Performers flex their might at the Isle of Wight

THE MOODY BLUES were among the performers featured at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival. Their performance is now available from Eagle Rock Entertainment on the new Blu-ray, “The Moody Blues: Threshold of a Dream Live at the Isle of Wight Festival.” Photo courtesy of Eagle Rock Entertainment

In fact, the outside agitators devoured so many of the headlines that today, the most memorable aspect of the festival was not actually a part of the official event. Two bands from the extreme fringes of London hippiedom, Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies, decided to gate-crash the event as a protest against what they saw as the blatant commercialism of the festival. Establishing a canvas city on the perimeter of the festival grounds (for as long as the gates still stood — by the end of the weekend, says deejay Andy Dunkley, “they were basically playing just outside the main stage arena”), the two bands staged a festival of their own, for free.

The Pink Fairies were the driving force behind the protest. “We knew the Pink Fairies and Hawkwind had to be at the Isle of Wight. We’d gone down there in advance to suss the scene out, to look at the layout of the festival site. It was the time of the [underground action group] White Panthers, which we were very much part of; we were very anti-music business, so we went down there with the intention of trying to turn it into a free festival, and while it obviously turned out to be too big for us to do that, we did stage an alternative festival.”

Still reeling from the effects of an acid-spiked apple juice, Hawkwind guitarist Huw Lloyd Langton remembers, “our performance must have been awful.” Nik Turner and Dave Brock used to tune up to Langton’s guitar, “but I thought I’d been transported to another planet, and I couldn’t get my tuning together because all the notes wavered.” He ended the show on his knees, praying.

Turner wasn’t too concerned. He was having the time of his life, posing for the myriad press cameras that had descended upon the tiny Isle of Wight. With his hair in plaits and silver stars punctuating his already gaudy clothing, his face painted silver to match, Turner was hard to miss.

Hendrix dedicated one song “to the cat with the silver face,” and after his set, sat in with the band for a smoke. In fact, had Hendrix not died a month after the show (the Isle of Wight was his final U.K. show), Turner is convinced that Hawkwind and Hendrix would have worked together in the future. In fact, according to bandmate Dik Mik, Jimi Hendrix intended appearing alongside them at the following year’s Stonehenge festival. “He agreed to… the day before he died.”

Of course, there was plenty of excitement on the main stage, too. The Moody Blues’ performance was superlative (as the Blu-ray edition of the DVD proves); Cohen was phenomenal, too. And Taste, with Rory Gallagher, was so impressed by their showing that they preserved their show for a live album. Elsewhere, onlookers saw Joni Mitchell having her set interrupted by peace protesters, Black Widow enacting a Wiccan ceremony onstage and Jethro Tull playing a set that, even today, Ian Anderson reckons was among the best of his band’s career, despite the whole affair, he says, being “a disaster.”

“It really did mark the end of the hippie thing in the U.K. It was an attempt to recreate Woodstock, and it really did end in tears, a denial of all the supposedly good and worthwhile and wonderful ideals of the hippie thing. There were people breaking down fences, the promoter becoming so disillusioned that he walked offstage… it’s wonderfully funny looking at it. And most of the bands were diabolically awful!”

ELP was one exception to that rule. Their inclusion on the festival bill was, in fact, one of the last to be confirmed. The group was originally scheduled to make its public debut at the Plumpton Festival, staged that year between Aug. 6-9, following that with an Aug. 14 headliner at the London Lyceum’s season of Prog Rock showcases. These engagements were canceled when the offer to play the Isle Of Wight came up.

“There was talk about Plumpton, because The Nice had played there,” recalls Keith Emerson, “but I think we all viewed the Isle Of Wight thing as being a far bigger event, a lot more prestigious.”

They warmed up with a low-key show at the Plymouth Guildhall, back on the English mainland, then headed across the water.
The trio appeared next to bottom of the bill on the second day of the festival, following a John Sebastian set that rapidly turned into an impromptu Loving Spoonful reunion. The Doors and The Who topped that day’s bill. But despite its lowly roost, ELP triumphed, and again, there’s a DVD to prove it.

Of course, the festival belonged to Hendrix — even after he turned in so ill-tempered a set that afterwards, he turned down the invitation to jam with the gatecrashing Hawkwind. He was simply too depressed. After a month off the road, drummer Mitch Mitchell admits that it was a mistake not to at least try rehearsing before they took the stage.
“We were rusty, and it showed. The audience didn’t help, and we had technical problems, with funny voices coming through the PA.” And, of course, “it was cold and dank.”

Cold and dank, wet and windy… to the hardy hippie convoys that spent every summer shifting inexorably from site to site, that was festival weather, no reason to be downcast or dark-hearted. Barefoot songstress Sandy Shaw was so enthused that she even recorded a song about it… “Wight is Wight” was hardly Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” but it captured a mood, regardless. And those people who complained about that mood, be it communal joy or weatherbeaten martyrdom… well, they just weren’t festival people, were they?

1970 Isle of Wight performers

Wednesday, Aug. 26, 1970
• Judas Jump
• Kathy Smith
• Rosalie Sorrels
• David Bromberg
• Redbone
• Kris Kristofferson
• Mighty Baby

Thursday, Aug. 27, 1970
• Gary Farr
• Supertramp
• Andy Roberts’ Everyone
• Howl
• Black Widow
• The Groundhogs
• Terry Reid
• Gilberto Gil

Friday, Aug. 28, 1970
• Fairfield Parlour
• Arrival
• Lighthouse
• Taste
• Tony Joe White
• Chicago
• Family
• Procol Harum
• Voices of East Harlem
• Cactus

Saturday, Aug. 29, 1970
• John Sebastian
• Shawn Phillips
• Lighthouse
• Joni Mitchell
• Tiny Tim
• Miles Davis
• Ten Years After
• Emerson, Lake & Palmer
• The Doors
• The Who
• Melanie
• Sly & the Family Stone

Sunday Aug. 30, 1970
• Good News
• Kris Kristofferson
• Ralph McTell
• Heaven
• Free
• Donovan
• Pentangle
• The Moody Blues
• Jethro Tull
• Jimi Hendrix
• Joan Baez
• Leonard Cohen
• Richie Havens

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About Patrick Prince

Patrick Prince is the Editor of Goldmine

4 thoughts on “Performers flex their might at the Isle of Wight

  1. I was 14 when this album was released. Up until that time, I hadn’t really “experienced” the Eagles as a regular fan. It was strange to me that my 12 year-old step-brother turned me on to this record! Yeah, brothas and sistahs, the music was absolutely stunningly incredible! Today, it remains in my top 10 desert-island classic rock releases, an LP one can listen to repeatedly without getting too burned out by repeated listenings.

    As for the cover, it is absolutely brilliant in its ability to capture the essence of the dark side of life in Southern California in those 1970’s. Kosh’s photo’s historical brilliance fully captured the hot, steamy, unpredictable, sinister subject matter of the song itself, and perhaps others on the record; hands down, like no other album jacket I’ve committed to memory, Kosh’s totally inspired work to create possibly the world’s finest rock and roll [jacket designed to reflect the time, the music, the attitudes and the place] of an era has become an iconic wonder for those of us who grew up WITH the record in the ’70’s. I dunno about Californians, but my life on the East Coast, having never been to the old west, much less California, Kosh’s cover, combined with the music on this record, left almost nothing to the imagination. In-your-face, it unapologetically exemplified Southern California (at that time, it was the ENTIRE state to me): not as a state, per se, but as a state-of-mind and existence. Obviously (or perhaps not), my reflections here are based solely on my imagination of anyone’s “life” in the ENTIRE state of “California.” Though Napa Valley down to San Francisco contains its own imagery, the truth is now a bit of a let-down for me. If my wife and I ever take a vacation to the west coast (she’s originally from California), no matter where she decides to take me, I’ll never be able to get the LP’s cover image out of my idealistic mind – there’s only ONE Hotel California (nee California Hotel) that sums up “my” permanent image of what California will always “look” like to me, thanks to an album cover that was indeed, spot-on for its purpose.

  2. Does ANY DVD version of THE ISLE OF WIGHT contain every act who performed? There are hoards of us who’ve never seen the original footage of THE GROUNDHOGS’ performance, nor the SUPERTRAMP appearance as well.

  3. Gary Farr was a musician not a concert promoter. Gary Farr did not take the stage to tell the crowd off..his brother Ricky did. Most the world ignored the very talented and now gone Gary Farr because his dad happened to be a world class boxer(Tommy) and his brother Ricky was a concert promoter. At Isle Of Wight Gary played solo acoustic and he had played in 69’s isle of wight as well as did some solo albums and played with the band Lion that did running all night in 1980. Gary was singer for the T-Bones for God sake..get it right on your facts man. He deserved to be none for what he did, not mistaken for his brother or his dad.

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