The Isle Of Wight Festival

The 1970 festival was said to be one of the largest human gatherings in the world, with estimates of over 600,000, surpassing the attendance at Woodstock.

Isle Of Wight

Between the 26 and 31 August 1970, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, (his last ever UK appearance), Donovan, Jethro Tull, Miles Davis, Arrival, Cactus, Family, Taste, Mungo Jerry, ELP, The Doors, The Who, Spirit, The Moody Blues, Chicago, Procol Harum, Sly and the Family Stone and Free all appeared at the third Isle Of Wight Festival. A weekend ticket cost would have set you back £3.

The first Isle Of Wight Festival was held in 1968, promoted and organised by the Foulk brothers (Ron, Ray and Bill Foulk) under the banner of their company Fiery Creations Limited.

The 1969 event was notable for the appearance Bob Dylan and the Band. This was Dylan’s first paid performance since his motorcycle accident some two years earlier and was held at a time when many still wondered if he would ever perform again. Followers from across the world trecked to the Isle of Wight for what seemed like a ‘second coming’. Estimates of 150,000–250,000 attended.

Isle Of Wight Festival 1970

At the 1969 Festival, The Who presented their standard set at that time, which included the rock opera Tommy as they had recently released that album and were touring in support of it. They had just returned from a tour of the United States where they had performed at Woodstock about two weeks earlier. Other acts that appeared inclued the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Fat Mattress, Joe Cocker, The Nice, and The Pretty Things.

Tickets in 69 cost 25 shillings, ($3.00) and celebrities who attended include Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Jane Fonder, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.

The 1970 event was by far the largest and most famous of these early festivals; indeed it was said at the time to be one of the largest human gatherings in the world, with estimates of over 600,000, surpassing the attendance at Woodstock.

The festival was filmed by a 35mm film crew under the direction of future Academy Award-winning director Murray Lerner who at that point had just directed the Academy Award-nominated documentary Festival of the Newport Folk Festival. The footage passed to Lerner in settlement of legal fees after a dispute with the Foulk brothers in which the two sides claimed against each for breach of contract. Lerner distilled material from the festival into the film A Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Rock Festival released theatrically in 1996 and subsequently on DVD. In addition to this film, Lerner has created full-length films focused on performances by individual artists at the 1970 festival. To date, there have been individual films of The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Moody Blues, Free, Leonard Cohen and Jethro Tull.

Isle Of Wight

The event was revived in 2002 at Seaclose Park, a recreation ground on the outskirts of Newport. It has been held annually since that year, progressively extending itself northwards beyond Seaclose Park along the fields of the eastern Medina valley. Many notable artists have performed since its revival including The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Muse, Stereophonics, Donovan, Ray Davies, Robert Plant, David Bowie, Manic Street Preachers, The Who, R.E.M., Coldplay, The Proclaimers, Bryan Adams, The Police, Foo Fighters, The Killers, Nile Rodgers and Chic, Fleetwood Mac, Madness, and Kings of Leon It was sponsored by Nokia from 2004 to 2006. The promoters of the event now are Solo Music Agency and promotions. Apart from being held on the Isle of Wight, and featuring the now customary artwork of Dave Roe, there is no connection with the festivals of 1968–1970.

The following fans’ accounts of attending the Isle Of Wight Festival are taken from the This Day in Music book Bob Dylan – The Day I Was There which contains over 400 stories from people that saw Bob Dylan live and worked with him. Available in print and all digital formats.

I WAS THERE: PENNY WARDER

My boyfriend of the time had long holidays from art-college and was working at the festival, doing artwork for the signs on the front of the stage, and helping with security and management. As a result, he had a VIP pass and, being his partner, I got one, too. Otherwise it was £2 for a ticket. Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were sitting behind us. The talk of the festival was that they might join Dylan on stage. It never happened. I was a huge Beatles fan, but had not seen them live; I kept turning round to look at them. We were about three rows from the front and could smell the hash that someone was smoking behind us.

When Dylan finally came on, he was barely 10 feet away from me. It was so exciting. He played for only an hour, for which he got some stick in the press, but it was incredibly exhilarating. He did two encores. After he finished, I went back to my parents’ house on the island, where I grew up. Even though I had been away at college for two years, there was no way they would allow me to stay out all night. I remember it was a real struggle trying to find a lift, because we didn’t have cars and couldn’t afford taxis.

This was my first festival. I went to the Isle of Wight the following year, when Jimi Hendrix played shortly before his death. I’ve been to others since, but nothing will match those two experiences.

I WAS THERE: TONY REED, AGE 19

I was 19 that year, and travelling through Europe, as middle- class North American kids did then in the summer. Airfares were cheap for students, and you could go almost anywhere, including Algeria and other places I wouldn’t dream of going now. I met Australians who were taking the ‘overland route’ home; I doubt that that route still exists. I got to the site on the Isle of Wight about, I don’t know, five days or so before the concerts, with something like £10 in my pocket, and got a job digging toilets and putting up concession tents. All the good jobs, like building the stage, for instance, had been taken by Americans (and, yeah, by guys with carpentry skills).

I met a bunch of people working there and we all lived in a small encampment we called Desolation Row. What else were we going to call it? We even got semi-famous, and had a journalist from The People stay overnight who then went back to London and wrote a nasty piece about us. We got our pictures in various local and London newspapers and on the telly smashing up an old piano that the farmer gave us. I don’t know why he gave it to us or why we smashed it up. It made some kind of sense at the time. Later, we got mentioned in Scaduto’s bio of Dylan, although he got it wrong: I was the only North American in the group, which included a guy from the Midlands, some middle-class London kids, and a genuine Scottish tramp.

After the concert, that Monday morning, we were all going to stay and make some money helping with the big clean-up. Except that it was so truly desolate with the concert over and everyone just gone away and mountains of garbage all over that we just went home and forgot about it. Later, when I was back at University of Berkeley, California , I got a letter from one guy who was actually promoting a rock show of his own. He must have learned something while he was there, I guess. I have no idea what happened to the tramp. I don’t have the pictures that appeared in the papers any more, or the Moroccan wallet that I kept for years with that ‘Help Bob Dylan Sink the Isle of Wight’ thing pasted into it.

I WAS THERE: FRANK BATTEN

We arrived at Southsea in 1969 too late for the last ferry, and ended up sleeping on the seafront. We could hear (we thought) The Who playing on the island. I can’t work out what night that would have been – we saw The Who live (that must have been on Saturday) but we also saw The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (and the wonderful Viv Stanshall RIP).

One thing has always stuck in my mind about Dylan’s set – one of the newspapers said that the crowd booed and threw bottles at Dylan because he was so late on stage. The booing and bottle throwing was aimed at the people in the press compound at the front, who stood up when Dylan came on stage, so none of us paying punters behind them could see anything. Peace and Love was one thing, but we still wanted value for money. The fact that Dylan was late didn’t matter at all – he was there and that was all that mattered.

I WAS THERE: FRANK DEVLIN, AGE 18

I went to IOW in ’69 with two pals of mine, we were all 18 and from Dublin, Ireland. Our trip began Dublin to Holyhead in Wales by boat, Holyhead to Euston in London by train, Euston to Waterloo, Waterloo to Portsmouth and then the ferry to the Isle of Wight. Some journey! We arrived on the island around 11pm and pitched a tent along with thousands of other kids. I remember the tickets cost a fiver for the weekend. My pals were into a lot of the bands that were playing but I had come to see Dylan. I remember the weather was great, (unlike Woodstock).

On the Sunday morning, hundreds of us went to the beach, which was over the hill, everybody went in naked which was very daring for three innocent Irish lads. The compere of the show was a fella called Richie Farr, who all weekend said that The Beatles were in the crowd, and maybe they would play with Dylan at the end. Dylan was supposed to come on stage at 8pm on Sunday to close the festival. He eventually came on at 11pm – three hours late. He played for 40 minutes and was gone. The crowd assumed he was taking a break, but he never came back. The crowd went nuts and broke up the fence around the site.

Myself and my pals decided to try and reach the stage, which we eventually did by crawling under the canvas. We found Richie still on the stage and had an argument with about how let down we felt with Dylan and all the bullshit from Farr himself all weekend. He asked us where we were from and counted out 15 pounds which he gave us to cover our outlay for the weekend and told us to go into the tent backstage and have a drink. Once in the tent, the only person we recognised was Jack Bruce from Cream.

The next day the site looked like a bomb had hit it. We were asked if we would help clear it for a few bob, and as we were not in any hurry, we helped clear up. Apart from Dylan, the gig was brilliant and we met loads of great people. We returned in 1970 to see Jimi Hendrix in what would be his last gig. That’s my story of a great time in my life.

I WAS THERE: TED TUKSA

Just before Bob Dylan came on, they set out seats for all the guests in the press arena, when they poured in to sit down, I jumped over the barrier, which was non existent in those days, it was a fence about two feet high. I sat down in a seat on the third row right in the middle. I couldn’t believe all the guests were sat down all around me, Ringo Starr was on the front row in the middle, behind him was George Harrison, and on the third row I had John Lennon and Yoko sat next to me. At the time John and Yoko were the big new, and all the press were taking hundreds of pictures, with Ringo being on the front row, all the photographers were leaning and more or less climbing over him, after a few minutes, Ringo got annoyed and ordered all the press to stand a couple of feet in front of him and in line, and he said ‘right, I will take all your photographs of John,’ he then proceeded to take the camera o each photographer, lean over George and asked John and Yoko to smile and snapped away, and he did this with every photographer.

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