We caught up with Isle of Wight Festival organiser John Giddings to talk about this year's line-up, losing Oasis and Tim Burgess' Big Top bill...
For months it was widely speculated that the Gallagher brothers would top the bill at the IOW Festival, so when rock legend Neil Young was announced there was an almighty ‘oh,’ resounding around Internet messageboards.
However the ever-defiant and confident Giddings has sailed the festival to another sell out, giving The Charlatans’ frontman Tim Burgess the chance to leave his mark on the event by allowing him to book the line-up for the second stage. The result? One of the most imaginative and eclectic bills of recent years.
With under a week to go we chatted with the Isle of Wight chief about how things were shaping up…
Virtual Festivals: As an extra addition for 2009 you’ve had Tim Burgess' pick the line-up for The Big Top. Are you pleased with who he's selected?
John Giddings: “Yeah, absolutely and it's been very entertaining discussing it with him as we've gone along and I respect his taste in music. Some he agreed, some I didn't agree, if you know what I mean? Some I suggested he didn't like, some he suggested I didn't want but it was good, very good.”
VF: Who's won the tug of war?
JG: “It was his choice, I said, ‘here's the budget, you make it up.’”
VF: Who were you pushing for that he didn’t want?
JG: “I'm not going to tell you that. I respect his musical opinion. You know, I've known him a long time; I think he's a great guy. I think he's fantastic when he DJ's, I think he'll make it a day to remember over there in The Big Top.”
VF: How did it first come around that he was going to have his own day?
Jg: “I just came up with the idea one night, it was out of my imagination, I think I stole it from the Meltdown thing in London where they get someone to curate two weeks.”
VF: Is it something you're going to continue with?
JG: “Yeah I think it's going to be really successful and I've already started thinking of other people I'd like to do it.”
VF: And I'm guessing they're all under wraps?
JG: “Yeah [laughs].”
VF: How do you think the line-up is looking?
JG: “50 bands over four days, the weather forecast is fantastic and I can't complain. It's the most eclectic bill we've ever had and that's partly due to The Big Top's success last year, where the Sugababes went down as well as some of the acts on the main stage. Having a few bits of pop doesn't hurt when people don't want to see what's on the main stage.”
VF: How about the headliners - Neil Young is a massive name but you've had a bit of backlash on the forums, how does that feel?
JG: “Well I think people that read forums all day aren't the people I sell tickets to but they're welcome to their opinions. I think Neil Young is one of the greatest rock stars ever and if you don't agree don't buy a ticket. I didn't realise people only bought tickets for the headliners, I thought they bought them for the event. They moaned last year about the Sex Pistols and The Police and they loved them.”
VF: That's true. Do you think you've set your standards slightly too high by getting The Rolling Stones in 2007?
JG: “People just like to moan, it's a sad fact. I'm very pleased and proud with this year’s line up; we've got Pixie Lott to the Pixies. You know, there's something for everyone now.”
VF: The Zombies are a very interesting choice, how did they come around?
JG: “Because I'm from St Albans and when I was at school there was this bloke in Sixth Form called Rod Argent who had a choice between going to Hull University or being a pop star as the keyboardist in The Zombies. His single was number one with ‘She's Not There’ and I loved them. The only good thing about being old is I remember Jethro Tull, Procol Harum, Caravan, The Zombies, Donovan, Judy Collins - I grew up with them.”
VF: And do you think they are still as relevant today as they were back then?
JG: “I think they're more relevant because I don't think people have come up with a concept album of the likes of [The Zombie’s] ‘Odyssey And Oracle’ or [The Who’s] ‘Tommy’, or [The Moody Blues’] ‘In Search of the Lost Chord’ or [The Kinks’] ‘The Village Preservation Society’. You know, I think the 60's and early 70's was a golden age of rock and roll which is probably impossible to repeat. There's never been another Jimi Hendrix, there's never been another Doors.”
VF: So how do you feel about modern music today compared to then, do you think it measures up?
JG: “I love it! I mean I love Razorlight, I love Stereophonics, I think White Lies are incredible. You hear elements of things in those bands from bands that you've grown up with, that's not a criticism, it's just a comment.”
VF: So maybe a band like Radiohead would suit. Would you look forward to a band who have maybe been a bit more inventive and more imaginative?
JG: “Radiohead are the Pink Floyd of their generation aren't they?”
VF: You could say that. Would you ever look to book them?
JG: “Yeah definitely I'd love to have Radiohead, come on down.”
VF: There were rumours that Oasis were going to play, how did that fall through?
JG: “We talked to them about it but we never came to an agreement on the subject.”
VF: Would you like to have them back?
JG: “Yeah I'd love to have Oasis, there's a wish-list for the future and you'll never run out of bands that you'd love to have. I'd love to have Pink Floyd if they existed.”
VF: What about the David Gilmour version?
JG: “Yeah I would book Dave Gilmour definitely, one of my ultimate heroes. I'd book Roger Waters and put them on the same bill and not tell anyone.”
VF: With regards to booking your bigger bands, you've gone through a stage where you’ve had The [Rolling] Stones, The Police, Sex Pistols - you're reigniting great bands, or bringing great bands to the festival circuit for the first time. For a while that was your niche, part of the character of the festival. Do you feel it's a struggle to continue with that sort of theme?
JG: “I wouldn't say a struggle, I think it's just a question of thoughts and who's available. I couldn't decide who to play with Neil Young until someone mentioned the Pixies so I phoned them up and said ‘do you want to come over for a UK exclusive?’ and they said ‘no’, so I made them an offer they couldn't refuse and they said ‘yes’.”
VF: They're two bands that go together really well...
JD: “Yeah they wanted to play with Neil Young. So I think Neil Young and Pixies is a bill to die for. I think the surprise of that day will be Simple Minds, who are one of the best live bands ever.”
VF: Do you think the festival line-up is reflection of your personal taste? You like loads of different music so you're going to get a diverse bill. It's not like Download or Reading. They've got certain markets - heavy rock at Download and more rock at Reading, is the IOW line-up a more personal choice?
JG: “Yeah that's what I think, but it's based on bands that I think are capable of performing to large audiences. Even if someone has sold millions of singles and albums if I don't think they can project in a field I won't book them.”
VF: Is there anyone in particular like that who you think wouldn't work?
JG: “I wouldn't know, some of the bands I turn down are quite big but I don't like them.”
VF: What about if that’s who the people buying the tickets really wanted, would you ever have your arm bent?
JG: “Of course I would - never say never. It's all part of a growing process isn't it?”
Isle Of Wight Festival 2009 will take place at Seaclose Park, Newport on the Isle of Wight from 12-14 June.
Click here to read our Isle of Wight Festival preview.