I left the confines of my private school upbringing in July 1968 – somewhat unprepared for the realities of life in the outside world.
It wasn’t impossible to get tuned in to what was going on out there,
though. We could always nip out into town and buy albums and singles of our favourite bands. Radio Caroline and Radio London were available on a fairly continuous basis once lessons were over, and there were always
summer holidays in which we could listen with impunity to whatever we liked. Pink Floyd ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn,’ was a great favourite, so was Donovan, ‘Sunshine Superman,’ not to mention Vanilla Fudge and a host of other albums verging on the psychedelic without quite being the genuine article. Surrealistic Pillow, by Jefferson Airplane was also released round about that time, brilliant in a completely different way. I also raved about a certain track by the Lemon Pipers – ‘Through With You.’ (Go get it, psychedelia fans, it’s an underrated gem.) But what we all wanted to know was Where was the scene? What was the scene? What did it mean to be part of the scene? We read all sorts of tantalizing stories about The Scene, which we could only be part of if it wasn’t for the fact that we were trapped in that school!
Anyway, I escaped in July 1968 and after a few days’ recuperation went on holiday with the family to the Isle of Wight. I remember having a thoroughly miserable time in some sordid B ‘n’ B until I saw a poster,
stuck in the middle of absolutely nowhere, advertising a concert/festival-type happening that was going to take place on the August bank holiday a few days after the end of my stay. The astonishing thing was that
the headline band was going to be the Jefferson Airplane! At this time I thought that I was the only person in the world who had heard of them! And here they were doing a
concert on the Isle of Wight! I had, by this time, become totally in love with the Surrealistic Pillow album. This was an occasion that was impossible to miss! The poster advertised from where the tickets would be
available, (somewhere in Camden Town, I think) and when I got back to solid ground I made my way there and purchased a ticket.
The day of the concert, a few days later, dawned very bright and highly welcoming
for someone who had to get up early and make it down to Portsmouth before the concert began. In those days it was safe to hitch-hike and I had no fears about making it to the nearest likely hitching point. I picked
up a ride in minutes and was on my way.
Got to Portsmouth fairly damn pronto and as I made my way to the ferry, noticed that there were quite a lot of hippy types, all, like me, making their way on to the
boat. Where’s the scene? I kept fairly much to myself, looking around for the scene, but the subsequent disembarkment and journey to the site remains a blur.
Once there, I remember the overriding impression
was one of extreme cold. The site was called Hell Field, and it lived up to its name in an inverted sort of way.
I think one of the first bands to perform was Blonde On Blonde.
The most salient feature was the 18-string, double necked guitar of the leader of that band. (anyone care to add a name to the legend?). Loads of chunky chords, but also powerful lead guitar. That’s just an
impression, but I can say they were very good! Also fairly early on in the proceedings was Gary Farr, who was a superb acoustic guitarist and folk singer, also
member of the T-Bones, I think, (anyone want to add something about this band?) and with his brother (who?) who were the organizers of the festival. I remember Gary doing
a soulful version of the Band’s ‘The Weight.’
The exact order is a complete blur, not because I was out of it, but because it happened so long ago. I was still looking for the scene, remember? However, I do
remember that pretty soon, on came Tyrannosaurus Rex – at this time just Marc Bolan and Steve Took, seated on the floor of the stage, performing songs from the first Tyrannosaurus Rex album, Marc strumming furiously on rhythm guitar and Steve pounding the bongos. It also comes back to me that John Peel was the highly enthusiastic M.C. at this point. I think Pete Drummond also had a hand in things as the evening wore on (or maybe it was Jeff Dexter). The Move were also in evidence, doing a set of very poppy songs which didn’t exactly fit in with the rest of the evening.
A huge highlight, though, were the Pretty Things. Twink stole the show. As the band were introduced, Twink rose to his feet with an agonized expression on his face, pointed out beyond the heads of the audience to some
distant point that only he could see and screamed ‘Oh no!’ we all turned round, expecting to see a massed invasion of flying saucers or something equally cataclysmic. The whole set was riddled with similar mind
games. There was the ‘one note drum solo’ where Twink slowed the whole beat down, staring out past the audience the whole time, standing up behind the kit, hitting the snare more and more slowly until it was finally
about ten seconds behind each hit. ('When do we start clapping?') Staring manically, laughing, daring the audience to guess what he would do next …. Then there was the number where he produced an ash wand, started
waving it about crazily to the light of the strobe, weaving a spell over us all, climbing about over the stage scaffolding, while Dick Taylor is blowing his fantastic, acid-flavoured licks all over the pathetic,
two-foot high stage, peering over his granny specs the whole time. I’m sure they did ‘Talking About The Good Times’ and ‘Mr. Evasion.’
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown were next, Arthur doing his manic dancing, awesome singing, and frantic miming when the mike packed up, backed by Vincent Crane and Carl Palmer, looking very speedy on drums.
At this point I had to go and get some food and spent what seemed like hours in a line for some fish ‘n’ chips. In fact I was still in the line when Jefferson Airplane took the stage. Someone (not sure who) came on and said, “John Peel was supposed to introduce the next band, but unfortunately he’s too stoned, so here they are, Jefferson Airplane.” I quickly relinquished my place in the food queue and ran to the front of the crowd, freezing and starving. I think they began with either 3/5 of a Mile In
10 Seconds, or The Other Side Of This Life. The overwhelming impression was of a fantastic lightshow. It was only after a couple of minutes that I realized that most of the light was coming from the flashbulbs of
the news photographers’ cameras. It’s almost impossible to pick out a song as the highlight. The whole experience of seeing these people on stage was what mattered. Marty Balin came across as the passionate, almost
frantic lead vocalist, Kantner’s awesome presence on rhythm guitar and lead vocals on ‘Fat Angel,’ Cassidy jigging about across the stage, dwarfed by his giant bass guitar, blonde hair flying in the breeze, and
above all Jorma. He was at the height of his powers that night. Making his guitar do strange things that no other guitar had done before on his solos on ‘Fat Angel,’ introducing his new song, ‘Star Track’ from the
as yet unreleased album ‘Crown of Creation,’ bending his own flavour of feedback out of the amplifiers on ‘Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil,’ his feet stomping out the beat the whole time. And don’t forget Spencer
Dryden, cheroot sticking out of the corner of his mouth, Stetson tipped back while he pounds the drums, and Grace in long flowing robes, rocking and shrieking – no place for keyboards or recorder on this
supercharged night and “we’re not going to do White Rabbit, we’re sick and tired of playing White Rabbit!”
There’s a complete blackout after this. I’m fairly sure there was another band on after the Airplane,
but who they could be is lost in the mists of time. What I am sure about is that as light dawned, Fairport Convention started up. I remember they were doing Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ as I staggered my way away from the festival ground. A few hundred yards along the way I laid beside the road totally exhausted and took a few hours’ sleep. The immediate journey that lay ahead of me was back to my home in South-West London, but a longer journey lay ahead.
And I still hadn’t found The Scene.