Tuesday, October 14, 2008

History Of Festivals 13: Bath 1970.

When they played the Bath Festival of Blues in 1969 , about 12,000 saw Led Zeppelin. By the 1970, the foursome had seen their UK popularity surge, and over 150,000 came to Shepton Mallet on the 27th and 28th of June 1970 for the Bath Festival Of Blues And Progressive Music. And a hell of a lot of that number were there for Led Zep.

Bath 1970 featured a really terrific line-up of US West coast bands and British music fans jumped at the chance to see them. Sadly, there is no footage of real quality available, and a lot of the audio out there is so-so amateur taped stuff from people in the crowd. The weather was pretty windy so the sound quality on a lot of the recordings is nothing to write home about. Various commercial disputes and technical snafus meant that such video as was taken has yet to get a commercial release.

It’s probably for this reason that Bath 1970 has not achieved the legendary mainstream status of the other big rock event that summer, the Isle Of Wight. The line-up at Bath compares very favourably to the IoW, or indeed to any Seventies rock festival you care to name. It featured the premiere of Atom Heart Mother and was the gig that Led Zeppelin themselves credited as their true UK breakthrough.

Bath 1970 was promoted by Freddy Bannister (later responsible for Knebworth, as we mentioned last week). The organizers had the advantage of staging the event on a designated campsite, so there weren’t the quagmire-type problems associated with having things in a farmer’s field. It’s just as well, because the English summer was in full effect: it was freezing and peeing down. There were innovations like film tents – showing the likes of King Kong – and large scale projections onto big screens. Sadly for Freddy, the security staff had some innovations of their own: pocketing a fair whack of the door take. On the whole though, it was a well-organised, if not lucrative event.

However, there were serious traffic problems with access to the site and a lot of the bands actually had difficulty getting there on time. Fairport Convention famously got an escort of Hell’s Angels to the site, bypassing the traffic, and indeed anyone else in their path. Some people objected to being cleared out of the way by a gang of bikers; they just made sure that they grumbled very quietly. But Fairport’s driving, up-tempo folky rock, on the Saturday afternoon, was the first band to get the crowd going, and the event was beginning to warm up.

Thins really began to get serious with Colosseum, who played next. The much under-rated John Heisman’s drum solo was a stormer: powerful and superbly accomplished, and was thought by many to eclipse that of Bonham himself later in the evening. The festival had caught light.

Riding the wave of the previous year’s Easy Rider, Steppenwolf were at the peak of their powers, going down a treat with the biker crowd and indeed everyone else. But the traffic delays and dodgy weather meant that the festival was now hours behind schedule and it was not until 3am that Pink Floyd began.

They had played it before under the somewhat less formidable title of The Amazing Pudding, but this was the first time that the Floyd performed Atom Heart Mother under that name. They had a brass section and a choir for AHM, and also played Careful With That Axe, Eugene and Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.

Faced with the unenviable task of coming on after Pink Floyd at FIVE AM was John Mayall, but those who were still awake were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime performance from something of a supergroup. Mayall had just arrived back from Morocco with all he needed to play a major rock festival... apart from a band. He quickly (very quickly) put together a line-up featuring Peter Green on guitar and Aynsley Dunbar on drums, as well as John’s brother Rod on the organ. Unrehearsed, they played a great set, despite the drizzle – and even managed to get away with playing It Might As Well Be Raining! This is interesting because Greeny had left Fleetwood Mac only a couple of months earlier and had just recorded his solo album End Of The Game - which you should check out as its kind of experimental jamming and not like anything else Greeny recorded before or since.

The next morning dawned soggy, which wasn’t great, but worse was the apparent absence of a lot of the due-on bands. Into the breach stepped Donovan. The Scottish folk legend was re-emerging from the wilderness and had phoned the organisers a couple of days before to say that “he might show up.” He wandered onto the stage and asked the crowd if they might like to hear a couple of songs, super low-key, and after a cautious start, they warmed to the veteran folkie. He played some of his classics – Sunshine Superman, Mellow Yellow – acoustic and also showed off some new, heavy rock sounds with a tight band. He ended up playing for a couple of hours and was a surprise hit.

Back to the main events, as it were, and The Mothers were next on, playing a fine set in freezing weather. Zappa pelted the crowd with oranges during Call Any Vegetable and they closed with a strong version of King Kong. Our t-shirt here comemorates their appearance. Fellow US imports Santana - who with the recent release of Abraxas were increasingly popular and The Flock were also well received. The Flock are a great band - Jerry Goodman's violin driven rock.

With the schedule now hopelessly overrun, headliners Led Zep pulled rank and went on at around 8.30pm. They were hot and heavy, John Bonham aggressive and charged, and Jimmy Page using his bow. Their legend was growing in the USA thanks to a series of storming live shows and the band knew this was an opportunity to bring their UK profile up to speed. They opened with a debut for Immigrant Song and were a huge hit, playing five encores.

The gig is regarded as a key point in their career, which makes it frustrating that little decent footage survives. Ironically, that was in large part down to the heavy handed tactics of their own management. Peter Grant and the boys, as was their way at the time, confiscated various tapes and pulled film out of cameras. It was a big missed commercial opportunity,

However, Led Zep certainly got their timing right, as the rain was not long off. Hot Tuna followed Zeppelin with a blinding set, notably on the wild soloing of You Wear Your Dresses Too Short. Next on, Country Joe got a rousing reception for the Fish Cheer.

Jefferson Airplane, on stage at about 2.30am, were 50 minutes into a superb set – The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil was as soaring vocal performance and featured a killer solo from Jorma Kaukonen – when rhythm guitarist Paul Kantner got an electric shock from a rain-soaked mike.

They went off, and the Moody Blues didn’t come on. The Byrds, however, were made of sterner stuff and played an acoustic set – their first ever. They played for two hours-plus in the rain, classic after classic, from opener It’s All Right Ma through The Ballad Of Easy Rider to Wasn’t Born To Follow, they entertained until their fingers were shredded. Those who were still awake got a set from Doctor John, and the marathon was over.

For sheer quality of bands, both West Coast visitors and homegrown British talent, you could not say fairer than Bath 1970. So many of the bands that had played Woodstock, which had already passed into legend, were there. Seminal performances from Led Zep, Pink Floyd and Jefferson Airplane ensure that it will be talked of for a long time yet; it is just a shame there is not more footage out there for later generations to enjoy. Had there been so, undoubtedly this is one fest that would have passed into folklore as one of the biggest and best of all time in the UK. There have been occasional tantalizing snippets of goss about a documentary, though… Here’s hoping…

Free Stuff

Tim Buckley – Happy Sad

Originally released in 1969, this was Tim’s third album and the first he wrote all the lyrics for. It’s wistful and folky and jazzy and really quite magnificent. Produced by Jerry & Zal out of the Lovin’ Spoonful it actually feels a bit like a very spaced out and more literate version of the Spoonful with added vibraphone.
Buckley’s voice is as rich and enigmatic as ever and there’s some inspired jamming on it too which invokes an echo of The Dead to my ears.
Stand out track is probably ‘Love from Room 109 at the Islander (On Pacific Coast Highway) which clocks in at over 10 minutes.
This was his best selling album reaching a lofty 81 on the Billboard charts. I doubt anyone bought it in the UK but as with much of Tim’s work it’s a little gem. One of those albums which when you first hear it you go, wow how have I lived this long without this album. And he looks as cool as anyone you’ve ever seen on the cover.
Here’s a thought is Tim Buckley America’s Nick Drake?
We do a great t-shirt of Tim here.

Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill

The Dan’s debut album is impossible not to love. Joyous tunes, great harmonies, magnificent riffs and some great solos from Jeff Skunk Baxter and Denny Dias. Less jazzy and more rocky than their later outings, this one is a must have for any collection.

Crosby & Nash – Wind On Water

Recorded in LA with The Section – the best studio musos in the game - along with the likes of James Taylor and Carole King this is uber mid 70s singer/songwriter stuff and the best Cros/Nash collaboration – certainly their favourite one too I think. Carry Me is on this which was a minor hit in America but it’s the title track that has that epic ethereal quality that only their voices can deliver..
I saw Cros in a diner on Pacific Coast Highway last year just outside of Big Sur. I wanted to go up and say thank you man but I thought he must get that all the time so I didn’t. I sort of regret that now.
Anyway, if you dig any of the CSNY work you’ll dig this. Class stuff.

I've got 3 copies of each of these to give away. To win any of these email me john@djtees.com with Tim, Dan or C & N in the subject box or any combination of those.

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