The 8th National Jazz, Pop, Ballads and Blues Festival held on the second weekend of August 1968 is one of the least remembered of all the late 1960s outdoor events. It’s possibly because it had such a diverse line-up that it lacked some of the musical focus that other festivals managed to achieve. Yet even a cursory rundown of the artists that performed shows it to be one worth looking back upon.
This was the festival that began life as the Richmond Jazz Festival in 1960, morphed into the Jazz and Blues Festival in 1963 and had in 1964 played host to The Rolling Stones and in 1966 Cream played their second ever gig at the new Festival site in Windsor.
In 1968 the festival moved to Kempton Park, more at home to horse racing than music fans, and as its new name suggests it tried to cover just about every musical base. Friday was definitely the ‘Pop’ night with Herd, Peter Frampton’s band as headliners along with Marmalade, who had just had their first hit with ‘Lovin’ Things’, and “The Killer” himself, Jerry Lee Lewis, closed the show. Definitely not pop was the Rory Gallagher led blues band, Taste who had only just moved to England from Ireland. They would become ubiquitous on the circuit of clubs, universities and festivals over the next few years before Rory broke up the band to go solo with a new trio.
Saturday afternoon was given over to jazz with Jon Hendricks topping the bill along with Ronnie Scott’s Quintet and opening the proceedings was the always inventive Mike Westbrook Band.
Deep Purple were another daylight hours act on Saturday, this was the very earliest incarnation of the band that had just finished recording their debut album, Shades of Deep Purple; their set was much of their debut and included both ‘Hush’ and ‘Hey Joe’. Their line-up at the time was Rod Evans on vocals, Jon Lord on organ, guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore, Nicky Simper on bass and Ian Paice on drums.
Joe Cocker was there with the Grease Band and was a relative unknown having released his first single, ‘Marjorine’ in May that barely scrapped into the UK Top.50. However, within a few months everyone had heard of him when he topped the charts with his cover of Lennon & McCartney’s ‘With A Little Help From My Friends.’
Two other bands that fall into the long forgotten category are the Nite People, a Prog Rock band from Bournemouth who never managed to get above support band status and Clouds. Clouds released their debut album Scrapbook in 1969 and were also featured in the famous Island sampler, You Can All Join In that was released in early 1969, featuring Free, Traffic, Fairport Convention, Tramline and Jethro Tull – all artists that appeared at Kempton Park.
Before the big names on Saturday evening was Tyrannosaurus Rex in the pre-electric folk days with Marc and Steve Took sitting cross-legged on the stand delicately doing ‘Deborah’ that had briefly flirted with the charts a couple of months earlier.
Ten Years After, a year before their appearance at Woodstock that catapulted them to worldwide fame were next on stage; they had released their debut album in October 1967 and were very much a blues band. The Jeff Beck Group followed TYA and this was a band to savour. Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on bass, the late, lamented Nicky Hopkins on piano and Micky
Waller on drums. Their classic album, Truth had just been released and the tracks from it, including, ‘The Shape of Things’, ‘Beck’s Bolero’, ‘Morning Dew’ and ‘You Shook Me’, made up much of their set.
Also appearing was the Nice, whose awesome rendition of ‘America’ was on the UK charts. Played live this featured Keith Emerson plunging knives between the keys of his Hammond B3 to sustain the notes while he rocked the hell out of Leonard Bernstein’s classic from West Side Story. While it sounds exciting on record, experiencing it being performed live was something that no one who saw it will ever forget. Topping the bill was the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, whose single ‘Fire’ had just got to No.1 on the UK charts.
Sunday opened with a singer called Sonya, followed by Al Stewart who had released his debut Bedsitter Images the previous year. Folk-Rock band, Eclection had just released their debut album and this band that featured both Trevor Lucas and Gerry Conway who would later form Fotheringay (Lucas married Sandy Denny), was excellent. They have long been forgotten but anyone who saw them at the time or heard that first album remembers them fondly.
Eclection were followed by Fairport Convention, whose line-up at the time was arguably its best, Sandy Denny and Ian Matthews on vocals, Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol on guitars, Ashley Hutchings on bass and Martin Lamble on drums. The band had just released their debut album, but that album was recorded with a different line-up. They had already started recording their second album, What We Did On Our Holidays and much of their set was taken from this new material.
The last act in the afternoon session was The Incredible String Band who were another, along with TYA and Joe Cocker that would play at Woodstock the following year.
Tramline opened the evening session. Their cover of Traffic’s ‘Pearly Queen’ was on the Island sampler on You Can All Join In. Their main claim to fame is that their guitarist was the excellent Micky Moody who later played with Whitesnake. They were followed by Dynaflow Blues, who took their name from an old Johnny Shines song, but about whom we know absolutely nothing.
The evening progressed with Chicken Shack featuring the excellent Stan Webb on guitar and Christine Perfect, who would later join Fleetwood Mac and marry John Mcvie, on piano. Barely known at the time was the next band to play, Jethro Tull, who were in the middle of recording their debut album, This Was and whose set was made up of this amazing record, including the brilliant ‘Song For Jeffrey’.
Spencer Davis Group feature Eddie Hardin and Pete York followed Tull, a tough ask, and then it was time for John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. The band that has more incarnations than most any other in the history of the blues and at this time featured Colin Allen on drums, Steve Thompson on bass and Mick Taylor on guitar. Eleven months later Taylor made his debut at Hyde Park with the Rolling Stones. Two weeks after appearing at the Kempton Festival Mayall’s band went into the studio to record Blues from Laurel Canyon.
To close the festival was Traffic, Messrs, Winwood, Capaldi, Mason and Wood had chalked up three top 10 singles in the UK and managed to pull off the near enough impossible feat of producing incredibly catchy singles that were at the same time cool. They had already recorded their second, self-titled, album that would come out in October 1968. Their set included ‘Pearly Queen’, ‘Feelin’ Alright’, and ‘40,000 Headmen’ which all appeared on the LP; naturally, their set closed with ‘Dear Mr Fantasy’ from their first album.
And there you have it. The long-forgotten, 8th National Jazz, Pop, Ballads and Blues Festival at Kempton Park Racecourse; a veritable curate’s egg of a festival, but one that would have been a treat to attend.
We’ve recreated the long deleted sampler, You Can All Join In, minus a couple of unavailable tracks and added tracks that were played at the festival.