It’s always a pleasure to chat with serial festival attender Jeffrey ‘Big Jeff‘ Johns, and – of course – he was here at Bestival from start to finish. The Bristol man’s knowledge of music is more than encyclopedic, and a recommendation from him is worth ten festival programmes.
One such – Welsh singer/songwriter Cate Le Bon – was one of the earlier acts at the Big Top tent on Friday. The crowd was small, and not fully awake at 1pm, but Cate didn’t care. Her energy levels were through the roof as she blazed away on guitar. A punchy set, sadly met with mainly blank expressions. What was needed here was a later slot, in a smaller tent.
Lethal Bizzle were Friday’s surprise set on the Main Stage, to the vocal delight of many: tens of thousands jumped around to “Jump Around”. Then it was time for the party games: Maxwell Ansah and his sidekick set up two enormous competing mosh pits, and egged the sweating, flailing crowd on wickedly. Ahead of ‘Harlem Shake’, they managed to make the entire crowd sit down, picking out and personally insulting individuals (“Hey! One Direction! Siddown!”) who were slow to obey.
Ezra Furman was another of Big Jeff’s recommendations, and – as ever – it was a good ‘un. Sounds that you’d expect to hear coming from an American diner’s jukebox were perfect in the sunshine, the sax’ setting a mellow mood, and were cheered by the highly appreciative crowd.
Bipolar Sunshine are the musical world’s Marmite, clearly shown today by the size (small) and the enthusiasm (massive) of the crowd they drew. A good set, well delivered, but the nature of the music meant that most were unsure whether to try to dance to the oddly-timed beats or sing-along to the obscure lyrics. There was a whole lot of shuffling and mumbling going on.
Not long after this, floods of young girls poured down the hill to the main stage, many running. Then the high-pitched screaming began. Had there been some horrible accident? No. Sam Smith had appeared on stage. One of the more clear divides of the entire Festival – there were as many fleeing as advancing on the main stage.
There was much, much more fun to be had at the Caravanserai, one of the smallest venues. Immigrant Swing – flute, acoustic guitar, drums, tuba and lunatic – were crammed onto tiniest stage, with not even room for the anorak and shorts-clad singer. His enthusiastic, heavily-accented Gogol Bordello-style hollering went down an absolute storm. Among the caravans and waltzer cars, hipsters, hippies, rucksack toting mums and crop-topped festy girls all danced joyfully together. During one number, the flautist put down her flute, came and danced in the crowd and then – during the same song – returned to the stage and delivered a saxophone solo. Brilliant, wild, ecstatic stuff.
Just time head off to the Invaders of The Future stage, strangely situated outside the arena, in the campsite (tip: if you buy a drink ‘round here, you can’t take it back into the arena. FFS).
Indiana were just taking the stage, to a good-sized crowd. Lauren Henson was giving it her all, and the added edge from playing live was good for the music, the driving bass and raucous guitar adding considerable muscle to the somewhat weaker, poppier studio versions. There are some great hooks lurking in several songs, and – if she keeps the quality this high on tour – great things ahead.
The layout of the main arena at Bestival means its possible to see – and sometimes hear – the other stages, and Temples were clearly aware of this in the Big Top. “Thanks for coming to see us … we realize we’re up against some bullshit pop shit” observed frontman James Bagshaw languidly. It’s unlikely that Disclosure, down on the Main Stage, heard him. But they, and anyone else not in the Big Top, missed a great swirling set from the pop-meets-psychadelia-meets-glam’ upstarts.
And so to the Friday headliners, the massive Outkast. One of the biggest crowds of the weekend roared their approval in the darkness as André and Antwan leaped around the stage, bellowing and grinning.
The guys made much play of the fact that they’d been around for “.. more than twenny years, man”, but did they really need to demonstrate it through the medium of late eighties style misogyny? The giant screen behind them was filled with clips of giant women shaking giant booties and jiggling giant racks; kind of ok – just, maybe – for a video, but not so much so for a fifty foot high backdrop.
Booties and racks aside, this party was a good one, ‘Ms. Jackson’ got her apology, and the crowd loved the hits. That said, many headed to the bar, duty done, immediately after ‘Hey Yah’.
More fool them: Outkast, and Bestival as a whole, had plenty more to come.