Has the Isle Of Wight Festival bagged their best line-up yet?

United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Francis Whittaker | 04 March 2010

YES says Christopher Swindells

The best selling musician on the planet, the biggest rapper in the world and the most important indie band of the last decade walk into a bar... tonight in Newport it’s open mic night.

One world famous festival celebrates the fortieth anniversary of a now legendary 1970 event that attracted 600,000 revellers to a quiet British island, with The Who, The Doors and Jimi Hendrix headlining a weekend of Woodstock–esque free love.

Isle of Wight Festival might just have pulled off the biggest trick since its revival in 2002. Securing the god-like daddy of British pop music Sir Paul McCartney for his second ever festival appearance will make for the most talked about closing Sunday night of the summer festival season. Macca with his near holy prophet status is possibly the only person who could follow acts like The Rolling Stones, R.E.M. and David Bowie for the festival’s closing slot. The Beatle’s now legendary set at Glastonbury ’05 has made him the hottest ticket in town and Eavis is no doubt scratching his head after losing such a big name to his rivals in his anniversary year.

Jay-Z finally cemented his place in the UK’s affections with his own historic Glastonbury set in 2008. It was less a breakthrough for the rapper, more affirmation that the hip hop genre had arrived and proof if needed a rapper could headline at any level, when Mr. Z shined in front of the reported 100,000 festival patrons. The performance passed into folklore as the waterlogged fields of Somerset witnessed the rapper, who recently turned 40, silence critics and Gallaghers alike performing ‘Wonderwall’ to a rapturous response.

With The Strokes the organisers have secured the perfect return slot for an indie band that has dominated so much of the musical landscape of the last decade; their debut ‘Is This It’ was recently awarded NME’s album of the 2000’s and has spawned an army of imitators. In musical terms their emergence at the turn of the millennium has been as influential as any of their peers and expectations for the forthcoming ‘comeback’ album has never been higher.

The weekend’s spectacles don’t end with the headliners though.The real beauty and attraction of the Isle of Wight festival, which once promised ticket holders ‘a weekend of sun’, is evident in the pure strength of artists that make up the main stage and recent addition, the big top. From the new kids on the block; brit-nominated Florence and the Machine, Friendly Fires and La Roux to rock royalty Crowded House, James and newly-reformed Spandau Ballet. The great skill the festival brings is in its variety, across the spectrum of musical tastes.

Once deemed the less-than-trendy cousin to Glastonbury, the revived festival has grown and earned a stamp of musical authority. From Brooklyn alt-indie lads Vampire Weekend to style icon Debbie Harry this line-up oozes cool from every pour. Neither has the festival ever been scared to pander to those just out to have a good time in the summer sun; this year Pink and Calvin Harris can bring some party vibes to the early evening sun downs.

Isle of Wight Festival doesn’t just reflect chart success but can very much take chances on those new and breaking through. Friday’s ‘girls only’ bill under the big top where hotly-tipped Daisy Dares You lines up alongside rock empress Suzi Quatro shows these organisers have stepped up their game, maybe on such a historic anniversary they can make festival history once again.

argues Francis Whittaker

Year on year, Isle of Wight Festival boss and UK Festival Awards Lifetime Achievement winner John Giddings manages to draw some of the biggest headline coups in the world. So much so, that even the Eavis family are often left shaking their fists at the gates of Seaclose Park shouting “DAMN YOU, GIDDINGS!” whenever he announces his latest line-up.

This year looks set to be no different, with no less than erstwhile Quarryman, Beatle and, erm, 'Wing' Sir Paul 'The Big Mac' McCartney topping the bill on the Sunday night, following in the footsteps of David Bowie, The Police and The Rolling Stones in closing proceedings at the revived island festival.

However, when blowing your budget on big-bucks bill-toppers, it's almost inevitable that the rest of the line-up will suffer, and Isle of Wight is no stranger to booking more than its share of dross. In past years, the programme has been propped up by all manner of has-beens, tribute bands and fly-by-night pop outfits. This year is no different, with festival bosses excelling themselves in booking a programme which, bar the big-hitters, reads like a roll-call of the rotten, the irrelevant and the really-should've-retired.

Let's look at the evidence. Don't fancy listening to Macca's tried and trusted ditties on Sunday night? Why not go to the Big Top and check out James. You know, James? They were that band that did alright in the late eighties and nineties. Remember their 1989 breakthrough single, 'Sit Down'? Marvellous song. And that popular, catchy number they released in 1991, no-one could get it out of their heads.  I think it was called 'Sit Down' or something. And don't forget their big 1998 smash, 'Sit Down '98'. Pure gold... Actually, come to think of it, those were all the same song. They really just traded off that single for their whole career. And it seems they're still doing so, which apparently is more  than enough reason to give them a prime headlining slot on a major festival's second stage.

For anyone still willing to venture into the Big Top to see the aforementioned Mancunian one-hit-wonders, it's likely you'd be interested in seeing who's on the bill before them. So, roll up, ladies and gentleman, and marvel at the show-stopping spectacle that is a festival set from Ocean Colour Scene, a band so intrinsically linked to the term 'dadrock' that even the world's most embarrassing father would be too ashamed to admit liking them. On before them? Reef. That's right. Reef. They asked us to 'put our hands up' ten years ago. Now they're back to tell us to do it again. It looks as if festival security may have to bring in extra safety measures to deal with the stampede away from the second stage on Sunday.

Elsewhere, the line-up doesn't fare much better. Friday night Big Top headliner Suzi Quatro is about as welcome a piece of seventies nostalgia as mass public sector strikes and overtly racist sitcoms, and for all their chutzpah in ensnaring the big guns, Isle of Wight still think it's possible to book chavpop clowns N-Dubz and still be taken seriously as a credible music festival (maybe it's that touching song they wrote about stalking a girl on Facebook in the hope that they could nail her? I dunno). Shakespeare's Sister make a baffling return to a festival stage on the Friday, while on Saturday punters can grab an overpriced beer, take in the afternoon breeze and 'enjoy' a hit-packed set from the recently-reformed Spandau Ballet. You heard. Fluffy-haired eighties school disco fixtures Spandau bloody Ballet. I mean, really. Who next? DollarKajagoogoo? Jesus wept.

So for all the pomp and prestige that comes with booking Macca, rival festivals can take comfort in the fact that, for every bona fide rock legend on the bill, there are at least ten pieces of musical turd lined up behind him – and this year's Isle of Wight bill looks set to out-stink them all.

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