Ozit-Morpheus Records come about?
Initially to release Tractor and String Driven Thing in the 1990s and then it expanded.
What are some releases that you’re most proud of?
The Jim Morrison of The Doors spoken word CDs, Tractor LPs and CDs, Steve Hillage ‘Live at Deeply Vale’ LP and CD.
When did you become manager of Tractor and how did that come about?
Around 1976 as a gradual move into being manager and sound man.
What was the main concept behind the label and how did you find so much obscure material?
Just to release material that needed to get out there.
Did you have a lot of legal problems with it?
A little bit but I soldiered on.
You knew John Peel quite well. What was he like? Did you discuss a lot about the music?
A very shy person, but very supportive of strange and obscure releases, yes we often discussed the state of the music industry.
“Lemmy got in my transit van as it had a heater and I took him first to a fish and chip shop”
Then there’s a story with Lemmy?
First met Lemmy whilst I was in London working for Carol Grimes, her guitarist Henry McCullough ex Grease Band had lent Lemmy some Grease Band Acoustic USA amplifiers and cabinets. I had to go and retrieve it, later back in Rochdale I was doing some tour dates for early Motörhead, and had to and rescue Lemmy from Knutsford Motorway Services, his van had no heater, no oil and no petrol so after lending him and the band and roadie some money, Lemmy got in my transit van as it had a heater and I took him first to a fish and chip shop on the way to the gig at Manchester Electric Circus and lent him money for fish and chips. After Manchester Electric Circus we did the sound at Wigan Casino for Motörhead.
What does your hi-fi consist of today?
Vinyl deck, cd player Cambridge audio amplifier and pair of Tannoy Monitor reds 1960s.
I would love it if you could share how you originally got Pink Floyd gear, what it consists of and how you sell it back to David Gilmour?
Just came across pieces of Pink Floyd WEM equipment including their WEM Audiomaster mixers and when I put one up for sale Phil Taylor from Gilmour’s crew bought it for the Their Mortal Remains exhibition which is touring the world. Since then they have got an old Pink Floyd mixer case off me too.
What currently occupies your life?
Enlarging my collection of equipment that created rock and roll and preparing stuff for films and tv and writing books on music equipment history. Re-creating classic moments in rock history like the Pompeii sound system 50th Anniversary re-creation. You can purchase Hewitt’s books at this link.
Headline photo: Chris Hewitt | Credit: Chris Hewitt archive
Chris Hewitt Website