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Friday, 22 June 2012

Musicians get police escort to Isle of Wight festival 'disaster zone'

Frank Moon (below, looking very much as he must have felt by late yesterday), also of The Urban Folk Quartet and the Bev Lee Harling band, unexpectedly ended up opening the Isle of Wight festival's main stage with Cerys Matthews last night after one of the most stressful experiences of his career trying to get to the festival site.

'The festival is a disaster zone," he told me on the telephone. "I can't see how on earth they're going to get everyone on site. Last night - Thursday - was the opening night and it's supposed to be going on until Sunday but the whole experience was a farcical adventure.

"We got on the ferry at Portsmouth at about 1 o'clock in the afternoon and spent four hours going in circles on the Solent. After a while we heard it was because the ferry wouldn't be able to unload cars because they were backed up right to the ferry port and traffic wasn't moving.

"Eventually we got off the ferry and sat on the ramp for another two and a half hours, by which time we'd missed our stage slot. We couldn't get hold of anyone to talk to so we decided to turn around and go home. We'd just convinced everyone in the car park to let us turn around when we managed to get hold of someone on site, who said they had no bands and they'd like us to turn up if possible.

"The police got us an escort, which was great. But then someone from the festival - the police said it was a man called John Giddings - told them that all the bands had already arrived, which set us back again. We had to get hold of the festival organiser and ask him to ring the police to put things straight.

"The police were forced to take us all the way around the island to find a route into the festival site and - when we finally got there - the guy running the stage we were supposed to be playing on, said 'I'm sorry. You're too late. We can't put you on'.

"Mysteriously, Howard Jones was already there. He was still in Portsmouth the last time we'd seen him, so he was obviously better at hustling than we were. But he took ages to set up, there was supposed to be a Pink Floyd band on and between these two things they decided that there wasn't space for us. Then someone said 'We could get you on the main stage if you go there right now'.

"When we got there The Stranglers had already set up and we couldn't use a lot of their stuff. Plus there were only four channels available and we needed five. The crowd was baying for blood because the show was running so late and they wanted The Stranglers.

"Cerys's guitar had gone missing somewhere between the two stages and The Stranglers wouldn't lend her one, despite having racks of them, which I thought was a bit much. So I had to play some guitar parts I didn't really know. Plus we had this amazing African musician with us called Tunde Jegede, who didn't get to play a note because they didn't have enough channels.

"We only did three songs. We opened with a Hugh Cornwell song called Chardonnay, which went down quite well, and then did a Woodie Guthrie song and Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash. But we had to stop before Cerys could do her show-stopper - Road Rage - because they said there wasn't time.

"The Stranglers were about to go on when the tent shifted - the whole stage was inside an enormous tent - and they had to evacuate the area. We went to get some dinner in a Portakabin somewhere - which was something at least - and, memorably, Primal Scream were in there too.

"On the way back to the ferry we saw the car that had been in front of us when we got off the boat and it had only moved 500 yards down the road. The road from Fishbourne, where you disembark, to the site is five miles and we were pretty much the only people on the ferry coming back.

"The people in charge of the festival were not really with it. It was just so stressful - farcical. I think what happened was that some heavy lorries had got stuck in the mud at the festival entrance because there weren't good enough tracks for them and it stopped everything else.

"If I'd been running things I would have sent someone down to the ferry port to find out if there were any bands stuck in traffic. There was just no communication between the back of the queue and the festival. One of the festival organisers actually said to us on the telephone 'Well, everyone's in the same boat' as if that was good enough.

"It's not as if the situation was impossible to anticipate either. It was raining, but not in any unusual quantities. It was just typical British summertime weather.

"But the police were brilliant. It was them who made it happen for us. In particular I'd like to say thank you to  Martin Norman - policeman 1908 - and Stuart Woods (I think), who was number 14411. Policeman 1908 was the one who got us out of our mess, he was also at the main tent evacuating it later on, and then when we got back to the ferry terminal he was there as well. I reckon there must only be about three policemen on the island but they were doing great work."

Frank will be having a little lie down today.

Here's Cerys Matthews singing Road Rage, which seems appropriate.

* You might also enjoy this post about how to get yourself on Later with Jools Holland. Or this one, which is a silly picture gallery of folk musicians lying in foliage.

* If you'd like to get posts from this blog directly into your Facebook news feed you could *like* its Facebook page. Or follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley


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