Interview: John Giddings

We caught up with Isle of Wight Festival organiser and Solo head honcho John Giddings at Tapnell Farm to talk about 2017, the Hipshaker Lounge, Rod Stewart and The Faces and the future of the festival. Here’s what went down…

Hi John! Massive congrats on another top line-up for the Isle of Wight Festival this year- are there any acts you’d personally recommend our fans to see this year?

You should see Rag ‘N’ Bone Man because he’s new and he has the anthem of the summer. You should see Imelda May, who is fantastic, and you should go in the Big Top and see The Amazons and The Sherlocks. It’s hard for me to try and programme the acts so I can see a bit of everyone, that’s where the problem occurs. I love seeing one or two songs but I can’t see a whole show and when I stand there and watch the headliner on Sunday night it’s a phenomenal moment. When I stand there and watch Fleetwood Mac I think, “Who can we get with this many hits next year?”. I think, “Queen, we’ll get them!”. Then I think, “Who can I get?”. Then I think, “Rod Stewart!”. I have no idea who I can get in 2018!

It’s been said that the Hipshaker Lounge won’t be returning this year- what’s the decision behind this?

We’re not having the Hipshaker because we’ve had it for 15 years and we need to change things around and do different things. We can’t have the same thing every year, every time- that’s what it’s down to. We’ve got Electro 80’s, we’ve got Cirque de la Quirk which was only invented last year- it’s bigger and better. It’s boring if you have the same thing every time- you’ve got to do things differently. We move the site around so when people come in they see something different- they don’t come in and see the same old thing every time. I love the Hipshaker, I think it’s brilliant- they’ll come back bigger and better next year.

So are there any new stages this year?

There’s some surprise things going on, so just turn up and see! There’s no point in telling you in advance, it’s boring! You can’t just come and stand in front of the Main Stage and watch 10 acts. The whole point is to move around the site and do different things and enjoy yourself. That’s what the Isle of Wight Festival is about.

It was recently announced that the Isle of Wight festival had been majority purchased by LiveNation, what does this mean for the future of the festival?

It means that I don’t have to risk £10 million of my own money every year to expect people to buy a ticket. It costs a lot of money and it’s a lot of risk and I know everyone thinks I walk away with millions of pounds. Every penny I’ve earned from the festival has been ploughed back into it to make it a better event for people who come. I needed help with the financial structure is the truth.

With Bestival now moved off the Island, do you see this as an opportunity for the festival to appeal to a younger audience?

I think it’s completely meaningless. In some ways it’s a bad advert for the Island because they didn’t do very well, saying it was hard to get to the Island with ferry crossings. I came here today in 10 seconds from West London! I thought having Bestival and us bookending the summer was fantastic because they were so different to us. They started off as a dance event, I think where they went wrong was when they got Stevie Wonder and Elton John- they didn’t need that. When I went there, there was more people at the dance stages than at the Main Stage. It’s a completely different event appealing to different people.

I completely agree because when I saw Ride and The Cure on the Main Stage last year it was pretty empty, whereas for Fatboy Slim on the Port stage it was completely rammed!

And he had a USB. I said to Calvin Harris when he played the Isle of Wight, I said to him at the BRITs, “Did you come to the Isle of Wight?”. He said, “What do you mean?”. I said, “All I saw was a silhouette with your arms in the air!”. He thought it was funny, he could take the joke.

Each year the festival promotes up and coming bands on its two main stages, this year there’s the likes of Wild Front and BANG BANG ROMEO, what’s the decision process behind booking these sort of acts?

It’s who I think is good. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. The Isle of Wight Festival is my hobby. I have a real job in London where I do tours around the world with Madonna, U2, The Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake and I meet everybody in every country and everybody says to me, “I’ve got this great band, will you please do me a favour?”. I judge them and I go and see them. BANG BANG ROMEO are a great rock band and Wild Front did the Half Moon for us- they are fantastic. I’d love to be a genius and predict who is going to be really successful. When somebody tells you about a group, it goes in one ear and out the other,  the second time it registers in the back of the brain and the third time you think, “Hmm, I should go and check them out!”. You have to make the effort.

There’s been rumours of a Rod Stewart and The Faces reunion for Sunday night- is there any truth in this?

It’s rubbish. It’s never going to happen in this decade. The Rolling Stones’ office phoned me and said, “What are you talking about?”. I said, “I’m not talking about anything”. They said, “You’re quoted”. Somebody made that quote up! I did not say that. Someone once asked me if The Faces would reform with Rod Stewart at the Isle of Wight Festival. I’d love them to, but someone turned that into, “they are”. That’s not a true story. I know Ronnie really well, I saw him at the Teenage Cancer Trust gig playing with Kelly Jones, he’s a good mate. When The Rolling Stones had to delay their tour for 6 months because Keith fell out of a tree and had a brain operation, Ronnie called me up and said, “John I’ve got to tell you, it was not a coconut tree”. I said, “Ronnie, I don’t care what kind of tree it was, I’m busy”. He said, “I’ve painted you a picture of Jimi Hendrix playing at the Isle of Wight Festival”, and he lets me sell it as a poster. If you can name any other rock God in this universe that does that kind of favour, you’re a better man than me. I love Ronnie Wood.

You answered this one earlier. So there’s no-one lined up for 2018 yet?

Yeah we’ve got Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, who else do you want? Oasis, The Talking Heads, The Smiths- they really want to come! They phoned up actually! Remember when Morrissey pulled out because he didn’t have a drummer? I offered him Phil Collins. He’s a t*sser. He is never welcome at the Isle of Wight.

Travis were good though!

Travis were fantastic! Did you see them in the Big Top three years ago?

No, I saw them at Victorious Festival.

I’ve never heard of that! Joking, I like Victorious. But you call that a festival? You don’t come down for four days and camp. It’s a street thing, you walk in and you walk out.

City festivals are on the rise at the moment, though.

They are happening, I understand totally. We book acts at British Summer Time in Hyde Park and they compete in the Festival Awards, but when they send you a contract, they say that they are not a festival. Work that one out!

Thanks very much for your time John, we’re really looking forward to the Isle of Wight Festival this year!

The Isle of Wight Festival 2017 will see headline performances from Run-DMC, David Guetta, Arcade Fire and Rod Stewart, as well as Kaiser Chiefs, Bastille, Catfish and the Bottlemen and many more. For the full, current line-up, please see here.

Tickets for the Isle of Wight Festival 2017 are on-sale now and are available to purchase here.