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Why the Beatles never played the Isle of Wight
By Stephen Stafford
BBC Hampshire & Isle of Wight

The Beatles
The Beatles never played any live gigs on the Isle of Wight

Just imagine - The Beatles, the band who defined the 1960s, playing a spontaneous gig at the legendary Isle of Wight festival at the height of the 'flower power' era.

Of course it never happened - but it may not be that far-fetched an idea.

In fact, three of the 'Fab Four' were actually in the audience at the 1969 festival at Woodside Bay.

And Beatles connections with the Isle of Wight go back before the festival era - before they were even famous.

Ticket to Ryde?

Geoff Wall is a Southampton-based music writer and expert on the Beatles.

He explained: "In his autobiography, Mike McGear - Paul McCartney's brother - describes how both McCartney and John Lennon hitch-hiked down from Liverpool for a holiday, staying with him when he worked in a pub in Ryde."

THE BEATLES AND THE ISLE OF WIGHT TIMELINE
The Beatles
c1960 - Paul McCartney and John Lennon spend summer holiday in Ryde
April 1965 - Ticket to Ride released
June 1967 - When I'm Sixty-four includes the line ...Every summer we can rent a cottage, In the Isle of Wight, if it's not too dear ...
August 1969 - John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr attend Isle of Wight festival at Woodside Bay
December 1970 - The Beatles officially split up
1973 - Ringo Starr is back on the island for the filming of That'll be the Day which also stars Keith Moon and David Essex
March 2010 - Paul McCartney announced as headline act for Isle of Wight Festival

Whether that holiday in 1960 was the inspiration for 'Ticket to Ryde/Ticket to Ride' is a source of conjecture among Beatles historians - others maintain it describes cards showing a clean bill of health carried by prostitutes in Hamburg where the Beatles had played early in their career.

Either way, in 1965 the Mayor of Ryde knew a marketing opportunity when he saw one.

He sent the Fab Four first class train tickets to entice them to the island.

John Lennon reportedly reacted with a typically caustic quip.

Mike Plumbley has documented the history of the Isle of Wight music scene and insists not having the Beatles was not down to it being a musical backwater.

He said: "Promoters on the island would have loved to have had them, given how big they were.

"It was a really vibrant scene - it was a holiday destination and all kinds of people played here - Eric Clapton, Lulu, the Moody Blues, the Rolling Stones."

Speculating on why the Beatles never crossed the Solent, he said: "They were too successful, too big and too expensive for the clubs at the time of the classic tours. As they got more famous, there just weren't the venues on the Isle of Wight.

"I think that's all it down the luck of the game, timing and finance - that's purely why they didn't come."

Rock festival

By the time the Isle of Wight hosted its legendary festivals, the Beatles may have been "more popular than Jesus", but had not played a scheduled live show since San Francisco in August 1966.

Mike Plumbley explained: "The Foulk brothers [the festival organisers] didn't have enough money to book them - affording the Beatles at that time would have been astronomical."

John Lennon
John Lennon was filmed in the VIP enclosure watching Bob Dylan

However at the second festival in 1969, three Beatles were in the audience to see Bob Dylan, who had been persuaded to come to the island after a self-imposed break from live performances.

Geoff Wall was also among the tens of thousands of festival-goers.

"They specifically went to see Bob Dylan - you've got to remember Bob Dylan was a huge cultural icon. He was the second messiah for a lot of people.

"The great and the good came along to see the reappearance of the great man - and sure enough in the VIP area was John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, looking up, almost star-struck, at Dylan in his white suit."

Mike Plumbley's research among islanders who worked at the festival reveals George Harrison had spent much of the previous week "just messing around with songs" with Dylan at Forelands Farm, Bembridge, and was joined by John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Ringo Starr.

During their island mini-break, there was also a remarkable doubles tennis match - Bob Dylan and John Lennon versus Ringo Starr and George Harrison.

Show stoppers

Playing tennis together is one thing, but - taking a flight of fantasy - would the three Beatles take to the stage to perform alongside Bob Dylan?

Of course, having the Beatles on the Isle of Wight festival stage would have been an iconic moment, not just for the festival but in the history of popular music.

Geoff Wall recalled: "There was always speculation there was was going to be a huge jam session."

Mike Plumbley said: "That would have been massive - at the time it would have been unbelievable. If you think about the standing of the Beatles and Dylan at the time, that would have been quite remarkable as an event - that wouldn't have been forgotten.

However, although festival goers may have gossiped and hoped, in the cold light of day, it was never very likely.

Geoff Wall said: "In hindsight, it was never going to happen.

"Dylan had rehearsed an hour with his band, and that was it - 'get on your bus and go' - a great end to a great event."

Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney was the only Beatle not at the 1969 festival

Mike Plumbley agreed: "No, I don't think it was likely. Dylan's band were playing with him. Harrison didn't rehearse with Dylan in the Forelands barn."

Added to that, Paul McCartney was in London as his wife Linda was having their first baby, Mary - so he had a good reason for not being on the Isle of Wight.

Geoff Wall put the lack of a festival appearance in the context of the Beatles' history. He said: "Since the Revolver and Sergeant Pepper albums, the Beatles had metamorphosed from live shows to being a studio-based band, not to mention the gradual breakdown in personal relationships which meant their disintegration as a band was already underway."

Nevertheless the music at Bob Dylan's after-gig party was an exclusive preview of the Abbey Road album, with recording acetates brought by George Harrison.

Return of Macca

So in the event, the nearest the Beatles got to playing on the Isle of Wight were several gigs in Southampton and Portsmouth at the height of the 'Beatlemania' era.

Ironically it is the Beatle who was absent in 1969 who is the one to return to the resurrected Isle of Wight Festival.

Paul McCartney headlined the 2010 festival at Seaclose Park in Newport on Sunday, 13 June.

It may have taken more than 40 years, but the songs of the Beatles - now classic anthems - were finally heard live on the Isle of Wight.




SEE ALSO
Island rocks to festival line-up
14 Jun 10 |  Arts & Culture
In Pictures: IOW Festival 2010
15 Jun 10 |  Arts & Culture
In Pictures: Isle of Wight Festival 1969
13 Jun 10 |  Hampshire
Sir Paul unveils outdoor UK shows
02 Mar 10 |  Wales
Macca 'revisits' Beatles at gigs
26 Nov 09 |  Entertainment
Archive: Brian Epstein on the Beatles
16 Mar 10 |  Panorama

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