There is something peculiarly English about the music festival. I think it has something to do with Glastonbury, mud, and Kate Moss. I’ve been to loads of Australian festivals over the years (although perhaps not any more, considering the overblown ticket prices) but a UK outing was high on my list of cultural things to do. This year I didn’t go to Glasto, but I went to its boutique baby alternative, the season-ending Bestival on the Isle of Wight, curated by Mr Rob Da Bank.
Season-ending is code, of course, for “perilously close to the colder months” and indeed the weather forecasts for the September weekend had me in a frenzy of sun-loving, Antipodean dread.
A deluge was expected, accompanied by sound-drowning, tent-demolishing gale-force winds. I couldn’t have been less excited about joining 50,000 (that’s boutique over here!) of my closest music-loving friends in a field for four muddy days.
I panicked for nought. We went to our beds — well, tents — drunk and happy on Thursday night after a night’s entertainment that featured setting up a campsite in the dark, Santigold, Hercules and Love Affair, and lots of dancing in a big blue tent, and woke on Friday to a clear sky. I even managed to get a little sunburnt, always an achievement in England.
The fine weather didn’t stop the bad weather rumours. A camping neighbour came back from visiting her parents (who were at their first ever festival, bless) with rumours of a hurricane expected to hit the island on Sunday. “Hurricane?” I queried the young English natives. “In England? Has there ever been such a thing?” The closest thing I’ve seen in London to a hurricane is a single clap of thunder amid much rain. “There was a hurricane,” says one youth. “In the eighties.” More than likely before she was born.
There was a hurricane of course, the remnants of Hurricane Katia which had been besieging the Americas, not the freak English Channel storm I’d imagined. In any event, it was a tempest very hard to imagine on Friday afternoon, dancing around to Beach Boys classics performed by a frail but nonetheless living Brian Wilson.
Saturday was the day we’d all been waiting for: fancy dress day. Each year Bestival has a fancy dress theme, and this year it was “popstars, rockstars and divas”. I opted for a Juliette Lewis-inspired affair (think feathers; it was bit of a cop out), and among our little group was an Angus Young, a Cyndi Lauper and an archetypal cock-rocker. Festival-wide, Freddie Mercury and Vogue-era Madonna were popular costume choices, but a few festival-goers stood apart from the crowd. A couple of Daft Punk enthusiasts had the crowd at the Main Stage oohing respectfully at their amazing — and probably not cheap — Tron ensembles, and I commend anyone with the wherewithal to wire a cardboard boombox — worn on one’s head — with flashing lights. The effect late in the evening is memorable.
I’ll skip over the music — The Cure, PJ Harvey, DJ Shadow, Bjork, etc. — and get to the interesting bit, the hurricane. The rain began in the early hours of Monday morning and was unrelenting by the time we woke at 6.30am. What ensued would put one off a camping festival for life. We left a tent behind, unwilling to try for a fourth time to unpop the bloody thing, and spent a miserable hour in driving rain waiting for a bus after a grim uphill trek with all our gear. People were weeping, I swear. I was still wet and cold seven hours later when I finally arrived home. Ready for the next festival.
Nicola Heath lives in London, works in media and travels Europe at every opportunity. She blogs at[nicopedia] and can be found on Twitter @nicoheath. Check out all Nic’s writings on Back in a Bit here.