I have this image of John Giddings preparing for an April walk in the Lake District. He packs flip flops, sunglasses, shorts and t-shirts, smears on the sun cream and looks forward to the ice cream. Then he arrives, and remembers that England is a temperate island on the warpath of every Atlantic weather front there is.
Who is John Giddings? He’s the man who brought you this:
In other words, he “organises” the Isle of Wight Festival. At which I had the great fortune to spend two windswept, mud-lashed nights over the weekend.
You’ve read the stories by now. You’ve seen the photos of attractive young girls covered in mud in the newspapers, smiling through the horror. What you haven’t seen is the crush for the toilets, of which there were hardly any (the toilets to the left of the main stage brought me my most terrifying crowd experience ever, not quite Hillsborough but chest-clenchingly panic-stricken none the less).
You haven’t sat in a car for nine hours on the Isle of Wight’s gridlocked roads – which were gridlocked entirely because the festival organisers made no provision for waterlogged car parks after the wettest month in living memory. Nowhere at the Festival – not in the car parks, not in the campsites, not in the main arena – was there a single piece of metal or plastic sheeting or even a bale of straw, the last defence against mud at the smarter, older, wiser Glastonbury. I didn’t take my car, but a great many people did. A lot of them spent Thursday night either stuck on a road, stuck on the mainland or (most horrible of all) stuck on a ferry going round and round, unable to get into the gridlocked terminals.
Think about that for a second: massive car ferries, stuck out at sea, unable to dock. Because of a music festival.
We travelled on foot, taking the hovercraft from Southsea, arriving at Ryde just after 4pm on Thursday, expecting to find a bus to take us six miles to the Festival. We found instead a 200-metre long queue, and no buses. “They’re coming,” we were told. “But the roads are gridlocked.” We waited two hours, and eventually got on one. It went a mile or two up the road.
And then it stopped.
Over the next two hours, we moved maybe 500 yards. So, with about three miles to go, we started walking through the wind and rain, and finally arrived as darkness was falling. Every campsite seemed to be full, until we were lucky enough to find an empty one opening (no signpost, no advice, no communication).
I spent two days there. The act I most wanted to see, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, were fantastic. So were Elbow. But as the crowds thickened, the main arena became a morass of sticky, fetid mud. The low point (after gridlock, rainy walk, muddy campsite, etc. etc.) was the walk back to the campsite on Friday night – thousands of people squelching through gelatinous mud, their boots coming away, falling left and right, Dante’s Woodstock.
On Saturday, I fled, to a house party in Somerset with beds, baths and good company. My two companions, hardier than me, left it another day and got back to London on Sunday.
Thousands stayed, and I’m sure many of them had a good time. There seems to be a significant constituency of festivalgoers who take misery as being part of the experience, who can cope with anything as long as there are enough drugs and drink. These people tend to be young and, on the surface, a bit mad. Personally, I can think of better ways of spending my weekend. And nothing makes me more irritated than organisers who take this kind of easygoing persistence for granted, and in consequence do little or nothing for those attending. An older American woman who was stuck on the same bus as us kept asking: “Why aren’t they doing something? And why isn’t anyone complaining?”
As for me, I will never, ever attend a Festival organised by the people behind this festival. I’ll go to Latitude, Glastonbury and even V, because I know those places make provisions for wet weather. To all those living on the Isle of Wight who had their lives disrupted by what is, when all’s said and done, just a music concert – I’m very sorry. I hope you get as sincere an apology from the IoW Festival itself.