If there’s one thing more than any other that’s become obvious from trawling round the endless festivals this summer that are trying to fill the Glasto gap, it’s this: few organisers understand that a festival is more than a large concert in a field. A festival should be about creating a community away from everyday life; about taking its attendees into another world, if only for a weekened, where normal rules do not apply. Bestival is the first one this year that’s not only got it right, but got it completely right.
Besitval is Glastonbury, scaled down. A festival where you could spend the whole weekend not listening to any music and just hanging in the chillout spaces instead. But of course it’s the music we’re here for, and first up is Terry Hall, DJing in the Bollywood Bar. Amid Raj-style oppulence, he’s not exactly in the spirit of things, looking like he woke up in a skip five minutes before and found his way to the decks through a hedge backwards. Still, the late ’70s/early ’80s fare he delivers (Heart of Glass, Golden Years) ensures that it’s far from being a shit disco. Just, in fact, like Shitdisco themselves who are laying an equally storming set in the Jack Daniels tent along the way that’s particularly popular with some excitable toddlers.
From here, it’s back to the Main Stage, where the Skipton School of Dance are filling the gap with some crazy moves, MC’d by a DJ who seems determined to tell us about how his love of Big Fun helped him recover from his marital woes. Another wander confirms Bestival’s understanding of the word festival – and the importance of space. Space to wander and explore, to move between one place and another on a journey, not a simple path. And to have a truly sumptious press lounge, which even has a chandelier. Jealous yet? It also has the Mystery Jets being interviewed but no free beer, so we move away to somewhere we can talk and drink instead.
This turns out to be in front of The Sunshine Underground on the Main Stage, who sound better outdoors than they do in cramped East London venues, with the space to fill out. They’ve got their eyes set on bigger things, and they look like they’re up to the task. But they still sound like the bastard child of Blur and Oasis.
Next up we’re back to the Jack Daniels tent, for performance of the day from ILiKETRAiNS. Doing for British Rail uniforms what The Libertines did for (Life)Guards jackets, they are dark, bassy and excellent, engaging the audience in debates about what’s the best train (theirs is Edward from Thomas the Tank Engine). Indoors, in a packed tent, their basslines make your body vibrate and even with a broken finger, the trumpeter manages to throw jaffa cakes into the audience while the guitarist attacks his instrument with a violin bow. More please!
En route to Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly! we’re distracted by John Metcalfe in the Rizla Blue Pavilion, with its beanbags and chillout vibe and stay for a while, only a couple of songs but it means we miss most of Get Cape, who started half an hour earlier than the programme stated. Damn. Catching the end of his set, it’s clear that the crowd have loved it, and they continue the ‘Bar rumpa pump pum’ shoutalong for several minutes after he’s left the stage.
Back to the Main Stage, and it’s time for Ronson, who’s set is plagued by technical difficulties. He and his entourage (including guest appearance from Lily Allen) cope admirably, rapping with the audience and doing what they can.
He’s not the only one to suffer, though. Mystery Jets start 20 minutes late after techincal comings and goings and though they play energetically to the largest crowd of the day (including The Boy Who Ran Away, You Can’t Fool Me Dennis, Oh Cairo and new song Elizabeth) they’re not allowed to over-run, meaning that their set is pulled – literally – with them promising the audience Diamonds In The Dark and the stage techs not complying. As they make a somewhat confused exit, the guitarist jumps into the crowd, handing over the stage props to the audience as compensation, including a giant china chicken. It’s an odd performance and exit, but maybe fitting for a band who can’t do anything normally and have the oblique message: ‘Two dogs, two cats, a big kitchen and a welcome mat’ taped to Blaine Harrison’s keyboards for no particular reason.
Headliners Gogol Bordello, with Russian gypsy punk guitars, exhuberent shouting and lots of clothes removal, go down a storm. The crowd lap it up, loving the spectacle. And, luckily, the technical problems have cleared up and the set goes off without incident.
We wander back through Center Parks glades, food stalls and tiny sound systems, past fire jugglers, circus stiltmen, dance tents that won’t close until 5am and a small but happy band of festival people. Roll on Day Two.