Regurgitated headliners is an accusation that has been aimed at many festival organisers over the past few years, but it could be a claim that Isle of Wight Festival boss John Giddings can swerve with this year’s line-up bridging the gap between nostalgia and contemporary. While Rod Stewart closes the festival on Sunday evening with dad rock favourites like ‘Maggie May’ and ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’, with a hat-trick of garish costume changes to entertain the predominantly family-orientated audience, Friday night is a concoction of Run DMC and David Guetta. Formulating a successful blend of old school hip hop and roaring pop respectively, the lack of stage presence from the latter is made up for with an overwhelming light show extravaganza.
However the real Main Stage highlight of the weekend has to go to Arcade Fire. Nothing short of euphoric, the Canadian six-piece command your attention in the way that every headliner should - bold, bracing and beaming. Their appearance became even more anticipated with the recent release of ‘Everything Now’ and the disco piano, soaring violin and winding bassline spectacular seamlessly blends into their exhilarating showcase of timeless modern classics including the electrifying ‘Ready To Start’ and the uplifting ‘Rebellion (Lies)’. Renowned for their unfathomably seismic live show, the busy onstage patter, swapping instruments and vocal duties, is utterly mesmerising.
With a unique eye for booking headliners, another testament to the Isle of Wight Festival is the ability to have their finger firmly on the pulse when it comes to scouting bands who can, and will, ultimately step up to the plate and take on the mammoth slots in the future. Across the weekend Jack Rocks stage graduates The Amazons rocket through their climactic performance in the Big Top with a scorching sound tailor-made for stadiums. With their debut album now out for everyone to hear, the crowd unites in one sing-a-long after another, thus acting as the seal of approval for the Reading quartet firmly making their mark on Isle of Wight festival. Of the same sonic ilk, Judas evidence their polished rock ascent with a small selection of new songs to tease Seaclose Park alongside the building ‘Call Me’.
Arguably one of the busiest bands of the weekend, Bang Bang Romeo descend upon the Big Top too armed with Anastasia Walker’s earth shattering vocal that possesses your undivided attention. Their rendition of ‘Chemical’ is rousing as it glides hand in hand with the pulsing ‘Invitation’. Over on the Hard Rock stage London-based four-piece Paves pair the essence of rock ‘n’ roll fundamentals, Hendrix likening guitars and brushes of country and blues sensibilities with an undeniable charisma to enchant their first crowd of the weekend.
Described by many as a ‘festival within a festival’ This Feeling teams up yet again with Whiskey mavericks Jack Daniels to showcase more future headliners to the present day. Aside from the Jack Rocks 7 gang (featuring 90s era psychedelic upstarts White Room and the kaleidoscopic harmonies of The Sundowners) The Blinders take to the stage at half five in the afternoon and thrash out a visceral, blistering set worthy of much more attention. Letting up slightly on their searing established guitar sound for ‘Ramona Flowers’ the ode lingers around the tent, much like the captivating impression made by the Doncaster trio who will more than likely be following in The Amazons footsteps when climbing the festival ranks.
Admirably swaggering around stage with an anarchic and ramshackle demeanour, Guildford’s BlackWaters nonchalant attitude makes their feisty, grit-laden punk exports even more exciting while Leicester’s Arcades soar through their set with Madchester-esque vocals and Jagger-like dance moves. Also notable is Manchester’s Dantevilles dedication to the rock ‘n’ roll ethos. “I’m wearing no shoes because I lost them last night,” explains singer Connor Mcnicholas between their jaunty, upbeat rock cuts.
Taking a break from the future to admire retrospectively, The Kooks continue their extensive touring schedule for ‘Best Of...So Far’ in the Saturday afternoon sunshine. With a career-spanning set ranging from the youthful ‘You Don’t Love Me’ to the fresh ‘Be Who You Are’ they rejoice in playing all of their hits and vocalist Luke Pritchard enthuses the audience even more at the end of their triumphant performance by declaring, “Whatever your political persuasion, we can all agree that Theresa May is a twat.”
Although often splitting opinions, it could be considered unanimous that Catfish & The Bottlemen’s bolshie riffs and infectious melodies have the capacity to take the next step up from their sub-headline position. Frontman Van McCann’s energetic onstage prowess bleeds into the atmosphere as the anthemic sonic traits of ‘Kathleen’ and ‘Pacifier’ are lapped up by the audience. Elsewhere on site Zara Larsson’s stomping pop with an electronic bite goes down a treat at the packed out Big Top. The Swedish singer’s rendition of ‘Lush Life’ encapsulates the festival spirit perfectly as it bounces around the tented structure.
A welcome return comes courtesy of George Ezra on the Main Stage, serenading Seaclose Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon with his famously smooth voice. Armed with a selection of new songs in his weaponry, the singer sprinkles them into his set with ease, although understandably, tracks like ‘Blame It On Me’ and ‘Budapest’ gather the biggest reaction. Also returning, and taking to the Big Top tent on Sunday evening, Irish rhythm and blues prodigies The Strypes tease material from upcoming third album ‘Spitting Image’. Although still young, being three albums deep into their career has enhanced the maturity no end within their musicality, making the transition from a covers band in the early days to fully fledged rockstars effortless. There’s a hyperactive energy radiating from each member of the quartet as they furiously play their instruments – which even extends to vocalist Ross Farrelly’s work on the harmonica – moving emphatically in line with their frenzied sound.
As the dust begins to settle on Seaclose Park it can be easy to forget that music is cyclical and other genres are currently having their own, well-deserved, moments, but for those concerned about the future of festival headliners, with a rising crop of dedicated new bands more exciting than ever, be assured it’s going to be all-Wight.
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Words: Shannon Cotton
Photography: Ben McQuaide