Isle of Wight Festival 2009: Rated!

Seaclose Park, Newport, IW - 12-14 June

Isle of Wight Festival 2009: Rated!

Photographer: Tom OldhamBen Rust on 16 June 2009

Overall – 7/10

The festival itself was one of the finer in most recent years, with almost omnipresent sunshine and a Big Top that remained packed for most of the weekend. Musically it presented a typically diverse platter of populist acts, topped by heavyweight headliners (The Prodigy, Stereophonics and Neil Young) and a powerful second tier who could have all been headliners (Basement Jaxx, Razorlight, Simple Minds, The Pixies). The core line-up was, as usual, peppered with a few more obscure pop acts you might not have thought to see otherwise (Sharon Corr, Bananarama) which provided a novel distraction and somthing to talk about.

This year also saw a fresh new dimension to the line-up, with smattering of more challenging bands – many of which Tim Burgess picked for his curated stint in the Big Top. Sadly, these suffered from smaller audiences than they deserved, but hopefully this is a part of the event that will gain prominence over time. Even a vintage headline performance from Neil Young was watched by fewer people than many of the acts that preceeded him during the day, as many had chosen to leave on the Sunday, which we thought was a shame.

The Site – 8/10

The festival arena is compact and easy to navigate and the general relaxed vibe makes it a pleasure to walk around. There is a good amount of toilets for the size of the crowd, and queuing was kept to a minimum. The actual campsite was well ordered all weekend, with clear signposted directions and good amenities laid on throughout. One lady complained that she’d waited three hours for a shower but that’s what baby wipes are for.

Atmosphere – 8/10

The festival draws a distinctly charming and clean-cut crowd for the most part, with the odd group of hedonists thrown in and an age range of 15 to 50. Well-heeled locals mix easily (and sometimes drunkenly) into the group and there is a lovely/disconcerting “dinner party gone al-fresco” vibe to add to the proceedings.

It’s a very laid-back festival, with little trouble all weekend fans are polite to the point of being over-friendly. Even the five stag-parties and two hen parties we spotted seemed well behaved and courteous.  In the end you get so beaten over the head with niceness that you can’t help but become part of it, leaving with a smile and a belief that humanity is generally okay. Well, at least until you get off the Island and things go back to normal. One of the downsides to all of this is that the crowd never really ‘kicked off’ at any point over the weekend, apart from a few moshpits at The Prodigy and Pendulum and a bouncing crowd at Calvin Harris. The rest of the time it all felt a little subdued compared to other major festivals, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  

Music – 7/10

With a preference for populist acts, Razorlight, Stereophonic’s et al, the music was very much geared towards the mass market, but there were some very good acts about if you looked a bit harder. The line-up of Pendulum, Basement Jaxx and The Prodigy on Friday night went down particularly well and the Big Top on Sunday had a cracking bill but as a whole it was all a bit, well, average. There was no easily discernible thread connecting any of the bands, or any kind of coherent message (except Sunday in The Big Top), and it seemed a bit thrown together. If you have an eclectic musical palate, this would, of course, be to your taste.

Getting There And Back – 6/10

It’s always going to be a bit of a struggle to get around 50,000 people on and off an Island that’s more used to coach-loads of pensioners from the Home Counties, but for the most part everyone did a good job. There were just a few small gripes from a personal perspective. First the shuttle bus from the ferries to the site cost £5 each way, which seems a little bit steep after you've already paid £150 for a ticket, and then £2 each way when you want to pick up supplies from the nearest town is an extra drawback.
 
The ferries, including Red Funnel, coped very well with the influx and mass exodus of festival-goers on the Monday, if only South West Trains had been as prepared. Passengers getting trains from Southampton Central were greeted with no extra services to London and no extra coaches on the few that were running.  Cue a lot of overcrowding and some very smelly coaches for the poor few doing their daily commute into work.    

The Uppers

The Prodigy – 8/10

Looking fit and mean now they’ve lain off the naughty salt and its cousins The Prodigy played a punishing crowd-pleasing set. Old classics ‘Poison’, ‘Firestarter’ and ‘Breathe’ sit easily alongside new tracks ‘Omen’ and ‘Warrior’s Dance’ to get everyone jumping. The best set of the weekend with bells, whistles, sirens and screams on - excellent stuff.

Neil Young – 8/10

A completely different beast to The Prodigy but still one of the highlights of the weekend, Young played his lumberjack-shirted heart out.  ‘Heart of Gold’, ‘Harvest Moon’ and an extended version of ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ all soothe the soul nicely on the Sunday night. He was let down by a dramatically thinning crowd and by the time he finished his set in a haze of broken guitars and feedback only the committed remained.  

Judy Collins – 7/10
Playing early Sunday afternoon to a largely horizontal crowd didn’t seem to phase the 60’s songbird. A haunting version of ‘Amazing Grace’ and charming between song banter, “Obahma left me a Twitter message,” elevate her high above some of the other acts over the weekend. A set of true 60’s sounds that harked back to the festival’s past - more of this please.  

Calvin Harris – 7/10
The skinny-jeaned Scottish pop dance star certainly made this mark in the Big Top with fans bustling to get inside. Cue: one bouncing mob of sunburned teenagers who screamed, shouting and flung their hands in the air for tracks like ‘Acceptable In The 80’s’, ‘Girls’ and recent number one ‘I’m Not Alone’. The aftermath was a deluge of broken sunglasses, lost wallets and bruised bodies.

The Black Lips – 7/10
Atlanta ‘Flower Punks’ Black Lips played to a small but appreciative crowd, their live versions of ‘O’Katrina’ and ‘Cold Hands’ getting the trendies moving and sounding wonderfully shambolic. The lead singer’s shorter-than-short shorts and the guitarist’s ability to spit high in the air and catch it in his mouth are also to be applauded.  

The Wild Mouse
Not a band but a ride and lifestyle choice. If you see it at any festivals this year please sacrifice the price of a pint and get involved, it could change your life. Or just make grown men whimper and laugh like schoolgirls like our team.  

The Downers

Stereophonics – 5/10

Despite attracting a huge crowd, the Stereophonics seemed to be well past their sell by date with a lacklustre headline show. Although heavy on hits the set, the band themselves were distinctly charmless, with scant interaction with the crowd and little in the way of movement. Take note from Simple Minds, Pigeon Detectives or even The Script boys.

Sharon Corr – 4/10
Playing in the early afternoon one of the sisters Corr played a set stuffed full of Corrs tracks but without the rest of The Corrs. A bit like going to an all you can eat Chinese Buffet and being told you’re only allowed the greasy spring rolls, pointless.  Made us miss that weird brother that used to hang around with them.

Goldie Lookin' Chain – 3/10
Are they still funny? Were they ever? A low-rent set from the comedy, in the loosest possible sense, Welsh rappers destroyed any good feeling built up by the wonderful Judy Collins who preceded them. The joke has worn transparently thin.

Iglu and Hartly – 2/10  
Just truly awful, Iglu and Hartly came across as horny knuckle-dragging morons with their Frat Boy gone indie assault on the ears they call music.  I felt dumber for having stood through their set, mouth-breathing idiots each and every one of them.  Avoid like Swine Flu.

Random Festival Moments
Where to start? The three 16 year olds we got to race in sleeping bags on the first night, which, thinking about it, we actually never saw again after they bounced off which is worrying. The 118 118 man eating chips off of a bin, the banana passed out at half-two on Friday afternoon and the troupe of Thunderbirds all made us laugh. And a special mention to ‘Beard-Head’, a truly wonderful man who freaked out one of our team by shouting that he “has all the plans in his beard”, we never found out what these plans were, but it’s good to know he’s looking after them. 

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