Bestival 2014 (Review)
The time has come to try and make sense of the annual madness that occurs at Robin Hill. Where the hell do you start? The beauty of Bestival is its diversity which allows everyone to have their very own unique experience. I wish I could have at least 6 month’s worth of Bestival weekends and truly experience all the combinations available. That unfortunately isn’t an option so I find lots of wandering and catching snippets of as much as possible is about the best you can do. My default setting of course was always chilling at the wonderful Bandstand. You can’t really review snippets so I’ll just mention a few of my many highlights. Guaranteed to be different to the next guy you talk to.
I had an incredibly easy lunch time arrival in to sunny Bestival brimming with excitement and anticipation of what the weekend would have to offer. I was incredibly lucky to find a single seat sofa in front of the Bandstand just before it commenced for the day and I bedded in for the afternoon. I was convinced I had the best seat in Bestival and hours eased by with the aid of beer and the excellent music absorbing perfectly into the early afternoon sun. My three favourites of the afternoon were Bigtopp, Fellowship of Groove and Fine Lines.
Bigtopp are an 8-piece ska/rock/reggae group from over the water in Portsmouth and have previously gigged with Island favourites The Ohmz. They arrived on stage with welcomed energy and horn action. Their thumping ska opener Boomerang was a particular favourite. Fellowship of Groove appeared next and I’m sure I don’t need to describe them to you. Needless to say their half hour set was nowhere near enough and of course they were great. The last of my Thursday afternoon Bandstand treats were Islanders Fine Lines who played an incredibly enjoyable set. They play their very own special blend of alternative rock/folk with tons of depth and varied influences. I particular enjoyed the extra dimension the three female backing singers brought with them. A band I will definitely be looking to hear more of.
My time in the sun was over and it was time to prize myself away from my sofa and do my first bit of exploring in to the Bestival site. The Reggae Roots stage was found in time to catch Nipsy’s heavy dub set and I still had time to grab a prime dancing position for Mr Headfunk’s set at the Aperol Spritz stage. The Balearic vibes proved very popular and by the end of the set the uber-cool venue was completely packed. The absolutely cherry on the cake was catching the last half dozen songs of Beck’s hit-laden set (Loser being my favourite) and then it was home.
There can’t be many better ways to spend a Friday afternoon then catching an early Plastic Mermaids set. They played the Matua Sessions which was made out of wood and looked a bit like a big sauna. It was a great location for this set as the enclosed atmosphere made it easier for the Mermaids to put us completely under their spell. This is a band that completely oozes with talent and originality. They were a massive hit with the squeezed-in crowd and it was particular nice to hear proud Islanders telling impressed and inquisitive mainlanders, “these are from the Island don’t you know”. One particularly impressive moment for me was the mid-set operatic solo which was met by extended applause.
Although Bestival is all about new experiences and discoveries there are certain annual rituals that have to be abided by. At the top of this list is an annual visit to Bollywood on a Friday night to dance like maniacs to David Michael Rodigan OBE. You’re always guaranteed a fun sweaty atmosphere with high quality reggae dancehall. What really makes it though of course is Rodigan himself and his infectious energy. His shout out’s of “Pull up”, running history lesson and constant rhetorical questioning “Is somebody smoking some weed out there” mean everyone leaves his set pumped and with beaming smiles.
My Saturday started with an Amphitheatre show called Captain Morgan And The Sands Of Time. The amphitheatre is such a great place to escape for an hour or two, grab a coffee and be truly entertained. The beauty of it is you have no idea what you’re sitting down to. This show consisted of two very talented guys acting out a fantasy pirate story involving a vast amount of interesting characters. There were no real props or costume changes it was just their raw sweaty energy and ability to build the story bare handed and at break neck speed. The atmospherics were set by a third violin playing member who had to keep up with the pace at which the guys worked at which was no mean feat. Loads of fun was had and I’ve decided I must check out more shows there next year.
I gathered at the Big Top on Saturday to see surprise guests The Kooks play to a jam-packed Big Top. It was a pleasure to see how much fun the band were having as lead singer Luke proclaimed; “So guys, we finally made it to your party”. Their set was a perfect blend of old and impressive new sounding material. Old hits such as Naive and Seaside went down very well and lead to mass crowd sing-alongs. The new stuff has taken a definite funky turn and was instantly likeable. The Kooks are definitely back on form and looking to reach the heights of 2006.
Saturday night was spent having lots of fun in the wonderful Caravanserai. We were met at the door by the ringleader who looked suspiciously like Mick Fleetwood, “Well done, you’ve found us” he boldly told us. It was an intriguing atmosphere with lots of circus performers, fire performers, dancers and live music. If you were lucky enough you could even grab a seat in part of an old caravan and truly relax for the evening.
An early afternoon highlight for me was Dom Servini’s DJ set at Bollywood. It was a perfectly progressive dance set to slowly but surely get be back in to the Bestival mood. Truly great and interesting music played to a small but very appreciative crowd.
A late Sunday afternoon gem was Ben Ottewell from Gomez performing acoustically and completely alone. As soon as he did a small sound check his instantly recognisable voice had everyone exited. The guy can certainly play and he got as many songs as possible into his half hour sets by switching straight to his next song each time mid-flight. He played songs from his two solo albums mixed with some Gomez offerings. We were all a little gutted we didn’t get to hear ‘Whippin’ Piccadilly’ but hearing ‘Get Miles’ was a good substitute. It felt like a real treat hearing him play and the chilled Bandstand seemed the perfect venue.
My final Bestival treat came in the Front Room, so called as it is the size of a front room. Here I was very lucky to a hear from female vocalist Lucie Zara who played with a drummer she’d never played with before and a violinist who jumped up mid-set and decided to join in as well. You would never have known they’d never played with each other and the talent in this small room was clear to see. It was a set full of crisp soulful vocals and toe-tapping songs of life and love. I was completely captivated from start to finish as I sat in a comfy sofa, glass of red wine and all approximately 12 inches from her feet.
Big congratulations to Bestival for pulling it off again and providing such a varied melting pot of good times for everyone. Bestival possibly is the best party on the planet. My only small complaint would be I felt it missed a big stellar headliner of the calibre we’d come accustomed, to close the Sunday night. The two previous years we had Elton and Stevie. Giving Chic the spot was more like giving a friend a free upgrade as they played only the year before in an afternoon slot. Maybe that’s me being a little picky. Here’s hoping Rob can get Bowie next year and all will be forgiven. See you next year…