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The Isle of Wight Festival: An Overview

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Jimi Hendrix statue commemorating the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.

In the early and mid-1960s, despite the rise in popular music, there were no rock or pop festivals held1. Music fans wishing to see their favourite acts live had to attend individual concerts, although many of them may have had support acts. Then in August 1967 the first popular music festival in Britain took place2, followed in 1968 by the Isle of Wight Festival - Britain's second popular music festival. In 1969 the second Isle of Wight Festival took place, and thus the Isle of Wight became Britain's first repeat popular music festival, paving the way for Glastonbury and all other festivals that followed.

The Isle of Wight Festival3 was held in various locations between 1968 and 1970, but since 2002 has been held at Seaclose Park.

The Festival's History

The Isle of Wight Festival is a story of how to fail to build a swimming pool in style. In the late 1960s there were no municipal swimming pools on the Isle of Wight. People wanting to go swimming were forced to either visit one of the Island's beaches or the outdoor Blue Lagoon swimming pool in Sandown, neither of which were popular in the winter. The local council was uninterested in paying for a pool, so local residents decided to hold a music festival to raise money for the cause. Although it failed to raise enough money, and sadly made a loss, it did pave the way for a second festival the following year4.

In 1969 one man helped turn the fledgling festival into a major musical event. Two years after his last live performance, shortly before a serious motorcycle accident, Bob Dylan, one of the most popular and influential musicians of his age, was living in seclusion at his home in Woodstock. Hoping to wean him back into public life, he received offers inviting him to perform at two different music festivals; the first, Woodstock, was to be deliberately held near his home to make it easy for him to attend. Bob Dylan chose instead to travel across the globe to perform at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival, which was advertised as 'Bob Dylan's Only Appearance in the World'. Highlights of Bob Dylan's 1969 Isle of Wight Festival appearance can be heard on his Self Portrait' album. Although 2010 is the first time Paul McCartney has been to the Isle of Wight Festival, in 1969 John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr5 attended in the audience, watching Bob Dylan perform. In 2004 Ringo Starr's son, Zak Starkey, performed at the Isle of Wight Festival, drumming for The Who.

The 1970 Isle of Wight Festival was the biggest music festival in the world at the time. More people attended the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival than Woodstock, with over 700,000 people in attendance. Joni Mitchell, who wrote a song entitled 'Woodstock', was not actually at Woodstock but attended the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, along with other acts including Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Moody Blues, Melanie and Donovan. More people attended the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival than Live Aid. Only one other music festival of the time, the 1973 Summer Jam, was of comparative size.

Sadly, the festival was a victim of its own success; many of the 700,000 attendees chose to sit on Afton Down, the hillside overlooking the 1970 festival site, watching the festival for free at a distance. Others, who refused to pay, rioted and broke into the festival site itself.

1971 Isle of Wight Act

Parliament responded with the 1971 Isle of Wight Act which was specifically designed to prevent music festivals from taking place on the Isle of Wight. No unauthorised gatherings of more than 5,000 people could take place on the Island, and the hours in which large crowds could assemble were restricted to before midnight.

Since the passing of the 1971 Isle of Wight Act, other festivals, such as the Reading and Leeds festivals have arisen - most notably Glastonbury, which has replaced the Isle of Wight Festival as Britain's largest music festival. Glastonbury also suffered until the mid-1990s from riots and attempts to break into the festival grounds, with attacks on the toilets common at the Reading and Leeds festivals too. Fortunately in recent years the majority of festival goers are from a younger, more responsible generation who expect to pay to attend music events.

Since 2002

In 2002 permission was granted to re-establish a music festival on the Isle of Wight, firstly with a one-night event, known as Rock Island 2002, held at Seaclose Park, as well as surrounding fields and the neighbouring Medina arboretum. Seaclose Park was deemed a better location for the festival than sites in Godshill, Wootton and Freshwater, used for previous festivals. Being in the centre of the Island, Newport, the capital, is easy to get to from any of the ferries and has regular bus links. Newport, being one of the larger towns on the Island, is one of the few places that can cope with an extra 75,000 people – over half the population of the Isle of Wight – suddenly turning up on its doorstep. It has a reasonable selection of shops, supermarkets and pubs, and the festival site is within a very short walk from the town centre.

A larger, two-day event occured in 2003, but it was the 2004 festival, the first three-day festival since 1970, that put the Isle of Wight Festival back on the musical map, with the return of The Who, who had performed at the 1969 and 1970 festivals, as well as David Bowie, Stereophonics and Manic Street Preachers headlining. Since 2004 a three-day event has taken place every year at Seaclose Park in the second weekend in June.

The Isle of Wight Festival since 2008 progressed to two, and in 2009 three main stages: the Main Stage, in the main Seaclose Park field, the Big Top, a stage inside a large marquee, and the Acoustic Stage. The Big Top, being an almost fully enclosed space, is by far the loudest stage, but has a great atmosphere. The sound quality varies greatly in the field around the main stage depending on where you stand. As well as the stages, since 2002 there have also been giant screens showing the performances dotted around the site, as well as next to the stages. Although having more stages means that more acts are able to appear at the festival, sadly this means it is no longer possible to see everyone.

As well as the three official stages there are smaller stages inside the larger beer tents, where live entertainment is performed. There have also been, in European and World Cup years, giant television screens showing the football.

The Isle of Wight Festival, like most music festivals, charges more than average for food and drinks and food and drink brought into the area from outside. There is a wide variety of different types of takeaway food available at a convenient distance from the main stage and elsewhere, although the quality of the food varies greatly. It is worth trying to find the best and tastiest food stalls, or eating outside the festival venue if there are no acts on that you wish to see at the time. Queues for food become extremely long later in the day between the big acts, so it is worth eating early. There is also a fun fair, and a field with a wide range of stalls selling all sorts of things.

Tickets for the Isle of Wight Festival are expensive, however if you compare the price to the price to see two different big live acts at other arenas or stadiums, the price per hour works out quite reasonable for three days of entertainment, provided you see at least two or three acts you really like.

The Isle of Wight Festival has its own established joke, which goes something like this:

Did you know that the Strokes and the Kooks are performing at the Isle of Wight Festival this year?
The who?
Not this year, just the Strokes and the Kooks.

Call Me

Mobile phone networks and manufacturers have sponsored the festival in recent years, including Nokia, BT and Blackberry. This is perhaps ironic, as the one electronic device that does not seem to work at the festival is indeed the mobile phone. Having almost 75,000 mobile-phone-owning people in such a comparatively small space, many of whom trying to keep in touch with other people there, completely jams the local mobile phone provision. With the volume from the stages making conversation difficult and the mobile network's reception unreliable as far as text messaging is concerned, anyone attending a festival is advised to arrange where and when to meet up with friends in advance.

Isle of Wight Festival Television Coverage

Since 2002, like most large festivals, highlights of the Isle of Wight Festival have been broadcast on television on the weekend of the event. Between 2004 and 2007 the festival has had highlights broadcast by Channel 4, and between 2008 and 2010 the rights to broadcast have been bought by ITV2. As the broadcasts have been shown on commercial stations, there has usually been on average a five-minute advert break after every 10 minutes of programme.

After being at a festival, seeing the television broadcast can be quite disappointing. Although you do get to see the artists up close without anyone's head in the way, the television cameras don't always capture the atmosphere, the thrill of being there. And they also fail to capture the noise – a song that everyone was singing along to loudly in a deafening manner is shown at a reasonable volume on the television, with the 75,000 audience singing along reduced to a background noise.

1968 Festival

This took place on a farm outside the sleepy village of Godshill on 31 August, 1968. It was also known as 'The Great South Coast Bank Holiday Pop Festivity'


  • Tyrannosaurus Rex
  • Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation
  • Plastic Penny
  • Smile
  • The Move
  • The Pretty Things
  • Jefferson Airplane6
  • (The Crazy World Of) Arthur Brown
  • Fairport Convention
  • The Cherokees

1969 Festival

This took place outside Wootton.

Friday 29 AugustSaturday 30 AugustSunday 31 August
NiceThe Moody BluesBob Dylan
Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah BandJoe Cocker and the Grease BandThe Band
EclectionFat MattressRichie Havens
MarsupilamiThe WhoJulie Felix
Pretty ThingsTom Paxton
DiscoGary Farr
Marsha HuntIndo-Jazz Fusions
Aynsley Dunbar RetaliationThird Ear Band
Edgar Broughton BandLiverpool Scene
Blodwyn Pig

1970 Festival

Wednesday 27 AugustThursday 28 AugustFriday 29 AugustSaturday 30 AugustSunday 31 August
Mighty BabyTerry ReidCactusSly and the Family StoneRichie Havens
Kris KristoffersonGroundhogsVoices of East HarlemMelanieLeonard Cohen and the Army
Kathy SmithBlack WidowProcol HarumThe WhoJoan Baez
Rosalie SorrelsGilberto Gil and Caentano VelosoFamilyThe DoorsJimi Hendrix
Judus JumpSupertrampChicagoEmerson, Lake and PalmerJethro Tull
Tony Joe WhiteTen Years AfterThe Moody Blues
TasteMiles DavisPentangle
LighthouseTiny TimDonovan
ArrivalJoni MitchellFree
HawkwindMungo JerryHeaven
Fairfield ParlourLighthouseRalph McTell
Shawn PhilipsKris Kristofferson
John B SebastianGood News

The 1970 Isle of Wight Festival was filmed and recorded, allowing artists who performed there to subsequently release albums of their performances. There is also a selection of performances from the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, released on both DVD and double CD, called Message To Love – The 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. Other available performances include:

  • Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 - available on CD and DVD
  • Jethro Tull, Nothing Is Easy - Live at the Isle of Wight 1970
  • Jimi Hendrix has had a number of videos, albums etc. containing extracts from the Isle of Wight Festival, but the definitive version is Blue Wild Angel – Live at the Isle of Wight Festival. This has been released on DVD and in single and double CD editions.
  • Leonard Cohen - Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 available on CD and DVD.
  • The Moody Blues - Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 - available on CD and DVD.
  • The Who – Live At The 1970 Isle of Wight Festival - available on CD and DVD.

2002 Festival – Rock Island

This was the first to use the current site of Seaclose Park, Newport. From this festival's humble relaunch the Isle of Wight Festival's continued success would emerge.

Monday 3 June 2002

  • The Charlatans
  • Robert Plant
  • Ash
  • Starsailor
  • Hundred Reasons
  • The Coral
  • The Bees

The Bees are the most successful Isle of Wight band since Level 42. The Isle of Wight Festival, since 2002, has encouraged smaller Isle of Wight bands to appear by holding a talent competition known as Wight Noise, the winners of which get to perform at the Festival.

2003 Festival

Saturday 14 JuneSunday 15 June
Paul Weller Bryan Adams
Starsailor Counting Crows
Iggy Pop The Darkness
John Squire Hell Is for Heroes
The Cooper Temple Clause The Raveonettes
The Thrills Countermine
The Burn

Starsailor became the first act of the 21st Century to return to the Isle of Wight Festival.

2004 Festival

Friday 11 JuneSaturday 12 JuneSunday 13 June
StereophonicsThe WhoDavid Bowie
Groove ArmadaManic Street PreachersThe Charlatans
Super Furry AnimalsJetThe Libertines
22-20sThe StandsSnow Patrol
The Duke SpiritThe Electric Soft ParadeDelays
British Sea PowerSuzanne Vega
Steve Harley and Cockney RebelAlfie
Proud MaryJerry Fish and the Mudbug Club
The Leah Wood GroupCountermine
RAW SambaRAW Samba

At the 2004 festival:

  • The Charlatans became the first act to have been relegated from Headline Act status (in 2002) to support act status.
  • The Who became the first act to not only play at three different Isle of Wight Festivals, but at three different Isle of Wight Festivals in three different decades – 1969, 1970 and 2004.

A DVD entitled Isle of Wight Festival 2004 was released. This contained songs from the performances by Stereophonics, Manic Street Preachers, Snow Patrol and Jet, but curiously not the main headline acts of The Who and David Bowie.

2005 Festival

Friday 10 June Saturday 11 JuneSunday 12 June
RazorlightRoxy MusicSnow Patrol
IdlewildGoldie Lookin ChainStarsailor
Black Velvets BabyshamblesThe Magic Numbers
Mighty RoarsRay Davies7Caravan
Nine Black AlpsThe Subways
Tara BlaiseKate Aumonier
Jackson AnalogueCountermine

Snow Patrol became the first act at the Isle of Wight Festival to appear one year (2004) as a support act and return the following year as a headliner.

Starsailor became the first act to appear three times at the Isle of Wight Festival in the same decade.

2006 Festival

Friday 9 JuneSaturday 10 JuneSunday 11 June
ProdigyFoo FightersColdplay
PlaceboPrimalRichard Ashcroft
GoldfrappThe EditorsLou Reed
The RakesDirty Pretty ThingsMaxïmo Park
Morning RunnerSuzanne VegaKubb
The KooksProcol Harum
The ProclaimersThe Delays
The Upper RoomCathead
747'sThe Windows
OnOffsSkyline Heroes

2007 Festival

Friday 8 JuneSaturday 9 JuneSunday 10 June
Snow Patrol Muse The Rolling Stones
Groove ArmadaKasabianKeane
The Feeling Ash The Fratellis
Echo & the Bunnymen Wolfmother Paolo Nutini
KoopaAmy Winehouse James Morrison
DonovanMelanie C8
Arno Carstens Country Joe McDonald
Carbon Silicon The Hedrons
The Thirst Siniez
The Menschen

2008 Festival

Main Stage

Friday 13 JuneSaturday 14 JuneSunday 15 June
Kaiser Chiefs Sex PistolsThe Police
N.E.R.DIan BrownThe Kooks
KT Tunstall Iggy & the Stooges James
The Hoosiers The ZutonsStarsailor
The Wombats The EnemyScouting For Girls
Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong Kate NashNewton Faulkner
The AnswerThe Cribs Delays
Amy Macdonald We See Lights
One Night Only Proximity Effect
Black Stone Cherry
Kosmik Debris

Big Top

Friday 13 JuneSaturday 14 JuneSunday 15 June
The Stranglers The Sugababes Feeder
Curved Air The Australian Pink Floyd Show New Young Pony Club
The Duke Spirit Arno Carstens The Music
Arno CarstensStone GodsArno Carstens

2009 Festival

Main Stage

Friday 12 JuneSaturday 13 JuneSunday 14 June
The Prodigy StereophonicsNeil Young
Basement Jaxx Razorlight Pixies
Pendulum Maxïmo Park Simple Minds
The Ting Tings White Lies The Pigeon Detectives
Iglu & Hartly Paolo Nutini The Script
Sneaky Sound SystemThe View Goldie Lookin Chain
Sharon CorrJudy Collins
The Rifles Arno Carstens
The Zombies Papa Do Plenty
The Yeah You's

Big Top

Friday 12 JuneSaturday 13 JuneSunday 14 June
Bananarama Australian Pink Floyd The Charlatans
Ladyhawke Ultravox Killing Joke
Alesha Dixon Calvin Harris The Horrors
The Noisettes McFly Black Lips
Beverley Knight Will Young The Rumble Strips
Eddi Reader Mercury Rev The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Pixie Lott The Rakes Hatcham Social
The Maccabees S.C.U.M.
Jessie Evans Poppy & the Jezebels
The Operators We Could Be Giants
The Arcadian Kicks Dance for Burgess
Deborah Hodgson

2010 Festival

Main Stage

Friday 11 JuneSaturday 12 JuneSunday 13 June
Jay-ZThe StrokesPaul McCartney
Florence and the MachineBlondiePink
Calvin HarrisBiffy ClyroEditors
DovesVampire WeekendSpandau Ballet
Ian Broudie & 'Three Lions' Sing AlongCrowded HouseFriendly Fires
Mr HudsonPaloma FaithThe Courteeners
HockeyThe Hold SteadySuzanne Vega
WaterburnerMelanieThe Coronas
Juliette LewisDetroit Social Club

Big Top

Suzi QuatroOrbital James
Juliette LewisLa RouxOcean Colour Scene
Marina and the DiamondsN DubzLocal Natives
Shakespears SisterThe SaturdaysReef
WonderlandNoah And The WhaleSteve Harley and Cockney Rebel
Woman Devendra BanhartThe Big Pink
Daisy Dares YouBombay Bicycle Club OAR
I Blame Coco Semi Precious WeaponsThe Alarm
Arno CarstensSaint Jude

Repeat Performers

So far, 34 acts have performed at the Isle of Wight Festival more than once. Two acts have appeared at four festivals:

  • Arno Carstens - 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010
  • Starsailor - 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2008

Six acts have appeared at three festivals:

  • The Charlatans - 2002, 2004 and 2009
  • Countermine - 2003, 2004 and 2005
  • Delays - 2004, 2006 and 2008
  • Snow Patrol - 2004, 2005 and 2007
  • Suzanne Vega - 2004, 2006 and 2010
  • The Who - 1969, 1970 and 2004

Twenty-six acts have appeared twice. The biggest gap between the first and second appearance held by Melanie, who returned to the Isle of Wight Festival after a wait of 40 years.

  • Ash - 2002 and 2007
  • Australian Pink Floyd Show - 2008 and 2009
  • Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation - 1968 and 1969
  • Calvin Harris - 2009 and 2010
  • Donovan - 1970 and 2007
  • Duke Spirit - 2004 and 2008
  • Editors - 2006 and 2010
  • Family - 1969 and 1970
  • Feeder - 2005 and 2008
  • Goldie Lookin Chain - 2005 and 2009
  • Groove Armada - 2004 and 2007
  • James - 2008 and 20010
  • The Kooks - 2006 and 2008
  • Maxïmo Park - 2006 and 2009
  • Melanie - 1970 and 2010
  • The Moody Blues - 1969 and 1970
  • Paolo Nutini - 2007 and 2009
  • Pentangle - 1969 and 1970
  • Pretty Things - 1968 and 1969
  • Procol Harum - 1970 and 2006
  • Prodigy - 2006 and 2009
  • The Rakes - 2006 and 2009
  • Razorlight - 2005 and 2009
  • Richie Havens - 1969 and 1970
  • Stereophonics - 2004 and 2009
  • Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel - 2004 and 2010

Curiously, the most common word in the name of acts performing at the Isle of Wight Festival9 is 'black'. Bands have performed with the names of:

  • Black Widow - 1970
  • Black Velvets - 2005
  • Black Stone Cherry - 2008
  • Black Lips - 2009


Since 2004 the Isle of Wight has also hosted a second, smaller, annual music festival. This, called the Bestival, has been held in Robin Hill, a nearby country park in the heart of the Island's Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The acts that have performed at the Bestival include:

  • Alphabeat
  • Amy Winehouse
  • Basement Jaxx
  • Beastie Boys
  • The Bees
  • Calvin Harris
  • The Chemical Brothers
  • The Coral
  • Elbow
  • Fatboy Slim
  • Fleet Foxes
  • Florence and the Machine
  • Friendly Fires
  • Grace Jones
  • The Human League
  • Kate Nash
  • Lily Allen
  • Madness
  • The Magic Numbers
  • Massive Attack
  • Mika
  • Pet Shop Boys
  • Primal Scream
  • Scissor Sisters
  • Super Furry Animals
  • Will Young

Since 2004, outdoor music events have also been held in the grounds of Osborne House.

1Although there were established jazz, blues and, in America, folk festivals. Some of these, such as the annual Windsor Jazz and Blues festival, did sometimes feature rock and pop artists, including The Rolling Stones and The Who, however at the time they were dominated by jazz or blues music.2This was the Festival of Flower Children held in Woburn Abbey, headlined by The Bee Gees and Marmalade.3The Isle of Wight also has an annual Garlic Festival, Cycling Festival and the UK's largest Walking Festival, but it is the music festival that eclipses all others.4Fortunately the Isle of Wight now has a selection of municipal swimming pools in many of the main towns on the Island, including at the Medina Leisure Centre next to the Seaclose Park site used for the Isle of Wight Festival since 2002.5Paul McCartney was expecting the birth of his first child at the time.6This was Jefferson Airplane's first UK visit and performance.7Of The Kinks8Formerly of The Spice Girls9Excluding 'the' and 'and'.

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