The Isle of Wight has always been a nostalgic place for me. Having had family live there in the past and spent many a summer holiday there when I was younger, stepping off the hovercraft into Ryde and breathing in that Island air is like stepping back in time to my childhood. The festival is no exception and has always been a haven for nostalgia for many people, a place to relive musical history for music lovers of all ages. This year didn’t disappoint, featuring headline performances by 1970s rock heroes The Who and Queen, and 1990s favourites Stereophonics and Faithless.
My dad was at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, the year The Who played for the first time. 46 years later and there I was, at the same place and seeing the same band. Pulling at my nostalgic heart-strings once again, we danced away to classic hits ‘Who Are You?’, ‘Baba O’Riley’, ‘My Generation’ and ‘Pinball Wizard’. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey provided a fantastic performance that was enjoyed by a crowd of fans across multiple generations. With references to their previous performances at Isle of Wight Festival, for just one evening we were transported back to the 1970s.
The band I was most looking forward to seeing at this year’s festival though was of course Sunday night headliners; Queen. The band made the controversial decision in 2011 for Adam Lambert to fill the shoes of much-loved Freddie Mercury as lead vocalist on the road. In my opinion it was the best decision they could have made. Adam Lambert makes no attempt to impersonate Freddie Mercury and instead he is an incredible performer and flawless vocalist in his own right. He has brought the power rock anthems of Queen back to life and allowed a whole new generation the chance to see and embrace the band once again. The whole performance was incredibly poignant and emotional, with Lambert dedicating ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’ to the victims of the Orlando shooting, and to “anyone who has been victim of senseless violence or hatred”.
This year’s festival was in collaboration with Cancer Research UK and Channel 4’s joint charity effort, Stand up to Cancer. Together we all paid tribute to David Bowie, whose last headline act was at Isle of Wight 2004, and who died of cancer at age 69 earlier this year. We purchased Ziggy Stardust masks and danced along to ‘Starman’ in the main arena, performed by Andrea Corr and Gary Kemp. The atmosphere was incredibly moving as thousands of music fans gathered to pay their respects.
Across the weekend I had a lot of fun seeing plenty of fantastic bands. One of the most exciting of these was a blast from my pre-teen past; Busted. My inner 12 year-old squealed with excitement as Charlie, Matt and James stepped out onto the stage. As to be expected, there were several groans and cringes from a generation who haven’t yet forgiven boybands for taking over the pop-punk stratosphere in the 2000s. I, however, was part of the crowd of devoted 1990s kids, with all those years spent jumping around our bedrooms with air-guitars, singing along to ‘Year 3000’ and ‘What I Go To School For’ suddenly racing back to life. They didn’t disappoint, and with a spattering of new music throughout, Busted embraced their nostalgic value and sang all our favourite hits.
A couple of relatively new bands who I thoroughly enjoyed over the weekend were Blossoms and Hello Operator. Blossoms came onto the scene just last year, rising to fame with hits such as ‘At Most a Kiss’ and ‘Charlemagne’. We managed to catch the last half of their set after rushing over to the Big Top after Busted. They captivated their audience and performed a great selection of tunes including latest single ‘Getaway’. Hello Operator graced the presence of the Jack Rocks stage, a stage brought to us by everyone’s favourite festival drink; Jack Daniels. With a plastic cup of Jack Daniels Honey & Lemonade in hand, I joined the crowd for Hello Operator’s lively and energetic set. Whilst still a fairly new band on the scene, they had the audience on their feet, dancing along to their single ‘Stephanie’, and generally having a good time.
As usual, it wasn’t just about the music though. With around 96 food stalls pitched up at Isle of Wight Festival, there was more than enough choice for sustenance to keep us partying all weekend. Long gone are the days of dry burgers and soggy chips as your staple festival diet. This season we had pulled pork sandwiches, stone-baked pizzas, fresh churros, and there was even a Moët tent for the fancier folk. A few people mentioned that food seems to be becoming such an important factor at festivals now that in some ways it is becoming more important than the music. My only grabble would be that there was almost too much to choose from…
The weather stayed beautiful all weekend despite constant forecasts of heavy rain, with the sun shining through the overcast sky to keep us warm and dry. The only exception was half an hour on Sunday evening, but I welcomed it as an excuse to finally don my favourite Refuse to Sink pac-a-mac.
Overall, it was another amazing weekend from John Giddings and the Isle of Wight Festival family. I look forward to seeing how many incredible bands and performers they can squeeze onto our favourite little neighbour Island this time next year!
Words: Sarah Nunn
Photography: C/O Official Isle of Wight Festival. Callum Baker, Dylan Roberts, Sara Lincoln, David Rutherford, Liz Murray.