One has to feel slightly sorry for Rob Da Bank, head honcho of Bestival. He must have pulled so much of his hair out this year. Following the problems with lack of camp site space and car parking at Camp Bestival, he was probably thinking that he was back on safe ground with Bestival. Now in it’s 5th year, it has an established track record and sold out in its quickest time this year. Rob may have considered that he could sit back, relax and know that everything he and his team had learnt from the previous four years of running the event would make Bestival 2008, on the Isle Of Wight the greatest ever.
Unfortunately mother nature had other ideas.
Torrential rain swept across the Isle of Wight on Friday night, causing floods in many areas. Around 50 flood-related calls across the island were made to the I.W Fire and Rescue Service at the height of the deluge, mostly between 5pm and 8pm. Combine this deluge with 30,000 people stomping around the valley site and very quickly Bestival became the wettest and muddiest festival I have attended since Glastonbury 1997 and 1998. In a similar fashion to Glastonbury 1997 many acts were cancelled and stages were shut down as rivers of mud quickly turned the place into a dirty brown welly sucking nightmare. Yes this really was the year of mud at Bestival.
However this is not to say that Bestival was a complete wash out. The organisers have to be given massive credit for working round the clock to try and save as much as the Festival as they could, building up new roads above the mud and laying temporary coverings over the main stage area to make it safe. Toilet trucks had to be pulled by tractors through the mud to empty the portaloos.
Main stage area covered with temporary sheeting
The punters played their part as well. Although some people found the conditions just too overwhelming, and left as early as the first night the vast majority of the Bestival crowd retained a good humoured and happy party vibe, dancing and smiling their way through the whole weekend. As normal there were plenty of fancy dress costumes for the annual parade through the site. This year many attendees dressed up as king prawns, octopi, nemo’s, the titanic, submarines, jellyfish and scuba divers for the theme of 30,000 Freaks Under The Sea which added a much needed dash of colour against the grey skies and thick gravy mud.
Besides the fancy dress one of the most appealing aspects of Bestival has always been the quirkiness and edge it has. In previous years you could stroll the site and find various random ‘happenings’ from impromptu DJ sets in a model village, to mass spontaneous hula hooping sessions by the main stage, to the slightly scary costumed ‘hells grannies’ driving round the site on mini mopeds. It may have been that I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the weather curtailed plans, but there didn’t seem to be as many of these oddities this year.
It was also noticeable that the event seemed marginally more corporate than the totally independent feel of the halcyon days of the first two Bestivals, with areas being sponsored by Rizla, Xbox and Red Bull. This I guess is a commercial reality in this day and age, if the festival is to be realistically priced and sustainable. However Bestival is still a huge jump away from just being another fully branded V or Isle Of Wight Festival that lacks any sense of uniqueness, originality or style. It still has a musical eclecticism that is only bettered by Glastonbury, and there are still plenty of things to do away from the music.
For instance there was a group of artists creating a sculpture of a fairy sitting on a mushroom out of wicker, 300 beautiful tall handmade flags adorning the site, a dukes box (3 men sitting in a tiny clear capsule - simply select a song and they play your tune), dancing lessons, a cream tea tent, the wonderful Bollywood and Black Dahlia cocktail lounges, one of which was serving a cocktail called The Winehouse invented specially for the weekend, the farmers market, ever present women’s institute tea tent and a DJ named DJ Hojo Hits who played nothing but songs by 80’s popstar Howard Jones; this man seemed rather familiar looking to me. In fact I suspect that he writes a blog called Breaking More Waves.
As always with Bestival the music policy was often cutting edge, often hip, sometimes funny and sometimes verging towards the mainstream with everything from hip hop to folk to indie to electronica being featured. DJ’s and bands are both represented, and there really is something for everyone. Of course many had come to see the car crash that is Amy Winehouse on the main stage, but I gave her a wide berth heading instead to Club Dada to rock out with DJ’s Bobby Friction and Nihal who played a fantastic set of dirty asian dubstep, electronica and manic beats. By all accounts Ms Winehouse was pretty tragic, keeping the crowd waiting for ages and then appearing to slur her way through her drastically shortened set.
However the other two headliners, who I did catch were fantastic. My Bloody Valentine were loud, atmospheric and colossal, pummelling the audience with a sound like a helicopter about to take off. Electronic dance legends Underworld also showed they were worthy headliners, with big hands in the air moments for Born Slippy and King Of Snake, huge inflatable multi coloured flashing columns surrounding them, and massive balloons fired off into the crowd.
The highlight of Saturday for many was the two secret guests who played on the main stage on the Saturday afternoon. After 25 years of not playing together, The Specials reunited. Minus founding member Jerry Dammers they launched straight into Gangsters creating a mad excited rush to the front of the stage. Their set was spot on, and despite not playing Ghost Town they left Bestival with everyone shouting for an encore. Later Grace Jones was revealed as the other secret guest and despite feeling somewhat anti climatic after The Specials still dazzled with a variety of costume changes, a great voice and real stage presence.
Away from the main stage many smaller acts also delighted. Rosie Oddie And The Odd Squad performed the best set I have seen her play in the four times I have seen her, her voice rasping like a white indie Macy Gray. One to watch for the future without doubt. Misty’s Big Adventure pulled a big crowd at the Bandstand in the village area of the site and got everyone dancing in the very sticky mud, and festival veterans Transglobal Underground mixed their asian and world influences with hypnotic dance rhythms in the Big Top.
Any festival in the mud is never going to be as much fun as one in the dry. And maybe for me this year Bestival just lost a little of its original quirky charm. It does however remain as one of my favourite events of the year, and there is no doubt I will be back next year, but praying for the clouds to stay away. As no doubt will Rob Da Bank ! The one concern is with the devastation that the mud has caused to the site of Robin Hill Country Park, will the owners want Bestival back again next year ?