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 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 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.
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 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.
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.