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Updated June 2009

The Fifteenth National Jazz ,Blues and Rock Festival.
Richfield Avenue. 
August 22-24th 1975.

The 1975 Reading Festival.

Backstage with Trower.

     I was rather fortunate to be one of Robin Trower's guests at the Reading Festival in 1975. A guitarist my friend and I had met in a pub earlier thatyear mentioned he was a mate of Robin's and he'd introduce us to him if we turned up at the Kings' Arms in Moulsham Street, Chelmsford (now renamed something rather fancy). Much to our surprise this turned out to be true and we got to meet Robin and watch him jam with the house band on several occasions over the course of the following weeks. At this stage of his career Robin Trower's star was rising at a phenomenal rate in the USA, so you can imagine how thrilling it was to see him up close in a tiny pub - his playing was just a exciting in jam-mode - blasting out some old classic rock'n'roll and blues numbers with just drums, bass and acoustic piano backing him. He was playing Dave's Strat, which he'd actually given to Dave the house-band guitarist several weeks earlier! Dave tended to get a thinnish tone through his Marshall amp, but with just a cursory amount of twiddling with the controls, and no effect pedals, Trower instantly delivered his famous thick shake tone at the drop of a hat. Proving, beyond doubt, that you've either got it, or you haven't!

     So that August Bank Holiday Sunday four of us set out for sunny Berkshire in Dave's clapped-out car (more of which later...). It didn't take long to find ourselves outside the guest entrance of the Festival site, we were quickly and expertly ushered in by Robin's brother - who also happened to be his road manager at the time - and our party of four were soon kitted out with splendid Robin Trower T-shirts, badges and guest passes and then promptly whisked up to RT's backstage trailer, which turned out to be locked and unoccupied! As well as being covered in large posters of the man himself.They were actually ads for a Swedish gig that had yielded 'Robin Trower: Live'. It was the same photo that was used on the back cover of 'For Earth Below', except instead of being just a head-shot, ala the album, this was the complete photo from head to foot, pretty impressive too - pity I never blagged one, they'd have made an excellent souvenir.

      It was just as the final strains of Caravan's penultimate number were rolling out of the PA system that we literally bumped into another guest who was also 'locked-out' - it was none other than that erstwhile, quintessentially English gentleman-about-town, Mr Robert Fripp, who was then late of King Crimson. He was idly biding his time in the backstage area until someone from the Trower camp materialised... and lo... it turned out to be a quartet of oiks from Essex.

    I have no idea if Mr Fripp was either prepared or equipped to deal with a quart of blokes who resembled asylum inmates, all I can report is, after his initial shock, he turned out to be a very affable sort of soul; articulate, entertaining - with a nice line in droll humour - as well as being a rather amusing raconteur. Consequently, the other three completely ignored him, so it was left down to me to attempt to engage him in some sort of meaningful conversation. I resisted the urge to question the wisdom and validity of releasing 'Earthbound' on an unsuspecting public and decided to concentrate on more mundane issues.

    As the reason for all of us being there was Robin Trower this seemed to be a sensible point of entry into any form of dialogue. It was soon obvious that he rated Trower very highly as a guitarist but, more importantly, a highly gifted musician as well. He spent quite a while explaining it was the spirit of the man that manifested itself through his playing, allied to his incredible vibrato and signature tone, it was a lethal combination. Bearing in mind they had recently toured together across the States - as Crimson finally began to disintegrate - he obviously knew what he was talking about.

Mr Fripp, fresh from being boo'ed offstage in Paris

Photos © Ian Ellis

     Whilst preparing this article I located some old photographs I had taken that day (rather poor by today's standards I'm afraid). Now then, the urbane sophisticated socialite who is writing this piece bears no resemblance whatsoever to the 19 year old oddball in the snaps. I had intended to include a picture of yours truly standing next to Crimson's main man. Sadly, with the passage of some thirty years, I was horrified to discovery that the entity standing next to Mr Fripp looked like the result of a night of passion between Godzilla and a Yak. Did I really look like that three decades ago? I could easily have been mistaken for an escapee from Whipsnade, long shaggy locks and an expression like a concussed Meerkat. On the grounds of taste and decency I have elected to omit the offending Kodak from Hell.

     Meanwhile...back at the Festival... ...Mr Fripp had skilfully extricated himself from my interrogation and wandered off to watch Soft Machine, who had now taken to the stage. In the meantime I had spotted a vision in white, effortlessly gliding between the backstage trailers, hands clasped in a prayer stance; bowing and smiling at everyone.

Photos © Ian Ellis

       It was none other than that devoted disciple of Sri Chinmoy: John McLaughlin. Big John radiated charm and bonhomie, whilst skilfully posing for anyone clutching a camera, he looked like a forerunner of Gilderoy Lockhart, though he eyed my puny instamatic with a certain amount of caution; experience had obviously taught him to spot the professionals from the rank amateurs!

     His gleaming white teeth and attire were immaculate, not a hair out of place, one suspected, judging by his sartorial elegance, he probably had matching undercrackers and socks as well, though I never found out for sure. Anyway, I thought he looked more like a forties movie star than a six-string gun-slinger armed with a Gibson twin neck (which, alas, he didn't use at Reading).

     After my brush with the ghostly Mahavishnu man Robin Trower arrived and entered his trailer, no sooner had he disappeared inside than his brother emerged through the same door and beckoned me over. 'Can you find Bob and tell him Robin's here?' I stumbled toward the stage rather nervously, up until this point I'd merely been an excited passenger, suddenly I was on an errand, part of the team! I showed my pass and walked under the stage and out into the guest's enclosure, it was at that moment that the full impact of the Festival hit me, viewed from beneath the stage the crowd looked enormous, noisy and threatening.

     No sooner had I stepped out from under the stage when Soft Machine struck up something from Bundles, it was deafening! They had been between numbers whilst I was making my way through the maze of scaffolding that supported the twin-stages, it wouldn't be until later that I found out how loud it was underneath the boards as a certain three piece thundered their way through 'Day Of The Eagle'... in the meantime, I was looking for Mr Fripp, I spotted him and to my amazement he waved me over, I sat next to him and shouted out Robin had arrived, he nodded and we sat and watched the conclusion of the Soft Machine number. I had never heard of
Allan Holdsworth prior to this; he looked like a vagrant, tatty old pullover and gardening trousers, the complete opposite of Johnny M. As he widdled his way around the fret board I couldn't help thinking he was a poor man's Ollie Halsall (I still do!), he certainly seemed to think he was, as each solo seemed to echo Ollie's magnificent playing from 'Hold Your Fire' The most criminally underrated guitar album of all time! Mr Fripp and I soon upped sticks and wandered back to the guest area, a loud cheer emitting from inside of the trailer as the Twentieth Century Schizoid Man entered.

     I found my three associates once more and we began chatting with Robin's brother (whose name, after such a long passage of time, completely escapes me) and he informed us that SOUNDS (a popular music paper of the time) had sent a female journalist over to the States to tour with them earlier in the year, she had remained pretty mute during the few gigs she was with them and he confessed they had been pretty tense as to what she would say in her article, I remembered reading that article where she had described him as being more like the owner of a garage, a posh garage, than a tour manager.

Photos © Ian Ellis

     Although the review wasn't overtly hostile, it wasn't that favourable either, just goes to show it takes all sorts. However, I also recall Robin's brother excitedly announcing some time later that they had secured the front page, again with SOUNDS, for the following Wednesday's issue. Sure enough, when I picked up my copy later in the week there was Robin, complete with hat, along with James and Bill on the front as promised. In the meantime Mr Fripp had reappeared and wandered over for another chat (I realise now he must have mistaken me as really being part of the Trower set-up) 'Did you know', he enquired, 'that Fripp and Eno were booed off stage in Paris a few nights ago?...' he then wandered off again. It took me a few moments to realise he was talking about himself in the third party...bizarre!

     I watched the whole of the Climax Blues Band's set and though Pete Haycock's slide solo rather good, they went down well, but after they left the stage the crowd suddenly became restless, it was now drifting into late afternoon and the Mahavishnu Orchestra were about to take the stage. I can't say I was a real fan, but a friend of mine was heavily into them so I was familiar with some of their material, not that it did me any good, as they were now trimmed down to a four piece and hardly resembled the multi-talented five-piece of yore ago. Cobham had been replaced by Michael Walden and the violinist had been dispensed with completely; this was a new-look orchestra, well, quartet anyway! To my surprise I was refused entry into the guest arena at the front of the stage - it was full - I was curtly informed, this didn't bode too well, so I wandered onto the ramp at the back of the stage and tried to catch a glimpse of the action, mindful of a large sign ominously proclaiming 'No guests on stage', so I was momentarily stumped.

    However, all was not lost, as Robin and Mr Fripp ambled up the ramp to check out the Orchestra, never one to miss an opportunity I simply sidled between them and got to the side of the stage unchallenged, and there I remained for the rest of their set, long after the two Rs had retreated back to the trailer. Looking out onto that vast crowd, as the band thundered through their impossible-to-tap-your-foot-to music, the Mahavishnu Orchestra both entertained and confused the masses in equal measure. Something was up though, John McLaughlin didn't look overly happy, the beaming sage from backstage had suddenly become slightly cross - and at one point he physically threw his beautiful gold encrusted Gibson across the stage, it made a dreadful clunking noise as it hit the floor once and bounced into the arms of his waiting roadie, hardly the act of a happy performer! They were refused an encore by the powers that be, even though the audience demanded one, Mr McLaughlin took it philosophically, he smiled at me once more as he turned and made his way down the ramp, it was now dangerously close to Trower time, the reason why we were here...

    Dave, the man who actually knew Robin well, was nowhere to be seen, he was propping up the hospitality bar, this was the same dude who was going to drive us home!!! Hmm, ominous, to say the least! I was eventually reunited with my travelling companions and we watched as scores of professional snappers photographed the Robin Trower Band on the steps of their trailer backstage, moments before they were about to begin their set. We followed them toward the stage, they went up the right hand side ramp and we then tried to enter under the stage into the guest enclosure out front, once again we were thwarted, this time by some overly aggressive oaf.

    We were now halfway under the stage, surrounded by scaffolding and going nowhere, suddenly the deafening strains of 'Day Of The Eagle' blasted through the floorboards and we beat a hasty retreat, only to run into Robin's brother. We told him of our plight and he sorted it out in seconds, barking roughly at the prat who'd denied us entry - he informed him in no uncertain terms we were all personal friends of Robin's and we must get through. It worked, and we eventually made it out front as 'Bridge Of Sighs' blasted across the
Berkshire countryside.

Photos © Ian Ellis


Photos © Ian Ellis

     Robin Trower delivered a blistering set, it was several notches above anything I'd seen previously that afternoon. James Dewar's soulful voice filled the air and Trower's signature tone carried through the ether in wave after wave of emotionally drenched, wah wah and univibe saturated joy. His colossal Marshall stacks were pumping at full throttle, yet his touch and tone seemingly ebbed and flowed between two unseen worlds, the heavenly tenderness of 'Daydream' to the hell-and-back neck-wringing brutality of 'The Fool And Me'. This was classic Trower, driving his audience to a frenzy, like some carnival-crazed matador taming the bullish moans and wails glowing from the over- driven valves (tubes - for any Americans reading this) in his amplifiers, there was no going back now, this sunshine toboggan ride had no brakes, and we were on a crash course to nirvana, via Berkshire!

    Three encores later and it was all over, the crowd on their collective feet, hollering and baying like demented souls in the Coliseum at Rome, but instead of demanding blood, they were demanding guitar-driven blues saturated rock, as delivered by one of the all-time-greats - Robin Trower - surely one of the finest players to ever come out of these shores.

    We assembled backstage after the performance, everyone seemed happy, even Trower's grumpy manager, a rather offish, surly, guy named Wilf. Maggie Bell was also present, beaming and congratulating her old band mate Mr Dewar. The general consensus was that it had all gone well - a fact I can vouch for - it was a great performance and a tremendous audience reaction. Believe me, if you've got the bootleg tape of the show, it really doesn't do the gig justice, the sound on the day was superb, something that seems to have got lost on the magnetic tape and tiny microphone that must have been used to record it.

    In conclusion , it was a great afternoon, met some fantastic folks, saw some great bands and heard some wonderful music. We left in darkness at the end of Trower's set, we didn't get far, a few miles outside London Dave's dodgy motor finally gave up the ghost, with an almighty bang the big end went, fired through the bottom of the engine like a bullet. We split into two and had to hitch home, we walked for several hours before we got a lift, it was Dave, he'd phoned a mate and he came and picked us up. An ignoble end to a glorious day!

Ian Ellis

My memories of Robin Trower at Reading 1975 are a little different. My friend, Dennis Wilson and myself were both 17 and this was our first (and my last festival). I can't really remember if I knew much about Trower prior to the festival but what I did know was that Denis hated him with a passion as he had the temerity to criticise his hero, the great Jimi Hendrix. I do seem to recall reading in NME which I read avidly every Thursday morning, that Trower had said he was a better a guitarist than Jimi. Throughout his set Denis screamed abuse - surprisingly, nobody objected although I was convinced someone would stick one on him. He escaped unscathed.

Something else sticks in the memory - we were near to the rear of the festival area most of the time and most bands weren't very loud - we were in the middle of a health scare that the young and impressionable could suffer permanent ear damage by listening to too much rock music so decibel levels were strictly enforced. I could be imagining this but periodically, a man from the local council appeared on a ladder measuring the sound level. Did it really happen?

I did buy a number of Trower albums in later years and I did enjoy them but he wasn't / isn't in the same league as Jimi.

Graham Kennedy

1975 festival pages and links

The early festivals.

You can find out the complete line ups of the first festivals if you follow the links below .

Festivals 1965-1990

Most of these have fairly complete documentation .But new contributions of any sort are always welcome regarding any of the festivals.
Richmond 1965
Windsor 1966
 Windsor 1967
Sunbury 1968
Plumpton 1969
Plumpton 1970
Reading 1971
Reading 1972
Reading 1973
Reading 1974


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