Taking The Cold Soup Challenge At Bestival

A rubbish camping stove and terrible navigational skills started the weekend with a whimper, but thanks to Public Enemy, The Cure and a man dressed as a banana it wasn't all cold soup and aimless wandering in the dark...
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A rubbish camping stove and terrible navigational skills started the weekend with a whimper, but thanks to Public Enemy, The Cure and a man dressed as a banana it wasn't all cold soup and aimless wandering in the dark...

There was a fine moment on Friday morning when I stood outside the Big Top second stage before the arena was open, about 10am and watched a band soundcheck. No idea who they were – there are lots and lots of acts at this place – and it was quite dark inside and they had their smoke machine on for some flash reason and they didn't sing so I couldn't google the words and obviously they didn't announce what they were called as the audience was me, a sound man and the fellow from the chapati stall. The sun was beginning to burn through the clouds and I stood, nearly alone, in a big field, looking into the waking carnival valley while a band behind me played bombastic, windswept, big rock. It woke up the weekend. They sounded like Simple Minds.

That I didn't know who they were didn't matter because Bestival doesn't have to be about trainspotting. Sure, if you want to stand by a DJ booth noting tracks you can do that 24 hours a day, but it's very friendly towards a more casual approach, dipping into acts and events much in the way organiser Rob Da Bank intended, the music often eclectic and cheerful - 'the CDs in my car match the bands on stage.' Mr. Da Bank's in-car entertainments doesn't include much metal but does have a lot of bouncy new dance-based acts, (a jolly Katy B, the satisfyingly bass-heavy Skrillex), and lots of nice established acts for the older or less up-to-date folk, (old reggae champs Toots and the Maytals, Sunday's headliner Bjork). It's a very good mix. If you can't find something you like, you're doing it wrong. It should be fun all the way. Of course, if you're like me, you'll find ways to spazz it up, but not at the expense of one's entertainment. I made a hash of things.

There was a crying boy, fizzing and zapping on Ecstacy, make-up flooding down, who needed a cuddle. Then there was a girl who whispered in my ear, pinched my bum then ran away, the cow. The sexy cow.

Transport. It's on the Isle of Wight, ever so pretty but a horrible place for foot soldiers. Over four hours waiting for a ferry followed by two waiting for a bus that never came, and scrabbling round for a taxi to save camping in the streets of Cowes. Then there's hefting a huge amount of gear in the pissing rain to a pitch-dark, unfindable camping spot – you get the idea. Bring a car. It's vital. This makes it easier to bring friends too, also necessary. Several of mine were variously injured on the journey, had lost their wallet or had been taken away in the drunkards ambulance so I knew few people. All love to those who were there, though, and the many strangers I met, especially the ones I had touchy contact with. That wasn't much to be honest. There was a crying boy, fizzing and zapping on Ecstacy, make-up flooding down, who needed a cuddle. Then there was a girl who whispered in my ear, pinched my bum then ran away, the cow. The sexy cow.

My mistakes extended to my catering. I had a piece-of-shit camping stove that somehow burned all of its fuel in making a cup of lukewarm water so I had to slurp cold slop out of the tin.

The Cold Soup Drunk Out-Of-A-Can  Challenge! Winner: Heinz Minestrone. Quite tasty, with lots of solid bits in it that made it feel like food.

Loser: Baxter's French onion. Very poor. Greasy, with slimy onions. Must be served hot, to offset the icky viscosity.

The big bands were almost all good, as they ought to be. Brian Wilson may or may not be alive, it wasn't clear to the audience, but he brought the sun out with the Beach Boy hits. Dame Polly Harvey, in splendid feather head-dress played her precise, elegant ballads to a warm crowd, supportive after her Mercury triumph. The mighty Public Enemy, 25 years and still going, may have converted new fans with their idiosyncratic stage show – Chuck D ferociously spitting polemic while Flavor Flav pranced about, variously gurning, joking and trying to sell his autobiography. The highlight was being among the huge number of white, middle-class Englishmen rapping along to Bring The Noise, our voices extolling the virtues of Louis Farrakhan as if we cared what he stood for.

The big boys, bona fide classic rock behemoths The Cure did not disappoint. They played 2 ½ hours of no filler, even with an unexpected set order, reserving the gloom anthems 100 years, Primary and A Forest to the middle of the set. Robert Smith explained this later by pulling on a happy, Bestival painted guitar and pointing out it would have been no good for the miserable stuff. And he couldn't use it for the whole set because it 'weighed as much as a fucking car'. He was in a fine mood, having been seen drunkenly wandering the night before, claiming he was called Marcel. They ended with the punky stuff – 10.15 Saturday Night, Killing An Arab – to much delight.

Bestival, however, is not like Reading where the main stage is all that matters. The vast majority of the fun is in quirky bits, peripheries and wandering about. Strolling along and seeing Frank Turner on a tiny stage doing that one song I know of his. A fakir of sorts who sent his boy up a stick he was carrying to hang upside-down by the hollow behind his ankle. Some of the more obscure acts have excellent unique selling points. KaraUke are a karaoke band.... playing ukeleles! (of course). So popular was a rousing chorus of The Proclaimer's 500 miles they prompted a stage invasion. The Duke's Box are a five-piece who play in a tiny, carry-on-camping caravan, double-bass and drums and all, and have a set of buttons and a clear screen on the front for the audience to make their jukebox selection. The bossa nova Bad Romance by Lady Gaga was good, Nirvana's Territorial Pissings was surprisingly accurate and their version of Reel 2 Reel's I Like To Move It was better that the original.

The inhabitants of the press tent, normally sporting the standard look of jaded, indifference popped out for the end of their set. It was heartwarming to see bearded 50 something snappers, seen it all before, put down their DSLRs and earnestly try to follow the arm actions for YMCA.

The big offstage event is the celebrated fancy dress, the theme being rock stars. The Lighthouse Family won. Their outfits (big lighthouses, obviously) were okay but I imagine they won because of the strangeness of going as such a crap band. More interesting than the best fancy dress which anyone can do with sufficient time, money and imagination is the most fancy dress, the outfit which every unthinking bugger goes as. There were the usual suspects – Elvis, fat blokes in Geri Halliwell union flags – but the prize goes jointly to the hundreds (no lie) of George Michael 'Choose Life' fruity T-shirts and shorts combo and the army of Freddie Mercury Wembley '86 (white trousers, yellow jacket) troopers. Well done all, it was a bloody odd sight to see dozens of you clones thronged everywhere I looked. A special favourite was a tubby, bearded fellow in full Cheryl Cole/M. Bison regalia. His plump, hairy belly sat uninvitingly over his thong. Maybe the underwear was too tight because he let his hairy bollocks dangle outside of them. Admirably disgusting. The proper fashion show had been judged, appropriately enough, by the well-dressed Village People who were responsible for an amusing moment. The inhabitants of the press tent, normally sporting the standard look of jaded, indifference popped out for the end of their set. It was heartwarming to see bearded 50 something snappers, seen it all before, put down their DSLRs and earnestly try to follow the arm actions for YMCA.

Aside from the transport issue, the only other caveat is the need for money – bring lots. Ferries and taxis add up, as does food and drink and sundries. A few quid here for the motorcycle Wall Of Death, a fiver there for some face painting or head massages. Including tickets and all, budget £400. I cannot give any advice about drug money for the naughty people. In all other respects it's a super occasion, and one to look forward to next year. Perhaps one image illustrated the mix of fine music, fun and silliness that is Bestival when on form. The roller disco was pumping, a DJ was spinning noisy, juddering dubstep and the crowd made uncertain, sliding laps. A young man dressed as a banana came on to the floor, tripped and slipped over on his own skin.

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