The annual UK family festival returned for another excellent year of live music that was catered to all generations.
Festival goers dressed up as Superheroes, children running around firing Nerf guns at the campsite, and a lineup that mashes up the last four decades of pop music into one. It could only mean one thing: Camp Bestival 2019 was finally here and with it, three days that showed why this family-oriented festival – nestled in the Dorset countryside at Lulworth Castle – is a fixed calendar event on many household diaries (bar a few misfires).
Friday’s lineup was a tasteful one that swung between artists from the 80s-90s and more recent pop affair. Nina Nesbitt performed in the mid-afternoon slot on the Castle Stage to the delight of a somewhat mellow crowd with songs from her new album as well as a slowed down cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’, which was haunting but beautiful to say the least. Bob Marley’s former backup band The Wailers arrived onstage with the feel-good factor on their side and a vast library of hits that spans generations of fans. Although there were the surprising omissions of ‘Buffalo Soldier’, ‘No Woman No Cry’ and an anticlimactic finish with ‘Get Up, Stand Up’, there was still ‘Is This Love’, ‘Three Little Birds’ and ‘One Love’ for huge crowd singalongs.
However, nothing else on Friday would reach the high point that was 80s synth pop group The Human League before the evenings headliner as lead singer Philip Oakley strode out donning a suit with black cape attached and some Dr Evil-esque sunglasses. Despite the retro-futuristic stage design looking quite alien at first glance, until I realised it seemed to have been lifted from the USS Enterprise, that didn’t stop them from delivering a performance that fully captured the essence of Camp Bestival – family entertainment that can cross through as many generations as possible. It all peaked when they encored to ‘Don’t You Want Me’ and produced possibly the loudest singalong I’ve ever heard at a gig, which is amazing considering the size of other festivals like Reading or All Points East, but it goes to show how impactful and much loved they are to this day.
All of this led to the moment of truth: is Friday night’s headliner Jess Glynne going to actually appear after her cancellation of multiple tour dates following the Isle of Wight controversy and vocal problems? Thankfully she did to the screaming delight of her young adoring fans at the front and to most children sitting on their parents’ shoulders but, to put it politely, it was a little anti-climactic. It’s true that the number of chart topping singles she has sung throughout this decade is staggering (‘Hold My Hand’, ‘I’ll Be There’, and ‘Rather Be’ to name a few) and all were sung by her young audience. However her stage presence was awkward and it led to a few slightly uncomfortable moments, especially her constant desire for the crowd to sing back her lyrics no matter their popularity – silence greeted her during some of these attempts to add to the cringe. Along with her walking off stage randomly at one point and a speech about how artists are ‘all human who need their own space’ (codeword for ‘don’t come up to me in public’), it created a rift which was never overcome and I was walking back to my tent sighing rather than smiling wishing for more.
Saturday morning dawned and the festival was in full swing with everyone, bar myself and my mum, fancy dressed as their favourite superheroes to mark this year’s theme, ‘Heroes and Superheroes’, so patches of Batmen and Wonderwomen greeted us entering the arena for Day 2. Camp Bestival is ‘family-oriented’ so it wasn’t just music artists who were attracting large crowds, which is why I found myself dancing to ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes’ and ‘The Hokey Cokey’ with Mr Tumble including parents innocently piggy-backing younglings to their joy (or horror depending on who you looked at). It was a strange nostalgic throwback, but an enjoyable one to say the least.
A very pleasant surprise was the singer songwriter Beans On Toast (AKA Jay McAllister). His very down-to-earth personality and long list of intimate songs including a lovely ode to his ‘Nanny Mac’ and a little ditty about Chicken food ironically titled ‘The Chicken Song’ were a hangover cocktail and a much welcomed change of pace during the afternoon acts. In contrast, the double bill of Big Shaq and boyband Rak-Su gave the slight opposite effect: the former being a one-hit wonder who sang his ‘one-hit wonder’ (‘Real sauce, no ketchup’ and all that) and the latter, while omitting an onstage presence and very likeable personalities from the group, were letdown by tunes that went in one ear and out the other.
Thankfully, the three highly anticipated acts of the weekend landed on Saturday evening and each one proved to be as successful as the other.
First up were Vengaboys. Starting out as a request by Camp Bestival goers wanting them on the lineup for so long, the Dutch pop novelty group were finally placed on the bill inside the Big Top, rather than the Main Castle Stage to a few disgruntled campers. It’s true that they are not meant to be taken seriously and cynics (like myself) would probably have sniggered at the whole charade, but hearing ‘We Like to Party (The Vengabus)’ as a tent full of young and old were bouncing up and down as well as bringing up a bunch of hyperactive kids onstage for ‘Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom’, I was won over by the collective spirit and energy of their performance in the end.
Meanwhile on the Castle Stage was man-of-the-moment Lewis Capaldi, who produced a fine performance after being bumped up to Saturday’s supporting headliner due to his sudden rise of fame. Having seen him at Reading Festival almost a year ago when hardly anyone had heard of his name apart from the usual Spotify listener, it was strange hearing ‘Bruises’ and ‘Fade’ sung by an entire field instead of the odd fan in a tiny tent. Nonetheless, his trademark sweary persona, the usual chanting of ‘Ohhh Lewis Capaldi’ from the crowd, and his irresistibly catchy and emotional songs are still a huge draw for his shows as his never-ending climb to superstardom continues.
However, if that didn’t top it all off, then Disco King headliners Nile Rodgers & Chic sealed the deal with one of the best sets I’ve seen performed this year. Spanning his illustrious career, Rodgers started with some classic Chic numbers (‘Everybody Dance’, ‘I Want your Love’) before moving onto his collaborations (‘We Are Family’, ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘I’m Coming Out’ etc) and finally ending with a rapturous ‘Good Times’. Add on a watertight band, two astonishing backup female vocalists, and a crowd that hardly stopped moving for 90 minutes, it was a dazzling spectacle to say the least and one that was even more enhanced by the trippy visuals in the background.
For most festivals, Sunday proves to be a more quiet affair and after Nile Rodgers that was almost certainly the case at Camp Bestival 2019. Early on at the Castle Stage were Henge, an alien band who have travelled from outer space to come and play for us humans (no, I’m not making this up), which sounded like noise rock mixed with 80s synth pop. It was somewhat perplexing, but entertaining to admire if only for a slight moment when I thought I had lost half of my hearing.
However, nothing came closer towards awkwardness than East 17 and for all the very wrong reasons. Where once this boy-band ruled the radio waves during the 90s, the foursome, now turned threesome (one original member left standing), ran onto stage in black skinny-fit shirts and snap-backs wearing Gucci ‘bling’ around their necks that looked to have been bought from Poundland. With some eye-opening singing, they thrust their pelvises while some semi intoxicated middle aged women whooped and cheered around me at every bump and grind. They thought they were bringing back 90s nostalgia but instead had the aura of three embarrassing 40-year old dads at a wedding reception who were long past their sell-by date. Not even their hit Christmas single ‘Stay Another Day’ could save this disturbing display as my East 17 fan Mum stared at me heartbroken and scarred for life by what we were witnessing.
At the same time on a much more positive note, young upcoming band Babeheaven were performing to a small crowd inside the Big Top and their mellow, relaxing style of music was much needed after a busy two days of music. Playing their breakout single ‘Friday Sky’, Nancy Anderson’s blissful voice acted like a remedy for all those lying on the grass and their brief half hour set was a highlight for myself as they continue to build on an already impressive gig portfolio.
Come the evening, Camp Bestival’s special guests saw the long awaited return of leftfield indie legends Bombay Bicycle Club who were only playing their third gig since 2014. Although they didn’t draw a particularly big audience, the Crouch End quartet spent 90 minutes delving into their back catalogue, debuting some new material for what’s to come, and performing a terrific cover of Robyn’s ‘With Every Heartbeat’, all greeted by cheers from BBC fans at the front and nods of approval from the rest.
As Sunday night’s top billing and festival favourite Annie Mac performed her DJ set on the Castle Stage, I decided to head towards the Big Top to see Dutch group Broken Brass Ensemble. At the set’s beginning, there was barely anyone in attendance but that all soon changed when their horns started blasting. It was an electrifying 45 minutes: people moshed, jumped around, and danced endlessly while BBE fed off their energy to the crowd’s excitement with each member performing solos that were as wildly insane as the last. At times it nearly drove towards insanity, in a controlled and organised way, but I was lapping up every second of it.
As the traditional Castle fireworks display exploded in the night sky to the background music of Arctic Monkeys ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’, it was a perfect conclusion to a wonderful and pretty rain-free festival. A few missteps were had during the weekend, but trudging back to my tent exhausted with families following in the same direction, I overheard a young boy say to his mum: ‘This has been the best weekend ever’. How I wished these festivals were around when I was his age.
Camp Bestival 2020 takes place July 30th to August 2nd, and you can buy your tickets here.