Good evening, and thanks for tuning in once again to Song Lore with me, Daniel Scott Hackett, coming to you live from my diabolical rock’n’roll laboratory in deepest darkest Peru. This week I’ve got a very special tale for you – one of insanity, violence, and politics, of mindless destruction, betrayal and anguish, and the fiery implosion of a once-perfect dream.
Our tale begins in the year 2000, with the release of the album ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’, by Oasis. It received a mixed reaction from critics and fans alike, with Liam Gallagher himself stating “Some people reckon the album is shit, but I think it’s a great album … it’s just a bit… different,” which certainly sounds like an admission of guilt. Speaking in 2011, Noel Gallagher lamented the release of the album, blaming its mediocrity on the amount of drugs he was caning at the time.
One song on the album that is objectively un-shit, however, is the first track: Fuckin’ in the Bushes.
If you’ve not heard of it, listen above. Likely you’ll recognise the tune, however, even if the name rings no bells. It’s peak Oasis verve and swagger, pure auditory beak, and it has featured as entrance music in festivals and sporting events alike. In a characteristically bombastic move, Oasis regularly use the track as their walk-out song. It’s also the tune that a tattooed, Irish Brad Pitt gets slapped about to in Snatch, before his gang arrives and shotguns everyone to death (spoiler).
Now, one striking aspect of the song is the vocal sample from 0:05 to 0:18. It’s hard to catch quite what the vexed voice is crying out on first listen. Here’s a transcript:
“We put this festival on you bastards – with a lotta love. We worked for one year for you pigs. And you wanna break our walls down? And you wanna destroy it? Well you go to hell!”
When first I heard this track years ago, those words thwacked me in the Adam’s apple and sent me reeling. The raw fury in them – the apoplexy, so intense as to almost crossover into a roared religious sermon. Who was this raging speaker, and what could possibly have caused such a battle cry?
I sent a raven out to my contacts, searching for answers. Early attempts were fruitless; my inept spies could find no mention of the vocal sample. However, one stormy night as I pored over ancient tomes in my tower, lightning struck the weather vane atop my roof, sending thrills of electricity throughout my lab. I was flung from my desk, and landed upside down in a pile of dusty books, with my robe draped over my head and my bare legs flopping around like the peeled head of a cheese string. As I struggled free, I noted that a particularly dastardly-looking grimoire had fallen open. Upon its title page was scrawled ‘Isle of Wight Festival, 1970’.
It was within these pages that I came across a name: Rikki Farr. The name struck me as interesting – two k’s?! – and I began to research his character. It soon emerged that he had worked as a mercenary in the Congo, before turning his hand to organising festivals. Indeed, he was the master of ceremonies at the infamous Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. Reading on, I stumbled upon a paragraph detailing an onstage breakdown and venomous rant that took place during the event. It dawned on me that it was he – Rikki Farr – to whom I had listened in the seething sample; it was he who had stood before an assembly of thousands and call curses down upon them. I had found my man. But why? I would have to investigate further.
The Isle of Wight Festival in August, 1970, was one of the biggest events of its day. Inspired by Woodstock a year previously – and aiming to go one bigger – the festival’s organisers had gathered together one of the greatest line-ups ever seen before – or, indeed, since. Jimi Hendrix. Janis Joplin. The Who. Miles Davis. The Doors. Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Jethro Tull, Donovan, Joni Mitchell, Richie Havens, Free, Chicago.
It was a thing of beauty. Dammit, go watch Hendrix’s set right now. See the chaos of the festival: the refreshing freedom of it all. Rocking up at 2am for his slot, a 27 year old Hendrix takes to the stage clad in a billowing shirt of colouring garish enough to make a peacock gasp with envy. Chewing gum lavishly, metallic choker around his neck, he leans into the mic, guitar slung, and with a grin requests that the audience give them a couple of minutes to tune up. When his set begins with the usual acid-blues thunder, he launches into a wry wailing version of ‘God Save the Queen’, before sliding into a rousing rendition of ‘Sergeant Pepper’. It’s messy, yes, but glorious – or at least, it was until it wasn’t.
Leonard Cohen’s helicopter was late and he made a fuss over the billings when he did arrive, and ballsed timings up for the other acts. Neil Young was a no-show after his manager was caught with drugs while driving a white Rolls Royce to the festival. The Everly Brothers cancelled after they didn’t get the advance transportation fees they requested. Mungo Jerry – a personal favourite of mine – actually made it to the festival but had their set time moved so many times that they got frustrated and sacked the whole thing off.
The chaos wasn’t only backstage. Due to the layout of the festival – a huge natural amphitheatre – merely fencing it in wasn’t enough to stop people attending. Tens of thousands of new attendees – without tickets (costing £3 for 3 days, or around £45 today) – flocked to the site and, since the surrounding hillside allowed views of the stages even from a distance, set up their tents wherever they fancied. Festival organisers attempted to stop this by expanding the fences, however every time they did, the dusty crowd tore them down and used them to build makeshift huts and shelters.
At first I thought I had reached the end of the tale here. It seemed obvious: festival-goers were trashing the place, angered at being turned away. Rikki Farr took to the stage and called hot death down upon them. However… there was more.
In an interview from 2015 – 45 years after the festival – a surprisingly youthful-looking Rikki Farr was interviewed for Riva Audio, a music company of his own creation. In the interview, he sheds light on the lead up to his historic outburst. Rikki – and several sources confirm this – attests that in attendance at the festival were around 500 ‘French Maoists’, or ‘French anarchists’, depending on who you ask. This group was politically motivated, and had arrived at the Isle of Wight Festival with the intention of tearing apart what they saw as a hypocritical capitalist endeavour.
They spent the weekend handing out flyers encouraging campers to trash the place, and were the ring-leaders in the fence-pinching exercise mentioned above. They believed that music should be free for all, and were enraged that anybody should have to pay for a ticket. On the last day of the festival, around a hundred of this group had crowded the front of the main stage.
According to Rikki Farr, at this point a priest took to the stage. Many people on the last day of the festival were having a bad time of it – hundreds had lost possessions, had their wallets nicked, were in the midst of bad trips, or had no means of returning home. In a bid to support the more unfortunate festival-goers, so Farr’s story goes, the priest urged the crowd to pass any spare change to front, where it would be taken to the local church who would use it to help out.
At this request the French Maoists kicked off, heckling and and spitting at the priest. It was at this point that Farr stepped in – after three days without sleep and in his own words, “pretty high”, and made the incendiary speech Oasis would sample 30 years later.
This twisting tale has, of course, been muddied by the passage of time. Farr maintains that the festival was never about making profits – stating that if they had been seeking to do that, they could have charged double in the first place. As it is, they reported a loss of up to a million pounds (adjusted for inflation), despite their being upwards of 600,000 in attendance. Was the loss truly this great? Did a gang of French Maoists really gob on a man of the cloth? Was the festival an act of benevolence or business, or a failed attempt at combining both?
We may never know the whole truth behind Rikki Farr’s booming hex upon the masses. All that we can say for certain is that Oasis made an absolute banger out of it.