Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Isle of Wight Festival 1970

Freshwater, Isle of Wight. Friday/Monday 28/31-August-1970.

They do say that "If you remember the ’60s, you really weren’t there". Much the same could be said of most of my own life. Specifically, I was at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 and I don't remember much of that. 

I read the line-up on Wikipedia Isle of Wight Festival 1970 and am astounded at the line-up. There are some of the most famous and influential bands and acts in musical history. Some of them I remember and some I don't. I think much of this was due to my musical illiteracy at 17. If they hadn't appeared on Top of the Pops I wouldn't know who they were and so did not appreciate who I was listening to. Sadly I only remember most clearly John Sebastian, Tiny Tim, The Who and Melanie. 

Evening Standard Festival Fun Book:

I went with my friend David Fee who I'd met working on an archaeological dig at the Lunt Roman Fort in Baginton. I was a very unadventurous teenager so I think it must have been David's suggestion that we go. I met up with David recently and it turns out he remembers even less than I do, so that scuppered my plan to fill in some of the gaps in my memory.

Me in 1971 (standing at the back).

David Fee in summer 1972.

I don't remember when we travelled down or how we got there; I am guessing we went down on the Friday (28-August-1970) because I do not remember any of Friday's acts but do remember John Sebastian with his colourful trousers who was first up on the Saturday.

We probably went by train and ferry, I was equipped with a rucksack, a two man tent and a cheap, yellow, feather sleeping bag all bought specially for the occasion. How we got from Cowes to East Afton farm is also lost in the mists of time.

Festival Grounds Plan.

When we arrived we pitched our tent in what must have been in the Freshwater campsite because I remember we were generally sitting to the left of the stage. An enterprising local farmer was selling straw bales so we bought two. One we untied and spread inside the tent as a mattress, the other we left outside as a seat. The following day when we got back from a day of watching the acts some b*****d had stolen the bale because we had trustingly left it outside our tent. 

I don't remember what was in our rucksacks but I am pretty sure we didn't pack any food. We ate at the various stalls and I do know that was the first time I ever tried a bean burger; it was delicious. David remembers that he enjoyed the macrobiotic stew from the macrobiotic tent and we largely ate bags of juicy pears from local farmers.

The sanitary arrangements were quickly overwhelmed and became a boggy unapproachable mess. Since they were outside the main arena it was in any case a struggle to get all the way to the “loos”, so lots of people were peeing against the corrugated iron perimeter fence.

Full programme:

Saturday 29th
  • John Sebastian
  • Shawn Phillips
  • Lighthouse (second set)
  • Joni Mitchell
  • Tiny Tim
  • Miles Davis
  • Ten Years After
  • Emerson, Lake & Palmer
  • The Doors
  • The Who
  • Sly and the Family Stone
  • Melanie
Sunday 30th
  • Good News
  • Kris Kristofferson (second set).
  • Ralph McTell
  • Heaven
  • Free
  • Donovan
  • Pentangle
  • The Moody Blues
  • Jethro Tull
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Joan Baez
  • Leonard Cohen
  • Richie Havens
We found a spot to sit but this was long before that days of big screens, all you saw was a dot on the distant stage. Alternatively you could wend your way though the crowd to get up close but then had to stand as the crowd was so packed. Inevitably the days were spent see-sawing between the two positions.

I do remember The Who because they played the whole of Tommy which I had recently bought for the princely sum of 85/- shillings (that's £4.25). Sadly I also remember Tiny Tim. Melanie was memorable because she was a babe and I had seen her on Top of the Pops. 

David says he slept through Jimi Hendrix so there is a real possibility I may have dozed as well; it was in the early hours on Monday morning and I am not a night owl. As for the rest it is all a bit of a blur. Even looking on YouTube at the various performances hasn't jogged any brain cells. So sad. 

On the way back, once we had disembarked the ferry, we decided to hitch back. The first car to stop was a bloke in an MG who said he was going all the way to Coventry where David lived and going through Kenilworth where I lived. 

A fantastic ride, to get all the way home in a single lift. Obviously there was only one passenger seat. So we said we'll both sit in the one seat; we took it in turns to sit on each other lap until the legs of the one underneath went dead then we swapped over. We got home in record time!

That was my sole experience of festival going for 40 years until I went to Cropredy in 2011.

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