Memories of the free festivals
It is said that if you were around in the '60s you can't remember much about it and that is very true about some festivals I went to at the tale end of that period. I had just decided that the alternative culture offered by the hippy movement was for me and that included the drugs too and they tend to have a bad effect when it comes to being able to remember much.
Free festivals and pop festivals I remember
Free Pop and Rock festivals were very much part of the early 1970s and some had very notable line-ups. There were those you needed a ticket for too like the Isle of Wight festivals
Memories of the free festivals
Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac
Last performance of Peter Green with Fleetwood Mac
Actually proving that is the case I can probably best recall the first festival I went to at the age of 16 and I was only smoking a bit of dope at that stage. It was the Bath Festival at the Bath football stadium and was notable as the last performance of Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green.
I think I hitch-hiked down taking just a sleeping bag with me. I remember well dancing to the band Quintessence who mixed Asian spirituality with Western rock, and I also remember the band Wishbone Ash. The highlight of it all though was Fleetwood Mac carrying on acoustically and with percussion after the power was turned out on them.
The audience were all banging cans together and it became a very tribal jam session with participation from the crowd as important as that generated by the band. It was power-to-the-people in action.
Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac
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The Doors at the Isle of Wight festival
Isle of Wight 1970
Bob Dylan and the Isle of Wight
In 1969, I went to the Isle of Wight to see my hero Bob Dylan. As it was I didn't enjoy his set with The Band but was absolutely amazed by the Edgar Broughton Band. I will never forget Edgar Broughton getting a sea of people clapping along and loudly chanting "Out demons out!"
I also remember that the festival theme tune was an instrumental version of Amazing Grace by the Great Awakening. I can still recall it blaring out over the festival grounds as I wandered amongst the people and festival debris. It was as if it all meant something very important but I couldn't tell you what it was.
I daubed red paint all over my small white canvas tent so it would stand out in a sea of tents as well as making it look more psychedelic. I lost it somewhere along the line though but it survived that festival.
I remember someone gave me a free Woodstock headband. It was bright blue and had "From Woodstock with Love" across it and I used to wear it thinking it showed the world where my heart was at.
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I went to the next Isle of Wight in 1970 too and the most memorable act for me was Leonard Cohen. He was another of my singer-songwriter heroes and I remember him lighting a match and letting it fizzle out as he asked the crowd to do the same with him. It was sharing some light in the darkness of the world for a while. It made a big impression on me and I remember him opening with It Seems So Long Ago (Nancy).
I was very overtired but fought sleep to see Leonard and was so glad I did. For me he was a true poet with an almost magical and mystical power. Many years later I ended up in the book The Remarkable Life of Leonard Cohen by Anthony Reynolds, in which I describe my memories of being there.
I also was there when The Doors played but I cannot tell you any more than that. Jimi Hendrix and Jethro Tull I have vague memories of and I know I enjoyed the Moody Blues, which surprised me because I wasn't a fan of their records.
I do remember Tiny Tim and Joni Mitchell. There were lots more really famous acts that I saw too but don't recall doing so. And it was all for the incredible price of three pounds for three days of world-famous acts. Nowadays it's well over 100 for an event that is nowhere near as good.
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Oz Magazine and Phun City
In the same year of 1970, I hitched down to the Phun City free festival at Worthing Common on the south coast. It was supposed to be a benefit for the underground magazine OZ that had been busted for obscenity but it ended up being a free event although people were walking around with buckets to collect donations.
For me it was an incredible experience. There were people camped out in woodland in rough shelters and with fires and it seemed like a real alternative to city-living. There was something wild and tribal about it all.
Tyrannosaurus Rex's Steve Peregrine Took
Bands I remember were MC5, the Edgar Broughton Band jamming with Kevin Ayers and Shagrat - Steve Peregrine Took of Tyrannosaurus Rex fame's new band. I remember that Kevin had purple hair and this was years before the punk scene started. I felt as if I was really part of some new movement - this was the alternative society.
I ended up in the Hawkwind dome looking for somewhere to sleep. I didn't get any because they had music blasting and a strobe flashing.
I remember seeing Jefferson Airplane at the Bath Festival and also dancing away to Canned Heat playing Let's Work Together, very early in the morning at the same festival. I think it was a Bath festival too at which I was bored to tears by Led Zeppelin and remember being surrounded by people going wild about the band while I was wishing they'd just hurry up and finish!
Windsor Free Festival
I went to a couple of Windsor Free festivals as well and remember all the trouble with police at these. You got searched going into the site and searched leaving it and many people got a lot worse. I remember reports of people being arrested for suspicion of drug possession and detained in custody whilst the "substances" were analysed. This meant that if the police found aspirin or vitamin tablets or other legal pills you risked getting locked up for this.
Speaking of legal substances I remember taking ginseng and it didn't have an effect I was expecting or wanted. It certainly didn't act as an aphrodisiac but it did work as a stimulant though in a rather unusual way!
What it did to me was made me feel restless and unable to get into sitting around smoking dope and watching bands. I wanted something to do and so I was delighted when there was a stage announcement for volunteers needed to pick up festival rubbish.
I happily spent the next several hours wandering around filling refuse bags. This was not exactly what I was expecting and not what most people do at free festivals but what happened to me.
Battle of the Beanfield
There was a lot of trouble between festival-goers and the police and I suppose this was an early warning of the brutality that erupted years later at the Battle of the Beanfield at Stonehenge. It was the beginning of the end of the free pop festivals.
But I ended up on stage at one of the Windsor festivals though and amazingly had an encore for my song Extracting the Latex from a Rubber Ducky. I had a beat-up guitar I borrowed from someone and had two friends playing kazoo and squeaking a rubber ducky.
The crowd loved it and a year or so later I met a guy in a pub in Finsbury Park in London who introduced himself saying: Oh, wow - man, you're the guy that does the song about the rubber duck. You must come over and meet all my friends who have heard all about you."
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Van Morrison at the Rainbow Theatre
I had just popped in for a quiet pint before I went to see Van Morrison in the Rainbow Theatre. Nowadays I would be delighted to have found my fame had spread to such a degree but at that time I just thought it was all crazy.
Many years later CJ Stone wrote about it in The Guardian and in his book and a recording of the song is included on my new album Welsh Wizard.
One thing I really liked about the free festivals was the free food. It was only brown rice and vegetables on a cardboard plate and you had to queue up for it but it felt good to be eating this food given out by people in the spirit of peace and love and power to the people.
Back to Van Morrison though, because I remember seeing him at the Knebworth festival in 1974. He was the act I just had to see and somehow me and a girl called Jill whom I went out with for a while got right down the front by a process of hassling people with "Excuse me," and getting a few steps forward.
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, the Doobie Brothers, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Tim Buckley were also there but for me Van the Man was the star of it all. Having said that, if you asked me now what songs he sung I am afraid I haven't a clue!
Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.