Few, if any of the 600,000 folks gathered on the Isle of Wight on that summer day in 1970 would have known that the three young Irishmen who comprised the blues-rock trio Taste had decided to split before they took the stage as part of the legendary music festival which also had Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and The Who on the bill.
This very fact - which we, of course, are privy to in hindsight - makes Murray Lerner’s film something of a small tragedy. It’s a document of brief lives shared with intensity before the flare burns out. Some months later, the players went their separate ways, losing, in the process, the camaraderie involved in being in a band through thick and thin.
Wisely perhaps, tensions and business problems are explored to a limited degree in the documentary/concert film. Front-man guitarist and singer Rory Gallagher would go on to have a successful solo career, fronting a similar blues trio line-up, augmented at times with a keyboard player. Bassist Richie McCracken and the drummer John Wilson continued in music, but inevitably, Irish fans thereafter got used to the names of Rory’s new band members. (Which, incidentally, begs the question as to whether there may be some who prefer the Taste period to Rory’s solo years.)
“ I was equal friends with John and Richie, but I was still Rory’s brother," Dónal Gallagher remarks in the film. He is recalling his own predicament at the time of Taste's disbanding, heralded before its actual realisation by one particularly anguished headline, 'Taste Fight Split.'
Dónal is a contributor to and indeed producer of the film in question, whose title in full is What's Going on - Taste Live at the Isle of Wight. The previous year, 1969, as the trio’s road manager, he accompanied Taste across the USA on a tour bus that also carried Blind Faith – Eric Clapton, Rick Grech, Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker - and Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. They all travelled together from gig to gig (now there's a documentary.)
Due to contractual obligations, Taste would continue a European tour in the months after the Isle of Wight festival, before playing their final concert in Belfast on New Year’s Eve 1970. In the event, the welter of tension only appears to have goaded the young men to play with exceptional gutsiness at the Isle of Wight extravaganza, amounting to what may have been their best ever performance. In one of the documentary inserts, guitarist Larry Coryell talks about drummer John Wilson “looking like a man possessed” that afternoon, so passionate was his performance.
The set concluded with three encores as the crowd repeatedly demanded a return to the stage. However, summer languor, perhaps herbally induced, is also characteristic of the sun-blessed day – take note of absolute silence from the crowd as Rory leads into the second track, Sugar Mama. By the end of the set most of the crowd are on their feet, baying for more. There's not a smartphone in sight and the only people filming appear to be the people who are supposed to be filming, although this may not be entirely accurate.
Bob Geldof and Brian May are guests in this absorbing film, talking about the impact of the Belfast-based outfit, at the Isle of Wight in Geldof’s vivid recollections, and at London’s Marquee club in May’s. The film is interspersed with audio quotes from Gallagher – Dave Fanning, take a bow - and a number of bonus features include Taste performing three numbers on the Beat Club TV series, along with three promo videos.
So sit back and be wowed by those stirring opening chords to What’s Going On, which kicks off the Isle of Wight performance. Rory mostly wields his trademark battered Stratocaster, but a pristine white or cream guitar is also employed as he powers through Sugar Mama, Morning Sun, Gambling Blues, Sinnerboy, Same Old Story and Catfish Blues. The real deal.