If there's something to take away from this year's Isle of Wight Festival, it's probably sunburn. Unlike the mud bath of two years ago, 2014 will be remembered for serving up one of the hottest weekends I can remember for a festival, along with some crowd-pleasing performances. While not every act managed to capture their moment in the sun, all the major names delivered in spades.
But it wasn't just the music that made the weekend for many; a real sense of celebration seemed to erupt across the site. Partly fuelled by anticipation over the World Cup and partly because of the good weather, thousands of smiling faces could be seen everywhere. Sunflowers seemed to be an essential festival accessory and many opted for as few clothes as possible with t-shirts looking like they'd gone out of fashion altogether. I've even had to make a note in my diary that it's international flip-flop day on June 20th, just one of the many things I learnt around Seaclose Park this year.
The highlight of Friday afternoon should have really been local boy Tom Odell on the main stage. But his piano led ballads took some time to win the crowd over despite his number 1 album 'Long Way Down'. By the time he'd finished though, the reaction showed that he'd justified his place on the main stage billing.
Rudimental were more of an instant success with the festival partygoers as anticipation grew for the two headliners. Perhaps surprisingly, Biffy Clyro were already onstage by 9pm and were placed on the bill ahead of Calvin Harris. Biffy's pyrotechnic sets tend to have more impact with the stage lighting at full effect and so it seemed a little disappointing to see much of their 90-minute performance under full daylight. Regardless, Simon Neil stepped up and claimed the headline slot with a visceral display of showmanship throughout. The stage exploded with glitter and flames at varying points, but the real highlights were tracks like 'Folding Stars' and the acoustic renditions of 'God & Satan' and 'Machines', which saw thousands of fans singing along. Closer 'Mountains' could quite easily have been the last song of the evening for the crowd, but then Calvin's set was still to come.
In all fairness to the 30 year-old DJ, he managed to follow a faultless rock set in some style. Rather than being an anticlimax, he built on the fervour created by Biffy to transform the main arena into an outdoor club night complete with laser light show. While the crowd may have been a little disappointed at the lack of special guest vocalists for the last set of the day, there was no doubting that he too was living up to his billing.
However, it wasn't just the fans watching the main stage that got a real treat on Friday night. On the second stage, the Polyphonic Spree put on a brilliantly eclectic set with some great choral vocals and brass throughout. But, in honesty, it was Katy B that stole the show, the Big Top filled up as she emerged just before midnight and for the next hour she was the undisputed queen of the festival.
By the time Saturday morning came around, many will have been pleased that the spot of rain didn't sour the atmosphere despite the hangovers. By mid afternoon, The Pretty Reckless were playing a raucous set on the main stage and the party atmosphere was in full swing again. John Newman and The 1975 struggled to quite capture the crowd's attention in the same way as The Waterboys had before them, but there was still plenty to look forward to.
While many in the Big Top had been enjoying the dance and pop-centred line up featuring the likes of Cher Lloyd, Dappy and later Clean Bandit on Saturday afternoon, the crowd in the main arena started to swell as an air of anticipation grew for The Specials. Terry Hall's band may just be one of the best bands to see at a festival. A back catalogue full of recognisable songs and an excuse for everyone in the audience to dance helped the band to receive a suitably warm welcome. While their most famous track 'Ghost Town' was played mid-set, the closing pairing of 'A Message To You Rudy' and 'Too Much, Too Young' ensured that their Isle of Wight appearance was a hit.
The problem that the Red Hot Chili Peppers were always going to have was competing against an England game, but in didn't seem to faze Anthony Kiedis, who'd been spotted in the artist village earlier that afternoon playing table football with his son and getting into the World Cup spirit. Indeed, the Chili's played it much safer than I'd expected for their headline set. There were no hints of new material despite the band being in the studio at the moment, and no rarities. Instead, the 14 songs they played relied heavily on more recent material from their last three albums, peppered with some of their earlier hits. Even if 'Under The Bridge' didn't get an airing, few in the crowd were left disappointed when Flea finally thanked the audience following a storming rendition of 'Give It Away'.
The sun may have been a little less enthusiastic on the Sunday over Seaclose Park, but certainly none of the acts were. The Strypes and The Horrors seemed to be key conversation points of the day following their sets in the Big Top. The main surprise for the crowds during the day was an impressive display by the Red Arrows, which was accompanied by a soundtrack of classic rock including Queen. Fall Out Boy put on a great show on the main stage, but really it was Suede that deserved most of the plaudits. 'Animal Nitrate' was a real festival high point which was followed in quick succession by the likes of 'Filmstar', an acoustic outing for 'She's In Fashion', and the set closer 'Beautiful Ones'. The latter saw Brett Anderson clearly delighted to be at the festival as he jumped around on stage.
Fellow Britpop contemporaries Travis, meanwhile, headlined the Big Top. Their set highlighting newer material quickly shifted gears to become a tour through their greatest hits. Fran Healy, sporting a giant beard, dutifully rewarded the crowd with an encore featuring an acoustic version of 'Flowers In The Window' and 'Why Does It Always Rain On Me'. The main stage headliners Kings Of Leon followed a similar template. It was their second time as headliners at Seaclose Park in the last three years but their 23 song set was no less entertaining the second time round. The Followill family performed tracks from across their six albums, relying heavily on 'Only By The Night' in the final stretch, and leaving crowd favourite 'Sex On Fire' to close the Isle of Wight Festival with a bang.
So while the big names didn't pull off any big surprises, the scorching weather helped to mark 2014 down as a good year for The Isle of Wight Festival. Certainly, the likes of Katy B, Biffy Clyro and the Red Hot Chili Peppers will be pleased with the reaction they got, safe in the knowledge that they've helped to get the festival season off to an impressive start.
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