Perhaps it’s the seeming isolation of being on an island, or maybe it’s the easy access to civilisation in nearby Newport that makes the IoW festival seem more like a holiday destination than a survival camp, but from the moment you get settled in, there is an almost palpable sense of vacation about this music festival.
To skim over the pragmatics: access to the IoW, though seemingly daunting and pretty costly (expect to pay upwards of £150 for a return crossing with a car during festival season) is easy to navigate, and well organised. This is a well-established festival, and the local travel companies seem to accommodate the annual influx and exodus of face-paint sporting, liver-bashing festival goers with enthusiasm and efficiency. Car parking on site was abundant, (though slightly more expensive than some festivals) and was a relatively short walk to the general camping areas. For those of us who struggle to travel light, there was a substantial fleet of handsome sherpas, whom for £20 will take your bags and tents from car to pitch. Despite our reluctance to let our weighty cargo get the better of our strong lady-bods, my best pal Naomi and I caved and hired our own sweaty, very friendly, and sort of sexy man to help us to get our kit off the ground and our tent pegs in the appropriate holes. The camp site was virtually full when we arrived at 3pm on the Friday afternoon, but none-the-less we found a spot to pitch up in the rain, covered our faces in neon and glitter and filled our bellies with slightly-too-warm, cheap, boxed perry.
The line-up offered a wide range of musical styles that was reflected in the diversity of the attending demographic. Old and young were entertained in equal measure, and lesser known acts such as The Lion and The Wolf and CC Smugglers managed to draw in decent crowds despite the high-profile headliners…My own musical investigations started with the second half of the Counting Crows’ set on Friday afternoon. I know. Counting Crows. I was immediately transported back to my big brother’s bedroom listening to his cassettes, feeling like the coolest kid in the street – I definitely wasn’t. Anyway, despite being a bit on the portly side, Duritz and his dreadlocks killed it and I had a super great time on my own with my £4.40 pint of flat Fosters.
The rain hit at about 7pm, and having smashed another litre or so of warm perry we donned our boots and brollies and made for the main stage for the Black Keys. Fuck. My. Life. I’ve waited a few years to see them live and it was worth it. Next up, after another two pints of Fosters, an argument with some prick called Ian and an unexpected boozy proposal to my best mate and future wife: The Prodigy. Soaked to the skin in rain and beer and cider and a few happy tears, Naomi and I danced for what seemed like hours to Fire Starter, Breathe and a bunch more tracks that, again, took me back in time. For want of a less clichéd word, the atmosphere was electric. The crowd danced through the downpour, topping off the best start to a festival I’ve ever experienced without shoving chemicals in any and every available orifice. Declining vodka jelly shots in favour of our slightly broken, and now abandoned, tent, we headed back hand in hand and hit the hay. Day one started at 5 am and ended at 3am and was worth every muddy second.
Saturday was sponsored by exploration, cherry beer, The Lion and The Wolf, an awkward PR stunt by Pharrell Williams, and BLUR. After the rain, the festival site was a bit of a mess. Food was on the agenda in a big way. We opted for cheap and cheerful-ish, and went for one of the many pizza vendors, but there were loads of food options available; the usual festigrub you crave when you have a festihangover: burritos, chips, burgers, thai, vegetarian, pizza…you get the idea. To our (my) delight, after lunch we stumbled across a moderately pretentious champagne bar where, opting for the cheapest possible fizz, we drank a bottle of Pinot Grigo spumante in the sun before heading to the main stage.
Pharrell..oh Pharrell…with the exception of a couple of NERD bangers, his set was a disappointment at best. Outshone by a granny in a PVC corset strutting her stuff on stage, Pharrell used a tasteless display of affection towards a disabled child to win over the hearts of the crowd. Fortunately, the PR stench soon lifted when Blur took to the stage, blowing everyone away with their seamless two hour set. Communal excitement peaked when Phil ruddy Daniels took to the stage and faultlessly reeled off the lyrics to Parklife in all their grubby Brit-pop glory. Tear count increased and I might have pissed a bit with excitement. Day two: incredible.
Our final day on site lead us back in time to a wartime bunker via the intoxicated tearooms: a small and hidden venue to which access was only granted to those present during the sounding of an air raid siren. We laughed, danced, sang an array of ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’ style ditties then ran away to the Bohemian Woods. Sitting on a cushion overlooking a wishing tree, surrounded by shishas and boho types, we reflected on the vast diversity of options available at IoW festival. We hadn’t even made it to the Hard Rock Stage, nor spent a great deal of time at The Big Top, highlighting the cliché that life (or this festival) is what you make of it. Every person’s tastes are catered for, not just musically, but also in terms of accommodation options, food, and non-musical entertainment.
Isle of Wight festival was brought to a close with the dons of British American pop/rock, Fleetwood Mac, with goddess Stevie Nicks practically floating on stage with her full length lacy black dress, complete with bat wing sleeves and her superstar attitude to match. Can you tell that I’m a little bit in love with her? Mick Fleetwood held up the rhythm section with one of the loveliest grins in modern music, which made up for the fact that Lindsey Buckingham has aged quite dramatically and now sports what looks like a vagina for a neck. Of course, they played Rumours and of course, they nailed it. Despite feeling that Blur had stolen the show the night before, Fleetwood Mac lived up to every expectation and was a once in a lifetime moment that will stick with me forever.
Our Isle of Wight festival experience ended with a night drive back to Plymouth, chemically enhanced with lots of caffeine and some new study drug that I’m not entirely convinced wasn’t just pharmaceutical cocaine. With plenty of chatting nonsense to keep our sleepy minds awake, we reminisced over the past weekend and vowed to return to the small island off the southern coast. Overall, IoW is a fantastic festival, if not a little mainstream. Ignore the extortionate travelling costs, and enjoy the Top 40 artists, you’ll be making memories at this festival that will last for years.