I entered the festival innocent, naïve, clean. I left a man.
Isle of Wight was the first festival I had ever gone to, and it confirmed every perception I had of what festivals were like: the overflowing toilets, the mud, the post-GCSE’s teenagers just discovering alcohol (and similarly, vomit). But bodily fluids and unsanitary conditions aside, I also discovered the aspects of what makes festival-going so attractive: the friendly atmosphere, the sense of community, and the often astonishing live music.
A couple of acts were provided to ease us in on the first night, but I was only able to see one band: The Stranglers. Their set mixed big hits like ‘Golden Brown’ and ‘No More Heroes’ with some lesser-known album tracks, but each song was performed with energy unbecoming of a band of near-pensioners, the highlight being the scuzzy heaviness of the bass-driven ‘Peaches’.
The festival got into full swing on the Friday, with acts on the main stage from around 4. Unfortunately, due to poor organisation, the openers, Feeder, played their first few songs to a crowd of around 100 people, the majority of people being refused entry to the main arena until 15 minutes after the set began. The disappointment Feeder must have been feeling was reflected in their relatively lacklustre performance, the band having little stage presence and only really coming alive on some of their newer material. The rest of the main stage acts more than made up for this early disappointment however. Noah and the Whale were engaging and snappily dressed (bassist in an all-white suit, take a bow), front-man Charlie Fink even devoting time to introducing every member of the band as they placed a concise set of the band’s most popular singles: even the vapid and sycophantic ‘Five Years Time’ sounded good in the live setting. Example, while proving that he can perform competently with a live band, attracted one of the roughest crowds of the festival and despite having a lively, charming stage presence, his musical performance itself never really matched his energy, even on guaranteed crowd-pleasers like ‘Changed The Way You Kiss Me’ and ‘Kickstarts’.
Despite not being a fan under normal circumstances, I was blown away by Elbow’s performance. The grandiose, orchestral nature of their songs seemed perfectly suited to an outdoor festival atmosphere, particularly in a rousing extended version of ‘One Day Like This’ that served as their closing number. This was in no small part down to front-man Guy Garvey, who engaged in friendly conversation with the audience between songs and even came up with his own song on the spot about the weather and sleeping conditions.
Headlining on the first night were classic rock legends Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Much as Petty’s age was showing in his lack of movement around the stage, and his occasional need to hang on to the microphone stand for support, over 40 years of performing ensured that the man and his band knew how to work a crowd. They started slowly, easing the crowd in with a confident rendition of ‘ I Won’t Back Down’ and a cover of ‘Handle With Care’, originally by the Petty-featuring supergroup The Travelling Wilburys, aside a few slower album tracks. Proceedings really kicked into gear when the Heartbreakers played a barnstorming version of the Fleetwood Mac song ‘Oh Well’, Petty eschewing his guitar for a pair of maracas and hurtling around the stage and his bandmates like a man possessed. The set peaked (somewhat predictably) with ‘Free Fallin’, but ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’ and ‘Runnin’ Down A Dream’ offered similar excellence among some weaker material from Petty’s latest album Mojo.
Look out for the Isle of Wight Saturday and Sunday Review coming soon here on The Edge.