For a festival steeping its aesthetic in the flower power vibrancy of the late Sixties – areas are named after Beatles, Floyd and Hendrix tracks – the Isle of Wight festival can often feel surprisingly beige. This year they’ve helpfully plastered the sonic wallpaper all over Saturday’s easily avoidable main stage bill, as if in sympathy for the hangovers of those who conducted it large to the Hacienda Classical show in the Big Top the night before.
What Saturday’s more fragile heads might not appreciate is being Rick-rolled like some sort of runaway Rick zorb, but virtually everywhere you turn on Saturday, Rick Astley is making a surprise appearance, “never gonna giving you up” like his life depends on it. By the time he arrives at the main stage, having done the rounds of the branded “VIP” tents, he’s so pumped that he barely seems to notice that Stock, Aitken & Waterman only wrote him one tropical funk pop song, called it anything from “Together Forever” to “Whenever You Need Somebody”, and merely put it in different keys. His own later material, while predictably rootsy and gospel heavy, fares better – the slick drivetime soft rock of “Dance” is particularly fun, telling the story of God and Satan having a dance-off in a park.
IoW has only turned up for one thing though. “Do you want me to sing ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’?” Rick asks, arguably the most rhetorical question since Harry Shearer last wondered out loud if he should do Mr Burns. It’s moments like this that IoW was rebooted for, even though Rick yelling “do you want it? Well you’re gonna get it!” makes the final chorus feel like a no-deal Brexit.
He finishes by taking to the drum kit for a blast through AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell”, and there goes the fun for a couple of hours. For, after Anne-Marie has artfully trodden the line between modern Latino glitch pop and emotion, here come Bastille, the boyband in indie-rock clothing who, to anyone even vaguely interested in keeping alternative culture alive, represent the musical equivalent of creeping NHS privatisation. The UK Maroon 5, their cynical blend of soulless synthesised choirs and autotuned formula-pop is less offensive when supporting George Ezra than when ruining a Reading, but they still find ways to be unbearable.
This time, to reflect their new album’s all-night-party concept, they split their set into three “acts” (which mean nothing) involving singer Dan Smith hiding on a revolving sofa in a yellow hoodie, or clutching his head in front of a TV for no reason. Or they slip facile subliminal messages like “ticket stubs are your diaries” and “the future is in our hands” into the visuals accompanying “The Things We Lost In The Fire” (essentially The Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra” with more snare drums). They precede their one decent song, George Michael-wannabe “Good Grief”, with a tune that’s almost identical, and mash “Rhythm Is A Dancer” into Corona’s “The Rhythm Of The Night” when even Rick Astley had the decency to cover AC/DC – although Rick blows his cool by guesting on “Pompeii”, which is five minutes of pure bluster best watched through your fingers.
We flee to the outskirts, seeking redemption. It’s here, in abundance. At the This Feeling stage, Saint Agnes deliver seismic voodoo blues rock about a fantasy land called Silvertown hidden in London’s docklands, and Hands Off Gretel rework Iggy Pop classics into firebrand grunge. In the relative leftfield wonderland of the Big Top – which sci-fi electro-rock deity Shirley Manson of Garbage will later decree “for the weirdos, the outsiders and the marginalised” – Yungblud leaps, sprints and karate-kicks through a glorious blitz of rave punk and urban ska epics. He’s like the hyperactive offspring of Keith Flint, Ziggy Stardust and, judging by the punked-up orange overalls, the world’s most rebellious 1950s car mechanic.
Refreshed, you approach the main stage again with some trepidation, only to be utterly charmed out of your wellies by George Ezra. Yes, he’s as beige as they come, gently massaging an array of classic styles from blues spiritual to mariachi pop, rockabilly jive and country hoedown into safe, easily digestible lumps. But he’s that rare thing: a jack of all trades who’s also mastered most. He’s an amenable host too, sat on a stool on a stage decked out like a stately home dining room (he twisted his ankle on a run and is “out of my head on anti-inflammatories”) guiding us through the set like a cousin showing us their holiday slide travelogue.
The huggable pop gospel of “Pretty Shining People” was written on a mountain outside Barcelona, he explains in his sink-in baritone, the mildly Africana “Sugarcoat” is a tribute to South Africa and he’s yet to make it to “Budapest” which, from the sound of it, he expects to be a bit like Tijuana. By the time he’s delivered a sensitive cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” and got our hands in the air with a sweetly wielded “Shotgun”, you want to take him home and make him marry your daughter. Y’know, some festivals suit beige.