With Kings Of Leon, Foo Fighters and Kasabian booked as exclusive headliners for the Isle Of Wight Festival 2011, we thought it best to catch up with organiser John Giddings for a very candid interview.
On the eve of announcing his final headliner, the festival chief was in a playful mood as he chatted to Daniel Fahey about the event’s 10th anniversary, the changes expected in 2011, a return for The Libertines and why there is a lack of decent bands around today.
Virtual Festivals: How pleased are you with your three headliners this year: Kings Of Leon, Foo Fighters and Kasabian?
“You’re joking, I’m over the moon. For our tenth anniversary, I’ve got the cream of today’s bands, both American and UK.”
VF: You originally sent out a list of bands for fans to vote who they’d like to see play in 2011 which included Kings Of Leon and Foo Fighters. Was that an original hit list for you?
JG: “The top three were Kings Of Leon, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Foo Fighters and we booked two of them. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are not touring.”
VF: Kasabian weren’t in the initial list, were they originally going to play further down the bill?
JG: “No. Kasabian weren’t touring and I love Kasabian, they’re one of my favourite bands. I persuaded them to come and do an exclusive for us to launch their next album.”
VF: All three headliners are on festival exclusives this year. How important is it to you to get bands on exclusive deals?
JG: “Not as important as it is for other people. Both the Foo Fighters and R.E.M. have played our festival and Hyde Park and had over 80,000 people [watch them]. It doesn’t Glastonbury. If people come to the event for the weekend, solely for one group I think we’d be in trouble.”
VF: It’s your tenth birthday, have you got anything special lined up?
JG: “[Jokingly] Those four groups.”
VF: Apart from them, are you making any big changes to the site or having any surprise guests?
JG: “We’re definitely going to change the site round a bit because you have to keep people interested so when they turn up they don’t expect everything to be in the same place. We’re extending the site to where the BT Field was last year where we screened the World Cup. We’re going to put some other stuff there, but we haven’t decided on it yet.”
VF: Will it be a case of more bands?
JG: “No more bands. I don’t want more bands, I want more entertainment.”
VF: What sort of stuff are you looking at? More comedy or literature?
JG: “Dunking witches. Or the Black Death, I thought we’d make it a medieval theme. [Laughs] I’m being facetious, I haven’t got a clue. Maybe we could all dress as Spartacus Blood And Sand and go back in time.”
VF: You could go back to the original 70s festival and go as hippies.
JG: “No we look better than that now, we dress better at festivals. Maybe we can make it a Mad Men festival and we can all where pork pie hats.”
VF: Is the Big Top back again this year?
JG: “The Big Top will be back in full.”
VF: Is there a guest curator again this year?
JG: “No I’m curating it. Now everybody knows where it is, what it is and how it works. Friday night we’re having Girls Night Out with six or seven artists with the best of the current crop, some from the past and some from the future. Saturday afternoon tends to be indie bands going into pop in the evening because there are rock bands on the main stage and Sunday tends to be an eclectic mix of rock bands.”
VF: So you’re following suit again this year?
JG: “It has proved to be popular. The camper’s night I think, if the person headlines who I think is going to, will be quite entertaining.”
VF: Clearly you’re not fully booked for all the stages yet then.
JG: “No I’m making it up as I go along.”
VF: Are there any bands that you’ve had play over the last ten years that you want to return for the 10th anniversary?
JG: “No, not necessarily, I think there are enough other bands out there to keep us amused at the moment. I don’t want to keep repeating people. The Foo Fighters are coming back and that’s four years later with two other albums under their belt and they’re even better than they were before.”
VF: Other organisers have said that there was a lack of big names around last year, have you found it to be different this year?
JG: “No, I think you have to be careful who you choose. Some bands think they’re headliners and in my opinion they’re not but it’s not in my place to say is it?”
VF: It is for you to choose though.
JG: “Some agents and bands think they’re bigger than, in my humble opinion, they are.”
VF: A few years back you had The Libertines booked but they split up before they could play.
JG: “Well, Carl Barat turned up. He walked onstage with the Charlatans and then Pete Doherty turned up the next year and made a documentary with Kate Moss.”
VF: Following their performance at Reading and Leeds, would you have them back?
JG: “I’d love The Libertines to come down.”
VF: Is that a call to arms for them to play?
JG: “Why not. Please Libertines, come and play the Isle Of Wight Festival. Dear Carl and Pete, I won’t pay as much as Reading did, but I’m sure you’ve realised that’s a one off. You’ve got the money in the bank, now you don’t need anymore.”
VF: That’s right, they can tour for the love of it. Just to wrap up, with it being your tenth anniversary, where do you see the Isle Of Wight Festival in ten years time?
JG: “If you look over the last ten years, the bands still around are the ones that were headlining second on the bill. If you look down the bill and you see the likes of The Thrills and the Darkness, who were God’s gift to the universe at the time, where are they now? It is shocking the way bands come and go. The Isle Of Wight [Festival] will be there as long as there is good music to perform. But the year that there isn’t, I won’t do it.”
VF: Why do you think it is that bands are so short lived these days?
JG: “Because they are forced to be successful much, much quicker. A band like Free trod the boards before they came into the public domain. The slightest bit of ability now gets put on YouTube and it gets fast-tracked to releasing a record and being on TV and you haven’t actually leaned your craft, so you end up at Wembley Arena before you’re capable of it.”
VF: Do you think record labels are to blame?
JG: “Well they’re desperate to get money quicker. I think it would be hard for a band like U2 or Simple Minds to be creative these days and you add reality TV to that and the 15 seconds of fame. The X Factor is now the modern day Top Of The Pops, if you’re not on that, you’re not in the charts.”
VF: Would you ever have any X Factor contestants play the festival?
JG: “Absolutely. I think Diana Vickers is really good, I saw her the other night.”
VF: Do you think it would have to be away from the winners then because Diana has gone on to do her own stuff and it’s not under the X Factor banner so much.
JG: “Absolutely, but JLS aren’t signed to Simon Cowell’s record company are they?”
VF: That’s true. Would you look at someone like JLS playing?
JG: “I would look at anything that I would consider to be entertaining. We’ve had the Sugababes and we’ve had The Saturdays. People laughed when I booked the Sugababes and there were 15,000 people trying to cram into a 10,000 people tent. I think that speaks for itself. Not everybody wants to see a rock band at 8 o’clock on the main stage.”
VF: A few years ago you said you never wanted a second stage.
JG: “I lied.”
VF: Was it always part of the plan?
JG: “No, there was no plan. I just made it up as I went along and it seemed an obvious move to create different entertainment. I just wanted to do different things. I had to keep myself entertained as well as the general public.”
VF: It seems to be working John.
JG: “Thank God, the hobby is turning into a real job. I don’t think there are many people in the world that have a hobby that is so entertaining. I love it. Do you think Jimi Hendrix would be proud of this year?”
VF: I think he would.
JG: “That’s what counts for me because I love him and I saw him in 1970 and I think we should bow down to that heritage.”
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