Festibelly. Sounds good, right? I fantasize about a mile long banquet out in the fields, the kind for medieval kings and queens, with all the mod cons and a soundtrack to boot. It’s day one, though, and I’m out of my depth – nobody mentioned a tightrope.
At a safe distance I watch as adults and kids queue, eager to play out their circus dreams. There’s hula too, and each attract a strong grownup contingent, age one of many barriers beautifully blurred over the weekend’s New Forest gathering.
Invention abounds. One young woman steps hurriedly on stilts as friends pass a hula-hoop around her hips, mimicking the feat. Even in this small field, I fancy I could make the weekend without seeing a single band. It’s part of Festibelly’s charm.
I follow a familiar tune to the Terrapin Station, where an impromptu singalong has broken out to Bohemian Rhapsody. A sudden downpour makes an excellent excuse to lie back in our tent and soak up the bourgeoning camp (oh, how we soak!). There are some brilliant exchanges. “Is cider a depressant?” starts one passerby, and I fight the urge to interject and give the game away.
As the carpark starts to fill, we skip out in wellies to explore Lymington town. The high street is lined with market stalls, and ambling vaguely toward the sea we’re among a handful of people not eating ice cream. Or walking our dogs. Or both. For me, though, it’s a decidedly Bakewell occasion, so we beeline to a nearby café.
Back at base the tunes have begun. Folky Rob Cowen & The Dissidents “love the neon” in City Lights, and a slow, stripped cover of 1970s hit Hotel California is fitting fodder on a bright afternoon. There’s welcome irreverence from The Operators, the lead singer shouting in mock admonishment by way of encouraging the crowd. Tongue firmly in cheek, he says Careless is “about going mental and being stupid, hence Careless.” We hear By My Side and Meet Me In The Morning, and there’s a slick nod to Rihanna (or is that Michael Jackson?) somewhere amid clapping and cowbells.
Parisian trio We Were Evergreen have as much fun as their fans, and why not? They sound like summer – in clubs, parks, beaches, and bars – and just when you think you’ve got a handle on their sound, the lead singer swaps ukulele for trumpet and the tent gets rightly jazzy. At one point there is a request for silence; “Let’s all go ‘shhhh!’” they smile, as if sharing a secret. If you’ve never had the pleasure, YouTube any version of Baby Blue (my favourite was filmed at St. Pancras International).
An aptly named Massive in China stage goes bananas for Crowns. The boys ask in earnest if their instruments are loud enough, and I suspect they want someone to up the volume. The Cornish group play some serious folk – there’ll be bruised knees around Festibelly tomorrow. Frontman Bill Jefferson breaks mid-set to sip a revellers drink, cunningly disguised as a protein shake. “I don’t want to tell you what to do,” he shouts, launching into the raucous Little Eyes, “but I think you’ll have more fun if you can-can!”
I cheer with the heaving tent when our MC mocks the masses waiting in line for silent disco, but as the next act starts up (an Indian marching band, of course) I steal away to join the spectacle. Headphones have sold out but we’re free to roam as the tent erupts in chorus to Eye Of The Tiger. The disco keeps on to the small hours, and we fall asleep to sounds of ‘silent’ fun.
It's high summer when I wake. Couples, families, and indeterminable larger groups sprawl sitting or lying, relishing the day. At the main stage people come and go, music secondary to conversation. The bank holiday makes Sunday the perfect time to party, and all-singing, all-dancing Man Like Me do just that. At the height of random are playful tracks Peculiar and Squeeze. London Town feels comparatively tame, but that's not a criticism. Frontman Johnny Langer isn't shy either; early in the piece he loses his shirt, and later hops off-stage to take a walk through the crowd.
Clock Opera aim to please with plenty of grandiose tracks like Once And For All. There's something unnerving about lead singer Guy Connelly's beard, so I focus instead on the Chris Martin lookalike manning keyboard and synth. Soon, they start to sound like Coldplay, but again that’s no critique.
I’m not fussed on Icarus, but when Bastille hit Overjoyed, F
I’m sure I love Gold Panda's heavy bass, but it’s ambient noise this hour of night, and I’m fast distracted by talk of burgers. Punters gather by the roaring fire, a ceremonious end to our official Festibelly experience. Would I go back? Without a doubt, and next time I might even brave the hula.