Ray Foulk, author of "The Last Great Event"

We recently spoke to Ray Foulk, author of the recently released Ray Foulk, author of The Last Great Event: When the World Came to the Isle of Wight (with Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison). Ray founded the Isle of WIght Festival with his brother in 1968. This is his second book on those legendary music festivals, the first being Stealing Dylan from Woodstock: When the World Came to the Isle of Wight. Get 20% off and free p&p for The Last Great Event here. Use the code MEDINA20 to get the discount.
Here's what Ray had to say about his latest book.

I recently read Michael Lang’s account of Woodstock, which was beset by many similar problems to your festival, despite extensive planning. All I could think of was “were you guys insane?”

I too have read Michael’s book (and also Robert Spitz’s Barefoot in Babylon which is a very much more comprehensive account of Woodstock).  There are certain parallels, as well as some significant differences. I believe my brother and I shared with Michael the naiveté of youth and an unbounded ambition, believing that anything was possible and anything could be done. Once on the tiger’s back it seems we all then had sufficient stamina to sustain the journey. I don’t think we were insane but it sure looks that way, looking back from the comforts of age and maturity, 46 years on.

There is a good deal of misinformation about our respective festivals. I think on balance the Isle of Wight was altogether better organised, and we were on time with the construction of the arena. At Woodstock the arena had not been built by the time the audience started arriving and so the event had to become a free festival from the off. Of course, this was never the intention. Advance tickets had been sold in large numbers. Secondly, we were blessed with fine weather. Woodstock endured some quite horrendous rain and storms. (There but for the grace of God . . .) Woodstock was also plagued by ‘bad acid’. More than 500 were hospitalised.  Meanwhile, we had the problem of an overlooking hillside and a bunch of radicals wanting the festival to be free; and this became a running sore with the organisers – though not with the audience.


Was the 1969 or the 1970 show the definitive Isle of Wight Festival in your opinion, and, if so, why?

’69 and ’70 festivals were very different and constitute very different stories, as our two books show. Indeed that is why it has all had to be told in two Volumes. I personally find it difficult to say which my favourite festival is.

’69 was a landmark in Bob Dylan’s life and was probably the greatest music coup of the sixties decade. The event was a triumph in many ways, including financially, and something me and my family are immensely proud of.

1970 was altogether different, but in spite of monumental difficulties the event was truly heroic, and for the vast majority of audience and artists it was a once in a lifetime amazing experience. I think I speak for my family when I say that we are equally proud to have been part of that history too. 

You debunk many of the myths surrounding  the “Last Great Event,” among them Joni Mitchell getting booed offstage and Hendrix playing through a fire on the main stage. Any idea how those tall tales and rumors became accepted facts?

Myths easily get going in the media. When the festival was written about in the decades that followed the event, the original irresponsible and/or sloppy journalism of the time served as a resource for research. Untruths have been copied and have proliferated. Although some reports suggested that Joni Mitchell was booed off, Melody Maker, for instance, ran a front page headline in their post-festival edition: “Joni’s triumph”. In doing research is it necessary to dig around and find the truth.
On the matters you ask about, though the major source of both truth and misinformation can be found in the plethora of so far released film footage. When not edited the film rarely lies. Once edited, it can be responsible for absolute whoppers. What happened with Joni is clear in an uncut sequence of film. With Jimi Hendrix playing through fire, the film is cut to indicate billowing smoke emitting from the stage roof while Hendrix performs a number actually filmed an hour earlier. If fact, when examined closely, it can be observed that the first announcement of ‘fire’ occurred at a point after Jimi leaves the stage and as the drum-set is being dismantled.

Subsequent to the release of the many 1970 Isle of Wight films (beginning in the Nineties) lazy journalists and programme makers have reached for the (doctored) DVD’s and used them as primary sources rather than exercising due scholarship with more thorough investigations. The errors are then further replicated (and even exaggerated) in subsequent work. And so it goes. I hope that our books not only set the record straight but will serve as a more reliable authoritative resource for future writers and programme makers.


Will an accurate and definitive film of the Isle of Wight festivals ever get made?

We are already in dialogue with film makers interested creating alternative versions of the events, but don’t hold your breath. I do believe that in the fullness of time a comprehensive and truthful version will be produced. The footage exists and is out there, everywhere. It’s just a matter of rights and budget to assemble the definitive film. 

Do you have a relationship with the Festival today?

No, not beyond friendship with both the Isle of Wight Festival and Bestival. We were guests of John and Caroline Giddings at this year’s Isle of Wight Festival in June where we staged a heritage exhibition in the Artists’ Village area. I am to be a guest speaker at Bestival in September.

Get 20% off and free p&p for The Last Great Event here. Use the code MEDINA20 to get the discount.


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