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'The Who - Live At The Isle of Wight Festival 1970' - The Album

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The Isle of Wight Festival: an Overview | The 2004 Isle of Wight Festival | The 2010 Isle of Wight Festival
The Who Live at IOW Festival 1970 Album
Ladies and gentlemen, a nice rock 'n' roll band from Shepherds Bush, London; The 'Oo.
– Jeff Dexter, Isle of Wight Festival Master of Ceremonies

The Who, one of the greatest British bands of all time, are particularly famed as one of the best bands ever to have seen perform live1. 1969-71 is considered the period when they were at the peak of their career.

Although they performed noteworthy appearances at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival, Woodstock and Live Aid, it is the 1970 Festival that is often considered to have been their greatest live appearance. The Who Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 captures an evocative performance in front of an audience of 700,000, their largest ever crowd.

The Isle of Wight Festivals

In the early and mid-1960s, despite the rise in popular music, there were no rock or pop festivals held2. In August 1967 the first popular music festival in Britain took place3, followed in 1968 by the second – the first Isle of Wight Festival4. In 1969 a second Isle of Wight Festival took place, this time organised by Fiery Creations, and thus the Isle of Wight became Britain's first recurring popular music festival. This led the way for all other repeat British music festivals, including Glastonbury and Reading. The Who had performed at the 1969 Festival5, billed second behind Bob Dylan6.

The 1970 Isle of Wight Festival

The 1970 Festival was the biggest music festival in the world. Over 700,000 people attended, more than at Woodstock. Sadly, the Festival was a victim of its own success; many of the attendees chose to sit on Afton Down7, a hillside that overlooked the 1970 Festival site, watching the festival for free at a distance. Others, who refused to pay, rioted and broke into the festival site itself. In the end the festival was declared to be free, and the investors lost a fortune. Although a great musical and artistic success, the 1970 Festival was a financial and political8 disaster. Parliament responded by passing the 1971 Isle of Wight Act, making it illegal for more than 5,000 people to gather in one place on the Isle of Wight without permission, an attempt to prevent another Isle of Wight Festival ever taking place9.

The Who at the Isle of Wight Festival

Having been one of the highlights of the 1969 Festival, The Who were quickly signed up to return in 1970. Although Jimi Hendrix was the overall star, they were a second headline act. After all, they were the most popular band never to have had a UK Number One single. Advertised and billed as performing in the evening of Saturday 29 August, 1970, after The Doors, due to severe delays and overrun they did not actually appear on stage until after 2am on Sunday morning.

Line Up

  • Roger Daltrey – Vocals and harmonica
  • John Entwistle – Bass and vocals
  • Keith Moon10 – Drums and vocals
  • Pete Townshend – Guitar and vocals, songwriter


They played a similar set to their 1969 appearance. This not only included their own work – a mixture of their established hits and back catalogue and songs from their Tommy concept album – it also involved material showing their rock'n'roll roots. Other artists' songs like 'Summertime Blues', 'Shakin' All Over' and 'Young Man Blues' were performed live on stage.

Renowned for their theatrical performances, built on dramatic instrument destruction performed live on stage, at Woodstock they had benefited from a dramatic sunrise during their climax of Tommy. For the 1970 Festival11 The Who wanted to create something equally dramatic, but were unwilling to leave things to chance. They secretly smuggled some airport lights to the festival, which they planned to use to create a similar dramatic moment. At 4:15am these powerful floodlights were switched on to illuminate both the stage and the audience. Unexpectedly, this attracted a vast cloud of moths, which flitted like snowflakes over the audience's heads, creating an outstanding visual accompaniment and natural ovation to the music. For the 1970 Festival John Entwistle performed dressed as a luminous skeleton.

The Who played more songs than they had at Woodstock. The last song they performed was 'Magic Bus', one of their weaker songs and perhaps an odd choice for the grand finale. However, this had not been intended to be the last song. Ray Manzarek, organist with The Doors12 who had left the stage before The Who came on to perform, recalled,

The Who were just amazing. They seemed to be on for two hours or more, and they would have kept on playing but Pete Townshend's guitar13 broke. I remember he came off stage furious that he couldn't keep playing.

This was an ironic end to the largest performance for a band famous for deliberately breaking their instruments to create a dramatic spectacle.

Message To Love, The Isle Of Wight Festival Film

Knowing that the festival would be a historic occasion, it was planned to film and record it in its entirety, using high-spec film cameras and then state-of-the-art 8-track tape. Peter Harrigan, the Press Officer for Fiery Creations, the company that had organised the Isle of Wight Festival, announced,

It won't be another 'Woodstock', this will be something entirely new in cinema.

The festival would be filmed by Murray Lerner, an Academy Award-winning documentary film director. Murray Lerner was an experienced festival director; in 1967 he had released Festival, a documentary of the Newport Folk Festivals between 1963 and 1966 that had been nominated for an Academy Award. Later, in 1980, he would win an Academy Award for Best Documentary14.

Sadly the financial fall out from the festival caused the liquidation of Fiery Creations, and the film and soundtrack of the festival, originally intended to be called The Last Great Event, was at first delayed and later trapped in the legal wrangling. Murray Lerner's feature length film summarising the festival, Message To Love: The Isle of Wight Festival 1970, finally emerged in 1995 – the festival's 25th Anniversary – along with an accompanying album. This contained two Who songs: 'Young Man Blues' and 'Naked Eye'.

The Who – Live At The Isle of Wight Festival 1970 Release

The legal red tape trapping the Isle of Wight Festival material was finally unravelled in 1995. The following year, 1996, The Who's full performance at the Festival was at long last released as an album15, The Who – Live At The Isle of Wight Festival 1970. The album captures the energy and excitement of the band in the Live At Leeds era.

Album Songlist

All songs were written by Pete Townshend except where stated.

  • 'Heaven And Hell' – a song by John Entwistle frequently used to introduce their live act in 1969 and 1970. It was the B-Side to their July 1970 single 'Summertime Blues', released at the time of the Festival.

  • 'I Can't Explain' – The Who's first single which reached number 8 in the UK on release in 1965.

  • 'Young Man Blues' – A song by Mose Allison that also appeared on the Live At Leeds album. This performance is included on Message To Love.

  • 'I Don't Even Know Myself' – A new song for the 1970 Festival.

  • 'Water' – 'Water' frequently was sung in 1970 and later would be the B-side on two singles, '5:15' and 'Love Reign O'er Me'. During 'Water', Keith Moon threw his drum stick as high as he could and actually caught it. He was rewarded with a loud burst of spontaneous applause from the audience.

  • 'Tommy' – The Who's fourth album was a phenomenal innovation and the world's first rock opera. Recorded in 1969, it would later inspire a film in 1975. For their festival appearance, they performed almost the entire double album, leaving out only 'Cousin Kevin', 'Underture', 'Sensation', and 'Welcome'. All tracks were by Pete Townshend except 'Fiddle About', by John Entwistle, 'Tommy's Holiday Camp', by drummer Keith Moon and 'Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker)', which was a pre-existing song by Sonny Boy Williamson, first released in 1951.

    • 'Overture'
    • 'It's A Boy'
    • '1921'
    • 'Amazing Journey'
    • 'Sparks'
    • 'Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker)'
    • 'Christmas'
    • 'The Acid Queen'
    • 'Pinball Wizard'
    • 'Do You Think It's Alright? '
    • 'Fiddle About'
    • 'Tommy Can You Hear Me? '
    • 'There's A Doctor'
    • 'Go To The Mirror'
    • 'Smash The Mirror'
    • 'Miracle Cure'
    • 'I'm Free'
    • 'Tommy's Holiday Camp'
    • 'We're Not Gonna Take It '

  • 'Summertime Blues' – A rock classic by Eddie Cochran released in 1958, written by Cochran and his manager Jerry Capehart. This had been part of the band's set since 1968 and a live performance from their Live At Leeds album was released in July 1970, out at the time of the Isle of Wight Festival. At the 2004 Isle of Wight Festival The Ordinary Boys performed 'Summertime Blues' in tribute to The Who.

  • Medley:

    • 'Shakin' All Over' – Another rock staple, written by Johnny Kidd and a Number One for Johnny Kidd and The Pirates in 1960.

    • 'Spoonful' – A song written by Willie Dixon and first recorded in 1960 by Howlin' Wolf.

    • 'Twist And Shout' – written by Phil Medley and Bert Russell, this song shot to fame after being covered by The Beatles16 and had appeared briefly in the 1964 Cliff Richard film A Wonderful Life.

  • 'Substitute' – One of their most popular songs, it was a UK Number 5 in 1966 and has been performed at most of their appearances.

  • 'My Generation' – The most successful of The Who's singles, a Number 2 hit in the UK in 1965 that also appeared on their 1965 début album of the same title.

  • 'Naked Eye' – a fairly new song that had first been performed during the 1970 American tour. This was also released on Message To Love, the Isle of Wight Festival summary album and film.

  • 'Magic Bus' – a frequently-heard Who song dating from the mid-60s that was released as a single in 1968, getting to number 26. It had also been performed on the Live At Leeds album.

Chris Charlesworth, the reporter for Melody Maker, said on the album's release,

This is The Who as they never were before or again, at the height of the triumph of Tommy before it became a millstone around the group's neck. This is The Who, a group that could have big hits and still be cool, sell millions and still be 'underground'.

Listening To You: The Who Live At The Isle of Wight Festival 1970 – The Film

The lengthy-titled Listening To You: The Who Live At The Isle of Wight Festival 1970 film of this performance was finally released in 1996 on VHS and later re-released on DVD. It is credited as being directed by Murray Lerner, who recorded the entire festival.

Curiously the song order has been re-arranged to have all non-Tommy material at the beginning. It does not contain all the songs performed and lasts only 85 minutes. The concert is rated 15.

The inside cover of the DVD contains the classic 1970 Isle of Wight Festival poster design by Dave Roe17 and contains a contemporary press cutting review of the festival from Melody Maker and NME.

Performances on the Listening To You: The Who Live At The Isle of Wight Festival 1970 film are:

  • 'Heaven And Hell'
  • 'I Can't Explain'
  • 'Young Man Blues'
  • 'I Don't Even Know Myself'
  • 'Water'
  • Medley:
    • 'Shakin' All Over'
    • 'Spoonful'
    • 'Twist And Shout'
  • 'Summertime Blues'
  • 'My Generation'
  • 'Magic Bus'
  • Tommy:
    • 'Overture'
    • 'It's A Boy'
    • 'Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker)'
    • 'Christmas'
    • 'The Acid Queen'
    • 'Pinball Wizard'
    • 'Do You Think It's Alright? '
    • 'Fiddle About'
    • 'Go To The Mirror'
    • 'Miracle Cure'
    • 'I'm Free'
    • 'We're Not Gonna Take It'
    • 'Tommy Can You Hear Me? '

When John Entwistle died in 2002, it was this film footage of him wearing the black jumpsuit with a luminous skeleton outline that was most used to accompany the television news reports of his death.

Epilogue: 2004 Isle of Wight Festival

In 2004 The Who again headlined the Isle of Wight Festival, for the third and, to date, final time. Their set included nine songs that they had played at the 1970 Festival: 'I Can't Explain', 'Substitute', 'Naked Eye', 'My Generation', 'Pinball Wizard', 'Amazing Journey', 'Sparks', 'See Me, Feel Me' and 'Magic Bus'. Six of these had also been played at the 1969 Festival18.

Roger Daltrey, when interviewed and asked about his previous Isle of Wight Festival appearances, simply said,

It feels good to be back on the Island, it doesn't seem like anything has changed...
All I can remember about playing in '70 is getting drunk with Jim Morrison19, but [he] died and never bought his round.
1The Who played a pivotal part in the development of the live album. Their record Live At Leeds, released only weeks before their greatest performance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, is accepted as being one of the greatest live albums of all time.2Although there were established jazz, blues and, in America, folk festivals. Some of these, such as the annual Windsor Jazz and Blues festival, did sometimes feature rock and pop artists, including The Who.3The one-off Festival of Flower Children held in Woburn Abbey.4This first festival was a fund-raising event intended to build a municipal swimming pool. All Isle of Wight festivals since have been business ventures.5They would again headline at the 2004 Festival, with Zack Starkey, son of Ringo Starr, on drums. Ringo Starr, along with John Lennon and George Harrison, had been in the audience and seen The Who perform at the 1969 Festival. Paul McCartney had not, expecting the birth of his first child at the time.6Bob Dylan's performance at the 1969 Festival can be heard on his Self Portrait album.7Afton Down has been owned by the National Trust since 1961. It is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the Tennyson Heritage Coast.8Despite newspaper-spread rumours to the contrary, the Isle of Wight Festival was not a communist plot to take over the world.9The Isle of Wight would wait until 2002 before it held another music festival, although one has been held annually since then.10Drummer Keith Moon later inspired the creation of the character of Animal, the drummer in the Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem band in The Muppets television and film series.11Their attempt to land dramatically on stage in a helicopter for the 1969 Festival almost resulted in a helicopter crash.12The Doors had been invited to perform at Woodstock but had declined. Later regretting that decision, they were very keen to play at the Isle of Wight instead.13A Gibson SG.14For From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China, which follows the master violinist on a cultural tour of China.15Other artists who had performed at the 1970 Festival have since had albums of their performances released. Other available performances include Leonard Cohen – Live at the Isle of Wight 1970, Miles Davis – Live at the Isle of Wight Festival and Emerson, Lake and Palmer – Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970, The Moody Blues – Threshold Of A Dream – Live at the Isle of Wight 1970, Taste Live At The Isle of Wight, Jethro Tull's Nothing Is Easy – Live at the Isle of Wight 1970. Jimi Hendrix, who died shortly after the 1970 Festival, has had his performance appear on a number of videos and albums but the definitive version is Blue Wild Angel – Live at the Isle of Wight Festival. 16The Beatles version was even released as a single in America, where it was a Number 1 hit in both the Cashbox and Record World Charts, but Number 2 in the recognised Billboard chart. The song was never released as a single in the UK, where the Beatles refused to release their cover versions of other artists' songs as singles.17Dave Roe has designed the artwork for every Isle of Wight Festival to date, linking the original three Festivals to the Festivals of the 21st Century.18'I Can't Explain', 'Pinball Wizard', 'Amazing Journey', 'Sparks', 'See Me, Feel Me' and 'My Generation'.19Lead singer and songwriter with The Doors.

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