Festival Friday: The 1970 Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music

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The 1970 Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music, held at the Royal Bath and West Showground in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England from June 27th-29th, was a truly progressive event indeed.

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A lineup that included a diverse assortment of heavy hitters from the likes of Pink Floyd, Hot Tuna and Dr. John drew a crowd of 150,000 people. The pure vastness of this audience overwhelmed the promoters, as they quickly became understaffed, and tied up the local roadways to the point of prolonged performance delays.

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In an effort to entertain the increasingly restless and board audience during one such traffic-induced delay, an unannounced Donovan strolled out to chat with the crowd and play an impromptu set, much like John B. Sebastian at Woodstock the year before.

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Donovan

Meanwhile, a heavy presence of The Hell’s Angels and torrential rain complicated things. In fact, the bad weather cut Jefferson Airplane’s set shot and completely cancelled The Moody Blues’ performance entirely.

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The Flock

Despite the bad weather and delays, the festival did produce some highly memorable moments, like Pink Floyd’s debut of the “Atom Heart Mother’ suite with a full brass band and choir as well as one of Led Zeppelin’s best performances of their career (which included a smoking medley of ‘50s rock standards).

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Led Zeppelin
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Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention

Meanwhile, an alternative festival was set up on the back of a flatbed truck and powered by some dodgy generators nearby the main event. This was a form of protest against ticketed pop festivals, which some had viewed as a commercialization of the counterculture. This was becoming a regular occurrence at the time, especially with the likes of anarchist acid rockers like The Pink Fairies and Hawkwind. This specific ‘anti-festival’ featured these two groups as well as Yes and Genesis.

It also must be mentioned that DJ/Godly music fan John Peel was also a co-master of ceremonies. Any festival with Peel’s inclusion is an event to take note of.

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The Pink Fairies at the DIY Free Stage

Who Played:

  • Santana
  • The Flock
  • Led Zeppelin
  • Hot Tuna
  • Jefferson Airplane
  • Country Joe McDonald
  • Coloseeum
  • The Byrds
  • The Moody Blues*
  • John
  • Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention
  • Canned Heat
  • It’s a Beautiful Day
  • Steppenwolf
  • Johnny Winter
  • John Mayall with Peter Green
  • Pink Floyd
  • Pentangle
  • Fairport Convention
  • Keef Hartley
  • The Maynard Ferguson Big Band
  • Donovan

*Advertised but didn’t perform

Audio:

The festival was indeed recorded, but like usual, nothing official has been released. While it has been extensively bootlegged over the years, mainly from audience tapes, rumors of professional grade, soundboard tapes being left in some engineer’s closet abound.

While waiting perhaps fruitlessly for a future official release, there are some okay-to-decent audience boots that are easily available online. Some full sets as well as various artists collections exist, including the below:

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Entire sets by Floyd, Zeppelin and Johnny Winter as well as Zappa seem to be the most popular and easiest to track down.

Here are few tracks of some of the better quality Zeppelin recordings:

Here’s Pink Floyd’s entire performance:

Johnny Winter’s complete set

Frank Zappa’s complete set

Hot Tuna’s complete set

The Byrd’s complete performance:

John Mayall and Peter Green:

A track from Canned Heat’s performance:

And perhaps most interesting to me, an excerpt of Colosseum’s performance

Video:

The only official video that has so far been released, was the performance of “Atom Heart Mother” by Pink Floyd on the recent Early Years box. While I can’t find a stream of that particular version of that video, clips of that performance and other songs from their set exist on YouTube in black and white and in subpar quality.

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Atom Heart Mother:

A short clip of Led Zeppelin:

Some 8mm home movie footage:

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Check back next week when we sail back to the American shores.

 

 

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