With festival season fast approaching, we delve into the archive for some vintage inspo as we start planning what we’re going to be wearing. In an exclusive interview reminiscing about the legendary festival from someone who was actually there, we take a look back at Isle of Wight Festival 1970; at the music, the atmosphere and the fashions of this historic event and what made it so iconic.
Words by Danielle Morgan
Free Love and world peace… the mantra of the 1970s, the decade that brought us flares, fringing and a plethora of folk music. For the Isle of Wight festival, 1970 was a historical and iconic year; it was only the third time the event had been held but would prove to be the last for the next 32 years.
The organisers had pulled in 600,000 fans and some of the biggest folk and rock artists of the time, in fact of all time. With the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison gracing the stage, and capacity stretched so much that the fences surrounding the site were actually being torn down, the festival appeared to smash the success of Woodstock straight out of the ball park. So why did it take such collosal hiatus? We take a look back at the festival, with an insight into 1970s bohemian fashions and an exclusive interview with a fan who attended the iconic event.
JIMI AND THE HIPPIES DESCEND ONTO THE ISLE OF WIGHT
Lauded as Britain’s answer to Woodstock, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival was one of the biggest events in music history with the likes of The Doors, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen all headlining the event. It was the last time the festival would be held on the island until 2002.
For a meagre £3 a ticket, everyone ascended on the Western side of the Isle for the three-day event. Perched high up on Devastation Hill, the onlookers wait for some of the 20th century’s greatest icons to grace the stage, decked out with a shoddy sound system playing to a dusty pit filled with a whopping 600,000 free love preaching, folk doting hippies and bikers.
FREE LOVE COMES AT A PRICE
The Summer of Love had come and gone, and the scene was entering a new phase of its life; how do you recreate the feeling of love, peace and freedom when some of the biggest advocates of the movement are demanding gross sums for their sets? The free love, anti-consumerist values the artists and their fans seemingly shared had all but evaporated by 1970, when the prospect of free festivals was giving way to promoters competing with each other for the biggest acts in monetary terms.
The unity between artist and fans was broken; fans were still buying into the anti-establishment mentality and musicians has succumbed to the prospect of receiving big pay offs for only 1 or 2 hour performances. The give and take philosophy of the movement had seemingly descended into all take and no give.
But aside from all that, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival was a resounding success and a momentous occasion in the history of music festivals. With the expected attendance somewhere in the region of 150,000, by the time Sunday rolled around that figure had quadrupled and stretched to capacity, the fences surrounding the venue were torn down as fans and festival goers scrambled to get a glimpse of their musical heroes. Attendance of the festival totalled to over double the population of the entire island, and the organisers were forced to deem the event free as streams of new arrivals forced their entry onto the site, desperate to be a part of the event.
Organiser Rikki Farr and Foulk brother islanders had managed to pull in arguably some of the most influential, iconic and representative artists of the times and put them all together in one place, with a plethora of rock royalty mingling amongst the crowd; namely George Harrison, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and Patti Boyd – not to mention Glastonbury founder Michael Eaves who was allegedly inspired to organise his own festival based on his experience at the Isle of Wight.
But are we all just looking back through rose tinted specs? Are we trying to create a romanticised perception of a festival that was just never really was? After all, none of us actually went… Not technically true. With each attendee came a unique story about how and why they were there; each countenance in the sea of sepia toned faces tells a different story and a little birdie told us that our Marketing Exec Ellie’s mum attended the legendary event. So naturally, we had to catch up with Sharon to find out first-hand what the festival was really like, hippies and all.
First of all, can you share your most prominent memory of the Isle of Wight festival?
“Getting there was a challenge… I went to Notre Dame Convent School in Liverpool and was only 17. None of our parents were going to let us go, until our head teacher (who was a nun!) intervened on our behalf. Sister Marie told our parents that they needed to let us girls go – a very enlightened lady! We got the coach from Liverpool to Southampton and had to sleep the night in Southampton Park as the ferry wasn’t until the next morning – don’t know how we slipped that past the watchful parents.”
What was the atmosphere like?
“The atmosphere was fantastic, I was oblivious to the trouble on the hill and just enjoyed the ‘peace and love’ that I seemed to see all around me. Trying to phone home was torture, queues a mile long. The other really horrible experience were the loos, or lack of them. The toilets were wooden planks over ditches, some of which collapsed! The showers weren’t much better; they were like big tents with a sort of hose pipe here and there, no curtains or privacy and only cold water.
Needless to say, being a shy convent girl, I probably didn’t shower or go to the loo for a week! That’s how it was in those days. Didn’t matter though, because the weather was great and I had the time of my life being away with my friends listening to amazing bands, Free, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and ‘love of my life’ Leonard Cohen, and we were free of parents for the first time ever!”
Do you remember what you wore?
“It was very much jeans, beads, cheesecloth tops and floppy hats that week. I remember I had a bright pink hat that I thought was the bee’s knees. A photo of my friends and I got published in the Liverpool Echo which led to old girls phoning Sister Marie telling her we had let down the name of the school, her response was something like ‘we have given them their values and now they’re going out in the world to have them tested’ We didn’t let her down!!!”
What were your musical highlights?
“As you can see from the newspaper all the greats were there. Top of my list were the Doors, I seem to remember that they were scheduled for the afternoon but didn’t actually make it ’til about 1 in the morning! They were worth the wait, even though by then Jim Morrison was past his beautiful best. Many of the other bands I had seen already, being lucky enough to grow up in Liverpool everyone came to play there.”
On another note, a little birdie told us that you kissed Marc Bolan back in the day. Where? When? Rating out of 10?!
“What happened in the Green Room stays in the Green Room…”
WHAT THEY WORE
Festivals are all about escapism, free love and world peace man. Well it was in the ’70s anyway. Bohemian, alternative lifestyles fed into the way people dressed and emanated a laid back, carefree substitute to restricting fashions seen throughout the 1950s. Towards the latter half of the ’60s, hem lines were shorter, silhouettes looser and hair took on a more relaxed, tousled style, and this continued into the next decade.
Although there was a lot more fabric involved in loose, floating ’70s styles, admittedly the actual act of wearing it didn’t seem to be a priority at the Isle of Wight festival, all intentional of course. Thought #freethenipple was a 21st century thing? Think again; topless and naked festival goers would freely saunter around the sight, uninhibited by clothing and expressing their protest against the suffocation of mainstream culture and the establishment.
Many attendees, however, were clothed and sporting the folk inspired boho styles of the decade. Flares were a big, big deal and were seen mainly in denim or velvet varieties at IOW, in psychedelic colours and patterns. Folk style embroidered waistcoats and blouses were paired with mini-skirts as well as floating maxi styles, and there was a lot of suede fringing going on. Team all that with tie dyed garments like the ones first sold at Woodstock in 1969, festival goers draped in multi-coloured crochet blankets wandering bare foot and you have a sense of what everyone was wearing at IOW in 1970, from Jimi Hendrix to your average Joe.
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