updated Dec 2011
Plumpton Race Track.
THERE is one sign reading "to the festival" about four miles from the site for the complicated route to hidden Plumpton Racecourse. Thanks to brilliant navigation on the part of one of my esteemed fellows the 45-mile journey became a jovial 75-mile romp through the country, but we did manage to crawl in a little late and heard the screeches of horns from a stage off in the distance.
Settling peacefully in the press bar, I awaited the arrival of the Blossom Toes while Paragon Publicity's Michael "Yuk; Yuk" Hales, who risked my life as a favour when he drove me down, tried to ensure we journalists would indeed relinquish our booze and watch during the Toes' spot. Noting the layout of the festival, it was easy to praise the direction of Harold Pendleton and publicity by Brian Sommerville. There were two separate stages in alternate operation at first, yet toward the second day, they began to overlap the acts, making it impossible to catch all groups .Seating for thousands was more than adequate since the turnout was smaller than last year with, I would estimate, about twenty to twenty-five thousand over the three days.
The Blossom Toes opened to cheers with a number similar to Hard Meats version of "Rain", but it proceeded into their own rock-based style with relish. Lead guitar whined to a beat bass and heavy drums, while Michael Hales remained in the bar. The music reached one of their symphonic lulls and Hales, realizing his group were on, dropped his pint and ran. The Toes went into their lengthy saga, "War And Peace" to a vocal mike that lacked depth, but the song had much mood as it dipped and rose in intensity. I give them great credit for the set and the audience did as well when a great ovation was sent on the close of the sadly time-limited set.
The raucous Village and the tuneful Junior's Eyes received admirable applause on the second stage while the Soft Machine prepared on the first. Minutes into the act, horrors occurred; something blew and everything went black. Soft Machine's drummer took one instant evaluation of the power failure, freaked, threw up his drums, collapsed and had to be carried off as the lone searchlight from the lighting tower swung round the black expanse in a German POW camp fashion. Pressmen and artistes stumbled for footing in the darkness of the bar and booze anointed the floors everywhere. Ladies found themselves in the gentlemen's and gentlemen couldn't find either convenience Torches shone in the distance and a curious hum arose from the crowd while frantic electricians tried to discover the fault that halted the proceedings .
Suddenly, the lights returned. An ocean of hair became a mass of tanned faces as each camper looked up to see the Pink Floyd beginning their spot. Pressmen looked for lost change on hands and knees and fidgeting pop stars ambled off in pursuit of the correct toilets. Apologies for the delay rang out from the stage and the Floyd began the evening's last attraction. They produced the same atmosphere of mysticism that made them famous in the days of London's Middle Earth with droning organ wailing and hollow guitar chords. It became a cavernous drawl at times and extracted boredom instead of hypnotizing, but parts of the long "Cymballine" were pretty and inviting. The wistful piece conjured images of the sea shore and sweet communication with nature before building into heights of electricity as sharp as a stiletto. It then sank into unfortunate improvised effects which should have been confined to the recording studio and which only distracted from the whole presentation.
Saturday and Sunday were the long days and promised to be the classic line-ups. Sweaty campers queued into the grounds for the afternoon set around 2 p.m. and an early refreshment was the performance of acoustic guitarist Peter Hammill (ex Vandergraf Generator). Peter's voice reminded one of Roy Harper and Al Stewart, who often remind one of one another in pronunciation tendencies, He had fair control of the voice that seemed to be drifting just under that degree of training which marks an accomplished singer. Lyrics and tunes were in the folk vein and he looks to be one of the talents of the future.
Roy Harper himself was set upon by evil spirits when he was asked to go on earlier than billed. His hopes were sabotaged as the ampli6cation went wrong and he broke two strings during his fuzz-wah commentary, "Hell's Angels", The blond bombshell had to go a little freakier than usual to make up for the missing strings and was allowed only twenty minuteS of his contracted forty five, Due to the catastrophe of the entire thing he could manage only ten minutes.
The Bonzo Dog Band took most of the afternoon's awards in conditions that really worked against them. At first, they didn't a want the gig because their own unique comedy isn't usually effective to large crowds and loses power when seen from a distance. However, following Viv Stanshall's Presley routine on "Blue Suede Shoes", his camp self-love antics and Legs Larry Smith's pseudo-star act, the set won the response tally for the afternoon.
We're now going to do some art " says Viv in his BBC announcer's voice. 'That's art with a capital 'F'." Unexpectedly a masked drummer (The Lone Ar-Ranger) replaces Legs Larry, who takes to the foreground. Two or three bars of "Pinball Wizard" ring out and the mask is whisked away to reveal none other than madman Keith Moon from the Who.Legs prances on in revealing falsies and the "Urban Spaceman" rolls while Keith attacks loveable Larry's drums "That one's going to put us in the charts and into your hearts," announces Stanshall. Keith continued drumming through to the encore or "The worst rock and roll song ever recorded" . . . the "Monster Mash". It was a racecourse smash.
Best from Dry Ice was their version of Hard Meat's "Walking Up Down Street", which I hear will be their coming single. Other groups also had problems on the small stage, conflicting with the wailings of a Hare Krishna troop near the stage — which had also been supplied, like the bands, with Wem amplifiers.
Aynsley Dunbar's wild drumming and the blues organ patterns restored enthusiasm in the ranks. Yes, with jazz singer Jon Hendricks did much of what they have been playing for years, only better with the expert vocals by Jon. West Side Story's "Something's Coming" and the Rascals' number "It's Love" were the best of the jazz harmony set. Once Yes were the predicted thing to happen, but the happening has been somehow delayed.
Chicken Shack with Stan Webb in full red riding gear and black boots were held back while an amp was repaired. The spot wasn't as colourful, musically, as the Shack usually are probably as a result of the temporary setback which destroyed the spectacle of their arrival.
The moment half the merrymakers pelted to Plumpton for was at hand. John Gee introduced, in his invariably distasteful manner, Britain's pride and joy, The Who. In a spectacle unequalled Roger Daltry floated host-like on stage in his suede and white leather tasseled outfit that was an ornithological study in itself. He threw the hand mike at the audience, retrieved it in a swinging arc and leapt into song as Pete's arms flew at his guitar, Keith's hair flew at the air and John Entwistle stood stone-faced with his bass.
Townshend's wit between great numbers like "Can't Explain" and "Fortune Teller" increased the already monumental attraction to the act. "Keith", he announced, "had to be dug up from a trench somewhere on the borders of the festival because he arrived too early and had too much . . . fun." Referring to Keith's guest spot with the Bonzo Band.
Cackles from "Mad Mooney" and they fly into the long cavalcade of songs from their pop opera, "Tommy". The acoustics were perfect and coupled with the presence of the incredible quartet, the impact of their delivery was doubled. Daltry like a martyr, crucified himself mythically in his solo glory while Pete's arms swept the face of his guitar.
crashed and contorted, beating his drums to a pulp, drenching his hair with
sweat and wrinkling his face with strain. Roger whittled two tambourines to
splinters and tossed them to the crowds as Townshend knelt tearing his strings
from their ~ sockets. "21 Is Gonna Be A Good Year" i and "Gypsy
The Acid Queen". Roger stood statuesque as if carved of rock during the
quieter moods, then exploded into fury for "Pinball Wizard". After
three-quarters of an
and hour with "Tommy", the applause would not cease, though Pete announced more to come. A girl crept on stage and jived for a full minute before she was escorted off in convulsions when Townshend started ''Summertime Blues".
After "Substitute" and "Shakin' All Over", there was jiving in the masses and Townshend said: ''We don't like to go on and off and on again, so you're going to get an encore whether you like it or not, ho. ho." With that, Roger fell into lunatic screaming, Keith's sticks flew miles into the night, Pete literally attacked his guitar and the old Who destruction was born again for the occasion.
Pete beat his guitar against his body, the floor and finally snapped it in half over his head as a cheer of unparalleled proportions arose from enslaved crowds It was an ending that simply could not be followed by anyone or anything. Perhaps the greatest set the Who have done, it left not a soul uninspired and ail four of the well known faces beamed with pure enjoyment, from the first dynamic note to the frayed remains of Townshend's guitar.
Sunday afternoon began with a surge of heat and hot dogs. Everything looked the same, other than for the increased output of litter of last nights ravers raved on and the Press bar was slowly refilling again. So I joined the file and had my liquid breakfast.
Jo Ann Kelly followed with what was the best female guitar styIe I've seen. Most women are clumsy players or awkward in what they can do, but Jo Ann clearly had control and knowledge of the instrument. Very masculine in voice and a fair imitation of black blues accent made a fair combustion and that was improved by the addition of two musicians. one on Piano and another on acoustic guitar. Best was Muddy Waters tune .'Catfish Blues ".
Pentangle were better amplified than ever before. At last, one could hear Bert Jansch's guitar and thus received the full potency of the intricate scales played between he and John Renbourne. Danny Thompson's bass could have been louder. but all was very presentable. Jazz-based folk reigned on numbers like "Sweet Child.' and 'I Got A Feeling' Jackie MeShee's steady flawless notes were the backbone melody for the rest of the band in the usual free verse.
Keel Hartley threatened to bore us for a period but was saved by his lead guitarist who livened up the spot with some clever patterns. Hartley himself, compIete in Sitting Bull outfit, isn't the best drummer in the world but he got by thanks to the rest of his band. Blodwyn Pig next and not a second too soon. Blodwyn's exceptional rhythm sound and stylish lead pulled heavier applause than anyone earlier and also secured an encore from the hungry hordes. They played their excellent "See My way,' and usual "Catsquirrel" to volumes of cheers. Encore on .'Summer Day" finished a marvelous set.
Chris Barber did an amazing set that must have pleased the jazz buffs. Much brass and experimentation. Hard Meat got vast applause and were urged to do another number, but time didn't permit Their version of "Most Likely You'd Go Your Way Aud I'll Go Mine", is a good exampIe of their unique ability to extract the most from a song.
On the main stage, tumultuous cheers for Family. Roger Chapman and the troop arrived to an ovation that was already waiting. The encores demanded rivaled all acts up to that point. Family never inspired me, but admittedly there was a momentum existing during this set which made you wish for more. Slightly mote charm and variety is entering Chapman's voice slowly but surely and as soon as that is fully patched up. Family will be incredible.
The cast of '`Hair" followed and had to tread in on the screams for more from the Family. Minutes passed and there was an uneasY feeling emanating from the wall of people behind the press barrier. One tin flew. but soon the cast won them over with mystical stage movements, songs like "Aquarius" and "Let The Sun Shine In". Somehow, there was too much out-of-tune vocal and not enough sound to match the expected splendour. They never managed to draw much response from the multitudes and the whole spot seemed terribly out of context. Members had drifted in slowly one by one, but as if they weren't ever there. they vanished quite suddenly.
Tension mounted while long preparations were made for the final episode of the evening. For hours, strange kilted Scotsmen were seen sipping bitter and fondling their Pipes in the artistes' bar. Like a spy, I mingled, carrying my tartan overnight bag and heard rumours that the Nice were Planning another startling adventure for tonight.
There had also been the oddly straight fellow who reeked of clarinets, oboes, violins and cellos wandering about. That fact, Plus the arrangement of music stands, chairs and a Podium tempted mv quick mind to thinking there was an orchestra lurking around somewhere. Lo and behold—on they came: women and men; boys and girls—all carrying weird things that good old rock bands don't usually associate themselves with.
It began as a chamber music note—the beginning of Keith Emerson's adaptation of the Brandenburg Suite. retitled "Brandenberger". Keith's organ ranged over the orchestra and violins linked movements of the piece. Much like a classical music concert it twisted between jazz and chamber ensemble influences.
Joseph Eager, conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra met Emerson in America and they agreed to work together on orchestral arrangements. Joseph came specially to work on this production and the results were tremendous. A beautiful alteration from the normal run of sounds.
This was Nice's first festival since Bath. The atmosphere was of deep appreciation pending the release of a great composer's work .It began as a chamber music note—the beginning of Keith Emerson's adaptation of the Brandenburg Suite. retitled "Brandenberger". Keith's organ ranged over the orchestra and violins linked movements of the piece. Much like a classical music concert it twisted between jazz and chamber ensemble influences. Lee Jackson weaved about at his bass. Iooking trim and majestic. This went into the heavy symphonics and drum rolls of "Karelia". Much more intensity from the orchestra than before and again a break into Keith's jazz organ section of the epic. The 43-piece London philharmonic looked formidable when compared with a five-man pop group.
Not only that but thirteen Pipers were still hiding in the wings, dying for a squeeze and a blow On they trooped in front of the stage, during Keith's own pet number `Karelia". They were brief but spectacular as the Pipes rang out over the music and they filed out. Emerson tipped his organ on its side, threw every switch in the keyboard, hauled it around in a circle as he played and pounced on it, slamming back into the immense musical Production.
The audience was fascinated, stood, cheered and jumped in ecstasy. Emerson announced their version of Dylan's "She Belongs To Me''. He pounded the organ until it burned and whispered the lyrics between crashes. Blinky Davidson beat out the drums in a frenzy until the deafening end.
Joseph Eager returned to conduct the premiere ~ performance of his and Emerson's rock arrangement e of the "Troika" from Prokofiev's "lieutenant Rishna Suite". The orchestra opened with a sleigh bell sound and soon left the limelight to Keith. who made the amazing organ cry in parts. It obeyed him as he leapt over it, played it backwards, on end and stretched its capacities far beyond electrical capabilities.
On the final ear-shattering roar, he stood triumphant and grinned at the thousands of deliriously enraptured fans and the feeling of success was shining on his face. The barriers buckled and a chorus of shouts for more filled the entire festival grounds, but alas —regulations required all music be stopped.
Though the demand for an encore was greater than at any point previous, so also was the satisfaction from a brilliant Performance and three days of choice music The long trek home began and I tried to remember what make of car I had arrived in.
The early festivals.
You can find out the complete
line ups of the first festivals if you follow the links below.
Most of these have fairly complete documentation .
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