Our second festival abroad (after Parklife Weekender) was a classic: the famous Isle Of Wight Festival on said island in South England, first held in 1968, started out as a kind of English version of Woodstock, and by now it’s famous for its great line-up, flawless organisation, incredibly nice and helpful staff and a unique hippie atmosphere. Redheadess visited the festival with three of her friends and while the way to the festival with a day in London squeezed in was perfectly organised, the way back resulted in a missed flight and a night and a half at the airport that was only bearable because of the really good music coming from a random airport bar. Thanks to the waiter for that. But let’s all just focus on the music of the weekend, shall we?
Held in Newport, Isle Of Wight, the festival stretches out all over Seaclose Park, which is more long than broad – thus we had possibly the longest ever way from our tent to the main stage. Everything else made up for it, though. Next to regular camping, there were opportunities to sleep in tipis, campervans, PodPads, and Tangerine Fields – a campiste closer to the festival site than all the others. There was Family-, Student- and Respect Camping and a surprisingly large amount of camping equipment such as whole pop-up tents, airbeds, blankets, sleeping bags and the occasional folding chair simply left behind on the site afterwards. Going from the regular campsite to the general direction of the main stage, you passed many fields of fun and games, food courts and fun-fair rides. There was a supermarket with microwaves for use and a stall for all the camping equipment you may have forgotten at home. The same field held the Dance Stage with such fine acts as Example playing, and going further you passed more food courts, face paint- and tattoo-booths, clothing shops and leisure installations such as Bohemian Woods (with hammocks to chill out) and Life’s A Beach (with sand and folding chairs all around). Between the two stages – Main Stage and the Big Top tent stage – there was the biggest ferris wheel put up, from which you had a great view over the whole site. As I’d never been to a UK festival before, this really was a welcome experience I’ll not forget so quickly. Even though our tent happened to be put up in the far north while the Main Stage was located in the far south – making each walk a half-hour hike – that was no problem at all, as we had the chance to fill our empty bottles with horrible English chlorine tap water. But yeah, thanks for the opportunity, I guess.
Line-up-wise, this festival was probably the most relaxed one I’ve ever been to – only two acts I really wanted to see played at the same time, fortunately. But more on that later.
The amazing Palma Violets opened the festival on the sunny Friday afternoon, playing Main Stage to 100-something people (of 58,000) – probably a bit more, but it was really empty at first. They opened with smasher “Johnny Bagga Donuts”, the perfect opener, really, belted out by bassist Chilli Jesson, a song that gets everyone on their feet in no time. He proceeded to jump around on stage while singer/guitarist Sam Fryer remained more aloof and organist Pete Mayhew proved to be the sleepy kitten people say he is: with out-of-bed-hair, large jumper and dreamy eyes, he seemed as if he was about to fall asleep every second. A highlight, on the other hand, was drummer Will Doyle who was all happy-go-lucky (and, sympathetically, did his own soundcheck) and kept waving and blowing kisses to people he recognised in the crowd. The London four-piece closed with their cheer-along song “14”, at which Chilli decided to jump into the crowd one last time. Being so young and inexperienced, Palma Violets mastered the opening slot at a 45-year-old festival very well.
Next up on Main Stage were Everything Everything, who opened with the exciting single “Cough Cough”. Even though I’d only listened to their albums a few times to prepare for their show back in March, I was surprised how many songs were still stuck in my head now. They never really went away, it’s a good sign. The four-piece (plus keyboarder) appeared with outfits matching each other and their huge black-and-yellow banner, and hearing everyone in the band singing the song in multiple voices was enjoyable.
Taking the Main Stage right after that – really, having only two stages is a damn good idea – was prodigy Jake Bugg, whom I’ve always wanted to see live. Believe it or not, as the 19-year-old entered the stage, he was indeed smiling – a rarity. He’d brought a bassist and a drummer along and didn’t really play any of his hit singles until the end – a good way to make people stay through the whole set. And if you expected anything from a Jake Bugg set, it’s probably not a floating condom hitting the boy in the head right as he sings ‘I’ve seen it all, nothing shocks me anymore’ – truly a highlight, and Jake almost smiled about that mishap. Generally, he looked a lot like a baby version of early Miles Kane and played his smash hit “Lightning Bolt” as a closer. We couldn’t watch that one from close up though, since we were already making our way over to Big Top stage to see the set of some Grammy winners from New York.
As we arrived at Big Top, we could catch the last songs of Lianne La Havas, who had a beautiful voice, a very young talent with an intriguing banner up on stage. Most people were, like us, already there for Fun. though, who once again opened with their latest single “One Foot” and had everyone singing along in no time. Singer Nate Ruess had a golden microphone and he and The Other Nate – bassist Nattie Harold, who looked like a kind of baby Alex Turner – wore matching leather jackets. The band played a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and also one of my personal favourites, “Barlights”, with the most fitting lyrics of the weekend: ‘And for the first time in a long time, I feel alive’. Contrary to my belief, though, nobody left after über hit “We Are Young”, at which the whole crowd was singing along, sometimes even without Nate’s help. The set was simply too good, I guess, and really made up for the fact that Fun. cancelled their show in Hamburg in May due to illness.
Our last act to see before returning to the tent for a bite was the fantastic Paul Weller, who was simply as energetic and fit as ever, despite the age. One of the oldest acts on this day, The Modfather still stripped down to a t-shirt at some point. We left a bit earlier as we wanted to see headliners The Stone Roses later and still had an hour of way before us.
Despite the rain setting in mid-set, crawling out of the tent again was still well worth it, the old men totally killed it with raincoats on. What surprised me was that while we watched about an hour of the set, the band played about five songs – each of them what felt like 10 minutes long! Sometimes it was hard to make out where one song ended and the other began, but it was still well enjoyable.
Our second day started with getting to the Big Top tent far too early for Willy Moon, so we went to see Willy Mason on Main Stage instead. Unfortunately for everyone without either a smartphone or too much money, there was no way to get a timetable from anywhere. A shock for us tourists who were used to get a timetable and a map for free at the site! Willy was fun, and we spotted Orlando Weeks from The Maccabees in the back at the sound tent, having snuck outside to watch Willy Mason. He was genuinely the nicest and most polite chap ever and told us he and the rest of the band would probably watch Bloc Party’s set later.
After one Willy, I headed over to see the other, Willy Moon, whom I’d only listened to on Spotify because my friend wanted to see him so bad. And already then I realised this guy has a bunch of brilliant and danceable songs and an incredibly charming voice. Today, he brought his all-girl live band (drummer Gigi Golderro and bassist Juliette Jackson) and a set held in all black and white (even the clothes matched!). During the songs Willy played without his guitar, he turned into this crazy performer, movements and mimics like a Tim Burton character with legs too long and a back too crooked sometimes. Despite the fact he was probably on drugs – he didn’t seem all too clear-headed to me – it was truly an impressive set.
Heading back to Main Stage to claim the best places in front for The Maccabees later, we then watched Laura Mvula, a young talent singing songs about her first unrequited teenage love at 15, and South Africa. Her backup band consisted of incredibly talented musicians and despite the cold wind, Laura sported the shortest dress I’ve ever seen and a fashionable fur coat to go with it. I hadn’t listened to any of their songs before, but damn, that was a good set and we’ll hopefully see more of her in the future.
Next up was rock’n’roll veteran Bonnie Raitt, a redheaded singer and great performer who didn’t mind making jokes about her own age and once thanked Adele for covering one of her songs so brilliantly. She was cool, a great multi-instrumentalist and showed even the younger audience waiting mostly for Bastille and The Killers that even if you’re not an exciting new act you’re still worth the appreciation.
Then the ones who most of the first row next to me (including the tiny girl trying to break my ribs by squeezing in between me and a mega Bastille fanboy) had been waiting for finally entered the stage: Bastille, what had once started as a project of singer Dan Smith, entered the stage, greeted by a surprisingly huge amount of people behind me. Sure, I knew they had one or two radio hits, but never had I expected such a response. Dan was overwhelmed as well, telling everyone that this was their biggest show to date and that two years ago, they’d played a set at the tiny Strongbow Stage somewhere on the festival site. Stripping down to a t-shirt despite the biting cold breeze, Dan switched between a keyboard, a single drum (the next big thing, apparently: about 70% of the bands had one on stage) and running around on stage like a madman. When the single “Flaws” came up, the atmosphere was already incredible, but the closing hit “Pompeii” really made me shiver: the crowd was singing most of it alone, a choir of voices, and it was absolutely beautiful turning around and seeing all the happy faces.
After that highlight, Ben Howard calmed everything down a bit. The lefty brought a very talented backup band with him, including a charming and happy girl drummer/organist and a bassist who also drummed while playing, I mean, no big deal, right? Ben also brought a bunch of nice sing-alongs with him, but who am I kidding, I was way too excited for what was up next to concentrate on Ben’s set.
The Maccabees then absolutely killed it, and despite guitarist Felix White’s microphone being off, he managed to hold a speech and making everyone jump in tune during “Can You Give It?”. Orlando almost killed Felix’s brother Hugo with his guitar, but the second guitarist was quick to dodge and got an apologising nuzzle at his shoulder from Orlando later. “First Love” was announced as ‘This is a love song’ and turned straight into “Precious Time” in the end. It was great to see everyone so happy, even Orlando Weeks who’d always had this aura of natural aloofness about him. But this evening, he and the others were happy bunnies and gave us the wonderful present of playing the closing song of their latest album, “Grew Up At Midnight”, in the very end. That song being one of my absolute faves, I may or may not have shed a tear or two and wasn’t even very disappointed when the band left three minutes too early, even though they could have played one more song.
Fighting the way out of the front row to the back, we stood and watched Bloc Party from afar, but it was still a highlight. I’d only seen Kele Okereke playing solo at Dockville Festival two years ago, and clearly, this was so much better. Even though he wouldn’t stop chewing gum, the set was generally enjoyable with tons of danceable songs. We found ourselves right next to some members of The Maccabees who’d held their promise to watch the fellow Londoners’ set. Bloc Party played a then-unreleased song called “Ratchet” which was really good and, for whatever reason, they also played a random Rihanna cover. But to each their own, I guess. Too bad the boys will go on an indefinite hiatus after their appearance at Latitude Festival this summer.
Saturday headliners The Killers were fifteen minutes late, but just as the first people started complaining for real, they stormed the stage and opened with “Mr. Brightside”. From then on, everything was well again and the atmosphere proceeded to be incredible, from “Human” to “Spaceman” to a cover of “When I’m Sixty-Four”. Frontman Brandon Flowers asked his band mid-set if they were ready to dance and each of them answered with instrumental solos – clearly a Yes! The show was incredible up to the confetti consisting of white lighting bolts and red lowercase k’s and The Killers ended their epic 1.5 hour set with hit single “When You Were Young”. Another night well spent.
Early on the last day, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel played Main Stage. Even though I only wanted to catch his hit “Make Me Smile”, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the set, for example “Here Comes The Sun” (it did), and a song about his children moving out. He told the crowd he’d also been around in the second year of the festival, 1969, back when there were some thousand 20-year-olds on site (that may have been an exaggeration).
We then collectively headed over to Big Top to see four amazing bands, the first of them being Kodaline, who were really sweet and charming and had a massive fanbase. Personally, I’d only checked them out before because they’d also be playing Hurricane Festival, but they now took me in with their great sing-alongs. And that without even having an album out! Respect for that, boys.
Next up were Imagine Dragons from the US who had the tent packed to the brim, with one massive drum in the middle of the stage (and some others spread around on stage as well). Not one song was played which the crowd didn’t sing along to frantically, belting out PMA lyrics back to singer Dan Reynolds, who clearly enjoyed the overwhelming response from the UK crowd. Personally, I’m a bit sad they didn’t play my favourite, “Demons”, but other than that it was an absolute highlight of the day. For about one half of a song, Dan’s mic was turned off, but that didn’t stop him from going into the crowd as often as possible and holding a great motivation speech before the band went into a 10-minute-long version of “Radioactive”. Impressive, I must say, and I deeply regret not visiting their club shows only a year back.
Kids In Glass Houses from South Wales were up then, a personal favourite of mine that I hadn’t seen in one and a half year, and with a new album coming out it did look very promising. Unfortunately, I started feeling incredibly sick somewhere mid-set and as little as I wanted to leave my comfortable place in the second row, I had to. Don’t get me wrong, the security people were incredibly nice, but their offered chlorine-contaminated tap water didn’t really help. KIGH played two new songs from their upcoming record “Peace” and wore matching outfits. Compared to Imagine Dragons’ set before though, the tent was pretty empty unfortunately. Basically singer Aled Phillips told us we were taking the band’s IOW virginity and then ended the set with the perfect closer, “Matters At All”. Throughout the tent, the whole crowd sang their ‘Good Night’s and soon after, another couple people left before Young Guns came on.
Having seen the High Wycombe boys six times last year I was excited to see them again after more than six months. I wish I could have enjoyed the set from the front row like all my friends, but the screens at the sides of the stage were almost as telling. The whole band wore white – I suspect a pun on ‘Isle Of White’ – and they too lost their IOW virginity to us as singer Gustav Wood pointed out about six times during the set. Young Guns played a song so old not even I knew of it before and ended their set 10 minutes too early. I’m sure it was amazing nevertheless. Let’s just say I’ll never touch an English cheeseburger again.
After a break in our own tent, we left for the festival site one last time for the weekend to catch at least the end of main headliner Bon Jovi, who we suspected to play from 10 to 12, as both The Stone Roses and The Killers had started at 10 as well. But apparently we weren’t so lucky. Arriving close enough to Main Stage to see and hear something at all, it was 10.30 and some song just ended. Turns out Bon Jovi had just finished their set, but we really only realised as credits started rolling down the big screens next to the stage, to the tune of “Penny Lane”. The fireworks going off then only made it all too clear that this wonderful festival was now over.
Blondie were still playing Big Top stage though, and we caught one song by them. Debbie Harry’s still blond, that’s basically all I can say to that. And even though this wonderful weekend ended with a missed flight and more than £100 less in my pocket than expected, it was still worth it.
10/10, would go again!