Live Music + Gig Reviews

Camp Bestival 2011 @ Lulworth Castle, Dorset

31 July 2011

Camp Bestival has a unique way of being family friendly. You might expect theyre nice to kids. That theyd have clowns, and balloons, and folk dressed as fairies handing out sweets and dreams while pigtailed children skip gaily through meadows, giggling and frolicking with blissful abandon in the grounds of Lulworth Castle. But no.

For three days, the music-loving adult folk of Camp B cram their sprogs into trolleys, crates, and wheelbarrows and wheel them about a field in various states of consciousness, parking them amidst a mosh pit while they get their rocks off to Primal Scream. Occasionally they let the youngsters loose to play with Mr Tumble. And then its back in the box. For three days.

Its whats called a compromise. For 18 years, until their fledglings can be flung from the nest, parents trim off their cultural leanings and let their spawn run their lives so three days of being shoved in a trailer so Mummy and Daddy can listen to Blondie is a pretty fair deal. And their progeny do get some entertainment of their own.

Until the early evening, Camp Bestival is like a live-action CBeebies. The Castle Stage is handed over to Dick and Dom, who do their best not to swear while screaming brats shove custard pies in their faces. The Big Top is host to Zingzillas, whose multicoloured monkey-japery would scare even the hardened crowds of Download and the like. And in between, countless attractions and distractions pander to the tweenies, from the Insect Circus to the Puppet Theatre, while costumed folk of all ages get into the Bestival dressing-up tradition.

Of course, families dont only comprise the babes in arms. The occasional filthy teenager is still in the fold, and for them, there are delights more musical than whimsical. Freshly blooded Yaaks led the way, putting an energetic mini-set together for the afternoons Big Toppers. Its pacey, jangled indie with an airy danceablity that touches more than once on Friendly Fires. Strangely, in the group’s mere months of existence, the vocals have also developed an unlikely Morrissey edge disparate directions that almost work.

Theres nothing disparate, meanwhile, about Eliza Doolittle‘s sweet, hazy pop. The girl can actually sing at least, in a limited, derivative kind of way. And while some may find her saccharine, the pop-whistling hooks of Skinny Genes and Mr Medicine do have a certain allure on a sunny afternoon. Certainly a healthy mix of smiling adolescents and slightly sozzled dads seemed happy enough.

As a hot tip, the strength of Clare Maguires vocal is undoubted but shes yet to find a decent output for it. Caught somewhere between bluesy diva and sombre rock balladeer, she seems at a loss to know where to pitch herself for now, she aims for the mid-point between Evanescence rock and Tina Turner pop, and ends up with Vic Reeves doing lounge versions of Wham!. Someone, please, find a use for her.

As the evening sets in, the acts start to flit across the generations. Old or young, House Of Pain mean the same to all basically, Jump Around, for which everyone goes insane. Their easy mix of rock and hip-hop lacks panache, but does lift the mood in time for Mark Ronson, whose Business International also find favour with the whole Camp Bestival age range.

In only his second live show since the death of Amy Winehouse, Ronson paid tribute to his friend and collaborator by opening with Valerie, the Zutons track they covered to great acclaim in 2007. Joined onstage by the tracks writer Dave McCabe, Ronson pared the song down to two acoustics. We played that in honour of Amy, he told the crowd, who responded with cheers. In a sense, this was the most fitting tribute: Ronson has always evoked the best of his covers, and in this track he also found the best of Winehouse. His other tracks are similarly well played the Rose Elinor Dougall version of Kaiser Chiefs Oh My God is all ominous, thunderous bass, and the reworked Just is Radiohead for the pop crowd. The strength here is that Ronsons versions arent copies or rip offs, theyre more like Warhol-coloured prints the style, not the essence, is changed and each is something new. Its crowd-pleasing, if not dynamic.

The same could apply to Jack Whitehall, whose good looks and pearly whites probably explain more of the cheers than his comedy energetic gag-telling with plenty of good lines, but few heavy-hitters. Still, Whitehall closed out a late-night bill that showed Camp Bestival had put in real effort to diversify the entertainment. With Police Academys beat-boxing noise-maker Michael Winslow previewing his Edinburgh Fringe set, superb one-liners from Milton Jones and classic cultural observations from visiting Canadian Craig Campbell, this was a stand-out group of stand-ups rather than a thrown together add-on to the setlist.

The same thought was evident in selecting the Camps other eclectic names. Beardyman, Laura Marling and Primal Scream may have little to do with one another on paper, but in the wilds of Dorset they made a fine fit. Marling is a classic festival number, with strident acoustics and country vocal finding an audience wherever she pitches up. The fans here were teens, but the aged voice and mature styling won her the older crowd too.

In a sense, Beardymans trick was the same. Looped and frenetic beatboxing may be niche, but the covers of Sweet Dreams, Smack My Bitch Up and Seven Nation Army brought the wider crowd into the gig. His vocal effects and love of the odd moment of silliness even pandered to the youngest kids though the extended jungle-outro may have lost a few in the latter part of the set. The best moment was undoubtedly the snippet of Feists Limit To Your Love, the crackled ache of a track already reworked by James Blake. And, as with Blake, the surprise here was the soft, tender edge to the vocal.

And so to headliners Primal Scream, whose replay of Screamadelica was undoubtedly older than the majority of its audience at Camp Bestival. At its 20th year, Bobby Gillespie et al treat their seminal work with more joy than reverence, stomping through Movin On Up and Loaded with the same indie-dance pep that made these big back in the ’90s. Theres little chance the kids carted in for this show had respect for the history, but the volume and charisma spilling from the stage had even the youngest with arms aloft.

Like the rest of the lineup, the age-defying nature of all these acts summed up the Camp Bestival ethos. The creative edge here is in understanding the crowd the diverse and critical family, whose generations will share almost nothing in festival tastes but who, given a roster of diversity and talent, can be won over nonetheless. Ingeniously eclectic as ever, Camp Bestival landed another success here.

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