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Sunday @ The Isle of Wight Festival

if asked who their surprise band of the weekend was, I would put money on it being GLC...

The Isle of Wight was treated to a scorcher of a day on the Sunday, both in terms of the weather and the music!

After an entertaining set by Papa Do Plenty, a local band who won the Isle of Wight’s Battle of the Bands, Arno Carstens took to the main stage. He has a powerful voice, and a good stage presence, gained from a long history of gigging with his previous band The Springbok Nude Girls and subsequently as a solo artist. For those who have not heard him before, think of him as a rough Jack Johnson. Towards the end of the set he was joined onstage by James Walsh of Starsailer, and they sung You Can’s Always Get What You Want, written by James for Arno. It was a relaxed performance by Arno, which suited the audience just fine.

Following from Arno was Judy Collins, once again a good example of how the Isle Of Wight tries to be a bit different to the other festivals. Singing in soprano, she has been working as a musician since 1961 when she released her first album, ‘A Maid Of Constant Sorrow’. Along the way she has worked extensively with Leonard Cohen, and last year had an album released by artists such as Rufus Wainwright and Dolly Parton covering her songs. At the first the sun bathing, hung-over crowd were a bit unsure of what to make of this lady with the unusual style of singing, but her set was more like a story than a gig; she talked about who she had worked with, sang snippets of songs, she talked about how she got into music, and she sang a few of her better known tracks. Her version of Amazing Grace was simply beautiful.  In the end her experience, interesting life and beautiful voice merged to create a fascinating set.

And then came Goldie Lookin’ Chain. Now if ever there was a band which before now has not been taken seriously, it has to be them. Remembered from a few years ago by such classics(!) as ‘Gun’s Don’t Kill People, Rappers Do’, and ‘You’re Mother’s Got a Penis’, this reviewer thought they had been, delivered their laugh, and were now forgotten. However, having been dropped by their record label, they are still trying, and have released two albums themselves. So anyway, when I first saw they were on the bill, I’m sure I’m not the only person who was probably not that bothered about seeing them. But I will take back all the harsh pre-conceptions I had of the band. And apologise profusely to them if ever I meet them, because, here it goes, their set was brilliant. Highly highly entertaining. And I meant that second highly. From the first beats of their opening track, I have never seen a more relaxed, chilled out audience rise to their feet so quickly in a near perfect Mexican wave. The atmosphere of the arena changed in seconds. The crowd were laughing, waving their hands in the air and performing crazy dances. Yes the band swore, a lot. Yes they were crude, but were there smiles spread out through the grounds? Definitely. Did the crowd enjoy singing ‘Guns Don’t Kill....’, without a doubt! ‘Your Missus is a nutter’? Very loud. Many people will have gone home from the IoW festival and if asked who their surprise band of the weekend was, I would put money on it being GLC. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or a band. Good show lads.

After the fun and laughter of GLC, the audience settled down again, and it was as if normality had returned. But when I heard the first teenage screams from the front, I knew it could only be because of one band – The Script. They have had a meteoric rise to fame, and from their performance today you can see why. On this sunny afternoon their mix of melodies, charm and looks fitted right in. The crowd sung and cheered along to the best known tracks, ‘The Man Who Can’t Be Moved’, ‘We Cry’, and ‘Breakeven’, and even tattood grown men were seen enjoying the show.  It wasn’t rocket science, but it didn’t need to be. Towards the end of their set Mark Sheehan says to the audience “When we were asked to play this festival a few months ago, we didn’t think anybody would know who the fuck we are! I know you’ve come to see other bands, but I’m gonna pretend you’ve all come just to see us!” The crowd cheered, and who knows, maybe they did.

A quick dash over to the Big Top sees the Rumble Strips performing their brilliant take on music. Mixing guitars with keyboards with saxophones, they play a style of music I cannot genre-ise.  However their set was a good chaotic, fun, and enjoyed by the few who came to see them. They did a brilliant version of Alarm Clock, and 'Motorcycle'? Song of the festival! Definitely a band to watch out for if you like quirkiness and a bit of originality.

Back to the main stage for Simple Minds. Hmmm, unfortunately they were one of the more disappointing bands of the festival. They do have the songs in their back catalogue, but didn’t play the set they could have. They did not go down well with the crowd, except in the first half dozen or so rows made up of the older generations.  Even their rendition of Van Morrison’s ‘Gloria’ was a let-down, the band not able to connect with the audience at all. It was a lacklustre set, without the tunes, and I doubt they will return to the IoW again.

And now to the Pixies. A different band all together. Short, sharp rock tunes, they played a long set comprised of their greatest hits, opening with ‘U-Mass’. It was an entertaining set, with Frank Black and Kim Deal relaxed and enjoying every minute, Kim looking like the mum you wish you had as her cheeky smile beamed out from the stage. The fact that the bass player from one of the most influential bands of all time is just so cute and huggable makes me like them even more! But it’s the tunes that count, and favourites ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’, ‘Here Comes Your Man’, ‘Debaser’, ‘Wave of Mutilation’ and of course ‘Where is My Mind’ were all rapturously received by an audience who might not otherwise have made the effort to see this cult band. They made it look easy and effortless, a lesson to be learned by Simple Minds maybe.

In contrast to the cult band the Pixies who have been around for 20 years, the Horrors in the Big Top are rapidly gaining themselves cult status after only a couple of years on the circuit, and I wanted to hear what all the fuss was about. Their music is My Bloody Valentine inspired, lots of feedback, a huge wall of heavy guitar , with added synths. Put up against the Pixies, the Big Top was barely a third full for the beginning of their set, and the emergence of their charismatic lead singer Farris Rotter, who’s presence insists your attention, received a few cheers from the avid fans. They played a large proportion of their second album, Primary Colours, but they received a very poor reception from the crowd, most appearing to do as I did, come to check out what all the fuss was about, and stand there not quite getting it. As song followed song, the crowd slowly dissipated, the first time I have seen an audience shrink in a long time. Maybe it was because of the Pixies, or maybe it just wasn’t the right crowd, or the right venue. Maybe next time.

After an extremely varied day at the festival, it was time for Neil Young to close proceedings. When dealing with old Masters like Neil, you are always worried that he’s not going to live up to the hype. And when this old man appeared bearing an acoustic guitar and a harmonica of a stage filled with classic old amps and speakers, I did have my doubts to begin with.  But I should not have worried. After three opening acoustic numbers, starting with ‘From Hank to Hendrix’, his band (including Crazy Horse’s Ben Keith) joined him onstage and it was time for the living legend to show all present, the audience and the bands watching, just how to put on an uplifting, legendary guitar show. Much of the show he appeared lost in the music, hunkered down over his guitar, his back to the crowd as he jammed with his band. A rampant, delirious version of ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)’ woke everybody up, and he had everyone’s attention.  ‘Keep on Rockin in The Free World’ was extended to 20 minutes, with 4 outros, but even that was lapped up by the crowd who were all to happy for him to go on all night. ‘Cinnamon Girl’ and ‘Heart of Gold’ thrilled the audience, and ‘Mansion on The Hill’ and ‘Fucked up’ from his most recent album Ragged Glory were enjoyable rhythmic foot stompers. It seemed all too soon when he left the stage.  However, an encore was always on the cards, and he returned to thrill the audience with a rocking 15 minute version of ‘Down By The River’, followed by his classic take on the Beatles song ‘A Day In The Life’, which he brought to an epic finale, breaking all the strings on his Les Paul guitar in the process, and leaving it centre stage. Yes it was theatrical, but it was a masterful, energetic, uplifting and epic show, and was a fantastic closure to the Isle Of Wight festival.

See you next year...

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Mike Rowbottom
22nd June 2009
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