A quick run to Bestival, searching for sun, fun and puns, metaphors and maybe a little meaning. Is it really the best festival? Does it beat the restival? It’s not really a competition, so maybe that’s the wrong question. Has Bestival still got ‘it’, the indefinable quality that makes it special, individual, some kind of beautiful? That’s the right question. And the answer is a simple and easy – yes.
Take these moments as examples.
In front of the Village People on the main stage on Saturday afternoon, countless thousands of people doing the Y.M.C.A. hand gestures as some men in late middle age dressed as 70s gay clone icons do their routines on stage, it’s so post-ironic I don’t think anyone is sure if this is pure fun, ironic fun, just plain stupid or a brilliant comment on current attitudes to gay men in particular and work in general. Whatever, we’ve all grown up with these guys, like cartoon heroes, childhood friends, the construction worker, the indian, the soldier, the biker, the cowboy and the cop are buried deep in our psyche now. They are the perfectly good people we all aspire to be. They work hard, they dance, they sing in unison, they all make an important contribution to society and the economy. If they were a set of action figures I would love to own the set. We all have a deep, secret desire to Go West and live a better life as one of these men.
Somewhere up in the Ballroom field, three humans on petrol fueled two wheelers hurtling vertically round and round the Wall Of Death, rubber on wood, waving and smiling, so close to oblivion. And us, transfixed, unable to take our eyes off the spectacle. Thinking, this is the end, the beautiful end, where we all go up in flames.
In The Wishing Tree area on a friday night, now expanded from last year’s single stunted tree (complete with dwarf-run mini bar) into a forest of possibilities, including the second best joke of the weekend – wait for it – Canary Dwarf,
a diminutive tower, a skyscraper of reduced stature, a bank HQ quantitatavely eased of some of it’s floors, set next to the tree, this year with upgraded soundsystem and a DJ booth in the roots. I am of course for one night only, a tree-jay, playing a set of what I consider to be proper club music which you can hear in the next episode of Melodica.
Up in Pink Camping, a girl, in the morning, in the tent next door, on the phone, to mummy or daddy, checking in, comparing The Cure to Pendulum with the phrase – The Cure, they weren’t so jump up and downy. Perfect.
Down in the valley, there’s the massive difference between good shouty and bad shouty. I have no idea why I take these things so seriously, why the sounds can make me so happy and so angry. The good: Crystal Castles, the timeless beauty of drums, moody hoody on distorted keyboards and shouting, jumping, crowd-surfing cute girl. It’s angry, energetic, fun and it always works for me. The big, bad and ugly combo epitomised but by no means exclusively played by, Mista Jam. It’s the sound of the markets, the fairground, bad drugs, too much testotsterone, attention span deficit, desperate capitalism shouting louder and louder – buy, buy, the culture of stupid, egoism run riot. I am Mista Jam, he screams, hello, over here, look at me, look at me, over a vicious, accelerating drum beat, like a blast of rounds from an AK47. When I say Mista, you say Jam. He screams as the bass drops. Mista (with seven exclamation marks). Jam (with nine). Mista (louder). Jam (again). Please love me he screams. I have no real friends. He shouts. My life has no meaning. He cries. I keep buying things and it never makes me happy. He bellows. I have all this energy and nowhere for it to go. He screams. Mista. Jam. Mista. Jam.
In between squally showers, PJ Harvey taking the main stage, running her short, succinct bursts of poetry and music that make up Let England Shake. Here is someone who loves our embattled nation enough to rip her apart, to celebrate our weather beaten paths, our windswept past. With her band, she creates a sonic island of rare seriousness and beauty on the Isle of Wight, this little island that is in some ways a strange mirror image of it’s big neighbour’s past with it’s rolling hills and verdant fields, banged up against the future, kilometres of poly-tunnels producing kilos of tomatoes, picked by eastern Europeans because the locals don’t want to or won’t do the work because, according to our taxi driver, they are, unlike him, just too lazy. Like the tents shaking in the gusty wind in Pink Camping on the hilltop, our island nation continues to be shaken by the blasts of change brought our way by out of control capitalism and our extremist government, and somehow Harvey makes some sense of the nonsense with her performance. Though what she’s actually saying is perhaps nothing more than – I saw all this and I made something beautiful from it to share with you.
The dressing up competition yields some beauties of another kind – a whole coffee-morning of Freddie Mercury’s complete with short skirts, moustaches and Hoovers; an academy of Devos and the inevitable hearse-load of Amys as well as four people dressed in white with lights on their heads and mum, dad, son and daughter tags on their tops. They are, ta da, The Lighthouse Family.
Which brings us tangentially to the best joke of the weekend. Some fine men in tweed and beards, smoking beautifully curved pipes and carrying a banner with this message – Folk Me I’m Famous. Oh, so many levels of joke in that simple phrase. Let’s just say, it’s very punny.
Meanwhile, deep in the Ambient Forest, I play some dub. The bass waves, drifting out across the lake attract A Flock Of Seagulls and a gaggle of stubbly chillout DJs.
Then, in the depths of the night, as the weather rolls in, we hear Primal Scream say thank you and goodnight then dance, with another unironic twist to Andrew Weatherall, spectacularly bearded, playing acid house. And the knowledge that he and I and a few scattered others are the only people who remember when this music was made no longer scares me. I still love being off the grid, going wild in the country, having the Best(ival) of times.
I still dream of a life out West, in the open air, or maybe a spell In The Navy, studying oceanography perhaps. But in my heart I know that I belong to this little island, this England, with all her follies and faults, her grey damp grumbling and salty sunrises, her ferries and diverted trains and crawling motorways and strip lit, tragic malls and seagull bombed landfills, her satellite towns and muddy streams and endless flights and fantastic festivals. In my heart I know that I belong to the music, in city basements, in windy fields, on sunny beaches, in back rooms and bars and even in the Wishing Tree and the Ambient Forest. Because sometimes, you know, when we come together, and have a party, and try to be good to each other, we really can make something momentarily beautiful.