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The Great South Coast Bankholiday Pop Festivity. August 31st -1st Sept 1968.
Hell Field , Ford Farm, nr. Godshill, 
Isle of Wight, UK

    The 1968 festival was minuscule in comparison with the later shows held in 1969 and 1970. In 1968, The Jefferson Airplane were the sole overseas act . In addition, this was a one day festival that lacked a really big draw . in later years , the sheer scale of the publicity campaign and press coverage dwarfed this first festival.

    The boast of this being the greatest pop festival ever held in the UK doesn't really hold up when compared to the National Jazz Festival line-up of that year (Jeff Beck, Fairport , ISB , Arthur Brown, Nice, Traffic , Tull , Baker and Clapton to mention just a few . We should also not forget the second Woburn festival - which featured Jimi Hendrix and Fleetwood Mac . Both of these seem to have had much better facilities and were cheaper and easier to get to by far. The attendance mirrored this , around 10,000 attended compared to 40.000 for the National Jazz bash at Sunbury and perhaps 20,000 for Hendrix .

   It s fairly safe to say that this first festival was fairly primitive in its arrangements. A major feature  about this one was the abominable state of its toilets.  The immersion of a punter in an open cess pit was one of the less salubrious stories that was circulating in the press of the day, although there were no accompanying photos to prove the incident had taken place.

© David Fairbrother-Roe

    This fine account was sent to us by Loris Valvona, to whom - many thanks !

The 1968 Isle of Wight Pop Festival (I was there!)
    It is hard to remember just how exciting the island was for young people, some thirty years ago. Everyone seemed to be into music, and the choice of venues and bands was absolutely amazing. We were used to seeing chart acts and hot newcomers every week, thanks to the 69 Club, the Seagull, the Manor House and all the rest.
     Along with most of my friends I was busy practising guitar and “getting it together” ready to go out and play myself. Required listening was of course “ Top Gear”, which would be taped and used to check the latest bands and records. Each programme was bursting with new talent and sounds as we gradually discovered the U.S.A. West Coast scene and the British underground; you could hardly wait to turn on the radio in those days!
     Imagine then our excitement when it was announced that a pop festival was to be held on the island. Not only that, but the line up was going to include The Jefferson Airplane! A band whose very name seemed to stand for everything cool and hip, definitely a band for youth and for these times. Tickets were bought as soon as possible and we eagerly awaited the day. News and speculation were as rife as ever, rumours of the Beatles attending, and of superstar jam sessions, the kind of thing that was to become a feature of the island festivals.
    Finally the day arrives, and I set out with my two mates and budding musicians, Brian and Mick. Our transport is Mick’s Standard 10 saloon, a popular 50’s runabout. We are well prepared, taking our sleeping bags and some supplies of food and drink. Arriving around midday, we just parked in a nearby lane and strolled over the road to the site. The perimeter was marked out rope and black plastic, everything seemed laid back, people were relaxed and friendly, and there was a real British bank holiday feeling in the air. We found a spot about twenty yards from the stage and made ourselves comfortable. We were next to a crowd from London who soon began enjoying a fine picnic. However they almost started falling out over some missing cake, we said nothing, merely smiling as we carefully wiped away some crumbs….
    Anyway things were about to start. The stage consisted of two lorry trailers joined together and first up were a local band Halcyon Order. We were eager to see how they would cope, but unfortunately the bass drum broke in the first number, and the resulting hold up seemed to take the edge of their set. This band had a lot of talent and some of the members are still gigging on the island scene.
    I can still remember most of the acts that appeared and everyone was well received. The cans that were thrown were aimed at people who insisted on standing right in front of the stage. Audiences were only just learning that you had to sit down at a festival- man! In those days the lines between pop and rock were only just being drawn and bands like the Move had feet in both camps. They gave a great performance, hard-hitting guitar, superb vocals and of course those perfect hit songs. You can get some idea of just how good they were by checking out their live BBC SESSIONS CD, excellent stuff.


    As darkness fell the cold set in, we were really glad we had brought our sleeping bags. Many hadn’t come prepared, and lots of people just turned up after a night out at the pub, still wearing their Saturday best. No wonder most of the black plastic fence ended up as makeshift blankets! The early hours came and the temperature really dropped. However we hardly noticed as we enjoyed some great music and performances. I remember Twink from The Pretty Things climbing all over the stage scaffolding, Arthur Brown unable to set himself on fire, John Peel introducing Tyrannosaurus Rex, and of course Jefferson Airplane. The American band had brought a vast amount of gear- well for those days, and we were duly impressed by the giant black p.a. system and light show screens.
They did not disappoint and we witnessed a performance with all the attack and power of a hurricane. It is hard to describe how exciting this moment was, we had only heard their material on tiny transistor radios, none of us yet had decent stereos, so to hear this live at such volume and relatively close quarters was absolutely mind blowing. The revolution was here at Godshill! After they had gone we got our breath back. We resolved to build black speaker cabinets for our group, and to freak out more and really get it on!
    The sun came up but it was still cold, the Fairport Convention were playing as the festival was drawing to a close.
A light rain began to fall and most of the crowd had drifted away, I think it was about 8 am. However there was still some activity on stage, and as far as I recall The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation began to play some blues. At this point we were beginning to get wet, so we ran to the car and drove back into the site, through the non-existent fence and right up to the stage! There we sat in comfort whilst Mick blew the horn in time to the band, a treasured moment.
    Well the music finished eventually and we turned around and headed home. We had been waiting to see if our local heroes The Cherokees were going to play, as they were on the bill, but sadly they didn’t. This leaves Halcyon Order as the only Island band to play at any of the three festivals, a fine claim to fame!

    In the aftermath the inquests were held, the establishment were suitably outraged, never again etc. However the organisers had only just started, next year was going to be even better……………….

Loris Valvona 15.03.2002

   Smile played their one & only live date at the 1968 Isle of Wight festival.
We were an 'Apple' (publishing) signing, although our only single was on Decca Records. We rehearsed periodically at the original 'Apple' in Baker Street; above the Apple Boutique - and the Dentist's office in-between. The album was never finished - and the tapes sadly lost.
Smile's line up for the festival was:

Dennis Cauldry - vocals
Chris Spedding - bass
Roger Swallow - drums
Mark Griffiths - guitar
Roy Civil - organ

    After we split up, Dennis Cauldry disappeared; Chris Spedding went on to be a successful solo artist and session guitar player; Roger Swallow went on to Matthews Southern Comfort, Plainsong, Albion Country Band, Al Stewart Band, Rickie Lee Jones, Jules (Shear) & the Polar Bears, etc.; Mark Griffiths went on to Matthews Southern Comfort, Al Stewart, David Essex, Cliff Richard, The Shadows, Plainsong, etc.; Roy Civil became a music teacher.

    Our roadmanager for the night was New Zealander Clive Coulson, who went on to RM Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck, etc, and was also a vocalist, apparently singing on 'Whole Lotta Love'. I last saw him staggering down the corridors in the Hyatt on Sunset in Los Angeles sometime in the early 70's.
Memories of that IOW Festival are vague, except the hovercraft ride over was an odd and loud experience, as was finding the festival site amongst shouting confused freaks covering the country lanes. It was bitterly cold
with no accommodations for most of the bands except shared changing tents.

    Clive & I acquired large plastic sheets that we made into makeshift coats tied at the waist with string. Those with bales of hay worked better than drafty tents. My new American girl friend helped the warming too, although
she was very confused as to where the hell I had brought her. The Airplane's tent was also a good place to hang out as it was being used only for testing their unbelievable amount of equipment on the UK power
converters - giving off not an insignificant amount of heat. The Airplane, being very famous Americans, were intriguing but badly out of tune.

    It was also the first time we had seen Fairport Convention, and they left a lasting impression. I later unsuccessfully auditioned for their drummers chair after the tragic auto accident that took the life of Martin Lamble. In a later 'twist of fate', Martin's brother Robin played bass for my own band in 1980 in Los Angeles. But I had the pleasure of working with all the members of Fairport in other great projects, and making lasting friendships.

   The most fun band that night - for me - was 'The Move', who played with reckless abandon - specially Roy Wood, unlike all the other 'moody' bands who stared at their feet and sucked their beards. All I seem to really remember of them was more drum solos in one night than I had ever heard. Aynsley Dunbar's was the cockiest. Smile went down well, but I think our obscure musical references to French composer Francis Poulenc left a few scratching their heads. Our originals and the obscure Dylan stuff was much better received.

   The night seemed like it would never end, and we never thought we would be warm again. A couple of us 'hitched' a ride back across the channel on the first equipment barge (open to the elements) as it left
earlier than the first hovercraft. I remember huddling with Fairport's road manager Harvey's dog for warmth, and riding back to London in Clive's rented van with no seats. A little different than the initial ride down in an
ex-manger's 'E' Type Jaguar with a girl from Tallahassee on my lap.
Thanks for memories.

R Swallow

This account comes from a newsgroup , we've forgotten just where, so we cannot credit the source.......

Aug 31st 1968 - Isle of Wight .

Despite all of this home-grown talent, it was the Jefferson Airplane who provided the real highlight of the festivities.  They ambled on stage and immediately began to rock.

Lead singers Grace Slick and Marty Balin prowled the stage, their searing harmonies like twin headlights.  With additional vocals from guitarist Paul Kantner, their vocal attack remains unparalleled in rock music to this day.  Meanwhile, lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Cassady - later to form the independent band Hot Tuna - wove instrumental lines of angular virtuosity.  The sheer ferocity of the Airplane at this time was almost a physical threat.
It was quite different from anything even hard-core fans had expected.  The folky love ballads of Jefferson Airplane Takes Off and Surrealistic Pillow had been replaced by harder hitting material from the then unreleased Crown Of Creation LP.  Geoff Wall distinctly remembers being shocked by the vastly revamped version of "Somebody To Love"
"Gone was the fast, frantic, driving pace (that I loved on Surrealistic Pillow) and in its place we were presented with a slower version that I later came to love on Bless Its Pointed Little Head.  Songs such as "Watch Her Ride" demonstrated just what a brilliant rhythm guitarist Paul Kantner was.  As for Grace Slick, she was beautiful!  I felt she was probably the most splendid creature in the world - and she could sing too!"

On the huge screen next to the stage, the Airplane's "lite-show", which they had brought over from San Francisco, displayed ever-changing liquid slides that matched both the mood and the moment.  They had brought an entourage of thirty lighting technicians and sound experts and five tons of electrical equipment, a revelation for English audiences.  As Dick Taylor remembers, "they used lots of slides,  The set looked like a Viking ship".

Nevertheless, the Airplane's drummer Spencer Dryden - wearing a cowboy hat to combat the cold - was none too happy with the Festival.  During their ninety-minute set, none of the group could hear each other and they were constantly forced to stop and re-tune in an attempt to get a uniform sound.  Coupled with this, the group's psychedelic screen show had to be  cut right down in case the field's thick covering of dust damaged valuable lens.  Despite this, they continued with a static light show - which the Record Mirror described as "their reversed optical illusion projections" - and got easily the best reception of any of the fourteen groups to appear.

 The Airplane had already played Brussels and Stockholm on their short European tour, and were to play a few days later at Parliament Hill Fields, another concert to enter the realms of legend.  This line-up reformed in 1989, and made a comeback LP, but to paraphrase BB King, the thrill was definitely gone.

Ron Smith remembers paying them 1000 pounds for their performance which seems the bargain of the century until he mentions that Fairport cost only 80 pounds. 

The known set list for the Airplane is

        Somebody to Love, Watch Her Ride, Triad- this is not complete.

Bill Ford remembers

A few memories from attending this event.
I went by train from Bath with my mate Bruce Gooding on the Friday and we slept in a shelter on Ryde seafront and then took a bus to Godshill. At the site we met two other friends Alan and Kelvin, also from Bath.
Of the bands I remember Orange Bicycle, incongrous in matching black and orange suits but playing good versions of Love & Stones numbers, The Move played a great set including a great job on Spooky Tooth's "Sunshine help
me." Both these bands were showered with cans by the tolerant hippie audience. Pretty Things were great - as always, as were Blonde on Blonde - lead guitarist with twin-necked Fender dressed in Arab robes, bassist in pith-helmet and khaki jacket and shorts. The Airplane were muddled and I fell asleep. My mate Alan said Fairport were great, but I was still snoring.
On the Sunday morning dozens of us walked back into Godshill, about 4 miles to take a bus back to Ryde. For breakfast we raided an orchard on the way.
The festival had no facilities but it was only for one night so it did n't seem to matter when you were 19. I enjoyed it immensely and went on to attend the '69 and '70 festivals.

One other thing I recall about IOW 1968 was that tickets cost £1.25 by mail in advance. I also almost forgot one of the really great moments. A guy called Gary Farr (brother of Ricky Farr the promoter, both sons of Tommy
Farr the boxer)appeared in an acoustic duo with Andy Leigh (later of Matthews Southern Comfort and Spooky Tooth.) The one song I recall them playing was one they introduced as being "....from a new album called Big
Pink." They went on to play "The Weight" and I have seldom heard such a superb song played so well. Absolute magic in that sitaution at that moment, a haunting, plaintive song floating into the sunset !

I remember the first things Grace Slick said when The Airplane came on stage, this being: "Frozen to the bone" as we all were... My girlfriend, Mary, gave her "fun fur" coat to a girl she knew who was wearing only a light summer dress when a guy we knew who had wisely brought a sleeping bag offered it to Mary, noble fellow!!
As the night wore on, people started burning the paling fencing which had been erected around the site, along with the black plastic sheeting it was covered with in an effort to try to keep warm. This gave off the most amazingly toxic smell and if I ever get a whiff of that smell now, it takes me right back to 1968..
In the (still) amazingly cold light of the following morning there was an incredible amount of rubbish strewn about, numerous pairs of, ahem, undergarments etc, so obviously some people had found a way of keeping warm...When we got back to Mary`s parent`s house in Chichester on the Sunday afternoon, we collapsed on her bed and slept and slept, being totally knackered.

John Davidson, Bognor Regis


The strongest memory I had was watching the sun come up behind the stage as Ian MacDonald (renamed Mathews) and Sandy Denny took alternate verses from opposite edges of the stage in their magnificent version of Leonard Cohen’s "Suzanne".

I had come to see Jefferson Airplane and they didn’t disappoint with Jorma Kaukonen seeming to stand on one leg like a giant Stork pumping out snarling riffs as Marty Balin roamed the stage as if pushing a heavy weight I front of him. Great vocals from Grace although she did natter on a bit during some long breaks. Difficult to remember any songs reliably as I have heard too many live shows by the band but I am sure “Greasy Heart” and “Feel like China Breaking” were included. The Fairports were on fine form with RT and Simon Nicol swapping lead breaks on an extended versions of “It’s alright Ma it’s only witchcraft” and “Jack O’Diamonds”.

The main thing that came back to me was the informality of the gig. I was able to walk around the edge of stage without any impedance. I stood behind Jack Casady, bass player of the Airplane in a queue for hamburgers. By the end most of the audience were in sleeping bags.


Having read your intro concerning this (rather nippy) festival, I can joyously confirm that the 'unfortunate punter' actually did exist - his name was Phil (surname held back for reasons of preventing further trauma and embarrassment). He was 'one of our lot', and had been helping some Americans to dispose of a couple of bottles of Jack Daniels, if I remember correctly; he stumbled off into the dark in search of the dreadful amenities, and didn't reappear for a couple of hours. He looked like he was covered in mud and smelt bloody awful. He said he'd slipped on the piss around the trench (yes, trench) and gone in, obviously not being able to balance owing to vast quantities of JD in the system. He reckoned that some blokes fished him out, nicked his money & fags (I doubt THAT), and threw him back again. He'd spent quite some time in the first aid tent, where they'd evidently not bothered to clean him up at all. He didn't seem to know how much he chucked up, and it wasn't until he used the toilets on the homeward ferry that he saw in the mirror what a state he was in. His nose must have been blocked....

With regards to the music, I recall it was all pretty good, especially Airlane and the Pretty Things, but the highlight for me was at dawn (a half-hearted attempt at daybreak, if ever there was one) when The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation took to the stage, A great, great blues band, and only about 25 lost souls around to witness it. It started pouring with rain, and as someone pointed out, we all got on the stage to get under the canvas 'roof'. After a few terrific numbers, the band prepared to pack up, but We Few screamed for more like there was no tomorrow, and were richly rwarded for our efforts. A highlight was when the cold wind lifted the canvas, and a couple of unfortunate souls suffered the torrent of rainwater that had built up on the top. Smashing end to an odd sort of affair. Cold, wet, miserable.... and great memories.
Dave Rowland, Gosport.

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