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Updated September 2012, New pictures of the site and audience

Dec 2011 new photos of the Pye Recording crew and Miles Davis's engineer Stan Tonkel and producer Teo Macero

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Recollections of a festival veteran .


          1970 was the year of the BIG Festivals  and as far as Europe went , they came no bigger then the Isle Of Wight Festival. I was still at college in Swansea doing a foundation course, it was the end of the long summer , and I  was soon to leave Wales and venture off into the big wide world . This was the last bash with my mates from Swansea and it proved to be a long memorable weekend. I went with Rob Reen and possibly another guy as well, we were supposed to meet Mad Ernie ,Harv, Chris and Adrian Howells there , but I doubted we would ever see them in the huge crowds.

    I particularly remember the long journey down to Southampton by train , through some beautiful country near Salisbury, a great view afforded by the diesel rail car. At Southampton we boarded the ferry, which was full of freaks. We hung over the rail and as we silently swept out of the harbour the sea was like glass , a beautiful golden picture book sun reflecting on the surface. It was perfect.

 

    We must have caught the ferry across at the butt end of the island ,because I don't recall landing at any sort of large town, my memories of the I.O.W are of countryside and little else. We walked to the site, along with thousands of others,  as people straggled on the verges we raised huge clouds of dust which marked the route in front of us. It was very hot.

    Can't remember arriving at the site, although I have the picture of a sea of people stretching forever,  up the hill, inside and out , it was just astounding and this was only Friday night ! Almost immediately we bumped into our friends Ernie and co near the campsite ! . They had driven up in Harv's powder blue A30 which he had just bought for 25 quid - so they had travelled in relative comfort compared to us. Totally unexpected , how the hell do you find someone amongst 200,000 people ? . You can't expect to , so I just think it was fated to happen.

© Jean Paul Margnac

    Much of the festival has faded into oblivion, I have flashes of the most vivid events , which I can picture very easily, other things have just disappeared completely. Of Friday I can still picture Family , because they always delivered. Roger Chapman, even at that distance, was a performer who could grab an audience by the scruff of the neck- somewhat like a terrier does to a rat- and proceed to shake the living daylights out of them with his strangled vocals , scare them rigid with his savage treatment of the hapless microphone stand and then discard them at the end of the set, feeling as though they had been put through the metaphorical wringer.  Colosseum were also top notch, I think they were on Friday. Procul Harem did NOT play a Whiter Shade of Pale although I cannot remember much else about them. Now I have heard their set again , its excellent , definitely an underrated band .

    Rory Gallagher was always a fine guitarist and his band Taste got a good reception ,although apparently the members were not even on talking terms and were soon to split up forever. Chicago were fun , I was still a fan then . I only ever got into the first album , which was current at the time I think. Whatever, they worked well on-stage, mainly due to the energy of their brass section. Later on they became totally dire of course when they released about 500 triple albums which all sounded the same and consisted of nothing but naff songs.

   I have strong recollections of the toilets. I don't think I have ever seen such big toilets and such lousy ones. There were about 100 cubicles, none of them had doors and they were suspended over really deep slit trenches that were about 15 foot deep. I believe this was done because the toilets were insufficient in 1968 and there was a huge cess pit , which someone is rumoured to have fallen into whilst tripping . I remember reading about this in IT or Oz, which doesn't mean that it was true, but its a good story nevertheless. Anyway, perhaps to avoid the cesspit episode the organizers had dug the loos so they were the the deepest I've ever seen .Since this brought up visions of the sides collapsing and me being entombed in a grave of ordure,  after using them once , I never returned again.

     For one thing,  it just took so long to GET there. We were about 30 meters from the stage and to visit the toilets took something like an hour there and back, by the time you'd climbed over the endless number of bodies, as any semblance of aisles ( if there ever had been any) had long since disappeared .Eventually we just visited the fence and pissed against that and since we didn't eat much - (again, visiting food stalls was a major undertaking ) we didn't need to visit the toilet to deposit solid waste. However, I wouldn't have been surprised if people hadn't squatted and did number twos in the crowd or by the fence - the smell was not good in some spots. 

     Because they turfed everyone out of the arena every day,( at least at the beginning anyway- this just did not happen in the last day- when they declared it a free festival after the back fence had been torn down in places  ) -I clearly remember queuing to get in . There should have been gigantic delays ,but somehow, we did not seem to wait all that long.....

© Jean Paul Margnac

    We were camping so we woke up really early anyway and since we did not do any drugs or excessive amounts of booze we were fit enough to get in line and grab pretty good spots on all the days we were there. Friday we seated to the right of the stage , about 50 metres away , Saturday to the left up towards the hill, perhaps a bit closer, it was a really good view ,especially when Tiny Tim was on .

    The picture on the right gives an idea of where I was situated on Saturday and Sunday, The yellow dot more or less marks the spot where we were camped. At this point the arena began to slope up hill gradually , so we had a good view ,unobstructed by other peoples heads . 

      Surprisingly , Tiny Tim's set was one of the highlights of the festival.  This lone middle aged long haired eccentric really got everyone going . The sheer novelty of his act helped him win over the crowd ( as did Mungo Jerry at the Hollywood Festival earlier on in 1970 ) but he was also helped by the fact that when he was beginning to sing"Thereíll always be an England "  ,totally unexpectedly, from behind the stage there rose the biggest goddamn hot air balloon you ever saw, emblazoned with  red , white and blue stripes  - Synchronicity !, the crowd went ape and everyone was on their feet, applauding the bloody balloon as much as they were applauding Tim . 

     When the movie came out, I was watching out for this in keen anticipation ,but sadly , the cameras seem to have missed the entire thing and all you see is the balloon as it drifts over the crowd off into the distance. Such a major disappointment - but I suppose no camera was in position in the audience to capture the moment  .

 

     Joni Mitchell was great, obviously frazzled by the Hippie who came on-stage during her act and interrupted her by trying to make an announcement about the people on Desolation Row. Because some in the audience were annoyed that he was dragged off stage ,she accused us all of acting like tourists, but from where we were we could not see what exactly had happened . This was because she was towards the back of the stage behind her piano, so we were wondering what the hell she was going on about , as no one in the audience near us seemed to be acting all that obnoxiously . Anyway, her statement sorted out the noise makers. By the end of the set she had won over the crowd, mainly down to the fact that she was superb.  Vulnerable and endearing , her fragile voice soared over the multitude and converted them in droves. It was strange that some of the biggest ovations were for some of the least aggressive acts, but this only goes to show that you don't necessarily have to make a big noise to get noticed. The quality of Joni's songs won out .  Again one of the highlights and a triumph for my favourite Canadian.
     Miles Davis came on late in the day I think, around dusk. Although he was on the bottom of the bill on the poster, he was one of the main reasons we had come to the festival. I doubt if many of the fans there had any idea of who the hell he was, but WE knew as we had been listening to In a Silent Way, and Bitches Brew and we were primed for what was going to go down. I still think this was the best set of the whole festival although I'm sure I'd be in the minority who hold this opinion. Miles was just so frigging cool. He didn't say A WORD to all us white trash , just came on , looking cool as hell in his fine strides and shades, and he and his band of mothers blew the entire festival away with their no holds barred jazz funk. Featuring some of the finest players of the decade, he did not compromise, he laid  it down in the alley with lengthy tunes that were dense and totally non commercial. At the end of the set the musicians gradually left the stage one by one until the only sound left was the drone of the keyboards left to feedback endlessly. Most of the audience did not know what the hell to think ."Is this over , what the hell, why doesn't he play some SONGS we can clap along to ?" We four gave him a standing ovation , but the overall impression was one of bewilderment from the huge audience.
   John Sebastian opened the afternoons proceedings, and was once again, a la Woodstock , ridiculously stoned and was almost ludicrous in the overuse of hippy jargon , with every other word being a man or right on , or whatever, he was joined by Zal Yanovsky from the Loving Spoonful and I'm sure they played Summer In The City, it was fun but not really inspiring in the way that Joni's set had been , but then again, he wasn't ever in the same league as regards quality of songs , or musicianship. A great entertainer, but pretty lightweight .

   For some reason the Saturday was the day with the strongest line-up and most of the kick ass bands were on then. I suppose that Emerson , Lake and Palmer probably fit into this compartment , but I was cool towards their act.  I should have liked this band , as I was a huge fan of Keith Emerson's previous band, The Nice. But somehow, I knew I wasn't going to dig them , they opened  in the evening, after I think, a long wait, so they could get the maximum effect -with the firing of a pair of cannons, ( one on either side of the stage)  to singular lack of interest from the crowd.  I know we all thought it was pretentious and I think a lot of other people did too . The music left me cold, too mechanical. Emerson took over and it lacked the variety and soul that was present in the best of Nice music.

        The Who were just monsters, they always were, they received an amazing response from the audience and they deserved every clap and cheer.  A magic set , but then, I never saw them NOT deliver in those days. What a band , surely one of the best rock bands ever, every performer delivered their maximum and the mix of personalities was just perfect. Moon was the usual powerhouse and Entwistle was his usual phlegmatic self, holding it all together in his skeleton suit . They were past the need to destroy their entire compliment of equipment in order to get a response from the audience, their success was largely down to sheer energy projection, plus having in their repertoire some of the greatest rock songs ever written . They must have been totally knackered after this show, especially considering they commenced playing at 2am and finished their set around 5 am .
 

    The Doors were somewhat disappointing. After missing their Roundhouse shows a few years  earlier, I was really looking forward to seeing Jimbo in full flight. Alas, by this time the muse had departed the Morrison, he was marking time and he'd lost much of his potency.  This set was fairly ordinary. No sort of shenanigans on-stage at all, and the band were bathed in a distance creating dull red light , which hardly changed throughout the set. This made it hard to see any of them unless one was very close to the stage , a circumstance which the majority of the audience did not have the pleasure of experiencing .

    The Moody Blues were pretty average ,I can't remember whether they were on Sat or Sunday, but they were on during daylight I think.  I thought they had one or two fairly good songs , but overall they had no real personalities in the band and their music was very light. They seemed to play forever and received a mixed response from the crowd. They played Knights in White Satin - which I always hated -and some of their other greatest hits.

 

   Sunday was on the whole ,pretty undistinguished, as I've said most of the kick ass bands and high class talent had already done their dash on Saturday. Free came on Sunday and they were one of the better acts. I really enjoyed their mix of bluesy cock rock - Rodgers was in fine voice , Paul Kossof was a guitarist of real class-and Free were just the thing for a sunny afternoon . Overall an excellent performance

  Who else was on Sunday ? , mainly acts like Pentangle, Donovan, they were not memorable or at least not to me, as I've erased them from my consciousness completely. By the end of the third day, I was dog tired, we had slept out overnight, not left the enclosure, we had little food , so it was beginning to be a bit of a marathon. During the day some one handed me an unidentified white tablet -  ?"Vasss is dis ?  "Just take it , it'll keep you awake "I was told," ok, it was free , it sounded good , so I took it . It had no effect at all. Apparently saccharin tablets were being sold as speed and this could have been one of them , but at least I hadn't paid for it.

     So by the time James Marshall Hendrix took the stage early on Monday morning , I was worn out. I could have done with some chemical help to keep me awake- no chance of going to sleep then !, but this was not the case and after a while I bloody well nodded off! Disaster. Ok Jimi wasn't at his best , but little did I know that this was the last opportunity to see the guitar god ! I woke up about half way through the set and thought that Red House was good, but overall , a disappointment . There seemed to be major sound problems and Jimi was nervous and disenchanted with the whole rock-star-god image with which he had indelibly been tainted. Such a difference from when I had seen him on top form at Woburn in 1968. However, Hendrix was still Hendrix and even off form was a force to be reckoned with, imagine our collective dismay when he died a few days later. It was so sad, one of the greatest wastes of talent EVER . He had so much more to give. Imagine a Hendrix in his fifties, still making albums, having played with Miles, Prince,  the Hip hoppers, the punks , whatever -ahhh,what a mind boggling loss !

    After Jimi Joan Baez played and at some point so did Leonard Cohen, but I have no memories of either, I was probably too tired or disinterested - neither have been on my fave rave list , although I'm sure I would dig them in a small club. But in front of 200,000+ ?- nah , no contest . I can remember the trip home , more chaotic then the journey to the Isle and a very tired trek via foot , boat,  train ( on which we were never asked for payment the entire return trip, just ushered onto a train with thousands of others ) and bus, but it had been fun in the main and I was very glad I made the pilgrimage .

Some parts of the site were as polluted as Bickershaw , but drier

© Jean Paul Margnac

    All the same , if  I was to compare the Isle Of Wight festival with the others I attended from this era , it would not rate it as tops. I don't think it was as good as Bath or even Bickershaw, both festivals with rotten weather but great musical performances . It was just too big. When events get this size go on for days, it gets to a point where it becomes too much hassle to do ANYTHING , apart from sit there. Moving about is discouraging , getting food,  even going to the toilet is just too much of a chore and a lot of the fun goes out of the experience. However, the memories are mostly good ones and my Isle Of Wight experiences differ a lot from the movie version.

      I was talking this over with another IOW vet recently and we both agreed that the film places undue emphasis on the problems of the festival with gatecrashers and anarchists, and although this was a big part of the experience,  this really does not do the whole thing justice. Anyone watching the film would get the feeling that the entire weekend was a giant bummer with bad feelings all round.

   This just goes to show how the media can distort an event by concentrating on the sensational stuff. Now I don't deny that it happened , but most of the flak and unpleasantness was going on backstage and at the rear of the enclosure,  I don't remember there being a lot of disruption or ill feeling at all in the crowd . 

    Mostly it was Ricky Farr coming out berating us for not paying that caused ill feeling . This did not go down well because those of us inside HAD bloody well paid, at least for two days, so no wonder he got booed and abused. He really did not adopt a good strategy, the cooler Jeff Dexter approach may well have worked , as generally British audiences were not very militant . Usually they are genial , not belligerent. He just got everyone offside, by insulting the entire audience they alienated the very people they needed on-side.

    I must say however, that although I am a left winger by persuasion, I was not one who thought that the show should be free. No one can throw that sort of event together without charging some sort of fee, the logistics are just too massive for anyone to cover their costs without there being some sort of profit motive- or sponsorship from an outside source. However, it does also appear that Fiery Creations themselves were not the most loveable of promoters, the infighting and bad feeling between them and many groups and organisations who were backstage or on-site helping with facilities , did not help promote a good vibes feeling at the festival . Perhaps their approach generated their own bad karma.

Jeff Dexter with a son -not his son, but a friends son.

(blame a typical local press cockup )

    This was, unfortunately,  the last ever IOW festival, as the organisers gave up after this one , it was too much like hard work .So why did the Isle of Wight, after two other really successful festivals in 68 and 69, fail ? . Well I believe that basically , the organisers aimed too high. They had made the previous events relatively small scale. This one was just too ambitious .It really was a combination of events .By choosing the wrong site - it was sheer madness to have a hill next to the festival grounds, any one could have predicted that those who had no money were going to go and camp there- and by getting so many big name acts on the bill, it was obvious that there would be HUGE crowds attracted to such a line-up. If we add the fact that the weather was so good , a bank holiday weekend,  it was hot and people act strangely in the heat.  Plus there were many heads there ready to preach revolution . There were huge amounts of various kinds of drugs to fry the collective brains present  and the whole mix just combined to tip the scales over towards logistical disaster .


The Great White Shark .


 

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