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The 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. 26th - 30th August 1970. 


 Michael McNamara's story   

Here's my story:


    I was 15 years old and my folks had moved the family from Windsor Ontario , across the river from Detroit, to Brighton England. It was a teenage dream come true. We arrived in June 1970 and I immediately started working on my parents to let me go to the Isle of Wight Pop Festival. I guess I must have wore them out -- they let me go.

   I got a job pretending to fix the perpetually broken pinball machines on the Palace Pier, saved up my money and bought an advance IOW ticket for 3 pounds in Brighton. I packed a sleeping bag, a jerry can for water, an extra tshirt , my prized fringed buckskin jacket complete with White Panther/MC5 pin, and jumped on the train to Portsmouth.

   On the way I met a couple from San Francisco who were also on their way to the concert. They were a bit older than me, and very world wise. The guy's name was Tony Flynn, and I thought he was the hippest person I had ever met. In retrospect he probably still is.

   We arrived 2 days early for the festival ‹ the official opening day was Friday August 28, but there were warm up acts that began performing on Wednesday August 26. The one thing I remember most is Kris Kristopherson getting booed off the stage after performing "Blame it on the Stones" Cans and trash were whizzing past his head.
A strange beginning.
It got stranger.


   Over the course of the weekend there was a lot of pressure from people who had traveled great distances, paid to get on board the ferry, paid to take buses to the site, but didn't want to pay to get inside the big arena the organizers had constructed. Most of the folks that didn't want to pay sat on a hill outside the walls (the hill came to be known as "Desolation Row"). At one point I went out and climbed the hill to get a look -good view, not great sound. As time passed, the hill people mounted a campaign to tear down the walls. And the organizers responded quite bitterly --- screaming into the microphones about the situation and berating the Desolation Row leaders. The odd thing was that none of us inside the arena really knew much about what was going on outside the walls, so all the bitching and moaning and berating coming from the stage was just confusing nonsense to us. And the folks outside the walls were too busy trying to sneak in to pay any attention to what was going on onstage. To use an old west metaphor,what the organizers did was circle the wagons and start shooting at each other.
I didn't get a full understanding of the situation until 25 years later,when I saw the belatedly released documentary "Message To Love", which seems to be completely about the fight between the organizers and the hill folks.

Exhibit M Mr Flynn ?

   We knew there was pressure to make it a free concert, and as we had already paid we had nothing to win or lose if the walls came down. But for us the whole thing was a bit strange. At that time in America, hip capitalism was always sort of treated as a necessary evil. By 1970 the "movement" such as it was, had already been co-opted. Woodstock the festival had already become WOODSTOCK THE MOVIE and "Free" radio, even "underground" radio, had to be paid for somehow, so we lived with advertising in between "We Can Be Together" and "Something In the Air". And there were free concerts in Detroit, but if you wanted to hear international acts, you paid to get into the Grande Ballroom or Cobo Arena.

   So, despite the fuss in the movie, for me the festival was a string of magic musical moments that I can still remember relatively clearly after 30 years.

Here are a few of them:

FAMILY

As a Canadian, I had never seen or heard of these guys before. Here's this guy Roger Chapman, one minute wildly screaming and warbling into a mic, the next minute holding the stand above his head and smashing it to the stage and walking off to take a drink while some hapless roadie scrambles on to replace the broken mic. Chapman must have pulled that stunt a half a dozen times during "The Weavers Answer".
I became an instant fan.


PROCOL HARUM


They put the prog in Prog Rock, but they weren't wankers -- yet. Their later embarrassing escapades with the Edmonton Symphony orchestra were still ahead of them. But they were artists that night. I was almost in tears during Salty Dog. Interestingly, there were few American acts at the
time that messed with strings because in those days, Melotrons (and orchestra in a box) were illegal, as far as the American Federation of Musicians were concerned. The AFM reconned that if you used a melotron, you had to hire the band it was replacing to sit around in the studio and cool their heels.
So the Brits sort of sewed up the market on Orchestral Rock. Good thing or bad thing? You decide.


JONI MITCHELL


I was wandering around in the warm sunny summer afternoon at the back of the arena when she came on, and the sound of her voice and piano just rolled magically across the throngs I was in LOVE. Then some very drug addled guy tried to grab her mic and she was really shaken up she
justifiably bawled out the audience for behaving like tourists. But even though the spell was broken by this invasion, we still had the magic moment that preceded it. Transcendent. In fact, shortly after, while sitting back in the middle of the crowd between acts, a guy was standing up about 20 feet away and just looking around at the thousands that surrounded him ‹ he had a huge grin on his face and was mouthing the words "This is SO FUCKING GREAT" over and over again. We knew exactly what he meant.


DOORS

It's hard to tell whether I remember this set because of the IOW boots floating around or because I really was such a fan that I hung on every word and nuance. I had seen them twice before, and no matter what anyone says this was one of their great performances ‹ Jim's pipes and impulses were all there. The only festival appearance they ever made, I believe.


JIMI


Half of the audience was asleep. It was near the end of the festival and things had gone way overtime. In preparation for just such a need to battle fatigue, we had secured some very speedy hallucinogens, which we popped just before he came on. I suspect anyone who was awake had done the same thing there seemed to be hundreds of wild-eyed grinning people picking their way through the darkness and sleeping bodies to make their way towards the stage and JIMI. I was peaking during his performance and remember almost nothing but a wild ecstatic plugged in electricity
coursing through me while I stood off to the right and watched.


Final magic moment
Going swimming naked on the beach the morning after. Standing around with a couple of dozen other festival goers and a middle aged English
gentleman who looked a bit like John Guilegood in shorts approached us. He told us he was a resident and asked us if we had had a good time. Then he asked Tony if he could have his matchbook, as he was a collector. He then walked off examining his find, as the rest of usstood shivering and naked on the breezy British seashore in August 1970.


Michael McNamara

As a rather nice appendix to this story we recently received this e-mail


Well hello!
By chance, a friend of mine was searching for long-lost friends, and came upon your site. She was connected to it because of a fellow named Tony Flynn. He was mentioned in Michael McNamara's story, and it turns out that the photo of the fellow in the orange shirt smoking a joint (entitled Exhibit M) is Tony Flynn. I am the friend who was traveling with him to the festival. I was working in England for the summer (through Eurojob). Tony came to England, we went to the festival, and then continued our travels.
Anyway, here is my recollection from a letter that I typed to a friend, and which she still has:

"On Thursday we took a train and then a ferry to the Isle of Wight (my first boat ride), and we got GREAT connections! We camped right out here, next to a tent, each night. The weather is fine, and it's a BEAUTIFUL scene, and OVERLY mellow! It cost £3 for the weekend ($7.20 U.S.), and Wednesday and Thursday were free. We got here in time for the festival on Thursday night, but they had no good groups 'til Friday. Miles Davis is playing right now, and Tony Flynn is stoning me on hash. It's beautiful! Last night Chicago played, and I dug it. Joni Mitchell (she was great!) and John Sebastian played this morning. Doors, Who, Ten Years After, and Sly & the Family Stone are still to play tonight! And, Joan Baez, Donovan, and others are tomorrow!
There's about 10-12 groups a day, but all are not worth mentioning.
It's from about 12:00 noon to about 1:00 a.m. or so, and we take our sleeping bags and sit here on the lawn ALL day and night! Then we go back to our camping spot. Food is o.k., but I sure would like a bath!
You should see--they have stands here selling clothes, records, food, candles & incense, newspapers & books, and lots of other things! It
really is a FESTIVAL! There's a FEW 100,000 people here! We have good seats, though."

Aside from that, I seem to remember getting a LARGE paper bag which would hold a person in their sleeping bag. We must have used these to protect us from the elements, or at least the mud. I think I remember the long trenches under the outhouses that another contributor mentioned. Congratulations on your site. I'm only sorry that my memories are so poor of that particular period. (I was age 19).
Barbara McCarthy


more of Michael's great photos can be seen below at site pix 2-4

Site pix 1.
Site pix 2.
Site pix 3.
Site pix 4.

I'm looking for any pix you might have taken at the festival. Contact email

    Look up this page at an external site for more pix.


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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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