Bestival: This year's festivals boast an array of non-musical delights

Everything's on offer, from dance at Womad to comedy...

Rob Sharp
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:38

So you're either too middle-aged or too middle class to mainline bottles of lager while hoisting your friends on to your shoulders to the sound of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Is there any point in going to a music festival at all, then?

Well, yes. This year is a better time than any to discover the off-piste, non-musical delights of the festival circuit. And while the arts-heavy Latitude Festival was last weekend, all is not lost: there is plenty more to come. From Cuban dancing at WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) to Noel Fielding's make-up-based brand of comedy at The Big Chill, we run through the choicest family-fuelled delights coming up this week and later in the Summer. And none of them, thankfully, involve getting soaked in beer.


Leave your conventionality outside in the rain: are you up for a primped-up performance by the Queen of London's alternative drag circuit? That rather specialist moniker goes to Jonny Woo, who will be appearing at this year's Big Chill (6 to 9 August). His set features an array of kitsch props – everything from baby doll dresses to Mickey Mouse gloves, tar, feathers and green wigs – which are destined to fire a slug of psychedelia into your day.

If you're not familiar by now with Steampunk (also at The Big Chill), you should be: Perverse Universe – a SteamPunk Affair will introduce you to the trend's Heath Robinson-inspired delights (highlights are, wonderfully, a "perverted sexdroid" and trapeze artists employing hot air balloons). And make sure you look in on the activities of Camden's Roundhouse, also at the Herefordshire festival, which will be hosting an arts-and-crafts treasure hunt, as well as drumming and singing workshops. Finally, please don't miss Scamps Theatre's Pinocchio. The fairy story will be told using the tools of a carpenter's workshop – with the titular character being carved in real-time on stage.


When festival-goers dance these days, it isn't through an acid-haze with flowers in their hair, as WOMAD (24 to 26 July) perennially proves. Here, the Creole Choir of Cuba will attempt to fuel inject people's hips using their 14-strong line-up of world music and funk musicians. If that doesn't total your joints, then join in the fun of Street Style Barcelona, which fuses Latin, punk and reggae moves with, er, politics. Over at The Big Chill, Shreya Kumar's Bollywood dance classes will cater for traditional and contemporary preferences. Feel free to make up your own steps later in the evening.


Belligerence and beer – music festivals and stand-up comics both share a passion for them. The Big Chill trumpets the edgier end of the established comedy circuit: Noel Fielding, Dylan Moran, Russell Howard, Sean Hughes and Alex Horne are all set to brave the sun-kissed heckles. Camp Bestival (24 to 26 July) has more of a mixed bag: the wonderful Marcus Brigstocke will crack gags along with seasoned stand-ups Lee Mack and Frankie Boyle (whose appearance, apparently, is a "UK exclusive"). Less well-known, although equally talented names like Andre Vincent, Al Barrie and Carl Donnelly will also make an appearance.


There are few authors who share Patrick Neate's authentic, far-reaching passion for good music, so if you have the opportunity, catch him at this year's Camp Bestival, which takes place within the copacetic confines of Dorset's Lulworth Castle. Neate will be participating in his very own literary "nightclub", an idea he dreamed up with Ben Watt – one half of Everything but the Girl and co-founder of Notting Hill Arts Club's much-loved Sunday afternoon shindig, Lazy Dog. The event will feature readings from Neate, as well as music and appearances by poets Laura Dockrill and Salena Godden. As ever, goings on at The Secret Garden Party (23 to 26 July) in Cambridgeshire look more enigmatic: their literary offering is simply being billed as talks by "international security consultants, Nobel Prize nominees and leading lights in the world of international politics". At The Big Chill (one for the nostalgics out there) are Stephen Morrison and Alex Jenkins, who wrote their own Choose Your Own Adventure book ("Remove the small goblin clinging to Merlin's beard and turn to page 46") in spoof style.

Film/Visual Art

Acclaimed artist and music video director Chris Cunningham – the man behind the sometimes perversely surreal musical promos for Aphex Twin – will be performing a rare, audiovisual show at The Big Chill. Featuring live, remixed music and projected images, this showcase will be one of only a handful of such outings he will be doing across the globe this year. If that doesn't fry your sense of taste, then look to Pete Fowler, best known for his surreal illustrations for Super Furry Animals and creator of Monsterism, a fictional world inhabited by monsters, which he has immortalised in both music and children's literature.

Follow that up with a little cultural edification from Movimientos Soundsystem, an organisation set up to promote Latin culture in the UK, who will be providing a platform for Latin-inspired, politically motivated documentaries, as well as serving up tropical, global and Latin dance music guaranteed to get your toes tapping. And in the morning, why not capture your mood in perpetuity (which will vary depending on whether Mother Nature steps in to blow your tent down) through the work of celebrated fashion and portrait photographer Rankin, who will be taking the public's portraits for £50. The proceeds will go to Oxjam, the Oxfam-backed series of music events held in October. Unluckily for some (depending, of course, on how rain-tousled your hair is), the results will be exhibited on-site. And, if you have any alcohol-stained cash left after that, check out the Art Car Boot Fair – an art sale normally found in a car park close to Brick Lane. It will be temporarily transported to the countryside for your commercial satisfaction.

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