United Kingdom | by
John Bownas | 14 September 2010
Overall – 8/10
Ecstatically eclectic, Bestival captures the essence of a dozen or more subcultures and blends a chaotic perfume of music and fashion to leave you reeling – but wanting more.
From punk to polka, from dancehall to disco, the segues come thick and fast as stages morph from one genre to the next – and at every turn there’s another surprise awaiting.
Stretched out along a beautiful valley at the very heart of the Isle of Wight, Bestival swells like a rare late-blooming orchid and bursts into flower as the last-gasp of the summer festival season. Its colours and sounds are born from careful planning and years of combined festival experiences – but the resulting whole is more than the sum of the parts, and frankly takes your breath away.
Of course every rose has its thorn, and another thing that could take your breath away is the long (long, long) walk from the car parks to the arena. Or the long (long, long) queues for toilets every morning. Or the high (high, high) prices for a can of cider at the often crowded bar.
But then the food is varied and excellent, the stages are well spaced and manage to avoid too much sound bleed and the people are – quite frankly – fantastic.
Although perhaps this year there has been a surge in the ‘Reading crowd’ types (low slung pants and hoodies with little hippy-tolerance) the overwhelming majority of Bestival people are party creatures with joy in their hearts and a smile on their painted faces.
Getting There and Back – 7/10
A festival on an island will always cause pinch-points in your journey. So best to be prepared, plan ahead and maybe make a long weekend of it. It’s a safe bet that the Isle of Wight tourist board would approve of that.
Travel choices are always difficult, but just bear in mind that if you are taking a car to Bestival it is wise to book your ferry well in advance and leave plenty of time for the sailing you’ve chosen. Also be prepared for some ‘interesting’ car parking charging policies. This year’s bug-bear was the £10 to park and then another £10 to park again if you have to leave site for supplies…although this seemed to have been dependent upon which steward you ran into. Ditto on the price of programmes from vendor to vendor!
There are two problems with Bestival being in a valley. Firstly, if you are coming by bus then there is a long and steep hill down the valley side – and if it is wet this becomes treacherous in the extreme. At the very best it is a breath-sapping climb back to the top at the end of the festival. Secondly, unlike the doughnut-that-is-Glastonbury, Bestival runs long and thin. That means that the walk from the furthest car park to the main arena can take about an hour. Not so bad if you travel light. Top tip – travel light!
It will take even longer if you happen to attract the interest of a sniffer dog. Photographers beware – carrying four bags of lenses and assorted snapping paraphernalia may seem like simply being prepared, but when a nice man from CID decides he wants to examine every nook and cranny of your kit-bag (down to the random bits of fluff and chewing gum that have settled to the bottom) you can add another 90 minutes to your journey time.
All this aside it’s actually a fairly painless exercise as long as you come prepared. Queues are typically short except for peak times, and if you are happy to take the late ferry sailings and/or go for the Fishbourne route then that bit won’t slow you down too much.
The Site – 8/10
Over the years Bestival has shifted and changed to try and make the most of its surroundings. A few fixed points like the bandstand have managed to stand the test of time, but in recent years the main stage has shifted around due to issues and problems that have emerged as the weekend has rolled on. For 2010 the solution looks like one that could work in the long term. Despite worries that a bottom-of-the-valley location might get uber-muddy when the rains come down, the investment in drainage seems to have paid off, and although Saturday’s downpour does its best to turn the moshpit into a mudbath, the ground pretty much holds its own.
Sound bleed between the stages has been largely ironed out, although there are some odd giddy moments as you pass between the audio boundaries that technical wizards have created with their clever PA arrays.
Toilets are an issue on the campsites in the mornings, and those sorts of queues are normally reserved for the launch of a new iPhone. Make a note to make your visit to the loo early – or hang on until you can get to the arena. Always a laugh is watching adults try to use the kids loos near the bandstand. With their cunningly designed ultra-low ceilings and cramped interiors there are usually a few body parts hanging out as over-sized frames try to squeeze themselves in for a much-needed dump.
A great thing about the Bestival site is its many hidden spaces. Make sure you explore everywhere or you will miss out on the wonders of the woodland walks behind the Arcadia stage. And don’t pass up the chance to have a look around the edges of the campsite because there are some great little venues and stalls that you could easily miss if you stick to the main arena.
Food is in abundance – and the variety and quality is exceptional. The chicken rotisseries are great this year, and local produce is in evidence all over the place.
Beer is a bit of an issue though – let’s come to that later.
Atmosphere – 9/10
If you are one of those for whom a festival stands or falls on the people who you meet while you are there then Bestival will light all of your buttons. The phrase is ‘up for it.’ When it’s time for fancy dress then pretty much everyone has a go. When Mr Motivator gets the Sunday afternoon crowd on their feet then there are very few who don’t join in. And even when its musical statues time you’re hard-pushed to find anyone who doesn’t want to play.
Find the time to stop and talk to the people around you and very quickly its easy to see the common Bestival denominator – ‘friendly’.
Yes there are a few tossers around – but hey – aren’t they everywhere?
Music – 7/10
Whilst The Prodigy do their dad-rock best to light up the night sky with laser-fire, a die-hard group of polka fans steadfastly ignore the fact that they are both outnumbered and outgunned.
As Chase and Status cut up the arena, a small band of ukulele-wielding loonies play instant hit covers to a mass of adoring cider-drinking fans.
The retro-chic of Roxy Music and the disco-vibes of Nile Rodgers’ Chic rub shoulders with the Mercury-winning xx and the cutting-edge of cool that is Rolf Harris’ wobbleboard.
That’s what Bestival is musically – a zigging-zagging helter-skelter through a musical wonderland year that is littered with a plethora of fantasy white rabbits and barking-mad hatters. Ably assisted of course in the costumes and toys department by Mr ‘I-go-to-the-same-hairdresser-as-that-reporter-from-VF’ Wayne ‘Flaming Lips’ Hoyle.
Lewis Floyd Henry
A one-man-band testament to the genius of Jimi Hendrix with a liberal dose of Howlin’ Wolf blues and a keen ear for a lyrical twist. Catch him busking in the East End before he takes over from Seasick Steve as the biggest solo sensation to light a fire under the pale and saggy arse of a worn-out music industry.
Chase and Status
From the sublime to the miraculous. Chase and Status take Bestival by the throat and rip the main arena to shreds – far overshadowing The Prodigy headline set. They have remixed and supported the aging firestarters, but it’s clearly time for the servant to usurp his master.
The King Blues
Arcadia normally only kicks off as the sun goes down and the lights and fires come into their own, but as The King Blues say goodbye to one of their own they also say hello to a huge bunch of new fans. Bookers beware – miss the Blues off your line-up at your peril in 2011.
A greatest hits set that rounded off with ‘Tainted Love’ and a call-and-return version of ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’. Wonderful stuff for all the 40-somethings in the crowd.
Cast from the same ‘we don’t give a toss about pop’ mould as British Sea Power, Stornoway brought the rain with them, but also managed to send the clouds away with a feisty finale that lifted somewhat soggy spirits and proved that you don’t have to rock-out to win the hearts, minds and ears of an open-minded festival audience.
All the tunes you love from some old blokes who’ve converted a second-hand hot-dog barrow into a mobile discotheque. A festival isn’t a festival without them these days!
Sorry – but is there an emperor’s new clothes/style over substance thing going on here? What does a Mercury award herald? Speech Debelle took the gong last year, played Bestival and was never heard from again. The XX were predictable winners for 2010, but as Florence and the Machine goes to prove, maybe this is one competition where the runner’s up go on to win the race.
Okay – so it was the usual big production and lots of big hits. But as a passing former-fan puts it…”they’re just getting on a bit now aren’t they?” Maybe this is Les Miserables for the dance generation? A hardy perennial, but no surprises.
Didn’t seem to click – which was a shame. Perhaps too many songs that weren’t from the well-known back-catalogue and just not enough die-hard fans in the audience to get a swing on?
Heaven 17 / Level 42
For being on far too early meaning a lot of people missed them!
Beer and prices
£4 for a can of cider is steep in any book you might own. And although the Wight Knight ale was absolutely delicious there just wasn’t enough of it to go around!
“I’m sorry – we are only selling quarter chickens now, we’re not doing halves.”
“OK – can I have two quarters please?”
“So that’s a half then??”
“Errr – I suppose it is…”
“Mate – have you got any pills?”
“Nurofen or hayfever?”
“So what have you come as then?”
“Well I’ve got a sock on my cock…”
“Errr – you did have.”
“Bugger – I’ll get my coat!!!”