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.
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.
There’s no mistake, I smell that smell, it’s that time of year again – though this year’s IOW festival line-up indicates that we are steadily moving to the stage when it will be indistinguishable from a Radio One roadshow. Still, money talks, punters are prepared to pay for it, and the idea that festivals offer some kind of gateway to a new way of life has long been put to bed. When Paul McCartney and co can so easily be drafted into the service of the establishment for a Jubilee concert, the transformation of popular music from scourge of the elites to their willing bedfellows is almost complete.
69ers looks back to a different era. If the thought of Gary Barlow consorting with Prince Charles and the military wives curdles your coffee, you will surely enjoy re-experiencing the hope and idealism that lay behind the first great UK festival, when Bob Dylan emerged from exile to appear at Woodside Bay, Isle of Wight, in August 1969. But the novel does not go in for simplistic nostalgia: it dissects the naive idealism of the hippy project and explores the contradiction in capitalism which would eventually end in the triumph of a more permissive form.
It’s also a coming-of-age story, a love story, a review of the the 1969 music scene, and contains some of the most excruciating sex scenes ever committed to print. Just click on the book to the right and a signed copy could be yours in a couple of days. The novel is also available close to the festival site at Newport Waterstones.
My latest royalty statement shows that 69ers is actually selling quite well in the USA, despite the fact I’ve not marketed it there, nor sold any books personally stateside. The world of booksales is a perennial mystery. I’m looking forward to promoting the book further in 2012, on the back of two big publishing events for me: The Last Free Cat is being brought out in the US by top publishers Albert Whitman, and my 100,000 selling picture book You’re A Hero, Daley B is being reissued by Walker Books. I’m hoping to do some promotional events with illustrator Axel Scheffler – Daley B was the now famous illustrator’s first picture book.
For music fans, I’m now putting the finishing touches to This is the Sound of Adamsdown which will be released shortly, as will a CD of my own songs as sung by me!
69ers is still selling well – Waterstones on the Isle of Wight have now ordered their third boxfull and my own online store on Amazon has been consistently busy. There are numerous reviews on the web, all of them very complimentary: fans of the book have been most generous in spreading the word.
I have had many editors during my 25 year writing career, of varying abilities, but there is one person whose opinion is more important to me than any other: Natalie, my partner of 16 years. The best-read and most literate person I’ve known, a published writer herself and an experienced BBC journalist (not to mention a fantastic mum!), I trust Natalie’s judgement implicitly: if she tells me a story or book is not worth publishing, it’s back to the drawing board.
Though 69ers is set before Natalie was born, she gave the novel the thumbs-up – though she did find a couple of flaws, I’m glad to say. At 55,000 words, it’s a bit short for her tastes, but then I write for people with a short attention span, like myself!
When a couple had sex in a pile of foam at the 1969 IOW festival, the papers all gleefully reported it, with the usual hypocritical condemnations. The event is woven into the narrative of 69ers, with the hapless central character, Scott, finding his ankle used for purchase by the happy couple, to his considerable discomfort.
Here’s me reading part of the scene at the June event in Isle of Wight Waterstones.
The Isle of Wight has often suffered criticism that it is stuck in the past, but on Monday 27 June 2011, it really was 1969 in Newport Waterstones. A host of local talent performed the songs of Bob Dylan while I waffled on about the famous Dylan festival, read from 69ers and fielded a few questions from an enthusiastic and knowledgeable audience. Many thanks to Waterstones manager Paul Armfield for organising the event, on the back of featuring 69ers in the store’s window during the recent IOW festival. The book is selling very well: now we hope word-of-mouth will keep the ball rolling.
I’ll post video of the event shortly, but for now here is a clip of Paul entertaining the remaining crowd after the event was over.
I’ve been promising for a long time to post the home movie I have of the 1969 IOW festival – and finally, here it is. No sound, unfortunately, but at least it is in colour, as opposed to the uniformly black-and-white footage available on youtube. The vid shows the Edgar Broughton Band, Free, The Who (including their helicopter landing), the arena including the huge ill-fated disco tent, Marsha Hunt backstage, and the scene the day after, including yours truly at 14, lamely attempting humour. Speaking of which, 69ers has had a uniformly excellent reception so far: now I’m looking forward to appearing at Isle of Wight (Newport) Waterstones on Monday 27th June, 7pm (with supporting musicians!), and Southampton West Quay Waterstones on Thursday 30th June, 12 till 2pm.
For those who can’t see the above due to record industry censorship, here is a second version with a soundtrack from my current music project: