By Peter White
The ever-popular ‘born again’ Isle of Wight Festival is celebrating its 20th birthday this year, having been revived back in 2002 by curator and self-confessed music fanatic, John Giddings.
Following the three original IW Festivals of 1969, 1970 and 1971, there was a yawning gap of more than 30 years, before John took the massive gamble to strike an agreement with Isle of Wight Council and re-launch the music extravaganza to the masses, making Seaclose Park in Newport, its permanent home.
When The Charlatans and Robert Plant – he of Led Zeppelin – took to the stage on June 3, 2002, who could possibly have imagined that in the following two decades, such icons as Paul McCartney, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart and a host of other top acts, would sail across the Solent to entertain us? What’s more, they all stood on a stage in the middle of a recreation ground to do so!
Looking back over the past two decades, John said: “I remember building the main stage for that first event back in 2002, and most people thought it would just be tribute acts, not the real thing. Nobody really thought a Festival here would work at the time, because you could only get to the Island by boat. The Isle of Wight Council asked virtually everybody in the music industry to come and have a look at it, but nobody was interested, because they thought it was a stupid idea.
“But I came to have a look, and in the first year I agreed to promote the Festival on behalf of the IW Council, who lost half a million pounds on the venture. So I took it over the following year – and also lost half a million pounds!”
John believes the turning point came in 2004 when he persuaded David Bowie and The Who to be the headline acts, which resulted in a crowd of around 35,000 converging on Seaclose Park. He recalls: “It was the first three-day event, and the first time it sold out. That is when it suddenly became a reality, and being in the music industry I subsequently managed to persuade many more world-class acts to appear here. Promoting the Festival is the most enjoyable thing I have ever done; seeing 50,000 people enjoying themselves in a field is incredible.”
The Festival was moved from June to September last year, to prevent it being cancelled for a second year running, due to the pandemic. John said: “It proved to be the most incredible event, with four days of sunshine, and 50,000 people wanting to go wild in a field for the first time in two years. But that has meant only a nine-month gap to this year’s event, which has caused problems in getting staff, fencing, trucks etc in time. But we have somehow managed it.”
Come rain or shine, wearing shorts and tee-shirts or wellies and sou’westers, wave after wave of people will once again converge on the Island to marvel at the spectacle that is rolled out in front of them, complemented by the dare-devil fairground rides, the plethora of food and drink outlets, the inevitable queues for the loos, and plenty more.
Over four days in June, music lovers from near and far will spread themselves all across the massive site, and become immersed in the sights and sounds of a Festival that has become an integral part of Island life.
Over 40,000 tickets have already been sold for this year’s event so John is anticipating a 50,000 sell-out to see this year’s headline acts Lewis Capaldi, Nile Rodgers and Chic, Madness, Kasabian, Pete Tong, Muse and Rudimental, along with the Isle of Wight’s own latest music sensations Wet Leg, who make a welcome home-coming after taking Britain, the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, by storm with their debut album.
The Festival begins on Thursday, June 16, with the usual special entertainment for the courageous camping fraternity, and will continue on the Friday and Saturday, before reaching its usual magnificent finale in front of tens of thousands of fans, on Sunday, June 19.