Live: Bestival, Robin Hill (Isle Of Wight), 8-11/9/11

Last weekend, this intrepid Killing Moon reporter saw a couple renew their wedding vows in a blow up church, done aerobics with Mr Motivator, and witnessed a burlesque dancer hula hoop a ring of fire to, erm, ‘Ring of Fire’. In her pants. And that was just Saturday afternoon…welcome to Bestival.

Bestival: Welcome to the fun house.

Landing in a valley on the Isle of Wight (no, you don’t need your passport, and no they don’t speak Wightish – anyone else cracks a joke and they’ll be thrown off the ferry, alright?) you are suddenly in a surreal new world. This ain’t your usual festi landscape of a solitary field bestrewn with Carling/Tuborg/Gaymers* cups, thick mud punctuated with a handful of rent-a-tents, oh no. The different sections of Bestival are each given a different spirit by huge, Avatar-style trees of light, 15-foot glittering tulips, day beds and rows upon rows of flags. If you hang out in a place as pretty as this, it’s impossible not to be on your best behaviour (as Bestival claims to be a nice festival, for nice people.) As much as this left this usual rock festival-goer craving a mosh pit or six, it was rather lovely to watch a band and not have to duck piss-cups flying over head.

*delete for appropriate sponsor

Girl: Wearing one of those fucking animal hood thingies cos she thinks it’s cool.

Basically Bestival is an ultra-civilized, pretty-fied rave up, with an eclectic random line up. But hey,  I’d happily sit through 12 performance-art pieces for a mega set from, say, The Cure. Luckily they happened to be playing on Saturday night. How convenient…

Arriving in the midst of second-day mayhem, KM headed straight to the Psychedelic Worm, where Kyla La Grange entertained an appreciative crowd with transcendent vocals on her old school, folksy rock and roll songs, which seem to mostly be about getting fucked up and being fucked over. Her passionate delivery had the crowd eating out of the palm of her hand, and she told us afterwards that this was her favourite festival performance of the summer; “When the crowd are that happy and friendly, it creates a great atmosphere for you to bounce off.” That she did – not bad considering Kyla and her band had rocked up to the site at 4am that morning and got lost in the campsite. Definitely one to keep a beady eye on, that La Grange girl.

Kyla La Grange: Bouncing off the atmosphere.

The trio of 50’s inspired retro rock siblings Kitty, Daisy and Lewis got the main stage crowd into the swing of things – apparently you can indeed jive in wellington boots. The Grassy Hill was full warmed up for the arrival of Beach Boys legend (there is no other way to describe him) Brian Wilson, who assembled a team of 10 musicians on stage to bust out a slew of hits. Brian himself is like everyone’s genius grandad, slightly shakey at times, but loveable and talented nonetheless. And he was still wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Dude.

Brian: Genius grandad.

Kitty, Daisy and Lewis: They will jive you in your booties.

So far, none of the big acts had chosen to mention the recent UK riots – oh wait, step up Flava Flav with some completely unnecessary, misguided ‘words of wisdom’. After which he attempted to pimp out his new book. Public Enemy should really have stuck to performing hits off It Takes a Nation of Millions…while over in the Big Top, a magical set from multi-instrumentalist, flamboyant fashion-wearer Mr Patrick Wolf had the crowd in raptures. Fan favourite tracks like ‘The Magic Position’ and ‘Time of My Life’ were performed with total confidence and charisma – an emotional experience for all present.

Public Enemy’s Flava Flav: Ironically, timing is not his strong point.

Patrick Wolf: Flamboyant fashion-wearing in the Big Top.

Lucy Rose played her delicately romantic songs on acoustic guitar as the sun went down on The Bandstand, and while her quietly emotive voice was soothing to the ears, the atmosphere was somewhat flattened by constant sound checking between songs, which was unfortunate. Killing Moon managed to get (somewhat aptly) lost in the Ambient Forest as we legged it to see Mazes, whose shambolic garage rock was far, far removed from Lucy’s lullabies! Mazes’ scrappy grunge tunes and laid back stage presence went down well, while the lead singer’s slightly whiney voice worked well in context. You couldn’t help thinking that they had found themselves on the Sailor Jerry stage by accident – but they could roll with that.

The Lords of Lightning: Sparky.

Dog Is Dead: Long live the cat.

The Big Top soon heralded the arrival of Crystal Fighters, a much-hyped new band whose heavy beat-led, electronica indie actually seemed a little dated – while the Sebastian Pringle was more than a little irritating. I say: never trust a man with his hair in a top-knot. On the noisier end of the scale, Asian Dub Foundation went all out with their unique brand of crazy dub step genre-mashing mentalness. Snippets of Bollywood melodies clashing with ridiculous bass-lines and frantic MC-ing rocked the Psychedelic Worm to the early hours.

Daughter’s Elena Tonra: Modestly proud of herself, and we couldn’t be happier for her.

Village People: Macho men.

On Saturday, Paloma Faith shimmied on in typically flamboyant style, bedecked in silver face paint. The crowd shivered through hits New York and Do You Want The Truth. Paloma’s new stuff continued in the Etta James soul sister niche that she has carved out for herself, with a lot of upbeat, r.e.s.p.e.c.t. themed tunes. However fans were unsure of the ‘love me, love my cellulite’ message of her closing tune. Complete with bottom wobbling. Er…

Paloma Faith: Bottom wobbler.

Crystal Castles provided a typically blistering warm up to the evening’s proceedings, with their trademark short, intense set.  The crowd were teased by Alice Glass’ The Cure t-shirt, but sadly Robert Smith did not join them on stage for hit song Not in Love. The spoilsport.

Crystal Castle’s Alice Glass: Surfy.

Onto the main event – Mercury winner PJ Harvey had the Grassy Hill enthralled with a spooky, atmospheric performance that showed off her diverse talent. We were awed by the power of songs from Let England Shake while older tracks sounded just as relevant. But what the crowd really, really wanted was for Smith & co to appear, for their only UK performance this year – and what a performance it was. This band sound just as brilliant as they did 15 years ago – Robert’s voice is still startling, and their melancholic tunes suddenly swept an intense atmosphere across the site. It was an awe-inspiring moment, pulled off with aplomb by these indie goth legends. There was a real sense of occasion; the band were well aware that a lot of Bestival tickets had been sold on the back of their performance and Robert continually thanked the crowd. Musically, The Cure gave the amassed throng exactly what they wanted. Their mammoth 2.5 hour set was neatly interspersed with fan favourites: Lovesong and Just Like Heaven sounded perfect and A Forest provided a spine-chilling moment. The biggest cheer came when Robert Smith simply said “it’s the wrong day, but we are here, and it fits” before launching into Friday I’m In Love…

PJ Harvey: Letting Isle Of Wight shake as much as England.

The Cure: The reason.

Travelling back across the ocean waves (ok, the Solent) on Sunday night, it felt a little bit like Alice climbing out of the rabbit hole – reality just isn’t as pleasing on the eyes, or as much fun as Bestival. Yet somehow there was a distinct lack of post-festival blues; although this is a very special festival indeed, it did feel more like a visual rather than aural experience. The lights and the flags are all very nice, but if you are after a life-changing musical experience, you might just have to put up with crappy toilets and a distinct lack of bunting at far less lineup-focussed festivals. If, however, you are after a dubstep rave in a 50’s cabaret tent with a boy dressed as Lady Gaga, and keen to see as diverse and wide-appealing line up as you’re ever going to get, then get your tickets for Bestival 2012 now.

Is this your thing? Get your tickies now then.

Words: Georgina Langford

Pictures: Georgina Langford, Victor Frankowski, Ian Taylor, Derek Bremner, Jamie Baker, Dan Dennison, Andrew Whitton, Louise Roberts

Thanks: Bruce Hay @ Get Involved Ltd.

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