June 11, 2016 – ISLE OF WIGHT – Isle of Wight Festival
The WHO have a significant history here at the Isle of Wight. In 1969, they appeared here, a celebrated appearance on a show headlined by Bob Dylan. Again in 1970, bringing a massive turnout that so overloaded the island that such performances were banned here for decades. This WHO performance is captured on film, a memorable video. Many other bands were present that weekend; Jimi Hendrix, Moody Blues, The Doors, even Leonard Cohen, and Bob. Brand-new bands were given attention here that buoyed them into lasting public consciousness: Jethro Tull, Chicago and ELP.
In 2004, the WHO returned “home” to the Isle. It was a memorable evening, with Pete proclaiming loudly “34 years ago we played here! That means one thing: we are really, really old!” to great laughter. It was one of the first times I realized The WHO had no fear of being seen as older performers, something most musical acts dread mentioning. Roger and Pete embraced and laughed at the unusual concept of “longtime rockers”. Another memorable moment was ‘Baba O’Riley’ when Roger grabbed the wrong harmonica and solo’d in the wrong key for the whole length! Overall, the night was a triumph – and a great return to hallowed WHO ground. Certainly, the name Isle of Wight is comparable to Leeds or Woodstock as heavy WHO history.
So another 14 years have passed, and the Festival continues. With The WHO making world-wide rounds this year, it only made sense to appear, once again as the headliners. With Queen, Stereophonics and Faithless, it’s a classic British event. As this is the Backstage Blog, I’ll tell you a little about the setup of this large event, from our point of view.
As you may recall, we finished the last leg in America with Las Vegas, an unusual show, but strong. Then a bizarre event in a backyard near Beverly Hills – profitable, complex and difficult to organize. Now, with a little over a week break – we come to a festival event, one of the more challenging things to arrange. Many of us have come from the USA, so our body clocks are on jetlag/time-change, a bizarre schedule of sleeping and waking. It is literally an island, medium-large, about 30 minutes ferry ride/4 miles from the mainland of southern England.
Back in 2004, we loaded in around 4am after the previous night’s headliners had finished and cleared out; that night was windy, wet and incredibly cold. Around 7am, we’d finished setting up as the sun slowly rose. Each instrument was tested briefly (no soundcheck for the band back in those days) and put away for the day. Not fun, but memorable.
Now in 2016, we arrived the day before, but were told our passes would not allow us access much of anywhere – we stayed confined to the parking lot for band/crew buses and small dockside harbor. When the stage was empty around 2am, and our lighting, video, sound and staging crews headed up the hill to the stage. They began setting up the existing equipment and bringing in some of our own lighting. They silently worked through the night, as campers sleep in tents nearby, and cleaning crews picked up remnants from the day before.
When the stage was prepared past dawn, the rest of the sound and “backline” (instruments/amps) were loaded up onto the stage around 8am. We had till 11am to set up, quickly test the sound (no true soundcheck, a tricky situation for the band, but too early to bring them in.) Then we “pushed-back” (move the rolling stages away to make room for everyone else.) Soon after, the first band of the day (Polly Molly) was set up and playing for a small-but-growing audience. Already we can see the first WHO fans bracing themselves for a long day with a good payoff.
Meanwhile, most of us went back to bed, hoping for some sleep through the day. The festival has several stages, but is so large and distant that it’s quite a long walk to see another band. There are carnival rides, food, trinkets, and band merchandise available. (I spotted some new WHO things we’d not seen before, maybe things from this coming week of shows.)
Onstage the Corrs did well, with their good-looking mix of slick pop and Celtic instrumental. The Kills were pretty great, hard rock with some pre-taped electronica backing, Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince with style and powerful attitude. Up next, Iggy Pop, who is still full of energy and absolutely delighted the crowd. He’s a headliner no matter where they put him on the bill. Richard Ashcroft (formerly of Verve) was next before The WHO; strong songwriting and anthemic choruses were ideal for this English festival audience. Then it was time… Just before we came out, the audience were singing along loudly to the pre-show tapes, doing “All Right Now” by Free. With this kind of vocal crowd, things should be fine.
The band came out with both Roger and Pete loping out onto the stage. They were in a good mood, which quickly changed to sour as the untested stage sound hit them full-on: They’ve now grown used to long soundchecks and indoor arena-sound, so this was a shock. Various quick adjustments were made during opening song ‘Who Are You’. At one point, during the first guitar solo section, Pete kept trying to get more of something in his monitors from longtime soundman Bob Pridden. Gestures and more gestures, and MORE gestures not working – Pete yelled into his vocal microphone (for everyone to hear) “TURN UP THE F*ING CLICK!” (click is a metronome timekeeper he needs to stay on the beat in this quiet section.) As soon as it worked, his mood changed back and he yelled “Thanks Bob!” into the mic as well.
Soon the mood of the crowd and the enormity of the event overcame all sound issues. The band were playing well and feeding off the thousands of happy faces. As you may know, the band do not normally play to “festival seating” crowds at concerts; tickets and reserved seats are the usual. This is common practice now, and it leads to more wealthy people in front and often rabid WHO fans with less money way in the back. Not today as anyone hardy enough to sit or stand through the whole day could be front-row at this huge WHO concert. As a result, it was energetic rabid fans in their 20s to 50s down front. Everywhere one looked, thousands of people singing along and jumping about. A great view for any performer.
One additional change – with the massive staging, we had additional lighting options, and tonight Jim Mustapha did an excellent job, adding some things to the original stage design from Tom Kenny, The WHO’s longtime lighting and stage director. The “look” was incredible, aided by the dust of thousands of feet: As the particles hang in the air, each beam of light becomes a nice 3-dimensional object in space, full of color and intensity. See the photos today – the lights were impressive. Normally, we don’t have this much dust, and the band doesn’t normally like fog and smoke in the air at all, so the lights are there – but not this clearly seen.
Sadly, the dust was affecting everyone, the crew, band and Roger – in particular. His voice started getting rough and scratchy a little more than halfway through the show. He knew it, the crowd knew it – but nothing could be done but hot tea, water and perseverance. Rog soldiered on, and got the audience to hit a few of the high notes. He laughed as his attempts during ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ which have been SO STRONG of late; but not tonight. Still, it was fun, the audience did sing as loud as any we’ve heard.
Everyone played well, but it was a wild and loose show – the sloppy side of good. Zak again being a surprise to many – as good as anyone ever in this band. He wears white silk shirts each night of this tour – not only comfortable and light, but looks great in the lights each night as he gyrates around. It’s quite a bonus for audience members to enjoy his playing each night; we’re used to it, but such exceptional stuff is not expected when people come just to see Pete and Rog.
We found a great photographic gallery in one tent, sharing historical Isle of Wight memorabilia. Chatting with the proprietors, one was the son of the photographer, the other had been to the original festivals and has a new book explaining the real story in detail. We were informed the film releases don’t really capture the true story of the events, they have an edited/staged structuring of things shown to make it seem more extreme than it was. One more historical note: I recall an interview long ago, Pete said he had looked out over the old festival ground (either in 1969 or 1970) and seen the hillside covered in litter and refuse of the event. He thought it was a “teenage wasteland…” and a great lyric was born. There is actually a piano-based demo called ‘Teenage Wasteland’ from The Lifehouse Chronicles. The song is a sister to ‘Baba O’Riley’ sharing some themes and lyrics, and is pretty great on its own. In recent years, the IOW festival once had a campground for tents called “Teenage Wasteland,” too!
Despite a little rain early in the morning, not much weather came this way, the event was quite pleasant. We were lucky; Google the Download Festival the same day – they went through a rough, wet time! Thanks to everyone who came out – you made all the struggle worthwhile.