Bestival, Robin Hill Country Park, Isle of Wight

Fancy dress, a carnival vibe and wild weather ensure the festival season ends on a high

By Simon Price
Monday 19 September 2011 11:20

The portents are not auspicious. As I'm getting ready to set off to Bestival – Saturday, fancy dress day – I hear the great Danny Baker mention that he doesn't hold with the "enforced jollity" of fancy dress, and I realise that a part of me agrees with him. Meanwhile, in The Huffington Post, Bestival regular Eddy Temple-Morris has criticised the event for organisational chaos, shabby treatment of artists, and having lost its soul. Finally, the weather girl says we'll be lashed by the dying throes of Hurricane Katia. Well, for one thing, the breeze doesn't flicker too far into the Beaufort Scale. For another, someone will always tell you things were better in the old days. And the fancy dress seems to keep everyone in good spirits despite the mudslide underfoot.

After eight years, Rob Da Bank's bash, held in a natural bowl outside Newport, marks the end of the festival season. Put simply, if Glastonbury has the pseudo-mysticism, Reading the booziness and Big Chill the pastoral calm, then Bestival, with its sideshows – Gay Bingo, Time For Tease burlesque, a polka tent and a roller disco – has a circus/carnival feel.

I've barely arrived when I witness the first wonderful moment. Grandmaster Flash, having stepped away from his turntables to boast about being the first hip-hop act inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame, is brought crashing to earth when "The Message" skids to a halt. "The wind blew the needle off!", he blushes, and starts again. PJ Harvey, fresh from her Mercury victory, is still doing her Let England Shake shtick: zither, feathers, Victorian dress, but "Down By The Water" gets the warmest ripple, and the sudden scream with which she curtails "Meet The Monster" is an incredible way to end.

Several female artists have taken the dress-up idea on board. Paloma Faith has painted her face silver, and Kelis has come as a circus ringmistress, announcing "I'm not here to please you, but to pleasure myself" before brilliantly co-opting the unofficial bootleg mash-up "Holiday Milkshake" into her act.

James Blake is badly scheduled (7pm, when people are ready to party), but enchants nevertheless. Disarmingly vulnerable, painfully polite ("thank you ever so much") and looking even younger than 22, he switches back and forth between a synth and electronic piano, reminding me of Stevie Wonder in his Seventies experimental phase. One song, sung a cappella through a vocoder, sounds like it's fallen through a time-hole from a 13th century monastery. And if "Limit To Your Love" isn't a thing of deathless beauty, I don't know what is.

Crystal Castles disappoint many by failing to drag Robert Smith on stage for a hotly-rumoured duet on "Not In Love", but the Canadian electro duo's "Crimewave" is one of the songs of the weekend. The Cure themselves could barely give any more. In a two and a half hour set, a hoody-wearing Smith and a horribly handsome Simon Gallup cover all bases, from the cuddly pop Cure of "Friday I'm In Love" to the impossibly pessimistic Cure who start one song with the line "It doesn't matter if we all die", ending where they began with debut single "Killing an Arab" (altered to "Killing Another"). It's a set so shamelessly hit-packed it even includes "The Lovecats". A certain Icelandic artiste the following night could learn a lot from their example.

Sunday's star attraction Bjork takes the stage to a recorded David Attenborough introduction, and, in her primary-coloured plastic costume, looking like a Lego character a child has assembled wrongly. She seems to have forgotten that she's the closing headliner at a rock festival, playing a set drawn almost entirely from her ambient, ethereal new album Biophilia. It's half an hour before we hear a drumbeat, and just a solitary familiar hit, "Isobel", is tossed in (until she encores with "Hyperballad"). By that point, the hurricane is starting to bite, and most of Bestival has scarpered under canvas to enjoy one of the various DJ happenings instead. Now is the time to accept defeat and escape from the elements. Now is the winter of our disco tent.


Ghostpoet, aka electronic singer-songwriter Obaro Ejimiwe, takes his debut album Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam to Cardiff's Arts Institute (Thu); Edinburgh's Sneaky Petes (Fri) and Glasgow's The Captain's Rest (Sat). Professional curmudgeon Van Morrison plays Bristol's Colston Hall (Thu) and Cardiff's St David's Hall (Fri).

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