Thursday is something of an induction to Bestival, and having not realised its expanse I seem to spend the day walking and acquainting myself with the likes of Arcadia (and it’s fire displays) and the Wedding Disco (where trashy tunes are essential). Whilst I do little other than get lost, it does become clear that Bestival is the 18-30′s festival and as I walk between realms of revellers there’s a party atmosphere which spans the site. Suffice to say by the time I find my way off site and back to the car I feel as though I’ve walked from Land’s End to John O’Groats.
It’s with tired legs I begin Friday, but with a host of stunning artists on the main stage I’m at least consoled that I won’t be moving much, except to dance. The first highlight of the day comes a stone’s throw from the main stage and as Gallows are throwing themselves into the crowd, elsewhere Ane Brun is wowing me with her ethereal styling. Opener These Days has a subtle hint of Kate Bush in its styling whilst One pushes more towards a honky-tonk vibe. Nevertheless it’s Ane’s vocals which really steal the set, both powerful and emotive when combined with the drum heavy start of Do You Remember, and I’m forced to pay full attention. With Worship also thrown into the mix, by the end of the set I can only wonder where I sign up as the newest member of the Ane Brun fan club.
At this point it seems wise to take a wander having discovered that despite continually getting lost on Thursday evening, there are still areas left undiscovered. A walk to up to the Bollywood Field unearths the big wheel and the roller disco and before long I’m chomping at the bit to get my skates on. It seems to be one of the main attractions of the mid-afternoon with a queue snaking around the field. Instead I wander on up to the ambient forest and discover a game of swing ball in action. Bestival is a field of hidden treasures it seems, and as I continue my way up to the top of Tomorrow’s World, I discover both the best homemade cake at the W.I tent (and the cheapest on site at just a mere 70p a slice) and a glorious view back towards the main stage.
A dash back to Alt-J makes me realise the error of my detour, the tent so full the best I can muster is a view of the backs of lots of heads. With a massive chant going up before the start of their set, it’s clear this is one of the highlights of the weekend for most, but sadly the over-flowing tent leaves me barely able to hear the band. I opt to head back to the main stage for Flux Pavillion’s DJ set, and though 5.45pm seems like an odd time for dance music, the crowd are throbbing with every beat of the bass. It’s not long before I find myself swept away with the vibe, dancing along to Louder by DJ Fresh featuring Sian Evans.
This builds things nicely for Emeli Sandé and though more soulful in her sound, she keeps things in the party spirit. Having never seen Emeli live before what’s striking is the depth and power of her voice. A relative youngster on the line up, tonight more than confirms her 2x Platinum album is not down to polished production, but instead her raw vocals. As she introduces opener Heaven it’s clear there’s no need as sea of fans sing back every word. From the start she effortlessly combines pop with a jazzy styling and whether it’s hit single Next to Me or her cover of Coldplay’s Every Teardrop is a Waterfall, which she transforms from a bland number into a passionate rendition, she doesn’t miss a beat. Whilst for me it’s new song Wonder which has chart hit written all over it, it’s Breaking The Law which seems to draw in the observers, including a powered paraglider who circles above the stage for the duration of the song. It’s a short and sweet set, but ultimately faultless, leaving me to believe Emeli has more mileage than my preconceived beliefs. Pop she might be, but it’s pop which more that justifies an airing at the Royal Albert Hall later this year.
The XX by comparison seem oddly timed. With a more chilled out vibe, they don’t seem to carry the weight required for the festival arena and though musically solid, they become somewhat tiresome within a few songs. Lead single Angels, from their new album Coexist, creates a soft atmospheric start, but they fail to break out of this vibe. Though VCR wins me over a little it’s lacking in wow factor and as I wander for food I find just 2 minutes of Scroobius Pip’s Astronaut (which aptly repeats the line ‘when I grow up a I want to be an astronaut’ a number of times) far more entertaining that 30 minutes worth of The XX. Whilst I have little doubt that The XX make great late night chill out music, for me they simply don’t translate to the festival arena.
Final main stage act of the day, Florence + The Machine, conversely steal the show. Whilst the set is predominantly focuses on Ceremonials, for the most part the crowd worship every minute. Running 15 minutes late it takes a while to get things going, with Only If For A Night and What The Water Gave Me starting the show, but by the time Drumming Song kicks in, it seems clear that Florence is at her best. Backed by a choir and a string section it’s full power right from the start with her vocals sounding sublime.
More of a Lungs fan, for me it’s Cosmic Love and Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) which delight most, Florence more than justifying the title of her first album. With the demand of human sacrifice in the latter she instructs the audience to climb on the shoulders of the person next to them, and the full body spasms dance moves to Shake It Out make audience participation a must. As she ends the show with the entire crowd jumping up and down to Dog Days Are Over, the throngs are pumping with adrenaline. Whilst she loses a few during the softer Never Let Me Go and a cover of Drake’s Take Care it’s still nothing short of stunning, warming me to her second album and leaving me longing for a third.
Photos © Jo Cox and must not be reproduced without prior consent