Whoever’s decision it was – whether it was new owners Live Nation, promoter John Giddings, or indeed Solo Music Agency – to move the Isle of Wight Festival to Glastonbury weekend, it turned out to be a masterstroke. Not only was the sun blazing for four days straight with not even a sign of any clouds, let alone rain, but it was one of the busiest Isle of Wight weekends since its reformation back in 2002, as seemingly everyone filled the fallow year void across the Solent.
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the very first year back in 1968 (which saw the likes of Jefferson Airplane, T. Rex and Fairport Convention flock to the island), this year too had a suitable amount of legends in the form of Nile Rodgers, Van Morrison and Depeche Mode, as well as enough new music to keep it feeling as fresh and vital as ever. One thing the Isle of Wight Festival has always done well is straddle generations, as well as genres, and this year was no different. Like so few festivals, the age range must have stretched from five to 80, and everyone was there for a good time.
The Thursday, usually the quietest day exclusively for campers, showed the festival’s eclectic abundancy. While tribute band T-Rextasy kicked off with a little throwback to the first ever festival, This Feeling’s tent was rocking with swaggering indie-rock with The Gallerys, and a Kylie tribute act was exciting the masses in the pop-oriented Electro Love tent which was at capacity pretty much all weekend. My first taste of festival action, however, came from Swindon trio Yves who are an exciting, fast-paced band with a whole host of infectious guitar-driven melodies, and sing-along-style choruses.
The Thursday night headline performance came from 00s indie band The Wombats. This role is usually reserved for a nostalgic throwback – the likes of Status Quo, Billy Idol and Happy Mondays have done it in recent years – but, to make you feel old, I think The Wombats might just be stepping into that role. Playing a string of hits, including ‘Moving to New York’, ‘Kill the Director’ and ‘Techno Fan’, as well as songs from their new album Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, it was a riotous performance that proved that the Liverpudlians can still bring it to thousands of people 15 years after their inception.
Having seen them impressively play Green Door Store a few nights beforehand but to a very small crowd, I was interested to see Indigo Husk play to a festival crowd on the Hard Rock stage. Luckily, there were many more people and their set was miles better too. Seemingly made for a festival environment, they opened the Friday with some cracking indie tunes as well as a lot of laughs. Likewise, Judas, playing the festival for the third time, played to one of their biggest ever crowds in a show that made them look like the next big things. Watched by the likes of Mikey Jonns from This Feeling, as well as Peter Crouch and Abbey Clancy, there was a sense of euphoria in the air as they nailed their Big Top set with aplomb and showed they have the charisma, raw power and, most importantly, tunes to play even bigger stages to even bigger bigger crowds.
Next up was the salivating combination of two Brighton bands on This Feeling’s stage. First up were the extraordinarily young looking Lacuna Bloome, who have been making a name for themselves up and down the country. For good reason too, as their set featured catchy melodies, soaring guitars, and anthemic choruses that more than reinforced the laddy swagger happening on stage featuring England shirts and a lot of: “It’s coming home” (which, subsequently, should go down as the Isle of Wight Festival 2018 soundtrack). Brightonsfinest favourites Thyla were up next and, honestly, we’re running out of superlatives to describe them. Millie Duthie and co. are so impressive at this point, it’s beginning to get annoying that they haven’t gone stratospheric already. Plus, ‘I Was Biting’ is in the running for song of 2018.
Another star in the making and, dare I say it, future headliner performed in the Big Top. Tom Grennan, fresh from his Great Escape performance where we said “He spins, kicks and thrusts himself around the stage like a madman whilst bringing his husky and infectious riffs along”. Once again, he was terrific but it’s his sheer confidence at tackling these big stages that is remarkable. He knows just how good he is, and he’s got the songs to back it up. “This is mad, I’m just a kid from Bedford” he stated in the middle of his set. Something tells me it’s about to get a whole lot bigger.
The first legend of the weekend made an appearance next on the main stage. Before his Brighton Pride headline performance, Nile Rodgers and Chic wowed the crowd with 40 years worth of hits, truly showcasing that Nile Rodgers is at least in the top three songwriters of all time. Featuring songs by Chic, Sister Sledge, David Bowie and Daft Punk, he brought a party to the main stage like nobody else in the world could. “Someone said recently that Chic were the best covers band ever. I politely disagreed stating that I wrote or co-wrote every one of these damn songs!” Rodgers stated towards the end of his set. It was like watching a master at work, and truly an honour.
A change of tact next with Isle of Wight residents, 77:78. Made up of The Bees’ former members Aaron Fletcher and Tim Parkin, they showcased their debut album, out on Heavenly Records, divinely with a beautiful brass section. Their debut single ‘Love Said (Let’s Go)’ is a kaleidoscope of sounds, echoing classic pop, folk and psych but putting their own excellent stamp on it. Certainly one to watch, if this performance was anything to go by the band will likely carve an alternative section out of the industry just for them.
Isle of Wight Festival was made for bands like Friday night headliners Kasabian. In this ever so cynical world, Kasabian have fallen down in people’s estimation since their arrival on the scene back in the early 2000s. Not on the Isle of Wight, though, a festival that truly celebrates the mainstream of indie music. They were rewarded duly, too, with an anthemic, indie-meets-electronica masterclass that, from back to front, received the warmest of receptions. It’s hard not to, as well, when they throw out the likes of ‘Underdog’, ‘Shoot the Runner’ and ‘Eez-eh’ in quick succession early on in their set. As Friday night headline performances go, this was an absolute clinic in working the crowd to maximum excitement.
After seemingly everyone woke up with either a hangover, sunburn or both on the Saturday morning, organic pop trio Paradisia performed the perfect wake up call. The highlight for sure was a beautiful cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ which swirled around the vast surroundings of the Big Top and got the crowd singing along within seconds of the first note. Straight after, over on This Feeling’s stage, Lucie Barat entertained the crowd with her unique blend of spoken word and rock and roll. Like a mixture of Brix and
The Extricated and her brother’s band The Libertines, it was a straight-shooting set of punky, political statements.
Band of the moment Blossoms, fresh of their top five sophomore album Cool Like You, made their debut on the main stage having previously played the Big Top a couple of years ago. Such is the momentum of the band, they drew a huge crowd who were buzzing to see them. With an excellent blend of old songs and new songs, this felt like a very important moment for the band: they can officially say they can rock a main stage at one of the biggest and most diversely occupied festivals in the country. Of course, the old songs went down better but the likes of opener ‘There’s a Reason Why (I Never Returned Your Calls)’ and ‘Unfaithful’ both sounded absolutely massive. Only time will tell, but Blossoms could and should be headlining festivals like this on album number three.
Fellow buzz artist James Bay followed the Stockport quintet, further showcasing his second album Electric Light. Gone are the days where Bay used to stand with his acoustic guitar and sing delicate folk-inspired songs, this album cycle is seeing Bay try and take on the rockstar mantle. With a leather jacket and new haircut, and having supported The Rolling Stones earlier in the week, this was a rocking occasion that was sometimes undone by his milder first album cuts that he simply has to play. Still, it’s interesting to see an artist deviate from a successful formula to try something new.
However, it was clear that it was a certain Mr Liam Gallagher that everyone was here to see. The tension was palpable as he was filmed making his way through the backstage area to the sound of the ‘Champions’ chant in reference to Manchester City’s title winning season. Unfortunately only given an hour due to a co-headline slot with Depeche Mode, Gallagher rightly decided to focus on Oasis material as nine of the 14 songs he played came from the iconic Manchester band’s back catalogue. The rise of Gallagher from As You Were, to his euphoric Brighton Centre gig, all the way up to headline performances is nothing short of remarkable and he deserves every last second of it. Musically, he hasn’t skipped a beat. His stage presence is god-like, his voice is in great shape and who can argue with an ending of ‘Live Forever’ and ‘Wonderwall’? An absolutely awesome performance.
The mismatch of Depeche Mode after Liam Gallagher was always going to be weird, so it took a while for the crowd to grow into the 80s legends set. Depeche Mode in the live sphere has always been dedicated to providing a spectacle and that’s exactly what this did, but it’s understandable that half of the audience struggled to engage entirely with it. Essentially, Depeche Mode were made to be playing massive headline shows of their own, and there’s certainly something lost when they’re playing half to their own fans and half to Liam Gallagher fans. Still, you can’t argue with the likes of ‘Going Backwards’, ‘Precious’ and ‘Personal Jesus’. To see a band as alternative and experimental as Depeche Mode tackle places such as this is mightily impressive.
Arguably the greatest set of the festival came from Hacienda Classical, which saw the legendary Manchester club’s original DJ partnership, Graeme Park and Mike Pickering, reinterpret seminal dance classics with an immense orchestra conducted by Tim Crooks. No doubt the best moment came when they brought out Joy Division and New Order legend Peter Hook for a performance of disco banger ‘Blue Monday’. As festival highlights go, that’s as good as it gets.
The Sunday got off to a bit of a slow start musically due to the England match. However, that 6-1 demolition of Panama reverberated around the festival site and created a fantastic atmosphere in the intense heat. One of the future biggest pop stars in the world helped the festival to click into place musically for its final day too. Camila Cabello made time from her huge Taylor Swift support tour to wow her adoring crowd with an hour long set. It’s clear to see from the crowd reactions, the screams and the banners, that we were watching a future pop headliner here, and she’s got the songs to back it up. The likes of ‘Sangria Wine’, her collaboration with Pharrell Williams, and set closer ‘Havana’ are perfect summer pop songs and got the Isle of Wight crowd in the mood for more music.
Singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, and all-round music legend Van Morrison continued the good feeling too. I’d previously heard that he’s an incredibly grumpy performer, but he was on top form. Throughout he seemed happy to be there, continuously interacting with the crowd and his band, and he even dropped a few of his biggest known hits. Of course, the arrival of ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ sent the crowd crazy and, in the sun surrounded by thousands of people, it provided many with an ‘I was there’ moment. Simply fantastic, and Camila Cabello followed by Van Morrison is an encapsulation of everything good about the Isle of Wight Festival.
Arguably one of the best ever festival bands, Manic Street Preachers provided the perfect warm-up for The Killers with a festival-friendly set. Opening with ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, it was hit after hit for an hour which showed no sign of letting up as James Dean Bradfield and co. clearly enjoyed themselves immensely. As well as new ones from their 13 album Resistance is Futile, there were mass sing-alongs to ‘You Stole the Sun From My Heart’, ‘Your Love Alone is Not Enough’ and ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’, before a euphoric finale of ‘A Design For Life’. It was as good as a festival set could be and, in another, better world, Manic Street Preachers would be deemed big enough to headline a festival of this magnitude.
That role fell to The Killers, though, and my oh my did they smash it. The 00s as a whole has seen a distinct lack of huge American rock bands and, now five albums in, that’s exactly what The Killers are. Opening with Wonderful Wonderful lead single ‘The Man’, this 90 minute set was proof that The Killers deserve to go down as one of the finest bands of the 00s. Singles galore followed, with arguably the loudest sing-along of the weekend, but what’s most impressive about The Killers is Brandon Flowers’ energy, charisma and intense likeability. When Dave Keuning and Mark Stoermer left the touring band last year, lots of people were worried that it would be the end of The Killers, but on this showing, it’s clear that Flowers will never let that happen. He loves the band as much as he loves performing, and his lyrics clearly mean something to both him and every single person who’s sung them back to him passionately. “Our band’s called The Killers, so I guess that makes you the victims”. They certainly destroyed a lot of that crowd’s minds with this performance.
Having been before, this was certainly the most impressive Isle of Wight Festival for a very long time. They’ve finally ditched the legends Sunday night slot and the wonky co-headline slot on the Friday for a group of headliners that work together and will get people to buy tickets. As far as festivals go, you can’t beat the quality of the music, the amazing sunshine and the laid-back atmosphere of Isle of Wight Festival 2018. Camping festival season has kicked off with a bang!