On November 20th this year I’ll be celebrating two things: turning 60 (hooray), and 30 years as a published writer. To commemorate these historic anniversaries, I shall be offering, for one week only, the ebook of When Dylan Sank The Isle of Wight
(formerly 69ers) for just 99p. To take advantage of this one-off offer, go to Amazon
between Nov 20 and Nov 27.
My second offer is a completely new novel for junior-age children, Insect Day, which will be COMPLETELY FREE for five days from Nov 20, and thereafter just £1.49. This again will be an e-book available on Amazon.
With Christmas in mind, if anyone is interested in a signed copy of any of my many other publications for children, I shall make these available at the price on the book cover plus postage – just drop me a line.
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 Having withdrawn from the spotlight to concentrate on bringing up a family, the imposition of a major festival (Woodstock) down the road from his home, cashing in on his fame,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.
Those who have enjoyed 69ers will have read (in the opening chapter) a fictionalised recreation of my experiences in an early 70s progressive rock band, struggling to emulate Yes, ELP etc around the church halls and pubs of Southampton. Since that time I ran the gamut of musical styles in a variety of bands – West Coast, punk, folk/world music, new wave, pfunk, acoustic duo, playing on through heart failure and the grim struggle to survive as a writer before finally giving up the boards around the time my son was born in 2007. By then I’d probably written a hundred songs, the best of which came late on, in my forties. Apart from the Adamsdown Song and Adamsdown Sings projects, I thought my playing days were over. However, two events this year changed my mind. The first was seeing Leonard Cohen performing at 78 with more vivacity than a lot of those acts at the IOW in 1969. The second was being asked to perform at a gay wedding. I’m not known as a great fan of the institution of marriage, but I knew how much this meant to my ex, so prepared a couple of songs. When I took to the mike I was surprised to find my 3 year old and six year old had spontaneously decided to perform with me. It was a great experience. I looked again at my song catalogue and thought, bloody hell, why have I never really done anything with this stuff? I am known for being fairly good with words: I also have tunes and a weight of experience. So I really hope you, dear reader, will check out what is at my music site and if you like it spread the word. My first gig is on November 22nd and hopefully there will be many more to come, health permitting. Bookings welcome!
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.
Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday is on May 24, 2011. With that in mind, I’ve made a radical decision: after 56 titles published by publishers large and small, I am going to self-publish. There are a couple of reasons for this, but the outstanding one is that publishers’ lists are planned so far in advance these days that I’d be lucky to see 69ers out before 2013. The whole process of self-publication, on the other hand, can take less than two months, i.e. in plenty of time for Bob’s birthday, when interest in the 20th century’s most celebrated singer-songwriter will undoubtedly be intense.
As I’ve had such a great response to this site, I’m keen to involve visitors with each stage of publication. For example, I’m currently designing a cover: I’ve enquired about the rights to Roger Jackson’s iconic image from the 1970 Isle of Wight festival. I don’t believe there is a better image to immediately alert potential readers to the content of the novel – maybe someone disagrees?
My initial plan is a print run of just 1000, with the aim of selling most of these online. That’s well short of the numbers my books usually sell, but as I have to pay for all the costs up front, and I am not a millionaire, I am erring on the side of caution. Again, I’m interested in everyone’s opinion, particularly that of writers who’ve taken the self-publication route.
I’ll also be honest about costs. In the spirit of 69 – or some of it – I don’t want to rip people off. I want them to read this book.
I’ve now completed 69ers. Here’s a summary.
The novel is set (predictably enough) in August 1969, at the UK’s first great rock festival on the Isle of Wight. Bob Dylan is due to break a long spell of introversion by performing there, just a couple of weeks after the groundbreaking events at Woodstock, near his home, which he chose to avoid. Men have just landed on the moon, Charles Manson’s gang are terrorising Hollywood, troops are on their way to Northern Ireland, and Scott Rayner, a 16-year-old grammar school boy and would-be progressive rock star, is setting off over the Solent with his charismatic but abusive pal Gerry to seek work at the festival and make the bootleg tape which will earn them the admiration of their peers.
Life in Woodside Bay is however very different to the cloistered world of the Isaac Watts Grammar School for Boys. The festival proves to be more of a challenge to Scott than he anticipated, especially when he falls for radical army child Jayne, whose commitment to a communal lifestyle draws out a conservative side to Scott he barely realised existed.
Meeting a colourful array of characters from all corners of the world, experimenting with dope and magic mushrooms, celebrating and debating the music and its relevance, Scott is taken on a journey which will change him forever – especially when a disastrous sexual encounter leads to the theft of his prized tape recorder, the end of his friendship with Gerry, and an intensification of his bond with Jayne, who offers to help him face his fears in order to recover his possession.
69ers is a unique take on an unique event in UK history, the issues raised by which still reverberate today. The author, Jon Blake, is the son of the electrical contractor for the festival and has many unique insights arising from his experience there, together with a lifelong interest in music history. He is the author of over fifty books for young people including the critically acclaimed young adult thriller The Last Free Cat.