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FREEDOM

Isle of Wight Festival 1970
Over Half a Million Europeans Rocked
“I was one of them” - Simone Bergmann

This exhibition of photographs by a young, German woman allows us a glimpse of that wonderful coming together of European youth and lets us imagine a return to happier and healthier communal living.

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"I had no idea what to expect. I packed my new camera into a large plastic bag, along with ten black and white films, three Biba t-shirts from London, a toothbrush, and a second-hand American farm jacket. I had a heartache and nobody was waiting for me at home, so I set out all alone to join the festival. The Isle of Wight is located in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream off the south coast of England and was once the Eldorado of elegant sailing regattas, a favourite of retired British naval officers. I was rather heading there to join a gathering of music lovers. On the country road leading to the festival, I encountered a stream of young hippies with sleeping bags, blankets, mats, and tents. The festival ticket was priced at three pounds (30 marks), which was a lot for me at the time, but reasonable for top-class acts such as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, The Who, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, and 40 other bands.

"When I entered the festival grounds, I was stunned to see how many rock fans were already crowding in front of the stage, almost all of them had long hair and a look of sheer joy on their faces. They had come from every part of Europe – Sweden, France, and Italy – yet here they hugged, intermingling effortlessly, they knew that they were soul mates.

"The last day of the festival was a Sunday. The sun was shining and thousands of people had climbed down from the cliffs to the sea, stripped off their clothes and lay naked on the sand. The atmosphere was calm and relaxed. There was nothing sexual about it, no one craved attention. Everyone just seemed to belong to themselves, feeling the sun's rays on their skin. Then something transpired that still today I am glad and grateful to have experienced and captured with my camera. No external signal or sign announced the event. It just happened. An invisible wave of energy roused the people and drove them into the sea." – Simone Bergmann

Newspapers recently reported that after the government’s post-lockdown roadmap was published UK summer festivals were selling out.

In the summer of 1970, a forerunner of these, the third Isle of Wight Festival, played to an audience of over half-a-million. It was to be the largest such gathering ever of young people from all over Europe and beyond, drawn by the chance to hear music legends live.

Talk of liberation and freedom was everywhere and sandal-wearing hippies with unisex clothes and long hair became symbols of the age. Peace and love and communal living were keys to an ideal way of life.

Revolutionary slogans were painted on walls - the 68-ers “Sous les pavés, la plage” (“Under the paving stones, the beach”) for instance  - and the old order was being challenged: students in France, anti-war protestors in the States and those marching for race, gender and sexual equality the world over were making their voices heard.

These movements have now moved to the mainstream, so much so that our calendar has days, weeks and even months when we rightly mark each of these causes in turn.

Issues like saving the planet were already starting to be talked and even sung about - Joni Mitchell performed the eco-anthem ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ at the festival - and look! the EU now has the ‘Big Green Deal’.

As a filmmaker at the festival said: “It’s a worldwide phenomenon among the young. They’re all seeking something - a kind of communal experience that is outside our society. Nobody should want to stop it, or ever hope to, because this thing is sweeping a whole generation.”

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Organised with the Goethe Institute London.

 
Simone Bergmann