1969 was not only the year of the UK’s first great pop festival, but also David Bowie’s first great single, Space Oddity. It was still a few years till the landmark Top of the Pops appearance which announced him as the most significant figure in UK popular culture, but even without the stunning image he was to create, the hallmarks of his songwriting style were there. In all the discussion of that image, and those which followed, there has, in my view, not been enough recognition given to his supreme gift for melody. Bowie’s tunes are strikingly original and beautifully crafted: for me he’s up there with J.S.Bach. Without those tunes nothing else about him would have had a fraction of the impact. And while his cultural influence would never be as strong again as in the Ziggy Stardust era, the great tunes kept on coming, combined with a fantastic instinct for song dynamics.
I’m happy to say that my son Jordi became a Bowie fan from the age of three, requesting that video of Starman over and over again. Jordi shares his birthday also: Jan 8th is an auspicious date, being also Elvis’s birthday (not to mention Shirley Bassey and the Doors’ Robbie Krieger). Maybe it should become a national holiday.
Lambert & Stamp, the documentary film celebrating the lives of The Who’s managers, is now out on release across the UK – and the archives on this site have played a small but significant role in the production. I’ve previously mentioned that my dad (festival electrician Ken Blake) took some unique cine film of the 1969 Isle of Wight festival, including footage of the Who arriving by helicopter. That footage appears in its full glory in Motocinema’s new film.
The Who’s arrival – after a tense standoff over money with the festival organisers – is also celebrated in a slightly fictionalised form in When Dylan Sank The Isle of Wight (formerly 69ers):
“The arrival of Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon was certainly epochal, but that happened on television, in grainy black and white, whereas the Who were coming in full colour, up close and personal, and their arrival would be followed by something a lot more exciting than a few slow-motion bounces.
No-one anticipated that impending appearance more keenly than Maurice. More than once he checked the integrity of the plywood H, conferring with none other than Bill Foulk, long-haired sibling of Ron and Ray and according to Maurice the one guy who really knew his stuff about the progressive music scene, not that he seemed that keen to impart much knowledge to Maurice. There was a palpable anxiety amongst the waiting throng, such had been the brinksmanship exercised by Kit Lambert, the Who’s whizz-kid manager, so that the moment a flying speck appeared on the horizon was one of high drama, a drama intensified as the red copter came close enough for the words TRACK RECORDS to be read on its side. Here was an image to daunt the afficianandos of the folk movement: an alternative new world of blatant self-aggrandisement, the aggressive, tech-savvy, whirling force of the go-it-alone independent label come to blast the stuffed shirts out of the record business. Down it squatted, like a capitalist arse onto the face of the festival, its downwind fearsome, till the plywood H began to shake, then suddenly disintegrate, fence panels flying upwards like blown litter. Maurice’s face turned ashen as wood smashed into the rotor blade, staggering the copter and threatening to turn the world’s loudest band into a flaming fireball. Somehow the pilot got the monster down safely, but it was a scowling Daltrey who climbed out amongst the circle of onlookers, followed by an equally glowering Moon, Townshend and Entwistle.
Maurice Moss silently slid his autograph book back into his pocket.
“Good one, Maurice” said Scott.
“Shut up, Rayner” hissed Maurice. The downforce of the helicopter had swept his hair back into an impromptu short-and-sides, and suddenly he was once more that short-trousered firstie with his hands jammed into his pockets to protect his crotch from that ancient tradition known as knackering.”
Either paperback or e-book of When Dylan Sank The Isle of Wight can be found here.
Joe Cocker, who died yesterday at 70, was not one of the big hits of Britain’s first great pop festival. Playing before the Moody Blues on the Saturday night, he was not blessed with an audience attuned to his brand of soul. For me, however, Joe Cocker was one of the standout artists at Wootton. Three songs dominate my memory of the event: the Great Awakening’s guitar instrumental “Amazing Grace”; Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay”, and Cocker’s “Delta Lady”. All three singles possessed a magic, but Cocker’s urgent and heartfelt delivery elevated it above anything else coming over the PA. It was some feat for Cocker to take a song written by Leon Russell for Rita Coolidge and make it his own.
I saw Joe Cocker again about twelve years ago – still as modest and genuine as he had been in his heyday. He’ll always be remembered for his air guitar and marble-gargling voice, but hopefully Delta Lady will still be around when a certain song from a cheesy romantic film is long forgotten.
69ers, the novel of the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival of Music, has finally been released as an e-book. Retitled When Dylan Sank the Isle of Wight, and with a new cover, the book is retailing at £3.59 (less than six dollars) and can be purchased here.
For reviews of the book, check out the paperback version, while you can find extracts on this site, along with a host of original archive material about the groundbreaking event around which the story is built. It’s a story about another age, but one which takes a hard look at those times (and hopefully an entertaining one) rather than wallowing in nostalgia. I really hope the e-book’s going to be read by people of all ages, and more reviews are welcome, even in the unlikely event that you do not enjoy it!
I am indebted to photographer Chris Dorley-Brown for unearthing a video from the BBC archives proving (once again) how wonderfully objective Aunty Beeb really is. The scathing tone of this news item about the 1969 IOW festival may come as a surprise to some, but not to those of us who remember just how hostile the British establishment once was towards pop festivals. But it was this hostility which made the festivals of the time – Woodstock, IOW69 and 70 – so interesting and politically charged.
Chris is the grandson of the man my Dad knew as “DB”, who employed him as electrical contractor for the Island Industries Fair, indirectly leading to him becoming the contractor for the IOW festival.
Among the major tv news programmes in the UK, people might expect Channel 4 News to be most attuned to the legacy of Pete Seeger, but yesterday’s obituary of the great man contained a horrible howler: it claimed that “the infamous Isle of Wight festival” was the occasion when Dylan controversially went electric. They had clearly confused IOW 1969 with the Newport Folk Festival of 1965 – possibly because the present day IOW festival takes place near Newport IOW. As readers of this blog will be well aware, IOW 1969 took place near Ryde, featured a downbeat and rather conservative performance by Dylan, but did not involve widespread booing or Pete Seeger threatening to cut the wires to the sound system.
Channel 4’s error was compounded by a selective quote from Seeger, referring to that threat, but taken completely out of context: Seeger was objecting to the distorted sound and the fact no-one could hear Dylan’s words. He was not opposed to electrification per se and made the point that Howlin Wolf had performed an electric set the day before, without any objections. Certainly there were purists in the folk movement, but they did not include Seeger. He was a man who, despite his middle-class roots, did more than anyone to champion the self-expression of the working-class and the emancipation of the oppressed. He had the guts to stand up to McCarthy’s Un-American Activities Committee and to decisively reject his early admiration for Stalin. I believe he was wrong to also reject revolutionary politics for a belief that fundamental change could be achieved incrementally, and even wronger to celebrate Obama’s presidency as evidence that “this land is our land”. But Dylan could certainly have learned from his steadfastness in devoting his life to the greater good.
Great to see the continued interest in this website and healthy sales of 69ers. Do have a good look round the archives if you haven’t visited before. Meanwhile my teen novel The Last Free Cat continues to make waves in the USA: a great little review from a teen reader recently on Teen Ink which is one of the best summaries of the book I’ve seen. Many more reviews also on Goodreads which demonstrate that readers either love it or hate it – fortunately the lovers are in a large majority! The fact that some don’t like it at all does not surprise me. The book has a powerful sense of right and wrong which will not be shared by those of a conservative disposition. It prides me greatly that Albert Whitman recognised this in choosing the book for their very select imprint, which you can read about here.
The novel has also been re-reviewed in the key journal School Library Review (no link available) where it was first reviewed in 2008, and on Kirkus.
All this attention to a book written in Cardiff, Wales, has however failed to impress the organisers of the first Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival, which takes place in March this year. Despite the fact I have been singlehandedly flying the flag for Cardiff on the children’s literature stage for over 25 years, in China, Japan, Australia, the US, South Africa, Taiwan, half of Europe and more, they have decided I am surplus to requirements. Never mind the 300,000 books I have sold, nor the quarter century of school visits and community arts projects through which I have sought to inspire generations of young people in South Wales. Never mind the fact I have been published by almost every major publishing house in the UK as well as those abroad. I will leave my books to speak for themselves and others to judge whether the Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival will be devalued by my absence. In the meantime thanks to all those who have bought 69ers, The Last Free Cat or any other of my 56 books: it is your views I value.