The Isle of Wight Festival is the first of the summers big festivals, with almost 50,000 people travelling to the Isle of Wight, an Island on the south coast of Britain. Although the festival doesn't start properly until the Friday, like most festivals the campsites open on the Thursday and a limited programme of music takes place in the evening.
The biggest acts were located in the big top, where early arrivals were treated to an evening of singalong anthems from From The Jam, Inspiral Carpets, and Boy George. Although Boy George was the headline, personally the bands seemed to be in the wrong order, with the best performances given by From The Jam and Inspiral Carpets. Boy George, gave a polished performance, but his mix of reggae and 80s soul was just a little too laid back - especially after the raucous punk and 90s indie of the previous acts.
Away from the big top, several of the smaller stages were hosting performances as well, of particular note was Pronghorn, who's country-punk ensured that the Strongbow Garden wasn't a place to relax. Also driving a crowd into a frenzy was Damien Paul's performance in one of the new venues for this year - the Whisky Room. The local bluesman, whose mix of original songs and Johnny Cash covers made for one of the highlights of the evening, and set a high bar for the other small stages to aim for, setting up the weekend to come perfectly.
Friday at the festival saw the site baking in strong sun, with barely a cloud in the sky. Because of the proximity to a school and in deference to the GCSE exams taking place that day, things don't get started until a civilised 4pm. Opening proceedings on the main stage were a band that most of the female students would have probably happily left school early to see. Lawson perform the sort of radio-friendly pop rock that has become popular after Journey's 'Don't Stop Believing' retroubled the charts a few years ago. Given my usual ire at the state of the music industry and those who perpetuate its current malaise, I really wanted to hate this band but I just couldn't. Maybe it was the sunny day or the enthusiasm of the crowd but they seemed perfectly pitched for the day.
I once overheard someone say that you can't start the Isle of Wight Festival untilJames Walsh has arrived, and it's certainly true that since the festival restarted in 2003 he's performed somewhere. This year he was getting in early with a set on mainstage with the newly reformed Starsailor - a quick trip through the hits was the order of the day, with James' plaintive vocals coming across clear in a fairly unremarkable set. The most notable thing was the guest guitarist - Mark Collins of the Charlatans. Which was a shame as at their height, they were a band that could blow you away.
After a brief swing past the Kashmir Cafe for refreshment (Their cherry beer is highly recommended) and some music form local band Weatherkings, it was off to the big top for Ska legends The Selecter. There's something about Ska and reggae that makes it universally loved, and this was proven as the initially small crowd (maybe 300 at most) swelled as the set went on so by the end of the show the big top was packed. Led by Pauline Black and Arthur 'gaps' Hendrickson, the energetic duo took them through their back catalogue as well as a few ska classics.
Raising the crowd into as much of a frenzy on the main stage, were Rudimental. It has become something of a tradition at the Isle of Wight to put a dance band on at the Friday sunset slot, and over the years legends such as Faithless and Groove Armada have made this their own. Rudimental were clearly up to the challenge of these past acts, and despite not really knowing the band beyond a couple of single releases, I was impressed by the band and before I knew it had watched the whole set.
The Isle of Wight Festival seems to have a core of bands that always have a welcome space - the aforementioned Starsailor, Snow Patrol and The Charlatans have all been regulars over the last decade. Biffy Clyro are the latest in that list, and over the last few years have been slowly working their way up the bill to the headline slot they gained this year. Arriving on stage typically stripped to the waist, the band performed a set that, having seen them several times before didn't really deliver anything new, and despite the obvious passion and dramatic pyrotechnics on the stage, just left me a little bit bored. As the show went on there was a noticeable thinning of the crowd that suggested I wasn't alone in my opinion. While clearly at the peak of their success, I suspect that this is as good as it's going to get for the band.
Despite being billed as the headliner, the honour of closing the night was left to Calvin Harris, who was performing a DJ set rather than a live show. Again there was a full suite of pyrotechnics and some impressive lighting on show, but the show seemed a little at odds with the audience, and you could sense a restlessness in those who stayed to watch but were too far out to be caught in the centre of the dancing at the front.
Another band performing out of place, were The Polyphonic Spree, whose euphoric, Californian pop-rock is usually best suited to sunny afternoons in the open air. Putting them in a tent at night seemed a little odd and despite their best attempt, they just didn't grab the crowd the way I've seen them in the past. They were additionally hampered by sound problems, which meant that their usually clear sound was muddied and at times almost impossible to hear frontman Tim DeLaughter's vocal.
Festivals are usually a mixed bag, and it's not unusual for the weekend to be a mix of highs and lows, and while the Isle of Wight has certainly delivered on that, it could probably do with the highs being a bit better if it's going to stand as one of the best the festival has offered.
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