Having been unreliably informed that it might take us a good 16 hours to arrive at Isle of Wight 2016, we find it a surprisingly quick, smooth journey down to the Solent for our first festival of the summer. A two-hour early morning drive, followed by an efficient 60-minute ferry trip and barely any traffic getting into the car park on the Friday morning we rock up, and we’re ready to take on everything it has to throw at us.
It’s our inaugural visit to the annual island event, and it makes a fantastic first impression as we’re met at the car by a lovely bloke called Paul – who loads our bags onto a trolley and dutifully delivers them to the exact spot on which we wish to camp, for a relatively small fee, while we walk and talk alongside him, sipping on cocktails procured from a mobile bar along the way. We’ve never encountered such a service before and it’s a bit of a game-changer, in all honesty.
After a wander about the parkland – poking our heads into the Kashmir Café; the wonderfully random Cirque de la Quirk; the Field of Dreams, where the Euro 2016 action is being screened; and the Strongbow Tree, where live percussionists perform on a high platform – we’re drawn to This Feeling, the stage promising to present us with the best new British breakthrough acts, and where we find Welsh band The Hearts busy doing their thing.
On come Bristol’s rambunctious psych-pop-rockers The Shimmer Band next (pictured below), doing the city proud and drawing one of the biggest crowds of the evening, to boot. It’s fair to say the atmosphere inside the tent is pretty electric; the audience wild with the infectious, raw energy emanating from the stage. Aside from watching the festival’s main acts, it’s here, actually, where we find ourselves spending perhaps the most time – the excitement is tangible and the DJs do a great job of prolonging it, sending revellers into the wee hours with grins still firmly plastered over their faces.
After a trip to the main stage – where our number one Nineties/Noughties crush, the ever-charming Kelly Jones, is cracking out nostalgic Stereophonics anthems and more recent feel-good tracks as fans enjoy an impressive light show – we gravitate towards the packed-out Hipshaker Lounge and finish up the night sashaying about to Sixties classics.
The next morning, bright and early (say, 1.30pm) we crawl out of our tents and, after a heads-up from the very helpful IOW app, make our way back down to the Hipshaker for a gogo dancing lesson from London’s fabulous Meyer Dancers. Despite it being something of a sauna inside, we manage to learn a whole routine to Land of 1000 Dances in around 30 minutes, and it’s such fun we begin Googling gogo groups in Bristol as soon as the session ends. Turns out there’s one with the Showgirl Academy at Motion Dance Studio, starting in July, hurrah!
For much of the remainder of the day, we park ourselves in front of the main stage, intermittently dozing, and dancing to the dirty grooves of Alabama 3, swaying to the summery sounds of Turin Brakes, and leaping about, Riverdance-style, to The Corrs. (How have they not aged one bit?) The Irish songsters draw a surprisingly sizeable crowd, most of which stay to rock out to The Kills. Fronted by the awesome Alison Mosshart, the band, aptly, absolutely slay it up there. Two superb wood-fired pizzas later (well, it is Saturday night), and we’re fuelled up and muscling our way to the front for a bit of rather erratic Iggy action – Mr Pop all flailing limbs and leathery torso, but displaying an incredible amount of energy throughout and delivering a great vocal performance as well of plenty of entertainment value.
As if this run of acts isn’t already decent enough, former Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft takes to the stage. His performance is a personal highlight, with the sun having decided it favours us over the poor, unfortunate Download crowd up in Derby, and pleasantly setting across a mackerel sky to the likes of Lucky Man, Sonnet, Music is Power, The Drugs Don’t Work and new singles, This is How it Feels and Hold On. Despite being attacked with UV paint by a fellow crowd member, we’re almost weeping with joy by the end of the set, as Ashcroft launches into a gorgeous rendition of Bittersweet Symphony.
Sadly we’re forced to abandon our attempt at shoehorning in a bit of Adam Ant over in the Big Top, as by this time, the gathering throng proves too dense to negotiate. So into position we get for The Who – who offer the multi-generational masses before them a string of hits as a starter to get their teeth into. We’re talking Who Are You, Can’t Explain, Substitute, The Seeker, I Can See For Miles (always a cracker at a festival) The Kids are Alright, Behind Blue Eyes and My Generation – plus some old Isle Of Wight anecdotes involving rock star mates, from the always straight-talking Townshend, who claims he’d much rather be on the fairground rides across the park. Whatever, Pete…
What follows is a bit of a lull, as the band jam away and play some of their lesser known songs. Trojan drummer Zak Starkey puts in a particularly stellar performance, while Roger Daltry’s voice is a little strained at times, though most definitely not on the final fantastic cry of Love Reign O’er Me. That’s before the band pull a triumphant, jubilant finale out of the bag, which sees us lapping up Pinball Wizard, See Me Feel Me, Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again, as a ballerina dances in a birdcage (naturally) above a cocktail bar in the background, and the night begins to get underway…
Main image: Callum Baker Photography
The Shimmer Band image: Will Ireland Photography
Alison Mosshart image 1: David Rutherford Photography