Isle of Wight’s massive music festival is done and dusted for another year, and once again it provided memorable moments aplenty. In this review, Nerve editors Stephen Wright and Dan Davis, and Southern Daily Echo reporter Celine Byford, discuss their favourite and least favourite parts of the weekend of 13-16 June.
Stephen Wright: The headliners didn’t disappoint at this year’s festival. George Ezra doesn’t make the nominations for this category for me, mostly because his injury meant he couldn’t have an amazing stage presence, but he still sung brilliantly and delighted the crowd with his stories between songs.
However, for me the Best Performance award is shared by three other artists. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds got the weekend underway emphatically on Friday night with a consistently brilliant set that exhibited Noel’s best work both old and new. As well as catchy new single Black Star Dancing, the band brought out a great collection of old Oasis tunes including Stop Crying Your Heart Out, The Importance of Being Idle, and Little By Little, as well as staples Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back In Anger. Even without their elaborate scissor player, the High Flying Birds did not put a foot wrong.
Equally impressive was Biffy Clyro, who book-ended the festival on the Sunday night. ‘The Biff’ aren’t normally my cup of tea, but there was no denying the incredible passion and energy in their varied performance, which seemed to change up the pace at all the right moments. The crowd, many of whom were Scottish, absolutely loved it, mosh-pitting to almost every song.
Over in the Big Top tent, Miles Kane stood out with a brilliant live performance. In a set that somehow didn’t even include First of My Kind, Kane and co nonetheless had the crowd in the palm of their hands with top tunes like Come Closer and Rearrange.
Biffy provided energy, anthemic choruses and basslines so crunchy they make you grimace
Dan Davis: Last year, it proved incredibly difficult to select my favourite headliner, and this time around was no different. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, George Ezra and Biffy Clyro were all spellbinding in their own unique ways, but my personal award goes to the Scottish rockers. Being a typical rock-loving, indie worshipping lad, when I go to a gig I’m on the lookout for energy, anthemic choruses and basslines so crunchy they make you grimace. With Biffy, I was treated to all three of these factors and then some. The soaring Many of Horror bookended their set superbly, and Steve and I won’t be ashamed to admit it brought a tear or two to our eyes. ‘Mon the Biff, indeed.
But of course, Noel Gallagher stole the show as expected on the Friday with a back catalogue memorable for all the ages, inevitably leading to me belting out every word and ruining every video my friends attempted to record. And finally, it was surprisingly refreshing to see George Ezra take the reins on Saturday night, and he certainly delivered a watertight set of chart-topping tunes and several deeper cuts.
Miles Kane was also a highlight during the weekend. He delivered a rip-roaring set lasting around 40 minutes, which spanned his three excellent solo records. Adorned in a suit only a tiny percentage of rock stars would be suave enough to pull off, the Scouse frontman absolutely rocked the Big Top. The already fervent atmosphere was later topped off by a sexy, slinking cover of Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff.
Celine Byford: Anne-Marie had a real feel-good vibe about her performance and I knew all of her songs! She spoke quite a lot between her songs as well, which added to it. She didn’t just sing her own songs either, there were some that she had done with Rudimental as well, and they go way back! I saw her ages ago when she was supporting them, so it was cool to see her performing those songs again. Friends was her best song!
If I’m allowed to pick another, I’ll say George Ezra as well. He bared his soul and told us all about the times he went travelling in between his songs, and he’s really good at reaching all of the low and high notes. He also did fireworks at the end, which was a really nice touch.
SW: He did the fireworks himself? Wow!
CB: Well, he hosted them! All the mums were loving his show as well. They were all screaming ‘what a nice boy!’
SW: The Worst Performance award is begrudgingly given to Courteeners, who I also lamented in my review of Truck Festival 2018 on Nerve last year. It’s a shame, because as one of the few survivors of indie rock music, Courteeners’ discography lends itself so well to massive festival anthems, but their set was all over the place. Small Bones and Bide Your Time, two of the band’s bigger hits, didn’t even get a mention, while the mixing on their most popular tracks like Not Nineteen Forever and Cavorting was so poor the crowd could barely hear Liam Fray’s voice. At the end of the gig, the Mancunian even admitted that his banter between songs had “been s***” because they had a bigger gig at Heaton Park the next day. That might be fair enough, but it doesn’t take away from their underwhelming performance.
DD: In an absolute ear-bashing for the Mancunian three-piece, I have to again side with Steve and admit that Courteeners were a lowlight of the weekend. After being handed a spot on the bill many bands across the land could only dream of, lead singer Liam Fray then proceeded to admit his banter had been poor and also sounded increasingly strained as the set progressed. Albeit there were some songs that stood out, such as Lose Control (of the high notes in Liam’s case) and Not Nineteen Forever, but the unsatisfactory points far outweighed the good. Jess Glynne also gets an un-honourable mention for not performing, which left the masses that had flooded down to the Main Stage with the sole purpose of watching her trudging away feeling let down.
CB: Everyone I saw was really good, although Sigrid had some technical issues with her microphone, but that’s not her fault. Also, although she’s good at performing, I felt like her setlist was a bit flat.
SW: This is a pretty easy one for me, and it has to go to Miles Kane. The fact that he didn’t even play my favourite song of his, First of My Kind, and still massively impressed me speaks volumes. I’ve listened to his music before and enjoyed it somewhat, but that didn’t compare to seeing his confident live performance. Not only were the songs played expertly, but the enclosed environment of the Big Top Stage meant the sound quality was far superior compared to the exposed main stage. Watching Kane was an absolute joy as well, as he danced around the stage, multi-tasking without missing a trick. Another pleasant surprise for me was Madness, who cheerily got the more senior members of the audience going with singalong songs such as Our House, It Must Be Love, and One Step Beyond.
DD: There is only a very concise, one word answer needed for this section. Madness. How a band old enough to be the grandparents of the majority of festival goers is capable of encapsulating a crowd is beyond me, but the infamous Nutty Boys delivered a set that had people of all ages busting out dance moves so out of fashion that it would prompt your parents to reminisce about ‘The Good Ol’ Days’. The usual hits such as One Step Beyond, Our House and Baggy Trousers, unsurprisingly, were lapped up by the audience, and there was even time to ogle and appreciate the outlandish suits the members were sporting. A vivid purple suit made of crushed velvet? That’s going straight on my Christmas list.
CB: Madness! I didn’t know anything about them before the festival, but as soon as they started I was amazed! It was so good. The frontman Suggs was telling stories that led into the lyrics of their songs which was cool. I knew quite a few of their songs without knowing it was them who wrote them, like It Must Be Love. They were really good, and I went home and told my dad how much I liked them and he said ‘they were around back in my day!’ Also, the main singer is an absolute silver fox (someone who is old and good-looking)!
SW: Haha! Like Andy Bissell?
CB: Better somehow! Fat Boy Slim surprised me as well because he came out with loads of cool drum and bass mixes, which I quite like. Everyone was going crazy for it!
SW: It should go without saying, but the biggest disappointment of this year’s festival was the sheer number of artists who dropped out of the lineup through illness. Sam Fender dropped out a couple of weeks prior, which was gutting for me personally because he was one of the few artists I hadn’t yet seen and was looking forward to checking out live. I’m not a fan of Jess Glynne, but because of my reaction to Sam Fender I can sympathise with the fans who bought tickets largely because they wanted to see her. The fact it was announced that she wouldn’t be playing just minutes before she was supposed to due to ‘exhaustion’ was shocking, and the festival organisers have since banned her from being on the lineup in the future. Cage The Elephant also dropped out, and illness and injury struck George Ezra and Biffy Clyro respectively, both of whom soldiered on, so there wasn’t a lot of luck to be had across the rainy weekend on the Isle of Wight!
DD: This award is shared by Bastille and the weather. I’ll kick things off with the band. I’m afraid I’m a staunch believer that once you’ve heard one of their songs, there is simply no need to listen to the rest. Whilst I did appreciate the ‘end of days’ concept that ran throughout their set, the actual songs didn’t particularly impress me, aside from Send Them Off, and that’s only because it reminded me of when FIFA games used to be good.
The weather really did its best to throw a spanner in the works as well. Bringing wellington boots this year proved to be a masterstroke, although admittedly I was forced to buy an odd pair to drag myself across the site in. As it turns out, moshing to any band with footwear that weighs tonnes is an unwanted hindrance.
CB: Richard Ashcroft wasn’t really for me. I think he could have given more to his performance because he was just sat on stage with his guitar. I know George Ezra did that too, but he told stories and had things to say before and after his songs.
SW: Whilst the 2019 festival overall didn’t match up to the high standards of 2018 (better artists, sunny weather, World Cup, Strongbow Dark Fruit ice cream), it did have more individual standout moments. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ upbeat, fast-paced version of Little By Little increased the volume in the crowd tenfold, while Richard Ashcroft’s extended rendition of Bitter Sweet Symphony had a similar effect. However, from my point of view, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything quite like Biffy Clyro’s performance of Many of Horror towards the end of the weekend. The song overwhelmed the emotions – grown men were crying and I’m not ashamed to admit I shed a few tears too. As the confetti fell from the sky and the crowd sang in unison, the moment was so surreal it felt like I was in a movie. Just take a look for yourself…
DD: Once again, this year there were a multitude of individual highlights, but I’ll suffice with reeling off just a few:
- The Many of Horror climax and resultant tears
- Noel Gallagher and I belting out The Importance of Being Idle like some horrific two-piece cover group where only one member possesses the talent
- The thundering bassline in Miles Kane’s Coup de Grace
- Shoving our friend Kieran into a Biffy Clyro moshpit and consequently not seeing him again until he emerged at the end, sporting countless battle scars
- The opening notes to One Step Beyond
- The soaring Bittersweet Symphony – I’ve been blessed with seeing this song live twice and it never ceases to amaze
- A lack of Steve’s best and worst Fortnite dances
CB: Seeing George Ezra play Shotgun was the best moment for me. With the confetti and the fireworks, I almost cried! It’s quite an upbeat song, but everyone was so happy, and George genuinely looked so happy as well even though he’s obviously performed it plenty of times before. The fireworks went off and it was really beautiful and emotional.
My other favourite moment was Bastille’s entire set. When I was about fourteen, I was obsessed with them. I was so gutted when I missed them at Reading & Leeds Festival, so I loved seeing them at Isle of Wight Festival because I knew all of their songs.
Another favourite moment was being at The Strongbow Yard with my friend Katherine. It was really cold but there were heaters and we were having the best time dancing in there. Getting missed calls from you at 6am was pretty funny too!
SW: This one’s a bit of a media gripe so I won’t dwell on it for too long, but whoever thinks it’s a good idea for press to collect their tickets at Gate A6 and then have to walk half an hour back to Gate A3 to get into the festival should re-consider the arrangements for next year. Aside from that, the horrific weather meant that the rain crept through mine and Dan’s tent, so sleep was somewhat difficult to come by! That made running for the 1:30am ferry back to Southampton on Monday morning all the more difficult, but fortunately we boarded the vessel just in time.
DD: Just as I believed I would make it through the weekend relatively unscathed, it was half-way through Biffy Clyro’s set when I realised that it felt like the back of my right knee was ablaze. There was a moment of horror when I truly believed I had seriously done some damage to myself, but the brisk walk/run back to the ferry during the middle of the night certainly cleared up any panic there.
The worst moment occurred at 5am on Saturday morning. I was stirred by a horrific dampness by my right shoulder.
However, the worst moment simply has to be what took place during the very early hours of Saturday morning. I remember sleeping soundly until 5am, when I was stirred by a horrific dampness by my right shoulder. I flung myself up and out of my sleeping bag, which in itself is an achievement, and realised that the condensation on the inside of our tent had formed small pools of water on the ground. The rest of the weekend was effectively spent trying to avoid a repeat of this, but the homemade dam fashioned out of my coat seemed to do the trick. Unfortunately, there was no saving Steve’s sleeping bag…
CB: Trying to get there was quite difficult, carrying all of our stuff and having to walk a long way to the entrance. Other than that, I knew it would be good because I always wanted to go. I actually felt safer there than most festivals just because the audience seemed to be older overall. It was a great opportunity to see all the big acts as well, and it was really fun being there to cover it for the Echo!
BEST IDEA WE HAD
SW: I’m not sure how many festival-goers were aware of the nearby Wetherspoons, but needless to say we sniffed it out in search of cheap food, cheap coffee, cheap beer, and a humane bathroom. I managed to swerve portaloos the entire weekend thanks to Spoons, and we spent a significant amount of time gathered around table 107 across the three days. So you know for next year, The Man in the Moon in Newport is the place to be when you need a break from the festival lifestyle now and again. It’s dry and warm, what more do you need!
DD: The daily treks into the nearby town of Newport may have taken their toll on my spaghetti-like legs, but the warm, welcoming and friendly exterior of the nearby Wetherspoons more than made up for this. It provided a shelter for weary festival goers, a stunning full English breakfast every morning and cheap pints which were duly guzzled down and savoured across the weekend.
Bringing along a cheap pack of Boots’ ear plugs also provided further satisfaction across the rollercoaster weekend, as without a sufficient amount of sleep I simply can’t operate. They may not have been able to shut out the seemingly never-ending conversations emanating from an area of rowdy Scotsmen, but they were certainly better than nothing. I also missed out on Steve’s morning quips, which was unintentionally another bonus in itself.
CB: Going to Spoons was the best idea we had because it really helped us save money. Another one of my best ideas was bringing cans in because they lasted me all weekend so I didn’t need to buy drinks as much, even though I did, but we won’t talk about that!
WORST IDEA WE HAD
SW: Going to Wetherspoons also became somewhat detrimental to our festival experience, as it meant that we missed one or two acts we had planned on seeing. Poor Tom Walker didn’t get a look-in, while we only caught the end of James and Sigrid – neither of which played Sit Down or Sucker Punch to round out their sets respectively. Next year, can we move the festival site a little closer to Spoons, pretty please?
DD: Arriving late on Friday afternoon proved detrimental, and almost fatal, to our chances of setting up our tents and establishing our grotty, rundown homes for the foreseeable future. It wasn’t until we entered the first campsite that our grave mistake slowly dawned on us, a sensation eerily similar to the inescapable beckoning from the horrific portaloos that I had the displeasure of popping into far too many times. But thankfully, we eventually nestled ourselves into a reasonably sized space and set up camp, although Kieran was forced to settle for a patch of grass that had been downtrodden and littered with the fragmented remains of Roast Chicken flavoured crisps.
CB: I was really gutted about missing Tom Walker. Another bad idea was never having our phones charged and always losing each other without a place to meet! Also, we didn’t go to the cafe I wanted to go to on the way to Spoons. I wanted to try their breakfast and it was closer to the festival site, plus I was getting seriously hangry!
Nerve would like to thank Isle of Wight Festival 2019 for inviting us to attend and cover the event.