In 2002, something quite transformative happened. A revival. One that would set records in the years to come, Every. Single. Year. And, when something is resuscitated as such, there are people behind these metamorphic events leading us to a new era who are so incredibly pioneering, inspirational and just downright tenaciously impressive. Someone who has set about creating and accomplishing things on sheer guts and determination, and John Giddings, organiser of the Isle Of Wight Festival since its rebirth in 2002, is that person. For me, such strident moves are wholly spectacular and admirable. I did fully engage in making myself a bit of pest to get a few minutes with him during the festival weekend (he will confirm as much!), but it was completely worth it for me. Why wouldn’t it be? John knows the music industry like no other, and his laid-back charm and candour make for an easy conversation. So, with the festival celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, I could think of no other I wanted to delve into an exchange with about the beauty of the thing that is this glorious festival.
How does it feel to be here 50 years on? It must feel like such an accomplishment…
I am quietly proud of it all to be perfectly honest. I mean, I came here in 1970, and if you told me then that I was going to restart the Isle Of Wight Festival, I would never have believed you. It’s just an extraordinary feeling because I don’t know how or why I did it, it’s really weird. You know when I started it, I think people were laughing at me. I am pretty certain after what people said afterwards. The first year the council lost half a million pounds the second year I lost half a million pounds. Why did I continue? Sheer stupidity, arrogance, I honestly don’t know. My wife asked me why and I said blind faith, I believed it would work. But, I would never, ever do it again. 17 years later, it’s too hard. And, too time consuming, but so much fun providing so much entertainment for all these people! When you see 50,000 people in that field going wild for Depeche Mode, you get a shiver up your spine (Depeche Mode headlined the festival on Saturday night). It’s extraordinary! I brought Depeche Mode to the Isle of Wight, nobody else did.
What was it like resurrecting the festival in 2002?
It was weird because nobody on the Isle Of Wight knew what a real group was. They had seen tribute bands, so I’m not sure anybody believed it. It was a one-day concert. It was kind of a joke calling it a festival as it was a one-day concert. But, it was just in that field alone. 7,500 people, we only used half the field [laughs].
Hasn’t it grown since then!
Yes, slightly! I measured the festival site now, not including the car park, and it’s two miles. It takes you forty minutes to walk from the end of the campsite to the main stage.
Is there a standout moment for you that you always revisit when you look back to the first festival?
Yes, sitting in wet and windy Fulham, after the second year, thinking, ‘What am I going to do, I’ve got no groups’, and then David Bowie said yes. I thought, ‘There is a God, and its David Bowie’. Without David Bowie, this never would have happened again. I would have given up. When he said yes, the rest was history. David Bowie was a pivotal moment for the Isle Of Wight Festival.
Do you see the festival carrying on or do you think there will come a point where it’s not as relevant to keep coming back here?
There might be, I don’t know. I mean, tomorrow (Monday), I crash and burn. And, I get a downer. It’s so exciting here. I’m saying things like, ‘I’ll never do this again, it’s too hard.’ By Wednesday, I think, ‘Sod it, Let’s start working on next year!’ We have already made offers for some groups next year actually.
How do you see the festivals then and now in comparison?
All festivals have their own character and their own personality. You know, Leeds/Reading Festival is a rite-of-passage for all kids who just got their GCSE’s, all still 16 years old, for example. I think we have an identity that is based on the heritage of Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and I think we have a reputation for great music, just a real reputation for that. You have to have groups that are capable of performing to 50,000 people. We are not based on chart success, we are based on good music. And, on top of that, you have to provide lots of different entertainment like our Cirque de la Quirk area. Every year the festival grows, it morphs. You are always looking to provide a better service for the audience. You have to remember, the audience pay me to come, and I pay the artists to come. So, the audience are more important than the artists. People always put the emphasis on the artists. I know without the artists, the audience wouldn’t come, but I need to look after the audience.
Do you think festivals provide the same sort of access to music that they always have?
Yeah, I think even more so than before. All these up and coming bands, it gives them a platform to perform to people who wouldn’t normally go and see them. Like, Bang Bang Romeo opened the mainstage on Friday, and we had the biggest audience we ever had for an opening act. Judas opened the Big Top stage on Friday, Wild Front opened the mainstage on Saturday. They would have never performed to that many people without playing a festival. That’s how they widen their audience. Also, now with social media, they develop followers and it snowballs. Five years ago that didn’t exist.
Who are you really looking forward to seeing this weekend?
Liam Gallagher, and we all know Kasabian and The Killers are brilliant, right? The Script were brilliant too. Nile Rodgers is incredible. And when I told him I represented David Bowie for 30 years, that’s why he played, ‘Let’s Dance’. And, it took me four years to get Depeche Mode! But, worth it!
Check out the Highlights of the Festival on Sky Arts here!
Photos by ©PremiumPhotographic