On the days leading up to the festival, I am anxiously checking the weather forecast every hour. It doesn’t look good, heavy rain and thunderstorms for the duration. Time to dig out the wellies! As I arrive on the Friday, the rain does indeed begin to fall on the grounds of Lulworth Castle which plays host to what is now the seventh Camp Bestival. This festival is aimed squarely at families, and is curated and organised by DJ Rob da Bank who has seen this boutique festival grow in popularity and stature.
The first thing I notice as I make my way to the Castle Stage (main stage) is the explosion of colour around the site. It’s almost as if a rainbow has descended and covered everything, which seems quite fitting as the sun tries peeking out amongst gaps in the rain clouds. Being family friendly there are of course lots of happy, smiley children, the majority of which seemed to be under 10. There is also an abundance of culinary delight to be had, with something for everyone’s tastes, but sadly not everyone’s budget.
Sensory over-load as I try to take in and absorb the sheer number of stalls, activities, children’s entertainment, street performers and site installations. If you ever wondered what drinking 10 cans of energy drink feels like, you are in the right place. I dare any child to say they are "bored" at Camp Bestival.
With so much on offer, strategic military style planning is very much on the cards. What makes this easier is the user-friendly layout of the stages and entertainment. Nothing is too far away (which must be a relief to the many parents pushing/pulling their offspring around the site in brightly coloured festival themed trolleys and push-chairs).
Speaking of practicalities, let’s talk toilets!....I have been going to festivals for over 25 years and pretty much seen it all, so I was pleasantly surprised to see how "clean" they were within the context of a festival with 30,000 people [made up of 15,000 adults and their kids (most of which are 4 and under)]. There were however at peak times, long queues.
I suspect however that the queues would have disappeared judging by the sheer number of people in front of the Castle Stage for festival regulars The Cuban Brothers who always bring on the sunshine feel good vibes with playful banter providing something for the children and adults alike, sometimes with a nudge and wink. As a pre-cursor to the first full evening of music, I can’t think of a better way to get everyone into the festival spirit. This is juxtaposed by the passionately political Steve Mason (formally of The Beta Band) who follows to a noticeably thinning crowd. It was a shame as those who did stay were treated to a journey through the beautiful and sometimes dark places he visits. Steve losing none of his edge, dedicating a song to “That F****** W***** Blair” perhaps raising an eyebrow or two.
Before long we find ourselves in the company of a genuine music legend, Johnny Marr. Looking dapper in a sharp suit with a full band supporting him, he brings the field to life. Not only do we get the finest offerings from his solo album, we are also served up liberal portions of Smiths classics which threaten to blow the roof off the castle! Can James (headliners tonight) follow this I wonder?
It’s fair to say that many bands known best principally for one song, resist, kick against or refuse to play it and it’s easy to understand why any band with over 25 years of material don’t wish to be 'constrained' by one representation. So it’s a pleasant surprise that 'Sit Down' finds it way onto the set list as the third song.
A point lead singer Tim Booth makes admitting that they didn’t intend to play the song this year, and it’s good that certain songs get rested. He continued by saying they didn’t want to disappoint lots of children and parents by not doing so, highlighting the fact they know what’s expected of them for a headline festival performance. The hits keep on coming, with some newer ones thrown in for good measure. A glorious 'Come Home' with Johnny Marr seals the deal before 'Laid' puts the cherry on the cake of a diverse first day at Camp Bestival.
It’s Saturday afternoon, and the morning’s rain has cleared to leave a beautiful blue sky and everyone is in shorts and t-shirts lapping up the sun, spirits are high. I find myself in the Big Top enjoying the shenanigans of Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer who’s comedic interpretations of hip hop/rap classics are always a welcome addition to any festival. I am somewhat sceptical of Pop Will Eat Itself who is on the Castle Stage fearing that without original member Clint Mansell they would not be on par. Sometimes, it’s refreshing to be so wrong! They injected some much needed verve and energy into the afternoon, the music hasn’t aged, seeing lots of mums and dads singing along to 'Def Con One' was a surreal experience.
Bringing some class and sophistication to the Castle stage is Sophie Ellis-Bextor, those wanting or expecting lots of disco/pop hits were rewarded towards the latter end of the set as Sophie begins by showcases her new material. Whilst a change in musical direction is to be commended and as good as the songs are, I’m not sure it worked well enough in a festival setting.
The last 20 minutes of the set were choc-full of hits and mash-ups bringing the field to life in the warm evening sunshine. The tempo changed somewhat with the slow soulful grooves of Laura Mvula, unless you were already a fan I’m not sure she would have done enough to convert you.
Throughout the evening rap/hip-hop duo Too Many T's were doing an excellent job between acts warming up the crowd. They had their work cut out and coped admirably with the technical problems which delayed De La Soul as they free-styled, improvised and generally kept things flowing until the issues were resolved.
Hip-hop legends don’t come much bigger than the aforementioned De La Soul who started a whole movement in the late Eighties with the dawning of "the daisy age". A real breath of fresh air at the time, they brought positivity to the hip-hop genre through their seminal album 'Three Feet High And Rising'. They have come to start the party and want everyone in the field (and specifically pointing out the photographers in the pit) to put down their camera’s and wave their arms in the air...it seems everyone’s invited, and resistance is futile.
Camp Bestival is much more than headliners, and there is plenty to do afterwards if you have the energy, from Bollywood with its superstar DJs to some of the more intimate tents and venues. All of which prove too much for me, so I make my way to bed after another wonderfully diverse second day at Camp Bestival.
So, its Sunday and the final day. With the sun yet again shining on the wonderful setting of the Lulworth estate it’s time to explore some of the other offerings. I pop into the wooded area known as Dingly Dell full of craft and nature activities for the young ones. For children yearning for something more extreme, there’s the Free sports Park where I witnessed all sorts of gravity defying stunts and tricks going on. You can even get married on-site thanks to an inflatable church! There is so much on offer that I would be here a whole week typing it all up! You would struggle in 3 or 4 days to sample everything.
It’s now 1.30pm on a Sunday afternoon, I am surrounded by hundreds of children and parents as alternative folk artist Beans on Toast takes to the main Castle Stage Those familiar with his lyrics may be somewhat confused by this arrangement, none more so than the man himself who admits he finds it somewhat baffling. Despite the adult nature of the lyrical content, he pulls it off proving perhaps that it’s not so much what you say, it’s how you say it. With his warm charm, charisma, disarming personality and the 'sing-along' nature of his songs, he owns it.
Chas & Dave do what they do best, and have the crowd singing and dancing along and are perfect for a Sunday afternoon basking in the sun. A personal highlight for me today was Sinead O' Connor who doesn’t disappoint. Although I did hear mutterings that she and Nick Mulvey before her, had brought a bit of a “downer” to things. Opening with a cover 'Queen Of Denmark' by the wonderful John Grant was risky, but for me paid dividends. Sinead is a powerful performer and totally enigmatic on-stage. Her voice was unfaltering. In some sense, sadly I think for all her efforts, it went over a lot of people’s heads.
Closing the festival for 2014 are Basement Jaxx on the Castle Stage, meanwhile in The Big Top Peter Hook is about to take to the stage. This was an easy call. With an envious back catalogue and enduring musical significance, I find myself in the Big Top surrounded by other Joy Division/New Order devotees.
The only disappointing things about 'Hooky’s' set, that it was so short clocking in at a nifty 50 minutes. It finished however in style with a mass sing-along to 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'.
There are a lot of positives to this child centric family festival, the site always clean, with plenty of activities for the children, I’m sure Rob Da Bank knows, happy children equates happy parents. This formula serves Camp Bestival well.
At times it felt a bit thin musically, but then that must be measured against the abundance of other activities for children. It’s worth mentioning a minor point (backed up by the fact I had to lead two day-visitor families back to the Yellow car parks) the lack of signage. In the dark, at the end of the night, you make your way through reams and reams of anonymous tents in the campsite with no way of knowing if you are going the right way.
Aside from that very minor point, it was very clear a good time was had by all. Much like Saturday kids TV of the past (Tiswas, Swap Shop, Going Live or SMTV) which incorporated the 'cool' indie band, the nature element, the feature on birds of prey, the cartoons, the craft element, the children’s entertainers or the special guests etc etc…..
Camp Bestival seem to have successfully replicated and repackaged this to become the Saturday morning telly of the festival world, I suggest you tune in!
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