Exactly 50 years ago today, the very first Isle of Wight festival took place at Ford Farm, which lies between Godshill and Whitwell. It attracted between 10 and 15 thousand people. Some have suggested that this particular 40 acre field was chosed as it was thought to be at the intersection of ‘powerful, unseen energy’ ley lines. You can imagine that back in 1968, Ford Farm was not the most convenient place to reach for a one-night gig.
Having reached Portsmouth and taken the steam ferry across the Solent to Ryde pier, the revellers then took to the railway and/or buses in order to reach Godshill. Can you then imagine their horror when they realised they still had a near 3 mile trek to reach the festival site.
The 40 acre field was still growing barley a few days before the event. The stage was simply two trailers pushed together. The sound system left a lot to be desired even though the headline act, Jefferson Airplane, from the US, brought some 30 techies with them and a full 5 tons of electrical equipment.
However, the organisers had managed to assemble quite an array of talent: Apple, Blonde on Blonde, Fairport Convention, Halcyon Order, Harsh Reality, Jefferson Airplane, Orange Bicycle, Plastic Penny, Smile, The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, The Move, The Pretty Things and Tyrannosaurus Rex.
This was to be the first of three annual pop festivals on the island at that time. The third and final one, in 1970, was held on Afton Down, just south of Freshwater Bay. It reputedly attracting some 600,000 (some even say 800,000) people. Such was the disruption caused by this event, Parliament passed the “Isle of Wight County Council Act 1971″. It prevented overnight open-air gatherings of more than 5,000 people on the island without a special licence from the council. There was then a hiatus of 32 years before John Giddings famously revived the Isle of Wight festival in 2002 with The Charlatans and Robert Plant headlining.
Poster © David Fairbrother-Roe