10,000 people descended on the Lulworth Estate in Dorset this weekend for the first ever Camp Bestival, the smaller 10,000 capacity sister festival to the now established Bestival. Set adjacent to an old castle with sea views, this new festival from Rob Da Bank and crew was pitching itself at a different demographic of audience than many larger festivals. It promised "A big old family campsite with what we reckon will be the best facilities of any festival.” Inspired by the halcyon days of summers past, Bestival looked to the 1950s British Holiday Camp as a starting point, and therefore campers were awoken with a bing bong chime and a cheery “Hi de hi campers” over a tannoy system each morning from the Bestival Bluecoats, who spent the weekend organising silly sports games and other such fun for adults and children alike.
All of this jollity was marred for many however by an organisational mess at the start of the event when the number of cars arriving on site far exceeded what was expected, and the car park quickly became full. Despite the fact that the festival was aimed largely at families, the number of persons per vehicle was counted at only 1.8, and with 3,500 children in attendance it seems that quite a few families brought two cars to site, one with people and one with camping kit. Luckily for my gang we were one of the first on site and experienced no such problems, but once the car park was full traffic queues built up whilst organisers tried to source more land to use as emergency car parking. The campsite also became very packed, with many people bringing massive tents and a new field had to be found as an emergency campsite. Unfortunately for those situated in this campsite it meant a very long walk to the toilet facilities, as organisers were unable to source any more at short notice, with it being a very busy weekend for festivals generally.
It was apparent on Friday that the main entertainment areas were spaciously empty as many people battle the traffic to get in. This meant that great performances by the likes of Florence And The Machine and Imperial Leisure were missed by many. Florence in particular was incredibly entertaining, bounding round the stage like a small drunk child, wrestling with her keyboard player and generally giving it her all with a massive vocal booming from such a frail body.
However, music played only a small part of Camp Bestival, with many of the family based attractions providing hours of entertainment. Fancy dress was a must on Saturday, with many dressing in the theme of Alice In Wonderland. We counted over 30 Alice’s on site, including several male versions of the apron fronted little girl.
The beautiful Kids Garden was set on perfectly manicured lawn by the castle, a colourful explosion of energy and tranquillity that delighted adults and children equally. Highlights included the magical insect circus and museum, dazzling us with juggling beetles, acrobatic flies and magical caterpillars and comedic performers such as Barnaby’s Razor Sharp Bananas who re-enacted a war using jelly babies as soldiers, Smarties as bombs and fizzed up Coke cans as nuclear warheads. Pant wettingly funny. This area also had the feel of a village fete, with maypole dancing, the women’s institute tea tent and farmers market serving up reasonably priced fare. But mixed with this there was also live music, including the fantastic Lucky Elephant whose sumptuous organ lead grooves and distinctive ’European’ vocal provided for the perfect sunny summer chill out that was one of my highlights of the festival.
But if dance lessons, cream tea and cakes, knitting (!), cockney knees ups, poetry, animal zoo, mad hatters tea parties, science lessons or medieval jousting with full on knights in chain mail weren’t your thing there was still a plethora of good music on the main stage. Chuck Berry is the 81 year old living legend who was there at the birth of rock n roll. His set at Camp Bestival may not have had the power or sex appeal that it had all those years ago, but he still managed to pull a gaggle of girls up on stage with him to writhe and cavort in worship. On Saturday the day belonged to The Flaming Lips who provided ticket tape explosions, green lasers and Wayne Coyne emerging from Lulworth Castle in a plastic balloon, rolling through the crowd in it to the main stage before launching into a turbo charged mountain peak version of Race For The Prize. Sunday saw Billy Bragg popping up on stage twice after his main set on the Saturday, first with folk super collective The Imagined Village and then for a match made in LDN heaven as a duet of New England with Kate Nash. Kate raged about how her song Skeleton Song had been used by pro anorexic groups without her consent, and that she believed that success and happiness should not be attained through body shape or size. Amongst all of this Beardyman converted many with his dumbfounding beat boxing and charm and Suzanne Vega provided a warm mellow set as the yolkish sun began to lay to rest for another day.
So after a shaky start, some glorious weather, a happy colourful and vibrant crowd and a barrage of entertainment, the first Camp Bestival was a success, that should it happen again next year and resolve its teething problems, could really be the festival that matches up to the term “Fun for all the family.”
And finally, here is a short video of Peggy Sue and the Pirates from the Festival, shot by Breaking More Waves. Notice how they got into the fancy dress spirit !