After a sprinkling of overnight rain that thankfully failed to make any impact on the Isle of Wight Festival site, we arrived on site for Half Moon Run, whose well trodden indie/pop sound made for a pleasant soundtrack for a Sunday afternoon.
Today posed a bit of a dilemma for us – today's line-up hadn't particularly grabbed us, and the few bands on that we wanted to see all clashed with each other. Add into this mix was the desire to get a good viewing spot for tonight's headliners Queen, which given the crowded main stage would probably preclude dipping in and out of other stages as we would normally do. So after one last trip up to the Kashmir for a cherry beer or two and listen to a pretty good set from local musicians Doug Alldred and the Silver Lining, we returned to the main stage to settle in for the day. While this meant missing out on a couple of my favourite bands – Reef, and The Wonder Stuff in the Big Top, It would mean we'd have a chance of getting close to the main stage.
As suspected the crowds were pretty packed and unless you were prepared to stand the whole time, anywhere in front of the sound stages was packed out already - made worse by the addition of more stage furniture in the form of a runway from the stage out into the crowd. So instead we placed ourselves just to the left hand side where the elevated view (the park that the festival is based in is on a gentle bank that slopes down to the main river on the Isle of Wight) gave us a reasonable view of proceedings. Also helpful was our neighbours New Zealand flag that meant we had a good marker to find our place during drink stops, food runs and toilet breaks.
It always amuses me when a musician has a couple of bands on the go, and while one can headline any festival they choose, the other has to 'slum it' with lower spots down the bill – especially when the setlists are largely similar. It seems like you are getting a bonus bigger band. Such is the case with Mike & The Mechanics who performed a good crowd-pleasing set as the afternoon sun broke through. As well as the usual hits of Living Years and Silent Running, the mechanics set is liberally sprinkled with Genesis hits as well, which lead singers Tim Howay and Andrew Roachford (yes, that Roachford, of Cuddly Toy fame) made a pretty good go of. Overseeing everything his Mechanics were doing was the eponymous Mike Rutherford, who seemed to have a fatherly air about him as he remained content to stay in the background while his 'children' took the limelight, only coming forward briefly on occasions to thank the audience for listening.
Being content to stay in the background is something you could never accuse Yorkshire brothers The Cribs of. Sadly now missing Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, they seemed determined to make up for the loss of a member by being as loud and energetic as they could, attacking the stage wth a noisy wall of fuzzy guitars and employing every punk cliché they could manage – guitars and mike stands were thrown, the stage was jumped and climbed all over and there plenty of snarling and posing. Not that this was a bad thing, as the Isle of Wight Festival can be a tame affair at times, and so it never hurts to shake the audience up and remind them of its roots as a rock festival.
With the sounds of The Cribs feedback still ringing in our ears, we took a chance to grab a bite to eat. One area that the 2016 festival has upped its game is the food, and the selection was pretty good this year, prices remained steady too with a snack costing around £4 and a meal around the £8 mark. Today we opted to head for the Octopus' Garden where the 'posher' food stalls are found, and one of the few places with any significant seating in place. So having replenished ourselves with an excellent beef chilli and garlic bread from the local garlic farm stall, we started to make our way back to our spot for the final acts of the evening.
First up was Ocean Colour Scene who originally broke big during Britpop, and whose second and breakthrough album Moseley Shoals, is now 20 years old. This performance is part of a series of concerts to celebrate this fact, and as such almost all of the set came from the album, with the only deviation being 'Hundred Mile High City' and the tubthumping protest song 'Profit in Peace'. Between Simon Fowlers Northern soul vocal and Steve Cradock channeling Clapton's Cream era guitar sound, they quickly had the audience up for a sing and a dance that even the arrival of a rainstorm couldn't diminish. The biggest reactions were reserved for their hits 'Riverboat Song' and 'The Day we Caught the Train'.
All of which brings us to tonight, and probably the weekends' headline – Queen.
Now before we go any further, lets get one thing out of the way. Freddie Mercury was a one-off, a larger than life character and supremely talented performer who dominated the band completely, and you'd have to be mad to try to replace him. That said plenty of bands through history have lost members and carried on – the current controversy over Axl Rose in AC/DC seems to overlook the fact that Brian Johnson was himself a replacement for Bon Scott. Personally I don't think it's unreasonable for the remaining members of a band to want to carry on. So if you're one of those people who believe that Brian May and Roger Taylor should have followed John Deacon into monkish retreat after Freddie's death then feel free to skip the next four paragraphs and go to the final round-up.
Queen, along with ELO make up the soundtrack to my junior years, my father was a massive fan of both and it was typical to have one of these bands music playing in my house growing up. One of the big regrets of my life is that the band stopped touring just as I got old enough to start going to gigs, so I never got to see them live. It was this weight of expectation that I brought with me to the Sunday night at the Isle of Wight. I'd heard good things about Adam Lambert, the new lead singer and was, along with about 50,000 other people, hoping that I wouldn't be disappointed.
Fortunately I had nothing to worry about, Adam Lambert is almost as rare a performer as Freddie was, he is as flamboyant on stage and, is one of the few people with the range and strength in his voice to carry off the songs. Most importantly however, is that despite this obvious connection to Freddie, he wasn't just a tribute act, he is his own man and brings a unique flavour to the show. From the thumping rock of 'Seven Seas of Rhye' to the pomp of 'Killer Queen', Adam performs them as cover versions not tribute acts, respectful to the original versions but willing to add his own vocal rhythms and timings to the mix.
Backing him up are the two active remaining members of the band who are stunning instrumentalists - Brian May's guitar work is magic, and displays the bands progressive roots - especially during the solo where he rose up on a platform to perform in the middle of the backdrop screen surrounded by a giant starfield. Roger Taylor is one of the finest rock drummers you'll see. More surprising is that he's also a pretty good vocalist, taking over on the vocals for 'A Kind of Magic' with ease.
Being Queen, this show wouldn't be complete without a stage set, and the show was suitably replete with lights, lasers, a giant mirror ball. But then given the strength of the musicianship on stage, you needed something extra special to match it. The crowd for their part were ecstatic, and sang their hearts off to every song. As far as headliners go it was possibly one of the best I've seen over almost 30 odd years of festivalling. As the band finally left the stage to the strains of 'God Save the Queen' the crowd headed home, throats croaky from the singing, knowing that they had been in the presence of music royalty, and in Adam Lambert Queen's music is in good hands.
To conclude (and welcome back to the Freddie Mercury purists) the Isle of Wight Festival is a really good festival that continues to grow and change, and 2016, like it's predecessors has had moments of brilliance. But they really need to look long and hard at the main arena layout, and try to deal with the overcrowding as it really does let the rest of the show down.
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