Bob Dylan at the Isle of Wight Festival 1969


Bob Dylan at the Isle of Wight Festival 1969
By Bill Bradshaw
Medina Publishing – £12.95

It was the last year of the decade, the 1960’s were coming to an end. What a decade! There is a decent argument to be made that the world in which we now live was shaped in that narrow window of time. It was the decade Britain finally shrugged off the monochrome hangover of World War Two; a decade of immense social change and of the counter- culture; the decade of Vietnam, political assassinations and protest.

Help Bob Dylan sink the Isle of Wight on august 31st

With so many varying aspects of Bob Dylan’s more than illustrious career (a most profound understatement), it might be easy to overlook the enormous impact of his performance at the Isle of Wight Festival which took place just over fifty years ago.

Until now that is.

As the publication of Bill Bradshaw’s Bob Dylan at the Isle of Wight Festival 1969 brings it all back home; with Julie Felix (of all people) immediately reminding us in the book’s Introduction: ”The second Isle of Wight Festival of Music, 31 August 1969…and I was there. It was Sunday and I had been asked to perform on the same bill, on the same day, as Bob Dylan. There were people as far as the eye could see, it was surreal to just look out and not be able to see where the crowd ended.”

Moreover, along with said Introduction, it is this book’s many quotes, anecdotes and colour photographs that account for it being such an inviting pleasure to both read and behold.

For instance, the many ‘I was there’ sections (in bright yellow pages) make for more than entertaining reading; whilst the regularity of The Who appearing throughout is a further reminder of just what a momentous, one-off occasion the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival was. Especially the altogether terrific photo of Pete Townshend (on page 67) taken from the back of the stage, with the guitarist mid-flight – looking out into the truly vast crowd.

Then of course, there’s the inclusion of the two Melody Maker front covers featuring Dylan, not to mention the informative following that rather substantiates the book’s title:

”The set duly unfolded, and it’s been suggested the songs formed a mixture of rebukes from Dylan interspersed with love songs and ballads; bitter medicine followed by spoonfuls of sugar. The new delivery style was appreciated by many, but loathed by others weaned on his earlier rebellious style. Three of the 17 songs he would perform had not been released on record and the remaining 14 were culled from all but the first two of his nine studio albums […]. The clock was turned forward three years now to another Dylan era and the John Wesley Harding album of 1967. ‘I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine’ was now showcased for the first time live, anywhere. Here was the real evidence of the shift Dylan had made while in his post-accident Woodstock seclusion. The song demonstrated his push away from the earlier, edgy content and style. Now the sound was more country-rock, more melodious and the lyrics less strident with theological overtones – witness ‘St Augustine’ […]. Dylan conjured up major figures – God, Abraham and Isaac – and plonked them down on a highway route he knew from his home state, Minnesota, and he did so here with much of the plugged-in verve that accompanied its first release. Here was dramatic poetry posted against a juke-box jive (‘I Want To Feel Exalted’).

Bob Dylan at the Isle of Wight Festival 1969 is something of a must for any Dylan devotee. It’s words and photos go some way in capturing essence of the event itself, not to mention another era in the kaleidoscopic career of Sir Bob himself.

David Marx


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