EntertainmentMusicThe Bath Festival: Blues and Progressive Rock

The Bath Festival: Blues and Progressive Rock


In the history of music there is a brief period of time that is difficult to delimit, which took place more or less between 1964 and 1974, towards the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies, which stands out above the other stages and generations.

The proliferation of groups, experimentation, the depth of the lyrics, the quality of the sounds, the innovation and the influence that this period has had on music are ingredients that add up to create a perfect mix, based on psychedelic rock, protest songs, progressive rock, heavy metal and many other subgenres.

The list of groups that were born and published their best material in such a short space of time is impressive and is made up of bands that are already part of music history and are included in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in addition to having been successful in sales, audiences and followers and having left us enduring songs that continue to play and will never stop playing. They are groups like The Who (1964), The Byrds (1964), Lynyrd Skynyrd (1964), Jefferson Airplane (1965), Pink Floyd (1965), The Doors (1965), Santana (1965), The Mamas & The Papas ( 1965), Cat Stevens (1965), Grateful Dead (1965), Cream (1966), The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1966), James Taylor (1966), Buffalo Springfield (1966), The 5th Dimension (1966), Creedence Clearwater Revival (1967), Steppenwolf (1967), Jethro Tull (1967), Fleetwood Mac (1967), Genesis (1967), The Flying Burrito Brothers (1968), Crosby, Stills & Nash (1968), Deep Purple (1968), Yes (1968), Led Zeppelin (1968), King Crimson (1968), The Band (1968), Black Sabbath (1968), Grand Funk Railroad (1969).

In the summer of 1970, in the middle of this prodigious decade (1964-1974), several of these groups coincided in a music festival in the interior of England. A historic event that attracted 150,000 people and brought together Pink Floyd for the first (and only) time with Led Zeppelin, as well as Santana, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Genesis, Yes or Steppenwolf. An event that any lover of good music should know and that unfortunately has been forgotten, eclipsed by the Woodstock festival that took place at the same time.

The Bath Festival of Blues (June 1969)

Before the successful Bath Festival brought together some of the best groups in the world, the festival had its first edition the year before, smaller in size and with a less attractive line-up.

Called ‘Bath Festival of Blues’, it was a single day of music, that of Saturday June 28, 1969, in the town of Bath, in Somerset County. The headliner was Fleetwood Mac, a group that had been born a couple of years earlier and had already released three studio albums and three other compilation albums, with several hits such as ‘Albatross’, ‘Man of the World’ or ‘Black Magic’. Woman’ (song that would become more famous covered by Santana).

The other great claim of the festival was Led Zeppelin, whom Freddy Bannister managed to convince to attend after several months of gigs promoting their first album, Led Zeppelin , released in January 1969 and full of good songs like ‘Good Times, Bad Times ‘, ‘Black Mountain Side’ or ‘Dazed and Confused’. After passing through Bath, the Leds would start recording their second album, Led Zeppelin II , which would be released in October. Without a doubt, 1969 was a great creative moment for Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.

Freddy Bannister was one of the most active concert promoters in England at the end of the sixties, and although the first Bath Festival was not a great audience success, it managed to be the first stone to build what would come after.

30,000 tickets were sold for the festival, which was organized in a very rudimentary way on two simple stages in the town square. In the photographs you can see the church tower in the background and the dimensions of the stages , which were more like shops. However, the good experience lived and the idea of ​​being able to do something bigger led to the ‘Bath Festival of Blues’ evolving into the ‘Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music’ the following summer, expanding its musical offer. Freddy Bannister made the necessary calls and managed to offer one of the best bills ever seen.

The Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music (June 1970)

Expecting a crowd of attendees, the location was moved to a large meadow on the outskirts of Shepton Mallet, a small town also in Somerset County. It is said that the traffic jams were impressive, and that despite the large crowd of people and the rain that clouded the festival, the atmosphere was very familiar.

The size, significance and quality of the groups was impressive (although it is true that bands like Yes or Genesis ended up playing in a van like this one), which makes the 1970 Bath Festival one of the most important musical events ever organized. 

The best of the English scene of the moment attended as well as several of the best bands from the West Coast, such as The Byrds, who had already been on the scene for six long years, or Jefferson Airplane, born in 1965. Frank Zappa was also one of the big claims.

The first strong course came with Steppenwolf and his electric ‘Born to be Wild’, which played on the night of June 27, the first of the three days that the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music would last. A festival that presented important innovations in technical aspects, with good sound quality, screens on which the names of the groups were projected and good facilities in the form of tents for the bands and managers. There was also a cloth on which movies were projected at night.

After Steppenwolf, around three in the morning on the 28th, Pink Floyd came on stage, a band that should have played at 10:00 p.m., and finally did so five hours later. Delays were common throughout the festival. The English band was overcoming its psychedelic stage and now appeared without Syd Barrett. They played several pieces from their albums  A Saucerful of Secrets (1968) and Atom Heart Mother, which had not yet seen the light of day but was already recorded.

At 4:00 p.m. on the 28th, Santana came out with his guitar, and made the audience dance with hits like ‘Oye como va’. At 20:00 it was the turn of Led Zeppelin, the only group that was in both editions of the festival.

Led Zeppelin’s performance was one of the best, and included hits like ‘Immigrant Song’, ‘Dazed and Confused’, ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ or ‘Whole Lotta Love’. At first they were the headliner (at least for the 28th), but it is said that Frank Zappa charged more. Without a doubt Zappa was the most experienced and the one with the longest career. He had started composing music in 1955. There are several photographs of Frank Zappa’s performance (like this one or this one).

At 01:30 in the morning on the 29th, the Jefferson Airplane left, with their great ‘Volunteers’ or ‘Somebody to Love’. At that time the rain did not let up, and some sparks jumped on the stage due to the contact of the drops with the sound tables and the guitar cables. The last big performance was that of The Byrds, who at 02:40 in the morning began a long list of more than twenty songs, which included ‘Turn! turn! Turn!’, ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ or ‘You Ain’t Goin Nowhere’.

The Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music was filmed and recorded by several of the attendees, so it is not known what material actually exists or the quality of it. There are many details of Led Zeppelin’s performance, but for example, nothing is known about what Yes or Genesis played in that van, and there is hardly a photo (this one) of Pink Floyd’s performance.

The only video document that has survived to this day is the previous video, without sound. The rest of the material has been lost or has not been made public, which has promoted the oblivion of this great festival.

The importance of the 1970 Bath Festival has been recognized by music critics and historians, many of whom point to it as the precedent for the famous Glastonbury Festival. We can remember it as one of the best lineups that have come together in the history of rock, although there are other great festivals that have also faded from memory, such as the US Festival, which we remember in another article.

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