Upwards of 50,000 people visited Seaclose Park for this year’s Isle Of Wight festival, and what a rollercoaster it was. There was rain, a tornado, acts who were forced to pull out last minute, and there were acts who literally pulled out last minute. None of it really mattered though – because the music trumped it all.
Here are the best performances we caught during the four-day island jaunt.
Yungblud’s last minute addition to the Isle of Wight lineup proved an enjoyably riotous affair. Replacing Sam Fender on the Big Top stage, he whipped the afternoon crowd into a frenzy or – as the words on his red jumpsuit had it written – a ‘riot’. When he wasn’t sprinting up and down the stage giving it large on tracks such as ‘Anarchist’ and ‘Parents’, he was either strapped to a guitar strumming his way through ‘I Love You, Will You Marry Me’, or on tambourine duty for the likes of ‘Loner’ and ‘Ice Cream Man’. Whatever he did, it was energetic.
Stacked with layers upon layers of toe-tapping percussion designed for dance floors everywhere, Friendly Fires‘ brand of electro-indie always hits a sweet spot for festival-goers. Familiar tunes ‘Jump in the Pool’, ‘Skeleton Boy’ and ‘Lovesick’ rang off early – all backed by the usual onstage acrobatics of frontman Ed Macfarlane. Keeping the party alive with newer tracks ‘Lack of Love’ and ‘Love Like Waves’, when the Fires dropped fan favourite ‘Paris’ a roar from the Big Top crowd signalled the beginning of what turned out to be one massive jump-fest.
When you’re celebrating 40 years in the business you probably know a thing or two about performing live. So when the Madness circus rolled into town on Sunday with ringleader Suggs front and centre, you knew before one note was even uttered that true showmanship was about to come knocking. “What you looking at?” asked the jovial frontman, before launching into their 1979 single ‘One Step Beyond’. Like live-action Looney Tunes characters, the band laughed, danced, and acted the fools all over the festival’s main stage, with more than 25,000 people skanking to the classics ‘Baggy Trousers’, ‘House of Fun’ and ‘Our House’. Once ‘It Must Be Love’ echoed across the park it was game, set and match, Madness.
Rolling back the years through a celebration of ’90s dance hits, Isle of Wight’s love letter to archetypal Manchester club The Hacienda once again brought people from all walks of life together all in the name of music. On Friday, the Big Top stage played host to an array of club classics reimagined with a ’70-piece orchestra, as well as a few special guests who stopped by to relive the Madchester glory days. Happy Mondays dancer Bez (armed, of course, with his trusty maracas) joined former New Order bassist Peter Hook – who was once co-owner of The Hacienda with his ex-bandmates – to spread the love alongside MC Tunes and DJ Graeme Park. Hacienda Classical proved for the second year in a row that it’s the unmissable event of the festival.
By far the best performance at this year’s Isle of Wight Festival, there’s clearly merit in keeping these rock beasts caged for a while before a big show. “We’ve been locked up in the studio for six months. It’s good to get out and play for you,” said Biffy Clyro frontman, Simon Neil – and you can tell. The entire performance plays like a relentless machine gun rattle of wonky rock bangers. Whether it was the hammering chords of ‘Living Is a Problem Because Everything Dies’, the respite ‘God & Satan provides, or the throwback to ‘2002’s ’57’, it was a ballsy decision to have Biffy Clyro close out the festival. As the heaviest act on the entire bill, they ran the risk of threatening the festival’s family-friendly reputation. As it turns out, a little bit of math-rock disruption was the perfect way to bring everyone together.
Cruel Heart Club
Though one of the lesser-known acts on the bill, Cruel Heart Club’s pop-tinged punk riffs and the heartbreak war cries of lead singer Edie were a highlight of the Hard Rock stage. Captivated by the rebellious nature of a band who are obviously inspired by bands like Queens of the Stone Age and No Doubt, for the crowd it didn’t matter that it was raining: getting soaked in the name of discovery was worth it.
Armed with just an acoustic guitar and a Stone Island jacket, not many people could have gotten away with the type of stripped back performance Richard Ashcroft delivered on Sunday’s main stage at Isle of Wight. The type of thing usually reserved for a more intimate setting, all the former Verve man needed were the hits – and he has a lot of them. ‘Sonnet’. Bang! ‘Space and Time’. Bang! ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’. Bang! The crowd were loving every single one of them as they were rattled off. Elsewhere, Ashcroft offered up solo material in the form of ‘They Don’t Own Me’ and ‘Birds Fly’, but it was two Verve classics in particular that owned the moment. ‘Lucky Man’ may have inspired a mass Sunday service at Seaclose Park, but the unmistakable strings of ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ – a song Ashcroft now owns 100 percent of – that caused festival-goers to catch the holy ghost.
Talk about production. Fatboy Slim’s co-headlining main stage slot on Saturday night couldn’t have been any bigger if it tried. Forget the relentless light show that lit up the crowd as it approached midnight, and forget the endless barrage of bangers that kept coming like a horror movie villain that just won’t die, it was the show’s video content on the big screens that proved the most memorable element, featuring face morphing technology, digital 3D images and shots of the Fatboy doing his thing. One of the most impressive moments came when he dropped a mix that blended both Fisher’s ‘Losing It’ and Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’. Accompanied by an animated visual that featured a cartoon Donald Glover dancing all over the screen, this is must-see stuff.
Keane have been away for a while – not that you’d know it after watching their headline set on the Big Top stage. Sensational from start to finish, it was as if their seven-year hiatus didn’t even happen. Shifting gears up and down through their impressive catalogue, the band revisited hits ‘Nothing in My Way’, ‘Bedshaped’ and ‘Somewhere Only We Know’. New single ‘The Way I Feel’ went down a storm, as did their cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ – this year marked the 50th anniversary of Dylan’s fabled Isle of Wight performance. Admitting it was all a little overwhelming being back headlining a festival stage, it was obvious frontman Tom Chaplin needed a second to let it all soak in. Not so long ago he was battling addiction demons and didn’t think Keane would ever get back together. Today, he’s looking healthier and his voice might just be better than it was before.
Lily Allen never fails to grab your attention. Taking the piss out of herself and her age – this coming after she performed a selection of older songs from her back catalogue, including ‘Smile’ and ‘LDN’ – throwing shade at Theresa May and Boris Johnson before dedicating ‘F**k You’ to both politicians, she also honoured those who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Asking the crowd to partake in a one minute silence, she ended up having to call out some rude festival-goers who felt the need to shout at her during the silence. After branding them as ‘cunts,’ she dedicated ‘The Fear’ to them and kept the show moving.