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Vintage at Goodwood, Goodwood Racecourse, Chichester

One man's vintage is another man's here and now

So, what is "vintage" anyway? It's a matter of intense debate in certain circles, and one man's vintage is another man's jumble. The inaugural Vintage at Goodwood, a timely addition to the UK's festival calendar, doesn't settle the question, and encountering cultural artefacts you still consider more or less present day – like the row of "vintage" G-reg Maestros at one end of the site – is guaranteed to make you feel old, as is the Warehouse Rave outside which they are parked.

What's undeniable, however, is that the vintage movement is reaching a crescendo right now, from fairy cakes to lingerie. It's a rising tide that designer Wayne Hemingway has spotted, and cannily curated under one umbrella with the subheading Celebrating 5 Decades of British Cool. (In reality, most of Goodwood's immaculate patrons restrict their look to the Forties and Fifties, from Land Girls to Bobbysoxers and Modettes.)

The first thing you see as you enter is not a stage or a tent, but a full-scale mock-up of a 20th-century British high street, complete with pub, curry house, and cinema featuring Alec Guinness. This incredible attention to detail continues into the Soul Casino, a fantastically accurate replica of Wigan's second-most famous landmark. There's a sprung dancefloor, a pool table, the odour of talcum powder and even fake cigarette smoke. Best of all, there's the chance to dance to original northern soul DJs spinning shameless anthems like "Seven Days Too Long" and "Tainted Love", while one old-timer in yellow Oxford bags puts the dilettantes to shame with his phenomenal flips and spins. A life's ambition fulfilled already, and it's barely three in the afternoon.

For that alone, VAG (I like to imagine Hemingway did consider that acronym) has leapt to the top of the list as my new favourite festival. And the line-up of live music is equally great. Out on the main stage, legendary Latin funkateer and pimp-fashion pioneer Kid Creole is working up a zoot-suit riot, and wearing a white cap that's big enough to keep his whole body in shade under the midday sun. He's still very much "a wonderful thing, baby".

Down on the Soul Stage, south London songstress Rox shows impressive skills, including the ability to limbo through her glorious retro-reggae single "Rock Steady" without losing her pork pie hat, and to sing soulfully while being chased by a wasp. She's followed by venerable entertainer Geno Washington, taking it to the bridge like James Brown, bustling through "In the Midnight Hour" in a Blues Brothers style, telling terrible jokes, then sending your soul in flight with "Michael the Lover", the song namechecked in Dexys' chart-topping tribute.

There's a mixed bag in the Leisure Dome, hosted by Mike Flowers. Ukulele-toting Bonzo refugee Neil Innes starts an overly earnest political reggae number about equality for all. It's a relief when he asks us to spare a thought for "Even those who are no good for anything, no sirree/Just remember, they are our leaders...". The Swingle Singers are a barbershop sextet who date back to the Sixties, but whose current, no-original-members line-up romp through a repertoire stretching from Mancini to the Beatles. And Arthur Brown, the God of Hellfire himself, narrates The Pretty Things' SF Sorrow album, but he's such a charismatic performer you'd watch him do anything.

Back in the open air, The Feeling are acting as backing band to a cavalcade of guests: The Slits' Viv Albertine with "Leader of the Pack", Sophie Ellis-Bextor with "Murder on Zidane's Floor" and Beverley Knight blowing everyone's socks off with a blistering "Piece of My Heart". Lastly, they're joined by Glenn Tilbrook for a Squeeze mini-set. It's just as well I'm wearing Ray-Bans, because "Up the Junction" unfailingly leaves me in pieces.

The highlight dates back to the Seventies. "Have you had a good time?" asks Captain Sensible. "We'll soon ruin that." The Damned are co-fronted by the clownish Sensible and the vampiric countenance of the port-swilling, hip-swivelling, whip-cracking Dave Vanian and deliver a terrific fusillade of pogo-inducing punk classics such as "Neat Neat Neat" and "New Rose", as well as the gothic grandeur of their Eighties hits "Alone Again Or" and "Eloise". Sensible may aim for soft targets between songs, but hit the spot with "I'm fucked if the punk generation are gonna let Cameron take away what we've got coming to us. Charlie Harper's got his bus pass, I want mine!"

"This is a bit of a dark way to end a wonderful day," says Peter Hook a few songs into Unknown Pleasures, the Joy Division album he's re-creating with a band, orchestra and choir. "Let's hope this pick things up a bit." Whereupon he follows the dystopian dread of "Leaders of Men" with the claustrophobic "Digital". Ah, that'll be the dry Mancunian wit I'm always hearing about. One valid view is that there must be a reason why the other members of New Order wouldn't touch this project. Another is that if anyone has the right to form a JD tribute band, it's Hook. Even if you think the whole thing's a car crash, at least it's a vintage one.

And anyway, you can always escape to the Soul Casino, where Chris Hill is playing the Detroit Spinners' "It's a Shame". Suddenly it's Lancashire in 1973, and I'm living in a dream.