Here’s a question no one’s ever asked: can you have a good time alone at a music festival? The answer is yes if there’s stunning music, a plethora of great people and you’re swimming in alcohol like a slice of lime in a G&T. In other words, the answer is yes if you go to the Isle of Wight Festival.
In exchange for this very review, I was given two media passes for the gig, which has its roots back in 1968. But I didn’t realise, because my idiocy is as colossal as a McDonald’s regular, that these were two separate passes for two separate people. Simply put, I had the chance to bring a mate along but I didn’t as I thought both passes were for me and me alone. Oh dear. We’ve got a Billy No Mates over here.
Nonetheless, since it was announced the 2016 line-up had me frothing with excitement like a rabid coffee machine, so I just had to go. And it was easily one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to. This is why...
Queen, Who Really Did Rock Us:
I have to start with the best act, and that was undoubtedly Sunday’s headliner – Queen + Adam Lambert. As we all know, there’ll only ever be one Freddie Mercury – unless a clone slithered out of his moustache and is waiting for the perfect moment to seize the music world – and so it’s pointless to expect any performer, no matter how talented, to replicate the voice and showmanship of the deceased frontman. But this is not to say that no other singer can put on a show alongside Brian May and Roger Taylor. Adam Lambert proved this.
For starters, and filling up your doggy bag it’s so good, his voice. He can go higher than a space shuttle while maintaining total control, something that even Mercury struggled to do live. Lambert did so in almost every song at just the right time, cutting through the thick, heavy guitars, keys and drums combo which provided the backing. What’s more, he also showcased an Elvis rock ‘n’ roll quality during ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, and had an abundance of power during the ballad ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’, which the band dedicated to the victims of the 12th June Orlando Pulse gaybar shooting.
Lambert’s camp exuberance was wonderful, bringing humour to the stage through a self-mocking tone, as evident when he complained of the hardship of trying to meet that special someone while being a touring artist. Poor boy. Moreover, his sparkly outfits shone as brightly as his personality, accompanied by a royal throne and goblet in ‘Killer Queen’, adding to the near theatrical performance.
As for Mr May, it was business as usual – a flawless performance filled with the nuances of a live show, variations on the classic guitar solos, the staple ‘Brighton Rock Solo’, and hard rock rarities such as ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ and the full album version of ‘I Want It All’. Furthermore, the alternate ending to ‘Somebody to Love’ was as aggressive and energetic as a pit bull on Red Bull, pretty much punk in fact.
It was a pleasure to be amongst the crowd and May too felt privileged to perform before us, taking a selfie of the thousands of fans and calling us amazing. The flattery. And guess who else was on top form – Taylor. He bashed the drums harder than ever before with his son Rufus Tiger, a fellow drummer, who he challenged to a drum-off which proved that the old saying holds true – like father, like son, they were both awesome.
Needless to say, one of the highlights was ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, the headbanging guitar riff that leads out of the operatic section turning the crowd into a sea of pogo sticks. And of course everyone joined in when Freddie appeared on screen, sharing the verses with Lambert.
The Choirboy inside the Bouncer’s Larynx:
The Who, even though they headlined the day before, had it tough to follow in the footsteps of Queen. Nonetheless, they too put on a great show, Townshend’s right arm gyrating like a supersonic Catherine wheel, and Daltry’s voice still going strong after 50 years in the band. They played hits such as ‘Who Are You?’ and ‘Baba O’Riley’ amongst many others, and although I’d had quite a lot of gin at the time and thus don’t remember the finer details of the set, I do know that it rocked, because I was jumping about all over the place. Or maybe that was just the gin. Probably the music and the gin. Yeah.
In 2014, I went to see McBusted, and although they were good, I couldn’t help but think that something was missing – there was a distinct lack of big, black eyebrows. This year, though, on the IoW, they returned, attached to the man himself, Charlie Simpson.
Busted started out with a new song, but thankfully that soon ended and the classics were brought out of the noughties and into the present day, twenty-somethings becoming kids again, it was like being at a 10th birthday party back in 2003. Everyone liked the way the air hostess dressed, was glad they crashed the wedding, and went to the year 3000 with the reunited Essex pop rock trio.
On the Main Stage were many more artists such as Faithless, who mainly played drum and bass – the stuff you’d pop a few whizzy pills to – as well as employing some more reggae inspired tracks and some dirtily distorted electric guitar. Their light show was just as captivating, all lasers and glittery sky. And even though one of the backing singers looked a bit like Phil Mitchell from EastEnders, he had a fantastic high, soft voice, as if a choirboy was hidden inside the larynx of a night club bouncer.
The Main Stage itself was a whacking great thing with huge TV screens either side, the standard for most big festivals, and must’ve had tens of thousands of fans packed in front of it. Other notable acts to perform there included Stereophonics, the High Kings, and Iggy Pop.
Elsewhere there was music of all genres in varying locations. The Jack Rocks tent, which had Jack Daniel’s bottles chandeliers and lightbulbs strung from the blue roof, was home to the bulk of the upcoming rock bands. One of my favourites was Jackals Rose, a grungey, punky quartet with tinnitus-giving guitar solos, a hard-working bassist, a drummer who crashed about like a temper tantrum toddler, and a singer who screamed as if a Japanese spider crab had just clamped its pincers around his bollocks. Also there was Moonlight Zoo, who had a funky feel; Willow Robinson, a fingerstyle electric guitarist who had both psychedelic and Mark Knopfler tones going on, making those folk-playing acoustic guys seem as boring as cutting your toenails; Clay, whose singer exuded confidence to the point of arrogance while dancing about to the band’s popping 80s inspired rhythms; and Cabbage, their singer going topless and jumping off stage like the place was a hardcore punk club.
The Big Top – another tent that looked like a blue and white circus big top – hosted Status Quo, who are currently on their last ever Electric Tour, as well as The Family Rain, a Pendulum DJ set, Adam Ant, and Feeder, to name a few. In the Kashmir Café, you could find acoustic artists and hot drinks, the Hipshaker Lounge housed a foursome of girls singing in a 40s barbershop style, in Electro Love you could hear DJs play classics like Tears for Fears and watch some of the worst dancing ever, Platform One had Timeless – a young band for the future – and there were plenty of other venues to hear everything from dubstep to spoken word.
On the Saturday, I had the chance to speak to the lead singer and the guitarist of White Room. Sadly, I missed their set, but apparently people were hanging from the ceiling and someone brought in their cat and it died, although I may have misheard them, or maybe they put some world-class sarcasm over on me. We did have a conversation about guitars, Roger Daltry’s voice, and how even though they get paid to do the festival, it barely covers their travel. But I was pleased to hear that they were doing it simply because they wanted to play, and that they spent a lot of their time listening to the other bands in the relatively small Jack Rocks tent. If they do make it, I hope they don’t lose their down-to-earthness. And if they remember me, I’d be more than happy to take a cut of their millions.
The £350 Champagne and the Ostrich Burger:
Picture a carnival and you’ve pretty much imagined exactly what the arena looked like, people on stilts, fire jugglers, rides, games, clothe stalls, food stalls, and the music tents. The lot. Here you could sample a whole range of culinary treats from noodles to burritos, my favourite being the ostrich burger filled with onions, rocket, a thick Stilton mayo, and a juicy patty – but costing over £7.00 a squawk, it was definitely a delicious one-off. Saying that, most of the food was overpriced given the size of the portions. For instance, it cost me £5 for a small tray of cheesy chips, and although they were good – as was all of the food on offer – they weren’t £5 good.
Other items on sale featured an extensive selection of things a wannabe hippy would buy – genie pants, ponchos, headbands and so on – as well as a million different hats and sunglasses, all of which were so ridiculous no one would’ve bought them but Lady Gaga on acid. Then again, I did purchase a delightful pair of floral patterned sunglasses adorned with silver hearts, and I can report that I didn’t do one single drug. Ahem.
If dressing up like someone out of Culture Club doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, you could’ve locked been inside a metal ball attached to some bungie rope and had yourself flung far too many feet into the air, all for a price equivalent to that of a pint of beer. In fact, you also could’ve ridden a helter skelter, thrown a ball at some tin cans or some darts at a dart board. I guess the beer does sound like the best option.
But it wasn’t. At £4.50 for a bottle of Foster’s, which may as well be that fizzy, fruity flavoured water it’s so tame, drink was hardly cheap inside the arena. A decent bevvy would set you back close to £6 a pint, and if you had a wallet the size of a planet, or a brain the size of a crumb, you could’ve bought a bottle of champagne for £350. Uhuh, that’s right. £350. Just think of all the Flumps you could get instead. And to make matters worse you’re not allowed to bring in your own alcohol.
If splashing the cash isn’t your thing – in which case, don’t ever go to a festival – there was a free mini museum showcasing Jimi Hendrix inspired artwork and images from the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, including one of the line-up posters from that year. Hendrix, the Who, Miles Davis, the Doors. Over 600,000 watching. Probably a load of crap.
The Woes of Colin McRae:
People at festivals are famously friendly, primarily because everyone’s there for the music, and also because everyone’s drunk, high, or asking you nicely if you’ve got any drugs to share. Therefore, it’s generally a good idea to start accumulating your festival friends within your own campsite, as, after all, these are the folks you’ll be trudging past on the way back from the portaloo, toilet roll in hand, stench stuck up your nostrils.
Thanks to my media pass, I was able to pitch in the VIP campsite, which had a lakeside view, toilets, sinks and showers. From what I saw, it was similar to the regular camping areas, but perhaps a bit less cramped and marginally closer to the arena. And it was good to see that there was a selection of different campsites from guest camping to family camping, meaning that you didn’t have to pitch beside a bunch of lads and their endless supply of cider and house music.
In my campsite was an old punk rocker, pink leopard print hair and attitude. She was slagging off stewards for everything, in particular for not letting her take her car into the campsite, even though she was previously told that she could. Her solution to the problem was to spin her wheels and race by, leaving him in a cloud of dirt, real Colin McRae. In return, allegedly, he swore and chased after her. He was almost sacked for that.
Nevertheless, the majority of the staff were pleasant, saying ‘Hi’, answering questions and at times sneaking you through the barriers so to open up a shortcut. In fact, overall I have very few complaints of the staff and the festival.
Having spent £32 getting from Lymington on the mainland, to the festival grounds and back again, I may as well have been mugged at gunpoint for the contents of my wallet. That said, I heard that some were paying hundreds of pounds to take their car on the ferry, so I suppose that in the end I got an all right – but by no means reasonable – deal.
Even though I now had less money than a kid in an African slum, the two advantages of catching the bus to the festival were firstly the fantastic views, field after field of every shade of green, trees forming archways over the roads, and an old castle amongst the hillside. Secondly, the drop off point was right by the ticket-to-wristband exchange office – for regular attendants – and the main campsite entrance.
Yes You Can:
I began by asking whether you can have a good time alone at a music festival. The answer is most certainly yes, as I think the Isle of Wight Festival is one of the best I’ve been to, and I have no doubt that Queen + Adam Lambert will be the greatest live show I’ll ever see. In hindsight, I never really was ‘alone’, I met a mass of different people and spent a lot of time with them, and when I was by myself, I was surrounded by fantastic music. So if you’re looking for a festival with top acts, and whether you’re going solo or with family and friends, go to The Island.
Published on 16 June 2016 by Joshua Perrett