Camp Bestival review – boutique festival meets preteen summer camp

Lulworth Castle, Dorset
Ironically rearranged chart hits loomed large on a weekend that embraced a diverse array of acts, from James to Chas and Dave

Now in its seventh year, Camp Bestival still resembles a cross between a music festival and a summer camp for preteens. Anybody wandering by the main stage is equally likely to encounter a rock veteran, a tyro soul singer, a clowning children's TV presenter, or an earnest talk on paleontology.

On Friday, the compact but picturesque site in the grounds of Lulworth Castle looked like a giant soft-play area as Public Service Broadcasting couched 1950s public information films in rave beats and squiggles. Mums and dads nodded approvingly as Johnny Marr played a generous festival set heavier on Smiths songs than on his own solo material.

Fellow Manchester rock royalty James proved perfect first-night headliners, drawing on their warm, underrated new album La Petite Mort as well as their extensive back catalogue. They even relented on their puritanical new policy of no longer playing the crowd-pleaser Sit Down.

Ironically rearranging chart hits is a boutique-festival staple, and Saturday found the all-female Lips Choir trilling Guns N' Roses and Chic, and the Fabulous Lounge Swingers jazzing up Beyoncé. It was more fun than Pop Will Eat Itself, whose slogan-heavy rap-rock fusion didn't sound like the future 25 years ago, and certainly doesn't now.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor's brisk, perfectly enunciated sophisto-pop was pleasant if a tad inconsequential; the crowd far preferred her in set-closing disco mode. Laura Mvula was tremendous, coaxing her honeyed voice into the weft and weave of Let Me Fall and She like a 21st-century Nina Simone.

De La Soul's slick skits and call-and-response routines were good headliner fodder, but disappointing from a trio who, in their pomp, utterly reimagined hip-hop. Over in the Big Top, The Wedding Present's frantic, angst-ridden strum was, as ever, bigger on elbow grease than emotional eloquence.

As the sun blazed down on Sunday afternoon, Chas and Dave's gorblimey blues had the entire field skanking to Gertcha and Snooker Loopy. Sinéad O'Connor's cathartic howls and self-lacerations engendered a more sober response, but her ferocious take on John Grant's Queen of Denmark was sensational.

Peter Hook and the Light's revisits of Joy Division and early New Order were flawless, but the rotund, jovial Hook is no haunted Ian Curtis. Finally, Basement Jaxx's delirious rave-pop delighted both the legions of retired clubbers and their over-excited toddlers in onesies. The segue from their set to the festival's spectacular closing fireworks from the castle's ramparts was virtually holistic.


Ian Gittins

The GuardianTramp

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