Being a bit of a Bestival veteran I always like to get to the site nice and early so I can take in as much of the festival as possible. I was awoken by my alarm at 5am in order to get my 6:30am Wightlink ferry over. Despite the early start the boat was full Bestivalers in high spirits, the sense of excitement and anticipation was palpable.
By 11am my tent was up, my bag unpacked and first can of beer opened. This was my eighth Bestival and after missing last years I was keen to explore the site and see what had changed since 2013. After passing the familiar Wishing Tree and entering the Grassy Hill I was greeted by the awesome Lovebot! The interactive art installation is a whopping eight metres tall and weighs four tonnes. The Lovebot is powered by positive emotions and in return he did his bit putting a smile on all those smiling faces who were having their photograph taken with him.
Not being here last year meant that I missed the centrepiece of the Magic Meadow, the huge disco ball which set also the Guinness World Record for being the largest of it’s kind in the world. It still made an appearance in the campsite and looked incredible!
I have been a fan of Floella Grace for a long time now so of course there was no way I was ever going to miss her set in the Invaders of the Future stage. Afterwards I got to meet the lovely guys from Plastic Mermaids who there supporting their fellow Islander and long-time collaborator. The band themselves played the same stage the following day and again showed why they are one of the most exciting and creative bands around.
After a stroll up the hill I found the dreamy post-rock band Laucan performing on the brand new Kaleidoscope Stage which has replaced the Bandstand super chilled Slow Motion area. Situated next to the stage was Oberon’s Observatory which offered some incredible views of the Bestival site, not to forget inside it was the Tinema (Tiny Cinema) inside. I can also say first hand that they offering some top cocktails in the bar too!
Representing Portsmouth’s was 16 year old Britain’s Got Talent finalist Isaac Waddington in Club Dada (pictured right). I’m not a viewer of Britain’s Got Talent so my knowledge of Isaac was relatively limited but it was clear shortly into his set that he possesses a cracking voice and is going to be one to watch in the future!
Jamie xx was one of my must-see acts at the festival and everyone else felt the same, as it wasn’t just standing room only inside the Big Top, outside the tent the crowd were scrambling to get a glimpse and battled to get inside so I just enjoyed the set from outside.
It might not have been one of the latest nights I’ve ever had there but as first days go this Bestival was looking like it could be one of the best ever and I could do with pacing myself for the weekend.
Friday started with a trip to the Press Tent to charge up my camera and phone as well as dig out the notepad so I can recount what I’d done the day before, without that this would not have been possible as there is so much going on that I will never be able to remember everything. From the Press area we can see the main stage and were able to hear The Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band who opened the Main Stage. The band played a diverse repertoire spanning Rajasthani folk songs, Bollywood hits, spiritual qawwali and even ABBA’s ‘Mamma Mia’.
Bestival doesn’t officially begin until Rob Da Bank hosts the opening ceremony onboard the HMS Bestival which was again docked in The Port area.
After having a wander through the Ambient Forest I found myself back in the Stardust Field where Gabrielle Aplin was performing on the Main Stage. Gabrielle is someone I have been aware of however never taken the time to listen to before. She is slightly poppier than the music I would normally listen to but her solid vocals and catchy tunes had me hooked so I stuck around for the rest of her set. Gabrielle got into the Bestival spirit and donned her sequinned jumpsuit previously seen in her new Feist-esque video for ‘Sweet Nothing‘.
Next on my itinerary was a trip to the Big Top to see George The Poet. George was part of the BBC’s Sound of 2015 and over the year he has been building quite a reputation for his intelligent blend of Hip Hop and Spoken Word. My friends and I sat on the outskirts of the tent so we could enjoy the set along with the sunshine, a beer and some food. I opted for the tartiflette originale and it was magnifique!
After a brief trip to see The Cuban Brothers do their thing on the Main Stage it was back over to the Big Top to see Rae Morris. One of the huge benefits of Bestival is that because of its size you don’t have to miss out if there is a clash because everywhere is so accessible, not like the mission that Glastonbury can sometimes be!
If you read my Bestival preview then you will already know that I am somewhat of an admirer of Lianne La Havas (and her music). I’ve not had the pleasure of seeing her perform live yet and made sure that I got a good spot to see her on the Main Stage. She was better than I’d ever hoped for, with a beaming smile on her face throughout the set she performed favourites like ‘Unstoppable’ and ‘What You Don’t Do’. I will 100% be getting tickets for her UK tour later in the year!
There were a lot of great things I saw over the day and I think this was possibly the best single day I’ve had at Bestival in all the eight years I’ve been coming. The day wasn’t perfect though, I wasted about an hour of my life watching Charlie XCX and Duran Duran. Don’t get me wrong there were big crowds for both and each time the crowd was loving what they saw but neither are my cup of tea so I didn’t hang about for too long.
New Yorker Action Bronson took to the Big Top and his first act of business was to light up a huge spliff which seemed to endear him to the crowd. To my shame I knew nothing of Action Bronson before but being a fan of Hip Hop it didn’t take me long to see what the fuss was about. It’s always nice coming back from a festival and finding a new music.
From new discoveries to old favourites, it was time for Jurassic 5 on the Main Stage. Wow! Just wow! Like many, I’ve been a fan of J5 since the late 90’s and seeing them is a big tick off my musical bucket list. With their 2007 split I never thought I’d get the chance to see them live, let alone for them to play so close to home. As night came in J5 lit up the stage with hits including ‘Concrete Schoolyard’ and ‘Whats Golden.’ As they walked off stage I wish they would come back out for an encore but sadly not!
After the high of J5 I finished the night off with another of a friends recommendations Lion Babe. It didn’t take long to realise why they were called Lion Babe, one look at vocalist Jillian Hervey would explain it. I’ve since found out that the name not only stems from Jillian’s mane but Lucas Goodman’s star sign is of course Leo. The duo describe their style as neo soul, I’ve no idea what that is but I could clearly hear influences from Hip Hop, Reggae, Soul and Electro. I will definitely look to see these guys again live!
After such a long day I struggled to stay out past Tame Impala on the Big Top so sadly I missed FKA Twigs, the awesome Plastic Mermaids and Fourtet DJing in the Bollywood Bar. From what I heard the following morning I missed out as everyone who did see them had a great time! While walking back to the tent and sipping a cup of tea I reflected on the day that had just past and I would go as far to say it was the best 24 hours I’ve ever spent at Bestival. It’s just a shame some of my other friends weren’t there to experience it too!
My Saturday morning began with a trip to the press tent where I exchanged Bestival stories from the night before with the folks from Trapped Magazine and Capital South. Afterwards, I nipped back to the tent and got kitted out in my tie dye ready for Saturday’s fancy dress day.
This year’s theme was ‘Summer of Love’, Bestival organiser Rob da Bank explained that the simple theme was in order to be a positive message in light of all the bad news and downright evil goings on in the world. The theme was a great idea and it was awesome to see large numbers getting involved and spreading the love, but I have to be honest I found that this year’s festival costumes lacked the ingenuity and creativity which I’d come to expect from previous years. This year’s Fancy Dress Award went to worthy winners, the Love Hearts.
I spent most of my Saturday with the lovely Victorious Festival crew who were letting their hair down after a busy August. House of Pain were the special guests on the Main Stage followed by Little Dragon but for me, Saturday was really all about the evening’s entertainment.
Annie Mac kicked things off on the Main Stage and did a top job getting the crowd warmed up for The Chemical Brothers. Fresh from headlining the Pyramid stage at this year’s Glastonbury Tom and Ed didn’t disappoint. Their set included classics such as ‘Hey Boy, Hey Girl’, ‘Galvanise’ and ‘Go’. Their performance was accompanied by first class visuals, it brought back memories of their 2007 set which I was at the front for!
After the Chems came another of my all time Bestival highlights (I’ve picked up a few of them over the weekend so far), Future Islands. I was fortunate enough to see them the photography pit. Not too long into the set disaster struck when my camera battery ran out! Not to be beaten I took a couple of quick snaps with my iPhone, I know it’s bad etiquette for gig photography but I was able to capture some cracking silhouettes of lead singer Samuel Herring. Next time I will pack my spare battery!
We stuck around in the Big Top and checked out Duke Dumont although the crowd were packed in so tightly that I don’t think I could have got out even if I’d wanted to. The rest of the evening/morning is a little bit of a blur but I do know that I took myself to bed about 3:30am.
While tucking into my breakfast in the press tent I was listening to Missy Elliott‘s team sound checking, or what I thought was sound checking. Closer inspection revealed that Missy was there herself and it was a rehearsal with DJ, backing vocals and dancers. As the Main Stage was closed to festival goers there was only a privileged few who were lucky enough to get a sneak preview of her show later on that evening and I was one of them. This was easily the coolest thing that has happened to me over the weekend.
Local boys Kassassin Street opened the Big Top and it was great to see them draw a big crowd on such a large stage and it was also nice to see plenty of Portsmouth locals in the crowd. The boys didn’t disappoint and put on one of the best shows I’ve ever seen them play. Rowan and the boys looked at home on the bigger stage and tracks such as ‘Centre Straight Atom’ went down a storm! Afterwards just outside of the Big Top were Portsmouth’s Samba Reggae drumming band Batala who were doing their thing and as ever wherever they went a large crowd quickly gathered.
From a Portsmouth perspective, the biggest performance of the weekend was by Huw Olesker aka Rex Domino who was on the Main Stage as part of DJ Yoda’s Breakfast Of Champions. It was great to see my friend performing on the Main Stage and being involved in one of the best performances of the festival. As they took to the stage the grey clouds were hanging over Robin Hill Country Park but as the band performed the sunshine soon followed. The collective that is the Breakfast of Champions features eleven of Britain’s finest MCs and musicians. It was great to see all of them having such a great time on stage. They all performed with huge smiles on their faces and that transmitted to the crowd who were also loving it.
The afternoon continued with a customary hog roast but musically I was treated to the awesome Andreya Triana and Låpsley in the Big Top. Then we met the boys from Kassassin Street and prepared for the legends that are the mighty Jacksons.
After being greeted by a short intro on the big screens the foursome came out and went straight into some of their biggest hits, however just as the crowd were getting into the groove the band left the stage and the big screens showed a short documentary about their early years as a group. We were in a good spot you couldn’t hear a great deal of it as most of the crowd around me were having their own conversations. They’d already played my favourites ‘I Want You Back’ and ‘ABC’ so we decided to leave because I hate to say it, we were bored and they still had well over an hour left on stage.
I took a few friends over to check out another group of siblings Kitty, Daisy and Lewis in the Big Top. I’ve been listening to the awesome Kitty, Daisy and Lewis for years but to my shame for one reason or another, I’ve not been able to catch them live and shame on me because they were brilliant! After the first track the trio all switched instruments and did the same yet again for the following track, they are one talented bunch! You can catch them in the Wedgewood Rooms in February and you can find more at here.
We then joined the massive crowd that was beginning to gather at the Main Stage for Missy Elliott. She was impressive earlier in the morning but the full show took it to another level. It reminded me of teenage years as I was really into the RnB back then. I think I even bought a few of Missy’s CD singles from Our Price in Fareham, that tells you how long ago that was. Missy played a selection of her biggest tracks which had the crowd cheering and paying no attention to the oncoming rain.
After the impressive fireworks, I jumped in the car and caught a late ferry home. As much I would have loved to have caught Mark Ronson’s DJ set in the Port I didn’t fancy getting caught in the rain storm that was predicted until the early hours of the morning. I made the right decision as it felt great to have a shower, be in my own bed again and get a proper nights sleep.
Every year I worry Bestival will to get too big, or that I get the feeling that it isn’t what it used to be and perhaps I’ve outgrown it. Every year I’m delighted to be proved wrong! The festival itself was near perfect and the attention to detail by Rob Da Bank and his team is incredible. Before I bang on any longer though I just want to say thank you to everyone who made it an amazing weekend for me and a special thank you to Stevie and Molly from the Get Involved team for hosting us and we hope to see you next year. I’ve already booked the time off work.
2016 early bird tickets are now available with a 34 week payment plan of just £5 per week. You can get your early bird tickets here – www.bestival.net/tickets.
Photos by Stuart Barker, Victor Frankowski and Carolina Faruolo