The Downs festival returned to Bristol and was Gurt Lush (or, for those who don’t speak native Bristolian, pretty incredible).
The festival was headlined this year by Ms Lauryn Hill – the first female singer to top the diverse line up. As a founding member of The Fugees, she may have only one solo album to her name, but the Grammy award winning songs have stood the test of time and remain unparalleled among her peers. Incredibly, Lauryn took to the stage on time, playing classics ‘Killing Me Softly‘ and finishing with the classic ‘Ready or Not‘
Lauryn had to give one of her best performances, taking to the stage after fellow icon Grace Jones. With hits such as “Pull Up to the Bumper” and “Slave to the Rhythm,” Grace delivered a jaw-dropping spectacle. With a stunning, if extremely revealing, costume change between each song, she defied her 71 years by showing more energy than any other singer all day.
IDLES played their largest ever gig in their home town when they return to the main stage at The Downs. After an incredible year headlining Glastonbury’s Park Stage and their well-deserved nomination for the 2019 Mercury Music Prize, the crowd chanted their name while they tuned up. Singer Joe Talbot admired the huge crowd with awe, while mutton chopped guitar player, Mark Bowen, danced around the stage in his finest Calvin boxers.
Introducing each song with the sentence ‘This is an anti-fascist song’, their energetic punk anthems blew away the crowd, with the band stage diving throughout. As well as playing song ‘Danny Nedelko’ to his immigrant blood brother, they also played unique snipers of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ and ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’.
Elsewhere, on the Avon Stage, fellow Glastonbury star Loyle Carner proved why he’s a unique talent in the world of hip hop. Down-to-earth and with less macho bravado than his contemporaries, his honest lyrics stand out in the social media age. His sound has been described by NME as “sensitive and eloquent” and by The Guardian as “confessional hip-hop”.
The festival also hosted ‘The Information’ area, with speakers including Desree, award-winning Charlie Craggs and Extinction Rebellion highlighting how we can make a positive impact on local and global issues.
Celebrating their 25th anniversary together, Skunk Anansie are back on the road touring – it’s clear why they’re described as one of the greatest live bands the UK have produced as they blew away the Bournemouth crowd at the O2 Academy.
Skin burst onto stage in mesmerising fashion like a rock goddess wearing her spiked hoodie. Opening with ‘Charlie Big Potato’, she flicked her hood back to rapturous applause from the adoring crowd hypnotised by her energy.
It’s tricky to know how Skin should follow such an electric start, but she turned it up a notch further – during the following song ‘Because of You’, she leapt from the stage, surfing while held aloft by her adoring crowd still singing her cut-throat love song.
As the first first black British woman to headline Glastonbury in ’99, she hasn’t aged a day. In fact, she joked that while the audience were exhausted and sweating, she still remained cool and relaxed. Sickeningly, it was true despite her diving from the stage throughout the set.
The band remain as relevant as ever in the troubled divided times we live in, playing classics such as ‘Intellectualise my blackness’ and ‘Yes it’s f*ck*ng political’, along with a new song tonight ‘This Means War’. Along with recent single ‘What You Do For Love’ , these songs were highlights of the set – which is often rare when fans want to hear the classics from their 25 year career. If there’s anything good to come out of the shambles that is Brexit, it’s the possibility that the band will continue to be re-energised and write powerful tunes reflecting the disgusting rise of populism, not only in the UK but across the world.
As well as their own vast catalogue, Skunk Anansie played a great rendition of Highway to Hell. Even when screaming above Ace’s guitar, her voice remains note perfect, and on softer songs, such as ‘Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good), the tenderness remains.
Skin asked the crowd what song should finish the set, and there was only one correct answer – ‘Little Baby Swastikkka’. Not to be outdone by the adoring crowd, the singer again joined the audience in the mosh-pit, before surfing from the back of the packed crowd back onto the stage in impressive fashion.
This country has produced few better female voices and live, they are a sight to behold. Having bought their live album [email protected], the band have to be seen to truly bring the sense of awe to life.
You can always tell how good a festival is based on how many clashes and must-see bands there are on the line up. With Clean Bandit, New Order, the Wonder Stuff and Basement Jaxx all playing at the same time on the Sunday night, it meant Victorious was an absolute stunner this year.
Much of the line-up could have headlined Glastonbury in the late 90s. Dodgy opened the festival on Friday afternoon with hits ‘Good Enough’ and ‘Staying Out For The Summer’. It truly felt like summer had returned with the sun beaming down throughout the weekend.
The Zutons also warmed up the crowd, playing their energetic original version of ‘Valerie‘, which Amy Winehouse covered and made her own. The Specials were brilliant from start to finish. Playing all the old 2Tone classics plus a selection from the recent Encore album. Discussing Brexit, austerity, racism and poverty. Terry Hall stayed grounded despite the party going on around him, finishing with ‘Too Much Too Young‘, ironically recorded over 40 years earlier.
Festival favourites The Dub Pistols played the smaller Beats and Swing stage shortly afterwards, and based on the size of their merry crowd, surely they should have been booked for the main stage. Party starter Barry Ashworth blew away the crowd like the seasoned pro he is. Often described rightly so as the hardest working and performing singer on the festival circuit, he pogo’d around the stage with more energy than any other younger pretender. Among the hits was Mucky Weekend with its appropriate chorus: “Oh, no here we go again, I’m off my face another mucky weekend. One day I’m gonna have some kids and a wife, but until then, I just wanna live my life”
Two Door Cinema Club clashed on the main stage and while the Irish band may have had a bigger platform to perform and more visual effects, it felt like The Specials should have been headlining the Friday night based on the crowd reaction.
Fireworks finished the night in spectacular fashion along Portsmouth seafront but the major drawback of all these bands was the car park – trying to get out of the car park each night was a true challenge. The stewards didn’t seem to know what day it was, yet alone where exit was as they seemed pretty full of festival spirits themselves.
Saturday began on a high particularly early, with All Saints taking to stage at 1.15pm. Crowds arrived early to ensure they didn’t miss the foursome begin with ‘I Know Where It’s At’. The set was hit-after-hit and they seemed timeless, having aged far less than most. Maybe there’s a secret potion, or not so secret personal trainers, make up, lotions and potions.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Republica played crowd pleasing ‘Ready to Go’ and ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’, while Badly Drawn Boy questioned whether he was at the right festival with his Mercury Music Prize winning folk after following the girl bands.
Fun Lovin’ Criminals received the award for biggest crowd singalong not only for Reservoir Dogs influenced Scooby Snacks, but also for playing Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York’ – even the security team couldn’t resist joining in swinging to the crooner’s tune.
With mods Ocean Colour Scene playing at the same time as Lewis Capaldi, the clashes really began. The crowd for Lewis was unbelievable with no way to enter or exit from Southsea Castle within 30 minutes of him taking to the stage. St John’s Ambulance and emergency services deserve full credit for helping the adoring fans, and Lewis didn’t let down all those in attendance. Clearly he was moved too, filming the vast crowd himself for his Instagram channel.
Later, James Bay clashed with The Hives. Two extremely different performers – James’ hit ‘Hold Back The River’ competed for the crowd against the vastly different ‘Tick Tick Boom’ from the Swedish rockers.
Bringing Saturday to a close on the main stage were Rudimental with their vast stage presence, or on the Castle Stage, Bloc Party who played their masterpiece debut Silent Alarm in full, but in reverse, so the hits ‘Helicopter‘ and ‘Banquet‘ were anticipated by the huge crowd. Finishing with ‘Flux’ and ‘Ratchet’, they truly deserved their headline slot.
Sunday began with a more relaxed reggae vibe. Ziggy Marley, the son of reggae icon Bob Marley. While playing a mix of his own songs, the biggest cheers went out for the legendary Jammin’ and One Love.
Throughout the day, the lineup again basked in the bank holiday sun, with local Southampton group Band of Skulls blowing away any tiredness. Razorlight‘s Johnny Borrell still has all the energy from the early 2000’s and, having not listened to them in over a decade, the songs still sounded fresh and exhilarating.
The clashes on Sunday night were interesting, and made choosing who to see extremely difficult. Ash were booked to play the Castle Stage almost at same time as The Vaccines on the main Common Stage. Ash won out everyday with their intergalactic sonic 7 inch singles such as ‘Girl From Mars’, ‘Burn Baby Burn’ and ‘Oh Yeah’ but The Vaccines charm made the energetic sprint worthwhile to catch their opening 20 minutes.
Plan B felt a little out of place at the family friendly festival, with his Ill Manors, but the crowd sung along for ‘She Said‘ and ‘Mercy’, while failing to keep up with rappers Defamation of Strickland Banks.
New Order brought the party to a close on the main stage, saving their biggest songs True Faith, Blue Monday and Temptation for the devoted fans willing to brave leaving the car park at close.
Clean Bandit meanwhile finished proceedings on the Castle Stage with their mix of classical and dance pop music. They’ve become one of the most strongly supported radio pop acts in the country with a Grammy under their belts.
The set ended with a joyous rendition ‘Rather Be‘, which was an appropriate high to end the weekend on.
Camp Bestival is often described as the ultimate family festival, for kids big and small, from 8 months to 80, and it’s easy to understand why.
For the little ones, children’s TV royalty Mr Tumble, entertained with his catchy singalong and slapstick set, Mister Maker brought his favourite shapes and moves, and Shaun the Sheep came with his own Vegetable Orchestra and farmyard frolics.
There was so much else for the whole family – from Rak Su showing why they won the X Factor, to Lewis Capaldi who will surely be a headliner in in future years due to size of the crowd, Scottish charm and melancholic hits.
Dads squeezed into their now ill-fitting t-shirts to sing along to Ash, Shaun Ryder’s Black Grape and the Human League. Shed 7 made the fateful mistake of uttering the words no fan of revival music likes to hear, namely “Here’s a song of our new album’– the audience shivered despite the sun, wanting more of their 90’s gold.
Nile Rodgers, Chic, and Sister Sledge rolled back the years with their timeless disco hits and good times. During Sister Sledge’s slot, they tested who truly was the greatest dancer and no one could hold a candle to young Rupert’s smooth moves in front of a sell-out crowd.
As well as the main stage, there was also such a wide mix of entertainment for all other family members across the site. From Napalm Death’s ear-splitting head-banging set in the Big Top, Vengaboys arriving on their party bus, Mr Motivator’s energising session for the fitness bugs, to The Cuban Brothers hilarious (if somewhat inappropriate) funky acrobatics and breakdancing on stage.
The theme of the weekend was Superhero’s and Jess Glynne came on stage with pyrotechnics to her No. 1 hit ‘Hold Me Hand’– dressed as her own idol, Cher.
Spectacular fireworks over Lulworth Castle brought the weekend to a close.
After leaving the magic of the festival, the outside world feels very Black and White – without the colourful fields painted with a bright hullabaloo of sequins, glitter, inflatable, and colourful flags, everything feels beige in the surrounding fields of Dorset.
In addition to the music, Camp Bestival brought even more enchantment across the site this year. There was so much else to see, that you could visit for the weekend and have a great time and not even visit any of the main stages. The Wild Tribe area offered drumming circles, leafy adventures, and an escape from any technology and computer screen, Sleep Retreat provided free yoga workouts to recover from the hedonistic previous night, and a feast of food stalls where you could eat something different for the next month, provided you didn’t venture to the world’s biggest bouncy castle afterwards.
This is all without mentioning the Caravanserai, which can only be described as a festival itself within a festival. Aerial performers hustled high above the quirky mix of ramshackle caravans, Wurlitzers, carnival DJ’s and Victorian fairground rides among other curiosities and oddities.
Fortunately, the sun shone on the crowd all weekend and the superhero theme was warmly received, with all family members getting into the spirit and squeezing into costumes.
Full credit must go to Rob Da Bank and Josie’s superhuman effort for coming back again this year and hosting the incredible party in the south.
Roll on next year’s Camp Bestival – let’s hope the party continues for many more years to come.