This is a rip-off of sorts, but not a very painful one.
A lot of Jimi’s performances from the Isle of Wight Festival, which, as everybody knows, was his last huge public appearance, ended up in different documentaries and stupid ‘collections’ which nobody has any reason to own. In the end, what was left was placed on this LP, and that wasn’t much: just six songs that leave the album with a shamefully brief running time. So in the end it all comes to whether you will or will not cope with the idea that the actual package could have been much better. It sure could, but let’s deal with reality, ‘kay?
The Isle of Wight performance has long been rumoured as presenting Jimi in a very poor state. Tired, disillusioned, stoned out of his mind and actually sick of live playing. On the other hand, certain Jimi fans claim that what some people view as a ‘poor’ state of playing is actually nothing but just a more refined and moderate style: simply put, Jimi was sick of his usual scene image as the tongue-waggler ‘n’ teeth-picker that casual fans regarded him to be, and for this particular show he decided to refrain from the gimmicks and just, you know, play some guitar for a change.
I think that, as usual, the truth lies somewhere in between. On one hand, Isle Of Wight is a nice album to listen to, and whatever one says, there’s plenty of energy to be found. On the other hand, I certainly wouldn’t call Jimi’s style on here spectacular or anything. He does engage in some of the usual gimmicks anyway (‘Foxy Lady’ has some teeth-picking, for instance), and also, whoever would wish to hear Jimi at his freakin’ best, should turn his attention to Woodstock; no other live performance of the man I’ve ever heard can compare with the intelligent, masterful riffage of the final thirty minutes of that show.
So Isle Of Wight is just… competent. Miles better than the stupid Band Of Gypsies album, because it’s all Hendrix, for God’s sake: it’s not Buddy Miles. Oh, by the way, Jimi’s backing band consists of the trusty Mitch Mitchell on drums and Billy Cox on bass, but I guess you knew that already. What a nice thing to know that Buddy Miles is no longer there to trouble us. Good riddance to bad circuits.
The recording quality is pretty fine, although there sure is one question I’d like to pose – what’s up with the endless ‘radio announcements’ on the quiet parts of the songs?
Is this stuff they were transmitting at the Festival at the exact same moments or is this just some kind of mixing crap that got added later through some butthead’s incompetency? Heck, this thing already looks like a bootleg of sorts; don’t make matters worse by adding further arguments. Apart from that, Jimi is perfectly audible, even if I bet you anything that Jimi is the easiest player on earth to be rendered ‘audible’. For the most part you couldn’t hear no bass or drums at all once the man started being really loud.
The six songs in question present no huge surprises. There are only two crowd-pleasing “oldies” – a lengthy ‘Foxy Lady’ and a rather brief ‘All Along The Watchtower’; the latter is performed exceedingly well, but I don’t think it beats the studio version exactly. Plus, you gotta get used to Jimi missing the lyrics all the time. As for ‘Foxy Lady’… you gotta remember that by 1970, ‘Foxy Lady’, along with ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Hey Joe’, was probably that very ‘stone’ around Jimi’s neck that popular bands dread so much: always requested, always preferred to the ‘newer’ stuff, and it’s really amazing that Hendrix was able to master enough strength and conviction to pull it off in the usual wild manner on here.
Maybe it can’t be called ‘fresh’, but that’s quite understandable. Given the conditions, it’s fresh enough.
The other four songs are taken from Jimi’s recent compositions. ‘Freedom’ and ‘In From The Storm’ you can look up on First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, while ‘Lover Man’ and ‘Midnight Lightning’ can be found on South Saturn Delta. The only serious disappointment for me is ‘Lover Man’ – compared to the rip-roaring metallic studio performance, this version is pretty short and timid, almost like a ‘raped single version’, if you know what I mean.
The other three songs roll along pretty well, with even a minor Mitch Mitchell spotlight: he gets an economic, tolerable drum solo at the beginning to ‘In From The Storm’. ‘Freedom’ has great riffs, and ‘Midnight Lightning’ is at least more impressive than the acoustic performance on SSD, even if hardly memorable. Anyway, Hendrix fans will be glad to add this stuff to their collection, as superfluous as that phrase actually is. The stage banter is also worth a chuckle, with Jimi dedicating ‘Foxy Lady’ to certain namechecked ladies and the infamous ‘I just woke up two minutes ago’ phrase at the beginning of ‘Lover Man’. Peace, brother.
Of course, it goes without saying that, unlike the Who’s disc from the same festival, Jimi’s performance is worth far more for its historic significance, and it can form the concluding part of perhaps the most outstanding ‘historical trilogy’ of all time (from Monterey to Woodstock to Wight), so I was really hunting for this album for a long time. We all need a little symmetry and systematic treatment in our lives, you know.
But no, I didn’t raise the rating for ‘historic significance’, if that’s what you wanna know. No slandering, please!
On the day of his appearance at the The Isle Of Wight Festival (see previous post), Jimi travels from London to Stapleford Aerodrome then flies to Bembridge Airport on the Isle Of Wight at 8.30pm and books into the Seagrove Hotel.
Before the concert Jimi is interviewed by Steve Clackson for the Sunday Mirror and filmed giving an interview to a lady from French radio as Jimi makes his way towards the stage with the other members of the band and various guests in the early hours of Monday 31st. While Jimi walks up the steps to the stage he looks back and announces: “I got a gig, waiting for me in the Laundromat.”
Jeff Dexter introduces the band, opening with an aside to a technician: “A bit more volume on this one, Charlie, it’s gonna need it. Let’s have a welcome for Billy Cox on bass, Mitch Mitchell on drums, and the man with the guitar, Jimi Hendrix.”
Jimi walks to the microphone and announces: “Yeah, thank you very much for showing up man, you all look really beautiful and outta site and thanks for waiting. It has been a long time, hasn’t it?” Jimi then flashes a peace sign. “That does mean peace, not this,” reversing it to a V sign, reversing it again to the peace sign. “Peace. Okay, give us about a minute to tune up all right… It’s so good to be back in England. We’d like to… start off with a thing that everybody knows out there. You can join in and start singing. Matter of fact, it’ll sound better if you’d stand up for your country and your beliefs and start singing. And if you don’t, fuck yer!” He then calls out, “Nice and loud, nice and loud” to the band, before starting the set off with a short feedback rendition of ‘God Save The Queen’. Mitch Mitchell then plays the introduction to ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, but the squeals coming from Jimi’s guitar indicate that he already seems to be experiencing some equipment trouble. Jimi only sings the first verse of the song before bringing it to an end. This was a song that Jimi had used extensively as a show opener back in 1968, but which he rarely played now.
Without any introduction the band then launch into ‘Spanish Castle Magic’, which Jimi ends in howls of feedback. His amp is now being plagued by a foreign voice and xylophone music comes from his speakers. “As I said before, thanks a lot for coming. We’d like to get into another song that we did about, er, in the year of 1883. And, er, I think it’s pretty [true]… today, if you can dig it.” Meanwhile the crews are trying desperately to eliminate the radio signals, a problem that annoyed Jimi more than anything. Trying not to let it bother him too much, he proceeds to count up the guitar neck with his fingers, looking for the chord that would start his next song – a little joke that he often did to amuse his audience. He then proceeds with ‘All Along The Watchtower’, but is still experiencing equipment trouble. “Er, we’re having a tiny bit [of] trouble with the equipment, hold on a moment, one more second, buy your hot dogs or whatever.” The crowd start shouting for ‘Voodoo Child’, Jimi replies: “Yeah, we’ll do that towards the… next time.” Adjusting the uni-vibe for the next number, ‘Machine Gun’, he comments: “Yeah, there’s a whole lot of head games go along sometimes, and sometimes they leak out, as a word they use their powers and so forth, and put it on header games on other people, which we call WAR. And so I’d like to dedicate this one to, er, all the soldiers that are fighting in Birmingham, all the skinheads” which evokes a reaction from the audience.
“… All the, yeah, well, you know what I mean, you know, yeah right, Amen. All the soldiers fighting in Bournemouth, London. Oh yeah, all the soldiers fighting in Vietnam, like I almost forgot, man. So many wars going on.”
Three minutes into the ‘Machine Gun’, the radio interference re-emerges — this time because of the security walkie-talkies: “Security personnel, security personnel, are you receiving over?” However, Jimi seems unconcerned at the interruption this time and continues to play. Indeed, in a strange way, the voice seemed to fit in with the song. After about nine minutes, Jimi stops playing and Mitch fills in with a four-minute drum solo. Jimi comes back in, and for the following ten minutes there is a jam which features some incredible guitar work. However, this version of the song remains inferior to the one played during Jimi’s Band Of Gypsys concert, back on New Year’s Day at the Fillmore, when ‘Machine Gun’ received its live debut. As the song comes to a close and the decibel level lowers, it becomes clear that the radio interference problem has still not been solved. This time, Jimi has to contend with a male opera singer coming through the bank of speakers! Looking back at his amplifiers in disgust, he brings the song to a sharp stop. Gerry Stickells and Gene McFadden race around the stage trying to locate the problem. Jimi apologies to the audience: “Listen, it’s gonna take a time er, to, like, get into it, because we’re having little difficulties here and there. But, like, if you can hold on a little bit, I think we can all get it together, all right? ‘Cause I’m gonna stay here all night until somebody moves.” “Yeah, right!” shouts the audience, with a cheer.
Somebody shouts to shut the camera off. Jimi remarks: “I just want to get to my old lady at three o’clock.” Confusion reigns, with the camera crews shouting at each other and amplifiers frantically being changed. Jimi changes guitars to his Gibson Flying V and, after a slight delay and tune up, continues with ‘Lover Man’. The crew seems to have finally managed to sort out the problem and Jimi feels much happier with the sound. He dismisses the last forty minutes and decides to start the whole concert again. “Okay we ought to start all over again. Hello, how are you doing England? Glad to see you.
We’ll do a thing called ‘Freedom’.” Jimi has now settled down to engage in some fine playing and was starting to sound more fluent. Without a pause he goes straight into ‘Red House,’ which was possibly the highlight of the entire concert. The audience start to react favourable, now that the equipment had been sorted out, and Jimi is able to really play for the first time since the concert started. The crowd show their appreciation and all of the first few rows take to their feet cheering and clapping at the end of the song. Turning to Mitch, Jimi says: “Try that Dolly Dagger, okay? We’re gonna try to do this song now, it’s called, em, ‘Dolly Dagger’ and it’s, er, one of the things that we’ll try to put on our new LP.” Meanwhile the audience at the front of the stage are still standing. Jimi is asked to request that they all sit down: “Oh yeah, somebody wants, er, people in the front row to sit down. I think its compliments of the hills. Don’t forget, you can’t fly off the top of those hills, don’t forget that.” The band then launch into ‘Dolly Dagger’ — a completely new song that had only been performed once before during Jimi’s concert in Maui, Hawaii.
At the end of the song, he changes guitars, back to his Stratocaster, and tells Mitch and Billy: “We’ll try to do that, er, rock ‘n’ roll tune, okay?” Then, to the audience: “Very sorry for tuning up, but, er, you know we do that… to protect your ears. That’s why we don’t play so loud, you know. And, er, cowboys are the only ones who wanna stay in tune anyway. I’m so glad you all have patience though, ’cause I don’t. I’d like to do this slow blues.” Again, Jimi tries out a relatively new song, ‘Midnight Lightning’. As the song ends, Jimi immediately hits the long feedback note for the more familiar ‘Foxy Lady’. “This is dedicated to Linda. To the cat right there with the silver face… (Nik Turner of Hawkwind) Dedicated to Kirsten, Karen and that little four-year-old girl over there with the yellow panties on. And I’d like to say thank you for the last three years. One of these days we’ll get it together again. Thanks for showing up and you’re outta site, if you had the same old songs, you’d be ready to stop.” Halfway through the song, the radio interference comes back with a vengeance. Now Jimi is getting all kind of voices coming through the speakers. He stops playing while Mitch and Billy carry on with the beat. The problem again seems to be solved and Jimi continues to play. He doesn’t seem to let it bother him, riding the song out with some theatrical showmanship, playing the guitar between his legs and performing an extended solo with his teeth.
“You all wanna hear all those little songs, man? Damn man, we was trying to get some other things together. I just woke up about two minutes ago… I think we’ll play, play something a little more familiar. ‘Cause I ain’t came yet myself, I don’t know about you, but I ain’t came, you know. There, 1 came, thank you very much, good night!” Jimi continues with ‘Message To Love’, after which he adjusts his uni-vibe for ‘Land Of The New Rising Sun’. In the second verse, his improvised lines, “Coming back to England, thank you baby for making so easy,” suggest that he must have been pleased with his first concert in England for almost 18 months.
Bringing the song to a rather abrupt end, Mitch starts the drum intro for ‘Ezy Ryder’, after which it’s straight into a real crowd-pleaser — ‘Hey Joe’ — which included snatches of ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘English Country Garden’. Jimi draws the concert to a close with ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ and, finally, another relatively new song, ‘In From The Storm’. During this song, Jimi was looking very tired as he tried to squeeze notes from his guitar. Then, after an hour and fifty minutes, it was all over. “Thank you for being so patient. Maybe one of these days [we’ll] smoke a joint again, I really hope so, right? Thank you very much. And peace and happiness and all the other good shit.” With that, Jimi takes his guitar off over his head and lets it fall to the floor with a crash.
.Jimi’s ‘Cry Of Love’ were supported on the Sunday by Joan Baez, Donovan & Open Road, Leonard Cohen & The Army, Richie Havens, Moody Blues, Pentangle, Good News, Jethro Tull and Ralph McTell, with MC Jeff Dexter [Review courtesy of Tony Brown’s – Hendrix: A Visual Documentary, Ominibus Press, 1992]
Isle of Wight was a posthumous live album by Jimi Hendrix, first released in November 1971 by Polydor. The album documents Hendrix’s performance at the Isle of Wight Festival on August 30, 1970; his last performance in England before his death in September. The album was engineered by Carlos Ohlms (a British based engineer). The cover photo is from Berlin. This LP might not have the entire concert but it does have the best sound in my opinion.
The Isle Of Wight LP is my favourite Hendrix live album as it was the first live material that I ever heard Jimi play as a teenager. Of course, I have listened to a multitude of live Hendrix recordings since but nothing can replace the exhilaration I felt when I heard Jimi playing at this legendary concert, alongside Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell.
I have since acquired a Japanese vinyl pressing and various CD releases for this concert (see right) but still turn back to my trusty Polydor release when choosing to revisit this performance.
This post consists of a rip taken from my ‘pristine’ vinyl pressing at 320kps and includes full album artwork for both LP and CD releases plus label scans. The review above was taken from Tony Brown’s book entitled “Hendrix: The Visual Documentary” released in 1992 and most of the photos displayed here were sourced from the same reference.