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.
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.
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.
Now that 69ers has been successfully launched, I’ll be making some personal appearances to promote the book. On June 4th (2.30pm), I’ll be at the Hay Festival in the Hexagon: though this session is devoted to one of my recent books for children, I’ll have copies of 69ers with me and will be happy to talk about it informally afterwards – and sell it of course!
On June 27th I’ll be over on the Isle of Wight for what promises to be a great evening at Newport Waterstones (starting 7pm). I’ll be giving readings from the book, then it’ll be over to some local talent to give us some Dylan songs. I’m hoping to arrange a couple more events in the area and will advertise them if and when they happen.
It wasn’t an easy choice to publish this book myself after twenty-seven years being published by the likes of Hodder, OUP, Penguin and Heinemann, so I shall be most grateful to my readers for getting reviews online and spreading the word that this is a well readable book, which of course it is!
To buy a copy from me at Amazon, click on the cover to the right. It will be available in bookstores also: the Welsh Books Council has agreed to distribute it within Wales, and all other stores are able to order it. I see it is even available in India, at a very reasonable price, and am happy to have had fan messages from Alaska, where an enterprising library got hold of it before I did!
There is a facebook page for 69ers, though I haven’t done much to promote this yet, so please join if you like the book.
STOP PRESS: Waterstones Southampton West Quay is now confirmed for Thurs 30 June. I’ll be signing books there from 12 to 2pm.
69ers will be launched, as promised, on Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday, Tues 24th May. The launch will take place at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, at 7pm. I should have copies by Friday 20th, however, so it’s worth putting in an order now by going to my bookstore on Amazon. Check out extracts from the book here. Unfortunately the horrendously embarrassing sex scenes aren’t suitable for posting, so you’ll just have to buy the book to read these!
Check out the archives here if you’re new to the site, and have a look at the videos – especially the French tv documentary which gives such a unique insight into the 1969 event.
If you know anyone who may be interested in 69ers, don’t forget to send them a link!
69ers is now in production and should be ready for sale in about a month: I haven’t decided the exact launch date yet, but it will certainly be before Dylan’s 70th birthday as planned. The cover is shown here (click for larger image) and I’ll post details of where the book may be purchased shortly.