I must be the only person never to have been to an Isle of Wight Festival, and the one I should’ve gone to was the 1970 festival held at Afton Down, near Freshwater Bay on the western end of the Island. I was 17 and single.
The Festival ran for three consecutive years, the last from 26 to 31 August 1970, and was at the time, the largest musical event ever staged. The Guinness Book of Records reckoned that 600,000 people attended. This was not beaten until the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, USA in 1973.
The organisers were determined to create a legendary event and once they had secured Jimi Hendrix, the other major artists signed up to be there, too. The Who, The Doors, Free, Jethro Tull, Ten Years After and Joan Baez were just a few of the famous artists that turned up.
The promoters had no real problems hiring a site for the first two festivals, but in 1970, the locals had organised their objections, and Afton Down was the only site available. Let’s face it, the Islanders were outnumbered by more than 6:1, it’s no wonder they were miffed.
Due to the poor location many festival goers got a free show. The fenced off area that was controlled and you needed a ticket to get into, was overlooked by an area that became known as Desolation Hill. Many said that the view was better from there than in some parts of the arena. A secondary performance area, called Canvas City, gave paying guests a choice of music.
Although the biggest festival, it was not regarded as the best. Some who went say that Hendrix was not at his best, and other groups were mediocre. The Who were well received, as ever, and surprisingly, Tiny Tim was a hit with the crowds. Tiny Tim was an American ukelele player who sang in a high, falsetto voice, songs like, ‘There’ll always be an England’ and ‘Tiptoe through the tulips’.
Financially the festival failed; it was poorly organised and was infiltrated by underground elements that tried to make it a free festival. Ron Foulk, a promoter is reported to have said, “This is the last festival, enough is enough, it began as a beautiful dream but has got out of control and become a monster.”
It was 32 years before another festival was held on the Island, by that time … well it didn’t appeal, much.