Thousands of Hendrix masks, tons of late night disco and the long awaited return of Fleetwood Mac to the festival scene, even if it was touch and go for a while.
One of the earliest events in the festival calendar, Isle of Wight has notably reduced in size 45 years on from that infamous Hendrix performance in front of around 600,000 people. However, still up there with the most iconic brands on the UK festival scene, managing to secure Blur and Fleetwood Mac made sure they had possibly the best looking line up of the year.
Immediately there’s a completely unique and refreshing feel that sweeps the camp sites, even before any of the music has got going. Renowned for its traditional ‘hippy’ vibe, that whole free love thing takes the weekend by storm, being one of the most laid back, friendly and inviting experiences in recent memory.
Festival organisers certainly had their hearts set on bringing in a few iconic acts from the past decades, Billy Idol being one, kicking things off on the Thursday night, and sounding surprisingly fresh as he treated a packed out Big Top to a collection of his punk classics, including ‘Rebel Yell’ which still captured angst of new generations, even 30 plus years on from his beginnings.
Friday was when proceedings really got into full swing though, the first full day of music and despite the heavens opening over audiences, it was going to take much more than that to put a dampener on the mighty American blues duo, The Black Keys. Rifling through a hit filled set and impressively plucking away an unrivalled back catalogue of old school rock and roll before bringing it to an impressive ending with a haunting, sombre rendition of ‘Little Black Submarine’.
Safe to say the mood swiftly took on a new direction as the crowd awaited the first headliner of the weekend, as was the beauty of such a varied line up. And so it was time for undoubtedly one of, if not the biggest act in dance music history, a juggernaut of the genre, The Prodigy. Bringing a wall of sound so fierce that at least for the length of their set, the crowd seemingly forgot they were up to their knees in mud, not allowing any questionable conditions to hold back some even more questionable dance moves.
The night didn’t finish there though, as another giant in dance music was about to kick up a stir away from the main stage and under the much welcomed shelter of the Big Top in the shape of Groove Armada. Fittingly there was enough walking time between the end of The Prodigy and the beginning of the set, which showed as the tent became filled with an electricity of fans wanting to continue the party into the early hours. Armada more than obliged, putting on an explosive DJ set that saw a few different versions of their hit ‘Superstylin’’ being outed, and getting just as huge a response on each separate occasion.
Saturday continued the whole iconic act theme. Firstly with the unmistakable funk of Kool & The Gang, likely to be one of the most fun and contagious sets to be seen at any festival. Aided by the sun now beaming over the IOW crowd the rhythm of some of one of the most recognisable outfits in funk left not a single audience member untouched, the slapstick bass of ‘get down on it’ proving too irresistible for even the sternest of characters who’ve never dreamt of setting foot on a dance floor. Enticing the toe tapping of thousands in time, something that made for a truly heart-warming scene.
Then onto a completely different tangent again, handing over to Manchester indie pioneers, James. Famously not being fans of playing their most popular hits, it wasn’t really a surprise they wanted to get through ‘Sit Down’ right away. However opening with the track also probably got the biggest reception of the whole set, something probably a bit bittersweet for the band, undeniably another highlight of the weekend though as a crowd of thousands of progressively more drunk fans belted out the famous “OH SIT DOWN OH SIT DOWN SIT DOWN NEXT TO ME” across the fields of Seaclose Park.
Then it was time for the Britpop icons to do their thing. For a good amount of time it never seemed likely that we’d get anything new from Blur, then we got the new record ‘The Magic Whip’ and it was an unbelievable bit of work, especially being the first in 12 years, and all of a sudden everything had seemingly come together perfectly just in time for this performance.
Fitting then that the Southerners opened with one of the highlights of the new record ‘Go Out’ which sounded beyond incredible, as did all of the new material, as if they had been playing this stuff from the beginning. The performance in a way put to bed the past decade of doubt and unrest surrounding them, looking completely refreshed, as if they were genuinely enjoying themselves being back out on stage.
The cockiness was back, it was obvious the lads knew they had just released a brilliant album and they could do no wrong. The swagger was definitely there as Damon disappeared into the crowd on more than one occasion. Predictably ‘Song 2’ got one of the biggest reactions of the whole weekend, a collective bounce on cue with the famous “WOO HOO” that could likely be felt throughout The Isle for miles.
Sunday began with the rumours that had dominated the full weekend. Fleetwood Mac had cancelled 2 gigs over the previous nights in the build up to their closing slot, news that had left festival goers very tentative in their excitement. So when a picture of their equipment having arrived at the festival surfaced on social media, a collective sigh of relief could almost be heard on behalf of organisers.
This bit of excellent news also allowed crowds to go about their day as normal. Thankfully in time for the magnificent Paolo Nutini. Another sun baked day meant by the time the Scottish songwriter reached the peak of his set, the main stage was being crowned by a glorious sunset. The combination of one of nature’s phenomenon’s and Paolo’s piercing vocal range gave off something spectacularly goose bump inducing.
The final reassurance came when the “Up next Fleetwood Mac” appeared on the big screens, being met with one of the biggest roars of the weekend, this before the band had even themselves appeared. An equal combination of excitement and relief.
One can imagine then the noise that ripped through the endless crowds as members of Fleetwood Mac finally began emerging, each to a continuous rupture of applause. The legendary outfit were finally back together as the original outfit, a historic moment in recent music history, both a wonderful and empowering sight to behold as the cutting figure of Mick Fleetwood bound across the stage, fists in the air.
Any hints of illness were quickly put to bed, as they tore straight into ‘Chains’, the anthemic melody of the track immediately entranced the full audience as they clapped rhythmically in time as they beheld the queen of sassiness herself Stevie Knicks.
They were keen to douse any rumours that there still could be any rifts in the camp following Christine McVie, as Knicks welcomed her to fulfil her vocal duties for the first time in 16 years. A theme that continued throughout, another band that looked genuinely happy to be back sharing a stage together.
A special mention must also go to Lindsey Buckingham, for one of the most mesmerising, mind boggling and gob smacking performances to every grace a guitar. There wouldn’t be enough superlatives to describe his performance, providing outbursts of encouragement for the crowd to get involved intertwined with soul tapping riffs and stretching solos that rang out across the airwaves of the island. One of them performances that genuinely encourages people to pick up a guitar.
‘Landslide’ was one of the many stand out moments of the set, beautifully melancholy and showing how much Knicks truly did still have that fantastic voice that made the band so iconic. ‘Gypsy’ allowed the band to continue the Hendrix theme of the weekend, telling of how the guitarist inspired the track all those years ago.
Re-emerging for an encore that consisted of ‘Don’t Stop’ allowed the IOW crowd one of their last dances of the festival as an endless chain of fireworks exploded overhead, creating a moment that will take some topping not only this Summer but for years to come on the festival circuit. Mick Fleetwood emerged one last time before the night was up to spread a heart-warming message of love. “Take care of yourselves & more importantly take care of each other”. His parting message from a momentous moment in festival history.
That didn’t spell the very end for the weekend though. In a well thought out move by organisers, fans quickly flocked from the main stage back to Big Top one final time, to witness The Charlatans playing the very final set of the weekend.
Not an easy feat playing after Fleetwood, but they psych mavericks more than did themselves justice, Tim Burgess controlled the audience for one final time. The iconic ‘The Only One I Know’ going down a treat before they drew the event to a magnificent close in the form of favourite ‘Sproston Green’.
A weekend packed with them spine tingling festival moments that goes down in the memory for years, topped off by what will undoubtedly be regarded as one of the most historic closing headline performances for years to come.