Giddings: Rod’s got a train set—I’ve got a festival
John Giddings has said he has no plans to step down from Isle of Wight Festival, as he celebrates a “bumper year” for the long-running UK event.
Giddings – speaking to IQ in a brief moment of downtime amid a five-night run for Phil Collins at Lanxess Arena (18,000-cap.) in Cologne – says his day job with Solo Agency, whose other upcoming shows include Iggy Pop, Little Mix and U2, means the festival remains a “hobby” rather than a moneyspinner: “Every penny I’ve made from the festival I’ve invested back into it,” he explains. “Rod Stewart’s got a train set – I’ve got a festival!
“How many other people can say they can pay artists far too much money to come and play on the Isle of Wight and invite all their mates…?”
If social media is anything to go by, Giddings’s friends weren’t the only people who had a good time at the 16th festival, held over four days last week (8–11 June).
Although he “never gives out” attendance figures, Giddings (pictured) says the 2017 event had a “very good atmosphere” and points IQ towards social media – on which he keeps a keen eye throughout the weekend – for a sample of attendee feedback. (A quick look on the festival’s Facebook page sees visitors saying they had an “awesome weekend” at a “fantastic” event – and lots of praise for the surprisingly clean loos.)
“It’s good to have a visible promoter – it gives the festival an identity”
“You need to read social media,” continues Giddings. “It’s the first thing people will turn to if they have any complaints – so if they’re congratulating you, you know you’ve done well.”
Giddings’s personal highlights of the festival include Friday-night co-headliners Run-DMC and David Guetta (“five out of five”), Arcade Fire, who made their Isle of Wight debut on Saturday after “a number of years’” worth of approaches, and Rod Stewart, who closed the festival on Sunday night.
He also praises the new talent on display, including The Amazons, The Sherlocks, Bang Bang Romeo and Judas, all of whom got “great reactions” from the crowd.
As with Download, held concurrently in Leicestershire, there was a beefed up police presence at the festival, with armed officers from Hampshire Constabulary deployed throughout the festival site. Giddings says the police “behaved so well”, both in making attendees feel safe and getting into the festival spirit (a selection #policeselfies were posted on the @FestivalCop twitter account).
Isle of Wight Festival 2017’s policing commander, Hampshire’s Supt Simon Dodds, says the support his officers received from festivalgoers was “overwhelming”. “The fact that the policing family and the public were able to communicate so well has made the experience all the more safe, reassuring and enjoyable for all,” he explains.
Giddings resurrected the long-dormant Isle of Wight Festival brand in 2002 after a 32-year hiatus – “I’m lucky because I’ve got an iconic name from the 1970s, so it’s on everyone’s bucket list,” he jokes – and agreed to sell a majority stake in the festival to Live Nation earlier this year.
“You need to read social media … If people are congratulating you, you know you’ve done well”
While that deal is now under investigation by the Consumer and Markets Authority, Giddings has no regrets about joining forces once more with the world’s biggest promoter, using the metaphor of a train leaving the station: “it was either get on board [with Live Nation] or be left on the platform.”
Along with Download’s Andy Copping, Bestival’s Rob da Bank and the Eavises at Glastonbury, Giddings is one of the few UK festival promoters well known to (and easily contactable by) the general public – a status he embraces. “It’s good to have a visible promoter,” he explains. “It gives the festival an identity.”
Returning the theme of social media, Giddings explains that he welcomes criticism from festivalgoers, saying feedback from attendees is key to continually improving the event. “I don’t think I’m perfect,” he says. “I appreciate constructive criticism, because I want to make it better for everyone.”
With many festival bosses already having a rough idea of what they want their 2018 line-ups to look like, Giddings says he hasn’t had time to even “start thinking about next year yet”. Does this mean he’s looking to step down any time soon, IQ wonders?
Not so, explains Giddings, who says he has “no idea” when he might hand over the reins. “Nobody would do this job for the money,” he concludes. “We do it because we enjoy it. So I’ll stop doing it when it stops becoming enjoyable…”
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.