by Matt Golding
Images by Paul Johnson
Despite the rash of fatally mundane brand named events that fill the summer seeming to prove otherwise, no one ever claimed organising a festival was easy. But why Sunday Best made the decision to open the festival gates at 10am on the Friday, only two hours before the music begins, will probably forever remain a mystery to everyone except the accountants. Still, the inevitable 3pm queue of oversleeping traffic jam victims that wind their way through the Alactrazian perimeter of bag searches and sniffer dogs maintain their good humour, despite the fact they are missing James Yorkston and watching the value of their tickets go the way of an ostrich burger in a portaloo.
Following the strong but predictable guitar dirges of iLiKETRAiNS and the kookily named but otherwise paper-thin pop rock of Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly., the Mystery Jets take the main stage. Their otherwise energetic and enjoyable (if oh so indie) set is marred however in a tragic sight that will be repeated at random over the course of the weekend – the amps and microphones being cut, bang on schedule, as the band attempt to continue their encore and before they have even said goodbye. What should have been a triumphant encore for a horde of hands ends in confused and frustrated silence.
Friday evening headliners Gogol Bordello’s bouncy, gonzo gypsy acousto-punk is in full heat. It’s gaudy plastic and shallower than a kid’s paddling pool, but the band have all the ammunition they need to celebrate the first night of what is for many the summer’s last knees up. With two hoary and prancing virtuosos fighting for the centre stage and an array of violins, guitars, accordions, tambourines and fire-bucket-cum-drum-kits at their disposal, the self styled New Yorkers nee Eastern Europeans show the crowd how to pogo Ukrainian style, and stake an enduring claim as memorable headline fare.
In settings resplendent with lefty broadsheets and WI sponge cake, Heather and Johnson’s funky folk eases the crowd into Saturday morning at the Bandstand in The Village, the da’ Bank’s answer to that hippy bit at Glastonbury. Sadly, despite a good show and the fact that a backbone of quality folk and dance is one of the Bestival’s great strengths, they fail to inspire too many to watch stadium folk lynchpin and festival veteran King Creosote on the main stage. It’s not his most passionate performance by any means, but Kenny’s soulful folkals and clean guitar sounds carry the band through melodic baselines, masterfully brandished Hammonds and one sunny tune after another.
Anyone who frequents commercial festivals will know that they are, essentially, the same collection of bands, arenas and stalls that tour the country every summer, so anything that sets one out from the pack can only be a good thing. Which is why the Bestival’s fancy dress parade is a masterstroke. Life is a lot more fun in costume, and following the cancellation of this year’s circus theme due to reports of rampant coulrophobia* amongst patrons, festival goers were encouraged to get wild and original with their costumes. Bizarrely, either due to a massive case of psychic leakage or more likely the popular sex appeal of a man named Depp, this resulted in a festival full of thousands and thousands of pirates. Yaar, lubbers… ye scurvy rat is wearing the same parrot as me. Pirate outfits have been ditched in the Blue Pavilion though, which despite being just a lavishly furnished tent, seems to give of an atmosphere of West End exclusivity that only stopped short of bouncers checking your shoes on the door. Such was the setting for the electro-house of Ulrich Schnauss and broken-Fisher-Priceness of Mum whose engaging clicks, loose beats and subverted sonic ‘scapes inexplicably clear the bop hungry crowd. Headliners Amorphous Androgynous, long time side project of the great Future Sound of London, do devastatingly little to prove that they were ever anything more than a self-indulgent hobby hiding behind regal livery. Their choice of set is predictable and unadventurous leftfield electro, flitting whispishly between styles and genres… acousticity, reggae, drum ‘n’ bass, click ‘n’ glitch, tribalism and even the odd smattering of Tibetan throat singing are present in what is essentially a ‘My First Picture Book’ of world music. The overall progress of every track is distinctly pedestrian, lacking any of the expansive imagination you’d come to expect from the brand or even the Androgynous themselves. Thank God then for The Black Dog, whose four hour DJ started in the small hours of Sunday morning and kept the dream alive until the sun was practically up.
Filling the Sunday afternoon hangover slot are Tunng, whose harmonic electro-folk sound is well poised and eminently suited to a sunny Sunday and the obliqueness of life. The Young Knives draw a large crowd and their aggressive, action packed sound is of exactly the type that will guarantee a band success for an album or two. But there’s really nothing new in there, save another adolescent take on the same formula.
Bat for Lashes are a band whose name is quickly becoming associated with the folktronica scene, and not without good reason. Despite spending over half their set time setting up an array of instruments, the few tunes they play give the band a sparse, well composed edge and an array of acoustic ethnicity that hovers around but stays just the right side of pretension. Natasha Khan, lead singer and creative force, is very much the centre of attention, at times rendering her cohorts redundant for entire tracks – to the point at which they seem bored – yet the engaging soundscapes are enough to keep the interest of her audience, if not the violinist.
And the summer is almost over, leaving just enough time for the excellent and amply bearded Deep South rootishness of Devandra Barnheart and Sunday night headliners the Scissor Sisters. Everyone is familiar by now with Jake and co.’s noughties disco pop and theatrical live shows – naturally, both these things are delivered with effortless professionalism and pzzang. The Scissor Sisters are an analogy of our tawdry times, marketable sleaze and permeated with a desire to be offensive whilst alienating no one… a high profile end to a decent festival, but summing up a doubt at the bottom of the heart of the weekend. The posture is perfect and the pillow talk romantic, but is there any soul underneath? Still, if the sex is good and the relationship only one weekend a year, who cares?
* It’s a mortal fear of clowns see, endured by unfortunate people whose first memory is of being mauled in their pram by a man called Bonzo.