Every music festival has a bad year – Glastonbury had it's flood in 2005; Bestival had the mudslides in 2008. And in 2012 the Isle of Wight Festival had it's annus horriblis and made the headlines for all the wrong reasons: Queues that tailed back to the ferries, cars being hauled out of mud, biblical rainfall, and so on. In the aftermath there were calls from local companies and a few residents (notably most of who didn't actually live that close to the site) to revoke the license.
This year a lot of changes have been made to solve these problems should they happen again. There are new, purpose-built entrances to the car parks, and traffic management plans that requisitioned half the car parks round the Island to regulate flow into the site should things get boggy again.
Whether people were put off by the reports from last year, or whether they were just feeling the squeeze of the recession I don't know, but come Thursday afternoon it was noticeably quieter than it usually is on the Isle of Wight during festival time. Local pubs that are usually full of festival goers enjoying a pint, or the town being full of shoppers picking up the essentials, both were noticeably empty. Only the occasional welly-clad figure gave any clue that there was a festival happening at all.
Thursday night is always a slightly quieter affair at the festival, limited as it is to the campers. But the lack of people round the site was noticeable, as even for the Happy Mondays headline set the Big Top was only about half full. Arriving on site just in time to see The Blockheads leave the stage, we grabbed a drink and took the opportunity to have a quick wander round to gather our bearings. This year the festival site has changed, doing away with the second outdoor stage, and bringing in a Dance Tent, as well as opening up several new micro-venues through the site. Thankfully some of the old favourites have survived this change, a personal favourite, The Kashmir Café – mainly as the only place that serves real ale rather than the Carling that is exclusively round the rest of the site.
Back in the Big Top, The Farm came on stage to a bit of a mixed reception, although warmly welcomed by the crowd, it was noticeable that most of them didn't really know (or were barely even born when) the band hit it big in the early 90s, with the hits 'All Together Now' and 'Groovy Train'. The Farm's musical style is fairly uncomplicated, and easy to dance and bounce along to with singable choruses, so it didn't take long for them to connect with the more undecided listeners, while frontman Peter Hooton's friendly gentle banter with the crowd helped create an easy rapport with the audience.
Taking a break form the big acts we headed over to the Kashmir Café to catch a local band – Pleasurade – punky rock, with a underlying keyboard sound that gives them an anthemic feel at times, not unlike early Muse. Definitely one to keep an eye out for, as if they can break out of the local pub circuit they could do well.
There's not much that can be said about tonight's headliners The Happy Mondays, they're a band that over the years have become as famous for their off-stage reputation, as their on-stage one. Posterboys for the Baggy movement in the early 90s, they have somehow managed to survive the almost legendary quantities of drug-taking to become a band that have actually improved over the years. Frontman Shaun Ryder seemed more focused than any time I've seen him before, and although his voice was never the strongest or that tuneful, he manages to turn it round, delivering a laconic performance that contrasts well with the soulful dance music the rest of the band deliver. The only downside to their new clean-living is that Bez – probably the most famous, least talented member of any band in history – now doesn't have the drug-fuelled energy to maintain his manic dances for too long, and so we are limited to three appearances on stage during the set.
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