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There were three Isle of Wight festivals before it was revived in recent years. 1969 was famous for Bob Dylan's appearance, and 1970 for Jimi Hendrix but the first one in 1968 is largely forgotten. It was on a far smaller scale, with only around 15,000 at most, in attendance. Held on 31 August and 1 September 1968 on Ford Farm, near Godshill, it was nonetheless an important staging post in the development of the rock scene in Britain.
It cost a huge £1.25 to get in and was promoted and organised by the Foulk brothers (Ron, Ray and Bill Foulk) under the banner of their company Fiery Creations Limited.
Famously, it was a badly organised affair. In fact, some people would say it wasn't organised at all. The 40 acres of barley growing in the field it was due to be held in wasn't even mowed a few days before it was due to start.
The stage wasn't so much a stage as two trailers shoved together and covered with a canvas. The PA wasn't any good and The Move (who were notoriously loud) managed to blow out 9 speakers during their set.
The bands who played across the two days were Jefferson Airplane, Arthur Brown, The Move, Smile, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Plastic Penny, Fairport Convention, and The Pretty Things. Getting Airplane to play on their first tour of the UK and Europe was a major coup. Less than 2 years into their current incarnation, the Airplane were nonetheless a huge band and brought an entourage of 30 lighting technicians and sound experts and 5 tons of electrical equipment.
Early on Saturday, 114 group members arrived on the Isle of Wight in three specially chartered hovercraft to avoid them being mobbed by fans on the ferries.
But at least the local Man didn't get a court injunction to stop it. Farmers Union people were worried about the land being polluted and local magistrates got uppity about a bar being advertised before a licence had been applied for. But none of this was enough to stop the rock n roll.
There was a big wait between bands because of poor organisation. Fairport played at 4am and everyone was freezing cold. Airplane, despite all the gear were too quiet. Hit of the weekend was apparently Arthur Brown who, inevitably, set his head on fire. Brown had considered flying to the festival site in a balloon. Of course, Arthur. In a balloon, Arthur. Put the LSD down, Arthur.
The whole thing passed off without much fuss, in contrast to a lot of American festivals at the time. But Isle of Wight Festival 1968 led the way for the much bigger festivals in the following two years and it seems, cold aside, to have been enjoyed by everyone.
Related t-shirt FAIRPORT CONVENTION