Tuesday, May 31, 2022

In the Shadows of The Woodstock Myth

Good Times magazine pp 16-17. April-2020.

The author of this article, Peter Eitner, posted it to the Facebook group 1970 Isle of Wight Festival Veterans with a request for translation. I did not study German at school but I can use Google translate. Please let me know of any errors or improved translations.


50 years ago the mega festival rose on the Isle of Wight

At the end of August 1970, hordes of music freaks from all over the world made a pilgrimage to a small island in the English Channel. With 650,000 visitors, the 3rd Isle of Wight Pop Festival was the largest event of its kind and yet always remained in the shadow of the Woodstock myth. It was created by the cinema film of the same name, which in the case of the Wight Festival ("Message To Love") was not released until 27 years later and thus practically flopped. In addition, one could get the impression with this opus by director Murray Lerner that it had a kind of civil war raged on site.

Nothing is further off the mark, because despite the unpredictable crowds of masses (they were optimistic about 250,000), the whole thing was much less chaotic than Woodstock: no endless traffic jams, no mud hell, no bad LSD and no supply shortages. Instead, with a grandiose line-up, tolerant police and an infrastructure that was almost luxurious for the time, with 1,200 outhouses, 180 snack bars and 120 drinking water points. The organizers were willing to accept reality and accepted a deficit instead of countering violence with violence: when some anarchos decided at short notice to tear holes in the three miles of corrugated iron fence around the 15-hectare site (which in the film is presented much too dramatically), they were allowed to do as they please and the whole thing was declared a "free festival".

Of course, the problems were also home-grown: The site at East Afton Farm in the southwest of the island was, of all things, at the foot of a huge hill, which was wonderfully suited as a campground and amphitheater with perfect acoustics and a view. This saved them around 50,000. Visitors paid the already ridiculously low entry fee of three pounds (about 25 marks at the time) and watched the musical spectacle from above for free.

In addition, the first two days were still set-up time for the stage. Until then, acts like Supertramp played at the front of the ramp (still completely unknown), Black Widow, the Groundhogs, Kris Kristofferson, the space rockers from Hawkwind, Terry Reid and the later Brazilian world stars Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso free of charge for the arriving visitors. The 5000-watt PA from The Who had been bought for sound reinforcement, which was considered the "loudest" thing that could be found at the time. Pete Townshend and Co. therefore had a double home game when, according to their own assessment, they had the best performance of their story: A mix of the entire TOMMY album and the later highlights of LIVE AT LEEDS.

Before that, however, there had already been enough other spectacles. As if there were: Rory Gallagher with Taste, Chicago, Procol Harum or Family with Roger Chapman, who roared so fiercely that one is said to have heard him on the other side of the island. The shows by Ten Years After and Jethro Tull and what was only the second concert by Emerson, Lake & Palmer were also safe bets. ELP debuted with a fire-breathing stage cannon that singed the hair of the front rows before they were allowed to listen to the premiere of PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION.

Even after the first regular day of the festival (Friday, August 29), the program was way behind schedule. By the time the heavy rockers Cactus (ex-Vanilla Fudge) finished their gig at 3am, most music freaks were fast asleep. The rush did not stop on Saturday. Ferries and double-decker buses brought tens of thousands more to the site. The nearby village of Freshwater was teeming with hippies, and thousands of naked freaks were sunning themselves on the beach at Compton Bay over the hill. Although bobbies patrolled everywhere, the security forces let the hippies and the potheads do their thing because of the peaceful atmosphere, provided they didn't have larger quantities. During the whole day there were hardly any complaints from the islanders, who had previously feared a kind of Hell: Here a couple making love in the bushes, there a littered front yard, and in a few towns the returnable bottles ran out - that was the worst."

And that despite the fact that so many people had gathered on the site that the back rows were almost half a kilometer from the stage. An unmanageable sea of ​​heads that trusted each other: you could leave your belongings alone for hours without anything getting lost. There was only trouble on the stage: Announcer Rikki Farr insulted the anarchos, who had briefly endangered the further course of the festival with their fence action, and Joni Mitchell spontaneously burst into tears as a Charles Manson look-alike, visibly drugged, stopped their performance to bawl some "messages" into the microphone. Apart from that, there was almost beguiling unity during the daily ritual: "Amazing Grace" rang out from the sound system, whereupon the hippie community rose and raised their fingers to the victory sign in the sky stretched Love and Peace.

There were plenty of musical highlights: Woodstock veteran John Sebastian put on a mammoth two-hour performance with only his country guitar, in which his former comrade-in-arms Zal Yanovsky, who unexpectedly turned up, joined in at the end. With that, half the Lovin' Spoonful were reunited after a three-year hiatus, and thousands sang along to the heart of "Blues In The Bottle."

Curious things also happened: Where else was there once avant-garde jazz (by the Miles Davis Septet with Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea, among others) immediately after late Victorian ditties to the ukulele (by Tiny Tim)? And where else did an artist who wasn't even on the program (US songwriter David Bromberg) make it onto the festival's official triple album with his only song performed? Which, by the way, is also typical of the underestimated status of Isle of Wight in 1970: It was only released as a hybrid together with an hour of music from the Atlanta Pop Festival in the same summer and, like the 1997 festival film, almost went under.

Speaking of going under: the good Melanie had a difficult time, who had to postpone her performance by a whole day due to a delay before she was allowed to climb onto the stage alone and in a thin little dress at two in the morning, or rather had to, after The Who’s two-and-a-half-hour tornado? The title "What Have They Done To My Song, Ma?" authorized. After all, Wisp Keith Moon, of all people, looked after the freezing Mrs. Safka, a real gentleman. It was only worse for Sly & The Family Stone, who closed "Saturday" on Sunday morning at 8.30 a.m. despite a sizzling show in front of mostly snoring sleeping bags.

Speaking of oversleeping: Unfortunately, the Doors were also among those who didn’t exactly show their spirits: eagerly awaited by many, they turned out to be the full-bearded Jim Morrison in the dim emergency light as a really tired act. Was it because they forgot their own stage lights or because Morrison's impending court hearing? Anyway, on one of their last gigs, the Californians dragged themselves from song to song with the Lizard King, and Morrison was so weary on the mic you'd think he'd dozed off on "The End." Only at the bar in the backstage area that he became a little more alive and swore that he had never exposed himself anywhere on stage. One might even believe him that evening.

Unfortunately, while Free, Pentangle, the Moody Blues and Chicago put down stunning and acclaimed sets, headliner Jimi Hendrix also proved relatively indisposed. Pete Townshend, who met him there, put it like this: "Oh man, Jimi seemed fucking sick and out of himself." In fact, not much was right with his strangely angular and erratic appearance: his black Strat seemed slightly out of tune, the wah-wah pedal soon went all the way across the Jordan, and a live mix only came about because the visitor, David Gilmour, stepped in at the controls.The writer of these lines swears that he - although only five meters from the stage neither "All Along The Watchtower" nor "God Save The Queen" (as a counterpart to Woodstock's "Star Spangled Banner") nor "Sgt. Pepper" or "Foxy Lady". Especially since Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell also stood next to each other that night or Of course, at that moment, there was never a thought of a tragic end barely three weeks later, but one would have liked to have remembered Jimi differently, especially since he played in front of a full house again in contrast to Woodstock.

So it was left for Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen and bouncer Richie Havens (who opened Woodstock) to bring down a legendary festival, the last of its kind. No sooner had "Freedom" faded away than many days of sunshine began to rain and a cold wind picked up. but even though the final was well organised, no one was left stranded on the island. If you were broke, you could quickly get one from a self-help office and could buy snacks from the vendor's tray for good money to pay for the ferry. The organizers themselves were different: they were left with a minus of 130,000 pounds. That's another reason why it took 32 years for a rock festival to take place on the Isle of Wight.

History of Classic Isle of Wight Festivals

1968 Godshill

The history of the festival began very modestly: as an idea to raise money for swimming pools on the island. Today it would be called "fund raising". The brothers Kounic and Ray Foulk as well as the DJ and actor Thomas ("Rikki") Farr stamped an open air festival out of the ground, which attracted at least 10,000 visitors on August 31st on a stubble field near Godshill lured Jefferson Airplane, Pretty Things, The Move, Fairport Convention, Tyrannosaurus Rex, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation played fairly simply on two flatbed trailers pulled together. Admission was £1.25, and if you still have the ticket or a copy of the psychedelic festival poster from back then, you can now fetch handsome sums of money on the internet. It is not known whether a swimming pool could be built from the income in 1968.

1969 - Woodside Bay

After the music freaks had behaved well-behaved and civilized, the Isle of Wight Festival was repeated in 1969. The same initiators who now traded professionally under the name "Fiery Creations" left all in all: They wanted nothing less than to persuade Bob Dylan to end his retreat from the public eye, which had been going on since 1966. They succeeded with the help of a self-made film about the beauties of the island and the offer of a 14-day vacation for Dylan and his family, including a farmhouse, car, driver and a passage on the QE2. As an additional mood lift, the organizers recruited Dylan's old buddy George Harrison, who spalled him the whole time (e.g. with tennis matches).

From August 29 to 31, 1969, 200,000 visitors came to the festival itself at Woodside Bay in the north of the island. For comparison: the island had around 90,000 inhabitants at the time. With the exception of Paul McCartney, all the Beatles had women among the VIPs. They saw and heard a line-up that included headliners Dylan The Band, Marsha Hunt, Joc Cocker, the Edgar Broughton Band. The Nice, which included Bonzo Dog Band, Blodwyn Pig, Family, The Who and Fat Mattress. From the small profit (Dylan alone received £35,000) they then tackled the 1970 festival in East Afton.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Eddi Reader at The Queen’s Hall

Edinburgh, Scotland. Saturday 23-April-2022.

I bought the 12 inch single of Perfect way back in 1988 that helped launch Fairground Attraction on their pop career. Little did I think that I would be seeing the lead singer, Eddi Reader, 34 years later not once but twice once with Steve Harley and now this concert.

We were trying to rustle up interest amongst our friends to see Eddi in concert and by the time results were in Glasgow was sold out and so we ended up booking tickets for the Edinburgh gig. It was just Mary and I and our friend Nigel. We booked ourselves a hotel and were ready for the off when Nigel had to cancel due to catching Covid so it was just the two of us.

We were going to go by train but there were weekend engineering works and the bus replacement service was all the way from Carlisle to Edinburgh doubling the journey time. So we decided to drive instead which wasn’t too painful.

We checked into a boutique hotel with a massive room in the vicinity of the venue. 

We went for a supper in 56 North, a gin bar, distillery and kitchen found by Mary surfing for nearby eating places. Given my predilection for this beverage it turned out to be an excellent choice as it had 400 gins to choose from. Food was also delicious and the ambience lively and friendly with a mixture of groups, couples, across a wide range of ages, some eating, some just having a drink.

Then off to the gig where we were able to get a refund on Nigel‘s ticket. His hotel booking was nonrefundable but this at least helped soften the blow.

The support act was Ultan Conlan who we had seen once before at a Mary Coughlan concert outside Dublin. As well as being a fine singer he was an exemplar of the benefits of seeing a live performance giving us some chat and background to the inspiration for the songs. Eddi came on during Ultan's set and sang one song with him.

Eddi did a fine set with her band including, naturally, Perfect. Every successful artist has that one song that everyone expects to hear whether they want to perform it or not. When we saw James Taylor he quipped that the first time he heard "You’ve got a friend" little did he realise that he was going to be singing it every day for the rest of his life! Similarly in an interview with Pam Ayres she remarked that everyone wants to hear the poem “I wish I looked after my teeth “and she tries to make it sound fresh every time. So it is with Eddi and Perfect. It sounded as fresh and beautifully sung as when I bought that single so many years ago.

After the concert we went in search of a nightcap and ended up in the local Cask and Barrel pub where they had some excellent beers on draft.

The next day it seemed only sensible to play the tourist as who knows when we would be in Edinburgh again.  Since we were in Newington practically at the foot of Arthur's Seat, a volcanic stump on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Foolishly we decided to go up to the top for the great views over Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth. It was sunny and very windy but luckily we were dressed for East Coast weather.

On the way back to the car we peered into the Innocent Railway, the oldest railway tunnel in Scotland. We lunched at Southpour and then headed home having an an excellent trip.