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The Long Forgotten 8th National Jazz, Pop, Ballads And Blues Festival

Held on the second weekend of August 1968, this is one of the least remembered of all the late 1960s outdoor events. It shouldn’t be.

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Arthur Brown Performing Live in 1968
Festival headliner Arthur Brown performing live in 1968; Photo: Ron Howard/Redferns

The 8th National Jazz, Pop, Ballads and Blues Festival was held on the second weekend of August 1968, and it’s one of the least remembered of all the late 1960s outdoor events. Yet even a cursory rundown of the artists that performed there shows it’s one worth looking back upon.

The festival itself began 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. In 1966, Cream played their second ever gig at the new festival site in Windsor.

In 1968, the festival moved to Kempton Park, more a home for horse racing than music fans. As the festival’s new name suggested, the organizers tried to cover just about every musical base.

Friday

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.” “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

Saturday afternoon was given over to jazz with Jon Hendricks topping the bill along with Ronnie Scott’s Quintet. Opening the proceedings was the always inventive Mike Westbrook Band.

Deep Purple were another daylight hours act on Saturday. They had just finished recording their debut album, Shades of Deep Purple, and their set was composed of those tracks, including “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. He was a relative unknown at the time, having released his first single, “Marjorine,” that May. 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, Tyrannosaurus Rex performed. They were still in their pre-electric folk days, with Marc and Steve Took sitting cross-legged on the stand, delicately doing “Deborah,” a song that had briefly flirted with the charts a couple of months earlier.

Saturday Night

Ten Years After were next on stage. They had released their debut album of blues songs in October 1967. The Jeff Beck Group followed, a band that featured 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. It was quite a sight: Keith Emerson plunged 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 incredible. Topping the bill at the 8th National Jazz, Pop, Ballads and Blues Festival? That was the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, whose single “Fire” had just got to No.1 on the UK charts.

Sunday Afternoon

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 featured both Trevor Lucas and Gerry Conway, who would later form Fotheringay. They were excellent. They have long been forgotten, but anyone who saw them at the time or heard their 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. At that point, the band had just 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.

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 their guitarist: The excellent Micky Moody. (He would later play 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.

Sunday Night

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. Their set was made up of tunes from that record, including the brilliant “Song For Jeffrey.”

Spencer Davis Group, featuring Eddie Hardin and Pete York, followed Tull. (A tough ask.) And then it was time for John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. The band had more incarnations than most any other in the history of the blues. At this time, however, it 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.

Traffic closed the festival. By this point, 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 also cool. They had already recorded their second album, which would eventually 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.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Claudia Staehr

    August 10, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    See p. 22 of Herb Staehr’s book: “Alvin Lee & Ten Years After-Visual History” for a full write-up. Also a photo of the complete handbill. Here is the Facebook page for the book: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alvin-Lee-and-Ten-Years-After-Visual-History-Herb-Staehr/148739255176995?fref=ts

  2. Mark Fuller

    October 17, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    re, the mysterious Sonya………could that be a typo ??? because, as Wikipedia (I know) says of Sonja Kristina, Curved Air’s vocalist-to-be, ” By 1968, …… Kristina was helping to run, and performing at, the Wednesday evening sessions at London’s Troubadour Folk Club. She was generally known on the folk scene as “Sonja” having previously appeared several times on the British children’s TV show “Song and Story” under that name”….either way, what a time to be alive and gig-attending……

  3. Jerry D. Withers

    August 9, 2016 at 11:58 am

    Now I’ll have to check my copy of You Can All Join In (which was the first Island album I ever owned! 🙂 ) to see which tracks got left off the playlist. [I’m guessing “What’s That Sound” (actual title, “For What It’s Worth”) by the pre-Spooky Tooth band Art, and “Gasoline Alley” by Wynder K. Frog (aka Derek “Blue” Weaver, if I recall correctly). And speaking of Eclection, why no mention of their chief composer, Georg Hultgreen (years before he became Georg Kajanus [Sailor, Data, Noir])? Just asking… 🙂

  4. Kevin

    August 9, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    Thanks so much for this page. I was only 12, here in the States at the time. I finally got to see Traffic on their last tour in 75. I just took my 2 grandsons to see Jeff Beck (for the 2nd time) two weeks ago. So, with luck, in 50 years, they’ll still be saying “I saw Jeff Beck”…and in a strange way….this festival will still be living on. Happy to say that one grandson is also listening to Traffic.

  5. Tony Coward

    September 17, 2016 at 11:39 pm

    Sunbury. Came from Sheffield to see Joe Cocker ,Did. What we had seen in our local pubs Barely eighteen,up to our ankles in mud ,midnight. Arthur Brown performed “Fire”, appearing from a crane via the stage, on a zip wire to do his stuff,.Amazing, thanks Arthur, Then a pause, shall we go back to car and sleep? Cream had just broken up,calamity! Then unmistakable Sawf London drawl of Ginger Baker announced, I,ve got a surprise! It,s Eric…… Henceforward a performance of vertuosity, 47mins, yet to be exceeded, Drum solo’s definative. Best night I ever had, thanks Peter and Eric, I was there.

  6. Larry

    August 9, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    Traffic and Spencer Davis on the same bill. I wonder if SW sat in with Spencer Davis.

  7. Philip Lovgreen

    August 10, 2017 at 12:44 am

    I can remember all this as if it was yesterday. Happy days, wonderful, peaceful times. If only we could go back.

  8. Philip Lovgreen

    August 10, 2017 at 12:50 am

    Talking of the Spencer David Group, does anyone remember the film ‘Here we go around the mulberry bush’. I don’t think it’s ever been on tv, came out in late 67 or early 68. I saw it at the Odeon in Sutton, Surrey. I bought the soundtrack LP of it. It was about a lad (Barry Evans) who was lusting after a girl (Adrienne Posta). The group actually featured in it but it was after Stevie Winwood had left.

  9. jon

    August 10, 2017 at 10:53 pm

    was this the one where one of the covered walkways collapsed?

    • Bob Martin

      August 11, 2018 at 3:08 am

      It certainly was Jon, this was my very first music festival and it occurred when Eric Clapton(who was only advertised as “With Special Guest”) joined Ginger Baker & Phil Seaman (Battle of the Drums) on stage, a group of fans then surged forward to get a better view on top of a temporary corrugated iron covered walkway and the roof then collapsed. I believe several fans were badly hurt and unfortunately hospitalised that night. Otherwise it was a fantastic night topped off with the brilliant Traffic.

  10. Bob Martin

    August 15, 2018 at 12:10 am

    It’s very strange that the article writer Richard Havers, makes no mention of Saturday nights appearance of Ginger Baker with the late Phil Seaman giving us the “Battle of the Drums” performance and then the unscheduled(and well kept secret)appearance of Eric Clapton slinking on from the shadows to join them on stage (I had such an Awesome Night) but also doesn’t say anything of the unfortunate temporary walkway collapsing at the end of Eric & Gingers act and the start of Arthur Browns performance, where many fans were hurt and hospitalised.

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