When the 6th National Jazz and Blues Festival was held on the last weekend of July 1966, it was the first to be held at Windsor, a little further west than its original home in Richmond, Surrey. As usual, the line-up was eclectic and without doubt one of the best aggregations of artists so far gathered together in the UK at a festival.
The festival – held at Balloon Meadow in Windsor from July 29 to 31 – featured the first major performance by Cream, billed as Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker. (They had only performed once together in public a few days earlier in Manchester.)
The National Jazz and Blues Festivals were important at the time because they offered many bands their first chance to play before thousands of fans rather than the hundreds they were used to in small clubs and halls in and around London (and further afield). In addition to the blues bands, there was – as you might expect from the festival’s name – plenty of jazz too. The line-up in 1966 included some of the biggest names in the country: Chris Barber, Ronnie Scott, Stan Tracey, and Tubby Hayes all performed.
Friday, July 29
The Friday night of the festival had traditionally been given over to some of the best young up and coming bands around. Second up after long forgotten Mark Barry were The Soul Agents, Rod Stewart’s former backing band who were a tried and trusted outfit that included Roger Pope, Dave Glover and Ian Duck. The group, along with Caleb Quaye, would later form Hookfoot and record four albums as well as backing Elton John on his early albums and singles.
Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band were on next. Although little more than a chart footnote, this band really was the epitome of the 1960s hard-working soul bands that played the circuit. They had just had their first hit single when they played at Windsor, but hit was a relative term as it only reached No.39 on the UK charts.
Following on were The Small Faces who had recently had a Top 3 hit with, “Sha-La-La-La-Lee” and were just about to release “All or Nothing” that topped the best seller list in the UK.
The Spencer Davis Group with Stevie Winwood on vocals and organ were the obvious choice as the Friday night headliner, having had two No.1 singles with “Keep On Running” and “Somebody Help Me” during the previous six months.
Saturday, July 30
Saturday’s line up was a mixture of jazz, blues and pop that included Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds, a band that included the brilliant guitarist Albert Lee and Dave Greenslade on organ. Gary Farr and The T-Bones were also in an afternoon slot before the estimable Jimmy James and The Vagabonds got the evening underway. James was originally from Jamaica and, like Geno Washington, was another hugely popular R&B and soul act on the 60s club circuit.
The Move was another of Saturday night’s favorites and, while their first hit, “Night of Fear” was five months away, they had earned their place on the bill from some outstanding live shows. Originally from Birmingham, they had a weekly residency at London’s Marquee Club where they appeared dressed in gangster suits. Roy Wood was on guitar and Carl Wayne their vocalist and they, along with the rest of the band, were brilliant performers. Producer Denny Cordell secured them a recording contract with Decca’s Deram label. Their first single was Roy Wood’s “Night of Fear,” which peaked at No.2 in late January 1967. (It was only kept from the top by The Monkees “I’m A Believer.”)
The Yardbirds were scheduled to play from 9.30 pm with a line up featuring Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Keith Relf, Jim McCarty and Chris Dreja. Their “Shape of Things” single had recently been a top 10 hit and their new record, Over Under Sideways Down had also charted. Sadly, they had to pull out at the last minute due to illness.
Saturday’s headliners were The Who, having already secured four top ten singles including “My Generation,” which had made No.2 on the UK chart. The band had already played over 100 gigs during the first half of the year and among the numbers they performed were “I Can’t Explain,” “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” “Substitute,” “A Legal Matter,” “I’m a Boy,” and “My Generation.”
Sunday, July 31
Sunday was a wet day and the afternoon was dedicated to jazz. The evening kicked off with The Alan Bown Set, with the brilliant Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames on at 8.15 pm.
They were followed, according to the evening’s running order, by The Cream. Their 40 minute set was played in front of 10,000 enthusiastic fans who braved the pouring rain. Among the numbers they played was “Toad,” which featured a 20-minute Ginger Baker solo that had the crowd roaring for more. Reports vary as to what else was performed, but it’s thought that they did “Meet Me At the Bottom,” “Spoonful,” “Steppin’ Out,” and “I’m So Glad.” This was Cream as blues powerhouse, the band that would become the model for countless others.
Next up were The Action before Georgie Fame was back on stage to perform with The Harry South Orchestra featuring Tubby Hayes.
And that was Windsor 1966, except for one more thing. In the Marquee tent at 9.15 was a band called Bluesology that had just signed to Fontana Records. They were from Pinner and featured a piano player and singer named Reg Dwight. Dwight’s song “Come Back Baby” came out just before the festival, but failed to bother the charts. It wouldn’t be long, of course, before he bothered them on a regular basis under a different name: Elton John.