Memories of My First Pop Festival

Memories of My First Pop Festival

24.6.17

Never one for roughing it, not even Bob Dylan was going to get me under canvas, when, in August 1969, a couple of brothers called Foulk managed to tempt the great man to their Isle of Wight Festival of Music.

Does Dylan have any idea where the Isle of Wight is, I remember thinking when his appearance was announced. It’s across the sea! Not a very big sea, I admit. But an island is an island.

The festival ran over the last weekend in August, but I left it until the Sunday afternoon before I drove down to the Ryde ferry at Portsmouth, and then took a taxi to the site. That was my idea of how you arrived at a pop festival.

Tom Paxton was singing when I got there, to be followed by Pentangle, Julie Felix and Richie Havens. Then came The Band, before at around 11 pm, Dylan appeared, wearing a white suit.

My review for the London Evening Standard, tells me that he was good as he sang Mr Tambourine Man, She Belongs To Me and about a dozen others songs, including Rainy Day Women – in which he was accompanied by a choir of 150,000 for the chorus, ‘Everybody must get stoned’.

But my memory has another story. I was cold, and the possibility of walking the five miles back to Ryde in lanes packed with tens of thousands of others, and then not getting on a ferry before the following afternoon at best, was troubling me. I was marooned in a psychedelic concentration camp.

It was all right for the officer class of stars. Most had hotels to go to, some had even hired helicopters to flee the melee. But I was just one of the poor bloody infantry who was going to have to wait until the following day for the mass evacuation.

So, there I was, looking bleakly around as small bonfires began to be lit with the help of thousands of copies of the souvenir edition of the Evening Standard that I’d spent the previous week writing, when another journalist joined me.

‘Have you heard?’ he whispered. ‘The word is, Eric Clapton’s got a boat. Stick close to me.’

I stuck very close indeed as we made our way through the darkness backstage, out into a lane, and somehow down to Wooton Creek. There a small boat was waiting for rich, and lucky, liggers like me. I’d never met Eric Clapton, so I didn’t know which of the passengers was him, or if he was even on the boat. I didn’t care.

Then off we went, back across the Solent. By two o’clock in the morning I was recovering my car from the Portsmouth side street where I’d left it and driving hack to London and a nice warm bed. I’d escaped from my first pop festival.