Live review: Camp Bestival (30 Jul – 2 Aug ’15)
The award-winning family festival goes ‘wild’ at Dorset’s Lulworth Castle, with Kaiser Chiefs, Wretch 32, Alison Moyet and The Shires
There was once a time when a UK festival-goer’s options for a music-filled weekend consisted of three or four events – heavy rockers would go to Reading, pop fans would gravitate to Chelmsford for V Festival and everyone else would descend on Glastonbury, which would be the only festival in the South West. Then the Noughties saw the advent of the family-friendly boutique festival and now, practically every weekend, every rural expanse of grass across the country hosts its own organised gathering with every taste in music, performance, food and activities well-catered for.
As the baby sister of Isle Of Wight-based Bestival, the first Camp Bestival took place at Lulworth Castle in 2008 and was one of the first of these boutique festivals to arrive and be unashamedly pitched at parents who wanted their children to have as much fun as they did. Rob Da Bank’s creation hit the mark, crowned Best New Festival at the UK Festival Awards that year and has frequently won the Best Family Festival award since. And it wouldn’t come to much surprise if Camp Bestival 2015 came away with the trophy yet again.
Helped in no small part by some gloriously warm, sunny weather – a rareity this summer – the Lulworth Castle grounds postively glowed and the whole weekend was a joyful experience from start to finish. Broadly speaking, the organisers didn’t mess with the winning Camp Bestival formula for this year’s festival and, in line with this year’s ‘wild’ theme, simply augmented the entertainment programme with extra Wild Things and nature-related experiences, the vast majority of which were geared up for children. However, the lakeside, woodland and countryside beyond the festival, taking in foraging walks and nature trails, would stimulate any songwriting-inclined adult’s creative juices.
Along with all the wild-themed kids activities, there were an array of options for parents with young, budding performers in tow. The daily Brit School Show and West End Kids Musical Theatre Workshop, put on in the Greatest Tent On Earth, allowed the creative little ones to nurture their stagecraft and, a new addition for 2015, the SongShack in The Den gave teenage festival-goers a chance to record their own song in a professional, mobile recording facility.
So there was plenty of inspiration and a creative outlet for everyone, but Camp Bestival is still a music festival at heart and the real reason for us being there was to enjoy the variety of songwriting talent on offer. Although the site opened on the Thursday, with plenty to do on that first day, the music kicked off off on the Friday. The main attractions and top-billing acts took to the Castle Stage, but the Big Top tent offered some respite from the beating sun and also showcased several emerging bands including Eaves and The Bohicas.
Across all the stages and tents, morning entertainment tended to cater for the younger audiences with stars of childrens’ television and the like, keeping the toddlers bopping and amused. The start of the serious music on the Castle Stage was marked by English folk musician Eliza Carthy on the Friday afternoon, but soon reverted to the more boistrous style of the colourful, comedic Cuban Brothers. Led by Speedo-clad Miguel Mantovani, the perenial Camp Bestival favourites’ unique brand of old skool hip-hop high jinx got the eager crowd moving. Then it was the turn of the older generation to crank the guitar amps up to 11, as the Buzzcocks took to the stage. The punk legends belied their maturing years, showing their equally feisty grey-haired crowd that they’ve still got plenty of angst left in the tank.
After their thashy, distortion-fuelled set the genre jumped yet again to the urban flavour of Wretch 32. Clearly the many years performing as a grime MC in London, and subsequent touring after his chart success, has helped refine his stagecraft, as Wretch prowled confidently in front of his superb live band and kept the younger audience gripped and energetic throughout. Before going on stage, Songwriting was lucky enough to catch up with him back-stage for a chat about lyric-writing and his delayed album release, which also will feature here soon. Completing this excellent, first day of live music, current British dance-pop darlings Clean Bandit headlined the Castle Stage with their unique blend of sassy strings and beats.
On Saturday morning, the sun rose high over Lulworth for yet another scorching day, as adults looked to be nursing hangovers, whilst throngs of excited children gathered for CBeebies superstar Mr Tumble to greet the Castle Field. Hosted by children’s TV presenter Michaela Strachan and comedian Stephen Frost, the main stage continued to keep the (albeit slightly older) young music fans with bubble-gum popsters Only The Young – finalists of last year’s The X Factor – who kept the teenie-boppers bopping. But it wasn’t long before the parents and grandparents would be treated to a more sophisticated performance, as Alison Moyet elegantly sauntered on to the stage. Her voice has showed no signs of losing its trademark bluesy warmth and, whilst rooted behind the mic stand, Moyet casually reeled off her instantly recognisable 80s hits including Only You, Love Resurrection and All Cried Out, as well as a powerful version of 2013’s When I Was Your Girl.
There was plenty more exciting music to be found taking place around the Camp Bestival site, but a highlight could be found back at the Big Top later that in the evening, with The Shires. The English country duo of singer Crissie Rhodes and Ben Earle on guitar and keyboards, delighted a tent full of fans and those who had just discovered the new band. Speaking to the audience, there’s no doubt that Ben and Crissie are both affable, English musicians but as soon as each song starts it’s clear their heart and musical soul lie the other side of the Atlantic. With the dry, warm weather and impeccable country music in our ears, Lulworth suddenly felt more like Nashville. The Shires first song, Nashville Grey Skies made sure of this, being an ode to Music City. Their upbeat, country twang is popular with the crowd, but the impassioned ballad Brave added extra weight to the duo’s performance, especially being introduced as a song that inspired someone to get through a heart operation.
Then it was time to get back to the Castle Stage for Saturday’s heavyweight headliners, Kaiser Chiefs. Expectation and popularity was possibly enlarged by the singer’s stint as judge on BBC’s primetime talent show The Voice, but Ricky Wilson certainly made sure his band didn’t disappoint a packed Castle Field. Literally delivering a masterclass in rock band stagecraft – “Edu-tainment,” as he called it – Ricky was the consummate showman, working the crowd with plenty of humour and energy, like a cross between Lee Evans and an aerobics instructor. As well as drawing on the long list of past hit singles – Oh My God, The Angry Mob, Everyday I Love You Less And Less, Never Miss A Beat, Ruby and, of course, I Predict A Riot all featured in the set – the more recent material from their latest album Education, Education, Education & War made for some surprising highlights. In particular, Coming Home provided Kaiser Chiefs with their anthemic ‘U2 moment’ and the rousing stomp of Misery Company left everyone in no doubt that the band’s songwriting abilities are still in tact without their ex-songwriter/drummer Nick Hodgson.
The cornicopia of smaller stages and tents elsewhere offered more in the way of comedy, DJs, dance, variety acts, musical theatre and other eclectic performances, that provided ongoing entertainment alongside the music, so there was never a dull moment, as well as plenty to discover and learn along the way. A particularly rich source of informative and interesting entertainment was The Guardian Literary Institute tent, tucked away in the corner of the Lower Kids Garden, which presented an eccentric programme of poetry, talks and interviews, including ‘How To Be Stop Washing Your Hair’ and, most relevant to us, ‘How To Be A Songwriter’ with Ella Eyre (soon to be featured here soon) on the Sunday morning.
The Sunday also provided more musical delights on the Castle Stage, with Ella Eyre demonstrating the songwriting expertise she’d outlined earlier, but the line-up was shaken up a little with a pop singer Ella Henderson having to swap slots with Bob Geldof, for some reason. It was another example of acts, who are at opposite ends of the spectrum in appealing either to older or younger generations, sharing the same bill at this diverse festival, but that’s really Camp Bestival’s appeal. With electronic veterans Underworld headlining that Sunday night, the weekend closed with as much high-energy entertainment as it had started with four days before.
There’s something for everyone at Camp Bestival, as long as you’ve got children or possess a child-like sense of fun and adventure. No doubt the best family festival awards will keep on coming, and so will we.
Words & photography: Aaron Slater
Next year’s Camp Bestival will take place at Lulworth Castle on 28-31 July 2016 and tickets are already available to buy upfront or on a weekly payment plan. For more details, go to: campbestival.net/tickets/