Robin Hill Country Park, Isle Of Wight. 8-10 September
Its setting is positively Narnianesque, set in an undulating wooded valley over which can be seen the white sails of yachts from the distant harbour. Unfortunately every Eden has its snake, this one in the form of the ground being more pitted than the average teenager's face, but as Robin Hood walks past idly scratching his lurid latex bulge, the realisation dawns that this is going to be no ordinary festival.
If you suffer from even the slightest ADD tendencies then Bestival will mess with your hard wiring. For a such a small festival it crams in so many new bands, classic DJs, seminal names and sparkly things, it'll have you picking up greasy brown paper bags off the grass just to calm yourself down. Every festival this year has been standing on it's tip toes, straining to be the one to borrow Glastonbury's glory in it's absence. And whilst none can quite replicate the small town that appears out of the Pilton mists, Bestival has certainly picked up it's glittery elements. It's curator Rob Da Bank's fantasy line-up made real and then heavy decorated with Bollywood imagery, robotic horses, WI cake stalls and much much more.
It's Friday and from the main stage comes the sound of what appears to be someone barking out cryptic crossword clues along the lines of, ‘Black leathAR, black OctobAR, cancAR.' Yes, you've guessed it - it’s The Fall with Mark E Smith looking increasingly fossilised.
Over to the Jack Daniels stage to see Tilly and the Wall, who feature tap dancing along with handclaps, cheers, tattoos and beams. Sweetly strummed folksy tunes turn to screaming off kilter anthems for the unpopular kids at school who always triumphed in the end.
With rolling eyes, satanic grins and the crazed soaring of violins arrive gypsy punks Gogol Bordello. You’ve heard those old fairy tales about the devil forcing people to dance until they cannot stop and are turned into a Tor or something? Well, that was them. Swirling screeching accordions, spat out guttural vocals and noxious guitars are all dementedly unleashed to create a full out explosion of sound which is strangely beatific, the soaring of the violins heading straight to the hearts and the full throttle tunes to the legs. Stunning feral girls in rags tumble through the air and the band themselves resplendent in full on gay carnie attire of leather, bare chests and berets. ‘Start wearing Purple’ is simply tremendous. Never have so many r’s been so hoarsely rolled and never before have so many people shouted out the name of a shade so enthusiastically.
Then on sore, trembling limbs, a dash to see Misty's Big Adventure carrying brains so saturated with madness, suddenly a group of clowns playing saxophone-drenched lounge pop is almost normal until a priest appears and they fly into a glorious cacophony of jazz with a paen to staying in, ‘nightclub,’ a fittingly ironic end to the night.
Saturday and it's still hard to understand the press frenzy surrounding Guillemots, who appear to be mere indie backwash masquerading as clever with Theremins and things. Like if Keane went to art school. 'Meh' goes the crowd and I go off to queue for pie.
And speaking of the crowd, never seen anything like it. It is fancy dress day and everyone’s attired in the
most spectacular of creations. A video cassette walks past with a Kronenburg followed by two whoopee cushions holding hands
and everyone, everyone wants to see Lily Allen play. She doesn't let the side down, coming onstage
in a wedding dress and bunny ears holding a bottle of Magners and a fag to the accompaniment of calypso music. All preconceptions
of talentless celebrity offspring are dashed asunder in about two seconds. Yes, her voice might be on the skinny side but
she has tunes, proper big squat in the head tunes, with rollicking reggae rhythms and hysterical rude louche lyrics, one about
‘your colostomy bag has a hole in it’ springing to mind. A Primrose Hill Lady Sovereign, long may she rule the
I've always suspected The Cuban Brothers to be a pastiche of a band liked ironically by cool Hoxton people in hundred pound shorts but again this isn't the case. It’s like a Havana brass band being roughed up in a corner of the Bronx in the seventies. There are break dancing besuited pimps on stage, sexy soul and funk fuelled beats and hilarious streams of surreal patter.
Kid Creole and the Coconuts on next is like an X-rated Lilt ad, all reggae, brass, soul and sexy ladeez jiggling exotically in hot pants. Kid Creole "likes the ladeeez" he tells us in between songs about ladeez and how great they are.
The Rachid Taha Band with Brian Eno starts off noodlier than a Thai buffet but after much fretwork wankery gradually they trip off in a world music space rock vibe which makes up for Eno’s unpleasantly constipated looking face.
The Pet Shop Boys are like a camp Kraftwork-soft electro voices in synchrony to a tinny homogenous Casio beat that never seems to change a great deal. After three songs you start wishing they would bring out a didgeridoo or something, never a good sign. There are costume changes, body-popping, pomp and glamour and the occassional break out tune like ‘West End Girls’ but even the gospel diva wheeled on just seems a bit well, embarrassing really.
The Pipettes are the real stars of the night. Airline hostess’s gone bad with shiny hair, polka dot dresses and pure filth. With gleeful exuberance they sing sweet Motownesque tunes with perfectly syncnoised hand motions and vocals about one night stands whilst beaming and radiating distillated naughty charm.
Sunday hurts and the front of the main stage is home to hungover crumpled fairies lying among a mangle of beer cans and fag butts. But as slow elegant tunes crawl out from the main stage and wrap around them, slowly they get up and begin to sway to the four voices in glorious unison courtesy of Tunng. Rattles, chimes, whispers and beats emerge from the ether and magnetically collide and even the tambourine has an ethereal quality when part of this elegantly foreboding post-modern folk. Oh to be woken like this every day.
The Stranglers just seem a bit pointless. They play the same old songs as they used to from which younger bands have stolen the good bits and Time has taken the originality. Admittedly we're at the stage in proceedings where only novelty will suffice.
Hot Chip are so nearly that, but the Mercury Music Prize nominees instead come over like the sort of band you listen to in your ‘loft space’ whilst congratulating yourself for being so great snorting coke. A few decentish tunes emerge but mostly it's lost in too cool for school sub-Rapture squeals.
Devandra Banhart is unlikely to ever feature on a Gillette advert. Has there ever been seen such a hairy band. They get someone else onstage to sing with them and are gently charming, singing sweet pychadelia with lacksadaisical druggy folk drawls.
talking of drugs… ‘Let me see those gurning faces You must have saved some pills!’ Yes, Scissor Sisters have flounced on stage in outfits that make the
Pet Shop Boys look
like council officers. They nasally screech their hits whilst flouncing like Smarties crazed toddlers over the stage and about
as obnoxious. Never before has a festival finale been so fitting as 15,000 sweat and dust covered young people in a field
sing along to ‘You’re filthy and you’re gorgeous’. Feels like being covered in a fine layer
of glitter. Never mind your Coldplays and the like - this is what a real festival should have at its grand finale. A gang
of clowns dance around onstage, it’s a pure hyperbolic sugar rush - much indeed like Bestival itself.