Crystal Palace Garden Party 1971 - 1977

Crystal Palace Garden Party 1971 - 1977
Authored By John Nicholson

After the first decade of solely classical music at Crystal Palace Bowl from ‘61 onwards, the Greater London Council were persuaded by young promoters Harvey Goldsmith and Michael Alfondary, to allow large scale rock and pop events to be staged at the venue.  Goldsmith and Alfondary partnered with father and son promoters John and Tony Smith – who managed many of the major touring acts at the time - together launching ‘Crystal Palace Garden Party’ with an inaugural event in May 1971.

Arriving hot on the heels of the new large multi-day pop festivals in mostly rural locations; like The Isle of Wight Festival(1968), Woodstock(1969) and Glastonbury Festival(1970), Crystal Palace Garden Party pioneered a different formula – the more modest sized, semi-urban one day festival.

Initially running twice annually, the Garden Party events quickly gained a reputation for their eclectic line-ups and over-excitable members of the audience venturing into the lake for a closer view of the stage.

The experimental format of events and occasional madcap incidences also feature regularly in recollections. At one event in 1972, The Who drummer Keith Moon acted as compere; after arriving via helicopter and reaching the stage by hovercraft, he proceeded to take a rowing boat on the lake and, while dressed as a pirate, served tea and cake to people in the crowd closest to the water's edge.

 On other occasions, the close proximity of the television transmitter in the park caused interference with the PA system, with music inadvertently interrupted by Test Match Special radio commentary from the England V Australia cricket match!

The debut Garden Party of 1971 set out its stall with an impressive bill topped by The Faces and Pink Floyd. While Rod Stewart strutted the stage in a flamingo pink suit, the Floyd submerged a gigantic inflatable octopus below the lake, timed to emerge from beneath the water at the climax of the show. At least, that was the plan.

Being a warm day, plenty of over excited semi-clad spectators took to the lake to cool down and ended up writhing among the flailing rubber tentacles, in a comical scene that one band member described as being straight out of ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’. The combination of dry ice and excessive volume reputedly also claimed multiple fatalities from the lakes resident fish population!

Playing their first London gig for some time and taking a break from recording their upcoming album Meddle, Pink Floyd also treated the crowd to an early rendition of their soon to be signature track, the 23 minute long ‘Echoes’. The drama no doubt heightened by a spectacular downpour that sent drenched spectators running for the food and beer tents.

Elton John played later the same summer at Garden Party II, previewing songs from his (perhaps appropriately titled) forthcoming album Madman Across the Water, ably supported by Blues guitar prodigy Rory Gallagher and folk favourites Fairport Convention. 

Elton was back in 1972 for Garden Party III, guest starring on the piano alongside America’s greatest band, the Beach Boys. Three standout stars of Woodstock Festival, Richie Havens, Joe Cocker and Melanie, combined to make this one of the strongest ever lineups at the Bowl. The show was filmed for live broadcast on US TV network NBC and was to be the first of four blockbuster shows that year. Showcasing the venue at it’s eclectic best, smooth crooner Andy Williams was followed by art-rock heroes Roxy Music (with both Brian’s, Ferry and Eno in the lineup), prog poster-boys Yes, folk rockers Lindisfarne and New York jazz fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra.

None other than Stevie Wonder was being lined-up for Garden Party VI, until a car crash in the US that left him hospitalised and all engagements cancelled for the year . Instead it was Lou Reed, touring his newly released Berlin album, who played an Autumnal Crystal Palace in September 1973, supported by James Taylor and Jeff Beck.

Lou’s Velvet Underground band mate John Cale played in 1975, alongside erstwhile Cream bassist Jack Bruce and the Rolling Stones Mick Taylor, alas a tantalising supergroup that never quite materialised on the day.

The Guitar God’s kept looking favourably on SE19, with Eric Clapton bringing along his blues buddies Ronnie Wood and Freddie King in the scorching summer of ‘76.  Though rumours that Eric was a little too ‘refreshed’ to remember the intro to Layla without a helping hand from Ronnie, can be neither confirmed nor denied!

By 1977 a changing of the guard could be sensed; Humphrey Lyttelton and his band struck up a jazz party for the Queen's Silver Jubilee, while Carlos Santana and Elvis Costello shared the same bill at the last Garden Party of the decade. Dividing the loyalties of a boisterous crowd, just as punk and new wave were upending the music scene and popular culture.

While the Garden Party continued off and on into the 90s and early 2000s, its heyday as a long hair rock gig were over. 

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