REPORTER Andrew Trendell went along to Bestival at Robin Hill Country Park on the Isle of Wight from 6th – 9th September.
WHAT a summer that was – and what a perfect ending. After a long run of historic music festivals and a season that started with the nation sprawling itself with bunting for months of Jubilee, Euro Football and Olympic celebrations, we find ourselves preparing for winter and bidding farewell to a summer that will go down in history.
Eclectic, eventful and essential, it’s been a summer that will be remembered for generations to come – and Bestival more than met the challenge of capping it off with one big, beautiful kiss goodbye.
The scorching sun smiled down on us relentlessly, the nights were long and the party never wanted to stop as every inch of this beautiful countryside became a dancefloor.
Many are put off by what may seem like an excessively long trip to the Isle of Wight – but it couldn’t be much easier. An affordable 40 minute trip on a Wightlink ferry is a small price to pay for the feeling of escaping to another world.
For a comparatively small festival, Bestival’s sense of occasion and spectacle can’t really be beat. Within the festival’s grounds in the beautiful rolling Isle of Wight hills you’ll find the weird and wonderful sites of the psychedelic tents, the roller disco and Swamp Shack built into a spooky lake, a burlesque tea room, a Bollywood rave tent and a whole lot more.
Only at Bestival could you dress up for a wildlife theme, sit down for high tea accompanied by a striptease from a Margaret Thatcher impersonator and then go see the likes of Stevie Wonder and New Order.
It’s much more than a music festival – it’s an experience in the truest sense of the word.
That experience kicked off with the raucous bang of blues courtesy of Alabama Shakes in the Big Top tent on Thursday night. Now, the Bestival crowd are likely to break into dance at any given moment of spontaneity – but Alabama Shakes delivered a hip-shaking set that would have got the most prudish of bystanders moving.
After losing their minds long into the night, Bestival-goers awoke to a soothing dose of wonderful Swedish folk-pop from First Aid Kit. They’ve been a regular fixture at many festivals this year – and they always take the weather them. Their light and breezy sunshine pop was just what was needed before hardcore punk poster boys Gallows came crashing down from the heavens with a fierce and fiery performance that set Bestival alight into an eruption of circle pits.
Warpaint are always an interesting band to behold. Every bit as sensual as they are gloomy, the four girls from LA brought a West Coast dose of lovely and throbbing post-punk to Bestival for some weirdly blissed-out misery that sent all present a-swooning in the late afternoon sun before masses of dance fans headed to the Big Top for some early evening madness from dance-rock pioneers demi-gods Soulwax.
Tuxedoed up and with the tunes to boot, they pack a powerful punch that bended genres and warped minds. Well done Soulwax: not only have you proven that there’s far more to Belgium than waffles, but you pulled off one of the most flawless and memorable sets of the weekend.
Then it fell upon The xx to do what they do best: cause hysteria by doing as little as possible. The crowd stretches back beyond where the eye can see, as these three black-clad 23-year-olds exceed all hype and expectations with a dusk-time set of ghostly, minimal and enigmatic soft caresses that barely leave a trace. Cuts from their latest album Coexist are utterly dazzling – expect to see The xx headlining some pretty massive stages next summer.
“Hands up if you’re planning to do something that you’re really going to regret this weekend,” beams a cheeky Florence Welch to a packed out-field. “You have my blessing.”
As she belts out modern day pop classics to a sea of adoring flailing arms and the roar of loving screams, it’s clear that Florence and the Machine was the perfect booking for a long weekend of hazy hangovers and decadent dallyings.
Shaking off the cobwebs with style and aplomb on Saturday are golden goddesses and soul sensations Sister Sledge. Eyes that were once bleary are soon wide open as the Isle of Wight is united arm in arm to erupt in an explosion of crazed dancing and belting out legendary pop without an ounce of shame in sight.
When you hear these thousands of revellers hollering “we are family” – it genuinely feels like they mean it.
For all present, one of the true stand-out sets of the weekend came from Dub Pistols. After stumbling into the Replay arena purely by chance, I can’t quite translate my delight at discovering these sharp-suited masters of everything from ska and dub to hip-hop and whatever else they fancy. Just when you thought Bestival couldn’t party much harder, Dub Pistols stepped in, raised the bar and then absolutely obliterated it. They’re touring in November – see them at all costs.
Two Door Cinema Club ride their wave of unprecedented success by sending a massive main stage crowd absolutely feral with bouncing before living legends New Order deliver a headline set to really remember.
A few doubts were raised prior to their set – one being whether Bernard Summer’s vocals would sound even half-decent and another being how good a spectacle they’d be without iconic bassist Peter Hook. All doubts were soon vaporised as New Order brought a lesson in pop history to the fields of the Isle of Wight.
With stunning Factory-esque visuals and a whole lot of guts and determination, the new face of New Order brought something pretty unforgettable. Electro-indie classics like Regret, Bizzarre Love Triangle and Blue Monday sound as awesome, monolithic and essential as they ever did. Not only that but Temptation is one of the greatest rock songs ever written and seeing it played on a scale such as this is a memory that shall endure.
“This is THE song to end all festival sets,” smiles Summer before kicking into stone-cold classic Love Will Tear Us Apart from former band Joy Division. There’s neither a dry eye nor still body to be seen. Bestival expects nothing less than the best, and New Order don’t disappoint.
After a bizarre but reinvigorating slot from trippy tribute act Fake Bush, the brilliant Little Dragon was the first to make the main field swoon on Sunday morning with her charged but dreamy dance pop. Then it was up to Roots Manuva and his crew to bring charm and banter with an old-school blast of awesomely unhinged grime – while his signature track Witness became a stand-out track of the weekend as it united Robin Hill Country Park in a skank of pure joy.
Bat for Lashes again weaved her magic around the arena with her witches’ brew of fairytale pop. Old hits Daniel and What’s A Girl To Do entranced the crowd but cuts from new album The Haunted Man gripped all present with their stripped down intensity.
Continuing the wonderful sense of weird were Icelandic post-rock kings Sigur Rós. A lot has been written about how ‘miserable’ they found their own set after having to bring it forward to an earlier slot due to the alleged demands of Stevie Wonder’s production crew.
While it’s just plain wrong to experience a band as atmospheric and moving as this in broad daylight, none would deny the ethereal or possessing force of their set of winsome and otherworldly wonders. A crowd of this size, bedazzled, swaying and howling, is a pretty special thing to be a part of it. Move mountains to see them on tour next March if you have to.
It was always going to be the one-and-only Stevie Wonder who was going to dominate Bestival 2012 though. The crowd he pulls in is astounding, and that’s simply because he’s one of the greatest showmen on Earth and one of our last living legends. Each second of his performance is testament to just how much his music is beloved.
Opening with a fiery rendition of Master Blaster, Stevie takes us on a whirlwind tour through a history of timeless pop greats – with highlights including a tear-jerking singalong to Marvin Gaye and James Taylor’s How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), a rambunctious Motown reimagining of Michael Jackson’s lust-fuelled The Way You Make Me Feel and then a relentless barrage of Wonder hits as Superstition crashes into I Just Called to Say I Love You and Isn’t She Lovely.
He also chucks in a Beatles cover, adapts Empire State of Mind to be about the UK and sings us all Happy Birthday. Whilst a master showman, Wonder is clearly humbled by the near-religious level of worship that he receives tonight, as waves of love crash around the Isle of Wight. What more could you possibly ask for? Tonight: Stevie Wonder IS music incarnate.
The annual fireworks finale is accompanied by songs from musical giants who have died in the last year. The sky lights up and as everyone reaches for the heavens. Some will go home, others to bed, the rest who don’t want the party to stop will head to the Bollywood tent to rave with Jaguar Skills into the early hours. But all will leave with a smile on their face, charged with the buzz that while their bronzed tans and epic hangovers won’t last - but their lives have been changed.
Summer 2012 has given us so much, and Bestival simply couldn’t have done any more to see it away in style.
- Review by Andrew Trendell
- Photos by Andrew Trendell, Vic Frankowski and Dan Dennison
To relive the memories of Bestival with official video coverage you can visit www.youtube.com/bestivaltv
Andrew Trendell travelled to Bestival on the Isle of Wight with Wightlink (0871 376 1000 / www.wightlink.co.uk) on its 40 minute Portsmouth – Fishbourne crossing - one of three routes.
- Car ferries also operate between Lymington and Yarmouth (35 minutes) and there is a passenger catamaran service from Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde Pierhead (22 minutes).
- For September: A ‘Super Saver’ day return for a car plus four costs from £37.50, while a two-three night short break costs from £48 and a seven-night stay is priced from £60.