JC, Cricko, Mr Wha, Hornpipe, Screwball, Hodge, Magdalen, Carla and me bundled into the same fifteen hundredweight van that had there been any justice would have seen us tumble to our deaths from in the Welsh mountains on our trippy trip back from Caerphilly Castle a year or so before. As on that almost fateful journey, Cricko drove while the girls sat in the spare front seat and the rest of us squashed into the back. It was a scenario that we'd played out so many times before but this time it was different. We were headed down south to the third Isle of Wight Festival.
JC and I had gone to the second one in 1969 primarily to see Bob Dylan and on that occasion we'd managed to get back stage via our ties with Blonde on Blonde's Gareth Johnson. Before joining the band he played guitar and sung in The Castle Folk Club and that's where JC had originally met him. I didn't know him before that weekend and was never to meet him again as he was constantly touring with his band, but he liked to stay close to his roots so from time to time he returned to Newport. JC had met him and they'd both moved on before I started going to The Castle which I guess is why I didn't cross paths with him until the Isle of Wight, and after the festival we just mixed in different circles.
Even though I didn't really know him as such Gareth seemed to me to be a very deep and serious person, so I couldn't quite get my head around why he liked JC the way he did. OK, everybody loved JC but, and I say this the nicest possible way, he was fucking crazy so serious people seemed to shy away from him. Gareth played guitar, sitar and flute and was apparently very accomplished at all three while JC could never be bothered learning too much at all. His philosophy being in the time it takes me to learn somebody else's song I could write three of my own, and he did. I have never known such a prolific songwriter in my life. Nonetheless, the way I understand it was that they jammed occasionally in the early days in the back room of The Castle, and from an outsiders point of view Gareth seemed to like JC a lot.
The big dream for us all was to meet Bob Dylan and to this day I have no idea why his number one fan, Hornpipe never came with us back in sixty-nine. We loved his music and Gareth even went as far as to name his band Blonde on Blonde after Dylan's third electric album. But the whole weekend was nearly a non event. In the first instance Dylan debated canceling at the last moment because his youngest son Jesse had been taken ill just before he was about to sail to Europe from the States. And then there were the rumours that he hadn't turned up or had gone missing, or was fucked up on the drugs used to ease the pain of his recent motorcycle accident. So when the confirmation finally came that Bob was on the island JC and I walked five miles to Forelands Farm where we'd heard he was rehearsing but by the time we got there his entourage had moved on. We'd already spent too long travelling to get to the Isle of Wight in the first place and only wanted to relax so walked the five miles back to Wooton where the festival was to be held and caught a quick nap before the weekend unfolded.
The Isle of Wight 1969 commanded a hundred and fifty thousand audience and for a year or so those times were to be the start and finish of the monster festivals. The years of 1969 and seventy would see Woodstock, Atlanta and the second and third of the Isle of Wight Festivals. The corporate money machine had jumped on the bandwagon and tried to cash in on all four of them with disastrous effects and the whole atmosphere was changing. The music industry was changing. Only recently The Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones had drowned in his swimming pool and within fifteen months Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison would follow him into the next world.
Unlike all the other festivals we'd gone to this one didn't have the usual artists who'd been doing the festival and concert circuit for the last few years! No Taste (though they were to play the festival in 1970) or Pink Floyd or Roy Harper, but The Broughton's were there. We bumped into them sometime in the Saturday evening but we were so out of it that none of us really said a lot to them. The old school were replaced by up and coming bands like Blodwyn Pig, Free, Fat Mattress, King Crimson and Marsha Hunts White Trash. And some long established acts like Joe Cocker and The Who were also to play as would the latter again at the following years four times larger, biggest ever rock festival in the world, 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.
The security for the Dylan festival had been shifted up a few notches. But that aside, despite the walls being ripped down and the Foulk Brothers threatening we created this festival and we can close it, it still wasn't that difficult to walk about like we had at previous such gigs. Just as long as we knew how to blag it, and JC was a master at that. Even without it though we had our safety net; Gareth was a bona fide performer who invited us backstage. JC was later to be very high profile in the music scene and his face would be like a mobile access all areas ticket on his shoulders but for the time being it was still good to have our safety net, Gareth.
We meandered backstage through the acts that had played, chatting to some or just generally hanging out. It was a pattern we followed all weekend until the big moment came. Sunday evening and Dylan was hidden away, seen only by the chosen few. As he arrived JC and I saw him from afar but there were so many people around him that it could have been anybody. As I recall, and much to his disappointment Gareth had had to leave the island because of his own bands commitments, so was not at that time destined to see his idol. That left JC and I without the security of Gareth's total access pass, but by then it didn't matter as wed spent that much time in the artist area that all the security along with a lot of the performers recognised us.
Dylan's set had been put back two hours and everybody was restless. First there were troubles with the sound, and then all the people at the front who had surged forward into the picket fenced press area had to be moved back, and then the sound had to be adjusted again. The moment finally came and JC and I made our way to front stage and took a folding seat each. In the following few minutes a whole host of rich and famous people were ushered from the backstage area to take the remaining seats. There was Eric Clapton, George Harrison, a bundle of others and finally John and Yoko who sat right in from of us in the next forward seats. There's a beautiful photo of them together and right behind them you can clearly see JC full face on. Unfortunately at the very moment the photo was taken my head was turned because the audience behind us outside the picket fenced press area were throwing cans so all you can see of me over Yoko's shoulder is the back of my head. Still clearly me if you knew what I looked like back then but such a pity as it would have been a wonderful keepsake. Especially taking into consideration that within a few minutes the seating arrangements were changed and we had to spend the rest of the concert with the press photographers before we even had a chance to say hi to the former Beatle.
It's hard to describe the concert without being critical. Dylan's set lasted barely an hour. The songs he sang were sang ramshackle renditions of what were generally accepted as classics. And the audience were not as ecstatic as they should have been after all the hype. There would be a jam session of the rock hierarchy; he would be on stage for three hours, it would be the concert to end all concerts after a two year layoff due to his mysterious motor cycle accident in Woodstock. It was none of these and the audience felt cheated. Of course JC and I were elated at everything that happened that weekend but the real highs for me were the things away from the hustle bustle, like meeting Viv Stanshall the singer of The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band who had also played on the bill, or hanging out with The Pretty Things who I'd loved since the early sixties when they were the only real contenders for the Rolling Stones crown.
Back to the future in 1970 and the others had gone walkabouts. Luckily for us though they'd got lost as it gave us a chance to recharge our mental batteries. The sheer size of the audience was something I'd never seen before and probably never will. Six hundred thousand people and the largest Festival audience in the history of the planet! Woodstock was allegedly half a million, The SARS concert in Toronto with the Stones drew six hundred thousand and a couple of million ascended on Copacabana Beach to see the Stones in the new millennium, but neither of the latter two gigs were festivals.
Thinking back it's a miracle that we ever found the others again. We only had the vaguest of vague ideas where our tents were and had lost all sense of direction due to the sheer size of the crowd and of course, at that time mobile phones had yet to be invented. As usual, the reason we split up was to score some acid. There was no way in a million years that we were going to spend the weekend at the worlds largest rock festival straight. We had to get some acid. JC, me, Magdalen and Carla had wandered off to see what was on offer with the secondary notion of checking the place out. We walked from the mud track road at the back of the stage outside the arena and up onto the top of Devastation Hill that overlooked the whole of the area, back in to the rear of the arena, along the other side of the audience area where vendors were selling all the usual foodstuff that you'd associate with such an event, and finally back to the dirt track road where we'd started, but this time in a quest to find the others.
Devastation Hill was a play on words that was a mixture of Desolation Hill where the hippies had set up camp at the previous years Dylan festival, and the devastation created by radical groups in 1970 who'd set up camp there demanding that the festival be free. At first the area was deemed out of bounds as it overlooked the whole arena including the stage but that was impossible to enforce. The festival had started on the Wednesday and on the first three nights there'd been a lot of arguments between the Devastation Hill dwellers and the organisers over the admission fee issue.
On the first two nights the organisers had succumbed, but common sense and capitalism finally kicked in on the Friday when the whole debacle became a free for all with both sides determined to stick by their principles. However, having secured their vantage viewing point the radicals tried and partially succeeded in tearing down the fences. Unfortunately for them though, they had few supporters as despite what you may have read elsewhere most of the people who wanted to go to the festival had either bought tickets beforehand or were willing to pay for them, so the legitimate punters resented the fact that others wanted to be freeloaders. And the organisers opinion on it all, well!
We'd been gone for a good few hours in which time we'd managed to get some microdot LSD tablets, speed, maybe some other pills, and some hash, even though none of us except Magdalen were really smokers. I wondered about JC and whether he'd be looking for anything stronger. After all it was only two months since he OD'd at Phun City and to be honest it scared the shit out of me. This was only the second time I'd seen him since then as he was by then in the final stages of moving to London and I wasn't sure if I knew him anymore.
What had started as splitting his time between Newport and London at the tail end of the previous year had transcended to permanently living there after Phun City. And each time I saw him he seemed to change a little more. But he appeared OK (if that's the right description to use for someone whose off their head on drugs) for the whole weekend, and if he did sneak a few fixes of the real McCoy in there he certainly kept it well hidden. We were under no illusion that this festival was going to be like any of the others as we didn't have the contacts we had in the past and security was getting tighter and tighter at every festival we went to. So, if we were going to be just like all the other punters with no special privileges we wanted to be stoned.
Other than meeting Leonard Cohen on the ferry from Portsmouth to the island and bumping into the musician David Bromberg nothing of interest happened until the Saturday evening. Actually I say that quite flippantly as if they were throw away events when they were nothing but. David Bromberg was an American folk idol of us all who had played on amongst many other recordings the Bob Dylan Self Portrait sessions. He was and continues to this day to be very highly respected in the music business. And still one of the most sensual renditions of a song Ive ever heard is his of the Jerry Jeff Walker classic Mr Bojangles. I don't remember too much of what we talked about other than that it was more about Dylan than him which is a bit of an insult to any aspiring musician trying to make a name for themselves in their own right but he was cool about it. He did however warm to the conversation when we started taking about Norman Blake, a fellow acoustic guitarist like David who he'd also recorded and played live with on many occasions.
The Cohen episode was funny. We'd been cooped up in Cricko's fifteen hundredweight van for what seemed like an eternity, so in Portsmouth we took the opportunity of stretching our legs while getting something to eat and drink. Well, in the time we waited for the ferry we stretched our legs a little too much so by the time we got onto it all we wanted to do was sit down again. Actually, considering six hundred thousand people converged on the island that week the ferry wasn't exactly bursting at the seams. Anyway, as we went on to the deck to take advantage of the sunshine, on one of the wrought iron park style benches was a person lying on his back taking up all four places. Despite wearing a flat cap that partially covered his face we recognised the person loosely holding the guitar case by his side as Leonard Cohen. Magdalen as brazen as they come walked up to the bench, tapped him on the leg and asked "what happened"? Lenny opened his eyes and a little mystified replied "what do you mean, what happened"? "You can't answer a question with a question, what happened, tell me" Magdalen retorted. Poor Lenny couldn't get his head around this one but worse was to come. Acting like none of us recognised him Magdalen asked are you going to the festival? Yeh he replied with a wry smile as if we should have known. So are we said Magdalen and proceeded to introduce us one by one ending with "my name is Magdalen and this is Leonard Cohen. He's playing at the festival" as she pointed to JC. Of course Leonard knew she was shitt'n even if he wasn't familiar with the word, but he still knew what was going on. We shook hands and left him in peace for the rest of the journey and we never did get to sit down again until we got to the Isle of Wight.
At the festival where we'd set up our tents in the Freshwater camping area it was dope time. We'"d made camp on the flat ground about two hundred yards behind the stage so no matter what, we were destined to stay awake until we left on the Monday morning. Obviously we were going to need a little help from something and the starter for ten was always acid. So off we trundled in search of the diamond in the rough of hallucinogenics and were duly rewarded for our efforts in about as much time as it takes to say "high".
We'd already survived the Friday night without the need to go back to the tents which was just as well as somewhere down the line we got lost and couldn't find them. At the break of day though, as the sun came up and as we were coming down from the acid we got lucky. Even though the main festival activities had finished hours before there was still something happening at the Canvas City which was an inflatable construction outside the perimeter fence and immediately behind the main stage. Canvas City was for the whole weekend to be the source of entertainment for those who wanted a little more or were simply too out of it to carry themselves the last few hundred yards to the tented area that it backed onto. It was small in the scheme of things but had a stage area and a picket fence to separate the audience from the artists. I still laugh at the absurdity now of the picket fences they used at the Isle of Wight festivals. Just like the press area in 1969, as if a picket fence would really hold back a crowd of a few hundred thousand people should they want to break through. Anyway, we recognised Canvas City and remembered that wed made camp amidst the tens of thousands of tents not a stones throw away that we were looking at.
There were several inflatables outside the main arena where people would sing, meet or simply hang out and I remember Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies jamming in Canvas City later that afternoon. Jimi Hendrix was in the audience but didn't play. Despite that I was really angry at myself for missing the opportunity of meeting him when we met up with JC and Magdalen later. Of course when nine people go gallivanting for a weekend you don't all stay together constantly so around mid-day on Saturday after failing in our quest to identify which of the thousands of tents were ours we'd done our own thing for a few hours. Getting back to Canvas City with Carla we watched the jam session from outside the perimeter of the picket fence before bumping into JC, Magdalen and Jimbo. We didn't even know that Jimbo was going to the festival and never gave it a thought because despite JC spending a lot of time with him in The Big Smoke he was never a part of our crowd so to speak. In retrospect it makes sense that he should be there considering the business he was in but that was the only festival I even knew him to attend.
They were on cloud nine. We just met Hendrix they announced. Where? In the Canvas City backstage area. He was going to get up and jam but then word got out that he was there so he split. Of course we all got to see him on the main stage later when it caught on fire but it's not quite the same as sitting next to the guy and talking to him as JC, Magdalen and Jimbo had claimed to have done. All else aside his performance on the Sunday night was pretty lame by Hendrix standards but it was my first and last opportunity to see him and I'm glad I did.
Throughout the first part of the weekend we came and went, in and out of the arena, up and down Devastation Hill and access almost all areas. I say almost because we did get backstage on several occasions but not all the time. We spoke to Keith Emerson of Emerson Lake and Palmer who were playing their first gig at the festival. We knew him from his previous band The Nice who we'd seen umpteen times. We also had a good chin wag with Rory Gallagher of the Irish band Taste, members of Jethro Tull who we'd met some time earlier at a barn dance somewhere in the Welsh countryside and who were due to play on the following evening, and numerous other luminaries in the backstage area before or after they played. But the chance to meet Hendrix had gone. When he was on stage the whole backstage area was a no go for all including JC and Magdalen. Sometime in the middle of Saturday night seemed to be the cut off point for our mingling with the rich and famous activities. Until then JC, me and the girls had pretty much come and gone as we pleased but with the big guns like the Who and Hendrix yet to play the security tightened up. Funnily enough, that was the last time that we saw Jimbo. I really don't know if he remained back stage doing business, or he could have only been at the festival for the day, or for that matter we simply could have lost him. I mean, over half a million people. It's not too hard to lose somebody in a fraction of that amount of people if you have no means of contact.
Earlier in the evening after the jam session at Canvas City wed gone walkabouts again, and as was always the case when we were under the influence of LSD minutes seemed like hours or hours seemed like minutes. The whole afternoon had turned into night without us having a clue what we'd been doing or where the time had gone but as with so many times in the past miraculously we met up with the others. By then JC had disappeared again for a while with Magdalen and Jimbo so maybe they were getting up to no good behind our backs after all but anyway, The Doors were on stage and we were outside the arena watching the spectacle of the weekend from Devastation Hill. The radicals had lit what seemed like a thousand fires there that could be seen from miles away. Then The Doors broke into their big hit song Light My Fire. We all took burning logs from the fires which we held like torches, walked down the hill to the Newport I.O.W. end of the arena which was furthest from the stage, entered with our torches, then led by Hornpipe proceeded to walk through the six hundred thousand people towards the stage. Miraculously we made it. Everybody just moved aside and let us through. I don't know how long Light My Fire lasted but The Doors were still playing when we got to the front of the stage with our torches still smouldering.
Like so much of that weekend and others before there were memorable moments to treasure until our death beds and total hours lost. The one real lasting memory I have of the weekend though was Magdalen. From shitt'n Leonard Cohen on the boat over to leaving on the Monday, she was on sparkling form and never seemed to stop. The one thing she shared with me and JC was a wicked sense of humour. No thing and nobody was exempt from her wit if she needed a prop. And I could understand if people got upset at her, but what she said and did was never malicious. It was plain and simple shitt'n in the name of innocent fun.
Unlike previous festivals that we'd been to, the Isle of Wight 1970 seemed to have included excursions of the most unlikely of festival attendees. Of course there were the usual hippies and then there were well dressed office types, middle aged country ramblers wearing matching home knitted cardigans, young ladies in the final days of pregnancy - allegedly there were three births at the festival that weekend - a boy scout troop who had teamed up with a girl guide troop and I couldn't help wondering if the fourteen year olds would be sharing tents in the middle of the night, more than a healthy percentage of dwarfs and some members of a blind society who just happened to be arguing about something at the very moment that they came our way.
The latter was the final straw for Magdalen. She started a barrage of amphetamine fueled shitt'n to them at the speed of a jet plane about absolutely fuck all. And when one of them asked her to slow down because they couldn't understand what she was saying that prompted her to mouth to us with no sound I thought they were blind not deaf which spurred us into tears of silent laughter. Then in the background came the sound of some morris dancers. But on looking we realised it was two dwarfs wearing hats with bells on making the pair of them look like the children's favourite Noddy. Can these good people borrow your hats for a few minutes? asked Magdalen. They were trying to settle an argument and decided that the only way to end it was to have a fight, so if they can borrow your hats you can have your photo taken with the winner. By then they were no longer arguing and nobody had a camera in any case but it didn't matter. Magdalen was only shitt'n and of course the fight never happened, but I am a little surprised that some unscrupulous promoter hasn't thought up a boxing match for the blind with only the sound of the bell on their hats to aim their punches at.
As festivals go, with the exception of seeing Hendrix the Sunday was a bit of a non event in my mind and even the human memory man Hornpipe has little recollection of it. In fact I don't even remember leaving. But in a way that weekend was a parting of the ways for the old school as JC and Magdalen left in a different direction for their new home in London and the rest of us returned to Wales. Of course we were all to meet them on many occasions after that but never again with all of us together. Jimmy had gone to the festival with Mob, and Boom Boom as usual turned up like the proverbial bad penny that he was. In the middle of six hundred thousand people and on an island two hundred miles from home and he found us. Unbelievable! It was great to see Lazy Shit Anywhere Man though who renewed the subscription to his name by relieving himself on a grass verge next to the toilet area. When asked why, he simply answered that the cubicles smelt like shit houses. We couldn't argue with that.
Aside from the music the only other moment of significance that I remember from that weekend was JC spiking Cricko's drink with spangles. Of course the rest of us knew what was happening but Cricko was a bit slow on the uptake. Like the time in the Welsh mountains when he almost killed us all because he decided to stop and think about the bridge that anybody else would have instinctively driven straight over. Cricko wasn't a fully paid up member of our club so to speak though and with a few exceptions he only seemed to be on the scene when we needed a lift somewhere. So what with him being our only means of transport we kept him clear of the free samples as no matter state we were in we still wanted to get home in one piece. But at the Isle of Wight there was plenty of time for him to get high, get low, get spiked, get comatose, get lost, and get whatever else he was gonna get before eventually coming around and driving us home safely.
So, with Cricko being a bit of an outsider he was naive to the effects, the name, or even the existence of spangles. A spangle was the name of a popular candy that came in a tube shaped wrapper with each spangle being a different colour to the last. JC had given the same name to some pills that he occasionally acquired from a female acquaintance whose needs he attended to at times when Magdalen was staying at her place in Cardiff. The other woman as it were worked in a nursing home and had access to all sorts of strange drugs meant for consumption in the recommended doses to schizophrenics, manic depressives, hyper actives and even one old guy in his eighties who allegedly had a constant erection that he offered large her large sums of money to relieve him of it. I know that at on at least one occasion she had given in to his advances, unashamedly telling us he was fucking huge and I really wanted to feel it inside me but urgh, he's ancient, and he's got no teeth. I couldn't.
JC had started administering spangles to those around him in much the same way as he'd turned me on to hearteine pills at the Pink Floyd Hyde Park gig. The basic gist of the JC variety of spangles was that if you put them into water, lemonade or any other clear coloured liquid the drinker wouldn't taste or be able to see them but in a short space of time would be totally spangled. At some time or another we'd all got caught and even though the effects could have been potentially dangerous, to JC it was just another source of hilarious entertainment.
Occasionally in times of desperation we took downers or sleeping pills for a kick. The sheer thought of taking sleeping tablets for a kick seems absolutely insane now but there's no accounting for insanity when you're young. All else aside, at least we knew what they were and how many would be considered as dangerous. The problem with spangles though was that nobody had any information on them. Other desperation ingredients for the gizzard were barley wine, which JC and I once drank a case of after I had a win on the horses and immediately after its consumption we threw up two crates of it. And then there was sherry if drank by the bottle in one sitting has a similar effect. My poor mother must have despaired with me on numerous occasions after my being left unconscious outside the front door after the others had dumped me on the step, rapped on the knocker, and ran like hell before the door opened.
Those kinds of antics weren't exclusive to me though as we all got caught occasionally after consuming desperation ingredients. Like the time we went to Cardiff and JC was so out of it that he carried on the journey to West Wales, not getting off until the final stop a hundred miles past where he should have got off. On that occasion he'd just returned from London minus Magdalen and took the bus from the train station to his parents place where he dumped his bags without even taking his coat off in case they noticed he was out of it. He took the next bus back to town and met us in The Market Tavern where it only took two drinks to send him flying again. We all took the train to the New Moon in Cardiff and en route he met a rather attractive young female who, in his out of it state was convinced had fallen for him. While we got off the train at Cardiff he continued to travel for another hour to the end of the line with the female he'd just acquainted, convinced in his own mind that he was onto a good thing. The reality was that she said goodbye to him at the journeys end, and left him in the stations waiting room where he almost froze his balls off in the winter cold until the first train back to Newport arrived more than five hours later.