Collectible Posters from the 1969-70 ‘American Invasion’ of the U.K.
Isle of Wight Festival August 1969: Bob Dylan – It was a real coup to land Dylan for the ’69 festival and various members of the rock aristocracy joined 500,000-plus fans to witness Dylan in action. This poster is oft-reproduce, but an original one would cost you $500 to $600. (Photo: moviepostermem.com)
The Beatles were at the vanguard of the “British Invasion” of America in the 1960s, a movement that embraced a slew of British bands that included The Rolling Stones, The Animals, the Dave Clark Five, etc. Memorabilia from this period is well collected. However, there was a two-way flow of talent back across the Atlantic as traditional blues artists, Motown ensembles and American acts such as The Beach Boys were frequently on tour in the U.K. In the later 1960s, rock music matured and out grew village halls, movie houses and theatres; it was the time of the festivals.
The purpose of this article is to look at the explosion of these music festivals in Britain, the American contribution to this phenomenon and to focus more specifically on the collectibility of posters from these great events.
Dylan Leads the Way
Bob Dylan had already completed two short tours in the U.K. in 1965 and ’66, but it was his appearance at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival that electrified the rock cognoscenti. For nearly three years, Dylan had become a virtual recluse. He neglected to participate at Woodstock but just months later headlined the IOW Festival. Various members of The Beatles and Stones came to see Dylan play. Indeed, rumours abounded that The Beatles were to join Dylan on stage. Although The Who closed the festival, the poster from the festival makes it very clear who the star attraction was. Fellow American acts, such as Ritchie Havens, Tom Paxton, Julie Felix, etc., ensured that a cosmopolitan atmosphere flourished backstage. Unfortunately, this poster has been heavily reproduced. Originals in sound condition will set you back $500 to $600.
Isle of Wight Festival August 1970: Jimi Hendrix – The proliferation of fakes keeps prices for this poster somewhat subdued, but an original will demand $400-$500. (Photo: moviepostermem.com)
‘Anything You Can Do….’ Hendrix Style
It was a difficult feat to match the ’69 IOW Festival but the promoters managed it in 1970. Not only did The Who return (playing a blistering “Tommy” set), but The Doors also made a rare U.K. appearance, too. A host of other American acts flew over, including Chicago, Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis, Sly & The Family Stone. The star attraction, however, was Jimi Hendrix. More than 600,000 festival-goers crammed onto the tiny island to witness the show. Hendrix appeared on Aug. 30, and it was a poignant occasion, as this would prove to be Hendrix’s last U.K. concert before his untimely death on Sept. 18, 1970. The poster for the ’70 IOW Festival has, again, been heavily reproduced. It is known as the “drummer boy” poster and was designed by artist David Roe. Good original examples retail for $400-$500.
The Year of the Festival: 1970
The IOW festival was the most important festival of the season in 1970, but a number of other festival events also took place that year in the U.K. Irrespective of the size of festival, it was almost de rigeur to have an American act in the line-up. One such event was the Phun City Festival (near Worthing) held in July. Organised by Mick Farren, the festival was bedevilled with problems (logistics not being a strong point of most Hippies). As no fencing was present, there was no way of charging fans, so Phun City effectively became a free festival. Most bands performed for free, including American garage rock icons MC5. The line-up at Phun can’t rival the IOW festivals, but this is a rare poster and will cost upwards of $900.
A larger (and better-organised) festival was the Bath Festival of Blues & Progressive Music in June of 1970. Though the collectibility of this poster hinges most on the presence of both Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, a phalanx of American acts graced the show: The Byrds, Canned Heat, Country Joe, Dr. John, Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf and Frank Zappa, among others. Both fakes and official reproductions from the original promoters can be found in the market but originals are extremely rare. Expect to pay well over $1,200 for one of these originals.
Phun City Festival July 1970: MC5 – A commercial event that lost its way in a haze of dope smoke & litigation… the Phun City Festival was the first British “free festival.” This rare poster and will cost upwards of $900. (Photo: moviepostermem.com)
Bath Festival June 1970: Zappa, Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, etc. – Almost 50-percent of the line-up for this iconic festival was American acts. Expect to pay well over $1,200 for one of these originals. (Photo: moviepostermem.com)
Hollywood Festival: Grateful Dead – While the Grateful Dead’s first appearance in Europe left some confused, the more prosaic attraction of Mungo Jerry’s “In The Summertime” was more in tune with the audiences’ tastes. Even in poor condition, a collector paid $1,000 for this piece. (Photo: moviepostermem.com)
One of the earliest festivals of the ’70 season was the Hollywood festival (held near Keele). Hollywood was noteworthy for being the first time that the Grateful Dead played in Europe. The audience were in most part somewhat bewildered by the Dead’s music but the event proceeded without incident. This poster for the event shows signs of wear. It is usual for original festival posters to be distressed, but even in this condition, a collector paid $1,000 for this piece.
As demand for rock music burgeoned and powers of amplification developed, so festivals on both sides of the Atlantic flourished. Whereas the mid-1960s witnessed a phenomenal period of success for British bands in the States, by 1969-70, a reciprocal wave of American acts flocked to the U.K. Most large festivals in Britain at this time were either headlined by an American band or else American acts figured heavily in the line-ups. Whilst American & British collectors do not solely collect according to nationalistic lines, nonetheless, a poster with both American and British talent is likely to have a wider catchment area of interest and, hence, greater value. Festivals by their very nature were outside events subject to the vagaries of nature and though poster print runs may have been large, the number of surviving examples of genuine festival posters is small.
Judicious collecting of this genre of rock posters is likely to prove rewarding!
Mike Bloomfield has been collecting cinema & music memorabilia, with a particular focus on U.K. concert memorabilia & quad cinema posters from the 1960s and ’70s, for 30 years. He runs the two MEM Music and Cinema Memorabilia websites—RockPopMem and MoviePosterMem holds private exhibitions too, provides insurance valuations, a consultancy service to the auction industry, and has contributed to various book publications. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.
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