In celebration of Bestival reaching it’s tenth year, Organiser Rob Da Bank has billed this years nautical-themed festival as it’s tenth birthday party. Arriving on site Thursday it was reassuring that although there were crowds gathering, there were no difficulties getting into the car parks. However it is clear to see that Thursday is no longer a quiet afternoon for the early arrivals, as the central campsites were already pretty full, although there were still plenty of space in the outer fields.
Once our tent was pitched and the first cider of the weekend consumed, we headed into the main site where our first stop was to check out the new improved comedy tent – now back with a full weekend programme for the first time in several years. From the packed tent it was clear to see that we weren’t the only ones with this idea, and the small tent wasn't going to be big enough for some of this years acts. Fortunately at the turnover there was always some movement and after queuing for a few minutes to get into the tent we managed to squeeze in to see Daniel Sloss and the evening's headliner Milton Jones.
Afterwards we headed out to explore the site and headed over to the Magic Meadow where the familiar Bestival sign is joined by a new arrival – a giant inflatable Lionel Richie head. Funded by a Kickstarter compaign earlier this year, you can climb inside the structure to find a telephone which plays a snippet of his hit single ‘Hello’. Unlike last year the music on offer this Thursday didn’t appeal for the most part with one notable exception - returning to Bestival this year was an ever enthusiastic performance from The Correspondents. Notable by their absence last year it was good to see them return, and a very full Big Top was testament that many were as pleased about their return as we were. Mixing swing rhythms with dance beats the duo formed of DJ Chucks and singer Mr Bruce threw themselves into an energetic show that included a fast and furious crowd surf that saw Mr Bruce travel almost the length of the tent, before the crowd turned him around and delivered him back to the stage again.
The crowded Big Top and meeting point showed that there were many more people on site early this year and it given the large numbers it make you wonder if they aren’t considering expanding the line up for the Thursday as well. The sun, and a short but busy week at work saw us head back to the campsite earlier than usual, but on our way we stopped to take in some of the raucous music in the Polka Dot Tent from Tankus The Henge - a group that mix funk with Chas and Dave style cockney knees-up. The Grand Palace of Entertainment as always warrants at least 5-10 minutes from anyone’s schedule to wonder at the bizarre sights that take the stage, most often men scantily dressed in women's clothes.
We headed back to our tent via Temple Island, at the far end of the site this area was last year brought to life by the addition of Arcadia. This year it was slightly disappointing, whereas the rest of the site was particularly crowded and alive this area was sparsely populated, which befitted the little serene oasis's that had been erected to make a nice chill-out zone with water features, swinging pods and psychedelic lighting, however this relaxed feel was contrasted with the hardcore rave music that came from the venue in the middle, sadly not in a good way.
The forecast for the weekend was looking pretty abysmal and in the early hours of Friday morning looked as if the weathermen could be right and Bestival could be the first music event on the Isle of Wight that falls to the weather this year. Fortunately as the morning wore on the blue sky started to fight back and by lunch time the sun was making its first appearance. So with the sun in the sky we headed back to the comedy tent to have our spirits lifted by Phill Jupitus presenting himself as Porky the Poet. Coming on stage in a kilt and openly admitting that at 51 he didn't give a fuck anymore, he treated a very full tent to an hour of his own poetry and life events. It must have been very hard for the following acts as everyone filed out into the sun to enjoy the first day proper. In the Big Top, Kate Boy was in the big top performing bright summery electro-pop to a reasonable sized crowd. Of note were the bands borderline paramilitary outfits which suggested that they were either expecting their instruments to bite back, with protection on their forearms, or they were chic FBI who had parachuted in and not had time to completely deharness.
On the main stage providing the links between acts were Too Many T's and for this particular set were joined by beatboxer Rich Warne, who provided a display that was far more enjoyable than the following act. Wu-Tang Clan have more of a reputation for their off-stage actions than on-stage. Because of their reputation and entanglements with the authorities not all of the band were able to make it to the UK, so we had four members, plus DJ. Considering their reputation I was expecting a powerful performance, but what we actually got was four middle-aged men performing giving a very lacklustre show that failed to grab me at all.
Bestival wouldn't be Bestival without a long slog up the hill past the Bandstand and Tomorrow's World area to see those wonderful ladies in the WI tent for a cup of tea and homemade cake at prices that really aren't natural on a festival site – at only 70p per item, a mug of tea and homemade cake is always welcome. This walk also gives opportunity to catch up with some of the smaller acts that frequent the Bandstand.
Sitting in the sun we were able to enjoy Cherishport - a young beatboxer with acoustic guitar that has far too much talent for his years. This time as well as his own songs, he treated us to a mutli-layered version of Superstition from last years headliner Stevie Wonder, no mean feat for one person. Before heading back down the hill through the ambient forest we caught a little of Will Joseph Cook’s gentle acoustic sound.
The Ambient forest gives a much less harsh descent as it winds through the woods and takes in some of the more chilled parts of the festival, with the Gypsy Camp featuring sea shanties and bushcraft workshops among the swinging hammocks big enough for several to share. Coming out at the bottom in previous years you would find a number of the smaller stages, but this year you can't help but be taken aback by The Port.
With this years nautical theme being HMS Bestival could you expect much less than a full size boat in the middle of the field. This year's replacement for Arcadia. As well as hosing DJ sets The Port also boasted cranes with acrobats, flame throwers and dancers. Making our way back through the more familiar sights of Bollywood and the cocktail bars we headed back to the Big Top for Sinead O'Connor whose angelic soaring vocals produced one of my personal highlights of the festival. While watching the never less than brilliant Belle & Sebastian in the Big Top the weather lost its battle and a heavy rain cloud passed over Bestival, drenching the site in a short-lived but intense rain shower – the first of many such that would hit the site this weekend.
Bestival has two headliners each night, and the first of this evening was The Flaming Lips who, given their reputation for great live shows, actually played a fairly low-key set, focusing on their more downbeat tracks – a strange choice given Wayne Coyne’s repeatedly telling us that this was a great celebration of a great festival.
The next headliner was Bestival regular Fatboy Slim presenting his ‘Bestival Birthday Bash’. Norman Cook is certainly a charismatic performer, and even though there wasn’t much sense of any live ‘performance’ - as the only thing on stage was a laptop and a mixing desk – his enthusiasm and a giant video wall meant that the crowd were whipped into a frenzy as he ‘performed’ his greatest hits. Highlight of the show was ‘Praise him’ backed by a full choir. All in all a good start to a weekend promising that this year's Bestival is going to be a very good festival indeed.
latest on this festival
line-ups & rumours
brand new project from Diplo and Mark Ronson, Silk City
plus Grace Jones, Plan B, Django Django, Rudimental, Faithless (DJ set), & more
celebrating 250 years of circus for festival's 2018 theme