Isle of Wight Festival History
History of a legendary festival
The history of the Isle of Wight Festival dates back to August 1968, where in a cold stubble field, near Godshill (where the ley lines meet) a hippie throng gathered for a now legendary one day event.
Jefferson Airplane were the only major act on the bill, the lesser known Arthur Brown, The Move, Plastic Penny, T-Rex and The Mirage joined them. Tickets could be purchased in advance for £1.25. 10,000 people arrived to see the groups play on a stage constructed from 2 trailers. It’s remembered as a rather primitive event, renowned for a large open sewer. It was however the first great UK rock festival and it sowed the seed for a far bigger event the following year.
The promoters were far more ambitious when planning the 1969 event. Promoter Ray Foulk pestered Bob Dylan for over 6 months to headline the event. Dylan resisted, he was recovering from a serious accident and saw no attraction in performing his come back show on an unknown island, south of Britain. Foulk took the initiative to appeal to Dylan’s artistic sensibilities and flew to NY with a colour film of the Island, depicting its remarkable natural beauty and literary history.
Dylan was wooed by the idea of performing on Tennyson’s home territory and promptly agreed to headline. The Who, Joe Cocker and Free joined Dylan on the festival bill that now spanned 2 days. In the days before the festival Dylan stayed at Forelands Farm in Bembridge, the Band rehearsed in the barn…. John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Ringo and Maureen Starr and George and Patti Harrison joined the Dylans. Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Elton John and Pink Floyd attended the concert, seeing Dylan play to over 150,000. His set list included: - She Belongs to me, Mr.Tambourine Man, Lay Lady Lay, Like a Rolling Stone, All Along the Watchtower, Blowing in the Wind.
After the success of the 69 festival the promoters planned to further the dream for 1970 with a gigantic line up featuring the world’s biggest acts. Jimi Hendrix agreed to perform and with this knowledge other artists flocked to be included in the line up. The Who, Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis, Free, Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez, The Moody Blues, ELP to name a few. It was to be Hendrix’s last performance, he died a month later.
Over 600,000 people came to join in this mammoth 5-day music extravaganza that was regarded as Britain’s ‘Woodstock’. Unfortunately, an awful lot more people wanted to enjoy the festival without buying a ticket. They proceeded to break down the perimeter fence and create havoc for police and festival staff. With nearly 1 million rampaging hippies taking over the Island, it was decided that enough was enough.
"This is the last festival, it began as a beautiful dream but it has got out of control and it is a monster." Ron Foulk (promoter) September 1st 1970. In 1970 the ‘Isle of Wight Act’ was passed by Parliament to ban all future festivals. Until 2002...
June 2002 saw the return of the great festival after a 32 year absence at a new location, Seaclose Park on the outskirts of Newport just over 4 miles from East Cowes and the ferry service to Southampton.
The return of the festival saw the mighty Charlatans headlining with support from Led Zeppelin’s front man Robert Plant paying tribute to Jimi Hendrix with a fine version of Hey Jude, also performing were Ash, Starsailor, The Coral, nu-metal stars Hundred Reasons and local heroes The Bees, who were later nominated for the coveted Mercury Music Prize.
Thousands of music fans came from all over the UK to enjoy the festival’s revival and this was just the start of things to come.
2003 hailed a bigger festival, spread over 2 days with on-site camping, sun, beer, shades, tents, noodles, cream, toilets... and some world class bands including The Burn, The Thrills, The Cooper Temple Clause, John Squire, Iggy Pop, Paul Weller, Jimmy’s Big Fish, Countermine, The Basement, The Raveonettes, The Darkness, Hell is for Heroes, Counting Crows, Bryan Adams and Starsailor.
The new Promoters, Solo were encouraged to see that so many people had traveled over to the Island to enjoy the festival - something that a whole generation has not had the opportunity to do until last year.
Thirty years of hurt never stopped us dreaming - and we dream again, of what 2004 might bring.
Sunny blues skies at Seaclose Park and the rejuvenated festival expands to 3 days with a line-up that might just have been on everyones wish list. The Who and David Bowie supported by The Manic Street Preachers, The Charlatans and Steve Harley plus many more, indeed a dream line up and an unforgettable weekend.
From 2005 onwards the festival has gone from strength to strength with tens of thousands heading across the Solent
each June to escape the rat race, chill and enjoy some of the biggest acts around. Faithless, Travis and Michael Stipes REM truly rocked the Island in 2005 and many thought it just couldn't get any better.
The appearance of a reclusive Coldplay the following year, supported by The Prodigy and the Foo Fighters was a real coup and many couldn't believe their luck when the venerable Stones were confirmed for 2007, supported by Ash and a polished Groove Armada.
Demand for tickets in 2008, 40 years after the original in 68, was massive and the festival was declared a sell out in days. 2008 saw new electronic wrist bands to deter ticket fraud but they certainly didn't deter enthusiasm to see the Kaiser Chiefs, the Sex Pistols (now 30 years since their debut album Never Mind the Bollocks... Here's the Sex Pistols) and The Police.
In 2012 the Isle of Wight hit the headlines around the world for all the wrong reasons. The wettest weather for 100 years made it nigh on impossible for cars to enter the car parks unaided and the Island's roads became gridlocked with traffic building up at even the mainland ferry ports! Once in, a fun time was had by all with epic sets from the likes of Springsteen and Tom Petty.
These days, 40 years since the hazed era of free sex, this well loved multi-award winning festival remains an annual pilgrimage in the footsteps of the 70's hippies. Clad in eco multi-coloured dream coats the Isle of Wight has never been quite the same!