Half a century before it was chosen as the testbed for the UK’s abortive track-and-trace app, the Isle of Wight was the location for a very different kind of experiment, though one in which social distancing was also a massive problem. In late August 1970, the third annual festival was staged on the island, with an estimated attendance of 600,000-700,000 people – bigger even than the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Its organisers put together a truly scintillating bill of classic – yup! – rock, plus some folk, jazz, soul and other stuff: The Who, The Doors, Free, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis, Sly And The Family Stone. Most famously, it was one of the last live appearances by Jimi Hendrix, who died just 18 days later, aged 27.
The 1970 festival was documented by photographer and BBC cameraman Charles Everest. A new show of his pictures from the festival has just opened at a gallery in Notting Hill to commemorate 50 years since the event. Everest got astonishing star access by today’s standards: on stage, backstage, downtime. Miles Davis sits innocently on a grassy bank sporting some seriously odd shoes. There’s a reflective portrait of Hendrix that reveals just how much the lustre had worn off the hippyfied feedback nirvana for him by then. Possibly by being a decent chap and not an arrogant coked-up starfucker, Everest developed an unusual rapport with many of his subjects. The notoriously reclusive Jim Morrison apparently even agreed to turn up The Doors’ stygian stage lighting so Everest could get better shots.
Owing to the carnage created by the event, the 1970 festival was the last on the island until it was revived on a more modest scale in 2002. Most amazingly, Everest kept his brilliant, evocative images of that landmark gathering private for 40 years, saying they were always intended just as a record for his family. Go and check them out. Unless you find big groups of people triggering, in which case don’t.
Wait. Sly Stone has been to the Isle of Wight??
‘Wight Spirit, 1968-1970’ is at Masterpiece Art, 3 Norland Place, W11 4QG. Mon Jul 27-Sep 5. Free. Appointment only, book on 020 3946 7881. More details here.