Isle of Wight Music
Derek Sandy - "Welcome to the Isle of Wight"
Isle of Wight folk / celtic / pop fusion musician Holly Kirby is a true Caulkhead, born and bred on the Island. And, for anyone who appreciates music, it's a great place to come from.
The Island has a fantastic musical history, and, despite its small size, has always punched far above its weight musically. Most famously, of course, it provides the setting for the Isle of Wight Music Festival. At its peak in 1970 it was the largest musical festival in the world (surpassing Woodstock); well over half a million attended, eager to hear Jimi Hendrix, Chicago, The Doors, The Who and many other famous names (Bob Dylan had played the previous year). Unfortunately, relatively few of them paid for the experience, and the Island took a long time to recover. In 1971 a special act of parliament was passed, the Isle of Wight Act, aimed at preventing future large scale gatherings on the Island.
Despite that, musical life on the island went on, and the island continued to host great music, and produce great musicians and bands, perhaps the most famous of which was Level 42. At last, as the 21st century arrived, the Isle of Wight once more became the setting for great festivals again, including most noticeably the annual garlic festival, but also a new, revised, Isle of Wight Festival.
And, in the age of the Internet and YouTube, opportunities for island musicians to be heard more widely have never been better.
Isle of Wight Festival 1968
The Isle of Wight Music festivals were, along with Woodstock, the greatest music festivals of their time. The 1970 festival was attended by over 600,000 people - the largest musical gathering ever. And it was no suprise that the attendance was so large - the list of headline acts included Jimi Hendrix, Chicago, The Doors, The Who, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and Free. Besides which, very few of the attendees actually paid - the festival site was overlooked by a huge hill, Afton Down, which provided far too good a view of proceedings.
Isle of Wight Festival 1969By 1969 things were on a much grander scale, with over 150,000 attendees. Bob Dylan was the headline act, backed up by the likes of The Who, The Moody Blues, and Free.
During the press conference prior to his performance, Dylan remarked that he came to the Isle of Wight to see the birthplace of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It's possible that a rumoured 50% share of the festival profits, and first class air fares for him and his retinue may also have helped make up his mind. At any rate, the money may have consoled him when he found out that Alfred Lord Tennyson was born in Lincolnshire, and he did make use of his time on the Island well, visiting Tennyson's long-term home at Farringford and Queen Victoria's mansion Osborne House, as well as seaside resorts Bembridge (with the Beatles), Seaview and Freshwater.
His actual performance seemed a little nervy to some, although John Lennon thought it "reasonable". At any rate, he was evidently in a good mood afterwards, partying with the Beatles and listening to a test pressing of "Abbey Road".
Isle of Wight Festival 1970In the immortal words of Wikipedia, the organisers Fiery Creations (apparently alias brothers Ronald Foulk and Raymond Foulk) were determined to make the 1970 event a legendary event. In this aim they enlisted Jimi Hendrix. With Jimi confirmed, artists such as Chicago, The Doors, The Who, Joan Baez, and Free willingly took up the chance to play on the island. The event had a magnificent but impractical site, a strong but inconsistent line up and the logistical nightmare of transporting 600,000 onto an island with a population of less than 100,000. The aftermath and commercial failings of the festival ensured it would be the last event of its kind on the Isle of Wight for thirty-two years.
As ever, the UKRockFestivals site has a more prosaic take on events:
Highlights were performances by The Who, Joni Mitchell and Miles Davis . Free, Taste , Family and Jethro Tull were good, but there were also disappointing sets by artists that were not performing at their best , such as The Doors and, sadly, Jimi Hendrix . Most of the rest of the bill were artists that were unsuited for the big outdoors .. If one then adds the logistics of just getting around the arena , to visit the toilets, eat food and get a good view of the stage, it becomes evident that in reality many in the crowd did not see much, hear very well or have a particularly comfortable time .
Still, with such a huge number of attendees, a multitude of events happened that were peripheral to the event itself. A giant inflatable tent played host to a number of bands and provided a diversion for those who could not afford to get into the arena or who had no shelter. A short lived tent city sprang up on Desolation Hill and the great weather ensured that it was possible for hundreds to indulge in nude fun and games on the beach, much to the delight of prurient fleet street reporters who salivated over the prospect of titillating their readers with tales of mass debauchery and drug taking .
Also, on the plus side of things, the sound system was very good , the filming of the event was probably the most comprehensive coverage of any UK rock festival ever undertaken, the weather was unrelentingly sunny and there was some very good music on occasions.
1970s, 1980s and 1990sIn the 1970s nothing happened.
The 1980s were the era of Level 42. Led by slap-bass guitarist and lead-vocalist Mark King, Level 42 the band enjoyed a string of UK top 40 hits, including "Love Games" (1981), "Hot Water" (1984), "Something About You" (1985), "Lessons in Love" (1986) and "Heaven in My Hands" (1988).
Many other local acts from this era are also still well-remembered, among them.. ah, I've forgotten them. Never mind. I'll add them later, after I've had a look on YouTube...
Into the 21st CenturyThe big news for the Isle of Wight (not just musically) in the early years of the 21st Century was the resumption of its famous music festival. Although largely unconnected with the earlier 1968-1970 version, the new festival quickly established itself as a major success.
Good things, like buses, come along in twos. The island now has two significant festivals. Bestival, founded in 2004 and organised by Rob da Bank takes place every year at Robin Hill. Billed as a "Boutique Festival" , Bestival won the "best medium sized festival" at the UK Festivals Awards in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Headline acts in 2009 were Massive Attack, Kraftwerk and Elbow.
The 21st Century also saw a resurgence of local music. The Bees, from Ventnor were one of the Island bands that made a national impact...
Today's Local Music SceneThe internet offers opportunities unknown to previous musical generations. A new performer can quickly make a name for himself or herself online and acquire fans all around the world. One Isle of Wight musician who has done just that is, of course, Holly Kirby. In terms of internet success, only a few current UK folk musicians surpass Holly. Her YouTube channel, alpet07, is frequently one of the top music sites in the U.K. Her videos have been viewed over a million times in total, her channel main page more than a hundred thousand times, and she has approaching 10,000 subscribers.
But, away from the Internet, a rich musical scene still exists on the island, with capable local singer-songwriters, bands, and interesting venues...
Names well-known to islanders include Paul Armfield, and the Four Good Reasons. A big bear of a man, Paul is well known not only throughout the south of England, but in German parts as well! The Four Good Reasons include J . C Grimshaw, Barkley McKay, Jake Rodriques, and Trevor Smith.
A wonderful singer/songwriter and musician in his own right, JC Grimshaw is perhaps best known for his duo with his sister - JC and Angelina being a long-time and very regular part of the Island and South of England folk scene.
As well as folk the Island supports musicians playing in many different styles. New bands include Lucid; formed as recently as June 2007, although some of the band members had played together for years. Despite their recent origins, the band has already played an impressive number of gigs. In their own words, the combination of 5 accomplished musicians, a pianist, 2 acoustic guitarists, bass player, violinist and a drummer plus 4 vocalists in one band gives them a versatility that is hard to match.
No discussion of modern Island music would be complete without a mention of Derek Sandy. Best known for his "Welcome to the Isle of Wight" video (see above) Derek is a highly popular local entertainer, although as you may notice from his accent he is originally from another island in a rather warmer climate.
The Isle of Wight and South-of-England music scene is ably supported by some excellent blogs and online resources. Perhaps the most interesting for folk musicians are the Folk'n'stuff blog and the Vaguely Sunny website. The Folknstuff blog provides a comprehensive and up-to-date summary of planned musical events - especially, but not only, folk events. Vaguely Sunny is run by Vic King, Pete Turner, and Mike Plumbley. The website may be a little less commonly updated than the FolkNStuff blog, but Vaguely Sunny, with their authoritative but possibly ironic motto "Nothing ever happens on the "Isle of Wight" do a sterling job of promoting folk music on the Island.
Mike Plumbley is also heavily involved in the Ragamuffn.biz website: "Before the pod was cast Ragamuffin has been championing music from below the radar" which champions music taking place in the Hampshire, Dorset and Isle of Wight area. The podcasts on the site are well worth listening to, featuring among others JC and Angelina and Paul Armfield and the Four Good Reasons.
The Isle of Wight is also lucky to host the Quay Arts Centre, which supports a wide range of artistic and musical pursuits. Situated in a converted 19th Century brewery warehouse complex located at the head of the River Medina in the centre of Newport, it is one of the best venues on the Island to see live performances. During much of the year it hosts monthly, Acoustic Original Nights which bring together some of the best singer-songwriters from the south of England and beyond.
And not all old bands have faded away, at least not for good. Mark King of Level 42 can still be found from time to time on the Island, and nearby, exercising his own distinctive and enthusiastic slap-bass style.
Overall, then, the Isle of Wight provides a great musical location. But, ultimately, one fact of life cannot be avoided. The island is small (a little more than 100,000 people), and is cut off from the mainland by what is a very expensive stretch of water to travel over. In order to make a major success of themselves all performers, from long before the era of Level 42, have ultimately had to base themselves on the mainland.