The Reading Festival 22nd – 24th August 1975
The Reading Festival hit its peak of success in the mid ’70s, and the 1975 festival sold out in advance. Although the previous years’ festivals that I had attended all seemed pretty full, you were still able to roll up and pay at the entrance. In 1975 the success of the festival and the draw of bands like Yes and Wishbone Ash ensured the site was completely packed, with hardly any room to be found in the campsites and car parks.
Friday line-up: Stella, Judas Priest, Wally, Kokomo, UFO, Dr Feelgood, Hawkwind. Judas Priest were an up and coming heavy rock band and were gigging constantly, as were UFO. Kokomo were a jazz/rock/funk outfit who were very successful during the ’70s. But the big success of Friday (and arguably the entire weekend) was Dr Feelgood, who were a massive hit with the festival crowd; Wilko and Lee being on red hot form. I was with a couple of guys who had recently become big Feelgood fans; “Back In The Night” had just been released and they were constantly singing it in my ear. “All around visible signs of the Doctor’s now-massive popularity – such as the many home-made banners (“Feelgood”, “Wilko” et al), the rapturous reception, the sea-of-weaving arms” (NME, 1975). “When Dr Feelgood stamped off they had within an hour, transformed this alfresco association into a tiny, sweaty, steaming R&B club. Charisma is too weak a word to describe what the Feelgoods had going for them that night.” (Brian Harrigan, Melody Maker, August 30, 1975). Hawkwind were ok, but it was cold, and they found it difficult to follow the Feelgood’s storming set.
Saturday line-up: Zzebra, SNAFU, Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias, Kursaal Flyers, Thin Lizzy, Alan Stivell, Heavy Metal Kids (billed simply as “Kids” in the programme), Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Supertramp, Yes.
My memories are of Thin Lizzy delivering an excellent set as always; they were gradually building up their own following and would soon break through to become massive; The Heavy Metal Kids being as OTT as ever; and Yes, who were amazing. I must also mention the Kursaal Flyers, who are sadly often forgotten in the history of pub rock; they would hit the charts in the following year with the great pop single: “Little Does She Know” (“I know that she knows that I know she’s two timing me”). Supertramp were on the verge of mega-success; they had hit the charts with “Dreamer” and had a considerable following. I was, and remain, a big Yes fan and their performance at Reading came at a point where the band were at the peak of their success. I recall it being very cold, with epic versions of “Close to the Edge” and “And You and I”, and a great version of “Roundabout” as an encore (very late and off to our tents). A bootleg exists of Yes’ set that night: Sound Chaser; Close To The Edge; And You And I; Awaken; The Gates Of Delirium; I’ve Seen All Good People; Ancient; Long Distance Run Around; Ritual; Roundabout.
Sunday line-up: Joan Armatrading, Babe Ruth, String Driven Thing, Climax Blues Band, Caravan, Soft Machine, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Robin Trower, Wishbone Ash. My memory of Sunday is of Wishbone Ash. Like Yes they were enjoying massive success at the time, and also like Yes they played a set of pure class, with the twin guitars of Andy Powell and Laurie Wisefield soaring through the cool, late Sunday evening.
Our DJs for the weekend were once again John Peel and Jerry Floyd. The weather was cold, with some rain, and the beer can fights were constant throughout the weekend. The festival had always been an organised, carefully planned event, but was becoming even more commercial. The nature of the festival, and its line-up, would transform further in the years which followed; with the emergence of punk and the re-emergence of heavy metal through the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal). Any elements of the jazz festivals of the 60s had also disappeared.
Thanks to BaldBoris for allowing his image of the festival to be used through the WikiMedia Commons licence agreement.
Archive for the ‘Mahavishnu Orchestra’ Category
John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra 1974 & 1975.
I was lucky enough to see the second Mahavishnu Orchestra three times. The first time was at the Knebworth Bucolic Frolic concert in 1974 where they shared the bill with The Allman Brothers, the Doobies, Van Morrison, SAHB and Tim Buckley. The setlist from Knebworth was: Wings of Karma,Sanctuary, Vision is a Naked Sword, Hymn to Him. This was a big band and the line up was: John McLaughlin – lead guitar, Jean-Luc Ponty – electric violin, Gayle Moran – keyboards, Michael Walden – drums, Carole Shive – drums, Marsha Westbrook – viola, Phillip Hirschi – cello, Steve Frankewicz and Bob Knapp – trumpet, fluegelhorn, flute, and Steve Kindler – violin. I remember that the band were all dressed in white and that McLaughlin started the set with a short reading, or it could even have been a prayer. My next Mahavishnu experience was at Newcastle City Hall in 1975, and the programme comes from that gig. I looked up the meaning of Mahavishnu out of interest, and found this on Wikipedia: “Mahavishnu (Devanāgarī: महाविष्णु) is an aspect of Vishnu, the Absolute which is beyond human comprehension and is beyond all attributes. The term Mahavishnu is similar to Brahman and Almighty Absolute Supreme Personality of Godhead”. Pretty deep mystic stuff; eh?! And that about sums up their music; heavy, deep, with superb musicianship, jazz-rock, fusion, challenging, enjoyable, frustrating, exciting, boring; all of those things in part. Like nothing I have seen before or since. The last time I saw John McLaughlin and his Mahavishnu Orhestra was at the Reading Festival in 1975, where they shared a bill with Soft Machine, Robin Trower and headliners Wishbone Ash. McLaughlin is an intriguing character, and undoubtedly a musical genius. He still plays today, and I have just added him to the list of people I intend to try and see again in the next few years.
John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra 1973. I first saw John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra at a concert at Newcastle City Hall in 1973. This was the original line-up of the band and featured leader “Mahavishnu” John McLaughlin on virtuoso guitar, Jan Hammer on keyboards, Jerry Goodman (from The Flock) on electric violin, Rick Laird on bass guitar, and Billy Cobham (from Miles Davis’ band) on drums. These guys were pioneers in so many ways; in McLaughlin’s use of the twin neck guitar which enabled him to switch from 6 to 12 strings, in Jan Hammer’s use of the mini-moog and in their unique fusion of rock, jazz, funk, classical and Indian influences. This was the band which recorded the seminal albums The Inner Mounting Flame (1971) and Birds of Fire (1973). Their music was like nothing else I had experienced at the time; experimental yet at the same time heavily orchestrated. Pioneering and fascinating stuff; I was deeply impressed by the musicianship and virtuosity on show. The set is likely to have been drawn from the first two albums and will probably have included tracks like Birds of Fire, Meeting of the Spirits, You Know, You Know, The Dance of Maya, Open Country Joy, Dream, Sanctuary, One Word, Hope, Awakening. All pretty mystical and deep heavy stuff for a young teenager, and quite different from seeing Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin! This was a brave booking for local promoter Geoff Docherty and his Fillmore North (note the misspelling of “North” as “Worth” 🙂 ). This line-up of the Mahavishnu Orchestra split later that year, and McLaughlin reformed the band with a completely new membership in 1974. I saw the new version of the Orchestra on three occasions, and I will write about that tomorrow.
The Allman Brothers, The Doobie Brothers, Van Morrison, The Mahavishnu Orhcestra, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Tim Buckley.
Knebworth Park 1974 The Bucolic Frolic
This was the first of the great 1970s one day festivals to be held at Knebworth Park. I went along with my mates John and Gillie, catching a bus to Stevenage and them making our way to the site on the Saturday morning. We arrived just in time for Tim Buckley, who came on early in the day just as the crowds were entering the site. I remember his deep booming voice echoing around the field, but little else about his set. Next up was the Sensational Alex Harvey band, who were already a favourite of ours, and a great festival crowd pleaser. We made our way to the front to get a good view of Alex, Zal and the others who started with Faith Healer, which was still quite a new song at the time. Alex was an amazing front man, had no fear at all and was also a bit of a philosopher: “Don’t pish in the water. Don’t buy any bullets , don’t make any bullets and don’t shoot any bullets”. You couldn’t get more of a contrast than Alex Harvey followed by John McLaughlin and his Mahavishnu Orhcestra, but such a rich mix of music was quite commonplace at 70s events. John was dressed entirely in white and he and his band took us through a wonderful blend of jazz, rock and classical music which swept through the field. The Mahavishnu Orhcestra was a big band, featuring Jean Luc Ponty, who had recently made his name playing with Frank Zappa. Van Morrison was just amazing, and at his peak, in the early 70s, and his set at Knebworth was great. His band on the day was a three piece, which was very small for Van, and a contrast to the Caledonia Soul Orchestra who I saw him with a few weeks later. I was never a big fan of the Doobie Brothers, they were a bit too funky for me, however John recalls them as the highlight of the day. They went down ok with the crowd, but by then everyone was waiting for the headliners. Jessica and Ramblin’ Man were real favourites that summer, played at all the festivals, and The Allman Brothers Band had a reputation for being THE Jamming band, renowned for playing long sets and mega versions of their songs, particularly Whipping Post. They didn’t let the crowd down. Gillie, John and I spent some time wandering around the site that day, and Jessica was constantly playing in the background. The Allmans came on late and played until well after midnight. Greg Alllman said at some point during the set “We are going to play every damn song we know” after continued shouts for Whipping Post. We slept the night on the site and got the bus back home the next morning, running into some of John’s school friends on the bus. Allman Brothers setlist: Wasted Words; Done Somebody Wrong; One Way Out; Stormy Monday; Midnight Rider; Blue Sky; In Memory of Elizabeth Reed; Statesboro Blues; Come and Go Blues; Ramblin’ Man. Encore: Trouble No More; Jessica; You Don’t Love Me / Les Brers In A Minor. Second Encore: Whipping Post. Thanks to John for the scan of the flyer. John comments that is was overall a very exciting day, with a diverse, even eclectic, line up which happened a lot a the time and gave everyone a chance to appreciate lots of different styles of music.