Camp Bestival 2011 review

'The ultimate in family festivals'

Photographer: Sara BowreyJohn Bownas on 01 August 2011

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The accessory de jour at Camp Bestival 2011 is without a shadow of a doubt a child. It's hard to know how anybody got in without one.

Matured in a cocoon of festival paraphernalia until perfectly ripe (about five to seven years seems to be recommended), the little ones burst out into their full glory as they don tye-died t-shirts and day-glo fairy skirts and dance like loons before falling into a deep trance that transports them (via space-aged buggy, all-terrain radio flyer or miniature wild west wagon) back to their parents' snuggly-wuggly mega-tents.

But before that deep, deep sleep, those kids sure know how to party. Fuelled by hand-made fudge and Texas-roast corn-on-the-cob (all paid for from bin-scavenging sorties and trips back to the 10p-a-cup return-points), they are out in their thousands to pack the main stage each morning for Gruffalo shows, Dick'n'Dom's bogey humour or some Zing Zilla action.

Then throughout the day it's a frantic whirlwind of giant bubble wands, crazy golf, face-painting, flagpole climbing and fake eyelashes. There are also story times aplenty, including surreal moments like Howard Marks and Keith Allen reading from Alice in Wonderland and Red Riding Hood.

Meanwhile, for the adults, it was of course the music that mattered.

Fenech-Soler's (7/10) main stage show of political solutions and poppy lies drew an ambivalent audience response, but if you closed your eyes, made it dark, and strobed the lights of your deepest imagination then the magic might have worked in a nu-goth/pop sort of way: as if Simon le Bon had replaced Peter Murphy in Bauhaus.

Elsewhere, everyone's trying to be Florence and the Machine by experimenting with those deep and sultry vocals and enormous bass riffs. Claire Maguire (6/10) joins the pack and hit all the right notes but didn't have the engaging lyrics to make it stick. Except maybe on 'Mess You Around', which is  simple but effective and genuinely absorbing. A heart stopper in the right circumstances.

Ed Sheeran (8/10) mesmerised a small woodland audience with a slew of new material, and Lucky Elephant (7/10) in the big top delivered some genuinely great songs, if only anyone could work out what any of them were for.

A real treat for the over-40s on Saturday afternoon was a fun-filled hour of The Wonderstuff (8/10). Miles' dungarees might have kept slipping, but the songs were as tight and bouncy as ever as the ten-legged groove machine celebrated their singer's birthday and bucked the Amy Winehouse trend by using their time on stage to say goodbye instead to the late Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex. Their tribute was a version of the day the world turned day-glo, with rare vocal support from Erica Knockles - who should take to the mic more often. Miles summed up the whole mood of the festival perfectly with one small change to the lyrics in 'The Cow Song' - these no longer 'should' be the best days of or lives. Now they are!

Over on the bandstand and Asteroids (8/10) were a pleasant chance encounter. A voice. A guitar. And a two-man arcade machine with all the synths and keyboard blips you could ever possibly need. Book 'em Danno!

Indeed the bandstand offered up a handful of treats as the weekend played out. The sea of old sofas and armchairs outside the best real ale bar in town was pretty much permanently busy, and if one other act there deserves to be picked out for special mention then it's Jellicle Cats (8/10). On the face of it a pushy guitarist dad recruiting three of his young children into his new band should be nothing more than a novelty, but the reality is a tightly-woven team who deserve to be heard.

Each day as the sun set over Camp Bestival, the castle was lit up and the kids got tucked in so that the old older children could enjoy some adult fun.

ABC (7/10) and Blondie (8/10) provided the nostalgia trip, Mark Ronson and the Business Intl. (9/10) added in some contemporary credibility, and Primal Scream (7/10) tried their best, and almost succeeded, to deliver the essential show-stopping moment as they ran through the entire ‘Screamadelica’ album to a thinned out but appreciative Sunday night crowd.

And all of this played out with hardly any electronic interruption - thanks it would seem to a family of frogs who broke into the local phone exchange, meaning that mobile and internet connections in the area were as rare as a tent without a five year-old playing outside.

The big finale to the last night was a spectacular firework, music and light show, in which the castle at the back of the main field was turned into a projection screen for an animated Bestival-themed fairy tale that wowed both young and old alike.

Camp Bestival is the ultimate in family festivals - so if you have a little one and you want to give them their first exposure to the world of live music then this is probably the best place you could possibly start.

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