It's perhaps fitting that my prevailing memory of this year's Isle of Wight Festival will be guitars. This was after all the 45th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix's legendary performance on the Island, something that was being widely celebrated by festival organiser John Giddings and his team across the site. Fender, for example, brought some specially designed guitars to the party for artists including You Me At 6 to play, and there was also a world record attempt for the most number of people in one place to be wearing a mask, the face in question was naturally Hendrix himself. Despite that backdrop, it was some of the guitarists who played across the weekend that demonstrated the power of the instrument and reinforced that guitar based rock isn't on its last legs as some have speculated over the past few years.
The festival got into full swing with a Stones-esque swagger on Friday afternoon when The Struts took to the Main Stage. Their enthusiasm signalled a continuation of their set from the previous year's festival, indeed they are an ideal opening act when you want to energise a crowd. Their appearance at Download the following day, will no doubt have had a similar effect. There seemed to be a Rolling Stones theme to many of the acts getting the festival underway. Over in the Big Top The Ruen Brothers covered 'Miss You' during their rousing set that was well received.
The first moment that sent a shiver down my spine this year was the Counting Crows though. The guitar line to 'Round Here' sent a wave of excitement across the main arena. It was a strong opening statement in a nine song set that featured the likes of 'Mr Jones', 'Miami', and 'Rain King' into which singer Adam Duritz dropped some Elbow lyrics as a nod of the hat to Guy Garvey. If Counting Crows' guitars weren't haunting enough, it was actually The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach whose riffs were the most powerful and elemental of the day. The dirty Blues grit of Auerbach's playing was like a roll of thunder that saw the heavens open to drench the crowd in torrential rain. While much of the set was dedicated to material culled from 'El Camino' and 'Brothers', rather than recent record 'Turn Blue', the band's graduation to a headlining slot was well deserved and warranted. The final song of the set 'Little Black Submarines', which builds from a delicate solo performance to a dramatic climax, utilised every trick in the book for The Black Keys' expanded touring band. If Patrick Carney's drums and Auerbach's guitars are the perfect union on record, it seems their live shows rightly now have the power to command top billing with the inclusion of bassist Richard Swift and keyboardist John Clement Wood.
Continue reading: Isle Of Wight Festival - 2015 Live Review
We preview some of the top acts on the bill this year.
Summer festival season kicks into high gear this weekend with the first big event of the calendar taking place on the south coast. Tens of thousands of people will be heading to Seaclose Park on the Isle of Wight for a bill, which is top heavy on heritage acts that bring with them a sense of nostalgia. While recent years have welcomed the likes of Jay-Z, Calvin Harris and Kings Of Leon to headline, this time round it seems big names with an even bigger back catalogue are being used as the main attraction.
However, many of the headline acts seem to be experiencing a renaissance of sorts. For example, Blur, whose new album 'The Magic Whip', their first since 2003, has won critical acclaim. The former Britpop poster boys will take to the Main Stage on Saturday night in the knowledge that this is one of the first times that UK crowds will get to see this new material given the live treatment. You can expect a set heavy on those new songs, but peppered with all the classic singles, certainly a formula for a memorable festival appearance. It's a similar story for The Prodigy who'll headline the Main Stage on Friday after The Black Keys. Both acts have played the festival in recent years and here they're repeating the joint top billing that was given to Biffy Clyro and Calvin Harris last year. As with Blur, The Prodigy's new album, 'The Day Is My Enemy', has revived interest in the band following an extended period out of the spotlight. Elsewhere, Fleetwood Mac will bring proceedings to a close on Sunday, bolstered by the return of Christine McVie to the band, a set covering Rumours era gems like 'Don't Stop' and 'Songbird' is a strong possibility.
The eighties are an oddly venerated decade, one which started in Britain with post-punk and the New Romantic movement and ended in the lysergic chaos of acid house. In the provinces though most of the time these felt like abstractions; for most people life was still taking place not in London but down at your local Tiffany's, bubbly pint pot in hand and white suit and skinny tie wrapped around the body. These "Normal" lads and lasses had a different soundtrack to their existence, one in part provided by the acts that populate this, the latest in the Late Night Tales series, mixed by Tom Findlay of Groove Armada.
Chronicled expertly at the time by Morgan Khan's ground breaking Street Sounds compilations, musically this was a combination of soul's pristine, honeyed gospel vocals and the studio trickery of seminal Minneapolis producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the duo that would go on to help make Janet Jackson's Control one of the biggest selling albums of all decade. Khan's series brought together a wealth of releases into a single place where otherwise collectors might have spent a small fortune on imports, mixing obscurity and bombast with an assured ear, along the way making disciples out of soul and b-boys alike.
Sometimes rare grooves then, but equally, you can raid your parents collection of Now That's What I Call Music vinyl and you'll find that this was equally one of the pre-eminent chart "Sounds" of the time. The formula was typically straightforward: male or female diva, fret less bass, occasional frostings of incidental guitar and some padded synths, courtesy of the near ubiquitous Nord Electro keyboard. Rapidly gaining Transatlantic appeal, the end product counted as what at the time was classed as sophistication, an airbrushed sort of aphrodisiac for the Soul Glo generation.
It's absolutely no exaggeration to say that Black Light, Groove Armada's sixth album proper which was released in January of this year, was nothing less than a revelation. Many - myself included -had long written off Andy Cato and Tom Findlay as a spent creative force, good for providing incidental music for DFS adverts and the occasional festival appearance, but increasingly seeming irrelevant in a world dominated by poppy ex-grimers and the pervasive evil of r n' b.
Continue reading: Groove Armada, White Light Album Review