The weather report for the Isle of Wight had told us to panic buy Wellington boots, and we envisaged to wear them for the entire duration of the festival. The outlook predicted 3 days of nothing but rain macs, soggy chips, and a leaking tent. Miraculously, we boarded a ferry in Southampton after a 3 hour car journey of (Arcade Fire’s entire discography and) blazing sunshine, and basked in the heat on the top deck of the boat. Not a cloud in the sky to mar our wonderful weekend on the Isle of Wight.
On arrival at the festival on the Friday night, we manoeuvred our way through a traffic jam to the press entrance (God bless Dawbell PR for the tickets) and managed to get grossly lost on our way back to the campsite. This hour or two off schedule meant, whilst we were deciding on the logistics of how to carry an obscene amount of stuff for two average humans to need, we heard the distant soulful neo-blues of Rag’n’Bone Man’s ‘Human’. Woops. Having had such a boost to his commercial presence this year with this career-defining track, I would’ve liked to watch his set at the festival. I hope, as a live performance, Rag’n’Bone Man’s voice to be as raw and wide ranging as in his recorded tracks, and I imagine the hip-hop-blues-fusion band behind him to be soulful and wholesome. Maybe next time, eh.
It was a long walk to the campsite from the car, and after eventually finding a nice tiny spot for our nice tiny tent, we heard the distant melodic guitars of a lad-rock band still going strong. Kaiser Chiefs’ performance, again, sounded incredible from this distance, and would’ve encouraged a fantastically rowdy crowd to get lost in. We managed to catch the last song of the set, the anthemic ‘Oh My God’ that propelled them to fame from their humble beginnings in Leeds in 2004, then just as promptly saw them thank the crowd and leave the stage. Time for dinner and a proper look round.
The main site appeared to be more commercialised and money hungry than I’d expected it to be. After reading about the origins of the festival in the 1960s and 70s: peace and love and hippies and Bob Dylan and The Beatles (who, my grandmother, a long beloved resident of the island, insisted had resided next door to her house during the first festival. Really Grandma?), the main site was a little underwhelming. The neon lights of countless rides became garish as dusk drew over, and crowds of youths in jogging bottoms and snapbacks pushed past us to get a better view of David Guetta. I was looking forward to free spirits and smiles all round, but often found some of the staff to be quite rude and unpleasant. That was until we found the food stalls.
Forgive me, for the food stalls took roughly 80% of my attention span for the entire three days. I couldn’t stop thinking about what to eat next. Indonesian coconut curry, Tibet sesame chicken, or those amazing Belgian fries again? Dumplings. Nachos. Hoisin duck wraps. The list went on and on, and we spent a good hour traipsing past every stall, making shortlists of shortlists, to make sure we’d picked the best option for mealtimes. On the last night we’d considered eating two dinners: one pre and one post Rod Stewart, but swiftly decided that was perhaps a little uncouth.
After our mouth-watering jerk chicken, we indulged in an overpriced Strongbow, blinded by the festival euphoria, and watched Run DMC take over the main stage with what the hip-hop duo described to the County Press as “grooving, body movin’ time”. We were grooving, and our bodies were definitely movin’ to the only two songs we knew, ‘It’s Tricky’ and ‘It’s Like That’. As self-confessed hip-hop morons, I’ll admit it was doing nothing for me, so when Reverend Run asked us to repeat “hey hey hey”, then “ho ho ho” back to him, we went to explore some more mysteries of festival life, including a secret slide by British Airways to a club-like tent with games to win free airline tickets. After 6 failed attempts between us of trying to get a metal loop to the other end without touching the metal frame, not winning any flights but an inflatable globe (result) I was happy, and we made our way back to the main stage to have a lil’ boogie with David Guetta. He played all his classic EDM chart hits, and the sound of the festival transformed into that of an Ibiza super-club. Similar to the Run-DMC turn of events earlier that evening, we’d had enough when Guetta and the crowd alike were chanting “Heeyyy, we want some pussay!”. Watching a father next to me with a young daughter in his arms singing along, we felt it was time for bed. Knackered from the journey from Exeter, we headed back to the tent and looked forward to the day ahead, which would see one of my favourite bands headline a huge festival stage. We couldn’t wait.
The morning was spent exploring the island, and after a big ol’ nap in the car, we went back to the festival site, coming across one of the best acts of the weekend by accident. Transport your imagination, if you will, to the 90s rave scene in Britain and Europe. Think Alice Deejay, Faithless, ATB… whisk yourself into a trance fuelled world. Then open your eyes and see two men sat on a stage, acoustic guitars in hand. Clearly classically trained guitarists, the duo manipulate their instruments to create dance beats, making a rich, complete sound solely with their guitars, filling the Big Top tent with acoustic dance classics. If there’s a way to make a bunch of sober people dance like they’re in a rave at 5pm in the afternoon, it’s like this.
We caught the end of Texas’ set in yet more dazzling sunshine (note: wellies as yet unworn), then got into a good spot in front of the main stage for a band I had been really looking forward to seeing: The Kooks. These boys are no strangers to the island, this being their 3rd appearance at the festival, and lead singer Luke Pritchard has family here. 2017 marks over a decade of The Kooks making music together, since the release of their debut album Inside In/Inside Out, that reached number 2 in the UK charts in 2006. Unbeatably their best album, they mostly played the hits from this, taking me back to when I was 12, trying to learn ‘Always Where I Need To Be’ on my ¾ size guitar and playing ‘She Moves in Her Own Way’ in my mother’s car. We sang and we danced and whooped in the sunshine to ‘Naïve’, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
After a couple of drinks, we snatched the end of welsh band Catfish and the Bottlemen, who, still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed from winning British Breakthrough Act at the BRITS last year, (try saying that after a few pints) brought their bold, powerful guitars of the indie rock outfit to the main stage. Again, unfortunately, my attention span was overpoweringly taken away from the band’s performance by perhaps the best curry I had eaten all weekend all year ever and the anticipation for the headline act. Indonesian beef and coconut rendang followed by Arcade Fire? Don’t mind if I do.
We sang and we danced and whooped in the sunshine
Arcade Fire might be one of the biggest indie bands in the world right now. If you haven’t heard of them, you’re a fool. Go and listen right now. They’ve won countless awards internationally, and are keen activists on issues that really matter. (As lead singer Win Butler told us half way through the set, regarding the turmoil of current US and UK politics, “fuck this fucking shit”. Normally a man of an extensive vocabulary and powerful use of words that I could only ever be envious of, I feel his words here could’ve been put to better use.) We had high hopes for their performance, and we were not disappointed. A week later and I’m still reliving it in my head. Having teased fans in recent gigs with new songs, we wondered what we’d be treated to on this beautiful evening. Our Canadian heroes came onto the stage to the sound of the introduction of their latest (at the time of writing) single, ‘Everything Now’, all wearing custom made jackets sporting the EN logo, yet when the main riff was due to kick in, they surprised us by cutting off and going straight into festival sing-a-long favourite ‘Wake Up’ (You tricksters. Love you), followed nicely by the remainder of ‘Everything Now’. Despite the lyrical content criticising our millennial culture of instant gratification, the new single is dancey, sounds a little like it belongs on the Mamma Mia soundtrack, and even has a pan flute solo. What more could we possibly want from (what an elderly man next to me in the crowd called) “the best band in the world right now”?
They played a good mix from all their albums spanning the last 13 years and we were even treated to two as yet unreleased tracks, ‘Signs of Life’ and ‘Creature Comforts’, the latter of which was released a few days after the festival. It’s an exciting time to be an Arcade Fire fan, so when I was lifted on the shoulders of a muscular stranger for ‘Afterlife’ it was easily the highlight of my year, and I swear, for a second, Win Butler looked straight at me. *blushes*
After a long queue for the showers, Sunday was a nice chilled morning reading in the sun with a coffee and a hazy memory of Will Butler manically running round the stage and hitting a mid-tom to ‘Rebellion (Lies)’. Our afternoon kicked off with Scouting for Girls. Again, this festival brought out a lot of nostalgia for my early high school days. I like the wholesome nature of this band. They are pretty cute, their songs being about girls being lovely and wanting to be James Bond (dedicated to the late Roger Moore). The lead singer looks a little like a television chef, but the whole band look like humble, decent guys, and I’m pleased they’re still getting work. Lovely lads.
Later we headed over to see The Sherlocks in the Big Top tent.
“What are they like?”
“I think they’re along the lines of Arctic Monkeys but not from Sheffield..?”
“We are The Sherlocks and we’re from Sheffield!”
Facts wrong, again. Perhaps this whole journalism thing isn’t for me. With 151,000 listeners a month on Spotify, we could see why. This band are on the rise and for good reason. Despite 80% of their songs sounding vaguely like the last, we enjoyed their set a lot, and their stand out singles ‘Chasing Shadows’ and ‘Live for the Moment’ got stuck in my head for hours, as most good bands do.
We got our last meal at the festival – after deliberating for perhaps an hour and a half on what the final decision would be – and settled on an amazing Tibetan sesame chicken with the most delicious beef dumpling EVER whilst watching George Ezra and Bastille, both of whom, I have to admit, gave forgettable performances. Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t see the hype around Bastille. Their production is often unimaginable, boring, and repetitive, and unfortunately I find it hard to take seriously a lead singer playing a piano ballad wearing an Adidas tracksuit. I just don’t get it.
We hovered, wandering around the site looking at the different stalls and wares on offer: incense, harem trousers and bucket hats, until the oldest performer and closer of the festival blew us away. Rod Stewart, at the grand old age of 72, came on to a backdrop of laser beams and unexplained stock images of elephants running through fields. No context, hilarious. We loved it. 2 hours, 4 outfit changes (all sparkly), 2 songs sat on a chair to get his breath back, 6 saxophone solos, and one small child (later understood to be the singer’s son) later, the crooner walked off the stage with yet another entertainment bonanza under his belt. He’s still got it. The countless huddles of middle aged ladies in fleeces swooned, and danced in that way middle aged ladies do, into the night.
It’s an exciting time to be an Arcade Fire fan
Conclusion: As an Arcade Fire fanatic, I probably wouldn’t have gone to this festival if it weren’t for them. The line-up was far-fetched in terms of range this year, in some ways good for variety, in some ways bad in that the crowd for every act was a mix of middle aged ladies and young chavs. The lovers of great indie music, like us, mostly just had Saturday wristbands – probably a good shout.
To us, it felt a little too much like a food festival featuring Arcade Fire, as I definitely thought more about my next meal more than the rest of the music. But, for anyone with an easy-going taste for pop music, a bit of dance, a bit of crooning, a bit of teen pop, a bit of critically acclaimed indie art rock, and of course, an acoustic rave at 5pm, then this broad festival full of surprises and little quirks on one of my favourite islands in the world may just be up your street.
Time to return my wellies.