Ten years ago Rob da Bank curated his first Bestival at Robin Hill Country Park on the Isle of Wight over the years, it has grown and developed, and many people have associated it to a smaller Glastonbury, but its success is no doubt down to Rob’s ability to bring bands and people together.
With Sunday morning seeming to have arrived way too quickly this year, unfortunately bringing with it a mixed day for the weather. Making an earlier start today we headed straight to the main arena for festival regulars Dub Pistols making their first appearance on the main stage for ten years, in previous years it has not been unknown for them to make two or three performances over the weekend on the smaller stages either late at night or in the early hours of the morning, this year they got their wish to perform in the main arena. But the mid-day slot was a bit of a shock, with frontman Barry Ashworth admitted that it was the earliest time of day they had seen in the last three months. But the early start did not prevent them from having the energy they are best known for. Starting with what was a relatively small crowd they soon gave Bestival a very rude and welcome awakening. These have to be one of my all-time favourite festival bands and the more I see of them the more I want to see. I for one am happy that Barry and friends are not put off by the Solent and are becoming regular visitors to wake this sleepy island. Their performance gathered a large crowd to bounce in the rain that threatened to turn the festival into a genuine ‘Mucky Weekend’ as predicted by the Dub Pistols on stage, but their high energy music was not going to be stopped by a bit of rain, which gave up its fight to their energy to allow the sun to break through.
Standing inbetween the main stage and the big top on this afternoon, you were presented with an interesting dilemma – on both stages was a reggae act, and the sound bleed between the two stages caused a clash between two acts as they both tried to attract the passing crowds. On the main stage was Roots legend Max Romeo, while in the big top was what remained of Musical Youth. Growing up in the 80s the initial attraction was towards Musical Youth, who gave a polished performance covering classics form the likes of Toots and the Maytals and Bob Marley. But I still couldn’t resist checking out Max to compare the two. I have to say that while Max Romeo certainly was the more genuine of the two acts, the '80s child in me did still leave me drawn to Musical Youth, and the growing crowd seemed to bear this out – particularly when they finished with their big hit ‘Pass the Dutchie’.
Staying in the Big Top we waited for the band that has eluded me for many years, The Wonder Stuff. As a band who pretty well defined my teenage years I was looking forward to seeing them live. Fortunately their performance did not disappoint. Playing a few of their big hits, but dropping in a few obscure album tracks, focussing mainly on tracks from their classic album ‘Never Loved Elvis’, lead singer Miles Hunt’s exuberance and energy spilled over into the crowd and soon almost all of the tent was dancing along.
After that we headed off for a breather and a welcome mojito from the cocktail bar. Dodging the rainclouds and seeing the sun once again we took in the sights through Bollywood and The Port - one of the amazing things about Bestival is that you just can’t tire of seeing the sights as you go around the site, every time you pass through an area you will always be surprised by some small detail that you hadn’t notice the time before. Entering the Ambient Forest we were hoping that we wouldn’t catch sight of the Leshy and have to put our shoes on the wrong feet to escape this woodland creature.
Thankfully we made it to the top of the park unscathed, and of course had to celebrate yet again with a visit to the WI tent, although today everyone had the same idea with the biggest queue I have seen all weekend, winding itself three time across the width of the tent, but still we were served with a smile, and allowed to be cheeky and ask for cakes that were yet to be put out, nothing is ever too much trouble for these ladies. Rob Da Bank, I don’t know how you originally attracted them but please never let them go! Many other festivals could benefit from inviting their local ladies along too.
We were fortunate today to catch two interesting bands on the bandstand first were the Plastic Mermaids an Isle of Wight band who have a unique style that brings to mind the Flaming Lips and The Byrds, which we will be looking out for over the winter, and Chainska Brassika a London based band a ska band with heavy bass connotations. Our aim was then to make our way back towards mainstage, stopping for a comfort break on the way - there seem to be a lot more toilets on site this year and many of them were very clean for what you would expect at this point of the festival. It is just a shame that there is still a number of people predominantly men but not in the entirety that don’t seem to know how to use a toilet or urinal and insist on urinating against fences, tents or just in the open. When will a festival be brave enough to cut off perpetrator’s wristbands and eject them from the site, as obviously the method of asking them politely to refrain from polluting the countryside doesn’t work.
Getting side tracked again we caught up with Scrufizzer on the Red Bull Music Academy stage, not usually being a great fan of the rap scene this duo brought something a little different, with a set that that was tightly performed and deserved a small amount of our time. This then left us rushing back to the main arena to see Chic featuring Nile Rodgers, a band that first appeared on the disco scene in the 1970’s. Nile promised the crowd a set that was all his own music, and you cant help but be surprised at the back catalogue, and if when asked you can’t name their hits, when you hear them you will be recognising the vast majority. Again the older bands showed how to put on a fault less show, and get the crowd ready for the final act on the main stage.
While the stage was being prepared for Elton, we took the opportunity of dodging the showers to make our way to the Big Top to see The Strypes, the rain may have helped to draw in the crowd but what was noticeable was even when the sun won over no-one left the arena. This rhythm and blues band perform with a professionalism and skill that belies young age, and even though they wear their influences on their sleeve and seem to have copied almost all the moves of The Rolling Stones, when they do it so well and with such skill, I’d peg them as stars for the future.
The time the weekend that many had been waiting for had finally arrived and Elton John took to the stage at a festival for the first time since 1969 because he had heard that Bestival was the place to play - could Rob Da Bank ask for better praise of his festival? Having seen some of the icons of my childhood in recent years and been disappointed because their voices were no longer up top it or they thought their status gave them reason to name drop throughout their sets, our aim had been to watch the first thirty minutes and then move on.
Prior to his arrival on stage two cellists performing energetic virtuoso covers of Nirvana’s Smells like teen spirit, and Highway to hell by ACDC, warming up the crowd nicely. Elton arrive don stage to a massive cheer, dressed quite conservatively in a blue suit with, appropriately given the location of the festival, the cover of his ‘Madman Across The Water’ album on the back in sequins. He sat down at the piano then launched into a greatest hits set that covered the 40+ years of his career. The performance was tight, powerful and electric, and soon our plans to see other acts were thrown out the window as we were transfixed by a man clearly still at the top of his game. When suddenly Elton was leaving the stage after an hour and a half, his encore could have been another hour and I still couldn’t have been ready for the end, his catalogue is endless and yes there were many big favourites that didn’t feature, but to play them all he would have needed to be on stage at midday. His performance is certainly one of my best ever festival highlights and ended my Bestival on a high.
Bestival has grown and developed over the years, with some aspects appearing and disappearing over time. One of these was the comedy tent which has this year made a big come back, and every time we went past there was always a crowd, taking time out to relax and enjoy the humour, with the familiar faces of Phill Jupitus, and Marcus Brigstocke alongside many new comedians, the new venue and fuller line up seemed to be working, but a few more late night slots would have been good to see. We decided to end our Bestival as it started and wen to back here to watch Abandoman, this quartet are hilarious and quick witted, with a range of improvised songs, based around the contents of people’s pocket’s and the personal lives and ambitions of random members of the audience.
As we headed back to our tents the rain finally took hold and showed that it could have drowned all of Bestival if it had wanted, but had been kind, as befitted the effort that team Bestival had put into producing an amazing weekend. Bestival is always a good party I knew I would enjoy the weekend, but I never expected to be taken on such a fantastic voyage. HMS Bestival may have left port in the sun and docked in torrential rain, but the journey was unforgettable and brings the UK festival scene to a dramatic end - bring on 2014!
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