Daniel Jeakins reports on Isle of Wight Festival, which saw headline sets from Stereophonics, Faithless, The Who and Queen
In 1971 the British government passed the ‘Isle of Wight Act’, which prevented gatherings of more than 5,000 on the island after over half a million hippies, rockers and members of the burgeoning counter-culture had wrecked havoc on the usually quiet retirement destination a year earlier.
Seen at the time as a British answer to Woodstock, the vastly over-crowded festival hosted sets from the likes of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors – which quickly went down as some of the most iconic performances in rock history.
Fortunately that act was eventually repealed in 1990, and the modern-day Isle of Wight Festival prides itself on celebrating the very best in British music history – with the 2016 iteration being no exception. This year’s line-up provides a haven for nostalgia, and thus it was little surprise to see people of all ages pitching up their tents on Thursday afternoon.
Nostalgic celebrations of classic rock, punk and brit-pop can usually be expected, but Busted’s arrival on the main stage on Friday afternoon reminded punters of a time in which boy bands invaded pop-punk and generally ruined it to for everyone.
There were those that looked on in despair, muttering about the death of rock and roll, but those who were willing to embrace the simple yet effective pop hooks of ‘Year 3000’, ‘Crashed The Wedding’ and ‘What I Go To School For’ were treated to a surprisingly competent performance. New single ‘Coming Home’ offers little hope for the band going forward, but the trio might be able to carve out a future as festival favourites if they’re willing to embrace their nostalgic value.
The relevance of a band as long in the tooth as Stereophonics has come into question countless times before, and while it would have been nice to see the festival take a punt on an emerging band they give a good account of themselves.
It would be easy to criticise the Welsh four-piece for being a little too polished for a rock band – but their professionalism serves them well. Kelly Jones is far from the most charismatic front-man but he leads the band through a consistent set which delights far more than it bores. Cuts from their latest number-one album Keep The Village Alive slide seamlessly into the set, while injections of pace provided by ‘The Bartender and the Thief’, ‘Local Boy In The Photograph’ and ‘Dakota’ find the band at their very best.
Sharing the headline slot are Faithless, who re-emerged last year after a brief hiatus. The legendary electronic act, who are still fronted by the enigmatic Maxi Jazz, sound absolutely awesome on the main stage.
Masters of suspense and tension, the Londoners accompany atmospheric synths with haunting vocals before unleashing rave-inducing hooks seemingly out of nowhere. By the time Jazz starts proclaiming “I can’t get no sleep” with his usual, effortless cool, rock and pop fans alike are brought to their feet.
Thousands trudge over to the main stage cursing a late Russian goal on Saturday as The Who proved once again that the ’60s produced a generation of Englishmen capable of putting in a proper performance. So much of the band’s music has been visualised by the likes of Quadrophenia and The Kids Are Alright that it was surprising to see so little sense of production – this set is all about the music and thankfully The Who have plenty of it.
The pairing of Daltrey’s powerful, growling vocals with Townsend’s ingenious guitar-work still makes for a thrilling combination, and when the band come round to their true big hitters – ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘Baba O’Riley’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ – there aren’t many acts on the planet that can match them for sheer joyous anthems.
Sunday brings with it bad weather and aching joints, but those that make their way to the Big Top in the evening witness Feeder recalling their early-noughties pomp in terrific fashion.
Perhaps unfairly remembered as contributors to the indie landfill, the Welsh band justify their longevity with varied performances of tracks from their eight album discography. There’s a heartfelt rendition of ‘Just The Way I’m Feeling’, alongside throwbacks to the band’s grunge roots. The inevitable highlight is ‘Just A Day’, one of the best indie anthems of a generation, which unleashes carnage at a festival in which mosh-pits are few and far between.
Closing the main stage are Queen + Adam Lambert, a controversial collaboration who still have a hell of a lot to prove to fans of the legendary British band.
It would be impossible (and cringe-worthy) for anyone to truly attempt to fill the boots of Freddie Mercury, and mercifully Lambert is under no such dellusion that he can carry that weight on his shoulders. His vocals are impressive and he tackles some of the most vocally challenging rock songs in music history with remarkable confidence, but Queen’s music does rely on the flamboyance and charisma of Mercury and requires someone capable of captivating entire audiences to truly bring it to life.
This is ultimately what’s lacking in a hit-packed set which still provides some awe-inspiring moments. Some of the jams between Brian May and Roger Taylor are mightily impressive, with an encore of ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘We Are The Champions’ and even the national anthem leading the crowd in easily the biggest sing-a-long moment of the weekend.
[Main image: PA]