Friday on the Isle of Wight started quite cloudy, as if the weather wasn't quite sure what it wanted to do, but come lunchtime the sun won over and most of the clouds went on their way. We arrived back on site late afternoon and first call of the day was to see T'Pau in the Big Top. 80's legend Carol Decker's voice is still as strong as ever and she continues to perform with the same gusto as when they were at the height of their fame. There are obviously a lots of 80's fans in the crowd this year as the tent was fairly full. As ever the catalogue was full of popular tracks ending with a mass crowd sing-along to 'China In Your Hand'.
Walking back down through the site it was noticeably busier today, giving the impression that most of those camping had either arrived earlier today or that there were a lot of people who had taken up the opportunity of buying a daily wristband. The main arena was busy but not crushing as it has been on previous years. On the main stage were Everything Everything, billed as becoming one of the great alternative hopes, but unfortunately left me hoping for an alternative. So leaving the crowds who seemed to be enjoying themselves, it was back across site to the Big Top. One of the things I don't like about the layout of Isle of Wight Festival is that you walk backwards and forwards up the same stretches and there are never see any real nooks or niches where you can stumble across a surprise band without looking for them.
If there is a checklist somewhere that marks steps on the way for a festival, then I'm sure that having the Levellers play would be one of them. It's taken 11 years, but the Isle of Wight finally achieved this mark. Levellers are a band that have been intrinsically connected to festival culture since the 80s. Part folk/hoe down band, part protest singers, their infectious and honest music can lift even the hardest audience, and at the Big Top this was once again the case.
The next act on main stage was Jake Bugg, who has shot to the top over the past year, with a successful first album and tour. Jake has a character that belies his young age, and has a style that references the American folk singers such as Bob Dylan and Woodie Guthrie. The crowd seemed to be held in awe of this young star who treated them to a couple of new tracks and a spine tingling acoustic version of Broken. This is one young star that you can never have too much of. One of the real schedule mistakes took place here with Lianne La Havas playing in the big top, because if you like Jake you are very likely to enjoy Lianne, so not surprising the Big Top was fairly quiet for her relaxed soulful country-folk set, but she is an act to look out for in the future.
There are other small stages at Isle of Wight, but they are such a traipse away from the main stage that you really have to be interested in seeing someone to make the effort, as there is nothing else to really draw you in that direction unless you are really interested in the dance scene or DJs but when I go to a festival, it's the live acts I want to see.
As the sun went in there was a definite chill in the air, but that didn't seem to dampen anyone's spirits. Taking to main stage was Emeli Sande winner of 2012 Brit Awards Critics Choice. This lady certainly knows how to perform and please a crowd, but is one of those acts that I really don't understand. So it was now that we took the chance to grab something to eat. As ever with the Isle of Wight festival there is plenty to eat around the site and the main arena, but not much variety – you could attend the festival a dozen times over and still never repeat a visit to the same burger stand or noodle bar. Prices are about what you expect for a festival, with a meal costing about £8, and £2 for a drink, or £4.20 for alcoholic drinks.
There was a certain appropriateness in second headliner Paul Weller opening his set with 'The Changing Man', as this song sets out his stall for the coming show. Over the years Paul's music has changed, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. From the angry young man who fronted The Jam, the 80s playboy in The Style Council, his resurgence as a bluesman in the 90s, finally coming full circle as an angry old man in the last few years. All eras were on display here as we were treated to a musical journey through his back catalogue, finishing with a rousing sing-along of 'A Town Called Malice'.
It seems few reunions have been as long awaited as The Stone Roses have, and their return last year was to much acclaim. Personally I was unsure as to how I felt about their reunion – I liked their first album, thought the second was fairly average, and didn't really mourn their passing. Having seen Both Ian Brown and John Squire solo, I found the former to get progressively less capable live and the latter fairly average live. As a result I was interested to see how they stood up as a group these days. I have to say that on the strength of their performance on the Isle of Wight that the jury is still out. While they are a lot better than I thought, I still wasn't totally won over. Mani and Reni, although the two minor members of the group, provide a strong background and John Squire's guitar-work is as good as it has been, you're left with a nagging feeling that he's only there because as he didn't want to miss out on the reunion, but wasn't really bothered about it, stood largely at the back of the stage, head down, going through the motions. Ian Brown, by contrast was, in his own words "up for it", appearing on stage with his usual swagger and bluster. His voice was a lot clearer than previous years, but that inherent weakness saw him waver about at times. For those who were already fans they wouldn't be disappointed by the show, with hits such as 'Fools Gold' and 'I am The Resurrection And The Life' giving them a good opportunity to sing. But they wouldn't win over any new fans, and those of us on the fence would have been left feeling that this slot could have been given to a better band.
As the band left the stage, the rain started to fall heavily, we left the site too for the day, hoping it wouldn't turn the site to mud in our absence, and worrying that this was just a small look at the heavy rains scheduled to hit the site on Sunday.
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