Thank you very much for showing up, man. Y’all really beautiful and outtasight… It has been a long time hasn’t it.
With mounting pressure on Jimi Hendrix to complete his long awaited follow up to 1969’s Electric Ladyland, to embark on a European tour just when his next album was a mere three weeks away from completion simply didn’t make any sense, except for Mike Jeffrey, Jimi’s manager, who coerced the guitarist into putting the LP on hold in order to bring in some much needed revenue, and by all accounts, Hendrix was more than happy to perform at The Isle Of Wight Festival in England. What he wasn’t happy with was having been booked to perform further dates in Sweden, Denmark and Germany.
Arriving in England on 27th August, 1970, Hendrix was later flown by helicopter to the festival where, as usual, there were considerable delays between acts. This meant that Jimi, Mitch Mitchell (drums) and Billy Cox (bass) didn’t get on stage until well after midnight, by which time Hendrix was weary and, based on visual footage, disinterested. Numerous equipment problems didn’t help matters either. Jimi’s guitar kept falling out of tune, as if to reflect his overall state of mind.
Jimi hadn’t played in Britain for eighteen months, nor had he released much in the way of new music, so one can imagine the trepidation he must have felt before the gig. But instead of putting in one his most spirited performances, Isle Of Wight, despite some brilliant moments, remains one of Hendrix’s most lacklustre and wanting in terms of inspiration.
The first evidence of this was issued in November 1971 in the UK as, you guessed it, Isle Of Wight. On the surface, one could say that the LP was an attempt to at least partly document Hendrix’s final show in England, however the reality is that it was little more than a cynical cash-grab by Jeffrey, eager to make as much money from his deceased client as he could.
Strangely, the album begins with a slow, languid and desultory “Midnight Lightning,” a blues song Jimi had been tinkering with for some time and rarely heard in his live sets. Perhaps realising that he might be putting the crowd to sleep, he breaks out into “Foxy Lady,” followed by a lively “Lover Man,” another (relatively) new song he was considering for his impending double LP.
“Okay, we’re gonna start all over again. How ya doin’ England? Glad to see ya. We’ll do a thing called Freedom.” “Freedom” is one of the more exciting numbers he performed on this night, during which his playing and singing are brusque and full of verve. Mitch and Cox are also in fine form, as if the proton energy pills they swallowed earlier had finally kicked in.
On “All Along The Watchtower,” never an easy song to play at the best of times, Hendrix sounds frustrated and tired, though not so “In From The Storm,” where Hendrix, no doubt grappling with exhaustion, gives what was the last song of the night his absolute all.
Available briefly on CD in the ‘80s, Isle Of Wight has long since been superseded by 2002’s Blue Wild Angel, a double disc release that documents the entire show (edits notwithstanding), warts and all, making it a far superior, if somewhat draining, experience.
If it wasn’t for Hendrix’s death the following month, it’s highly unlikely that anything from Isle Of Wight would have ever found its way onto vinyl, something which doesn’t explain why copies of the original CD continue to fetch weighty prices (Japanese pressings particularly). Therefore why the fuss? For a start these are the original mixes as prepared by Carlos Ohlms, and, if you listen carefully, a few seconds of music not included on Blue Wild Angel are included.
In other words, one for the more serious collector.