Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Cream: Never-Seen Photos From 1967
One fan's raw, thrilling pictures from England's first-ever rock festival.
George Elderton/Popperfoto/Getty Images
Published May 16, 2018
Published 5 days ago
In the long, strange history of rock and roll, some places and dates are held in reverence; those who were there knew they were seeing and hearing something new, something groundbreaking. Take Liverpool's Cavern Club in 1962, or New York's CBGB in '75. Or the Tulip Bulb Auction Hall in Spalding, England, in 1967.
George Elderton/Popperfoto/Getty ImagesWelcome to "Barbeque '67"On May 29, 1967, thousands of rock, soul, and R&B fans descended on the small town of Spalding, 100 miles north of London, for a modestly named event: "Barbeque '67." On the bill were established acts as well as some relatively untested talent ― bands like the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Pink Floyd, and Cream.
On hand, too, was George Elderton, a fan with a 12-shot Kodak Instamatic camera. Elderton's black-and-white pictures from the show were eventually acquired by a private collector, and then, recently, by FOTO's parent company, Getty Images. Here, FOTO shares those pictures for the first time ― raw, thrilling snapshots from England's first rock festival, 51 years ago this month. (More on that "first" label in a bit.) Pictured: Hendrix, playing his guitar with his teeth; bassist Noel Redding; and drummer Mitch Mitchell.
George Elderton/Popperfoto/Getty ImagesExperiencing JimiElderton was no professional photographer, but he wasn't shy about getting close to the action: In this shot, he's captured Hendrix from just a foot or two away. The Jimi Hendrix Experience had been together less than a year when they played Barbeque '67. But they were already making a name for themselves with incendiary live sets and, of course, they quickly evolved into one of rock's iconic bands. Their first album, "Are You Experienced" ― one of the most extraordinary debuts in rock history ― was released just two weeks before Elderton took these pictures.George Elderton/Popperfoto/Getty ImagesFrom Small Things…With guitarist Eric Clapton (at right), bassist and singer Jack Bruce (left), and drummer Ginger Baker, Cream took second-billing at Barbeque '67. The band's lean, elemental lineup went on to become the model for countless power trios to come, from the Jam and ZZ Top to Rush, Hüsker Dü, and Dinosaur Jr. ― despite the fact that it lasted just one more year before imploding.
The immediacy of this Elderton photo, meanwhile, is striking: a portrait of fans and musicians in close, gripping contact with each other. The postage stamp-sized stage looks like it belongs in a pub; in retrospect, the significance of what happened on that tiny stage looms large in pop-culture history.George Elderton/Popperfoto/Getty ImagesAmpedLess than a month after Barbeque '67, two separate events in California ― the Monterey Pop Festival and the Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival in Marin County ― ushered in the era of large-scale festivals. But Barbeque '67, England's first such gathering of big-name acts, laid claim to a number of signature elements common to nearly all rock festivals, from Woodstock to Coachella: the often poor planning by promoters; top-billed acts that underwhelm, while "smaller" acts blow away the crowd; and music that goes on for hours and hours, while the crowd surges, roars, subsides, and surges again like some great beast.
George Elderton/Popperfoto/Getty ImagesBest of Times, Worst of TimesSurprisingly few photos survive from Barbeque '67 ― although at least one photographer was there with professional equipment (background, in suit and tie). And many of those who attended have conflicting memories: For some, it was a heady, once-in-a-lifetime experience; others were less satisfied, recalling that Hendrix was in a foul mood and played poorly, or that Cream (above) indulged in long, uninspired instrumentals.
One member of a local band that kept the crowd entertained between acts was especially struck by the size of the event. "You must remember that this event predates Woodstock," Fred Ward of the Sounds Force Five wrote on a site dedicated to UK rock festivals. "This was really the first-ever Glastonbury, and it attracted massive crowds…"George Elderton/Popperfoto/Getty ImagesA Simple StageAnother of George Elderton's pictures, this time featuring Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, illustrates just how rudimentary not only the venue itself was (it really was a tulip auction house) but how basic the bands' gear felt at the time. Of course, in just a few years, bands like Pink Floyd would command enormous stages and infinitely more sophisticated sound systems.
Posters and handbills advertising Barbeque '67 promised "soft ultraviolet lighting," "non-stop dancing," a "knockout atmosphere" ― and hot dogs ― all for one British pound. As it turned out, in a scene repeated at countless rock festivals to come, many more fans showed up than were expected. Geno Washington, leader of one of England's premier soul bands and a main attraction at Barbeque '67 (billed above the newbies in Pink Floyd), recalled years later that "the guards had so much money stuffed in their pockets from bribes" from ticketless fans that they couldn't cram in any more bills.George Elderton/Popperfoto/Getty ImagesHumble BeginningsPink Floyd would release its debut, "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" ― an album that, in effect, defined psychedelic rock ― a few months after playing Barbeque '67. Here, then, in a nondescript shed with awful acoustics were three future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Hendrix, Cream, and Floyd, on the cusp of legend. From left: Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright; guitarist, singer, and the band's creative driving force, Syd Barrett; and bassist Roger Waters (obscured).
George Elderton/Popperfoto/Getty ImagesGeno Washington, Show-StealerNot long after this show, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and Cream had grown into acts capable of holding arenas and stadiums in thrall. But on May 29, 1967, it was the seasoned, high-intensity touring pro Geno Washington (above) and his Ram Jam Band who, by all accounts, stole the show.
Washington recalled Barbeque '67 with fondness and even something like a tinge of awe. "There were thousands and thousands of people there," he told the BBC in 2009. "People were hanging from the ceiling. The atmosphere was electric. Anyone who was there will never forget it." (Watch Geno Washington and his band tear it up in the 1960s.)George Elderton/Popperfoto/Getty ImagesOn the MoveLike other Mod acts of the mid-sixties (the Who, the Kinks, the Small Faces), the fashion-forward Move combined rock and soul with occasional elements of other styles, including ska. Hugely popular in the UK, they failed to replicate that success in the States. In fact, Allmusic.com characterizes the Move as "the best and most important British group of the late '60s that never made a significant dent in the American market." Above: The Move's bassist Ace Kefford and singer Carl Wayne.George Elderton/Popperfoto/Getty ImagesPaisley DaysThe Move's multi-instrumentalist and chief songwriter Roy Wood (foreground, on 12-string guitar), Kefford, guitarist Trevor Burton, and Wayne rock the crowd at Barbeque '67. Later, some members of the Move ― Wood, Jeff Lynne, drummer Bev Bevan ― would form one of the 1970s' most successful groups, Electric Light Orchestra.
George Elderton/Popperfoto/Getty ImagesTime of Their LivesGeorge Bruno "Zoot" Money (above, on keyboard) was ― and still is ― an English R&B giant. And at the Tulip Bulb Auction Hall in May 1967, Zoot and his Big Roll Band played as they always had: like kids having the time of their lives. Above: Paul Williams on bass, Zoot on organ and mic, and nattily dressed drummer Colin Allen, who went on to play with Bob Dylan and blues masters like Sonny Boy Williamson and John Lee Hooker.George Elderton/Popperfoto/Getty ImagesChristmas in SpringThe Sounds Force Five entertained the jam-packed house while roadies set up and broke down gear for the other, bigger acts. Years later, singer Mike Peacey told the BBC that playing Barbeque '67 felt "like all our Christmases had come at once. We were backstage with Hendrix and Clapton. It was surreal."
Any music fan seeing George Elderton's photos from that night can appreciate how Peacey and his mates felt. After all, for one night in the spring of 1967, the center of the rock and roll universe was in the East of England ― in a small town that could not have known what it was unleashing on the world.