The last time I went to Bestival, in 2009, I got swine flu and had to leave after a day. But not before I’d spent an entire night thrashing around in my Cath Kidston tent, sweating out a fever with the distant sounds of general fun ringing in my ears. I don’t blame Bestival for my ill health (I blame both my friend for secretly giving it to me and the bar I was working at for not giving a shit) but I was sort of weirdly concerned that if I ever returned, I’d be struck down instantly by the Swine. I’m not sure how that would work. I suppose the Swine would come up out of the ground like a ghost and infect me.
Anyway, Swine Ghost or not, you can’t ignore a headliner like Elton John when he comes smashing through the line-up announcements like a bedazzled cannonball. And I hadn’t got Glastonbury tickets. So it was time for me to return, chin up and eyes peeled for Swine Ghosts, to the Isle of Wight.
I don’t know if anyone else gets this, but when I go to festivals, I often forget for the first day or so that there’s music on, or that I might like to go and see Bombay Bicycle Club or Belle & Sebastian or whoever. I think I get overwhelmed by the colourful clothing stalls and terrifying port-a-loos and just let myself get carried away on a wave of happiness, which I suppose is how I ended up seeing Sinead O’Connor on Friday. Actually, to be more specific, I sat drinking beer outside the Big Top until Nothing Compares 2 U came on, then I sprinted in and cry-screamed the lyrics along with everyone else who had just run in upon hearing those famous organ chords. Ms O’Connor is apparently completely crackers now, which her outfit of tweed skirt suit and thigh high Game of Thrones boots sort of supported, but her voice is still gorgeous and that song is just bloody great, isn’t it? Admit it. Everyone who has ever had their heart broken has AT SOME POINT sat listening to that song, pouring vodka into their empty, empty souls and whispering along with the really tragic end bit. There was a baby next to me in the tent who slept through the entire song, which really just showed that he/she has yet to endure a dreadful break-up.
Continuing with No-Music Friday as it shall now be dubbed, I saw 10 minutes of Wu-Tang Clan, who were on at the completely wrong time of 3.15. They seemed about as unsure of this decision as the crowd were, and they seemed disappointed by the sea of white middle-class faces grinning up at them from behind their floral headbands. So they shouted at us a lot and seemed a bit tired. It was boring. The best thing about it was the amount of trendy Shoreditch hipsters in oversized Wu-Tang t-shirts who left after the first song. It reminded me of the time my friend accosted a girl wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt in the toilet of a bar and demanded she list her five favourite Stones albums. I blame Urban Outfitters for this band-I’ve-heard-one-song-of t-shirt phenomenon. They have a lot to answer for.
Four hours drinking in someone’s tent later, I ventured back out to catch the last ten minutes of Fatboy Slim’s set. I’d kind of been avoiding it in protest at his headlining slot – his was the last announced, and let’s face it, we were all hoping for either Daft Punk or Fleetwood Mac. When the announcement came out, I was like, FATBOY SLIM?! Who else? Ja Rule and Ashanti? Daniel Beddingfield? It just seemed a completely dated choice. Shows what I know, because the bit I did catch was pretty bloody good. He had a whole choir for Praise You and everything. I forgot how good a song that was. This is why i suppose I’ve never been asked to curate a festival.
The next day was Costume Day and also the day I decided to up my music ante by seeing THREE WHOLE BANDS. I was dressed as a male sailor, complete with beard, a look that was both comfortable and practical. We headed to the main stage to see Bastille, who delivered a cracking and precise set. I also think it’s much more fun when the bands get in costume too, which Bastille did. In addition, Bastille’s front man Dan Smith is bloody gorgeous. (If anyone’s interested in more of this kind of solid music journalism, do drop me an email). Highlights of the set were their brilliant Rhythm of the Night and What Would You Do covers, both from their 2011 EP Laura Palmer. I’ve seen Bastille play these before and they really are storming arrangements. Pompeii is the kind of song that is basically written for festivals and it didn’t disappoint, the sun magically coming out as we all leapt about singing HOW AM I GONNA BE AN OCTOPUS ABOUT THIS, a hilarious nautical twist on the original lyric. By we all I do mean just me because the people I was with seemed indifferent to this fun idea.
Following Bastille were the surprise highlight of the day, Mark Ronson vs. Zane Lowe. Despite coming out looking like two 17-year-olds DJing at a house party, they delivered an absolutely brilliant set of old-school hip-hop and current anthems. They absolutely knew their audience and kept the set moving, dropping some of Ronson’s hits in there too. Let’s face it, Ooh Wee is a classic. There was also a kind of emotional moment when Valerie came on and Mark asked us to sing loudly enough for Amy to hear it. Whilst not a believer in any kind of afterlife, especially not one that you could hear the Isle of Wight from, I am a huge Amy Winehouse fan and happily screamed along to Amy’s gorgeous vocals.
That evening’s headliner was Snoop Dogg. I was very, very excited for this set. I was also very concerned he’d do a full set of his new reggae bollocks. I needn’t have worried. It seems Mr. DoggLion isn’t as committed to his status as the reincarnation of Bob Marley as he’s claimed, as he made it clear that he just wanted to play “some motherfucking pimp music”. Fine with me, Snoop. Nobody here wants to hear your duet with Miley effing Cyrus. Snoop was brilliant at times and less so at others. Drop It Like It’s Hot was great. The bit when he got a weird lapdance on a folding chair was less so. He ended with an overlong version of Young Wild & Free – hardly the cornerstone of his career – and then wandered off. The crowd were left a little confused. One shouldn’t compare within a genre but the fact is that Snoop just doesn’t have many songs that aren’t collaborations, compared to, say, Jay-Z. Jay famously headlined Glastonbury in 2008 and it was almost certainly the best live gig I’ve ever seen. Compared with that, Snoop fell a little flat. If he’d brought his Tupac hologram along maybe I’d have been more impressed.
Sunday is a hard day to play a festival, I think. Everyone’s feeling a bit tired and emotional, either due to come-downs or port-a-loo fatigue, and added to that Sunday vibe, the weather was dreadful. Indeed, when Chic first came out, the crowd were a bit flegh. My friends were even sitting down. But, if any kind of music can make you ignore the rain slapping you in the face and get you moving, it’s 70’s disco. Nile Rodgers pre-empted the gig by very firmly telling us that all these songs are HIS. They are HIS songs, not David Bowie’s, not Madonna’s (etc etc) and if we think otherwise then we’re ignorant savages. After that warning, the band moved into a brilliantly uplifting set of classic after classic. By the end, the crowd were dancing IN UNISON. Like in a film! It was pretty brilliant. He left us with the recording of Get Lucky, though. Didn’t play it live. Cop out.
The absolute main reason I was at Bestival arrived on stage bang on time at 8.30, wearing a glittery blue suit which read ‘Madame Across The Water’ on the back, banging his brilliant way through The Bitch Is Back like a piano god on a cloud of sparkle fantastic. Elton John surpassed ‘didn’t disappoint’ and went straight to ‘absolute life-defining gig’. It is entirely impossible to not be overwhelmed by the live version of Tiny Dancer, which I realised afterwards, was the first performance of that at a UK festival EVER. Isn’t that amazing? That’s what really sets Bestival apart from other festivals – things like the UK festival PREMIERE of Tiny Dancer. Elton worked the crowd like the superstar he is, getting up from his piano after every song to whip the crowd into a frenzy, leaping ONTO the piano like a man half his age. His recent hospital stint has, if anything, seemed to improve his vitality. What touched me the most, however, was his genuine excitement and surprise at the crowd’s rapture. When we sang along to every word, he beamed back. Perhaps he didn’t realise how relevant and popular his music still is. Look, if you don’t agree, go and listen to Rocket Man six times in a row and come back and tell me that isn’t an absolute banger. The man’s a genius. Towards the end of the gig, he said “I’ll never forget this”. Neither will we Elton, you absolute diamond.
Elton said during his set that he never played festivals, but he’d been told that Bestival was fantastic fun to play. With that kind of reputation, Rob & Josie Da Bank have on their hands a festival that will run for decades to come. Well done everyone. See you next year. (Not you, Swine Ghost.)