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UPTIGHT ON THE ISLE OF WIGHT

…..the fight for the festival

    Even if Dylan did not stay long enough to satisfy his most enthusiastic fans, the Second Isle of Wight Music Festival last year went out in a blaze of glory. It was generally agreed that the kids had behaved surprisingly well. The nearest thing to a disaster had been a small fire in a fish and chip van and there were only a handful of arrests on minor charges. Both the local bus company and British Rail were quick to lavish praise on the exemplary behaviour of the 100.000 rook fans.
And even if the Isle of Wight County Press described the event rather grudgingly as "more like a Hindu prayer meeting on the Ganges than a music festival in our garden isle", the Portsmouth News waxed Iyrical in its editorial column: "A large part of a glacier of prejudice melted away this weekend. Let the hippies ring out their little bells, for social history was made in that Island field."

    But the brief spell of mutual backslapping proved to be the calm before the storm. Before the last rock fan had been herded from the precariously laden Ryde Pier on to the departing ferries, the local Tourist Board was reported to be worried that the Island's "family image" has been irreparably tarnished. The cause of their anxiety was the national publicity given to the nude frolickings of half a dozen freaks at the festival. The local branch of the Women's Institute near the festival Site agreed that they were none too keen on "hippies" sleeping at the bottom of their gardens.
Meanwhile the Senior Public Health Inspector for Newport Rural District Council was making a detailed report on the hygenic conditions at the site.
    It was far from complimentary. Mr R W Cawdell, secretary of the Island’s Vectis Nationalist Party, ("UDI of IOW") also Councillor for Ryde, criticised the toilet facilities at the site. The Island's Tory MP, Alderman Mark Woodnutt (majority 17.326) was pushing for Parliamentary legislation to control pop festivals in time for the 1970 season.
And the Isle of Wight County Council set up a 14-man Select Committee, chaired by Alderman Woodnutt, to investigate the whole pop festival phenomenon.
    Predictably, the first major offensive was launched on September 17, 1969, at a public meeting in the village hall at Wootton - the scene of the last festival. It was sponsored by the Wootton and Fairlee Ratepayers' and Residents' Association - which had been involved in the fight to prevent the hovercraft landing near Wootton the year before.
A number of Island residents were present. Both the County and Borough Councils were represented and were bombarded with questions about blaring music, blocked roads and filth. Also present was Ray Foulks, joint managing director of Fiery Creations Ltd.- the promoters.
    The meeting finally voted to set up a fund get the festival banned, but by April the organisers were reportedly distressed that with donations running at an opulent two guineas a head only £200 had been raised.
A fighting fund
    The meeting highlighted the attitudes of the central characters in the drama. The councillors argued that they were hampered by the lack of any real power in the form of legislation to control pop festivals. The residents, despite their claims to have nothing against pop festivals as such, could see no good reason why they should take place on their Island, let alone their very doorsteps. As for the promoters, in the words of Ray Foulks "If the Island people do not want a festival here, we will go elsewhere. I mean the Island people, not a handful of people in a Wootton schoolroom".

    The Wootton meeting had started the anti-festival bandwagon rolling. It gave a firm mandate to Mark Woodnutt to do his utmost to get effective legislation through parliament in time for 1970. Shortly afterwards both Newport and Ryde Borough Councils came out in favour of similar legislation.
With the November publication in the local paper of the text of a letter from Woodnutt to Arthur Skeffington, Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the promoters and the MP were shown publicly to be at loggerheads.
    Adopting a somewhat Cassandra-like tone, Mr. Woodnutt wrote, "the organisers of last year's festival are planning a similar event next year and if the local authority is not, by then, in possession of powers to lay down and enforce sanitation regulations, the health of everyone in the Isle of Wight will be endangered."
He added that it needed "only a hot dry week-end to bring about an epidemic" and went on to refer to "the August Bank Holiday weekend last year when 150.000 people slept out in the open for several nights and left behind them a scene of in-describable filth."
    The letter outlined the sort of legislation Mr. Woodnutt had in mind. It was to cover gatherings of 500 or more and included power to refuse permission for more than 50 people to sleep overnight in a temporary encampment. It was quite clear that this kind of legislation would have put paid to any plans for a third festival.
    The following week Fiery Creations hit back. They argued that the festival had ploughed back more than £250,000 into the Island and stated flatly that they were looking for a bowl-shaped site, capable of taking 250,000 fans for 1970.
In the following months the idea of getting legislation on the statute books in time for August 1970 was quietly shelved. The Select Committee settled for second best by asking Fiery to enter into an agreement controlling the basic standards of hygiene, security and movement at the festival. This suggestion was welcomed by Fiery.
    But what the local' authorities lacked in practical powers, certain of the residents more than made up for in determination. So much so that by March the promoters were leapfrogging around the East Wight looking for sites in the face of mushrooming residents associations, and even, they claimed, threats to life and property.
In April, largely to forestall further hysteria. Fiery Creations began secret discussions with Newport Borough Council over land at Goshens, near the site of the last festival, The drama took on all the aspects of high-comedy when an alderman on the council leaked the site details in the public interest, he later claimed. But negotiations for Goshens land and a subsequent site near Havenstreet, also in the East Wight, proved fruitless. In the former case the site was judged far too small by the County Council. They threatened an injunction but were beaten to it by Wootton and Fairlee ratepayers who, at a hearing in the High Court on July 13, scored what amounted to a successful injunction. They were even awarded costs against the promoters.
A new site
 
    In July, with only seven weeks to go and committed to the tune of £150,000 in artists' fees, the young men at Fiery gave
up the fight in the East Wight, and moved west. On July 14, they announced a site at East Afton near Freshwater in the west of the Island. Almost simultaneously, the Island branch of the National Farmers' Union came out against the festival, (Fiery placated them later by taking out a million pound insurance policy covering damage to farm property). The County Council dispatched the Public Health Inspector and Rear-Admiral Clarke, county councillor and member of the select-committee, to inspect the "morning after" scene at 1970's other monster festival at Bath. Nevertheless, East Afton was to be the final site. On July 24 agreement was finally reached between the three parties, the Select Committee, the RDC and Fiery.
    The councils struck a hard bargain. They demanded 1200 toilets instead of the 80 provided the previous year: a double wall around the arena, and fencing to protect the adjacent National Trust property. The promoters were also required to deposit £4,000 in bonds and about £1,200 in cash as security, and to provide tents for local authority personnel to act as watchdogs on the festival site.
    Fiery Creations was at last free to get on with building, and organising the festival.

Eithne O'Sullivan



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