And Best of All

Having certainly not recovered from a brilliant four days at this year’s Bestival, it seems appropriate to record just how it all went down.  From living legends on main stages, to the quirky and unique in tiny tents, here for you, is a cheeky insight of what I saw in four awesome days of musical mayhem.

Never any doubt

Let’s begin with those who certainly lived up to expectation.  PJ Harvey and James Blake both play well-attended sets, the former second-headlining the main stage, while Mr Blake having a decent slot in the Big Top tent. Polly Jean’s recent Mercury success is fully realised on Saturday night.  Donning an all black number, with the now standard feather headdress, she tears though much of Let England Shake, making the premise of the album even more real and profound whilst surrounded by a most green and pleasant land (is the Isle of Wight considered a part of England?).  She also has time to belt out a few oldies including the brilliant Big Exit of her other Mercury winning album Stories from the City, Stories from The Sea.  She professionally gets through the set, and closes with a delightfully British: “Thank you ever so much, you all look…marvellous” then an odd little wave, as the last living rose leaves one of my certain festival highlights. Watch “The Glorious Land”

James Blake is incredibly awkward on stage.  He sits rather uncomfortably at his piano/mixey desk, and barely looks up.  Obviously I’m not going to sit here and tell him to crack jokes and tell yarns to the audience, but at times, it looks like he could be content to play with his laptop at home, and not hit the festivals.  He is however, both gracious and humble for our company (he says so) and quite breathtaking in his performance.  Another Mercury-nominee, his eponymous debut gets played to a silent, yet captivated audience.  He even steps up the pace with his pre-famed CMKY, which is a delight and raises the audience from their trance-light state.  I expected good things, and leave the tent feeling fantastic and utterly content with my weekend. “CMYK” Live

I would not shut up about how great Ghostpoet was, and told everyone I saw on Friday that I would be seeing him on the Red Bull Stage.  I was very stressed mid afternoon that somehow I would be delayed or pass out in a port-a-loo and miss the set; especially after I found out that the times on the Red Bull stage were being shuffled around.  Eventually though, after much anxiety and plenty of delay due to sound problems, Ghostpoet lays down his set (another Mercury nominee).  I manage to squeeze my way to the front and am hit with an awesome mixture of sounds and philosophical poetry about growing up and tough life choices.  He jumps down towards us on occasion, and as he utters that it’s ‘us against whatever, babe’, about 3 feet from my face, it evokes something deep and profound within the audience and in me.  When I see him in the crowd for the very competent Crystal Castles the next day, I’m too overwhelmed/in a state to speak to him (regret #3).

Above and beyond

Despite Thursday night having a surprising amount of musical activity including the brilliant Santigold, the festival really gets off to a stormer with The Correspondents on Friday at midday.  The music is a brilliant retro-futuristic fusion of swing and synth and electro beats.  But what is fantastic is the ability of lead man Mr Bruce to hold an audience with his charisma and extraordinary dance moves.  If I could even begin to have the balls to dance half as well as he can, I would be delighted.  It’s an astonishing set, filled with Jungle Book samples, Big Band hootenannies, running machines and a light up dance table.  Everyone is hopping around, and out of nowhere, Mr Bruce removes his spectacles and jumps backwards into the audience.  I am positioned in such a way that the force of Mr Bruce’s right leg lands quite hard on my wrist, having stepped lethargically to the side in deciding mid-air that I am probably not strong enough to be a part of the catching brigade.  One girl who has no option in the matter has her top hat transformed into a flat cap by Mr Bruce’s rear end.  As he is carried around, he continues to MC with furious pace as the music continues.  The cooperation of the audience to guide him back to the stage is amazing; it almost feels choreographed.  It is the perfect start to an unforgettable weekend.

I always feel like Brian Wilson is getting wheeled around against his will.  The poor man is so frail now that it’s almost heartbreaking to see him waddle on stage in his Hawaiian shirt and perfectly white trainers.  His fantastic band are on hand however, to help this complete and utter pioneering legend through a set full of Beach Boys classics and a couple of covers as well.  It’s understanding that he can’t hit some of the high notes anymore, and his band again are there to help him through, but he still has the audience in his palm, as they eagerly await their favourite sing-along song.  At times, he seems together and focussed; other times he has the expression of someone who isn’t completely sure why there are 10,000 people staring at him in his kitchen as he eats his blueberry waffles.  Again, all is forgiven Brian, considering your age, your past drug use and the fact that you have written some of the greatest pop songs of all time.  As if he made some pact with the people in charge of the Isle of Wight’s bizarre microclimate, the sun pops out for the duration of the set, and the crowd are in a fantastic mood as many take the option of pretending to surf where they stand (including yours truly) on the increasingly swampy main stage, and by the end it is clear that Brian Wilson epitomises Bestival’s good vibrations.

Primal Scream was always going to be good.  My one concern is that lead singer Bobby Gillespie is going to be pissed off about something and not particularly enthusiastic.    Thankfully he is raring to go, and guides a packed to the rafters Big Top through the fantastic Screamadelica concept album at 1am.  It’s a fantastic trip. Despite being chatted up by an inebriated Freddie Mercury, who claims that Screamadelica played backwards would be a lot better and that his fake moustache is in fact real, the audience are grooving to Acid House like it’s 1991, regardless of the lack of space. Come Together and Loaded epitomise Bestivals’s ethos, while there is still time for a couple of crowd pullers in Country Girl and Rocks, but the brilliance of playing such an important and awesome album in it’s entirety has made Primal Scream one to savour this weekend.

A well-earned hunch

One of the most important things to establish at a festival is the quickest path to the stages.  Inevitability there will be clashes and things will overlap, and in some cases, you may have been playing giant Connect 4 while The La’s were playing (regret #1).  The point is you often need speed if you want to see everything, and live up to the prospect of abandoning one set for another.  Staying away from the main stage has its merits, but you need to work for it.  For one reason or another, I found myself running to Bestival’s Psychedelic Worm tent to see Tom Vek just before Saturday midnight.  Having arrived in good time, sweaty, yet triumphant, I was soon followed by many other people who crammed into this small-ish tent to see the enigma that is Tom Vek.  His set is fast-paced and appealing.  Having only recently discovered him, I was impressed by what I heard as he belted through his experimental trendy rock music.  The girls want him; the guys want to be him etc.  Twelve hours later I’m back in the Worm to see Two Wounded Birds in a comparatively empty tent.  Despite the low numbers, they perform a short but very sweet set of swirling, brooding surf rock which delights all 25 of us.

As mentioned Santigold is a very enjoyable baptism into Bestival at the Big Top, while reggae legends Toots and the Maytals start dress-up Saturday fantastically well. Despite the severe rain which catches everyone out, especially those of us who choose to don the outfits straight away there is a resounding call to arms from soppy looking glam rockers and divas: “GIVE IT TO ME…ONE TIME”.  Also, despite looking like a ginger wookie, Darren Williams, aka Star Slinger plays his mixture of sampled glitch-hop to great effect.  Semi-comatose on a sunny Sunday afternoon in front of the Red Bull stage, it is great to see the man in the hairy flesh for the first time.   I also somehow managed to see DJ Yoda with The Tran-Siberian March Band, which was less a hunch, more a fluke, given my intoxication and the equal level of intoxication of my companions.  Having seen him before, I expect it to be good, but the prospect of a live band could go either way.  Thankfully they add a whole new level to his set and the swelling numbers in the Roller Disco tent, make this a sweaty yet enjoyable encounter.  Let’s also briefly mention Bestival resident Beardyman whose slot on the Friday Main stage is a great crowd-warmer.

Pleasant surprises

Firstly that it doesn’t rain all weekend, and even being graced with prolonged periods of sunshine proves to be the most pleasant of surprises.  Elsewhere the sheer extent of David Bowie costumes was a pleasure to a part of, though I manage to miss The Village People for essential Bowie make up (regret #4).  Musically speaking, the best surprise of the weekend is Kelis.  I associate her with bringing the boys to the yard and such things, and generally don’t listen to her music, yet what I experience is an illustrious live act.  Normally I wouldn’t give the time of day to anyone who says: “I’m not here to entertain you, but I’m here to pleasure myself”, but there is something incredibly captivating about the way she says that, not to mention her performance, the way she moves, sings and looks.  Her enthusiastic set is full of songs I vaguely recognise, but more importantly she raises a bleary-eyed afternoon crowd to jump and move and flail limbs.  It is a point in the weekend (Sunday Afternoon) when the audience are attempting to give it their final hurrah.  The greatest moment of the set comes with a mental medley at the end with Robyn’s floor-filler Show me Love fused with Tinie Tempah’s Pass Out, swiftly followed by her hit Milkshake which is jammed with Madonna’s Celebrate and then quite astoundingly Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit much to the delight of the crowd.  I love these kinds of surprises.  I don’t like surprises like a drunken reveller stumbling over three guy lines and falling on top of me, as I lay sprawled out outside my tent at 4am.  It’s just not the same.

I have commented before on King Creosote and John Hopkin’s Mercury nominated album Diamond Mine.  It’s all right, but generally a little bit boring.  It’s not bad, but not brilliant.  It’s ideal for background music or when you are severely preoccupied.  And now I am delighted to discover that the soothing, haunting, yet beautiful tones are ideal when one is dressed as David Bowie curled up in a foetal position experiencing a relapse of what you thought you spent the whole morning getting rid of.  It makes for the perfect remedy.  Elsewhere Noah and The Whale, The Cuban Brothers and Boys Noize all produce sets, which exceed all expectations.

Legends of trade 

Let’s first focus on two of the headliners.  The Cure are a fantastic band with a lengthy back catalogue of goth-pop filled with classics.  I suppose a die-hard fan would disagree, but it seems to me that a two and half our set is a little bit too long for a festival.  They play well, and give the audience a great set filled with the known’s, the lesser-known’s and songs that only Curists could identify.  I think to see a band such as The Cure perform is enough in itself to make it an enjoyable experience, but I’m also feeling a little bit impatient throughout partly due to an unfortunate overlapping but also the length of the set.  Singing Friday I’m in Love on Saturday and Robert Smith declaring that “it works”, is a moment to cherish.

The festival closer Bjork, plays an incredibly frustrating and utterly bizarre set.  Promoting her Biophilia album begins with a voice-over from David Attenborough, which really set the tone.  Her obsession with the links between nature and technology unfolding on stage is tough to endure, particularly if you stand far away, as her displeasure to be on camera proves frustrating for those more than 500m away.  Another legend on stage certainly, but the distant spectacle of a little pixie with a massive ginger afro playing with her iPad linked to an organ is a bit of a bummer.  In a way, the peculiarity of Bjork fits nicely into Bestival’s kooky approach, considering the sinking restaurants, massive glowing buzz saws, spooky rave trees, wedding discos and quite a few strange people, but I thought it was a bold move to end with, even for Bestival, and one which did not pay off.

The festival was really full of legends of trade from The Cure, to Bjork, to Primal Scream, The Village People, Grandmaster Flash, Pete Tong, Mick Jones and Big Audio Dynamite, Toots and The Maytals and a certain Mr Motivator, who paraded around in a van after his set, shouting at people to put their arms up, like some kind of fitness bank robbery scenario on GMTV.  Perhaps a more exciting prospect was seeing Public Enemy on the main stage.  A very important group in the hip-hop world, they were celebrating various milestones and achievements including such monumental albums like It Takes a Nations of Millions to Hold us Back and Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Back.  Chuck D stressed the importance of the albums not just then but now, given recent events in England.  However what his compatriot Flavor Flav was pressing was hilarious at first, then borderline embarrassing. A pioneer in his trade, a fighter, a voice for the masses, sank so low in requesting Twitter followers and encourage people buy his book in the same breath as anti-authoritarian rapping.  The more hysterical moment was Flavor Flav’s claim that he lost his virginity when he was six, and quickly clarifying that he wasn’t molested.  Not something that you hear everyday, nor something that you should share with thousands of people at a festival with a massive clock around your neck.  Public Enemy – Bring The Noise

Something new

The first newbie to my ears comes as early as Thursday Night with Dubstep producer Pearson Sound/Ramadanman.  He deviates away from conventional Dubstep infusing a dance element to his music.  There is a multi-layered element to his work which is much more interesting to listen to than a lot of Dubstep I have heard.  But the next day I’m full of resentment as I learn that the one band I was craving to see – Hercules and Love Affair were playing at the same time unbeknown to me (regret #2). Lastfm profile

I had heard the name Kitty Daisy and Lewis, but had very little idea of what they were all about.  The three siblings produce an eclectic 45-minute set of rock and roll, R&B, rockabilly, swing and country music. I have a soft spot for bands that don’t sound anything like they should in this case; a London based trio sounding like a band from the 1950s Midwest.  It’s great to watch as they constantly swap roles on stage between drums, guitar and vocals.  Each song is a proper stomp your wellies/grab your partner/en masse ho-down kind of affair including a smashing cover of Canned Heat’s Going Up the Country. I leave wondering how I had missed out on such a delight. Homepage

A late night diversion into the Polka Tent on the way to see Boys Noize has me up against the music of Victor Menace. As I enter the pokey Polka tent, I’m hit with a furious fast-paced self-described Ninja Folk band from Hackney. They have all the hallmarks of some travelling gypsy reggae swingers with musical tourettes.  It’s virtually impossible to dance to with my heavy boots on, so end up conforming to the ‘Heyheyheyheyhey’ of the crowd.  It all proves to be highly entertaining, if not dreadfully tiring.  Prior to this, I have a little bit of time to kill before Public Enemy, so at the Psychedelic Worm I catch half of Esben and the Witch, a Brighton based trio. The set is menacing but filled with an extraordinary powerful voice of lead singer Rachel Davies.  She is like a gothic Florence Welch, and is captivating on stage while the dark brooding music reverberates.  The whole affair is somewhat trance inducing, and it takes a text message saying ‘Public Enemy…?’ to make me leave half way through.  With hindsight, I probably should have stayed.  Victor Menace Homepage

I knew the name Riot Jazz, and had heard smatterings of this ensemble’s mix of funk soul jazz interspersed with hip-hop.  Yet their late night slot at the Club Dada tent is a certain festival highlight.  The small stage has trumpets, trombones, drums and a sousaphone practically on top of each other, while MC Chunky is exceptional in getting the audience going, as this aggressive jazz bellows around the tent.  The size of the set and the stage is no hindrance to this band, as they might as well be playing to a venue triple the size.  Exceptional funky jazz versions of Aha’s Take On Me and Human League’s Don’t You Want Me Baby go down ever so well, while Chunky’s successful mission to get audience shouting back the words to the band’s Sousamaphone! is fantastic to be a part of.  “I’ve got a Sousamaphone, Sousamaphone, and that’s why the girls won’t leave me alone”.  Everyone is smiling and bopping heads by the end, and the words Riot Jazz echo into the chilly Bestival night.  Homepage

And one more thing

Despite the ginger camera shy pixie being the last thing I saw, the last thing at Bestival that will stick with me for a while, goes by the name of Macka B.  Along with The Roots Raga Band, this old-school Jamaican Dance Hall master, plays a song called Sex Machine in which he preaches the novel idea that a woman is more than a sex machine, and she is in fact a human being.  Brilliant.  The crowd respond nervously at first, but by the end we’re all singing it back.

So there we have it.  I think on the whole, my determination to see as much music as possible was successful.  It did mean that I didn’t do as much non-music related things, of which there is a plenty going on (regret #5) but I don’t doubt for a second that I didn’t have a fantastic four days being a part of Bestival’s eccentricity, it’s charm, amazing organisation and meeting a lot of friendly people. That may be the various substances (probably still) flowing through my body talking, and certainly an incredibly lame thing to say, but after my second adventure to the Isle of Wight, I realise just how magical it is, and look forward to returning next year.


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