Brighton Festival kicked off in 1967 with an incredible variety of shows, concerts and exhibitions. Here are five of the biggest events from the first Festival half a century ago, from world-class rock bands to an iconoclastic beachside bonfire
Concrete Poetry, around Brighton, daily
Curated by artist Stephen Bann, this city-wide project saw verse, rhythm and rhyme take physical form via a series of large outdoor typographical structures. In the Laines, visitors experienced a communal project on the ‘five vowels’ produced by the students of Bath Academy and a set of ‘typographical columns’ designed by German Hansjorg Mayer, whilst on a board outside the Royal Pavilion the word ‘seas’ appeared repeated with the word ‘ease’ in the middle. The project also saw two early poems erected by Ian Hamilton Finlay who would later become critically acclaimed for his poetry, art and writing. These particular structures became feted in the press who praised this new poetic form, hailing that it could compare with the ‘direct method of Concrete Art’.
Kinetic Audio Visual Environments, West Pier, daily
Created and arranged by The Advanced Studies Group at Hornsey College of Art under the collective titled K4, this immersive audio visual arts installation incorporated three different experiences at the end of the West Pier. The Kinetic Labyrinth was a succession of small spaces which exhibited international art work involving pulsating lights and strong colours whilst the Video Drum was a device for singular use which played material concerned with dream fantasies. The largest space was the Kinetic Area; a nightly discotheque which, on Saturdays, featured live performances from the likes of as-yet-un-famous prog-rock legends The Pink Floyd and British artist, performer and eccentric Bruce Lacey (with his Humanoid Robots) alongside endlessly changing patterns of light and colour projected onto screens. The installation also featured a soundscape designed by pioneer of electronic music Delia Derbyshire titled LIGHT/SOUND WORKSHOP.
One of Bruce Lacey's Humanoid Robots
International Baseball, Preston Park Cricket Ground, Sunday, April 16
This unique baseball match played between England and USA attracted a bumper crowd of over 5,000 people to Preston Park Cricket Ground, many of whom were intrigued with the exciting prospect of witnessing a sport not native to British shores. Possibly unsurprisingly, England lost 12-1. The programme to the event contained a message from the then Mayor of Brighton, Kathleen Watson-Miller, wishing the visitors from the States “a very warm welcome” and hoping that they “thoroughly enjoy their brief visit to Brighton and that they may be able to come again some day” alongside a useful two pages explaining the rules of the game.
The Destruction of Hideous Objects, Brighton beach, Saturday, April 29
In a wholly unique event, this huge public bonfire saw hundreds of items deemed ‘hideous’ by 1967 standards – from furniture to art – torched in an aesthetic culling. Allegedly, the bonfire was topped by a wooden cut-out effigy of the then Principal of Brighton College of Art. The fire itself was lit by Brighton Festival chair Ronald Bates, artistic director Ian Hunter and world-renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin; who burst into an impromptu solo whilst the flames took hold.
Cleo Laine, John Dankworth and his orchestra, Brighton Dome Concert Hall, Wednesday, April 26
Famed for her scat singing style and for her vocal range of four octaves, Jazz singer Cleo Laine joined her husband – jazz composer, saxophonist and clarinettist John Dankworth – on stage for the first of many Brighton Festival concerts over the years. Married in 1958, the couple were feted as helping to bring the marginalised world of jazz into the mainstream over their careers. Dankworth’s jazz scores sound-tracked some of the most memorable films of the 1960’s including Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Darling, whilst Laine’s career became truly international from the early 1970s – to date, she is the only female singer to have received Grammy nods in the jazz, pop and classical categories.
Watch a trailer with rediscovered footage from the 1967 Brighton Festival: