As the Island Slowly Sank is an invaluable addition to the history of both Bob Dylan and the first Isle of Wight festivals. As author Derek Barker (editor of Dylan fanzine Isis) acknowledges, these subjects were well covered by Brian Hinton’s Message To Love, which Barker draws upon for his booklet, but there is much new material here. First-hand interviews with key figures and research based on little-known publications has filled some important gaps in our knowledge of a hugely significant period in the history of popular culture.
I certainly gained some new insights into Dylan’s motivation for playing the Isle of Wight. Having withdrawn from the spotlight to concentrate on bringing up a family, the imposition of a major festival (Woodstock) down the road from his home, cashing in on his fame, was not something to which he took kindly. There’s plenty of detail about this period, and the process by which Dylan agreed to appear in England instead – although we also learn how the IOW was not quite how Dylan had romantically imagined it.
Barker is very thorough and level-headed on a number of key issues: how much Dylan actually got paid, why the huge delay before his performance, and indeed how good that performance actually was. There are plenty of interesting details about life at his residence at Forelands Farm and even the significant absence of a toilet in his backstage caravan – a matter of huge importance to his friend Al Aronowitz, whose ability to remember the conversations of 40 years ago verbatim must surely be taken with a pinch of salt.
For a short book, As the Island Slowly Sank does attempt to cover a lot of ground, and in doing so flies off at a few tangents to give incidental information which might better have been relegated to footnotes. While almost everything in the booklet was interesting to me, it might not appeal widely beyond Dylan fans or festival veterans, but then there are plenty of them! I certainly recommend it, not just for the read but also as a stimulus to further discussion of the subject, to which I am now inspired to contribute at http://www.dylan69.com.