I have to sheepishly confess that I firmly belonged to the school of thought that believed festivals are simply not for children. I know we have loads of 'family friendly' festivals and I know from having been to many of them that these are pretty good events, but I still had that big doubt in my mind. That being the case I set off expecting a good event with lots of kids getting about and getting on my nerve but I ended a total convert - Camp Bestival is quite probably the only festival on the planet that could have done that and I'm still reeling from the discovery that Camp Bestival is actually a children's festival with a huge dollop of entertainment thrown in to keep the adults amused and out of mischief.
Rob da Bank's genius lies in his ability to integrate and programme the event so cleverly that it encourages a wealth of togetherness that other festivals can only dream of and this is an achievement that shouldn't be underestimated. This ability, coupled with the fact that Lulworth Castle lends itself beautifully to an event of this nature, and you have all the ingredients for a perfect match once the Camp Bestival crowd descends.
The site layout is gorgeous; the main kids area is seriously committed to fun, pleasure and learning with a jaw dropping wealth of things to do, from face painting, circus skills, bouncy castles, areas for babies and toddlers, a literary tent and Bandstand, pop up entertainment as well as the wonderful ballet with workshops and lessons on offer all weekend long. The Little Big Top offered an awesome line-up for kids with The Gruffalo, ZingZillas, Shrek the Musical and much, much more in a shockingly good example of programming that kept the little ones gainfully employed throughout the weekend. In fact, the little ones had their pick of entertainment throughout the site, there is no time for them to get bored at this event because you can dip in and out of the events at a rate of knots - something that suits the younger members of the crowd really well, and in a crowd where 50% are very young that actually matters. Among a vast array of food on offer they even had allergy free foods and of course the River Cafe! Of course this all day entertainment means that the kids are up and enjoying themselves nice and early, dragging some fairly weary parents from their slumber, nursing their hangovers from the late night before, the casualties of which are strewn across the Kids Field in heaps.
The Castle field area houses the main stage and some more quality food stalls. It's set against the backdrop of the castle itself which makes it quite stunning. If you walk on over you'll find Bollywood, the Big Top, the jousting area, Black Dahlia, Cocktails and Dreams and much more. In all these areas the entertainment on offer is diverse - the emphasis is always on fun and inclusion - laughter and fun sums up the festival quite nicely as an overall ethos - with a huge dash of top quality acts thrown in as the cherry on top.
Friday's highlights included a very special set of performances in Dingly Dell from Laura Marling. Some lucky festival goers got chosen for a special ticket and were treated to a one on one performance in a shed, we got close - but not close enough. The feedback was, as expected, a big WOW from those lucky enough to get the full on 'one to one' Laura Marling experience, something we suspect they will never forget. Normally these "secret" gigs tend to be easy enough to discover that there is always an audience (I mean, how embarrassing would it be if nobody turned up?) so it was refreshing to have to hunt for a Willie Wonka type golden ticket.
The second 'secret' set came from Ed Sheeran, once again set in Dingly Dell but this time a little more inclusive so everyone who was there could enjoy what was a typically Sheeran moment in time, in an intimate and magical setting.
We caught some great performances from Lucky Elephant, Ed Sheeran (again, but less intimate!), James Vincent McMorrow, Alessi's Ark and Laura Marling (again - but this time we could see her!) at the Big Top. A top comedy line up that included the ever-popular Jack Whitehall followed the music and the original beat boxer Michael Winslow, you know, the guy who did all the sound effects with his voice in Police Academy. You could then party away to your hearts content at the silent disco that ran until 3am.
The Castle stage brought on the irreverent Barry Peters after Two Wounded Birds to give the customary shot in the arm to the audience. How does he get away with it? We were coming away from Dingly Dell after hunting Marling when Barry Peters et al (aka The Cuban Brothers) came on stage, only to see two women doing a large double take when the tirade of single entendres hit thier ears. When we told them who it was, and reassured them that they had heard "double penetration" correctly they went scurrying away to see the full performance - ah the pulling power of Mr Peters!
The ever popular Labrinth was up next. New to the festival circuit this year Labrinth has embraced the experience and can be found at almost every one we've been at. It's a great opportunity to see a performer actually grow in confidence and stature and in a cynical world Labrinth is one genuinely self-effacing guy who simply adores what he does and can now command the festival crowd brilliantly. Talented, genuine and gifted.
The surprise of the afternoon was Fenech-Soler because, to be honest, we've heard a couple of tracks and not been bowled over so this time round we took the opportunity of watching the full set - and what a set it was. Fenech-Soler have been causing a few ripples on the music scene and finally we get it, the electro/indie pop belted out by these guys was much heavier than expected and the set was one that showed just why they've been creating such a buzz - definitely ones to watch, they have what it takes and the delivery was perfect.
Clare Maguire is another 'promising new artist'. The singer/songwriter can really belt them out, she's clearly more than 'promising' - the power ballad is back, refreshing and newly re-vamped in the form of Ms Maguire.
The chance to see ABC in action was not to be missed and Martin Fry and co didn't let us down. A nostalgic hit-laden set was delivered with all the style and panache you'd associate with a band of this caliber and style. Ageing handsomely and easing gently into the set the suave Martin Fry duly won the audience over and brought the sound of ABC to a whole new audience.
Topping the bill for Friday was the legendary and iconic Blondie; it was a real sadness for us that one of the world’s most beautiful role models wouldn't allow photographers in the pit for this performance. Debbie Harry is one woman who epitomises cool, transcends the norm and is a trailblazer for women everywhere - in a society where woman are not allowed to age and become invisible once they hit their late 40's, at 66 Debbie Harry shows without a shadow of doubt that women can still be relevant, hip, cool and undeniably beautiful.
Blondie roared into a phenomenal set that was as powerful and meaningful as it was of the moment, this wasn't simply about nostalgia, this was about timeless, classic music - music that defined an era. We got 'Atomic', Hanging on the Telephone', 'Heart of Glass', 'Maria', and many more plus a few 'new' numbers thrown in for good measure. This was a set that showcased Blondie on top form and left no-one in any doubt as to why Blondie are the legends they are. In fact one woman in the crowd was in floods of tears and claimed it was the best gig she had ever witnessed - a triumphant end to a pretty impressive day. We did find someone who was put out by some "unneccessary modern rap covers" but I think they were in a minority. One of my own highlights during the set was hearing a child who could have been no older than 9 or 10 tell his parents quite earnestly that "She (Debbie Harry) is a proper role model for young people"
Saturday began early for the little ones on the Castle stage with The Gruffalo leaping into action at just gone 11am, which was way, way too early for us! with the early slots occupied by "children's" entertainment there didn't seem to be too much of a rush. With a slightly heavy heart we made it in just in time for Mr Tumble thinking we really ought to cover it but with little in the way of expectation. This was the first shock of the day, we really had to battle through the thickest crowd we'd ever seen - it appeared that Mr Tumble had drawn just about everybody to the main stage, we hadn't been there for more than a few minutes before we were falling about with the best of them. The sheer joy, innocence and exuberance being shared around the arena was a sight to behold, everybody had suspended their 'too cool for school' personas and simply grabbed the moment. Even Rob da Bank popped in for a bit.
Mr. Tumble was followed by Dick 'N Dom, who were compering for the ealy part of the day. This was another act we had thought well worth a miss, but how wrong can you be? These guys had absolute command of the crowd and the whole arena was in fits at their antics. Madness, mayhem, custard pies and just about every permutation you can think of went off, just on the okay side of smutty, dealing with young hecklers with ease and even managing to make a child cry on stage when splodged with a pie (she was okay - honestly!) Dick 'N Dom gained a whole new area of respect! Even 'bogeys' raised a few wry smiles. We think (hope) they will become Camp Bestival regulars - it's the perfect fit so do not underestimate these guys.
The first musical act of the day came in the form of the enthusiastic, energetic, frenetic and utterly captivating melee that is Gentleman's Dub Club. This was another band that has passed us by - and having seen them in action I have no idea why. Gentleman's Dub Club put the fun and escapism right back into music, impossible to stand still, impossible not to like - nobody who heard this band had anything other than praise to heap on them - genuine feel good music that added to a tangible 'feel good' factor that enveloped the site this weekend.
Newton Faulkner is a true festival stalwart who gains more fans to his ever-loyal fan base everywhere he goes, rocking the Big Top in solid Faulkner style this was another stand out performance.
Among the host of astonishing and surprising things to be found today was non other than Howard Marks reading 'Alice in Wonderland' to the children. Probably one of the best festival moments this year; clever, poignant, ironic and utterly enthralling - kids of all ages hung on his every word, adults enjoyed the more x-rated references and a guest appearance from non other than Keith Allen sealed the deal - festival brilliance!
Camp Bestival would not be right and proper without the Cuban Brothers - and true to form they brought their very own blend of mayhem to the Big Top. You couldn't call them stylish but they have a niche which makes cheesy and smutty really rather cool, an essential ingredient for Camp Bestival without doubt. The Wonder Stuff were a perfect choice for the afternoon slot, stage timings had gone a bit awry but the guys brought a truly delightful set to the Castle stage, one that we could all wallow in.
Ms Dynamite was another act that had to be re-sheduled because of traffic, so there was a lot of disappointment when Swing Patrol came out to Jive and dance, which is about as far away from a UK garage rapper as you can get. This cut down Ms Dynamite's set, but although almost as short as her shorts it was still energetic, cool and hip and showed that she's still got what it takes.
For some reason, and this was one we never did fathom, there was a 45 minute 'Church Service' silence around the site, we thought that God's special day was Sunday but it seems to have been changed this weekend!
Fortunately the slightly less Godly House of Pain hit the stage following the silent hour and they brought the house down with a full on set that included, of course, "Jump Around". How the ground didn't open up and swallow us all I will never know - the sheer force of energy was a sight to behold - as was the fact that many tiny children were launched into the air throughout the set! There were a few issues with the younger crowd having no real idea about moshing etiquette but House of Pain were on the case and issued a few stern instructions!
Mark Ronson and the Business International came with a number of special guests including The View’s Kyle Falconer and The Zuton's Dave McCabe. Sporting a Bowie-esq make up job they inevitably launched straight into an Amy Winehouse tribute telling the crowd that it was about celebrating her life instead of mourning her death. We got two versions of "Valerie", the opening track being acoustic, and we also got "Back to Black" (with Charlie Waller) . We think Amy would have loved it. Mark Ronson and co were on top form as they commanded the whole area with a blistering set that simply tore through everything required including "Bang, Bang, Bang", "Just" and "California" (which had Phantom Planet's Alex Greenwald guesting). To be truthful this was the headline set - another Camp Bestival triumph that despite the sadness of Amy Winehouse's passing was in essence a genuine musical celebration of life itself.
The main stage closed with Groove Armada, there were initial sound problems and a bit of a 'diva' moment from the guys followed, but in the end it all got sorted and Groove Armada were able to do their thing and certainly brought the groove to the Castle stage.
Sunday was very much a "chill out" day as people seemed content to wind down after the excesses of the previous two days and gentle was the watchword for the morning as hangovers were nursed, children fed and sorted while Mum and Dad tried gainfully to get their act together for the final day. Ade Edmundson and the Bad Shepherds brought a range of covers in a folk style to the Castle Stage - just the medicine many needed, just not us. We're not keen on "hey nonny nonny" folk, even if it's a cover of "Ace of Spades" so it was just too much for us to stomach in the daylight, he was much more effective playing to the packed Black Dahlia tent the night before. For someone who has kept us entertained for years with edgy comedy it is a shame that none of this comes through in the music, even between tracks.
The Kid’s area though was heaving, there was no slowing down going on here! There were balloon workshops, the ever-popular circus skills, the Dairylea pop up dance workshop and much more. Mums and Dads sought a bit of solitude in the Literary Institute and found modern poetry from Kate Tempest, Chester P and Ross Sutherland. Those with more energy opted for a touch of ZingZillas followed by a Myminidisco mash up - medieval style, of course.
Things were a little more lively in the Big Top with a DJ set from the Nextmen followed by Yasmin and Modestep. Brandt Brauer Frick and Benjamin Francis Leftwich delivered more gentle vibes as the day wore on.
The Castle Stage was lit up by a bright, energetic and nostalgic set from The Selector who proudly told us they were not imitations but the original real deal. Their set included a tribute to Amy Winehouse with "Back to Black" the single they were due to release but didn't bring out due to the recent tragedy. We were treated to "On My Radio", "Three Minute Hero", "Missing Words" in a set that reminded everyone just how brilliant the band actually are.
Sunderland's finest eponymously named indie rockers Frankie & the Heartstrings brought a whole new feel to the Castle stage as frontman Frankie Francis gyrated theatrically whilst generally delivering a proper bit of early afternoon pop to the delight of the crowd - plenty of young girlies were more than happy with this act. The hair, the style, the talent - Frankie and the Heartstrings seem to have it all at the moment.
The English National Ballet, the ZingZillas and a medieval Knight brought the Swan Lake Flash Mob to the Sunday afternoon proceedings. More fun than you could shake a stick at - and the crowd duly obliged as they pranced and danced following instructions as only such a crowd can! Typically Camp Bestival and a typically fabulous moment in time.
In a complete change of tempo The Correspondents arrived on stage - frenzied, mad, fun and utterly mesmerizing - this swing/hip-hop duo consist of DJ 'Chucks' with frontman 'Mr. Bruce' and whoa do they bring an unbelievable performance. A total feast of utter madness which leaves you completely exhausted just having been there watching the whole thing - how do they do it? Another change of tempo came as the Easy Star All Stars brought their amazing cover versions of iconic songs to the stage. "Dub Side of the Moon" is a stunning track to hear live and the sound of this iconic music played in a manner that only this Easy Star All Stars can do was spine tingling.
The rest of the afternoon belonged to bright young acts from the UK music scene, Wretch 32, Katy B, Nero and Beardyman. Wretch 32 pulled the first crowds. This young pretender to Tinie Tempah's crown set about winning over the audience with an all too short set but the buzz that's been around him seems to be justified if this performance is anything to go by. It felt like he came on, said hello, sang "Traktor" and buggered off, but I prefer to put this down to enjoying it.
The arena was utterly crammed for Katy B - from tots to the slightly older crowd everybody was singing along and dancing around as she worked the crowd really well for this set. We were amazed and fascinated watching kids as young as 5 or so singing along to every word - they were in heaven for the duration, so full respect to Ms B - there can be no doubt that crowd loved her and hung on her every note.
Nero was a no show, we had no idea why but Beardyman certainly made up for it with a classic set, inspired and inspirational - how does he do it? We have no idea but each outing shows a hugely talented bloke whose ability is awesome. We'd heard he had some throat problems and was no stranger to TCP but there was no sign of that on this quality performance.
The day had to belong, overall, to Primal Scream who performed their seminal album 'Screamadelica' in its entirety. This was a hugely anticipated performance and excitement had been mounting all weekend. You couldn't move in the main arena as everybody wanted to be part of this special moment - we know because we checked on the other stages and tents. This was a classic, solid gold and timeless album that showcases the ingenuity of a band who were ahead of their time yet still remain in the moment. Bringing this work to a whole new generation as well as reminding us that Primal Scream actually did something special that stands the test of time marks them out as one of those iconic bands who have a unique place in music history. Primal Scream closed the Castle Stage all too soon, I think the crowd would all have been up for them starting all over again such was the vibe and sense of occasion generated by this performance.
There was a stunning firework display to finally close the main arena at Camp Bestival for 2011, an event that will be remembered for many things - not least being the sheer sense of fun, exuberance, excitement, escapism and inclusion that Camp Bestival brought to Dorset.
Rob and Josie da Bank, along with the Camp Bestival crew have managed to pull off something very special here as Camp Bestival defies description and categorisation in so many ways. It would be easy to say that it's a 'family friendly' festival but we don't really think that encompasses just what's on offer here, the event is far more than that. It's more like a children's festival with an edge and a twist but it doesn't patronise, children are treated with respect making this event unique in so many ways. Teenagers and mums and dads are catered for with as much attention to detail as the kiddies with the clever mix of entertainment appealing to all resulting in very inclusive experience.
Rob da Bank's ability to predict future acts and to bring fresh vibrant talent whilst simultaneously embracing and reviving older acts is almost spooky. The clever programming hits the right note for just about everybody and the event offers the broadest spectrum of entertainment that draws you into its web. The site lends itself to the magic of Camp Bestival because it's so easy to get around, so while inevitably you will miss things as is the nature of festivals, it is actually possibly to get to much more here - which is a major bonus!
Camp Bestival has been strong and unyielding since its inception. We've recommended it before as the UK's premier festival for families. Camp Bestival has grown and evolved into an exceptional festival that, aside from some jaw dropping entertainment throughout the whole weekend has a feel good factor that attracts a fun loving crowd who are up for total escapism for a few days. We'd suggest you combine it with a few more days in Dorset and make it your annual holiday - you simply can't go wrong here.
And as for festivals not really being the place for children - clearly they are and THE festival can only be Camp Bestival - be prepared to give yourself over to pure unadulterated pleasure.
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