Over the last few weeks concerts have been in the news a lot, and unfortunately for the wrong reasons. The attack in Manchester, compounded by the London attack have meant that high profile UK events have become the focus for terrorists. As such it was no surprise that the Isle of Wight Festival – one of the the first major events since these attacks - saw additional security in and around the site. Although the bag and body searches made getting into the site a slow process, everyone seemed to accept it with good humour, from both attendees and staff.
Having cleared security and entering the site on a drizzly Thursday evening (rain which the Met Office app steadfastly refused to admit was happening), we had our first view of the site and on the face of it not much had changed – the main stage and big top were in place as were most of the usual venues. However on closer inspection we started to spot several differences, most noticeable being the absence of the Hipshaker tent – a staple of the IW Festival for almost a decade now. Also we realised, as we got to the camping area, that this is in fact a far more compact festival with only three fields of attractions instead of the four that the site previously boasted. While this may have seemed to be a backwards step, in fact it seemed to work to the festival’s advantage. With some of the smaller stages moved far closer to the main action, meaning it felt more of a varied and functioning festival and less a series of diminishing attractions as you moved away from the main stage.
Thursday night entertainment was centered on the Big Top with the Sex Pissed Dolls, The Alarm, Starsailor and headliner’s Razorlight all putting in polished performances. Standout of the evening was probably The Alarm, Mike Peters voice and passion as a frontman is undiminished by his years and still well worth checking out if you get a chance. Close second was Starsilor – IW Festival regulars who always put in a good show and have plenty of big anthems, even if their biggest reaction was for a cover version of The Stone Roses ‘Waterfall’, performed as a tribute to those who died in Manchester.
Friday saw the rain clear up, and the sun came out leaving the site pretty dry (if a little tacky in places). One of the main advantages of not opening the main arena was that that was still pristine for the larger crowds.
Due to delays in security – the first act we caught properly today was Rag n Bone Man – a man whose burly looks belie his voice and character, it's hard to believe he only really came to the industry last year with his hit single Human. Following up was Kaiser Chiefs a band whose resurgence after Ricky Wilson’s stint as a coach on The Voice (not to mention a couple of really good albums). As always Ricky puts his heart soul (and fitness) to the test as he pours everything into his performance. And they managed to pack most of their hits into the short set to the delight of the crowd.
Not being excited by tonight’s headliner DJ David Guetta we instead chose to lose ourselves in the festival site. One thing that has improved with the festival in recent years is it’s development of the fringe – IW is a very mainstream festival and it’s good to see it embracing the smaller areas that can make a festival really fun. Only in its second year Cirque De La Quirk is fast becoming the best of these areas, with performances form DJs and bands interspersed with acrobats, fire eaters and other oddities – all wrapped up in a steampunk themed package that is at odds with the bright and flashy theme park rides that surround it. Within this it seems appropriate that the kings of festival fringe activities, the Dub Pistols choose to perform their usual full-on and explosive set, mixing Ibiza anthems with hip-hop and soaring Ska horns, while frontman Barry Ashworth stalks the stage whipping the crowd (and occasionally the rest of the band) into a frenzy.
Our final stop of the day was the Kashmir Cafe for the headline of The Ohmz v Bigtopp. The prospect of a face-off between two of the larger reggae and Ska bands on the south coast should have been a delicious prospect, and having seen both these bands before hopes were high. Unfortunately guitar problems for Bigtopp led to a far under-par performance and neither bands performed at their best tonight, seeming to slow each other down rather than egg each other on.
This disappointment aside it was still a good start to the weekend and showed why the festival can be one of the best on the calender.
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