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The Isle Of Wight Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary with a line-up of over 300 acts, glorious weather and a sell-out crowd leading organiser John Giddings to hail it as the best yet. Taking advantage of the Glastonbury fallow year the festival had taken not only their slot in the festival calendar but also a lot of their clientele it would seem. In previous years you could move about quite freely and get close to your chosen stage. This year it was pick a stage and stay there. Attendance figures have varied from 50,000 to 90,000. I think it was closer to the latter. Celebrating the 50th anniversary, festival attendees where asked to adorn gold on the Saturday, however, gold laden festival goers illuminated the park throughout of the weekend adding to that already colourful atmosphere.

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The This Feeling stage was once again a sanctuary. In partnership this year with Pirate Studios and Pretty Green, it offered shade and, as always, the best in up and coming guitar laden indie bands. Two This Feeling alumni were playing the Main Stage this year, Bang Bang Romeo and Blossoms as well as Judas and Tom Grennan playing The Big Top. Proof that what Mikey Jonns and This Feeling do really works. The likes of Avalanche Party, Surrenders, Himalayas, Vida and more will undoubtedly go on to bigger stages.

Avalanche Party headlined This Feeling on the Thursday night and were up against The Wombats in The Big Top. My money was always on Avalanche Party – intense, ferocious and at times genuinely frightening. 

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The Main Stage opened on the Friday with Doncaster’s finest Bang Bang Romeo given the honour of opening proceedings. Playing to ‘the largest crowd for an opening act ever’ (John Giddings) they embraced every second of their set. From soaring, anthemic soul-rock to the tenderness of songs like Chemical they owned the stage.

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New single ‘Shame On You’ – released the same day – was nothing short of triumphant.  A band who earned their place on The Main Stage through pure talent and hard work, their career path is theirs to choose. Recently signed to Eleven Seven Music in New York and with their debut album ready to drop the world is at their collective feet.

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Gracing that same stage later that day Nile Rodgers brought his latest incarnation of Chic, delivering a flawless greatest hits set that had the sun-drenched IOW crowd dancing with joyous abandon. The organisers had asked people to where gold in celebration of the 50th anniversary. Having the man with the Midas touch playing certainly added to the aureate nature of the festival.

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Kasabian closed out The Main Stage. Some years ago they announced they’d only play festivals if they were headlining. It’s a no brainer really. They are perfect headliners. An extensive back catalogue of timeless rock anthems to delve into can only lead to another win for the Leicester boys. And to be fair when you’ve got Serge Pizzorno on your team you can’t fail.

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Saturday’s talk was all about Liam Gallagher. The debate is still raging online as to whether he should have headlined over Depeche Mode. I personally think it was the right way round but then I am of a certain age. A helicopter pilot whipped up some serious excitement backstage when he said he’d just flown the Gallagher brothers in till someone killed the mood with ‘Yeah, that’ll be Liam’s sons.’ His swaggering walk from backstage is there for all to see on the big screens backed by the ‘Champions’ chant for his beloved Manchester City. He reaches the mic and says four words: ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’.

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It already looks mayhem stage front. With only an hour to play with, the 14 song set seems a little rushed at times but Liam holds it all together. He knows just what the crowd want. Swagger, swearing, banter and 9 Oasis songs to boot. Highlight is surely the rarely aired ‘Whatever’. Toward the end he asks if we want ‘Live Forever’ or ‘Wonderwall’. ‘Please not Wonderwall’ I whisper to myself. ‘Fuck it I’ll play them both’. Like many people I’m fed up of Wonderwall, the bane of every open mic night, but when you hear Liam backed by 50,000 people singing it you’re reminded of just how brilliant the song is. ‘You’re beautiful. Enjoy Depeche Mode’ says Liam before walking into one of the most impressive sunsets ever. 

Depeche Mode have gone from electro-pop pioneers to full on stadium rockers and everything in between in their 40 year career. I heard some complaints about ‘not playing the hits’ but with 14 albums to go at they were always going to miss out someone’s favourite. We did get ‘Everything Counts’, ‘Enjoy The Silence’, ‘Personal Jesus’ and, surprisingly, ‘I Just Can’t Get Enough’. The band delivered probably the tightest set of the weekend and Dave Gahan and Martin Gore both looked genuinely moved by the reception they were getting. The 5 minute singalong at the end of ‘Everything Counts’ was particularly special. The crowd just kept going and Dave wasn’t about to stop them. By the end of set closer, ‘Enjoy The Silence’, any doubters had been firmly won over. The band didn’t want to leave the stage and were still saying their goodbyes as some people reached their tents.

Screen Shot 2018-06-30 at 08.24.00I’m sure you’re aware but there’s a World Cup going on at the moment and England were paying at 1pm on the Sunday. A big screen had been set up at the far end of the site to show the game. The organisers had stated it was to stop the locals being suddenly inundated with football fans, although I’m sure having 10,000 football fans on site in the sun, next to a bar, swelling the coffers may have helped their decision. It was a party atmosphere though with Peter Crouch signing footballs before launching them into the crowd. The 6-1 win obviously helped the mood.

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Back to the music and Starsailor’s James Walsh was doing a solo set on the Hard Rock Stage. One of the most underrated songwriters this country has to offer and certainly one of the most talented vocalists, he plays with a laid back, endearing charm and basically reminded people how good Starsailor’s output is. 

On to the Main Stage for the final push of the festival. The weather really was taking its toll now but up on stage was Van Morrison, famously one of the most miserable men in music and yet still the epitome of cool. His relaxed, downbeat jazz-blues classics the perfect soundtrack to a late Sunday afternoon. A calming before the storm that was to follow.

The Manic Street Preachers can be hit and miss live bit today they were on fire. They stroll on stage, James Dean Bradfield announces ‘This is Motorcycle Emptiness’ and you know it’s gonna be a good one. Like Liam they only had an hour, and like Liam squeezed in 14 songs, including 3 from debut album ‘Generation Terrorists’ and 3 from latest offering ‘Resistance Is Futile’. ‘You Love Us’ with its clips of the young band with Richie Edwards front and centre is both heart-breaking and triumphant. I’m not convinced by the ‘In Between Days’ cover they’ve recently added to the set since playing Robert Smith’s Meltdown, but apart from that the band are truly magnificent. ‘Tsunami’ and ‘Design For Life’ are as strong a closing as you could wish for.

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The Killers bound on stage and straight into ‘The Man’ and ‘Somebody Told Me’ before Brandon Flowers announces ‘The great stunt driver Evel Knievel said ‘People don’t buy tickets to see me complete the jumps. They come to see me try my hardest.’ And tonight, I promise we’ll try our hardest’. They do. It is pure entertainment from start to finish (apart from a mawkish cover of Dire Straits ‘Romeo & Juliet’). The intro for ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ is one note, held for what seems like 5 minutes. We see a clip of Brandon laughing. We know what’s coming. He’s such a tease. It makes the singalong that follows all the more joyous. Still can’t forgive them for the ‘soul/soldier’ lyric though. They finish, naturally, with ‘Mr. Brightside’ It’s up there with ‘Wonderwall’ for songs I’m sick of hearing but, seeing The Killers add the live glitz and panache makes it memorable for the right reasons.

And that was The Isle Of Wight Festival at 50. Hot and sweaty, backed by ‘Three Lions’ constantly blaring out somewhere on the site. A top drawer line-up of both old and new. It was simply fantastic. John Giddings has already started planning 2019. 2018 is gonna take some beating. 

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SIMON SAYNER

PHOTOS: RACHEL BROWN + ISLE OF WIGHT FESTIVAL GALLERY

2019 Tickets are now onsale at: https://isleofwightfestival.com/info/tickets

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