Music festivals come and go these days, with a lot more of them appearing than disappearing, and the first outing for a new festival can make or break their future, consigning them to no more than a distant memory or cementing their place on the festival calendar. So what is the difference between these two outcomes, what makes one fail whilst another triumphs?
A festival is made from its big headline acts or its attendance, either will work unless nobody turns up for the acts, both will be a success, neither will create a very expensive turkey (remember Z008? No? Exactly). In reality, if you have a good, loyal crowd who know what you can supply then you have already got one large tick in the success column, which is why Rob da Bank and the crew who brought you Bestival and Camp Bestival were right to think that a new two day festival, in the heart of Southampton, with not a tent or car park in sight, would work.
Southampton isn’t the first destination you think of when setting your sights on a festival, and I think it’s true to say that the people of Southampton have been sadly neglected in the festival stakes of late. In doing so the Bestival crew have certainly set a new standard for the area and it’s one that won’t be forgotten by the 35,000 festival hungry people who turned up to see just what all the fuss was about.
Musically, in keeping with the other Bestivals, Common People was a mix of dance, hot new acts, quality, established bands and some acts that are so retro or so famous that you just have to see them. This meant headline slots for Fatboy Slim and Grace Jones, with high billing for Clean Bandit, De la Soul and Band of Skulls, backed up by Years & Years, Slaves, George the Poet and a comprehensive range of DJs and acts around the site. These were distributed over the main outdoor Common Stage, the Big Top, the smaller Uncommon Stage and Day of the Dead Cocktail Bus.
The understanding that many of their loyal audience have children meant that these were also catered for with a kids area and the perennial favourite for all youngsters, the Cuban Brothers, whose antics and dialogue are so close to the knuckle that they are actually the knuckle. I mean, let’s face it, few acts can get away with such X-Rated material and still attract kids with their parents, but nobody takes offence which is always a joy to behold.
Look, festivals are an expensive business these days, with food and drink at a premium, and you are totally at the mercy of the vendors within the site as you are searched for alcohol before you get it. We do loads of them and it’s the same story everywhere, paying £6 for a burger that a dog would turn its nose up at is never going to be anything but a painful sting in the pocket (and hopefully not the toilet). What you get from the Bestival organisers is a great range of food and drink stalls offering something different, usually much higher quality, and invariably tasty. It may be costly, but it’s a damn sight better than the majority of festival food stalls, which can also make them a bit more expensive. To be honest I’d rather pay and get something a that’s a bit more than barely edible, and filling.
For the first time that we have seen at a Bestival organised festival there was a separate VIP area with its own bar, food van and toilets called “The Nook”. Whether this gets rolled out to the other events will have to be seen.
Common People had a capacity of 35,000 for each of the two days (day tickets were available), and people poured in throughout the day. The site was always buzzing with people, but it was never too packed or crowded to get around so I think they got the numbers about right. The biggest draws were, unsurprisingly, for Fatboy Slim and Clean Bandit, closely followed by this season’s “new” face, Years & Years. Grace Jones didn’t immediately fill the area, but her performance swelled the numbers as people who may not have had any idea about who Grace Jones was began to marvel at her set.
That’s where I’d like to start, with the amazing Grace Jones, who strutted onto the stage naked aside from heels, a thong, waspie, mask and face paint and commanded the space until the minute she took her hula hooping body off. If you ever wanted to see what confidence looked like it was Grace Jones. With more costume changes as you could shake a stick at, a pole dancer built like Arnie, some great tracks like “Pull Up to the Bumper”, “Private Life”, “Love is the Drug”, “La Vie en Rose” and “Slave to the Rhythm” and an attitude you could break rocks with she was absolutely superb, and a perfect closing act for the festival.
Fatboy Slim started his set with a large female choir who sang an A cappella version of the track that underpinned the whole set; “Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat”. There’s something splendid about lyrics like “And this fucking cop just looked at me” being sung so beautifully and harmoniously, and although they returned later for “Praise You”, the rest of the set belonged to Norman Cook. With video, light shows, lasers and huge amounts of energy he kept his crowd entertained right up to the fireworks that closed each night.
Clean Bandit have grafted over the last two years on the festival circuit and have gone from low billing at small festivals to performing at the BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend in Norwich and getting a jet down to Southampton to play a packed arena at Common People. In that time their energy on stage has not changed but their popularity has.
The weekend was a chance for us to catch up with a few new acts that have been making some waves and we weren’t disappointed. George the Poet was thoughtful and lyrically incredible, Slaves were raucous and punk enough to jump into the crowd after their man dressed as a Manta Ray had done earlier and were watched on stage by their following act, Years & Years who were a huge hit with their crowd – easily the best BBC Sound of 2015 winner in sports casual that we’ve seen.
ther highlights from a packed weekend came from Craig Charles’ funk and soul set early on Sunday, De la Soul’s heckling of the new VIP area (the Nook), Band of Skulls, Jaguar Skills, DJ Yoda and Rob da Bank’s set in the Big Top. Throughout the two days there was always something on to entertain.
You wouldn't really have known that Common People was new to the festival circuit, it looked and felt well established, obviously due to the fact that the organisers had sprinkled a little bit of Bestival magic into every nook and cranny of that site. Add to this the great crowd and atmosphere and you’ve got another winner of a festival. Rob da Bank is promising a return next year - so we're not looking at a one hit wonder - we seem to be looking at another success story for the Bestival crew, one that will become integral to the festival circuit.
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