History Of Festivals 8: The Isle Of Wight 1970: Free Blues CDs
600,000 people on an island with a population of just 100,000. Political protesters taking the stage. Jimi, Jim, Joan, Joni and even Mungo Jerry (almost). The last weekend of August in 1970. It was, of course, the Isle of Wight Festival.
It would be the third year in a row that the organisers, Fiery Creations, would put on a festival on the small island off England's South Coast. But the two previous years were not even in the ballpark in terms of size. The 1970 Festival would be the largest rock event ever, bigger even than Woodstock. But it nearly didn't happen...
Miserable, posh, stick-in-the-mud residents didn't want the cream of the rock world descending on their patch for a third year running and shunted the site around during negotiations in a bid to make logistics as difficult as possible. Eventually, though, it was agreed to hold the event at Afton Down on the West of the Isle.
The hippies were not welcome. Brian Hinton's excellent book on the IoW festivals contains some great material from an appalled local counsellor:
“(Local resident) Mrs H. reported that at 10.30pm a stark naked man jumped out and danced in front of her car.”
and: “Mr F., High Street, reported an indecency outside his shop at 8am. He told those involved that the village was not used to such behaviour and he would send for police if they did not move on.”
The Fiery Creations lads, brothers Ray and Ron Foulk had their site: now they needed acts. And toilets. But first the acts. Once they secured Jimi, the rest fell into place pretty quickly. Bob Dylan had played the IoW the previous year – his first gig since his 1966 motorbike crash, so there was plenty of profile for the biggest US names.
They put together a stunning line-up including The Doors, The Who, Miles Davis, Sly and the Family Stone, Free and Emerson, Lake and Palmer – playing their second-ever gig. Laughing Leonard Cohen performed stand-up. Not really, but he did play – and in fact performed one of his greatest versions of the beautiful 'Suzanne'.
Kris Kristofferson, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, The Moody Blues, Procul Harem, a very early Supertramp, Hawkwind, Donovan, Chicago... what a feast.
“Things Ain't What They Used To Be” types might note the Isle Of White's Bestival this year includes Will Young!
Turning from the Pop Idol winner to public toilets, the organisers had their work cut out on that score: site manager Ron Smith set up a makeshift assembly line to make loo seats in a disused button factory. Bet Perry Farrell never done that for Lollapalooza.
Anyway, because 1969 had been such a massive scrum, re-supplying the site had been nearly impossible: when bars ran out of drink there was no way to get lorries to them. So for 1970, they hit upon a scheme of having two walls around the site, so that the space between the two could be used for access. Smart idea, but a lot of the punters didn't take to it. People felt that the site looked more like a prison camp than a festival, and the event was marred by simmering bad feeling throughout.
Suppose these days, where fans are all too used to regimented, sponsored-by-Starbucks kind of corporate gigs, that it seems a bit unreasonable to have a go because you didn't like the fencing, but these were different times, man. But there was an end-of-an-era vibe to the festival, as if the crowd felt that the Sixties were over now. “They're selling hippy wigs in Woolworths,” as Withnail put it.
But, by Jebus, there were there some rocking performances over what Melody Maker called 'Five Days That Shook The World'. The Doors played one of their greatest versions of The End, in a spooky, semi-dark stage – Jim didn't want the strong lights that the film crew were using. If you get a chance, check out Murray Lerner's 'Message To Love' film of the Festival for awesome footage of that. The Who gave it the full gun with the complete Tommy – and ended with a belting 'My Generation' and 'Magic Bus'.
Also on the Saturday, Joni Mitchell's performance of 'Woodstock' was interrupted by distinctly Manson-ish beardie called Yogi Joe who wanted to protest the perceived corporatisation of the event. Joni pleaded with the crowd for calm and respect and played Big Yellow Taxi. “You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone – they paved paradise to put up a parking lot.”
Jimi Hendrix, beautiful and damned, played his second last gig on the Sunday, just three weeks before his death. He was pretty out of it beforehand – his roadies were worried that he might not even make it on stage. But he did, hammered, to some boos, and opened with a savage, magnificent take on 'God Save The Queen'. His show was an angry, torrid climax to a thrilling, often ugly, era-defining five days.
But after the storm, there was hope as well. Richie Havens – who had opened the Woodstock festival – played last here, with the sun coming up on the final morning as he gave his lovely take on 'Here Comes The Sun'.
Optimism, then – but there would be no repeat of the Isle Of Wight Festival. The commercial and logistical issues were just insurmountable, and the 1970 Festival stood as the last. A monument to all that was good and bad about the end of the Sixties and the way that rock music, and society, were changing.
Some fine live albums came out of the festival. Best of all is Taste Live At The Isle of Wight(not unreasonably) - with Rory on top form; The Who's set is also available on CD and DVD as is ELP's - which we gave away a month or two ago - cracking stuff it is too. I think there's some of Free's set out there too - in all their hairy magnificence - and of course Jimi's legendary set is also availabe as is almost every note Hendrix ever played on earth it seems.
There's also a CD of the music from Murray Learner's movie which features everything from Leonard Cohen to Tiny Tim via the Doors and TYA. The movie itself is a must see - for promoter Rikii Farr's angry rants at the crowds trying to tear down the fences and especally for the old army dude who thinks its all a communist plot. Funny to think the establishment ireally believed the hippies were going to start a revolution. They didn't dig what was really going on; it really was all about the music and its the music, now, as ever, that pervades.
It’s all blues this week with two great packages
Blues Package 1
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble – Texas Flood
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble – Couldn’t Stand The Weather
These two albums are probably the finest the bluesman ever made. Incendiary blues guitar by perhaps the last true blues genius.
Blues Package 2
Muddy Waters & Johnny Winter live At The Bottom Line 1979
John Mayall’s Blues Breakers – Bare Wires
The first is an electric live recording between two giants of the blues. The second is one Mayall’s best albums featuring a young Mick Taylor on guitar.
I’ve got four of each pair of albums to give away. For a chance to win just email me with your name and address and put Blues1 or Blues 2 or Blues 1 & 2 in the subject box.
As only 14 people wrote in to try and win the 5 Yngwie Malmsteen albums, I hope these are a more attractive prospect!