This third extract from Tony Brown’s book Hendrix – The Final Days covers his appearance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, his last ever UK show, and I believe this is the fullest account of that appearance published anywhere. Annoyingly, I was at the IoW that year but left on the Sunday to return to London, thus missing Jimi. Like everyone else I suppose I thought there’d be other, probably better, opportunities.
This post is a bit longer than most. Maintaining this week’s Hendrix theme, tomorrow I will tell the tale of how Mitch Mitchell tried to sue me, well Omnibus Press, over another Hendrix book ’Scuse Me White I Kiss The Sky.
On the eve of the Isle of Wight Festival Jimi spent the night alone in the Londonderry Hotel in London, enjoying a full night’s rest which went some way towards curing his cold. The following day, Jimi, Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox travelled from London to Stapleford Aerodrome in Wiltshire, arriving at 6:30pm. They flew by charter to Bembridge Airport on the Isle Of Wight, arriving at 7:30pm, and booked into the Seagrove Hotel in Sandown. They then flew by BEA helicopter to the festival site at East Afton Farm in Freshwater. The backstage dressing rooms were caravans for the individual artists. Kirsten Nefer, Jimi’s Danish girlfriend, and her friend Karen Davis had arrived earlier.
Kirsten Nefer: “He was so afraid of going on the stage, and all these people, all of a sudden he felt trapped you know, in this little caravan and getting his clothes on. There was so many people in there you know, it was terrible... I remember walking from the caravan and out onto the stage, that was like the Gladiators in the old Roman Empire must have felt like that.”
Like all festivals at the cusp of the Sixties, the 1970 Isle of Wight was badly organised and running well behind schedule, especially by the third day. More fans had shown up than had been adequately catered for, and fences had been broken down, allowing large numbers to get in free. Too many acts had been booked and too little time allowed for changeovers between sets. There were also technical problems with the PA system picking up radio signals. Jimi was always very nervous before a performance and the three hour delay between his arrival backstage and show time only served to increase his irritation. The problems were a precursor for his tour of Europe over the following week, when things would get much worse.
Finally, in the early hours of Monday morning, Jimi made his way to the stage. Astonishingly, en route to the stage, he was subjected to an impromptu interview by a French radio journalist from INT who thrust a microphone into his face. She was not pushed roughly aside by a beefy bodyguard, as any reporter would be today (not that the
press would be allowed backstage in the first
place), and Jimi tried his best to answer her questions as politely as
INT: “How do you get your inspiration?”
JH: “Pardon, say it again.”
INT: “How do you get your inspiration?”
JH: “From the people.”
INT: “For French kids?”
JH: “For French kids?”
JH: “It’s from the...”
INT: “We are French.”
JH: “Yeah, right, from the people. When they really show that they’re really, you know, there for a genuine purpose to enjoy themselves and we try to do the same, you know. As long as they don’t be too critical, but we’d like to make blues with them. It’s not gonna hurt me anyway.”
The brief interview apparently over, Jimi walked up the steps to the stage. At the top he looked back and announced to anyone who might be listening: “I got a gig, waiting for me in the laundromat.”
Waiting behind the row of amplifiers to be announced by MC Jeff Dexter, Jimi seemed in good humour, talking to (road manager) Gerry Stickells about a quietly spoken girl he had just met. It was almost time to start. “Oh yeah, the guitar pick, do you have a guitar pick?” asked Jimi. “How does ‘God Save The Queen’ go? I forgotten the words.” Gerry obliged by humming the first few bars. Jeff Dexter asked Jimi if there was anything in particular he wanted him to say in his introduction. “Just say Billy Cox on bass, Mitch Mitchell on drums and er, you know, whoever’s going to be playing guitar, you know. Okay? We’re called The Blue Wild Angels.”
“The what?” asked Jeff.
“The Wild Blue Angel music, yeah. Right, hit it.”
“Are you ready?” asked Jeff.
“Em, ask the road manager. Are we ready? Are we ready?”
Gerry Stickells confirmed that everything was ready and instructed Dexter to introduce Jimi.
“A bit more volume on this one Charlie, it’s gonna need it,” said the MC. “Let’s have a welcome for Billy Cox on bass, Mitch Mitchell on drums, and the man with the guitar... Jimi Hendrix.”
Jimi strode into the lights amid a burst of applause and approached the microphone. “Yeah, thank you very much for showing up man, you all look really beautiful and outtasight and thanks for waiting. It has been a long time hasn’t it?” Jimi then flashed a peace sign. “That does mean peace, not this,” he said, reversing it to a V- sign, then reversing it back again to the peace sign. “Peace. Okay give us about a minute to tune up alright, give us, give us about a minute to tune up... It’s so good to be back in England, we’d like to do, er, start off with a thing that everybody knows out there. You can join in and start singing. Matter of fact it’ll sound better if you’d stand up for your country and your beliefs and start singing. And if you don’t, fuck yer.” Jimi then turned to the band: “Nice and loud, nice and loud.”
The set opened with a short, feed-back drenched rendition of ‘God Save The Queen’, possibly chosen to demonstrate that Jimi hadn’t forgotten his
audience during his long stay in America. Mitch Mitchell then played the
introduction to ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, but equipment
problems – howling, uncontrollable feedback – brought the song to an end after
only one verse. ‘Sergeant Pepper’ had been used extensively as a show opener
back in 1968, but was very rarely played in 1970.
Without any introduction Jimi launched into the familiar ‘Spanish Castle Magic’, but as he brought the song to an end, foreign voices and xylophone music could be heard coming from his speakers. “As I said before, thanks a lot for coming. We’d like to get into another song that we did about er... in the year of 1883. And er, I think it’s pretty truly still today if you can dig it.”
While the crew tried desperately to eliminate the radio signals, Jimi put on a brave face and proceeded to count up the guitar neck with his fingers, looking for the chord that would start his next song, ‘All Along The Watchtower’. The equipment problems persisted. “Er, we’re having a tiny bit of, er, trouble with the equipment, hold on a moment, one more second, buy your hot dogs or whatever.”
At this point the crowd started shouting for ‘Voodoo Child’. Jimi: “Yeah we’ll do that towards the er... the next time.” Adjusting the uni-vibe for the next number, ‘Machine Gun’, Jimi said: “Yeah, there’s a whole lot of head games go along sometimes, and sometimes they leak out, as a word they use their powers and so forth, and put it on header games on other people, which we call WAR. And so I’d like to dedicate this one to er, all the soldiers that are fighting in Birmingham, all the skinheads.” This unexpected display of sympathy with a culture quite alien to the festival audience inspired a mixed reaction. “All the, yeah well you know what I mean, you know, yeah right, amen. All the soldiers fighting in Bournemouth, London. Oh yeah, all the soldiers fighting in Vietnam, like I almost forgot man. So many wars going on.”
Three minutes into the song the radio interference returned. This time it’s the security walkie talkies that caused the problem. “Security personnel, security personnel, are you receiving over?” can be heard quite clearly. Jimi seemed unconcerned at this interruption, however, and continued to play, and in a strange way the voices seemed to blend in with the song. After about nine minutes, Jimi stopped playing and Mitch Mitchell filled in with a four minute drum solo. When Jimi returned he jammed for the next ten minutes, displaying incredible dexterity on his work. ‘Machine Gun’ was first performed live during Jimi’s Band Of Gypsys concert on New Year’s Day at the Fillmore in New York, and this version, recorded for posterity on the Gypsys’ live album, is without doubt Jimi’s definitive performance of the song. This Isle of Wight version is nowhere near as good. At its close the decibel level lowered, and it was clear that the radio interference problem has still not been solved. This time, Jimi had to contend with a male opera singer coming through the bank of speakers. Looking back at his amplifiers in disgust, he brought the song to a sharp stop. Gerry Stickells and Gene McFadden raced around the stage trying to locate the problem.
“Listen, it’s gonna take a time er, to like get into it, because we’re having little difficulties here and there. But like, if you can hold on a little bit, I think we can all get it together, alright? Cos I’m gonna stay here all night until somebody moves.” ‘
“Yeah, right,” shouted someone in the audience. Somebody else demanded that the cameras be removed. “I just want to get to my old lady at three o’clock,” said Jimi, somewhat mysteriously.
Total confusion then ensued, with the camera crews shouting at each other and roadies frantically changing the amplifiers. Jimi changed guitars to his Gibson Flying V and after a slight delay and tune up, continued with ‘Lover Man’. The crew seemed to have finally managed to sort out the problem and Jimi was now much happier with the sound. He dismissed the previous forty minutes and decided to start the whole concert again.
“Okay we ought to start all over again. Hello, how are you doing England? Glad to see you. We’ll do a thing called ‘Freedom’.” Jimi now settled down to some fine playing and began to sound far more fluent than at the beginning of the set. Without a pause he went straight into ‘Red House’, possibly the highlight of the entire set. The audience started to react favourably, showing their appreciation by rising to their feet and clapping loudly at the end of the song. Turning to Mitch, Jimi said: “Try that ‘Dolly Dagger’ okay.”
“We’re gonna try to do this song now, it’s called er, ‘Dolly Dagger’ and it’s er, one of the things that we’ll try to put on our new LP.” Meanwhile the audience at the front of the stage remain standing. Jimi is asked to suggest that they all sit down. “Oh yeah, somebody wants er, people in the front row to sit down. I think it’s compliments of the hills. Don’t forget, you can’t fly off the top of those hills, don’t forget that.” This was a completely new song that had been performed only once before during Jimi’s concert in Maui, Hawaii. At its end, he changed back to his Stratocaster and turned to Mitch and Billy: “We’ll try to do that er, rock and roll tune, okay?”
“Very sorry for tuning up, but er, you know we do that er, to protect your ears. That’s why we don’t play so loud you know. And er, cowboys are the only ones who wanna stay in tune anyway. I’m so glad you all have patience though, ‘cos I don’t. I’d like to do this slow blues.” Again, Jimi tried out a relatively new song ‘Midnight Lightning’. As the song ends, Jimi immediately hit the long feed-back note for the more familiar ‘Foxy Lady’.
“This is dedicated to Linda. To the cat right there with the silver face [Nik Turner of Hawkwind]. Dedicated to Kirsten, Karen and that little four-year-old girl over there with the yellow panties on. And I’d like to say thank you for the last three years. One of these days we’ll get it together again. Thanks for showing up and you’re outtasight. If you had the same old songs, you’d be ready to stop.”
Half way through the song, the radio interference returned with a vengeance, with all kind of voices coming through the speakers. He stopped playing while Mitch and Billy carried on with the beat. When the problem was solved, Jimi continued to play, riding the song out with some theatrics, playing the guitar between his legs and performing an extended solo with his teeth.
“You all wanna hear all those little songs man. Damn man, we was trying to get some other things together. I just woke up about two minutes ago. We was recording some little things, but I don’t think, er, I don’t know. I think we’ll play, play something a little more familiar. ‘Cos I ain’t came yet myself, I don’t know about you, but I ain’t came, you know. There I came, thank you very much, good night.”
Jimi continued with ‘Message To Love’, after which he adjusted his uni-vibe for ‘Land Of The New Rising Sun’, altering the words of the second verse to: “Coming back to England... thank you baby for making it so easy.” By now Jimi must have been reasonably pleased with his first concert in England for almost 18 months.
After an abrupt end, Mitch started the drum intro for ‘Ezy Ryder’ after which they lurched straight into ‘Hey Joe’, a predictable crowd pleaser which included snatches of ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘In An
English Country Garden’. Jimi finished with ‘Purple
Haze’ and ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ and finally another relatively new
song ‘In From The Storm’, during which Jimi was looking very tired as he tried
to squeeze each note from the guitar. Finally after an hour and fifty minutes
it was all over.
“Thank you for being so patient,” he said at the conclusion. “Maybe one of these days, smoke a joint again, I really hope so, right. Thank you very much. And peace and happiness and all the other good shit.” With that, Jimi took off his guitar and allowed it to fall to the floor of the stage with a resounding crash.
Kirsten Nefer: “After the concert, Jimi walked off the opposite side of the stage to where I was standing. It took me thirty minutes to find his caravan. When I got in there, there was twenty people in there you know, it was packed with people. When we got out, Jimi said to me, ‘Don’t you ever leave the stage while I’m playing’. Then we went back to this hotel, the Seagrove. We stayed there for a few hours, then Jimi had to take the helicopter and I had to go back to London. Jimi said that he would be playing in Denmark and as I’m Danish, it was the big idea that, you know, I go to Denmark and he gave me and Karen money so we could go there and everything was arranged. I said, don’t worry, we’ll meet you there.”
The first ordeal of Jimi’s final trip to Europe was over.