Believe it or not your reviewer is genuinely festival averse. Only on rare occasion since the glory..or gory days of the early 90s when in my 20s I braved the fields and trenches and slept under the stars amidst the waft and holler of human soup as each whip of the blowing wind would blurt a snippet or faint recollection of a pop or rock tune in your direction.
I last attempted the festival weekend experience in 2008 at this very festival’s parent event Bestival, where for 48 hours my girlfriend and I took leave of our senses and tried to enjoy ourselves in sideways-on rain storms and mud swells causing stage closures and widespread, deep misery to one and all. Never again? Hmm…
Almost a decade later my girlfriend and I once again find ourselves in a field attending the 10th edition of Camp Bestival, Rob Da Bank’s family festival with particular focus on the young’ns, and as I was kindly offered a family press ticket by Gigwise to come and write about it we arrive mob-handed and duty bound with full offspring in tow. The 4-year-old boy; the 8-year-old girl and her older 15-year-old sister. It has not rained the previous 9 years, baking sun each year in fact. Not this year campers! Nope. Never again you say...
Not sure why this is, but given the recent UK weather, which has led to a slew of rain and chaos across the festival period, including the closure due to safety issues of Y Not in Derbyshire, it is fair tribute to the ever enduring British way as to why we time-and-time-again choose to battle these conditions in search of having a good time. Festival organisers good and bad can sprinkle all the woodchips and sand they want, but it is the spirit of the British public that ultimately gels these events together and keeps them from sinking.
That said, the Camp Bestival organisers deserve their reputation of excellence – there has been many awards over the years - and despite the challenging conditions got it so right this year in the face of drenching adversity. Yes it rained hard and a damnable quagmire ensued, but the choices on offer – from rocket building/launching at the science stage to the booking of BBC’s Dick and Dom – and a stellar line up of music for us 40 something retronauts including mainstage turns T’Pau, Leftfield and a still highly energetic Madness amongst the many. Despite the biblical rainfall somehow the weird but magic mixture of national stoicism and top quality programming managed to hold the majority of folk fast.
Fancy dress has always been the Camp Bestival way. And this year the Saturday was themed as ‘Pop Stars and Rock Stars', and despite the sinking mud and torrents of water the punters went all out to succeed in making it work. Drenched Amy Winehouses mixed with washed up Spice Girls and Eltons. Whilst Freddies and Bowies mixed with many a Slash whilst it err..slashed it down! But it was the sight of an astutely thought-out, pantomime style Yellow Submarine sloshing past that got my vote.
Our chosen look, new wave art rockers Devo would have been more effective if firstly the moody 15 year old had not refused to wear her costume that had been painstakingly assembled for her, and then the rain had not forced us to cover up our iconic yellow boiler suits with soggy, miserable cagoules. Surprisingly, only the 4 year old, albeit bewildered as to what we were actually tying to achieve, resolutely stuck to the drill throughout – even succeeding to balance his ill-fitting DIY Energy Dome on his head for the duration. Hats off to him!
Of course, most children love a muddy puddle and especially if they are a foot deep. With wellies and wet gear on, sometimes it was a struggle to drag our kids away from the slurry and slime to enjoy the more modern and wide-ranging means of entertainment on offer in the Kids Gardens or on the Stages. But the temptation to ride down the Helter Skelter in the rain soon fixed that, or even spectating the UK Air Guitar Championships was a surprising hit. Other notable highlights was encountering and enjoying a Punch and Judy show (in the rain), a turn on the Merry-Go-Round, and a look through a traditional Camera Obscura, which handily provided brief cover from the rain.
The Dunkirk spirit, and all this in-it-together approach of course is always helped along with a few (hundred) drinks. Harbouring a decadent cocktail bar, stylishly-crafted from classic caravans and old Wurlitzers, the Caravanserai area was a sure-fire highlight for all of us and hosted both DJs and live music of all genres and descriptions. One such visit resulted in the discovery of Jawbone, a super lean and fearsome blues rock duo from the south coast that delivered a compelling and original take on the Delta sound of the 50s and 60s. Harmonic, groovy and loud which had the audience swell in size with each number. Even the 15 year-old daughter, normally attuned to the charms of Grime, enjoyed it.
Elsewhere on the mainstage, the little’ns enjoyed Tom Gate’s creator Liz Pichon demonstrate a live ‘scholastic’ session accompanied by a mock up of the popular character’s fictional rock band Dude3. A fun afternoon session on the last day of the festival made all the more better by the cessation of rain and return of sunshine.
Excluding the aforementioned Leftfield performing Leftism on the main stage, from a ‘grown up’ perspective it was the Big Top stage that saved your reviewer’s morale – a scintillating performance came from The Fabulous Lounge Swingers, as well as neat turns from the Rudimental affiliated Anne-Marie and Becky Hill. And on the Sunday as things were warming up (or down), the mesmeric Flamingods dished out their own unique brand of trans global psychedelia.
Maybe it was because I was with all of the family, or maybe it was the Devo Energy Domes. Or maybe it’s my advancing years and changing attitudes to my fellow man. Or maybe because at Camp Bestival . Whatever it was, rain or shine, I enjoyed the Camp Bestival experience and just maybe, just maybe would give it another shot. The kids loved it so why the hell not. Camp Bestival was a cool kick up the ass for a middle-aged father and refusenik,