Listen to this article
The Rolling Stones’ first UK festival gig for 31 years was always going to be a big event. On Sunday night, headlining at the Isle of Wight – the first major UK rock music weekend of the year – the band didn’t disappoint as they belted out hits including “Satisfaction”, “Sympathy for the Devil” and the high-octane “Jumping Jack Flash”, to a very different crowd from the group’s usual stadium fanbase. The last time Mick Jagger & Co played a British festival was Knebworth in 1976, but Jagger got down with the kids with an unexpected moan about the £4 cost of a festival hamburger – a curious whinge from a multi-millionaire.
“We’re the 24th act of the weekend. I hope you’ve still got a bit left in the tank,” said the man whose own physical resources continue to defy the laws of biology. The Stones occupy a strange middle ground between commercial leviathan and their more intimate roots. We had a string of bluesy, less familiar material, but as the end of the set neared, it was back to safe ground with the likes of “Brown Sugar”. In a Spinal Tap-esque flourish, the band appeared to drift over the heads of the audience on a mechanical stage.
Earlier, in another concession to a younger demographic, singers-of-the-moment Paolo Nutini and Amy Winehouse had each come on stage for a jam. Jagger and Winehouse, both in skinny jeans and with apparently identical waist measurements, enjoyed a good yelling contest. Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, meanwhile, slouched around the stage in jackets that even a Pearly King might have found outlandish. Richards took solo vocal on “Wanna Hold You” and “Slipping Away”, a fine, bluesy turn.
If Richards looks 110, Tom Chaplin, singer from Keane, on before the Stones, could have passed for 10. Although about as edgy as a young David Cameron, he and his band proved they have a repertoire that others might kill for. A rousing, vocally perfect performance will have reaffirmed Keane’s reputation as a safe festival bet.
Although the weekend lacked Glastonbury’s eclecticism – and so its capacity for surprise – there were some terrific moments. Muse, headlining on Saturday night, were a highlight. The band treads a fine line between ambitious sonic architecture and over-inflated bombast – such is the way of prog-rock – but it put on an awesome display. Amid a futuristic light show and a battery of sound, it was hard to believe only three people were creating this powerful edifice of noise. Familiar songs were fired out in succession: during “Butterflies and Hurricanes”, lead singer Matt Bellamy played intricate, expressive piano; elsewhere he delivered guitar riffs of staggering speed and complexity. What did the portentous, angsty lyrics mean? Who knows? Who cares?
Less interesting were Snow Patrol on Friday night, drifting drearily through their familiar, melancholy catalogue. With little change in pace or style, the songs began to blur into one another. They were popular with the young crowd, and had an amiable onstage presence – but will Snow Patrol still be headlining festivals in two years’ time? You’d expect not.
The prospects look better for Amy Winehouse, who went down a treat on a sunburnt Saturday afternoon. Hits including “Back to Black” and “Rehab”, a jazzed-up cover of the Zutons’ “Valerie” and two Specials songs were delivered a voice that could switch from broken sotto voce to foghorn in the blink of a mascara- laden eyelash. All that, and a stint with the Stones – a good weekend for Winehouse and, on the whole, for this festival’s audience too.
Get alerts on Life & Arts when a new story is published