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FESTIVALS 2011: BESTIVAL DAY TWO
:: Primal Scream :: P J Harvey :: The Cure :: Tom Vek :: Palmoa Faith :: Grandmaster Flash :: Katy B :: Toots And The Maytals :: Village People ::
10 September 2011 / Robin Hill Park / Isle Of Wight
By "Slash". AKA David Edwards in a comedy wig...


Yes, really...

Waking to the sound of “where the f**k have you put my Madonna bra?” is not the oddest thing I’ve ever heard at a festival (“AAAAGHHH!! Get off my cock you bastard!” from Leeds a couple of years back still wins out), but it reminds my sleepy, fogged brain that today is…yes, fancy dress day! A tradition going back to the start of Bestival, the idea is that on the Saturday, everyone dresses up as part of a theme and thus, the potential for feeling silly or self-conscious is removed and we can all have a good laugh. This years theme is (drum roll) “Pop Stars, Rock Stars and Divas” and seeing as my plan to dress as Cheryl Tweedy was thwarted by my fear of terrifying small children, I took on a good old fashioned option and dressed as Saul Hudson, a.k.a. Slash from seminal 80’s/90’s rock leviathans Guns ‘n’ Roses. Not particularly original (I see at least 15 other Slash’s over the day…3 of them female) but it gives me the chance to drink lots while staying in character. And let’s be fair, air guitar is fun at the best of times. Let’s rock and roll…



On the way into the arena, it’s good to see that at least half of the crowd have made the effort. My comrades outfits consist of Rolf Harris in Jake the Peg attire (extra leg included!), a female Lemmy from Motörhead, Cleopatra (comin ‘atcha…ultimate diva!), a couple of members of Kiss and Cher. Now that would be one seriously weird fantasy band. And the assorted oddballs and eccentrics are already gathering at the main stage for the peerless Toots and the Maytals, a band who were my highlight of Glastonbury 2010. And yet again, they’re pretty much flawless. Despite a deluge that soaks most of the crowd prior to the start of the set (I’m ok…big hat, fake hair and leather jacket: win!) they are the perfect start to proceedings: feel good, organic reggae that time only makes more potent and flavoursome. For a man approaching 70, Toots Hibbert still possesses a quite magnificent voice and the band are magnificent. We get all the hits: ‘Pressure Drop’, an ecstatic ‘Monkey Man’ and ‘Reggae Got Soul’ before they leave the stage, only to return after rapturous acclaim calls them back for an encore (this is what proper encores should be…not pre-planned but requested) and they oblige with a brilliant version of ’54-46 Was My Number’ with everyone skanking and throwing shapes as the sun finally bursts through the crowd. No sign of their brilliant version of Radiohead’s ‘Let Down’ but aside from that, a perfect start to the day. Reggae got soul? Damm right it has.



I’ve fully about-turned on Katy B over the summer, from finding her irritating and lightweight to fully accepting her potential to be a real star and a genuine breath of fresh air in the current UK climate. She shows off that star quality today and garners a massive crowd but it’s somewhat of an underwhelming performance by her standards. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Katy on a Mission’, ‘Easy Please Me’, ‘Lights On’ and ‘Witches Brew’ are still magnificent modern pop/urban crossover tracks and she gives everything, but I get the feeling that she works best in a crowded tent or out of the sunlight, in which dark, smoky tales of nights out somewhat dissolve innocuously. She isn’t helped by an irritating MC who keeps shouting pointless crap such as “GIVE IT UP FOR KATY B….YEAH!! ” constantly. She’s got enough class to carry herself without resorting to cliché. Still great, but ditch the MC next time.



Now come on. There’s a certain degree of absurdity that comes from wearing fancy dress and this absurdity must be indulged to keep a man sane. So how do I choose to mollify my rapidly accumulating silliness? With The Village People of course. That’s right, the ludicrously camp, choreographed and huge selling 1970s disco act. A couple of them have passed away or quit since their heyday but it’s still the nucleus of the original band and without being anything particularly special, it’s a great laugh for the middle of the afternoon. Yes, granted, most of their songs are standard four-to-the-floor disco grooves and owe more to their dance routines than anything else but ‘In The Navy’ still has a fantastic sing-along melody and when they oblige us with ‘Y.M.C.A’ at the end, you simply have to dance along. Everyone knows it, everyone throws the shapes…it’s just a communal laugh that we all thoroughly enjoy. While watching them, I also manage to fall over The Spice Girls. Now there’s something that doesn’t happen every day…

Stopping off for some food and to catch up with friends (we add Sid Vicious, Madonna and Queens of the Stone Age to our costumed ranks, as well as witnessing the best costume of the weekend: four guys dressed as The Beastie Boys from the ‘Intergalactic’ video….complete with a 12ft robot. Brilliant!) there is time to listen to Paloma Faith while eating. She’s a good performer, has a good voice and is very endearing in her crowd banter; but my word, aren’t her songs boring? It’s like Diet Scissor Sisters with the humour removed. We follow that with 25 minutes of glorious old-school hip-hop from the peerless Grandmaster Flash (it’s only a DJ set but praise is always due to the main who popularised hip-hop) before I manage to rush back to the tent to meet my friends (phones have ceased to exist at this point) and return sharpish to witness PJ Harvey, fresh from her Mercury Prize triumph earlier in the week.



She thanks us once or twice but it’s another sombre and understated performance from Polly Jean, though it comes across far more succinctly and poignantly than her Primavera set when the whole thing seemed to fall rather flat. ‘On Battleship Hill’ is quite magnificent but I’m still not convinced that the Let England Shake material expresses itself to its greatest effect live. It is left to ‘Down By The Water’ and ‘Big Exit’ to fully stir the crowd. You can never be fully disappointed by PJ Harvey but it’s a good, rather than a great performance. Let England Shake is quite possibly my favourite UK album of the year but I sense that it’s an album for darkened room contemplation, rather than for blasting out over thousands of ears.

There’s no messing around, no squeezing in bands now. Our aim is true, our purpose is clear. We find ourselves stage right, 5-6 rows from the front for The Cure and their European exclusive, headline performance.



The lights dim, there is a wild cheer and from out of the smoke, Robert Smith emerges; hair as immaculately tousled as ever and flanked by Simon Gallup on bass and Roger O’Donnell back on keyboards with Jason Cooper on drums. There isn’t much communication apart from a brief “Hello” before they tear into ‘Plainsong’. And from that moment onwards, we are in dark, fuzzy heaven. This is quite exceptional: a band with classics spilling out of their arms and in total control of their material, playing a once-in-a-lifetime set. The songs come thick and fast (a mammoth 32 in all) including the fantastic back-to-back ‘Lovesong’ and ‘Just Like Heaven’, a spellbinding ‘A Forest’ and a spectral ‘One Hundred Days’. But it is when they unleash ‘Friday I’m in Love’ midway through the set that you realise what a special gig this is turning into. The crowd down by where we are (lovely bunch) go absolutely wild and you sing along with absolute abandon, already knowing this is going to be a gig that you’ll recall for many years to come.



Finishing the main set with ‘Disintegration’, they return for a hit-studded encore including ‘Let’s Go To Bed’, ‘The Lovecats’ and ‘The Caterpillar’ (played for the first time since 1991). Smith still isn’t saying much but his occasional wide smile and Simon Gallup’s prowling stage theatrics say it all; it isn’t just us this is special for. By the time of the second encore, the battle is won. ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and ‘Jumping Somebody Else’s Train’ spark mass celebration, in amongst us getting the entire corner of the crowd to joyously sing “WE LOVE THE CURE” to the tune of The Wanted’s ‘I’m Glad You Came’ (It’s a long story. I’m not sure how impressed everyone was with the constant singing of that all weekend. We enjoyed it anyway…). Finishing with debut single ‘Killing an Arab’, you feel drained and delirious after your trawl through musical history. Quite magnificent, spellbinding and one of the best things I’ve seen all year (it’s between this and Pulp at Leeds for my gig of the year so far). This is history; this is music; this is The Cure. Monumentally brilliant, we won’t forget these two-and-a-half hours in a hurry.

In a top-notch piece of organisation (hats off Bestival) Primal Scream are scheduled to play The Big Top tent an hour after The Cure. Which just leaves us time to grab a drink and stumble upon Tom Vek beating ten shades of excellence out of The Psychedelic Worm tent. I’m not usually a huge fan of Mr Vek on record but live, his songs grow balls, biceps and all manner of weird upgrades. The place is going wild and there’s a real temptation to stay but sadly, the lure of Primal Scream performing the seminal Screamadelica is too powerful to ignore. As expected, the place is rammed but we get close enough to see Bobby Gillespie (still stick thin), and the boys give the great record the performance that it deserves.



The set is slightly jumbled up to provide a grand finale of ‘Loaded’ and ‘Come Together’ but the rest of the album still rings true after two decades. ‘Movin’ On Up’ is a celebration; the sub-bass of ‘Don’t Fight It, Feel It’ jars our bones and the blissful ‘Inner Flight’ and the magnificent ‘Higher Than the Sun’ are simply glorious. But for me, the climax of a beautiful day of music comes with ‘Damaged’, a song that will always be dear to my heart. By the end, there’s just euphoria: ‘Loaded’ swaying and grooving and ‘Come Together’ prompting a joyous dance from us around Jake the Peg’s fixed leg. They do somewhat spoil proceedings by missing out ‘Shine Like Stars’ in favour of the god-awful cock-rock of ‘Country Girl’, ‘Jailbird’ and ‘Rocks’ as an encore but I suppose they have to please the kids…though something off XTRMNTR or Vanishing Point would have made for a far more suitable and less cringeworthy ending. But no matter; in the way that my friend chose to eschew the Mercury Music Prize by saying “In my world, The Horrors won it”, I take the mindset that Primal Scream ended the moment that the heavy bass beat of ‘Come Together’ stopped. And then, still dressed in my Slash leather jacket, I pick my way back to the tent. The sense of sadness if falling on me: we are nearly at the end of a great summer of music. But one more day of madness before reality pulls the curtain on the summer. Once more unto the beer dear friends. Once more…

Still to come in part 3: The Drums, DJ Shadow and... Bjork!


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