Monday, 13 June 2016

Isle of Wight Festival 2016

It's 1PM on a Monday, and I'm feeling very groggy-headed, achy, with a sore throat and still a weird ringing in my ears, but what a weekend! For one weekend every year our sleepy little retirement island becomes THE place to be when the famous Isle of Wight festival comes to town. It was a big event for a few years in the '60s and '70s, but when they brought it back when I was in high school, I never foresaw how huge it would become, up there with Glastonbury as one of the biggest music festivals in the UK. Right here, practically on my doorstep!

This is the third time I've been to the festival, the second time I've done the whole weekend, and easily the best. When I bought my ticket, there were no one-day options available, and no discounts for people who weren't camping on site. I probably wouldn't have bothered, but when I heard who was headlining on the Sunday night, I knew I had no choice in the matter, because how often do you get to see QUEEN playing so close to home? Queen, the music of my childhood, the ultimate rock band, it doesn't get any better than that.

People started arriving on Thursday, and although the main arena wasn't open until Friday, there were a few acts in the Big Top that evening. The main entrance was closed, so we had to trek another mile or so up the road to go in through the camp site. Luckily that was only for one evening, and the rest of the weekend we entered by the school and leisure centre. My sister came down to the island Thursday straight from work, and met me in time for Status Quo in the Big Top. We didn't get into the tent, though, nor very close, after somewhat slow service at the bar. No doubt that's why the guy in front of us had three bottles in his hand, to save time queuing. He was clearly enjoying himself greatly.

Friday and Saturday my manager let me leave work early, and we alternated between watching the acts on the main stage (Busted was one group, which we watched "because of nostalgia") and discovering some of the lesser-known bands in the smaller venues: the Hard Rock cafe, Cirque de la Quirk and the Jack Daniels tent. We met up with Dad in the Big Top when a group called Black Violin were on - very talented musicians. Friday night, the Stereophonics played the big stage and put on a fantastic show, followed by Faithless, although I went home after the Stereophonics as I don't really care for dance music, and fancied an earlier night as I still had to work the next day. But I could hear them from my bedroom, and they sounded pretty good (and to give the IOW festival credit, you can't hear much after midnight. Bestival, the other music festival, has been known to keep me up until four in the morning with its thudding bass, despite being further away from my house.) Saturday it was The Who (there were a lot of "old men with guitars" headlining this festival!) Jenny, Dad and I got really close to the stage for their set, maybe about 10 rows back from the stage, and thoroughly enjoyed rocking out to "My Generation," "Pinball Wizard" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" to name just a few of the huge hits they played. I apologise profusely for anyone I hit with my hair while headbanging.

Waiting for The Who. Didn't get pics of the band, though. Although I took a few photos of bands, for the 
most part I preferred to enjoy the moment rather than experiencing it through the lens of my camera phone.

Although it had been 12 years since David Bowie played the Isle of Wight festival, I felt really conscious of his absence, thinking he really ought to be there. Every other person seemed to have a cardboard mask of his face (there was a big fundraiser for Stand Up To Cancer, apparently, with a photo of thousands of David Bowies.) Ziggy Stardust make-up was in evidence on several faces too.

After three days of going straight from work to the festival, by Sunday I needed a few hours to just collapse and do nothing, so I ended up getting to the site around the same time as previous days after all. There was only one big act I was interested in - THE big act - so I spent the afternoon wandering around the Big Top and little stages seeing what was going on. There was Gutterdammerung's "Loudest silent movie on earth" in the Big Top, The Wholls in the Jack Daniels bar, and then as my metalhead sister went off to see Sixx AM, my eye was caught by a trio of bright-haired lasses on the stage at the Cirque de la Quirk stage (my favourite of the small venues.) These, I discovered, were the Lounge Kittens, who perform a wide variety of songs and genres in three-part harmony, cheeky, funny and very talented, ending their act with a medley of songs by performers from the weekend. They reminded me a little of Amanda Palmer, and I just discovered they're from Southampton! They were my favourite new discovery from the weekend (closely followed by Irish band the High Kings.)

The Lounge Kittens
 I met up with Jenny and Dad at the end of Sixx AM's set (going via the cocktail bar for a frozen dakry*) before weaving our way through the crowd during Ocean Colour Scene to get close to the main stage in plenty of time for Queen! It started to rain during the end of Ocean Colour scene, but considering the weather forecast and some of the downpours we've had recently, it was very light, and being short was shielded from the worst of it by the people around me. I'm normally really bad at crowds, but I was lucky that I didn't suffer from anxiety or claustrophobia at all this weekend.  I don't think I quite appreciated just how good a spot we had until I saw the photographs of the audience, how they filled the whole of Seaclose park, and I was within about ten metres from the stage.

A big cloth screen came down at half past eight while people prepared the stage for the starring act. The stage was extended out further to left and right and front centre, to bring the band even closer to the audience. We happily sang along with "Hey Jude" while we waited, and speculated on which songs they would open and close the show with. My guess was that "Bohemian Rhapsody," "We Will Rock You" or "We Are the Champions" would be the closing song, and Dad predicted "One Vision" as the opener - correctly, as it happened. Then the screens started showing Brian May, Roger Taylor and Adam Lambert walking down the backstage corridors, building the suspense, and then, live footage of them waiting behind the stage. And then... they were ON!

If there were any doubts about whether Queen were truly Queen without Freddie Mercury - and I didn't encounter any such sentiments, the atmosphere was electric with expectation and excitement - they were very quickly dispelled as "One Vision" opened the show, followed by saucy, energetic classics such as "Fat-Bottomed Girls," "Killer Queen" and "Don't Stop Me Now" - crowd-pleasing favourites which had us all singing along at the tops of our voices. There was only ever one Freddie Mercury, and Adam Lambert acknowledged he wasn't going to replace him, but pay tribute and celebrate his life and work, which he did whole-heartedly, bringing the flamboyance and eccentricity to the stage, posing suggestively on a throne in a feather jacket for "Killer Queen."

We were off to the left, just a few metres back.
Photo borrowed from Brian May's twitter.

Adam Lambert. He was right there!

But it wasn't all high jinks and innuendo. (Actually, come to think of it "Innuendo" was one of the songs that didn't make it onto the bill.) Around the mid-way point, the show quietened down for a while when Brian May dedicated "Love of My Life" to Freddie Mercury, and then video footage of Freddie finished off the song, where they seemed to sing to each other across the divide of time - yes, there were tears. And more when Lambert dedicated "Who Wants To Live Forever" - a poignant song at the best of times - to those murdered in the horrifying shooting in Orlando the day before, and to "everyone who's been a victim of senseless violence and hatred." And of course David Bowie was remembered with "Under Pressure" which I remember him performing at the festival 12 years ago. I didn't have a ticket that year, but watched from the other side of the river, back in the days when you could see the main stage from there. Now neither of the original singers are around, but the song lives on.

Freddie Mercury on the screen. Bad pic, 
but I like that it kind of symbolises 
the hole where he ought to be.
Adam Lambert left the stage for a while, while Roger Taylor and his son had a "drum-off." I'd never really paid much attention to the drums before this weekend, but there's been a lot of incredible drumming from these bands. And Brian May had a spot for his very impressive guitarmanship (On the way home Dad, a guitarist himself, explained some of the tricks May had been using.)

Adam and Brian visible on stage, Roger on the screen.
Queen performed most of their biggest hits in a phenomenal two-hour set, although "Bohemian Rhapsody" was a mixture of live performance from May, Taylor and Lambert, and video footage with Freddie Mercury on lead vocals. They came back for the head-banging guitar finale, and finished off with "Radio Ga Ga," before leaving the stage. But we were pretty much sure that they hadn't really left, and after a baffled quiet, started shouting for them to come back, chanting "We will, we will rock you!" Oh, they kept us waiting, but they returned, launching into what must be one of the most famous drum beats of all time. I wonder how many miles from the festival site, people knew EXACTLY which song was being played at that point. "We Will Rock You" segued into "We Are The Champions," then the band took their bows and finished with a glitter cannon and the national anthem. As they left the stage, a recording of David Bowie's "Heroes" and a firework display marked the end of the main festival. Actually, there was another act on in the big top, but we headed home, thinking that there was no better note to end on than Queen's phenomenal set. While we were walking home, we heard the whirr and saw the lights of a helicopter overhead, and a passer-by pointed out that was probably Queen leaving the island. I waved and shouted thanks. 

It's been an incredible weekend all round, for old favourites and new discoveries, certainly the best festival I've been to. However, I don't know where the Isle of Wight festival can go from here. How can next year possibly top this weekend? I just don't think it gets any better.

*strawberry, not banananananana


  1. *pokes you excitedly* so so so my favourite work friend like fully knows The Lounge Kittens and the green haired one is like her bestie! It's my claim to fame haha (but yeah they are pretty excellent and I'm a fan regardless of that!)

    I have so many qualms about queen without Freddie but I shan't share them here cause you loooooved it and that's all that matters! I think I would have wept at all the Freddie bits though omg.

    To summarise, yaaaaay music! Haha

    1. I hadn't heard of them until yesterday, but I really enjoyed their set, and am thinking of going to see them when they go on tour later this year.

      As for Queen, I had my doubts when they first appointed a guest vocalist, and of course it wasn't going to be the same without him (I so wish I was old enough to have seen them when Freddie was alive!) but Adam Lambert did a really good job. Such a great evening (and whole weekend). I'll be smiling to remember it for weeks.

  2. BUT... but... was Bohemian Rhapsody better than Kanye's? *runs for cover* I'm kidding, I'm kidding! There are drunk people staggering down a country lane at 4am on a Sunday morning who do better renditions than that. ;)

    And also, I agree (sorry Laura), Adam Lambert does a bloody good job of sort of keeping 'the spirit of Freddie' and nailing most of the big live vocals without lauding himself as a replacement or elbowing his memory to one side, which could so easily have happened with such a big band taking on a new front man. He has a really strong, well-pitched voice even when he's moving around a lot on stage, which is definitely not always the case!

    Aaaaanyway, I'm sitting here with the less melodious sounds of a drill through brickwork vibrating right up the wall behind my head (downstairs bathroom being done, ugh) and the constant ongoing thwacks and commentary from Wimbledon on my laptop, so... just wanted to say I really enjoyed this post, I've never been to a live gig or a concert or festival (except one little local rock group at a pub one time when I was about 15) so it's always nice to share a bit of vicarious music royalty via someone else's experiences! :) xx

    1. Bohemian Rhapsody was pretty good! ;) I think they'd done it once or twice before...

      I like that they are billed as "Queen & Adam Lambert"; he's a permanent guest singer rather than a new member of the band, if that makes sense. Because Freddie's irreplaceable - Lambert was the first to admit this. He was an excellent performer, and he totally threw his heart and soul into "Who Wants To Live Forever" which is a poignant enough song at the best of times. I'm planning to buy up lots of Queen CDs next time I'm in an HMV - I had the greatest hits once but no idea where that went to, and now I want all the rest. In my opinion there just isn't a bigger or better rock band than Queen.

      I went very click-happy on iTunes, making the ultimate Isle of Wight Festival playlist and have been listening to that on my phone when walking to work. Some of the songs just transport me back there as I listen. "One Vision" brings back the excitement of seeing footage of the band backstage, building up the tension knowing they were right there in the wings, and then being RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF OUR EYES AND EARS. AHHHHHHH!

      *flails wildly*


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