on 11 June 2011
Over the years, I have read so much about the 1970 Isle of Wight festival - the anarchy, the tens of thousands of festival goers refusing to pay and breaking down the fence, bolshie stances taken by the artists... but I don't remember any of that. Maybe because I and my four friends - Sam from LA, Denny from Philadelphia, Denny From NYC and Dick from Kansas - all actually paid our £3 each for our tickets, laid out our sleeping bags and zipped them all together, and then just stayed there for the next three days, totally focused on the music. We barely slept, we hardly ate, we never washed and we rarely moved.
And it was fantastic - Chicago were playing 25 and 6 to 4 as we walked into the site on the Friday evening, an image and a sound that has stayed with me for 40 years. I was a teenager, on the run from home - my family 300+ miles away had no idea I was there - with friends I had met in Amsterdam only a few days before with whom to share this adventure. Virtually every big name you ever listened to on John Peel was there - Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, the Doors, the Who, Joni Mitchell, Free, Procol Harum, Miles Davis, Gilberto Gil, Tiny Tim, Donovan, Melanie, and of course, early in the morning of 31 August, Hendrix in his last ever appearance in the UK. He was to die only 18 days later.
They say that if you remember the sixties you weren't really there, and there we were at the start of the 70s and I just don't remember all that aggro, despite the announcements and pleas from the stage for order. It may have been whatever we were smoking that clouded things, but I think it was more likely just to have been that the music took over. Three days of the best music in the world, ever, lying on our sleeping bags during the day, only getting up to make the two-hour trek to the latrines and back... then crawling into them in the evening (no softy camping in tents for us - we were lucky it barely rained), listening to music under the stars for half the night.
Forget the so-called aggro. (Though it's hardly surprising the Island `authorities' couldn't cope. Our field of tired, dirty, hungry, rebellious homeless held six times the population of the entire island - 600,000 of us to their 100,000.) This was heaven, and I feel so lucky and privileged that the stars aligned at the right time for me to have been there - at the right age, with the right people, listening to such great music. I remember the friends I made there and swimming naked in the sea when it was all over, to finally cleanse ourselves of three days of debauchery. But most of all, I remember the music.
The double CD includes 23 tracks and the 139-minute DVD of Murray Lerner's film includes 27 tracks. But, while the music speaks for itself as much as it did then, the film also captures the hedonistic mood and anarchic behaviour of 1970's hippiedom - a way of life now so eclipsed in cultural history that it's no wonder the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival is remembered as `the last great event'.