Weather and viruses fail to dampen the party at Jack up the Summer 2021

Jack Up The Summer 2021 review

By Steve Collins / Marie Magowan | Published: Tue 10th Aug 2021

Jack Up The Summer 2021 - around the festival site
Photo credit: Steve Collins

Jack Up The Summer 2021

Friday 6th to Sunday 8th August 2021
North Fairlee Farm, Mews Lane, Newport, Isle of Wight, PO30 2JU, England MAP
currently £65 for the 3 days
Daily capacity: 4,999

You don’t need me to tell you that the last couple of years has been pretty strange. But for the festival industry it’s been pretty tough – in 2020 festivals were cancelled as we all stayed home, and as we moved into 2021 the uncertainty saw many cut their losses and cancel for a second year. Others simply fell by the wayside as audience uncertainty left ticket sales a fraction of what they expected. That any festivals go ahead at all this year has been a testament to the determination of the organisers, who despite a constantly changing situation manage to pull it all together.

When we last left Jack Up The Summer it was already recovering from a difficult year. In 2019 a storm swept through the site on the Saturday, forcing the event to close its doors. It made a promise to bring as many of the artists who were due to appear back for the next festival, little realising that COVID-19 would make them wait two years before it could try to fulfill that promise.

Looking at the forecast ahead of the weekend one had to wonder if we would see another repeat for 2019, with heavy rains in the week leading up to a weekend with mixed picture of showers. And arriving on site there was a certain sponginess to the car park field. The arena itself wasn’t too bad though, and apart from a couple of pinch points that got a bit boggy the grass held up pretty well, and the areas that didn’t fair so well were quickly dealt with by a layer of hay.

This should have been my third festival this year, however having lost two to the virus, it has become my first, so I was interested to see how a festival would look in the pandemic world. The answer was very little difference, at least on the surface. Jack is a small festival with a comparatively large site to play in. Across the site there were requests to wear facemarks and use hand sanitiser, as well as the ubiquitous ‘hands-face-space’ message on the stage screens at regular intervals.

The bar and toilets had a one-way system in place (although traffic to the bar was fairly light, and by Sunday they had taken the barriers down). With a reduction in capacity there was plenty of space for everyone to spread out, and at no point did you feel hemmed in. The Jack crowd is usually a pretty friendly one anyway, and from what we saw, there was a certain respect for those who wanted to sit apart, while those who felt safer were happy to crowd in at the front. I will admit to being initially cautious and wore my mask in the entry queue and when approaching the stalls on the first night, but returning on Saturday I was far more relaxed and joined the ranks of the unmasked.

As a single stage festival the layout is fairly simple - at one end of the field is the stage, with stalls up either side. New for this year was a ‘food village’ - essentially a small area with a circled group of food venues - the festival is clearly trying to expand it’s offering in this direction, and it’s a welcome one. As alongside the usual burger and pizza vans, there were baked potatoes, fish and chips, as well as Thai and paella stalls. We had a particularly nice Thai green curry from the former with hand-made spring rolls filled to bursting with fillings. Prices were about usual for a festival, and a meal would set you back about £10 - but portions were generous and hot and filling. Bar prices were pretty good too, £5 would net you a pint, and there was a decent range of local ales alongside the usual lager and ciders. For those not of an alcoholic bent there were several options - of particular note was the Frostbite Bakery’s hot chocolate, which was very welcome as the evening chill set in.

Music-wise the festival has honed its formula over the years, mixing original acts from the 70s, 80s and 90s with tribute acts. This year was no different. Friday is a short evening with just two billed acts – Black Lace, and Doctor and the Medics – quite possibly the very epitome of a contrast. The former you may remember as cluttering up the airwaves in the 80s with a series of songs built round dance moves, and a staple of holiday camps and all-inclusives on the Mediterranean. Every fibre of my being wanted to hate them, but the truth is it was impossible - the songs are hard-wired into my brain, and you had to admit they could work a crowd getting them to do congas, the hokey-cokey, or the actions to their big hit ‘Agadoo’. By contrast Doctor and the Medics are probably not the band you think they will be – best known for the cover of happy-clappy anthem ‘Spirit in the Sky’, in fact they are a pretty heavy rock band, covering the likes of The ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ and ‘You Spin Me (Like a Record)’. After the unrelenting lightness of Black Lace, it was a welcome cleanser for the evening.

Saturday started off with a pretty heavy bout of rain that saw people putting on raincoats and plenty of umbrellas, but apart from some issues with the car parks, the arena held up pretty well. One of the early afternoon acts was Ska'd for Life - and one of the things you can guarantee is that Ska music will draw a crowd whatever the weather, and despite the downpour a sizeable group gathered in the mud to enjoy the show.

As the rain cleared away we had an uplifting DJ set from Dario G, who was best known for the unofficial 1998 World Cup anthem ‘Carnaval de Paris’ as well as ‘Sunchyme’. This was followed by performances from Heaven 17, and Aswad (probably the highlight act of the day for me, alongside the radio friendly hits was a fantastic dub-heavy set), and finally The Bohemians - a Queen tribute band who didn’t quite cut it for me - Queen are a tough act to emulate, and although the crowd enjoyed the singalong to all the hits and the band performed well, I think I’ve seen better tributes to them.

Sunday continued in much the same way - with much improved weather, with performances from festival regulars ABBA Chique, and Phats & Small,. Heather Small treated us to a great - albeit truncated - set before disappearing off to headline another show in Scotland. But the highlight of the day for me was Hugh Cornwell, who sounded as fantastic as ever performing a set mainly of old Stranglers classics with a few tracks from his solo career thrown in. The evening ended with another festival regular - From The Jam. All looking a little older now the energy of the band is undiminished - even if Brice Foxton’s trademark scissor-kicks don’t go quite as high as they used to. The trawl through The Jam’s hits was a great way to round off the weekend.

One last mention should be made to one musician - rather than just playing music between sets the festival took the decision to have a live performer instead. Simon Ledger - AKA Keytar Man was an unlikely star, but he really does deserve a mention for the stunning job he did, he kept the energy levels up and people singing and dancing between artists - Even after performing for over 10 hours across the weekend, his energy never dipped and was the true star of the weekend!

It was always going to be a difficult year for festivals, and so I take my hat off to anyone who decided to go ahead this year - particularly when it’s only a small event. The team behind Jack up the Summer managed to make it work really well despite restrictions. The friendly, welcoming atmosphere they created made for a great weekend. We’re already looking forward to next year.

review by: Steve Collins / Marie Magowan

photos by: Steve Collins

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