Posted on June 05, 2019

50 years ago, in the summer of ‘69, The Beatles visited the legendary Isle of Wight festival, not to perform, but to watch one of their favourite musical acts, Bob Dylan, make a return to live shows. It was one of the largest counterculture events of the 1960s and came only weeks before the Beatles broke up, but the Fab Four’s association with the small island in the south of England involves much more than the 1969 festival, in fact, it goes back to before they were famous.

The Beatles were already huge fans of Bob Dylan, having first met the American singer on 28th August 1964 in New York City, a night which is said to have altered the course of rock ‘n’ roll music forever. One year later, The Beatles watched Bob perform at London’s Royal Albert Hall during their filming sessions for Help!, and in May 1966 Bob released ‘4th Time Around’, a song speculated to be a response to The Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’, as either a playful homage or satirical warning to Lennon about co-opting Dylan’s style.

George Harrison was perhaps the biggest Bob Dylan fan of all the Beatles and he remained friends with the American throughout his life. It was George, his wife Pattie Boyd and Beatles roadie Mal Evans who travelled to Portsmouth in late August 1969 to greet Dylan upon his arrival to the UK. The initial meeting was only short as that evening Dylan and his family took the ferry over to the Isle of Wight, to Forelands Farm in Bembridge where they were staying and rehearsing. George, Pattie and Mal in the meantime returned to London to take care of some business before joining up with Bob and his family on the island two days later.

On 30th August 1969, the day before Dylan’s scheduled headline performance, John Lennon and Ringo Starr arrived on the island along with their wives Yoko and Maureen and a number of other celebrity attendees including Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, all eager to see Dylan perform.

Paul McCartney was unable to attend due to the birth of his and Linda’s first daughter, Mary, on 28th August, but he had been to the Isle of Wight before. In his autobiography Mike McGear – Paul McCartney’s brother – describes how Paul and John supposedly hitchhiked from Liverpool to the Isle of Wight to holiday with Mike who worked in a pub near Ryde. Whether that holiday in 1960 was the inspiration for ‘Ticket to Ride’ remains a source of conjecture amongst Beatles historians. The island could well have already influenced the young Beatles as they reference it in their song ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, taken from their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band album but written many years beforehand, when McCartney was just 16 years old.
In 1969 Dylan was living near Woodstock, upstate New York City and was believed to be performing at that year’s Woodstock festival. The singer however decided to shun the New York-based option and left the city on 15th August, the day Woodstock was due to begin in favour of the Isle of Wight. It was the festival organisers, the Foulk brothers, who convinced Dylan by showing him a short film of the island’s cultural and literary heritage, which appealed to Dylan’s artistic sensibilities as the singer was enthusiastic about combining a family holiday with a live performance in British poet Tennyson’s homeland. It was going to be Dylan’s first gig in over three years following his near-fatal motorcycle accident in July 1966.

Founded in 1968, the Isle of Wight festival was only in its second year when it became graced by the presence of the world’s most popular band amongst its 150,000 attendees. By then, The Beatles had already stopped touring, with the 1966 concert at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park marking their final planned live performance, but this didn’t stop fans calling for a collaboration to take place between Dylan and The Beatles. And although the price would likely have been gigantic to get The Beatles to perform, even if they wanted to, John suggests it was only a matter of timing as to why an impromptu jam session didn’t take place:

“We went to the Dylan show, and if there had been a jam, we would have got up. It was killed before it happened. It was so late by the time he got on. We would have jammed if it had been earlier. The crowd was dying on their feet by the time he got on.” – John Lennon

Dylan was due on stage at 9pm, but technical delays meant a two-hour wait, and as tensions within the crowd built, the out of practice Bob Dylan grew more anxious. Yet when the American eventually made it onto stage he delivered, albeit nervously, and brandishing George Harrison’s vintage Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar that the Beatle had gifted to him just moments before the show. To return the favour Dylan had arranged for “Hare Krishna Mantra” to be played over the PA before he and the Band went on stage, much to Harrison’s delight.

Bob Dylan and The Band topped the star-studded festival line-up which also included Joe Cocker, who covered The Beatles’ song ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ live at the festival, and Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band who had recently appeared in The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour film performing ‘Death Cab For Cutie’. The performance wasn’t quite the collaboration fans had hoped for, or the glorious return to live shows that Dylan had wanted, but many of the fans in attendance were blown away, including the section of VIPs. Following the performance, the three Beatles returned to Dylan’s rented farmhouse where they held an after-show party, which included the group listening to a pre-release of their upcoming Abbey Road album.

“George had the Beatles’ Abbey Road album in his hand, they’d just finished it the day before, and he had an acetate of it. He put it on the record player in the barn and there was a lot of envy in the air… but he was moaning about how John and Paul wouldn’t let him have more than two songs and how unfair it was. I was surprised how openly he was saying all this.” – Ray Foulk

After the festival, on 1st September 1969, Dylan along with Harrison visited John and Yoko’s Tittenhurst Park home, flying into Berkshire in Apple’s rented helicopter. This was the final time that Dylan met Lennon and it was not a success. Several days later John privately informed the other Beatles that he was leaving the group with Paul publicly announcing the split in April 1970. Harrison and Dylan however remained close friends and advocates, George wrote his song ‘Behind That Locked Door’ inspired by Dylan’s Isle of Wight performance and the duo later formed part of the supergroup ‘the Traveling Wilburys’. Several live recordings from Dylan’s Isle of Wight performance can be heard on his 1970 album Self Portrait.

The Isle of Wight Festival had become a legendary event, owing largely to the participation of Dylan and The Beatles. It was well managed in comparison to Woodstock Festival and trouble-free, despite growing substantially since the original 1968 event. The 1970 festival grew even bigger, moving from Wootton to Freshwater and with Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, The Doors and The Who amongst the acts, it is thought to be one of the largest gatherings in the world in modern times, surpassing Woodstock attendance with estimates of over 600,000 people. It was so large in fact that it resulted in the festival being stopped after only three years. The unexpectedly high attendance levels actually led to Parliament preventing any overnight open-air gatherings of more than 5,000 people taking place on the Isle of Wight without obtaining a license.
Thankfully, the event was revived in 2002, changing dates from late August to early June the festival now takes place at Seaclose Park near Newport IOW and welcomes around 70,000 people each year. In 2010, Paul McCartney, who was unable to attend in 1969 with his bandmates, performed at the festival – it may have taken over 40 years, but the song of The Beatles were finally heard live on the Isle of Wight stage.

Fittingly the theme at this year’s festival will be ‘Summer of 69 – Peace and Love’, in celebration of the event that was attended by The Beatles and Bob Dylan 50 years ago. Joining in the celebrations, The Beatles Story will be launching a brand new ‘Become The Beatles’ VR experience at the festival, giving festival-goers the opportunity to learn more about the Fab Four and witness Beatlemania through the eyes of their favourite Beatle. The unique experience will be located in the Strawberry Fields section of the festival and will  give music fans the chance to be immersed in the heady days of the world’s greatest band, virtually performing ‘Twist and Shout’ live in front of screaming fans alongside John, Paul, George and Ringo and on stage in The Beatles Story’s own recreation of the world-famous Cavern Club.

To find out more about this year’s Isle of Wight festival and to purchase tickets, please visit: https://isleofwightfestival.co...



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