For the record, up until Thursday 8 September 2011 I was a festival virgin. A daily shower is pivotal in the daily routine, a camping holiday isn’t a holiday (I hadn’t been since I was 13) and Portaloos hold as much dread as Trainspotting’s Worst Toilet in Scotland. So Bestival would inevitably provide some culture shocks.
Boarding the ferry, out of the half-dozen of us, yours truly was the sole festival novice. Now well and truly out of the comfort zone, I sought some fresh air and peered across the sea, only to hear the ominous opening horns of Krzysztof Penderecki in Shutter Island to begin blaring as the isle loomed.
The sense of dread on this nightmarish rock was compounded by the never-ending Ryde Pier, which is where my festival inexperience truly bared itself. Carrying three bags – a large holdall, an ice box crammed with 18 cans and meat and another holdall with more food and camping gear – the strain told immediately despite one bag’s two-wheel versatility. What was a level walk took on the guise of an assault course.
And then there was the island’s equivalent of Ben Kingsley: queuing. Since it is fashionably English to moan about an orderly line testing the patience, I won't dwell (too much) on the ineptitude. But forgive the Lord Fauntleroy comparison, in Moscow for the 2008 Champions League final there were coaches stretching 10 miles in preparation for the tens of thousands of English supporters. Bestival’s not Uefa, but they risked instigating a few Falling Down-inspired rampages.
Two-and-a-half hours later and we were on a taxi bound for the campsite. Robin Hill is 10 miles away from the pier and contains more hills than a Welsh valley, so my two smoking (not that kind) friends were clearly misinformed having stated that it was ‘six or seven miles’ and ‘walkable’. Hiking through the route avec baggage would have been an apt assignment for Ethan Hunt.
Upon arrival the assault course continued as we were informed by friends who had arrived earlier that base camp was 15-20 minutes away. More ploughing with what felt like James Corden on my back hastened the madness quicker than Leo experienced, compounded when having removed the rods, the pegs, the string and my tent from storage, I realised that the fucking groundsheet was missing. So I bunked with a mate in what was labelled a ‘four-man tent’. By man, they meant ‘dwarf’. And I was Grumpy.
Momentum didn’t waver as thousands danced gleefully in the moonlight before jigging up to Big Top ahead of Primal Scream for Saturday’s denouement
Alas how pleasing it was that after the stress of arriving at the actual site, the biggest gripe was that the site showed 30 men chasing an egg during some stop-start event yet didn’t air the Premier League’s 17:30 televised match. Bestival was vibrant, diverse and eclectic, boasting a carefree celebration of the arts, a family of five blacked-up Rastafarians and the bubbliest bouncers, amongst others. All seen sans drugs.
Santigold ensured the Thursday frenzy wasn’t a write-off with a lively performance up at Big Top, compelling Caucasians wearing rapper baseball caps to experience confusion over their ethnicity. On Friday meanwhile, Beardyman’s beat box bravado failed to win yours truly over live, especially since he was prone to nabbing samples from more distinguished artists while Public Enemy displayed outstanding vigour for their age, despite some self-righteousness. Sacrilegiously, I missed Brian Wilson despite opting to dress as him. (Best costume: Bowie from Labyrinth).
Saturday however was the unparalleled highlight, kick-started by the Village People, who belted out their three songs to such enthusiastic joy that self-described ‘homo-sceptic’ Alan Partridge would’ve joined in. However when G Jeff Olson (the cowboy) ran through how to replicate the ‘YMCA’ chorus before the Macho Men’s performance, my dear friend who shall remain unnamed suffered the ignominy of getting her ‘C’ the wrong way round.
‘Black Saturday’ saw Goth queen PJ Harvey crown her Mercury prize-winning week by charming more admirers with an understated performance, capped with a humble bow. Robert Smith may be halfway to resembling a portlier version of Heath Ledger’s Joker, but The Cure were superb in a marathon two-and-a-half-hour set of hearty melodies as the headline act. Momentum didn’t waver as thousands danced gleefully in the moonlight before jigging up to Big Top ahead of Primal Scream for Saturday’s denouement. Sporadic mediocre alternative bursts only amplified the euphoria which greeted Movin’ On Up, Country Girl and Loaded, although the troughs enabled me to clock that Mani’s shirt was the same he wore at the Rome Champions League final. Loaded?
Departure time was brought forward to Sunday afternoon due to a cock-up over dates and times, though Johnny Flynn ended his Been Listening tour with delightful charisma in what was a tranquil antidote after the previous night’s frivolities, and Marcus Brigstocke and his panel’s irreverent slant on current affairs was grateful comic relief.
Having adopted Sloop John B as my festival motif for its ambiguity, arriving back in Portsmouth the uncertainty was still there: neither the best nor the worst trip, but the vibrations were irrefutably good.
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