1968 – 1971
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Isle of Wight Festival (taking place from 21 to 24 June 2018) we’re looking back at this iconic festival’s history with a series of blogs and galleries.
The Isle of Wight Festival today stands as a cornerstone of the UK (and arguably the world’s) entertainment calendar.
It is a multi-award winning Who’s Who of global music talent past, present and future. Each year it attracts tens of thousands to the Isle of Wight with a global TV audience watching on enthused from all corners of the globe.
But the festival’s ascent to its current position has been a long and winding road. Its history is one of innovation and folly, success and failure, demise and renaissance and of shifting cultural and political sands.
It all began in 1968 when the Foulk brothers, Ron, Bill and Ray staged an all-night gathering on Ford Farm near Godsill. Billed as the Great South Coast Pop Festivity and headlined by US band Jefferson Airplane, the event attracted around 10,000 people between August 31 and September 1. Also on the bill were Arthur Brown, The Move, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Fairport Convention and The Pretty Things.
Though modest in size compared to what would follow, the event energised the Foulk brothers for it proved, if nothing else, that it was possible to attract major international acts and a considerable number of like-minded people to an offshore Island.
The Foulks widened their horizons and began plotting the second festival. They settled on a site in Wootton and chose the date August 30 and 31. This time an estimated 150,000 turned up to watch a line up including The Nice, The Pretty Things (again), Marsha Hunt, The Who and Joe Cocker. Headlining was Bob Dylan playing his first full-set for two years (he was allegedly swayed by being able to perform live in Tennyson country).
The sky was suddenly the limit and soon the Foulks had an even bigger event in mind. Chosen as a venue was Tapnell Farm, which sat in the shadow of Afton Down, a now-protected geological feature that was turned into a shanty town – Desolation Row – by many of the estimated 500,000- 700,000 who converged on the West Wight between August 26 and 30. The line-up included Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Jethro Tull, Ten Years After, Chicago, The Doors, The Who, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Moody Blues, Joan Baez, Free, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Kris Kristofferson, and Donovan.
The festival became headline news around the world. Not only did ‘Britain’s Woodstock’ stretch the festival’s – and indeed the Island’s – infrastructure to breaking point, it also turned out to be Jimi Hendrix’s last public performance in the UK.
The sight of Afton Down, transformed into a seething and half-naked counter-culture community and the Island itself ground to a halt by a rock and roll invasion, was too much to bear for many; including those in authority.
The following year, urged on by then MP Mark Woodnutt, Parliament added a section to the Isle of Wight County Council Act which prevented overnight open-air assemblies of more than 5,000 people taking place without certain conditions being met to the approval of the local authority.
In the circumstances, it was not an unreasonable piece of legislation. The events of the previous year at Afton were clearly unsustainable. But what it did do was to introduce a political hurdle for any would-be event organisers to overcome.
And after Afton and all its issues, convincing local politicians that outdoor festivals were a good thing was never going to be easy. And so it proved in the ensuing years with various attempts to revive an event failing.
It’s not too late to get your Isle of Wight Festival day tickets (weekend tickets have sold out). And with more ferries going on more routes more often*, Wightlink is your link to festival heaven. Book your crossing today.
Many thanks to Dimbola Museum & Galleries for the historical images. If you love the Isle of Wight Festival or just want to see more of these incredible photos then why not pay a visit to Dimbola Museum & Galleries to see more?
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