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"This is the last festival, enough  is enough , it began as a beautiful dream but it has got out of control and become a monster. "

Ron Foulk -promoter. Monday morning September 1st 1970.

Photo © Claudio Hosquet, Mauro Radin and Pierlucio Pellissier.


     So much bullshit has been written about the 1970 festival that its hard to be objective about it now , thirty nine years on. Its either been romanticised or condemned to such an extent that everyones memories have been tainted by the press accounts or by seeing the long supressed film . I know I had a fairly rosy recollection the festival tucked away in what passes for the old memory bank ,until I saw the film on TV a few years ago. I must admit, what I saw did not square with my festival experiences.  Then I thought about it and realised that I was just one of hundreds of thousands of people who attended .All of us had different perceptions of the festival depending on what we did , where we were situated and what our expectations of the event were going to be . Time also does shroud events as the years go by, we do tend to forget the crappy times and sometimes glamorise the mundane. 
   So , just what conclusions can be drawn about the last Isle Of Wight Festival ?. Well . we have lots of statistics at our disposal ,  we know it was the biggest ever festival to be held in the UK .Thirty years on, its still not been topped, not by Knebworth , Live Aid , or Reading .No one has even come close to the 600,000 odd figure bandied about in some circles. At least half a million attended, maybe more.

     We also know that it was very badly organised in many respects, such as the relations between the organisers and the bands , the organisers and the audience as well as the actual site location chosen by the promoters.  Selecting a site overlooked by a commodious hill , which afforded non paying squatters a free view of the entire proceedings was NOT a good move, although we should also remember that this was not their first choice as a site.  This fact alone was to give the promoters, the Foulk brothers , endless  logistical headaches , as many who might have paid to get inside the arena sat on the hill for the entire week .

        Even worse news for the promoters was the presence of many activists from the underground movement , the White Panthers - representing the British underground, , anarchists from France , Germany and the States and disgruntled Hells Angels who were denied their traditional role as the defacto security force of the festival . These diverse groups combined  forces to attempt to have the festival declared a free event . Many hard core freaks who had attended the free Phun City festival in late July were present and they added their voices to the chorus of radical groups who desired to break free of the capitalist forces that were increasingly moulding the international rock scene .

 

   Added to this was the tendency for many bands to have become divorced from the radical scene which they had helped create just a few years before in the "Summer Of Love. " Whilst many bands had never really only ever been fellow travellers and were mostly in the music game for the money, sex and drugs, there had been a short period when it appeared that certain types of bands and their audiences were outside the mainstream and shared a kinship unlike that of normal pop bands and their fans .The expectation was that groups would be prepared to give back something to their audiences in the way of free concerts in return for fan loyalty and to contribute to the alternative community, of which the bands were supposed to be just another part- not removed to a superstar level , as became the regretable norm .

  However, by late 1970, the free concerts were beginning to dry up. The ego tripping antics of some of the bands who were on the festival bill dismayed the more radical freaks in the audience and disillusioned many others. The optimism of the middle sixties was souring to some extent and this feeling came to the fore at the Isle Of Wight .

    Also, biggest doesn't always mean best . Sure, the 1970 Isle of Wight had a gi-normous bill, but the quality of the artists did not rival that of the Bath Festival, or even possibly Hollywood . Many of the names on the bill were big, but time has shown that they were not the cream of the crop from the era. Highlights were performances by The Who , Joni Mitchell and Miles Davis . Free, Taste , Family and Jethro Tull were good, but there were also disappointing sets by artists that were not performing at their best , such as The Doors and , sadly, Jimi Hendrix . Most of the rest of the bill were artists that were unsuited for the big outdoors , such as Donovan, Leonard Cohen and Joan Baez, or simply second rate ( I won't name names in case I unduly annoy their fans )  . If one then adds the logistics of just getting around the arena , to visit the toilets , eat food and get a good view of the stage, it becomes evident that in reality many in the crowd did not see much , hear very well or have a particularly comfortable time .

Leonard Cohen IOW 1970 © Col Underhill

   Still, with such a huge number of attendees, a multitude of events happened that were peripheral to the event itself. A giant inflatable tent played host to a number of bands and provided a diversion for those who could not afford to get into the arena or who had no shelter . A short lived tent city sprang up on Desolation Hill and the great weather ensured that it was possible for hundreds to indulge in nude fun and games on the beach , much to the delight of prurient fleet street reporters who salivated over the prospect of titillating their readers with tales of mass debauchery and drug taking .

   Also, on the plus side of things, the sound system was very good , the filming of the event was probably the most comprehensive coverage of any UK rock festival ever undertaken, the weather was unrelentingly and there was some very good music on occasions.

  

  Outside the arena Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies put on their own free mini festival and provided an alternative to the mega mania of the main event . Also, I found the audience to be very friendly and despite the impression one gets from the film , happy and peaceful 99% of the time .

  Probably the biggest downer was compare Ricky Farr berating the poor sods in the arena when things were getting unpleasant at the fences . Uncalled for , as we had all paid to get in, so how were we to blame ? Perhaps if the organisers had arranged things in a more friendly way, instead of creating a prison camp atmosphere around the fences, with dogs and security goons, the free festival brigade may not have had taken such an adverse course of action against the promoters ( but then again, they probably would have anyway even if the Foulks had provided us with gold leaf covered toilet seats , some one out there would have been complaining that they should have been SOLID gold and that mere gold leaf was a "frigging insult to the people maaaaaaaaaaaaaan "........ )

Left : Nudity and music on the beach © Jean Paul Margnac

 

 

1970 poster © David Fairbrother-Roe

   One can also not help feeling a teensy bit sorry for the promoters Fiery Creations . Ok, they wanted to make money and they received much flak from the underground press for this fact. But they did present a pretty good festival under very trying circumstances , under a good deal of opposition from local residents . Portrayed as villains by the underground press, hassled by managers anxious to get major billing for their acts, losing money due to the revolutionary fervour of some of the crowd and the new position of the site which allowed the free view from the hill ,  they must have felt like an elderly lion does when cornered by a pack of dogs. They could not please ANYONE , no matter what tactic they took. No wonder Rikki Farr sounded pissed off from the stage and no wonder they never promoted another three day festival. It must have been too much like hard work for no reward.......


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The Underground press- NB: opinions expressed in these articles do not represent our opinions of the organisers or any other people involved in the running of the festival, it is possible that they may be innaccurate in some details or facts.

 

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