Unprecedented hot weather meant that Isle of Wight truly turned Golden in celebration of its 50th Anniversary. Without a Glastonbury this year #IOW50 was ‘the’ event to be at in 2018 and could seriously make Glasto returners think again next year.
I love that moment in the build-up to the Isle of Wight festival when you get on the ferry and leave the mainland behind, it feels like you are leaving all normal society with its problems and worries, and for a few days at least to not really have a care in the world – Other than, Can I actually pitch a tent? What are the toilets going to be like? and How will I survive without washing properly?
There are other issues too and the first one is lugging all that gear you have brought to your tiny part of a field on the outskirts of the site, then getting into the place itself as there is quite a lot of queuing if you want to be one of the first to see the bands in the Big Top on Thursday. Shows start at 6pm, queue opens into the main arenas at errr….6pm. TRextasy are playing to celebrate that Marc Bolan and his original Tyrannosaurus Rex band played the very first festival in 1968. The tribute band (backed by the Bolan family) deliver all the boogie, pouting and glam that a great Bolan show should. Jeepster, Children of the Revolution and Hot Love all get a great reception from a crowd that just got bigger and bigger. Great start and after my first pint of the weekend I drift off to the Kashmir venue.
I’m aware that this skip through my experience of Isle of Wight 2018 is really just scratching the surface, because it is a vast site and there are numerous stages all over the area, some people spend the weekend happily sat near one of the venues, providing there is a bar and food outlets close by – which they are plentiful. For them this is a holiday and serious time to chill out and relax. Others (like me) prefer to navigate around the site to catch who they really want to see. It’s scorching hot though and very unusual for a festival in the UK – I’m wearing white trainers and the cream is already having to do its stuff even in the late afternoon sun.
Kashmir is a voluntary venue set in a large tent with hessian sacking for floors, a beer garden at the back and a selection of real ales behind the bar. It is where you would go to hear an eclectic mix of rock, blues, folk and some funky brass, I’m here because Rews are playing and the two piece of Shauna & Collette are starting to get known as a much less moody female version of Royal Blood. With big smiles and some rocking tunes they pack the tent – just a shame it is such a short set.
As an alternative to the main stage (which isn’t open on Thursday) Kashmir, Big Top (The Second Stage) and the always excellent This Feeling Stage host a vast range of artists. That’s before we get into the alternative Cirque de la Quirk stage which always has some crazy shit going on. Fire pouring out of the top of the stage, dancers, rap artists, brass and guitars – it’s all there, secluded behind a few trees in the very centre of the festival.
Thursday headliners in the Big Top were The Wombats who brought all their finest pop songs from their first album to the table along with a bass player that just does not sit still. But, the place to be was at This Feeling Stage for their headliner Avalanche Party. Hailing from Castleton in the middle of the North Yorkshire Moors (actually only 10 miles from my house) they completely changed the mood in that venue, swirling guitars and a bare-chested frontman with an intense hypnotising stare.
Jordan Bell spent more time off the stage in the crowd or at the barrier than on it. A breath of fresh air for everyone and there probably isn’t anything quite like it happening at the festival over the rest of the weekend. After their powerful set, several punters remained looking dazed and confused at what they had just witnessed, so make a note of the name and get to their next gig – I predict big things to start happening soon.
Adding a new bands stage to the more corporate and softer main stage and big top was an inspired move by festival owner and promoter John Giddings. This year the This Feeling stage with Pirate Studios & Pretty Green hosted around 40 up and coming rock and indie bands which enabled fans that like a rougher edge to their music to be served a full main course throughout the whole day.
As a taster of IOW that was all fine and dandy – thank you, the real event however, starts at 4pm on Friday when Bang Bang Romeo from Doncaster open the main stage. I bumped into Anastasia Walker and the rest of the band as I was carrying all my camping gear on Thursday morning, they seemed very chilled out about the whole thing, and ready for such an occasion. Last year I saw them play on several stages across the weekend, their brand-new single Such a Shame was debuted during this set as well as a superb version of Radiohead’s Creep. They did not look out of place on a main stage. Walker commands that area with some incredibly powerful vocals, a huge chance for this newly signed band and they grabbed it with both hands.
Elsewhere at this time another band who played several shows last year opened the Big Top second stage – Judas are a force to be reckoned with and a popular draw at the annual event. Great rock band and frontman John Clancy looked striking in his black and white chequered suit – pulling all the right rock star moves, whether he’s been coached by model sister Abbey I’m not sure. The music was enough to do the talking though, Ceasefire and new song Big Mouth sounded epic here, spotted in the crowd were Peter Crouch and Abbey Clancy – here to support and to provide some trademark robotic dance moves.
The heat went up in this stage later in the day here as Tom Grennan and his very fine extended band worked up a frenzied crowd with songs like Barbed Wire, Sober and leaving the big tune Something in the Water till the end. It is very clear that this young Scottish singer is rapidly moving up the festival rankings and I would expect to see him on the main stage next year.
The sun was bright and everywhere was full of picnic blankets and chairs, making it really difficult to get between the stages for a decent view. Many were happy enough to just sunbathe and watch the two massive screens, but this next act demands some dancing. Nile Rodgers and Chic have this danceathon down to a fine art, first song Everybody Dance followed by Dance Dance Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) with Rodgers making the Yowsah sound by pinching his nose. The Hitmaker has produced some big songs in his time Bowie’s Lets Dance, Diana Ross’s I’m Coming out and Upside Down, and with the Chic band he can recreate every one of them. The crowd lap all this up and a huge grass disco floor means (Daft Punk) Get Lucky and Le Freak start to work off any alcohol you’ve consumed during the day, heat rising and everyone working up a sweat.
A brief chance to calm things down as you either made your way up the hill for the always excellent Feeder or stay right where you were to watch The Script. Either way you made sure that you were back at the main stage for tonight’s headliners Kasabian.
Always a treat to watch and one of the big draws to 2018 festivals – Kasabian delivered a masterclass of how to headline a major festival slot. Nessun Dorma is played over the speakers and Serge Pizzorno wearing what looked like a rectangular purple anorak is first to greet the crowd, closely followed by frontman Tom Meighan who has an Ozzy styled tassled jacket, shades and a wide-open mouth – as if he can’t quite believe what he is seeing. Massive attendance here, and hit after hit followed. Bumblebee, Underdog and Shoot The Runner – one after the other, relentless bangers nicely spaced between newer songs like Comeback Kid and Bless this Acid House. Pizzorno jokingly shouts “Crouchy I can see you, get down” as he is visible in the moshpit bouncing around during Club Foot and L.S.F.
Their popularity now stretches across several age groups and so they are perfect for a family festival such as IOW and what a great lights and laser show during their set. They claim that newer bands just haven’t got what it takes to headline festivals which is why it tends to be the same bands every year swapping different festivals. I’m not in total agreement with that, but everyone left the site singing I’m on Fiiiiirrrre…..which is enough to suggest they will certainly continue to headline for years to come.
Saturday and Sunday were long days. If you are going to start your festival at 11am and finish around 2am the next morning, you really should expect some sore heads in the early hours and lower attendances. I always use the morning start to wander around the site looking for something new to watch and at the Platform One stage Corrine Atkins provided some much-needed acoustic guitar soothing vocal sounds to accompany my morning tea and cake (I’m so rock’n’roll). Elsewhere The SeaMonsters were a group of six college girls from Sheffield knocking out some eclectic glittery punkette sounding stuff, very nice too – particularly new single Max and Archie.
Across at the Hard Rock Stage funk band Wednesday are playing, and proud dad Colin Firth is seen filming his son’s group on his phone. I’m also up early today to catch Paradisia – 3 bessie mates who produce some of the most soulful and soothing female vocals this side of The Staves, and they have a harp on stage too. It’s all a little too laid back though, and having fully woken up I cross the short area back to This Feeling, and witness Lucie Barat actress and sister to The Libertines Carl Barat. Channelling some Siouxsie Soux looks and attitude, her set was well produced and loads of fun to watch.
Local lads from Leeds Apollo Junction were next on my list, and they gathered a decent following at Hard Rock, ending their set with frontman Jamie wandering around the audience shaking hands and singing while the band carried on stage. Good solid performance and they have some anthemic tunes to match – surely it shouldn’t be long before this band are signed!
Catherine McGrath is a 21yr old country songstress from Northern Ireland and she has been signed by Warner Bros, we await her debut album due to be released next month. As she spends a lot of time in Nashville this was a great opportunity to see her before things all go a little mental. Lost in the Middle is a gorgeous acoustic track which really showcases those stunning vocals.
I dipped into a bit of old school pop music for half an hour as Jessie J on the main stage captivated a young audience and then Louise did the same for all the Dads in the crowd at the Big Top. Everywhere on the site we had people wearing golden outfits to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of IOW, some quite elaborate. The smiles on people’s faces were wide and deep. It is amazing how some warm sunshine can lift any mood.
Sadly, the next couple of bands on the main stage didn’t quite do the same, it all got a bit meh! during Kodaline and Blossoms. Particularly the latter where I don’t believe I saw any smiles on faces in this band at all, it was as if they were being tortured. They have the songs, just need a lot more oomph in their performance.
Thankfully James Bay saved us all from the drabness with a stunning set of tracks – 5 from his first album and 5 from the second, plus a bizarre cover of Tina Turner’s Simply the Best which did have everyone joining in. Hold Back the River closing one of the performances of the weekend and then we waited for the man, the legend – Mr Liam Gallagher.
Wear something gold to celebrate the 50th Anniversary was the request, Liam obliges by purchasing some gold sunglasses – well he was never going to wear a gold parka was he. It struck me today that big festivals need larger than life characters to bring them to life, having witnessed a couple of faceless bands it was time for a huge character and wow did he pack the setlist with crowd favourites. Walking on to the Championes chant (dedicated to Man City winning the Premiership) Rock and Roll Star is his regular opener as he growls “Cos there’s not many of us left”. Unfortunately, this is too true and whilst his Manchester stance to the mic is mimicked the world over, there is no denying his presence on a stage is welcomed by the thousands attending here.
The last 5 songs in his set are all classic Oasis hits – Whatever, Supersonic, Some Might Say, Live Forever and Wonderwall. How on earth any band can follow that selection of tunes is beyond me. In reality Depeche Mode couldn’t, even with their 30 years of performing on stage match that performance and sadly I have to say the first 40 mins of their set was a dirge of tracks that were nowhere near as popular as what we witnessed previously.
Dave Gahan is the shining light of Depeche Mode, a frontman with campness like Freddie Mercury and bags of charisma – always ready to spin the mic around to get the audience to sing back the words. However, when the first 8 or 9 tracks are not your UK hits then no one at a festival is singing back, and it all becomes a bit embarrassing. Why they didn’t drop a couple of latter tracks into the first few I have no idea, maybe it is because they are not used to actually playing UK festivals and the diverse audience they are going to be in front of – it isn’t going to be hardcore Depeche Mode fans, and they miscalculate this quite dramatically causing several people to drift off to other stages or for late night food.
It isn’t until Everything Counts that the populous awoke – even Gahan shouts “Wakey Wakey” at the end and then we all go off the Richter scale for Personal Jesus which is a proper dirty romp and grittier tonight than Marilyn Manson’s version at Download. It’s all a little too late, for those that stayed they did get Just Can’t Get Enough, but the general consensus was “I’ve had enough of your lesser known tracks thanks”. The clear champion today was Liam Gallagher and if Depeche Mode are going to be a contender for headlining other festivals, they need to change their setlist considerably.
It’s Sunday and the last day of a great festival so far. The issue today is – Do I go and watch England v Panama on a big screen?, or, catch a few new bands and artists I’ve not seen before?. I’ve decided to miss the football and wander into the big top to watch George Ezra’s younger brother Ten Tonnes. He emerges wearing a red England shirt, obviously a little gutted to miss the game but his audience are mostly young females who are more than happy to miss the football for him. It’s quite pleasant pop music, a little rougher than George but the same cheerful smile and persona.
Back on the main stage and Manchester band Hurts are putting on a bigger production than I imagined them being able to do. Grand Piano, backing singers – it was all there, and lead singer the enigmatic Theo Hutchcraft wearing his gold outfit and slicked back hair. They were playing support to my favourite performance of the whole festival – Sheryl Crow.
It is surprising just how many songs you know by Sheryl Crow and her band, opening with All I Wanna Do and Every day is a Winding Road, this was a greatest hits set of beautiful proportions. The ease that she drifts through this extensive country blues back catalogue was amazing to witness. She looked incredible for her mid-fifties age, and her band with Audley Freed on guitar were stunning. Enabling her to put the acoustic guitar on her back and stride out to the sides of the stage to get the crowd going with either Run Baby Run or Leaving Las Vegas. Lower on the bill than expected but much better than some of the headliners, I didn’t want the set to end. No better place to be on a Sunday afternoon in the sunshine, beer in hand, watching Sheryl Crow – perfect.
After that anything was going to be second class, however, there were some nice performances on the Hard Rock that afternoon. Starsailor frontman James Walsh was in fine form playing some old tunes like Good Souls and some of his newer solo stuff. Similarly Suzanne Vega was on a bizarre afternoon slot here, opening with Marlene on the Wall (and wearing the top hat), but also fitting in Toms Diner and Luka for good measure.
Then a young lad from Liverpool Joe Slater brought some cool anthem acoustic rock to the stage, worth checking out and watching his progress in the next few years.
Current pop music had its day on the main stage today with pint sized Camila Cabello with her dancers, playing to the cameras and audience she was entertaining though, even after saving her massive number one hit Havana till the end.
The return of that Scottish post punk outfit The Skids was a much-welcomed shot in the arm today, reminding me that over 50’s dads can still pogo and dance at songs from their youth. Charade, Circus Games, Masquerade and the incredible tune that is Into the Valley made Richard Jobson and everyone in the crowd sweat buckets, it’s a good job we were in the shade of a tent.
Walking back to the main stage I can hear the pleasant jazz twiddling of Van Morrison, which after some sturdy punk was more of a cue for me to get food and drink than sitting casually under a tree watching a screen. Van the Man looked very cool in his hat and shades, resembling the shorter Blues Brother, occasionally playing a gold saxophone and his speakyshout vocal delivery. It’s still good though and a nice prelude to those Welsh Rock Monsters the Manic Street Preachers.
I never get bored of the Manics, having seen them many times since the early nineties. I don’t believe there is a more professional rock outfit that you know will deliver a faultless performance. Kicking off with Motorcycle Emptiness, Nicky Wire still manages the odd jump and splits even as he approaches 50. A ton of music they could play and similar to Liam they put the big guns in, with A Design for Life, You Love Us (with a fun Paradise City intro) and Everything Must Go. Even a cover of the Cure’s Inbetween Days – Now there is a band that could headline!!
One final trip to the Hard Rock to catch Anavae with Rebecca Need-Menear on vocals and single bass tom. Another band that should be on bigger stages, if Slaves and Royal Blood can make a two-piece popular, then this band should be fast approaching soon.
She is late on stage due to a technical hitch but this young Norwegian girl can sing and dance her heart out. Sigrid charms this festival with her geeky girl in dungarees look and impeccable catchy choruses – High Five and Strangers were highlights for this young audience.
Final act of the festival were The Killers and starting with a burst of pink confetti and The Man, Brandon Flowers has this crowd in his hands from the off. Interesting though – Can anyone name anyone else in the band? Did anyone notice that their guitarist and bassist were replaced by touring players? Probably not! As long as it’s Brandon and they play competent versions of Somebody Told Me and Mr Brightside nobody really cares – the rest can be faceless.
A much-unwelcomed version of Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits is the only real low point of this set, well that and the amount of time it took them to start All these things I’ve done and that relentless line of “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier” which bores me to tears. When We Were Young is brilliant and punchy and the aforementioned Somebody and Brightside delivered with panache and a faultless live performance. Even Flowers himself appears less nervous than I have seen him before. Worthy headliners bringing the main stage to a close for another year.
The Isle of Wight Festival has delivered another memorable weekend of great music and experiences which will live long in the memories of those attending either for the first time or several over its 50 years of history. Will it manage to topple Glastonbury off the No1 spot next year – we’ll wait and see, but I think they will both sell out as this year was a unique experience with some superb sunny weather. Those that are unsuccessful in getting Glasto tickets now have a viable alternative, and will probably plan to catch the ferry again instead. See you next year for #IOW51