I”™m sitting in my lounge watching Nirvana”™s headline set at Reading Festival in 1992 on DVD. The heavy fuzz of Kurt”™s guitar, the chaotic nature of their live show and the screaming, unruly crowd is a far cry from my pleasant, family-friendly experience in the Dorset countryside at Camp Bestival last weekend.
My weekend, which was interrupted by shifts working for Oxfam, started with a midnight set by the exceedingly talented comedian Tim Minchin on Friday night in the Big Top. Minchin accompanied by a piano ran through a short but well received set of songs including an expletive-ridden attack on the ”˜mutherfucker”™ Pope Benedict XVI. But the highlight came at the end when Minchin was on the brink of doing the unforgivable by forgetting his words during an encore. Minchin”™s saving grace came in the form of a random trumpet player in the audience who started playing along and then was beckoned on stage by Minchin which turned into an electrifying 10 minute jazz improvisation with both performers showing off their formidable playing capabilities.
Saturday soon came round and it was my first opportunity to see the full site in all its glory. Situated in the beautiful grounds of Lulworth Castle, Camp Bestival is very much a family-orientated festival. Much like its big sister festival on the Isle of Wight, it is decorated with many stalls offering all sorts of oddities for the middle class clientele including the strange travelling circus The House of Fairy Tales, an animal farm, Freestyle Sports Village, a dedicated Kids Field, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall”™s food stall and massive Hi De Hi and Ho De Ho structures placed across the site.
One of the more bizarre experiences of the weekend happened in the early evening with a trip to see legendary drug dealer turned author Howard Marks in the Kids Field read bedtime stories “without any socio-political commentary”. Classic fairytales included were Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Little Red Riding Hood and Billy Goat Gruff about a goat “who liked to eat grass all day, every day, at any possible opportunity” cue much laughter from the grownups and confused looks from the children.
After a quick visit to check out some hilarious spoken word courtesy of Tim Clare at the East Lulworth Literary Institute tent, on the Castle Stage, The Cuban Brothers got the crowd pumped up in anticipation for the headliners. As much comedy as they are music, they danced round the stage eventually in just skimpy underwear along to tunes ranging from funk, soul, retro, hip-hop and everything in between. By the time Madness came on the crowd at the Castle Stage was the biggest of the weekend. If Camp Bestival were a football stadium then in would be Madness”™s home ground. The crowd, mainly made up of parents from the 80s era, lapped up every song with en-masse dancing and sing-along”™s. The packed Castle Field saw the headliners play a greatest hits set which included ”˜Our House”™ and ”˜It Must Be Love”™ to close the Castle Stage in perfect ska-style.
After some late night skanking in the Polka Tent to gypsy punk bands and a Rob Da Bank DJ set at the Silent Disco, it was a struggle, nay, a goliath battle to try and rise from my tent on Sunday. However, what I did manage to see through this mother of all hangovers, started with an afternoon set by folk troubadour Seth Lakeman on the Bandstand. Mixing songs from his new album ”˜Hearts and Minds”™ as well older material, the sun came out for a wonderful and chilled out set seen by as many children as there were adults. Later on saw 80s legends The Human League play to a huge crowd at the Castle Stage for yet more 80s nostalgia which was rife at the festival (which seeing as I”™m not inclined to go to any 80s nostalgia tours, was quite handy for me). I was pleasantly surprised at the power of lead singer Philip Oakey”™s voice but also the wealth of their material. The band received an incredible reaction from the crowd to hits such as ”˜Love Action (I Believe in Love)”™ ”˜Fascination”™ and ”˜Don”™t You Want Me”™.
They certainly gave headliners Friendly Fires a run for their money. Running through most of their Mercury-nominated debut album, Friendly Fires did their best to turn the final night of the festival into a party. However, large sections of the crowd seemed to be waiting for the fireworks to start after their performance instead of engaging with the band. Front man Ed Macfarlane did his best to get the crowd moving by doing his signature dance moves, and in fairness the band sounded great, but unfairly to the band the climax of the set failed to get the crowd going as it would have were they playing at a festival with more of their demographic.
All in all, Camp Bestival proved to be a success by bringing together good music, family-friendly fun and a festival atmosphere into the Dorset countryside. But if you just want to see lots of bands at a festival, or prefer your festival a little less polished and don”™t want to have to deal with parents and their offspring then Camp Bestival probably isn”™t for you.