The Isle of Wight promised to kick start the summer festival season with a weekend not to be missed. The line up itself was promising. With the headliners being hip-hop royalty Jay-Z, the first appearance by The Strokes for years and a Beatle, it was bound to be a great weekend for music lovers alike.
Friday kicked off with a bang, with the likes of Calvin Harris, Florence and the Machine and unlikely festival favourite Jay-Z leading the crowds into the weekend. Calvin Harris put on a high energy performance enthusiastically pushing buttons on what looked like a tiny Casio keyboard. Sadly his vocals somewhat lacked lustre when singing. He managed to roar “Come On!” at the crowd several times, but his vocals were weak and very quiet – carried by his impeccably talented backing singer. It must be noted that there were whispers of Harris having a severely sore throat on the day. Despite this Harris really stirred the crowd up pulling out crowd pleasers including Acceptable in the 80’s and the aptly titled Ready for the Weekend. Following that – the crowd definitely were ready… and wanting more.
Florence and the Machine were up next with the stage now adorned with ornamental birdcages and feathers. Lead singer Florence Welch appeared in a long floaty dress that on anyone else would have looked like a bed sheet, but it somehow worked. Her voice was immensely powerful and the crowd went wild for her cover of Candi Staton’s You’ve Got the Love.
It’s hard to imagine that it was only two years ago that Jay-Z was the controversial headliner for Glastonbury. With the likes of Oasis saying he would not be suitable. But ever since he stepped onto the main stage singing Wonderwall that night in Somerset, he has been a firm fixture on the festival circuit with a return to this year’s Wireless festival also on the cards. His set did not disappoint, opening up with bass-heavy On to the Next One. He whittled off several hits from his apparently extensive back catalogue with a massive reception for number one smash hit Empire State of Mind. Jay-Z’s set was particularly anticipated due to rumours circulating the festival about a surprise guest appearance. Beyonce was at the festival but sadly did not join the stage for Bonnie and Clyde. Rumours were that Eminem was going to appear and when Mr Hudson appeared to sing Young Forever I heard several people around me become a bit disappointed! However, as the clock hit midnight Jay-Z battled on into Run This Town and sure enough expectations were met as Kanye West ran onto the stage for his rap in the middle of the song. The crowd went wild and Jay-Z led them all in wishing Kanye a happy birthday.
Jay-Z is undoubtedly one of the biggest artists in the world at the moment – and yet there was something so modest and reserved about his presence. He made a point of pointing out members of the crowd whilst saying “I appreciate each and every one of you for being here.” A true showman he took time to involve the crowd and to engage with them. It made his set all the more memorable. Jay-Z delighted the audience further as he continued to defy the stage curfew when the clock hit midnight and his set overran by nearly 20 minutes with the crowd still wanting more. It was a promising start to the weekend ahead.
Saturday was the day for rock and roll. With the long awaited return of the Strokes after 4 years out of the limelight and the building tensions of the USA vs. UK World Cup Match the atmosphere was electric in Seaclose Park.
Vampire Weekend took to the stage just an hour before kickoff – holding out a metaphorical olive branch by introducing their song Cousins saying “I don’t want to get philosophical but this song could be describing the relationship of our two nations.” Vampire Weekend are something special playing arguably the slickest set of the whole weekend. They were faultless, effortlessly banging out hits from their two albums. Particular highlights include Giving Up the Gun and Holiday with lead singer Ezra Koenig declaring that they were “busting out the summer hits.”
The tough task of competing with the World Cup coverage was left to Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro. As the UK and USA kicked off on big screens in the back field, Biffy Clyro exploded onto the stage. They managed to draw a huge crowd despite the game with rock anthems such as Mountains and recent hit single Bubbles.
New Yorkers Blondie then took to the stage and smashed out hit after hit including Call Me and Heart of Glass. With the football still going strong Debbie Harry showed her appreciation to the crowd’s loyalty by saying “its football time, but you’re all here with me. You are my friends.” During Atomic the true talent of Blondie’s lead guitarist Chris Stein really shone through when he performed the best guitar solo of the weekend.
It was a case of New York comes to Newport on Saturday night when the second of a double bill from the Big Apple took to the stage to headline. After a big build up and walking onto stage to Queen’s We Will Rock You, The Strokes saluted their home town by opening with New York City Cops to the delight of the masses. The majority of tracks came from their album Is This It – which was voted as NME’s album of the decade last year – and their set reminded us why the band are credited with bringing the guitar band back into the limelight. The true talent is Albert Hammond Jr, the shrinking violet whose talents are unleashed during epic guitar solos in songs such as Last Night.
The Big Top was home to the growing talent to look out for – Marina and the Diamonds were particularly worth taking notice of. Marina had an amazing stage presence and a strong crowd of fans who were hanging off her every word. With her eye-catching t-shirt that bore the torso of a female in a bikini and her bright pink lipstick she stood out as an individual artist with an attitude that will only be suited to a main stage slot next year.
There was much discussion in the build up to Sunday’s finale as to whether Pink would achieve the tough job of warming up the crowd for Sir Paul McCartney. It’s safe to say Pink silenced the doubters the second she appeared – this could be because she dropped out of a box hanging above the stage singing Get the Party Started. After an explosive start the set had a slight lull in the middle where she and her guitarist performed an embarrassingly poor medley of rock anthems including The Who’s My Generation and Greenday’s Basketcase.
But Pink – as always – proved everyone wrong by following the medley by getting into a big inflatable ball and launching into the crowd. Not content with this – Pink tops this by reappearing in a bright green body stocking with a harness and proceeded to be hoisted up above the crowds singing So What? Pink brought the house down as she somersaulted and back flipped over the heads of delighted festival goers. Impressively – she was singing live and very much in tune and full voiced as she performed her acrobatics.
As the festival drew to a close, a pre-recorded video of James Corden was a bizarre introduction into Paul McCartney. Not long into his set McCartney gave everyone what they wanted and launched into the first of many Beatles tracks with All My Loving. Macca clearly relished being on the stage, even taking the time whilst sat at a grand piano to reminisce about the now legendary performance by Jimi Hendrix at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. The set was impressive and not as self-indulgent as one might have expected, McCartney delivered on the classics. But Live and Let Die was a standout track, aided by the synchronised pyros and fireworks around the stage. A spectacular scene and the crowd went wild as the band departed the stage and then returned for the first of two encores to rapturous applause. The crowd got the moment they had been waiting for all weekend – a good old chorus of “na na na nanananaaaaing” as McCartney and co launched into Hey Jude. The whole encore turned into a full blown Beatles fest ending on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Overall the festival had the key elements that make it a success, an undeniably strong line up, a great crowd and fantastic weather (bar the final two hours of Sunday). If there was to be one observation where I feel there could be room for improvement, is to feature more young artists on the main stage. To think 40 years ago Hendrix stole the show and made a name for himself at the Isle of Wight, it only seems right the festival should carry some sort of responsibility for showing casing new music. Giving new artists that leg up they need in a saturated market of older artists. Acts of generations past sharing a line up with current artists is a strange premise that simply would not have occurred in 1970. It would be like The Beatles and Hendrix being on the same stage as Matt Monro. The likes of Spandau Ballet, Crowded House, Blondie, McCartney et al shouldn’t be dominating a line up. They have a place but there should be more acts like Paloma Faith, Florence and the Machine and Vampire Weekend leading the festival circuit – all of whom completely held their own on the stage amongst the greats. But maybe this just shows how promising the music scene is growing to be and a sign of exciting things to come.