Day two of the Isle of Wight festival, and once again the Isle of Wight's famous micro-climate meant that the festival avoided the weather that washed out several other UK festivals over the weekend.
Early stage slots are always a difficult proposition for a band at a festival, as you're faced with a mix of the hungover, headline act fans looking to grab the barrier spots, and if you're lucky a few genuine fans, but the best of the bands can grab the indifference and change it round. Alabama3 proved they were one of these bands when they bought a sleepy festival stage to life. By the end of their blues-heavy set even the most hungover were up and dancing.
Another band capable of getting people off their feet are Dodgy,who, for one glorious summer in the mid 90s rode the final waves of Britpop. 20 years on and they were performing in the Kashmir café, where, even with the larger tent, it was so packed that we wound up listening to them rather than seeing them. What we heard was pretty good, and the reaction of the crowd showed they loved it too.
Saturday saw our chance to gauge whether the Hard Rock Café stage was mis-placed with it's proximity to the main stage, however our concerns were unfounded as once sat in front of it you were unaware of even the noisy fairground rides - something the main stage failed to achieve. The only downside was that meant that we were able to hear every note of Laurence Fox's performance. The sometime actor's performance was so leaden and musically confused that even he seemed slightly bored by it. He kept telling us that the songs we're written in memory of his recently deceased hamster, and having listened to half an hour of the less than fantastic Mr Fox, I wondered whether it was self-inflicted to escape his music.
By contrast Isle of Wight regular James Walsh achieved more with a single guitar than Laurence could do with an entire band. The stage which he had so successfully emptied was soon filled with a crowd dancing and singing along to a set filled with Starsailor's hits as well as a couple of solo efforts, and finishing on a cover of The Beatles' 'Little Help From My Friends'.
Returning to the main stage proper the first thing that hit us was how packed it had become - the reworked arena layout has cut a significant amount of space from the viewing area, with the food area Octopus Garden moved to the top of the field, and an Island in the middle based around one of the bars which was almost twice the size it had been originally. This meant that everyone was pushed up, with hardly any space to spread out into. Compounding this problem was the festival's solution to yesterday's bar problems - the introduction of a queuing system, which while it sped up the process of buying a drink, they had completely miscalculated the length of the queues, and so even at it's busiest, the reserved area was less than half full, while people were sat right up against the bar making it very difficult to navigate round the field, given as it blocked the main path from the toilets at the front to the exit to the other areas.
For those who did brave the crowding, they were rewarded by one of the greatest live performers. While Iggy Pop is nothing to look at (certainly an alarming prospect given his signature topless look displaying a scarred and wrinkled body), his continued energy and strength of voice belies his years. Even if his once shocking antics seem tame and a parody of himself these days it's still a captivating performance that never seems to get tired.
Best known for being the front man of The Verve, Richard Ashcroft cuts a slight figure on stage - even more so now that he has adopted a shaved head rather then the shaggy mop he used to sport. What he lacks in stature he more than makes up for in voice, with his Mancunian infused vocals carrying clear across the field, adding to the power of his voice are the lyrics – Ashcroft is a confessional singer and his incredibly personal songs often address his own struggles with depression. I think that this honesty is what makes him so powerful as a musician, whether it's the simple delivery of 'words just get in the way' or the string-filled bombastic rant of 'bittersweet symphony' he has that rare power to control an audience, taking them on a journey with him. A rare talent indeed.
Main stage headliners The Who's connection to the Isle of Wight Festival as their headlining shows at both the original 1970 festival and the 2004 revival are considered by many to be some of the band's finest moments. As someone who was lucky enough to be at the 2004 show (I missed the 1970 show by dint of not being born until 1972) I was looking forward to seeing the band again and had high hopes. The show started off with a bang, after the giant video wall displaying the message 'Keep calm, The Who are coming', the band exploded on to stage with typical energy performing 'Who are you?', 'I can't explain' and 'Substitute' in quick succession. The band then settled down into a run through of their extensive back catalogue, you really couldn't fault them on the performance. Where you could fault them however, was in the breaks. Before almost every song, Pete Townsend gave us a short history lesson, this led to a very stop/start show, and meant the band never seemed to build up the head of steam you normally get from them. Instead I got the growing sense of watching a documentary about the band rather than the great live performance they're capable of.
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