As certain publications celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Isle of Wight festival, one has to wonder whether we will ever see such musical gatherings again. They used to be all the rage, even here in New Zealand, where the tribes would gather at such places as Sweetwaters or Nambassa, in the North Island, for two or three days of drugs and music. I recall my cousin driving up from the South Island for such events in February, at the hottest time of the year, just as I was starting the school term. But, by the time I got to the age for going to such festivals, they were going out of fashion, or out of business.
In truth, I never did like such large gatherings of people, and even smaller concerts could be uncomfortable. I went to a so-called concert by Motorhead in Wellington, about 1984, and my hearing hasn’t been the same since, they were truly awful. At the time I was mostly into Deep Purple, and through my early years at secondary school this had become something of an obsession. My schoolmates and I were in some kind of a cult, even though Purple had long since disbanded in 1976. But the Purple brand was kept alive through all sorts of issues of compilation albums and unreleased live material.
Then in 1984 the classic Mark 2 line-up of Deep Purple re-formed, and released the Perfect Strangers LP. In truth, it was not great album, although the title track is certainly a good song, but the show was back on the road. And that meant a world tour, which included dates in Australia and New Zealand. In a documentary I recall the guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore, stating that he liked travelling, but not so much that he wanted to go down under. But Deep Purple, with Blackmore in tow, did make it in late 1984. And somehow me and my friend Eamon managed to get there, even though it took all of my savings to afford the ticket, and the cost of an all night train to Auckland and back.
I had unfortunately left the organisation of our accommodation in Auckland to Eamon and his parents. The venue for the concert was to be Western Springs, a motor-racing site that is quite close to central Auckland. However, we had arranged to stay at a house in the North Shore, which is over the harbour bridge. When we got into the train station in central Auckland, very early in the morning, we had to find a bus that could take us over the bridge. Any bus would do, but we got lucky with a driver that took us on a detour to get us close to the destination, when he should have gone the other way. The kindness of strangers continued when we got to our hosting house. It was meant to be the residence of Eamon’s father’s friend, whom Eamon had never met. But when we got there we found out that he had long left the family, and the result was that we were complete strangers.
They put us up anyway, while the man’s son explained to us what the situation was. He was bit older than us, and it turned out he was in a local rock/alternative group called the Screaming Mee Mees. Obviously Deep Purple was not his thing, but he took it upon himself to get us to the concert, which was quite a long journey. He also had to find us after the concert, but I can’t remember how he managed it. This was over and above the call of duty, and I only wish has musical career had not been so short lived. Our time at the concert did not start well, as we had to be checked when going in, and Eamon had tried to bring a camera in, so his roll of film was confiscated. My only other memory is that the band tried to play Smoke on the Water as an encore, but Ritchie Blackmore didn’t bother to come back out for it. He didn’t last that much longer in the band. Years later I was intending to see Deep Purple with a female friend, but she bailed out, so 1984 will probably be the only time I get to see them. I haven’t seen Eamon since he left school.
After the obsession with Deep Purple ended I picked up on other English groups from the 1970s, particularly the group known as Free. Free was big in 1970, and was one of the major acts at the Isle of Wight Festival that year, after All Right Now became a hit single. Photographs by Charles Everest were published this year in the Guardian:
This shows the singer Paul Rodgers trying to rev up the crowd, while the guitarist, Paul Kossoff, hits a no doubt anguished note. What a player Kossoff was, and what a mane of hair he had, especially as he was really quite short in stature. I’m not sure why Kossoff is not mentioned in the same category as Peter Green, especially in terms of technique, but his time was short. Koss died in 1976 on a trans-Atlantic flight, after some years of drug abuse. Paul Rodgers went on to form Bad Company, and achieve success in the U.S.A.
I also can’t resist including this photo of Clive Bunker, from the 1970 festival, the original drummer in Jethro Tull, when the group could really play:
Tull obviously had the advantage of playing at night, and having adequate lighting for the gig. This could not be said of the The Doors, who played one of their last gigs at the Isle of Wight festival, and didn’t bring any of their own lighting. As shown in a documentary of their performance, they relied predominately on one red light most of the time. In fact, this seems to have led them to kind of huddle together, in what was a performance of great concentration, where they found a really intense groove in the extended improvised tracks. That was last time we would see Jim Morrison; and, of course, it was (virtually) the last time that Jimi Hendrix would perform. The end of an era, even if it was still the beginning of the rock music culture, such as it was.