Camp Bestival 2015

1 - alice in hello kitty
July 30th – August 2nd, 2015
Lulworth Castle, Dorset

by Neil Bennett

For those of us with children, Camp Bestival isn’t a substitute for a ‘real’ festival – it’s a communal family experience that’s just as good.

Camp Bestival is full of a thousand disparate things, but the magic is how it all hangs together.

One moment you’re sitting with your family in an easeful forest glade as your youngest learns how to make a whistle from a carrot, the next you’re all dancing at her first rave – courtesy of Big Fish, Little Fish – as she blows it like she’s at the Milk Bar in 1991 (ok, as do the rest of you too).

Following this, you’re blowing it in celebration of a couple of who’ve just got ‘married’ in a blow-up church by bear-chested vicar in shorts, before popping back into BFLF for a parachute dance (well hello, mid-90s Whirl-y-Gig flashbacks) and Born Slippy, preparing you for later headliners Underworld.

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It’s family moments like these that define Camp Bestival – and why it’s much more than a ‘country fair meets a National Trust event meets a music festival’ that it might appear from the outside. While you can go off and do different things – and there’s a real emphasis on doing as well as seeing – it’s the things you experience together that stay with you.

Hitting Camp Bestival with my girlfriend Ruth and two children of quite different ages – L (15) and A (4) – we got to experience most sides of the festival in glorious weather – and had fun in hundreds of different ways. As with my favourite nights in London – from Secret Cinema to festival-in-a-club Rumpus – the more you put in. the more you get out of it – and we got our fill.

Camping at Camp Bestival

Most people arrive on Thursday but I couldn’t due to my day job running Digital Arts, and the campsite was pretty full when we arrived on Friday morning. However, we got chatting to a couple who’d just done a supply run to the local town, who told us about a few flat empty spots near them. As they guided us towards them, my daughter and their younger daughter started holding hands (which was totally adorable). Camp Bestival seems to bring out kindness and warmth in people – or at least attract those kind of people.

On a practical level, the campsite was really rather liveable. The toilets were usually clean, stocked with toilet roll and hand sanitiser (even at 2am) – and queues weren’t long even for a four-year-old. Queues for Showers weren’t bad either, unless you were foolish enough to try to go between 10 and 11am at the same time as about a fifth of the rest of the campsite. And you could get a pretty decent smoothie at any time day or night.

As with most festivals these days, you can pay to upgrade to pre-setup tents and their own toilets and showers, but unless you’re really lazy this really isn’t necessary.

Late at night, the campsitewas still much quieter than I expected, though you can still hear the stages and tents – and we did all use earplugs or ear defenders to ensure we slept well enough for each day ahead. Emerging in the morning, everywhere was clean and lacking the usual festival detritus of empty beer cans, vomit and people who can’t find their tents asleep with their head in a bucket.

What to to take to Camp Bestival

And days at Camp Bestival are long. You’re generally on the go from early in the morning til midnight, as there’s just so much to see and do. A few enforced breaks in the forest or back at the tent are necessary, as well as taking a wagon around in the afternoon and evening for A to sleep in when she wanted – avoiding over-tired tantrums and letting us stay out much later than would otherwise have been possible. Ear defenders are a must for small children at Camp Bestival – it’s as loud as its big brother – and these helped A get to sleep in the wagon too.

3 - wagon

We bought our wonderful wagon from the marvellously named Ollie’s Trollies, which has a canopy to make sleeping easier. If you don’t want to buy one, you can also hire one from Mr Trolley – and it also makes getting our kit from car to campsite much easier.

That said, Camp Bestival may be at peak trolley. I saw a few occasions where the space taken up by these things caused ructions, which would be exacerbated if there were many more trollies and wagons at the festival as moving around the different areas would also be a lot more difficult.

What to do at Camp Bestival

There were four main areas at Camp Bestival. The Magic Meadow had dance tents from the grand, glittery Bollywood to the intimate, vintage-flavoured Caravanserai – featuring Waltzer cars for seats, rather decent cocktails and a cheerful mix of live funk and soul, including an outstanding brass band cover of Take on Me by Temple Funk Collective (a song that permeated the festival, appearing in many other forms including a rousing version by a teenage steel drum group).

5 - caravanserei2

In the Magic Meadow, we also chanced across the caravan of newly formed glittery facepainting collective Mirela – who were talented and super lovely to boot.

6 - mirela

The Dingly Dell was a forest with lots of different activities for smaller children from carrot whistles and fairy castle building to a puppet theatre tovery messy mud play, co-created with The National Trust. Despite a lot of little ones being at the festival, it never seemed to crowded, and was as good as a chillout space as for getting creative.

7 - puppet theatre

The Kids Garden is the area where we spent most of our time, featuring a huge array of tents, performances, activities, storytelling sessions and general glorious weirdness.

It also the area where you find yourself asking yourself why you came to Camp Bestival when your daughter’s entranced by a guy making huge bubbles with two poles and some string, and then she wants to go on the helter skelter – experiences available at markets and funfairs round the country. But then you’re off to watch acrobatics performed by grown men and women dressed as insects, or fairy stories read by Howard Marks and you think, “yeah, only at Camp Bestival.”

8 - insect

The real highlights of this area couldn’t be discovered by looking down the list of acts and tents on your lanyard though. They travelled around and you just kinda stumbled across them. A procession of intricate fancy dress costumes lead by dummers was a real crowd-pleaser (as with Bestival, fancy dress is a big part of this festival – with this year’s theme being ‘go wild’. We did, though for no discernible reason not in any of the photos I’ve selected for this piece).

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The travelling Caravan of Lost Souls circus was also wildly popular, putting a camply horrific spin on juggling and acrobatics (and irrepressible monkey dancers)

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No every performance was so obvious. It was delightful to see what appeared to be a section of the general crowd come together and start singing as a choir (actually Funky Choir).

17 - choir

Food at Camp Bestival

The Kids Garden was where you could pick up some really good food to – and not just ‘good by festival standards’. Most areas around the site had bog standard burgers, hog roast and burritos, but The Feast Collective was essentially Street Feast in a tent. While DJ BBQ’s burgers weren’t anywhere near as good as his DJing, special mention goes to the flavoursome, kicking jerk chicken wraps of usually-Bristol-based Biblos.

Apparently there was comedy too, but we missed almost all of this as it seemed to be just for adults. We did catch two minutes of Marcus Brigstocke in the Big Top in the Magic Meadow at some point and ran away as quickly as you’d expect from a male comedian giving his opinion on periods.

The main Castle Stage is where the big names were playing.

Music at Camp Bestival

Reviewing Camp Bestival purely as a music festival would be stupid – the line-up of acts isn’t as strong as most of the other major festivals, including the main Bestival. But then you’re not going here to spend all day watching bands. I saw a grand total of three and a half acts on the main stage – not just because I’d rather chew my own leg off than watch Clean Bandit or the bloody Kaiser Chiefs, but because we were having more fun elsewhere. And one of those acts was a late morning stage version of The Cat in The Hat, which was as ridiculous as you want it to be (we skipped Mr Tumble afterwards as, to quote A, “he’s for babies”).

18 - cat in hat

Slaves were the surprise of the festival. This year’s break-out punk band isn’t a natural fit for a family festival but they really made it work. Laurie Vincent’s power chords and Isaac Holman’s brutal stand-up drumming and rasping vocals were as raw as if you’re going to The Forum in November – but each song was introduced with a child-friend story about what it’s about (in an alternate universe, obviously). The thought put into fitting their act to the audience – plus rocking it like motherfuckers, of course (and getting a someone in a mantaray suit to run around during Feed The Mantaray) – made them the best live act of the festival.

19 - slaves 1

We caught the last half of Kate Tempest while waiting for final night headliners Underworld. Both could have been incredible, but we were too far away and getting any closer was impossible due to wall of camping chairs and trollies. The wind whipped the sound back and forwards.

But it didn’t matter as we were in the perfect position to watch the huge firework display that closed the main stage – which A woke up for after sleeping through Underworld in the wagon.

22 - fireworks 2

A snuggled back down afterwards and fell asleep, giving us a chance to head off though the darkness to the Big Top for a high energy set by the ever-excellent Dub Pistols.

23 - final

Camp Bestival isn’t Bestival, but neither is it trying to be. If you want a weekend of hedonistic craziness, leave the kids with the grandparents and head to the Isle of Wight or Winchester.

But if you want an experience that involves your whole family and from which everyone gets something, early-bird tickets for Camp Bestival 2016 are already on sale.

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