Have you ever been to a festival?
I don’t mean, have you visited Christmas. Or, have you observed Ramadan this year. Or bought a new sari for Diwali. Who hasn’t. And I don’t even mean, have you stayed in a tent pitched so close to someone else’s that their beery exhalations will drive you mad enough by 3.00am to start you focusing on the 140BPM earthworks of the dance tent in the next field as a calming distraction. No.
I mean – have you really done a festival? A music festival. Have you, put bluntly, been mudded?
It’s all very well saying you’ve had the courage to face a light drizzle to hear Coldplay and contemplate the meaning of suffering and brotherhood. Middle class thirty-somethings ensure everything’s lightly drizzled while they contemplate how to cope with the family, albeit from the halogen, underlit warmth of their kitchens.
No, lightweight, I’m calling you out. You say you love music? Then prove it, Dave the rave. Prove it like we did this weekend – get your ass to Bestival next year. And abandon all hope of hygiene. Yeeaaahh. Whoop whoop.
All I can say is, the mud was flying. And sticking. And clodding. And splatting and splooting and glooping and plopping and slopping over everything thing everywhere. Like the red weed from The war of the worlds. Only brown. And wet.
Now, I’ve stayed under the modern equivalent of canvas countless times. Owned, errected poorly and damaged various tents over the years, and am quite happy to sleep at a funny angle with a randomly orthopedic earthlump under my intercostal wotnots; this, and the hopeless opacity of the tent material ensures you’re up with the crows, stretching your arms manfully in front of the zipper flaps saying patently out-of-character things like: “Jeepers, I love this time of day. Just breathe it in… Ahhhhh. Who needs running water, eh? The trappings of modern life are just that, don’t you think, hmm?”
After which it’s usually custom to carefully step across a mile or so of dewy cowpats to look for a loo and a laté.
Having said all that, and adding the fact that I’ve found myself at various weekends away at events of some kind or another, it did seem odd to me, as we pulled my reasonably nice Audi thing off a reasonably good road surface into a reasonably abysmal field of shite, that I’ve never really, actually, properly been to a real popular music convention. Somehow.
The line up of acts was superb, put simply. The weather, however, was basically hideous.
It rained. Oh, Dive Boy, did it rain. But with the added hilarity, festival pundits, of high winds. As prepared as I felt for another weekend in the tent, I had not really – let’s be honest here – thought about it at all.
I had not, for example, considered the possibility that the car would be anywhere other than ambling distance from the tent. Or, as it turned out, a clear country mile from the tent, up a tall hill spewing rivers of sludge. Or that it might be peeing down and shouting air sideways as we carried our many many bags of thirty-something creature comforts – linen-tinted duck down duvets, flower-studded flip-flops and beige casual slacks – this clear country mile from the gale-torn, cack-whisped peaks down the steeply sloping rivers of sludge. All to then try and erect our needlessly-complicated tent – or, as we preferred to think of it, our essential shelter in the weather-shredded, God-forsaken middle of nowhere.
I really thought, for one moment, we might not be able to stay there in that field. Even after carrying some much down there already, blistered, wet and fevered. I’m no particular lightweight with camping really, but the tent did look like it might simply never find the courage to stand up as Julian, Angella, Caroline and I looked at the forlorn shape flapping on the soggy turf.
We were like a trudging river of refugees from the routed and still-uncomprehending country of Jamieolivestan. Forlornly clinging to our chrome pepper grinders, mud-splat plastering our symetrical-smooth cuticle work. IPods helplessly screeching Viva La Vida from dangling headphones.
Me especially, now I think of it, because I was – to all intents and purposes – wearing a suit and a series of dress shirts all weekend.
We probably spent one out of the three days walking up and down that sodding, sodden hill. Carrying stuff. Heavy stuff. In particular, we were tasked with sneaking in our gas bottle because we were told at the rain-lashed trestle table at the grand entrance that we weren’t allowed them on site. Or the boot-ful of french vino.
For someone relatively new to the natural comforts of camping, it’s worth noting that Angella endured her basic training with dignity. And over the last two decades we seem to have spent so many weekends with Julian in our underpants or in sleeping bags, working out how to transport alcohol creatively or how to put together a ridiculous costume of some kind, there was never any possibility of us joining the streams of dislocated grumblers leaving early. This is what we do. And yes, it includes painting our faces blue if that’s what’s needed.
Of course, we’d started the weekend at his Mum’s very nice crash pad in Cowes, over a distinctly civilised new world red in a fresh restaurant tucked in a cosy corner of the port. Much more the setting we’re used to together, really and it in no way prepared us for the hardiness ahead. But wherever we are, we’re usually laughing. Even if Angella says she only pretends to know what Julian and I in particular are really on about…
And, once eventually set up and worn out, we did have a reasonable campsite home. ..Riven with spewling mud off the hill in the distance, grant you, but somewhere to make a cup of tea. Which was good, because we’d have quickly been crippled victims of Credit Crunch Britain if we’d relied on buying refreshment…
Yes, Bestival is not cheap. Yes, the weather was a few steps beyond helpful. And yes, it all meant we moved around the festival like some medieval victims of pergatory, stuck in endless, oozing undulations of our own folly. But, quite apart from being a great excuse to watch good friends try not to fall face first in uncoagulated crap, it really was a terrific line-up of acts.
I’ve never had such a concentrated choice of cool on a menu before. From So Hot RIght Now, Hot Chip, to entertaining old-timers who still take it all a little too seriously, like The Human League and Gary Newman – we had a blast. Ahh, Nick. Nick the keyboard player with The Human League – how you stole it for us, with your headbanded, grimmace-faced guitar keyboard solos. Class entertainment; who knew where they were or weren’t drawing the line – we just belted out Don’t you want me so hard, we were photographed by The Times.
Pendulum buff-diffed their way through a typically energetic, cool set on the Friday night and Grace Jones made a surprise appearance on the Saturday evening. Which, can I say, was a remarkably great set – costume change with wind machine (as if she’d need it if she’d stepped beyond the skirt of the stage) every single song, and a right cool vibe to the tunes. Nice surprise.
We stayed up to see, of all people, the Stereo MCs – but after an hour of waiting in the Big Top, encroaching middle age got the better of us and we slooped and slipped back to bed. Shame. Similarly, we didn’t even kid ourselves about staying out for 808State or Aphex Twin, at 3.00am or some silly such – but jeepers, how good to have caught all these guys if we had. Legends.
In truth, the abysmal mud probably stopped us reaching half the bands or DJ sets I’d hoped to see. Laurent Garnier, Gilles Peterson… ah, lots. Shame. Most sadly of all for me and the Cazster, we actually did hold out to see Maccers do her thing in the Bollywood tent, but it was more like a crazed rave with a Total Recall theme – freaks choking for air, covered in sweat. We just couldn’t get in. Big shame. Whoop droop.
Our big Bestival tip was something else, however. The polka tent.
Yep, the polka tent. For the five insane minutes we were bootslapping in there, we took the place. And came out grinning and refreshed. Kind of like a musical pallette-clearer. Excellent. The polka tent.
But, grey skies, mud, mud and mud aside, the real winning part of the weekend musically was probably Sunday night.
The skies cleared. The rain dried up. The wind eased off. Stars began to twinkle over the Thirty Thousand Freaks Under The Sea, gathered faithfully at the edge of the main stage that evening. How prophetic that fancy dress theme had been. And how much effort people resiliated in their costumes, when it meteologically came to it. Captain Birdseye and his ten fish fingers were a crowd pleaser for me, but the clam heads did something for me to. And the array of fish heads, sea monsters, mermaids in wellies and bedraggle-tenticled octopi was heartening. There must have been something of a Dr Zoidberg convention on site too; sales of red latex gloves were obviously booming.
It was a hoot. It was a jolly, well-mannered giggle. Everyone was polite and festival minded. Painted, stuck-on or unrecognisably diving-belled or yellow-submarined, there was a muted happy vibe still bubbling under the grey skies until the Sunday evening weather eased. Neon fish bobbed over the sea of bobbing heads towards the front and giant smiley balloons tugged on behind. Julian found himself in an argument with a starfish that swore blind he was a banana.
As we scooched up onto the patio of the cafe above the main arena floor, to have seen George Clinton and Parliament live right then would have been epic enough. Two hours of these legendary (which means I thought they were dead) funksters taking over the stage and grooving to their own P-Funkadelia was simply a joy. Some girl gave me a glowy wrist band, I was grooving so much to We want the funk. I think she felt I needed all the credibility help I could get, stood there in my pinstripe jacket and evening shirt. Utterly mud-whacked. Bless her kindness on an old man.
But to segue that into Underworld, and to finish our festival experience with Born Slippy… As we shouted and raved and watched Chinese lanterns take delicately to the dusky sky, we felt our time together had been, in the end, very sure footed.
..But it was sooooooo good to get back to the sweet comfort of Julian’s Mum’s power shower.
Moving the car across the ‘car-park’, I nearly cried. I’ve never wanted a four-by-four so much before. But the knowing smiles on everyone we passed as I drove my pebble-dashed Audi through Southbourne on that tranquil, sunny Monday morning kind of prolonged the Bestival feel good for a couple of hours.