The current incarnation of the Isle Of Wight festival has been leaning heavily on nostalgia since its resurgence in 2002. Celebrating ’50 years’ this year punters sweated in sticky gold spandex as per the promoted dress code and despite the mass effort to put up with cheap nylon chafing in the name of ceremony, this hark back to glory days was more than just a novelty.
The family-friendly festival had more of an edge to it this year - perhaps it was channelling the legendary festival dubbed ‘Britain’s Woodstock’ that occurred for three consecutive years from 1968 to 1970 and saw Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, The Who, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell and many other quintessential rock 'n' roll acts of the period play to thousands - most notably 600,000 Hendrix fans storming on to the island, breaking down fences and forcing it to become a free festival in 1970.
Or perhaps it was down to the lack of Glastonbury. Whatever it was, it was excellent.
Friday night headliners Kasabian launched into a hedonistic set of their intensely powerful back catalogue on the main stage. The lords from Leicester have so many monster tunes from 2004’s 'Club Foot' to last year’s 'Ill Ray (The King)', the crowd were kept whipped into a frenzy for the full 90 minutes, with only a quick moment to come down as they played a brass-led cover of Groove Armada’s 'At The River' and the island swayed together in a heady concoction of lager and love.
Former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher was a co-headliner with Depeche Mode for the main stage on Saturday night but many were frustrated that he wasn’t given the top bill of the night as he performed one of the best sets of his current solo outfit. With enough songs from his new album 'As You Were' to bolster against his former band and keep his performances meaty from the start, Liam was on comfortable form.
At one point he had to control the mad fer it fans who were brawling at the front, saying, “I like a moody gig but it’s all got a bit Moss Side…getting all handbags at a gig is not cool.” Liam Gallagher left die hard Oasis fans in ecstasy for the rest of the night after he stormed through the rarely performed 'Bring It On Down', 'Listen Up' and 'Whatever'.
Depeche Mode followed with a 90 minute slog through their 80s, 90s and 00s electro rock and but it was more of a damp squib compared to the indie rock 'n' roll of the parka monkey.
Half-way through, swathes of fans left to catch the incredible Hacienda Classical who played in the nearby Big Top. The orchestral reinterpretation of seminal dance classics by the Manchester club’s original DJs Graeme Park and Mike Pickering was the talk of the festival all day Saturday and by the time they came out at midnight the Big Top was bloated with acid house fans young and old and like a true rave spirit those that couldn’t get inside danced together outside to A Guy Called Gerald’s Voodoo Ray and 808’s Pacific State.
Coming back down to earth, Nile Rodgers and Chic helped everyone shake off their hangovers and get back into the festival vibe with their irrepressible hits such as 'I Want Your Love', 'Everybody Dance', 'Le Freak' and 'Good Times'. Despite having launched a new single Friday morning Nile knew what was good and stuck with the crowd pleasers.
One of the busiest tents of the weekend was the This Feeling with Pirate Studios and Pretty Green stage, which showcased up and coming bands who will, if experience is anything to go by, be launched to catastrophic heights before long (soulful rockers Bang Bang Romeo played here last year and were opening the festival on the main stage this time).
Highlights this year included Liverpool’s post-punk sextet Red Rum Club with their Tarantino-fused, Coral-esque sound, Londoner’s Rosko who have cooked up a hip-hop infused indie broth that could easily be led by Jamie T, and female-fronted catchy grunge group Calva Louise, a three piece also from London.
Dudley’s The Surrenders breathe Hendrix soul and blues into every tune they concoct with lyrics to match. The band seem to come from another time and their musical mastery defies their young years, especially Richard Jones’ lead guitar. Together with Connor Brooks’ velvet vocals the band send you off into a California daydream and with stand out tracks 'Float' and 'Sweet Tooth Man' its clear they are on to a winning formula.
One of the smartest bookings for the weekend was one of the 1968 acts The Pretty Things who celebrated the 50th anniversary of their rock opera 'SF Sorrow', one of the first of its kind and a huge influence on The Who’s 'Tommy', by performing it in its entirety for the last ever time on Sunday in the Big Top. Now in their 70s, lead singer Phil May and guitarist Dick Taylor, who was in the Rolling Stones until 1962, played with as much gusto as they had in the 60s. Isle of Wight 50 years on, there’s still life in the old dog yet.
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Words: Lisa Higgins
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