May 7 – Wigan, England

In April 1972, the Grateful Dead embarked on their now-legendary Europe ’72 Tour. The band performed 22 times between April 7 and May 26, resulting in the landmark triple live LP, Europe ’72 that was released in October of that year. To celebrate the legacy of the band’s historic tour abroad, JamBase presents a retrospective look back at each of the Europe 1972 Grateful Dead performances.


The Grateful Dead’s Europe ‘72 Tour schedule intended for the band to follow their two-night stand at The Olympia in Paris with a third concert in France. The members of the band – guitarists Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, keyboardists Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and Keith Godchaux, drummer Bill Kreutzmann and vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux – made the 288 kilometer journey north through France intending to hold a concert on Friday, May 5 at Salle de La Rotonde in Faches-Thumesnil in Lille. While the band made it to the venue, their trucks loaded with their equipment did not.

Grateful Dead manager Rock Scully wrote a concise explanation about the events in France that led to the cancellation of the May 5 show in Lille. Scully detailed the experience in his book, Living with the Dead: Twenty Years on the Bus with Garcia and the Grateful Dead, writing:


May 5. Lille, France. We’re meant to do gig in Lille, however … One of the equipment guys thumps a fan. Irate youth returns, puts sugar and pisses in gas tank of truck, sticks potato in exhaust pipe so the truck breaks down. Equipment never leaves Paris. Being followed around by radical French students who want us to put on free show. French promoter goes out on the stage to tell crowd that the Dead aren’t gonna play. Hall goes ape shit. Band freaks out. Situation getting ugly fast. Real concern there’s gonna be a serious riot. Sneak out to the buses and make ignominious dash for it. Have to lower Donna Godchaux out back window of the place. Put her down on the top of the equipment truck that’s parked right underneath the window then down onto the tailgate. Ridden out of town on a rail by frog revolutionaries, who are still after our asses. Have to reimburse promoter and promise we’ll come back to do free show.

After escaping through a Lille field, the band – and later their crew and equipment – made the journey on a ferry across the English Channel, eventually completing the 564-kilometer trek north to Wigan, England to headline the Bickershaw Festival. Detailed, first-hand accounts of what all went down from Paris to Wigan can be heard on the two most recent episodes of the incredibly insightful Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast.

The Bickershaw Festival was a three-day event that began on May 5. The festival was organized by an at-the-time 24-year-old Jeremy Beadle, who went on to become a popular British television personality. The Guardian newspaper previewed Bickershaw in an article published March 7, 1972, that asked Beadle what would happen if it rained during the festival.

“All festivals have taken this gamble,” Beadle stated. “We have chosen the driest time of year for the area, according to Meteorological Office records. All the stages are covered so that the acts can still go on.”

Despite those efforts, it rained throughout the three days, making for an extremely muddy Bickershaw experience. However, the rainy weather did not impede the weekend’s performances.

Beadle told The Guardian that upwards of 150,000 people could potentially attend the festival. In reality, estimates on attendance top out around 60,000 attendees. The smaller turnout nonetheless marked the largest audience the Dead performed in front of, not just on that tour, but in all of their career appearances in Europe.

The Bickershaw lineup on Friday, May 5 featured Hawkwind, Wishbone Ash and Dr. John. Performers on Saturday, May 6 included Captain Beefheart, The Kinks, Flamin’ Groovies, Donovan, Incredible String Band and others. Joining the Dead on the Sunday, May 7 lineup were the New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Country Joe McDonald.

The BBC was on the scene at Bickershaw, its 1972 report can be viewed here:

Among those wading through the mud at Bickershaw was British singer-songwriter Elvis Costello. Another attendee was Joe Strummer who would later form the British rock band The Clash. The most recent Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast episode also features Jesse Jarnow’s extensive interview with Costello recalling his Bickershaw experience and more.

For their Sunday headlining performance, the Grateful Dead delivered two long sets, tallying nearly four hours onstage between the two sets. The show was the longest in duration that the band played on the Europe ‘72 Tour.

Before their performance, Garica was interviewed backstage. A camera crew captured the interview, which can be viewed in the video below, along with sparse footage of the Dead’s performance featuring “Mr. Charlie”:

Tour manager Sam Cutler introduced the band prior to their taking the Bickershaw stage. His announcement, which mentioned the muddy conditions, also asked for a woman named Angela Brown to come forward and claim her child who was with the police.

“Truckin’” opened the first set, which was the first time the song was chosen to kick off a show on the tour. The tour’s most frequent set one closer, “Casey Jones,” filled its typical slot at the fest. Prior to that, the Dead showed off their improvisational chops with a roughly 11-minute “Playing In The Band” that was preceded by Weir’s introduction of Donna.

“There are still a few really fine human beings and good Christians roaming the face of the earth these days,” Weir said. “And one of them is here with us now to help us do this next song. A young lady by the name of Donna. And she’s gonna help us out with this next one – if we ever get in tune.”

More first set jamming was on display with a 20-minute “Good Lovin’,” the latter exposing the British audience to Pigpen’s signature frontman showmanship. The first set also saw Weir leading the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday To You” in honor of Kreutzmann who was celebrating his 26th birthday.

Cutler was back on the microphone prior to the start of set two, asking people to climb down off an overcrowded tower. What sounds like a low flying firecracker can be heard screaming into the air and exploding.

“Watch your heads,” Weir told the audience. “In the future, we’ll want to aim those a little higher, whoever’s doing that. Mighty pretty and mighty lethal.”

“I think that was a bad shot,” Lesh said, adding, “Aim for the lake!”

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“Greatest Story Ever Told” started the second set for the third and final time on the Europe ‘72 Tour and once again “Going Down The Road” (though without a pre-”NFA”) into “Not Fade Away” punctuated the set. While the second set included Pigpen leading “Big Boss Man,” Garcia taking turns on “Ramble On Rose” and Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home” and Weir getting a go on “Jack Straw” and (with Bobby struggling with some of the lyrics) “Sugar Magnolia,” the second set was stacked with standout improvisations.

Bickershaw was the only performance of the Europe ‘72 Tour with both “Dark Star” and “The Other One” making the same setlist. The pair of jam vehicles – “Dark Star” comes in just shy of 20-minutes and “The Other One” just over 30-minutes – were bridged by a Billy The Birthday Boy Drummer solo. Additional second set fireworks included an actual fireworks display that went off during the “Dark Star” into “The Other One” sequence. The band also dialed up a 13-minute “Turn On Your Lovelight,” which was the second of what would be only three Europe ‘72 performances of the Pigpen showcase.

Another “One More Saturday Night” encore capped the four-hour, Sunday night festival performance.

Weir described the experience at the festival in an interview with Keith Altham that appeared in the May 27, 1972 issue of New Musical Express. Here’s Weir’s assessment of the event (via Dead Sources):

“Bickershaw was something of a disappointment simply because of the frustration of playing in those conditions. The people were great – they were even determined to get off, wading around knee-deep in mud and frozen in three days of rain, but it was all a bit forced. We had those huge Calor gas heaters on stage and they were not doing us any good either – the smell was getting to us and the heat was actually altering the molecular structure of the strings causing us to go out of tune. I was pleased when they broke down and we were able to play in a naturally frozen condition.”

None of the songs played at the Bickershaw festival were selected for the original Europe ‘72 live album.

Here are additional statistics and information regarding the 13th performance of the Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 tour:

At-a-Glance

The Show

May 7, 1972

£2.25

60,000

531

The Music

14 songs / 108 minutes

12 songs / 131 minutes

26 Songs / 239 minutes
17 originals / 9 covers

The Other One 30:34

Chinatown Shuffle 3:22

11:36

10 Jerry / 10 Bobby / 6 Pigpen

8

49


Set One: Truckin’, Sugaree, Mr. Charlie [1], Beat It On Down The Line, He’s Gone, Chinatown Shuffle, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Black Throated Wind, Next Time You See Me, Playing In The Band [1][2], Tennessee Jed, Good Lovin’ [1], Casey Jones

Set Two: Greatest Story Ever Told [1], Big Boss Man [1], Ramble On Rose [1], Jack Straw, Dark Star [3] > Drums [3] > The Other One [3] > Sing Me Back Home, Sugar Magnolia, Turn On Your Lovelight [1] > Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad [1] > Not Fade Away

Encore: One More Saturday Night

Notes:

  • [1] released on Steppin’ Out with the Grateful Dead: England ’72
  • [2] They sing Happy Birthday to Billy before.
  • [3] released on Europe ’72 Volume 2

Below, stream the official recording of the Grateful Dead’s May 7, 1972 concert at the Bickershaw Festival in Wigan, England, or check out other recordings via Archive.org: