Heritage is a marvellous thing. When you add history and ancestry to a festival it can make it magical, turning the event into something greater than any single year can define, they just become classic years (or forgotten years). It can also be a hindrance, creating a mythical and unattainable yardstick against which no modern year can ever compare, let alone excel. This is definitely the case with the Isle of Wight Festival, whose very name evokes memories of Hendrix, Dylan, T-Rex and the Doors, of the Summer of Love and of classic festivals, when they used to be "proper" festivals. It wouldn't matter who was headlining, you could bring out Elvis for a posthumous set and someone who is still sporting a headband and side-laced jeans would mutter about how much better it was in 1970, and the 30 year gap when the festival was not running only helps to seal the original years in an impenetrably bubble of legend. So could this year's festival do anything but fail to live up to its reputation, particularly with the promise of "the best line-up ever" raising expectations ever higher? Well, actually, yes it could and 2010 ended in a blaze of glory proving that history can always be matched, and even surpassed.
Apart from a few notable exceptions (those who are lucky enough to have access to a helicopter or live locally) 60,000 people got on a ferry to the Isle of Wight to enjoy a weekend of music and festivities. The festival is easy to find, set within Newport, is well served for buses and transport but still pedestrian friendly and is one of only a small handful that can boast regular good weather. Both weekend and day parking is simple and, if you are lucky, close to where you want to end up, but if you are not camping you must be made aware of some road closures that could affect your evening – more on that later.
The ease of access affects the overall atmosphere of the festival as arriving stress free can start your weekend well. And the atmosphere of the crowd is something of note. It's not a specifically family orientated crowd, it's not a booze soaked, rowdy, bottle throwing crowd, it's not predominantly filled with people at their first festival and you'd struggle to find any devout followers of hard metal, gesturing their horns. The Isle of Wight Festival is filled with a comprehensive range of ages from toddlers to people who were there for the first festival and everything between, but everyone seems to be there to enjoy themselves and to watch the bands. It has to be the most musically focused audience we have ever been amongst, and this attention to the acts means that, apart from at the cashpoints, queuing for drinks, food and amenities is minimal, which makes a really refreshing change. So who were people there to see?
The 2010 line-up boasted a cast of superstar performers, old and new, with Jay-Z, The Strokes and Sir Paul McCartney offering a completely different end to each evening. Without doubt the most excitement was generated by McCartney, well, how often do you get to see a living legend? So it came as an incredible surprise when Sir Paul's magnificent set was just one of a number of superb performances throughout the weekend, as other acts rose to the occasion, and one in particular pulled out a set that will easily rival any other that you will see this year and arguably stole the whole show; Pink.
The night undoubtedly belonged to Jay-Z, who lit up the audience with a stunning performance proving his credentials as a world class superstar. You hear a lot about Jay-Z, but it is only when you stop and watch a full set from him that you can really understand his skill as a performing artist.
There were guest appearances from Mr Hudson, who joined him for "Young Forever", and, more surprisingly, from Kanye West who came on for "Run This Town". With Kanye's birthday happening a few days earlier on the 8th he was subjected to a verse of "Happy Birthday" instigated by Jay-Z. There wasn't a big hit missed from the set which included "99 Problems" and "Empire State of Mind" and ended on his Linkin Park collaboration "Numb". A particular highlight came when Jay-Z stopped the music and told the security in the pit to stop forcing people from getting up onto people's shoulders, "It's only an hour, let them have some fun!"
Elsewhere Florence and the Machine showed her increasing confidence by captivating the crowd with a brilliant set and the amazing Suzi Quatro proved that she still have every bit as much energy and vibrancy as she did when she sang "Can the Can" for the first time. Take note, newcomers, Rock and Roll like Quatro performs is better for you than any anti-aging cream on the market.
The crowd at the festival created a great atmosphere and had not been put off by the torrential downpours of Thursday night, so it was only fair that they were treated to some other praise-worthy sets from Mr Hudson, Doves (who ushered in the sun), Calvin Harris, Shakespeare's Sister, Marina and the Diamonds and Juliette Lewis.
The only negative of the day was when the attempt get the crowd to sing "Three Lions" with Ian Brodie to be taped and played in South Africa for the England team hit a slight snag when Brodie's guitar wouldn't play through the speakers. Within 30 seconds he had gone, but the track and the singing continued without him. It's ironic that the first time that Brodie has gone anywhere near the song that haunts him at every gig and it went wrong.
For many in the crowd it should have been Blondie as the headline act, for while The Strokes are the archetypal Indie Rock band with a great range of songs, many of which are on my iPod, it was their lack of connection to the crowd and the near black lighting which isolated their performance and failed to touch the audience like Blondie. When the songs were playing the crowd were ecstatic, but the energy flagged between. Jay-Z made the crowd feel more important than he was, but it was clear who the Strokes believed were the stars.
Blondie wasn't the only experienced act on Saturday; Melanie played the main stage having last performed there 40 years ago. She brought a spine tingling performance to the main stage and ended the set with the Medina Choir who arrived on stage during the finishing chorus of Ruby Tuesday and stayed to perform Lay Down (Candles in the Rain) along with a poignant rendition of Give Peace a Chance.
Stylish performance of the weekend had to go to Paloma Faith who sached onto the stage like a thirties filmstar onto her Hollywood inpired set. Combine that with her fantastic vocals, some cracking sing-along tunes like "New York" and "Stone Cold Sober" and the sunshine and it was a delight to watch.
The sun also added to the atmosphere during Vampire Weekend, whose South African guitar sounds resonated through the site and got more people dancing than we had seen during the day. "A-Punk" and "Cousins" were big hits, naturally, but the whole set created a beautiful Summer ambience. This ambience was also exploited by Crowded House, who launched into a set of their best tracks, punctuated by their usual eccentric musings with each other and the crowd.
Saturday saw the first England match in the World Cup, which was screened in the Field of Dreams for anyone who couldn't bear to miss the match, but if you weren't that way inclined or you were one of many obsessed fans you could have watched Biffy Clyro. Gathering more and more fans and an ecclectic range of songs of real depth the shirtless and tattooed band rocked the crowd, but nobody put more effort in than lead guitar and singer Simon Neil, whose energy levels are immense.
Over at the Big Top a different crowd were gathering for an alternative day's music for what could be seen as a younger demographic. There were performances from new darlings Bombay Bicycle Club, Noah and the Whale, The Saturdays, N-Dubz, La roux and Orbital. The surprise for us was the appearance of Semi Precious Weapons, a New York outfit fronted by Justin Tranter, who although fairly low on the bill came out as if they were the headline act and proceeded to wake up the audience with their high energy antics and punk influenced tracks. A picture tells a thousand words with Semi Precious Weapons, so browse through our photo gallery here to give you a better idea.
McCartney Day, simple as that. At least that was what we thought, with a nice line-up on paper to keep everyone entertained until Sir Paul took to the stage, but Sunday's Isle of Wight Festival had a lot more to offer than that. Many of the acts came on and gave you exactly what you would expect, the energy and vibrancy of Friendly Fires, the haunting vocals of Editors and the welcome return of bands such as Reef and Steve Harley. Others came as a bit of a surprise, like The Big Pink (not to be confused with Pink), who, despite success with the softer electronic sound of "Dominos" came out and gave a decidedly rock and punk inspired set. The only things that were "pink" in any way were the set and the outfit of drummer Akiko Matsuura.
The afternoon was well and truly highjacked by the appearance of Spandau Ballet, who brought the Eighties with more than a touch of cheese to the main stage. Messers Hadley, Kemp, Kemp, Norman and Keeble (no, not a firm of solicitors) blew the crowd away with a collection of all the songs you remembered but never thought you could recite as many lyrics to. It was the karaoke moment of the weekend and nobody was immune. To remind us of their original musical direction they started with "To Cut a Long Story Short", one of our favourites, and then proceeded to belt out their greatest hits including "True", "Between the Lines" and "Chant No 1 (I Don't Need This Pressure On)" and finished with "Gold".
While James and Ocean Colour Scene were closing the Big Top the real anticipation started on the Main Stage with people waiting to see Pink and then Macca. Few acts could go on before Sir Paul McCartney and leave everyone wondering how Macca could possibly follow that. Pink did, with the most incredible festival performance we have ever seen. Pink dropped in from a box 100ft above the crowd, heralded in with the firing of a giant cannon, Zorbed on top of the crowd in the middle of the set and ended flying overhead like a sassy Tinkerbell. It was incredible.
And so it was down to the last act of the weekend, and what a finale. Darling of the moment, James Cordon, came on the massive screens at either side of the stage to introduce the next act by holding up signs like Bob Dylan's video for "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and before you knew it the living legend Paul McCartney was on stage singing "Jet" – one of his favourites.
As far as picking out highlights from the set, they would have to be "Blackbird" which always sounds so magical and beautiful in a festival setting, "Live and Let Die" with its well timed firework displays and flames and the ultimate sing-along track, "Hey Jude". There was even a tribute to Jimmy Hendrix with a short burst of "Purple Haze" to go with an equally short story about Hendrix playing "Sgt Pepper" days after the album was released. Even though the night ended with "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", a real classic, it was the sound of the chorus of "Hey Jude" that could be heard way into the night, a fitting tribute to a stunning performance to end the festival.
So what did we think of the Isle of Wight Festival 2010? Let's start with the negatives. The only thing you need to be aware of, which is nothing to do with the festival, is that after the last act finishes the roads around the site are closed for about an hour, so be aware of this if you are rushing away to get a ferry. I am afraid that's it for negatives, we were simply blown away with everything and cannot think of a better start to the festival season.
The atmosphere in the crowd was superb, if anything it seemed terribly polite, even sanitised, but not in a bad way. People were there to enjoy themselves without downing gallons of alcohol to the point of paralysis, which can seem unfashionable, but this meant that it was the music that was being appreciated and was the focus of the weekend. There were enough people there to form a massive crowd, but it never felt over crowded, and we could traverse the site without problems for all but the most popular of acts which took a little longer, but no more than you would expect.
The performances throughout the weekend were excellent. Even acts that weren't particularly your taste thrilled their fans, but most notable was that everyone seemed to be delighted to get the chance to play at the iconic Isle of Wight Festival. It's that heritage coming into play again. Acts put in an extra push to create a special show because it was the Isle of Wight which will always be considered as a historically important festival, and this extra effort translated into a tremendous weekend of music.
We would highly recommend the festival to anyone and all ages, and are already eyeing up next year with interest. It was our first time at the Isle of Wight festival, we weren't there in 1970 (although you can look through our galleries from 1970 here) so we can't tell for sure if this was the greatest line-up ever, but we can be sure that this was truly an incredible festival which has set the bar exceptionally high, not only for next year's festival, but for all other festivals this year.
A special thank you to Molly, aged 9 who was kind enough to draw her Isle of Wight Pop Festival sign and stick it on her wall so that we knew where to go, as seen in the main review picture.
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