As he looks forward to the A Love Supreme festival, Ivan Hewett looks back at the day in 1960 that jazz fans went on the rampage at the third Beaulieu Jazz Festival
Outdoor jazz festivals have an air of wholesome, clean fun. It’s hard to be cutting-edge when there are infants pottering about and midges biting. The ambience is best suited to trad jazz played by chaps of a certain age, dressed in ties and with bald pates reddening gently in the sun.
Next week something more ambitious and up-market takes place in rolling meadows in Sussex. This is the second instalment of Britain’s only green-field jazz festival, A Love Supreme, which is set against “the gorgeous backdrop of Glynde Place,” an Elizabethan Manor House. Top-flight acts including Gregory Porter, De La Soul, Laura Mvula and Dave Holland will be there. You can bring a tent, or go for a superior ‘Glamping’ experience complete with hot showers, Pamper Parlour and 24-hour security.
For those with very long memories, this might remind them of a somewhat less upmarket event more than 50 years ago, when some jazz fans went on the rampage in front of a similarly “gorgeous backdrop”. The year was 1960, the occasion was the third Beaulieu Jazz Festival, which took place at Lord Montagu’s estate at Beaulieu near the New Forest. Lord Montagu was something of a jazz fan, and thought this was a risk-free way to indulge his enthusiasm.
Unfortunately it all went wrong, when specimens of a new and puzzling sort of human being – the teenager – invaded the stage. Stuart Nicholson, now the distinguished columnist of Jazzwise magazine, remembers that as the lighting gantry collapsed “someone grabbed a microphone and demanded ‘free beer for the working man’.” A lone figure made it to the top of the stage, a converted merry-go-round complete with fairground horses, and once the crowd realised he was on television, a mass climb began to join him.” There’s some tantalisingly brief footage on this Pathé newsreel.
How wonderfully British. It wasn’t an end to bourgeois hegemony the young rioter was fighting for, or even more power for the unions. It was just some free beer. However the invader wasn’t some lone eccentric. Jazz at that time was a hotbed of competing styles, with deep antagonisms between different sets of fans. These were driven by class differences as much as musical tastes. The jazz historian Duncan Heinen has uncovered these simmering tensions in his fascinating history of jazz in the Sixties and Seventies, entitled Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers, and Free FusionG
The book shows that the 1960 Beaulieu festival was really more a tail-piece to the Fifties, that edgy decade of beatniks, CND marches, Angry Young Men, pop art, and race riots (it’s only because the Sixties have been so mythologised that people automatically think of the Fifites as drab). Jazz was in the thick of it, though witnesses of the period never seem to agree whether a fondness for drainpipe trousers meant you were anti-nuclear power and for modern jazz, or despised Dizzy Gillespie and preferred skiffle.
The jazz festival’s stage was a converted merry-go-round. Pic: GETTY IMAGES
Some say it was a working class thing to like modern jazz, and that middle-class rebelliousness came out in ‘jiving’ to trad. One indubitable fact is that the rock and roll, R&B and jazz scenes were closely interlinked, and players such as Ginger Baker could migrate from one to another. Look closely at this film clip of the 3rd Beaulieu jazz festival and you’ll catch a glimpse of a very young Rod “the Mod” Stewart among the eager crowds.
So with competing styles of jazz on the platform, plenty of beer on tap, and the provocative backdrop of a stately home, the stage was a set for a classic British class confrontation. One imagines some of the youth were just itching to feel aggrieved, like the character in Colin MacInnes’s novel Absolute Beginners, who describes the Beaulieu festivals as “garden party’s (sic) for the ooblies and Hooray Henries.” (According to the poet Jeff Nuttall, “ooblies” was Humphrey Lyttleton’s term for devotees of the “original purist trad subculture”. George Melly preferred the term “moron”).
Finding out what really happened that day at Beaulieu is like asking what really happened at the riotous premiere of the Rite of Spring. Some say it was the bearded trad fans versus the modern jazzers. Other say it was nothing to do with music at all. One witness insists it was Teddy Boys shouting “We want Acker!” (meaning trad jazz clarinettist and singer Acker Bilk), while the correspondent for Melody Maker sniffed about working-class “mobsters” coming from Portsmouth and Southampton. Once the stage had been invaded, chaos quickly ensued. A building was set on fire, 39 people were injured, and the BBC pulled its outside broadcast feed off the air six minutes early. “Things are getting quite out of hand,” said the announcer primly.
That wasn’t quite the end of the Beaulieu jazz festival. Lord Montagu was game enough to try again the following year, but the cost of the increased security meant the event was no longer financially viable. And that was it, for “green-field” jazz festivals in the UK – until Love Supreme came on the scene. More than 50 years on, will this stir the same passions? Will someone grab a microphone after Gregory Porter’s set and demand “free champagne for the working man”? Somehow I just can’t see it.