Isle of Wight 2006
Images courtesy of isleofwightfesitval.com
I arrive at the festival site late on Friday night (thank you Red Funnel), just in time to catch most of The Prodigy. The crowd is friendly as I move through it and there is a strong sense of that unique ‘festival vibe’ - people dancing randomly on their own, the smell of beer and strong weed fills the air and faces are adorned with smiles fuelled by the narcotics I can smell, but also by the prospect of another two days of festival in the sun. The Prodigy rock as well, which helps. With their crowd pleasers pumping out one after the other, they give me a very good first impression of the Isle of Wight Festival.
Saturday starts lazily, barred as we are from the ‘main arena’ until 11am. I must congratulate Carling, however, who manage to make the time pass enjoyably thanks to their ‘Beer Amnesty’. They swap warm cans of beer for ice cold ones, you see, so there’s no need to drink tent-warmed beer all weekend. Anyone who’s been to a festival, or just had to drink warm lager on a hot day, will appreciate the enormity of the effect of this service. Speaking of services, Virgin Radio, the nation's pop and rock radio station, broadcast live from the festival all weekend, providing listeners with exclusive coverage of the big names, as well as backstage interviews. You can check it all out on their website.
Anyway – back to the festival and I make my way down to the stage to catch The On Offs, who have the dubious honour of being first on. Despite as favourable a reaction from the crowd as you would expect this early in the (drinking) day, the three piece lacked the personality and presence required to back up their bitty sound. Uninspired, I wander away from the main stage to see what else is on offer for the discerning festival goer and music lover. In amongst the usual food and clothing stalls are two other live music outlets – the Nokia ‘Rock up and Play’ tent, which allows up and coming bands to, you guessed it, turn up and play, and ‘The Bandstand’, a…err…bandstand. As with all ‘up and coming’ bands, it’s a bit hit and miss, but there are a few acts who hold my attention long enough to persuade me to sit on the grass in the sunshine, drinking cold beer, and listen for a while. The other big discovery for me was an act performing at The Pussy Parlure, a Victorian style pub/club. The Crazy Circus Cabaret is a collective of circus performers and acrobats who put on a variety show of considerable skill. A refreshing break from the norm if you like that sort of thing, which I do.
I return to the main arena for Saturday’s big hitters. The Kooks’ reaction from the crowd is immense and deservedly so. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are headlining festivals this time next year. Dirty Pretty Things and The Editors follow with largely forgettable sets, leaving Primal Scream to really get the evening going. My first big surprise of the weekend comes from the Foo Fighters. Despite being treated to some Dave Grohl drumming, their sound lacked the energy and punch that I expected. It was entertaining – Monkey Wrench still goes down well – just not as intense as you might expect a Foo’s festival set to be. I’m standing about level with the sound desk and the bass isn’t shaking my insides – something’s wrong there.
Determined not to get distracted by the Pussy Parlure again on Sunday, I settle in front of the main stage to watch The Delays, who benefit from being reasonably local… and popular. Their sound and presence suits the big stage and they keep the crowd's attention well. To be honest, they’re not really my bag – it’s a bit limp-indie-pop for my liking – but there are enough people enjoying it, and singing along, to make my opinion irrelevant on the day.
Veterans Procol Harum follow, turning my head with the one song that I recognised but inspiring little more response. Kubb play a similar trick, their set as non-descript as it was unrecognisable, except for their one song that everyone recognises – whatever that’s called. Maximo Park catch my attention with a more energetic and interesting sound. In contrast to the Foo Fighters, their sound engineers seem to have got it just about right. Lou Reed sets things up for the evening, playing to a largely nostalgic audience, and is followed by this year’s big career revival, Richard Ashcroft. Predictably, his set mixed old classics with select tracks from his new album, but it was entertaining enough and there are worse songs to be listening to in a field on a summers evening than ‘The Drugs Don't Work’ and ‘Bittersweet Symphony’.
The second big surprise of the weekend is that I actually quite enjoy Coldplay. I think they’ve made some decent music in their time but the last time I saw them – at the V Festival – I gave up after ten minutes because they were really rather boring. They fit the mood and situation perfectly this time, however, and I sing along with 50,000 other people enjoying a chilled out Sunday evening - in a field, on the Isle of Wight.