Bestival. The summer finale. The big kahuna. Bestival has been my homecoming for the last twelve years and this is the first time I don’t have to catch a ferry to get there. No lies – it feels weird. There was something sort of magical about catching the ferry with everyone, the anticipation, the journey, knowing that you were really going on an adventure. The short drive from the motorways to The Lulworth Castle estate just isn’t the same. On the other hand, the hefty hiked Red Funnel ferry prices I certainly will not miss, nor the uncertainty of whether your entire party will actually make it onto said ferry (my brother missed it once due to an accidental detour round the M25 at rush hour. He didn’t make it onto the island for another twelve hours…).
Anyway, we’re here – the sun is trying to shine and we’ve just driven through a very castle-y looking gateway to get into the carparks. Now, first thing to mention – the carparks are at first thought, extremely pleasingly close to camping. Trussed up with all our camping gubbins we head through the bag and ticket check which isn’t too busy at this time in the morning, though the searches aren’t super through (maybe I just have an innocent face?) there are police and sniffer dogs quite clearly overseeing operations. In fact, we watch some scallywags being unceremoniously marched offsite whilst we queue.
Grabbing our wristbands, we head into the campsites in search of high ground in Rainbow Rave (we’ve checked the weather… no-one wants to be downhill…). After a quick set-up and drinks we head into the arena to see what’s what. To my utter dismay there seems to be only one route through the campsites into the main arena and it’s a valley, with a great stonking near vertical hill either side. My foreboding barometer is going wild… I know what this will look like in the rain.
As we traverse the site we pass Slow Motion which doesn’t look entirely set up yet, there are men still hammering things… a very sad looking tiny cousin of The Wishing Tree, and then we are into the main arena, greeted by The Lovebot and the two giant astronauts which flanked last years’ Space Port. It’s very weird seeing all this out of situ on the IOW. Taking in the site it’s considerably smaller and a lot more cramped in than Robin Hill, it’s also pretty damn hilly, with The Temple and Bollywood up at the top, presiding over everything.
We decide to tramp our way to The Castle in search of The Feast Collective for some late lunch and find it tucked away in a small field behind, alongside the kids and crafty area. It’s cute, but it’s pretty remote/removed from everything else. The Feast Collective itself is one of my favourite additions to Bestival’s lineup over the last few years, I mean the food is great all over site, but this is always something special. Today we hit up The Rac Shack for Poutine, which is absolutely epic (who doesn’t love chips, cheese and gravy?!) but there’s just so much on offer it was pretty hard to choose. The music is loud, the fairy lights and foliage give it atmosphere and everyone is chowing down on a world-tour of amazing food. You can wrap your chops around crispy duck Bao, buttermilk fried chicken, Indonesian street food, vegan maki rolls… we’re spoilt for choice. Another notable addition – plastic Bestival beer cups, much less drunk hazard and probably the cheapest souvenir on site.
After food we take a quick tour around, the main stage area isn’t open yet (and looks like it’s still being built) we take a quick peek over the site from the top of Oberon’s Observatory and then make a pit-stop at the Old Mout cider garden for a boogie. Our friend manages to split the ass of his jumpsuit during a dance-off, and proceeds to can-can with his pants hanging out. We do some karaoke, have a go at their tiny zip-line and join in a very ill-advised and danger-laden conga around their small stage. It’s a nice little area complete with swing seats and the most useless periscopes ever, but we’re in search of different feels so it’s onto a firm favourite of mine – Caravanseri. It’s a different layout, a little bigger, but with two distinct sections – the tent/bar area and the stage area. As the rain begins to pour we dart into the Carousel tent for a dance and shelter, here it most feels like we’ve returned. The twinkling lights, the DJ’s, the laughter coming from each little caravan pocket of seating, the glitz and glam of this otherworldly little circus. It’s hard to describe, to put into words… it feels like I’m made entirely of fibre-optics and being at Bestival again is lighting up all the pathways. There’s something about being surrounded by other people setting themselves free, embracing the moment as if nothing else exists. I mean, that’s the point of all this, surely.
Drunk on freedom and well… vodka, we set off for The Box (for Besti returners… the artist previously known as The Big Top) to catch a bit of ‘Oh My God! It’s The Church’ who are bonkers and brilliant. As instructed, we sinners crouch down low as the Reverand yells “The church has one last thing to tell you... I have to praise you!” before jumping about like loons on the drop of Fatboy Slim’s classic track.
We take a hike up the hill to check out The Temple – a beautiful neon beacon in the night, it’s all lasers and light with bass thumping heavy in our chests. After a brief (excuse the pun) encounter with a very friendly, ginger-bearded, shiny-hot-pants wearing Santa Claus and some pretty crap Kevin-and-Perry style raving, we flop down on beanbags in the shisha tent next door. It’s cosy and calm but all the drinks taste of chai no matter what you’ve ordered and the staff seem to be a little bit squiffy themselves.
…and so it pours. There was never going to be any escaping it this weekend, and luckily we packed accordingly. After fetching our friend who spent last night in her car just outside of Bestival due to arriving after the midnight curfew, we wait out the stormy morning weather in the tent, playing some very revealing drinking games and then head into the arena during a relatively dry break. It’s clear the valley between the campsites is already a problem, we stick to the sides but watch a number of people go down hard as it’s really slippy. One other thing we’ve noted so far is that there seem to be really few toilets around in the campsite, and they don’t seem to be being cleaned or emptied as regularly. A shame considering decent loos were something Bestival has been known for over the years.
We catch a little of Sinkane’s set in The Box, it’s a pretty decent crowd and he has an incredible voice, the jazzy, disco sound is just right to blow away the blues of a wet afternoon. Over at Old Mout we witness the greatest Karaoke ever – a guy who knows every single word of Men At Work’s ‘Land Down Under’ wins himself a tambourine, and the admiration of all who heard, and then the crew of Coppafeel proposition us for photos posed with a giant wearable boob, and tell our friend how to check his pecs.
Over on the main stage Dub Pistols are bashing out the electric feels and looking way too cool to be there, but next up we have Bestival legends (and my personal heroes) The Cuban Brothers. Throwing shapes on stage we have Archerio and Kenny (the bastard) alongside Juan Erection who busts big flares and flips, whilst Miguel tell us all about his #sexyfavours. I’m sure its incomprehensibly weird to anyone new to the Cubans but you learn to just roll with it, promise. After a quick costume change into their signature fringed lycra, Miguel apologises for Arch “…it's a big guy in a gold suit with a tiny penis... it’s like a shittily wrapped christmas present...we’re giving to you” before Arch drops freezes and Kengo performs insane head-spins. Despite the expected de-pantsing of Miguel and the frighteningly small Swan pouch pants, the Cubans are never not entertaining. You know, in a nightmare-inducing way.
Soul II Soul bust late 80’s hit ‘Back To Life’ and we are instantly transported into nostalgia, they are every bit as vocally strong as they ever were and it’s clear that despite the iffy weather, the crowd are absolutely loving every second of it. Over at the Bramble FM Roadshow (a tiny caravan stage behind the castle) a comedian is making terrible historical jokes about Cholera, so we catch some of Ray BLK’s incredible vocals on the main stage, ‘Doing Me’ and ‘Chill Out’ are just awesome to hear live, it’s beautiful and serene. Over in The Box, Romare is all big visuals and mixed up beats. From the same label as Mr. Scruff (also playing this weekend) it’s a stay-n-sway chilled set, and everyone in the tent is moving.
Closing the main stage tonight are English indie-rockers The XX, with an incredible, forceful yet intimate set replete with hits old and new. Check out our full review HERE!
After the high of The XX we’re not ready to finish the night there, so head into Caravanserai to catch some acts at Cirque Bijou, and we are beyond impressed by the extremely talented @_thathoopgirl who even managed to spin her LED lit hoops ON HER TONGUE. We also loved the slackline twins and Slightly Dubious Science, despite the bubble failures. Heading into The Ambient Forest for a roam we quickly deduce that this is a considerably smaller space than Robin Hill, with about as many people trying to get through it. There are some trails with serious drop-offs, not a single security guard in sight (other than at the entrance) and nowhere near enough lights on paths to be safe. It’s a long chalk from the beautiful and eerie forest we knew at the previous site. I did love the cosy fire-tent at the top, and there were some hilarious attempts at umbrella limbo in The Frozen Mole, but to be honest it didn’t really work overall. It felt really separate to everything else, where the previous Ambient Forest was full of pathways to other areas and an adventure in finding secret happenings.
Over in Club Dada, we catch the New York Brass Band (who are actually from North Yorkshire… go figure) in an extremely sweaty but friendly tent, under the soft light from strings of old lampshades. They play amazing big band covers like Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’ and Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’, with the entire crowd singing along. We join in for Bob Marley cover ‘One Love’ and Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’ but head for the sides when they drop into the rowdy LMFAO ‘Party Rock Anthem’. One of my favourite things about Bestival is all of these individual pockets of joy all over the site.
Well things overnight have improved a little – it’s actually verging on sunny so we’re donning our best sparkly outfits today. After a cracking breakfast of avo-on-toast from The Breakfast Club and a couple of cans of G&T (I don’t care how hipster that sounds, it was glorious) we’re heading into the arena. Witness The Fitness is giving yoga-bods their daily dose of zen, there’s glitter in the air and the true colours of Bestival are showing in everyone’s fabulous outfits.
Over on the main stage, UK rapper Nadia Rose is cute but fierce in her pink shellsuit jacket spitting ‘Skwod’ to a bouncing crowd but we’re charging The Box for Disney Rascal. Dressed in an eclectic mix of costumes from Disney movies the band play ska/pop punk covers of all our favourites. There’s ‘The Bare Necessities’ and ‘Kiss The Girl’ but the mashups are the real stroke of genius; Queen’s ‘I Want To Break Free’ flows seamlessly into ‘Hakuna Matata’ whilst Bob Marley’s ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’ becomes Toy Story’s ‘You’ve Got A Friend In Me’. As if that all isn’t Disney enough for you, the show is halted so that guitarist Peter Pan (aka Chris) can propose on stage to his girlfriend, who is dressed as Absolom from Alice in Wonderland. It’s surreal and adorable. We loved you Disney Rascal, please return!
Just as we decided to head out in search of food, the heavens opened with the biggest downpour of the weekend yet, and the realisation that we’ve all opted for trainers instead of wellies, sets in. Arse.
Luckily for us a second exceptional cover band is up next – The Smiths Ltd. with a very realistic (though definitely less politically sassy) Morrissey frontman. The entire tent is singing at the top of their voices for ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ and honestly, it’s a pretty damn good replacement for those of us that never got to see The Smiths themselves. Bonus points for not having to listen to Morrissey whine about the world mid-set too. Oh and I have to give special mention to the dude in the crowd wearing the ‘Rizla Fedora’ – you sir are a king among men. For everyone who didn’t encounter this top cat, he had glued packets of rizla and filters to his hat in a help-yourself buffet of cigarette rolling genius.
With a small break in the rain, we traipse through the pooled mud and grab ourselves some stomach-warming Katsu curry and then watch a strange pop-up mariachi band on the stage underneath the Astronaut rainbow, who play covers of Five’s ‘Keep On Moving’ and The Spice Girls’ ‘Spice Up Your Life’. It’s bonkers and brilliant. At this point it’s becoming clear we’ll have to trek back to the tents for wellies due to the increasing danger the arena is posing underfoot, and as expected – the valley between campsites has become deadly slick and there aren’t really any other options for getting up or down it safely. It also takes an incredibly long-time to get back to the tents which is a shame because it means missing even more. Here’s hoping next year a second entrance to the main arena can be organised, cause death valley is not my idea of fun festival times.
After some fortifying beers and more appropriate footwear, we are back in the arena for Rag ‘N’ Bone Man. Towering over everyone else on stage, Rory Graham (aka Rag ‘N’ Bone Man) strides on with confidence, wearing a red and black varsity jacket. Starting off with ‘Wolves’ and letting us know “I feel very lucky to stand in front of you beautiful people and play today”, the crowd is already absolutely taken with his flawless vocals. Bowling through old and new hits, Graham jokes “That was a song about people with big heads and big egos... I dedicate it to Donald Trump… the orange prick” to much laughter and clapping across the arena. ‘Human’ and ‘Hell Yeah’ just top off a stunning set, marred only slightly by the crappy weather.
With the cooler temperatures and intermittent downpours, The Feast Collective is ram-jammed with bodies but we manage to commandeer some table space for dinner (I chose a Prawn/Chips/Samphire box of joy from Shrimpy’s – amazing) but no sooner than we had finished, security guards were clearing the tent due to a ‘health and safety issue’. Talking to the Bestival team we discovered it was a national grid issue – it seems the weather is a pain in the arse for everyone this weekend!
Over at The Port (which is considerably smaller and a bit sad compared to it’s original conception) Fatman Scoop and Jaguar Skills are delivering beats and laughs, but we’re back at the Castle stage for Dizzee Rascal. The much needed injection of energy coming from Dizzee helps us forget the dire weather for a while and we get down to ‘Dance Wiv Me’ like it’s 2008. Dizzee shouts out to the dude dressed as Batman and busts out the one we’ve been waiting for: ‘Bonkers’, and it is just that. The arena erupts in a muddy, bouncy, frantic mess. Which is precisely the kind of release everyone seems to have needed today. Yelling into his custom yellow mic “Put two fingers in the air and shout peace!” Dizzee notes that there’s a “…lot of bollocks going on the world right now but we all came together.” to a huge roar from the crowd who’ve battled death valley to be there.
Unfortunately due to rain and the state of the arena, there’s no safe way for the night parade to, well, parade. It’s a sort of sad little gathering in front of the castle, until the Portsmouth Batala Band get on the case with their rolling drums. It’s a shame the parade couldn’t have marched around the castle walls, away from the mud – it would have looked amazing.
Back on the main stage we are ready for A Tribe Called Quest’s final ever show. Following the death of bandmate Phife Dawg last year, this show is above all else a tribute act and a way to say goodbye. Despite a dodgy start the show goes on to be one of Bestival 2017’s highlights, and to be there, to be part of the history; amazing. Read our full ATCQ review HERE!
Embarking on the grueling walk back to the campsite we see an unfortunate person with what looks like a dislocated knee being attended to, and I can’t help thinking that the weather gods really have decided to smite this new site. On the other hand, we also watch a girl ride an inflatable unicorn down death valley with wild abandon, so it’s obviously not too awful for some!
After a hairy night of holding onto the sides of the tent in fear of ending up in Kansas, we pop our heads out to see that the campsite is looking decidedly emptier. It seems a lot of people have packed up this morning/been forced to evacuate wind-trashed abodes. Robin Hill campsites were blessed with the shelter of the valley and cliffside but here we are open to the elements and it shows, there are broken tent-poles and piles of scrapped polyester strewn around the place. Another bugbear for this new site/year is the toilets don’t seem to have been cleaned or emptied at all this morning, they are very full, stinky and gross – not something we’re used to experiencing at Bestival to be honest.
After hiding out for most of the morning, trying to muster up the courage to brave the walk in, we top up with all the booze we don’t want to carry home tomorrow and head to The Box for a little warmth with Weymouth Ukeleleans who are dressed in Hawaiian shirts and playing T Rex’s ‘We Love To Boogie’. It’s a bit of a culture shock to be honest.
At The Port we catch a gospel choir singing Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ to a meagre and beleaguered crowd (well, except for that stag party down the front who are clearly already half cut and loving it), and over near The Feast Collective we get in on a small bluegrass band playing washboards and roping in audience members for percussion.
On the main stage L.A. Salami is part spoken word, part soft lounge jazz. He has a fantastic voice and it’s a shame the crowd is so sparse, the arena is a picture of devastation with churned up channels of mud knee deep. The area near the corner toilets looks like the bog of eternal stench, and if you get too close, smells like it too.
Too many T's are drafted in to fill another spot and joke about the “The great British summertime” as the wind picks up again. In a perfect twist of fate, three songs in to their set after declaring “We’re gonna do our debut album, it comes out on Friday... front to back, in it’s entirety” the show is halted due to rising winds and some dangerously flappy stage-side screens. It’s 1.20pm and the winds are driving in hard. We get word that the Ambient Forest has also been closed for safety, and within half an hour the call goes up for the arena to be evacuated entirely. By 5pm the screens have been strapped down, most of the site has been bathed in hay and we’re back on track, but by now it seems the damage has mostly already been done.
The information about the arena being back open went out via the app and Bestival social media… only one problem… how many people still have charged phones, data, or signal left on Sunday afternoon of a festival? We also heard reports of some security staff telling people that the whole thing was closed and the arena wouldn’t be re-opening, prompting many to give up and leave early, I suppose with the high risk of drink driving – had they spent the morning in full festival mode.
On the main stage a po-faced Loyle Carner calls out “I’m really sorry I can’t play this show... but I can do you one poem if you want?” before playing to the meagre 20 or so people who actually made it back out. Luckily people begin to filter back in and a couple of acro-yoga performers get entertaining in the mud, even roping in a security guard for a go. They’ve gathered a pretty massive crowd and are epitomising the true spirit of Bestival – no fucks given. It’s awesome.
Circa Waves up next and they’re just what the doctor ordered. The wind has died down and the sound is cracking, calling out “…this the last song of our festival season... thank you for coming to see us...” they are lifting the spirits of the growing crowd, now a sea of mud, glitter and laughter. There are also rumours that Simon from The Inbetweeners is running around in the mud naked, as they’re filming for ‘The Festival’ here this weekend. I can only imagine the terrible, perfect portrayal of British festivals that will be…
Up next with a last minute fill in for the absent Justice, are masters of the electro – Soulwax, and OH MY WORD their set is infuckingcredible. 3 giant metallic boxes house 3 drummers, playing all manner of weird and wonderful toms and cymbals, the beats are so strong it feels like the ground is shaking beneath us. The whole crew are decked out in bright white lab coats which are pulsing bright under the flashing strobes, and a spinning silver cyborg head on a mic stand at the front flashes like a disco ball.
Pushing and prodding at giant NASA-esque synths, Soulwax seem as lost in the moment as we are, but there’s time enough for them to joke “…to be here, on this stage... because Justice didn’t turn up... we turned up in the rain with our studio...” before dropping ‘NY Excuse’. It sounds like a wry dig at Justice and we wonder if they know something we don’t about the bands’ absence this weekend. As a giant version of the android head rises from the back of the stage and spins in tandem with the small one, the beats continue to ramp up to a point where every single body in the now fuller arena is going all out mental, this is hands down the best show of the entire weekend and I can’t believe so many people are missing it. It’s a travesty!
Yes it’s cold tonight, but the wind has died down and the rain has thankfully abated in time for the almost-didn’t-happen finale of the Pet Shop Boys. With an amazing laser-filled extravaganza absolutely saves the day with a proper, justified ending to the festival, instead of the wash-out it certainly could have been. Check out our full Pet Shop Boys review HERE!
Turning around to watch the fireworks show go off from the top of Lulworth Castle, we hug each other and say our goodbyes to the summer (hah), it’s a perfect moment only spoiled by the knowledge that we have to make the trip back to the tents once more. We take one last detour to Anna-Mae’s Mac N Cheese, passing The Temple and The Port which are both still going heavy with the remainder of the Bestival 2017 survivors. The campsite is a tent graveyard, broken poles like the bones of destroyed carcasses stick into the sky and we all duck as a loose pop-up whirls past our heads, escaping into the night sky. The toilets still haven’t been cleaned and seem to be taking on a presence of their own, a la Foul Ole Ron. If you know, you know.
However bad it is, I know that moving this festival was a crazy feat, there are teething problems here for sure, but the feel… the spirit of Bestival is still alive. Tomorrow I will rejoice in clean toilets, sinks with running water and a bed that I didn’t have to inflate, but the Bestival blues will hit just as hard after that, as any other year. I love you, you weird wonderful place.
The tragic news of the death of Louella Michie doesn’t hit the papers until Monday, and leaves extreme sadness - she was just someone who was there, like us, for freedom and fun. Bestival had all the measures in place that they should have, but it’s hard to deny that UK drug culture has been on the rise again in the last few years. It’s a tragic and sobering end to what was a rocky, but great first year for Bestival in it’s new home.
All photographs © A. McHardy for SFG – Do not use without permission