Isle of Wight Festival 2021 Review
Everyone I spoke to agreed that this year’s IW Festival was the one they had enjoyed the best of all of the IW Festivals since 2002, and why was that? Because it happened at all!!!
In a climate of Covid paranoia, and within an atmosphere of fear, John and Caroline Giddings fought tooth and nail to put on this year’s Festival and it was an absolute triumph. From the smallest artist on a makeshift stage, to the huge headliners on the Main and Big Top stages, everyone was on top form, bursting to bring their music back to the masses. And did we appreciate it – we 50,000% did and went on doing so for the entire four days. It was heaven.
This was accentuated by the theme of Peace, Love and Understanding, which permeated throughout the whole crowd. Everyone was very thoughtful and considerate of their fellow festival goers, and so much more friendly and helpful. Plus, the rainbow colour theme, which after all was originally sent as a promise of better things to come, gave a fabulous backdrop to the cast of thousands – to see everyone shimmering in rainbow wings, multi-coloured clothing and bucket-loads of sequins and shiny stuff was such a celebration of life.
The fancy dress judging on Saturday afternoon by John Giddings, in a tie-die rainbow t-shirt, was superb and summed up the entire weekend. Everyone wanted to shine in their rainbow best and gathered not just to be judged but to be seen. “Look, we’re here!” And as the winners were announced, an Island choir began to sing the Beatles ‘Eleanor Rigby’ in a cappella. It was surreal. Just like the 68, 69 and 1970 festivals, it was a cornucopia of madness and mayhem, yet organised to within an inch of its life. Later the same afternoon John played with his old school band from St Albans. He always does – you just have to know where to look – and he plays a pretty mean guitar.
So many artists, and not enough room to review them all. The IW Festival kicked off at exactly 6pm on the Thursday night in the Big Top with ‘Are You Experienced’, the Jimi Hendrix tribute act, and was bookended by Razorlight in the same venue on the Sunday evening at midnight.
Thursday evening, we danced to the eight-piece Tuba Libra in the Kashmir Café – such a high energy and tight group of brass players, including a tuba (of course), two saxophones, and a selection of trumpets, and wearing the strangest and most colourful clothing imaginable, clearly taking the theme to heart. Their selection of original and cover numbers so uplifting you couldn’t keep still when watching them.
Luca Firth, son of Colin, was first up on the River Stage on Friday with a gentle set of ballads that were quite lovely. James was on top form on the Main Stage on Friday evening, with a blinding set, followed by the most amazing performance from the 81-year-old ‘Sir Tom’ Jones, who had an interesting choice of tracks that included a boogie woogie number and the thought-provoking ‘Talking Reality Television Blues’, which I especially liked, and included the line “…and pretty soon an old man with a comb-over had sold us the moon.” Meow. That ‘Sir Tom’ sure has a full head of hair for his age, doesn’t he? Old favourites were ‘Delilah’ and ‘You Can Leave Your Hat On.’
Tom Jones gave a fantastic performance of some of his hits. Photo: IW Festival
Headlining on Friday was Liam Gallagher, a man who looks “just the same”, (according to my daughter Mhairi who grew up to the soundtrack of Oasis), as he ever has, peering up from the neck of his parka; although later he looked a bit less perky after he claimed to have fallen out of his helicopter upon departure. (See photo). His mixture of new songs and old Oasis numbers were a huge hit with the crowd, who sang the chorus to Wonderwall for him in his final encore, and we loved his “I don’t speak Isle of Wightish” comment during Wonderwall.
The Ks kicked things off on the Main Stage on Saturday – a band who have a bright future and a singer with a voice of gold. Jamie Boyle and lead guitarist Ryan Breslin had a jam in the Gibson tent backstage on Friday and were superb (see what you think). Sam Fender was soulful, and so special – his new single ‘Seventeen Going Under’ is relatable to everyone, and Snow Patrol were superb, as always – a band who could take Coldplay’s crown any day Headlining on Saturday was David Guetta. What a wall of sound, spectacularly curated to bring everyone up, down and round and around – a master of the art of music mixing. EVERYONE was dancing. I had to leave at this point and when I returned at 12.30pm I caught the last two numbers by the Kaiser Chiefs in the Big Top, who were amazing, and then rounded my night off at the Kashmir Café.
Sunday arrived with a touch of rain, but nothing could dampen our spirits. The sun began to peek through the clouds as Tim Arnold and the Ancient Futures took to the River Stage to debut their new album ‘Super Connected’. Singer J’ci Ana, ‘The Sound’ who is only 16, made her debut too, after being mentored by Tim through lockdown and the Island’s Camerata Choir joined them on the stage for the second half of the show, adding a fabulous depth to the proceedings. ‘Send More Light’ (so I can see the love) was my favourite, but the entire album is extremely innovative and entrancing. Tim has campaigned to Save Our Soho with Stephen Fry and others, been mentored by Bowie’s mime teacher Lindsay Kemp and campaigned for human rights with songs such as ‘What Love Would Want’. Tim Arnold IS super connected.
I bumped into Seasick Steve and a friend took a selfie of us – my only celeb selfie, and one I’m proud to have. His set was so well received – “I started out with nothing, and I have to say, I’ve got most of it left,” as he is fond of saying. Steve wandered off to watch Imelda May, the little girl with the voice of thunder. Supergrass were up later with a selection of their banging tunes, to celebrate 25 years since the release of ‘I Should Coco’ – they pumped those numbers out loud and proud. The Script followed, with all of their hits and more. Singer Danny O’Donoghue had put out a Twitter post from the ferry over to say they were going to “wreck the place,” certainly put his heart and soul into the challenge.
Duran Duran had a LOT of fireworks, especially in ‘A View To A Kill’ (cued perfectly I might add), dazzling screen designs, a huge presence and so many hits you were punch drunk. Their new single ‘Invisible’ is just as good as any of their earlier work, and there was a lot of that, including ‘The Reflex’, ‘Planet Earth’ and the beautiful ballad ‘Ordinary World’. Superlatives could not conjure up the magnificence of their performance, which culminated with an encore of ‘Save A Prayer’, a lead into ‘Wild Boys’ with Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ and multi-coloured confetti and beach balls at the end of ‘Rio.’ They were simply extraordinary, and a huge high to end the Festival, followed by the fireworks which accompanied everyone leaving the site
Duran Duran giving the crowd a great time. Photo: Macaulay Media
But not us die-hards, who dashed down to the Big Top to catch Razorlight, the last act of the Festival, who were so powerful it was almost painful. What a performance! So much singing along, especially to ‘Golden Touch’. And the sound was so tight – the best I’ve ever heard it in the Big Top. Johnny Borrell was absolutely wet though long before the end of their set. “They’re powerful because they haven’t played live for such a long time,” said the bloke in front of me, apropos of nothing. But this was true of every single band and artist we saw over the whole four days, and it was also true of every single person at the IW Festival. The joy of being able to play to a crowd in a field and, of course, on the Isle of Wight – the birthplace of British music festivals – was heaven for all of them, and for all of us. None of us had been out to play, live, and be with our friends, for almost two years. And we loved it. We loved it large.
So a HUGE big thank you has to go to John Giddings and his wife Caroline – who did so much of the hard work behind the scenes, especially in relation to the Covid protocols, which were tight – and to Live Nation, who put on the Festival with John and Caroline. THANK YOU!!!
See you next year – dates are already announced as June 16th to 19th 2022. Keep your eyes peeled on isleofwight.com events for more information.