Excerpt from the book Message To Love - The Isle of Wight Festival, 1968-1969-1970 by Brian Hinton, published in 1995 by Castle Communications. (Paler davelee adds: 'Procol topped the bill on the Friday over bands such as Chicago, Hawkwind, Taste and Family. By then the audience had reached 500,000! Saturday saw Joni Mitchell, The Who, The Doors and ELP. By all accounts it was getting fairly chaotic by then though! Sunday featured Free, Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, and Joan Baez. Mick Grabham played the Isle of Wight festival in 1968 when he performed with Plastic Penny!')
Procol Harum followed Family at well past midnight, and their stately music echoed across a giant spotlight illuminating the stage, the dark bulk of 'Devastation Hill' dotted with camp fires and even a few flames inside the main arena. So that's where the lavatory doors went!
All this made the homely figure of Gary Brooker look pretty incongruous. His grand piano was properly amplified, when so many keyboard instruments in other bands had sounded distorted. Whenever the gentle and deliberate notes lulled the crowd into a sense of euphoria, then in came Robin Trower's screaming, protesting guitar.
The nearest thing in sound to the Band the previous year, songs like Wish Me Well and Conquistador underlaid Keith Reid's enigmatic, heartfelt lyrics with the brute strength of drummer BJ Wilson, beauty and the beat.
John Tobler remembers Trower rubbing his hands together, saying 'It's bloody cold', and playing something really rocky.
Songs from the A Salty Dog album brought the best reaction from the listening crowd, especially the title track - which appears on the First Great Rock Festivals Of The Seventies LP - with its mournful tale of shipwreck and a sailor coming home most appropriate within sound of the waves pounding the 'wreckers' coast' of the South Wight. This was also the theme of Enoch Arden, written just down the road.
'It's too cold to play anything slow,' said Brooker. So they launched straight into a rock 'n' roll medley closer to Jerry Lee Lewis than Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and guaranteed to get everybody going: Move On Down The Line, High School Confidential and Lucille. It left the hordes panting and unruly.
Procol Harum were - and are - a very odd combination of the restrained and the demonic. Trower went on to become a guitar hero in the Hendrix mode, but never bettered the controlled intensity of his time with the band, and they retained a firm grasp of rock 'n' roll dating back to their days as Southend rockers, The Paramounts. As the Melody Maker wrote: 'They looked weird, sounded weird and it was good to head [sic!] a band with character and a strange kind of intensity.'
The best band of the day. No one remembers if they played A Whiter Shade Of Pale.
More Isle of Wight reports here and here at 'Beyond the Pale'; or try a link to a page about the festival