Rob Da Bank’s movie themed Camp Bestival has been running 13 years now and throughout that time it’s won numerous awards as the UK’s best family festival. Thousands come to pay witness to Lulworth castle and its scenic surroundings, and the dozens of different tents and stages filled with music, comedy, dance and weddings – Camp Bestival is the most fun family festival around. Especially when headlined by Becky Hill, Fatboy Slim and Groove Armada.
Over 30,000 are in attendance, many of whom are parents who come to let their (remaining) hair down and allow their children to run amok dressed as stormtroopers and aliens, whilst they enjoy a cheeky cider or two
Obviously, 2020 was cancelled due to the pandemic and for many this was their first festival in two years. Festival goers had to show a negative Covid test or proof of a vaccination to enter. There was no sense of unease or nerves once I entered the main festival and with few masks on sight it was pretty much the same festival that I attended four years previously. S Club Party were over at the Big Top stage and although the former S Club 7 members were missing five of their colleagues Bradley and Tina still threw out the party vibes and people of all ages were left reaching for the sky.
Self Esteem and Georgia followed the wave of excitement left by the S Club couple. Self Esteem played tracks from the highly praised debut album ‘Compliments Please’ as well as previewing new tracks from her upcoming album. ‘Moody’ and ‘I Do This All the Time’ being stand-out selections. Georgia raved with glee that being back was “fucking amazing” before belting out a flawless version of ‘Never Let Me Go’ and a superb cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up the Hill’. The tent was now at capacity and when as the London singer ran to the barriers to have an up-close and personal meeting with her fans, many did reach for the sanitiser post high-five. Proof that we can dance like idiots to electro-pop and be safe. By the end of Georgia’s whirlwind, there were a few tears shed by fellow fans after the sheer emotion shown on the artist at the end of her set and like many artists, over the weekend this was their first live show in 18 months.
On the Castle Stage many were expecting to have a kitchen style disco to Sophie Ellis-Bexter – sadly her children were struck down with Covid and had to cancel her weekend shows, so it was Bjorn Again (the premier Abba tribute act) who burst onto the main stage. A surprisingly fast replacement and the Castle Stage audience certainly didn’t grumble as the sound-a-likes delivered a perfect rendition of ‘Waterloo’ as well as other Abba classics and a brilliant version of ‘SOS’ segued into The Police’s ‘Message in a Bottle’. The crowd of children knew each word of every hit – not sure if the same could have been said for Ellis-Bexter’s ‘Groovejet’.
Becky Hill was the headliner and after nearly an hour of waiting between acts the adrenaline of being at a festival was beginning to falter. Hill was ready to fill the festival with some drum n bass vibes and her backing band featuring four backing singers were on point to deliver her anthems including ‘Afterglow’ and ‘I Could Get Used to This’ and a few new tracks written over Lockdown like ‘Hold On’. She was very vocal about how emotional it was to see Georgia and other artists performing again and she would not let us down. The packed arena certainly didn’t feel let down as they danced through to midnight.
Saturday is historically fancy-dress day at Camp Bestival and this year’s theme was the movies. Therefore, a parade of Harley Quinns,Forrest Gumps and Goonies made their way back onto the site. After Friday’s high winds delaying the opening of some of the festival, today was attacked by the old foe – rain! Luckily, this would not last the entire day and family favourites Mr Tumble and Dick and Dom managed to whip up a frenzy on the Castle Stage with the former leaving a few adults with lumps in their throats from his emotional words.
Mae Muller was my first musical act of the day. Being inside the dry Big Top was a bonus, though the weather drying up may have backfired for the North London singer- songwriter and the crowd wasn’t as big as one would expect. Mae was in a very buoyant mood and delivered a charismatic performance including ‘Dependent’, ‘When You’re Out’ and ‘I Don’t Want your Money’ – a track about independence and being self-reliant, though ironically, she had to have the help of a photographer to open her water bottle before she could perform her single.
The Cuban Brothers have been Bestival stalwarts for over the 15 years. Now down to a trio after Archerio left last year, Miguelito (who just survived a battle against the deadly arse -Covid) and the boys can still put on a brilliant live show full of break-dancing, roller-skating, inappropriate jokes, and of course, some excellent hip-hop tunes with a Latin flavour.
There was a clash between two legends – Heather Smalls (voice of M People) vs Tim Burgess (voice of The Charlatans). Tim won due to his tireless work over Lockdown with his daily listening parties and being a modern icon. Though, sadly I was in the minority as the Big Top was fairly quiet considering the legendary status of the indie frontman. Burgess played through most of his latest album, however the sound was pretty poor, not many of the crowd seemingly knew the songs and chatted throughout until he treated us to just one Charlatans song, the reworked ‘The Only One I Know’.
I decided to take in some non-musical entertainment and ventured off to see drag-queen Virgin X read about peacocks to some children inside the Pink Flamingo and to enjoy the sights of jugglers and acrobats in the circus field. Camp Bestival is of course a festival for the family, and they have dozens of attractions from comedy to axe-throwing. As well as the entertainment, there are the usual food and drink vendors, including the fantastic DJ BBQ.
Level 42 took to the Castle Stage and performed a set filled with 80s classic like ‘Running in the Family’, ‘Something About You’ and an extended version of ‘Lessons in Love’ backed by an all-dancing brass section. Frontman and bassist Mark King sounded great, though I’m not sure if many of the younger listeners will be streaming their music after the show. Some kids just aren’t ready for jazz-funk.
Blossoms were another change to the original line-up as Friendly Fires had to pull out due to travel restrictions. Some would say this is an upgrade as Blossoms are quickly becoming one of the UK’s finest indie bands. The Stockport quintet have expanded since they were last at Bestival and now feature a percussion duo as well as an extra guitarist. Kicking off with ‘Girlfriend’, the band brimmed with confidence and didn’t seem rusty after their long absence from gigging. They are still the shaggiest looking of bands and seem more like a group that my dad would dote over, however they sounded fresh. ‘I Can’t Stand it’ and ‘There’s a Reason Why’ were better than the original recordings and ‘Sunday Was a Friend of Mine’ was perfect for the bigger arena. There were some older guys dressed as Ghostbusters who particularly enjoyed ‘The Keeper’ – sadly the kid in full Harry Potter cosplay was less impressed. But Blossoms had cast a spell over the Castle Stage and firm favourite ‘Charlemagne’ created the first mosh pit of the weekend. Covid fears had finally subsided.
Fatboy Slim was Saturday’s headline act. No stranger to the festival and also celebrating his birthday, Norman Cook had been at hanging out taking selfies with punters over the past few days. Even seen being a proud parent watching his 11-year-old daughter spinning some tunes as Fatgirl Slim (Nelly Cook) earlier in the day. Not surprisingly, the main stage was rammed for the biggest name on the bill. The Superstar DJ dressed as Pink Panther was given a huge reception as he took the stage. He may not have had an album out for 17 years, but it seems like it was only yesterday that his remixes and albums were some of the best-known in dance music. Most of the young people down the front were not even born when his seminal album ‘You’ve Come a Long Way Baby’ topped the charts. However, Fatboy Slim used his years of experience to create the perfect playlist to satisfy the needs of all. Mixing his own classic tracks like ‘Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat’ alongside modern bangers like Lizzo’s ‘Juice’. It’s an odd sight to see toddlers in trailers next to their parents nonchalantly throwing shapes. Social services have yet to arrive at the festival, so they must be doing something right. The birthday boy used the video screens to hypnotise us with a myriad of pop-culture mash ups and knowing humour – including the slogan – Isolate, Wash Your hands, Sanitise, Stay at Home mixed in with exploding Covid-19 molecules. “Take Your Mask Off” was announced over another club-banger. It was nice to admire his confidence now that the life had returned to normal. But by the morning we were still encouraged to take Lateral Flow Tests! As the final notes of ‘The Rockerfellar Skank’ came to an end we all sang happy birthday and to the ever young 58-year-old.
The final day, and although my car was trapped in the mud from the previous night, the rain had not destroyed any of the good vibes. Genghar were waiting in the Big Top for an audience which sadly didn’t arrive. Bizarre for a band who have been around for some time. Maybe Camp Bestival doesn’t cater for their fan base? Their enigmatic indie did deliver a smile to the small crowd with ‘Heavenly Maybe’ being a stand-out.
It was a trip to the Giggle-Box (the comedy tent for everyone else) to witness some of the UK’s finest comedians attempting to entertain a tent full of children as young as 10 weeks. Keith Farnham, Andy Askins and Carey Marx did a great job at juggling the chaos that festival tents contain and leaving the parents to answer many questions from their innocent children.
After a short break from music, it was time to return to the Castle Stage to see The Sherlocks, who have become a dependable indie booking for many mid-size UK festival. The fact that they have a few albums under their belt added to the surprise that they didn’t have much of an audience. Could it be that the majority of their fan base is up north? Kiaran Crook announced that this was their first time in Dorset during their set that included the best moments of their back catalogue including ‘NYC’, ‘Falling’ and ‘Chasing Shadows’. The lack of skinny black jeans on display at the festival could mean that this may not have been the best booking and the Barnsley band just seemed to go through the motions.
Reef, on the other hand, drew a much bigger audience. They are unrecognisable from their 90’s heyday and now feature ex-Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor. They certainly are heavier than ever with this new line-up and ‘Naked’ sounded closer to late 80’s Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Dropping their biggest hit ‘Place Your Hands’ early in the set was a brave choice and it worked. The semi-naked middle-aged guys who ran to the front with their arms aloft seemed to enjoy the rest of the set that ended with a Duran Duran covers of ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ into ‘Wild Boys’ and sounded fantastic.
The only way to follow the Somerset rockers was to obviously make a return to the Pink Flamingo to witness Ru-Paul’s Drag Race Uk star Cheryl Hole. The reality TV star is probably not used to reading Penguin Stories to children, but he performed with a smile before transforming into her usual sassy self to perform her full drag show of lip-syncing and dance contests. The tent overflowed with fans desperate to see her renowned death-drops and splits. My first time seeing a drag show at a festival and hopefully this won’t be my last.
Plastic Mermaids are on Rob da Bank’s label Sunday Best so an appearance at Camp Bestival seems to make a lot of sense. Sadly, even with a later set in the Big Top, they couldn’t attract an audience fitting for their material. They are one of the most exciting indie bands on the UK and it would have been lovely to see them play to a bigger audience of like-minded people. That aside, the Isle of Wight residents didn’t seem to be disheartened and performed a glorious set including ‘1996’, ‘Alaska’ and a brilliant version of ‘Milk’. As Magic Hour shone down some spectacular light onto the festival fields the band waved farewell and I left the Big Top for the final time of the weekend.
Over to the main stage to see the weekend closers Groove Armada. It was noticeable that the crowds had subsided as it is quite common that some families would leave early. This left more space to dance to the 00’s dance duo. Groove Armada made an odd choice to ignore last years’ album ‘Edge of Horizon’ and the set list was pretty much the same as their live in Brixton set ten years previous.
The best tracks from 2010’s Black Light featured the delectable Saint Saviour on vocals, and the live versions of ‘Look Me in the Eye Sister’ and ‘Paper Romance’ transformed the band into New Order territory with deep bass lines and cinematic synths. Though I seemed to be one of the few audience members who were even aware of the tracks and Saint Saviour did her best to engage the crowd, many around me were just discussing loudly their trip home the next day and then moaning that they hadn’t played the one song they knew. It’s puzzling as to why people would need to be down the front watching one of the headline acts and to have not bothered to check out the band’s other singles songs.
The band delivered the greatest hits show including the brilliant ‘Song 4 Mutya’, however large sections who seemingly only knew ‘I See You Baby’ and ‘At the River’. As the band played the final notes of ‘Superstylin’ (ft MC MAD) and Andy Cato had packed away his trombone, it was time for Rob da Bank to ask us to turn and face the castle to see the firework finale with a film twist. A perfect way to end a festival. Even with the obstacles of Covid Camp Bestival delivered another glorious weekend of entertainment and as I walked back to my car exhausted and moaning about my aching feet, I secretly know that I can’t wait to go back again next summer…hopefully.