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Live Review: Camp Bestival

PJ returns to debut some new material at the southwest’s most up-market festival. Lulworth Castle, Dorset, Friday July 24-Sunday July 26

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What with a River Cottage tent and groups of little Mungos and Tallulahs frolicking in animal costumes so professional they could’ve been nabbed from a dress rehearsal for a David Attenborough programme, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Camp Bestival for the latest field trip of the Smug Marrieds Society. Everywhere you look there’s Cath Kidston-clad families delighting in “slumming it” in ridiculously oversized tents – but luckily, curator Rob da Bank’s eccentric line-up more than realigns the cultural karmic balance.

Mumford And Sons could almost be the English Grizzly Bear – ‘The Cave And The Open Sea’ feels like being brutally hugged
by a thousand plaid-clad men – and despite missing the Cuban Brothers playing air-slap bass to Wham’s ‘Club Tropicana’ in gold lamé hotpants, in retrospect, watching them all day would have been infinitely preferable to VV Brown’s cringeworthy set. She plays a vocally impressive yet self-aggrandizing rendition of Kings Of Leon’s ‘Use Somebody’, and ‘Leave’, supposedly some kind of ‘go girlfriend!’ moment that makes Will Young’s apparent ode to menopause on Sunday afternoon (“you’re going through the changes”) feel empowering.

After a ‘Monster Mash’-indebted ‘Crying Blood’, she asks if we want to hear the reggae version. Or, would NME prefer a serving of Portaloo surprise with our chicken fajita? Welcome refreshment comes from Florence And The Machine, who take home Friday’s crown. Looking like a makeshift Ophelia as she prances around in her granny’s best white tablecloth, she’s far too bolshy to be ethereal, but hilariously endearing. “Last year I ended up down at the cove, half-naked in somebody’s garden,” she says before a punky ‘Kiss With a Fist’, the sun and wind conspiring in romantic drama. Mercury Rev put on a grandiose show, but with every song drawn out into a screaming hurricane assault, it gets mentally and aurally exhausting pretty quickly.

Saturday, and there’s no escaping the fact that Bon Iver really needs to go away and write some new material. It’s gratifying, though, that he doesn’t treat his songs like precious entities – ‘Creature Fear’ is destroyed by three drummers playing a kind of alien math-rock. Although the French are more often known for their languid romanticism, Phoenix’s slick pop and loungey choruses are efficiently Teutonic, their set proving that there’s no good reason they’re not huge over here.

But nothing quite compares to PJ Harvey. Playing her “favourite songs in the way they were originally written”, two new songs – ‘The Last Living Rose’ and ‘Let England Shake’ – hint at a lyrical preoccupation with the beautiful horrors of urban England. The latter rings like
a haunted tearoom dance to the tune of a warped 78 – all tumbling curls and ghostly white dress, her sublime performance could have been plucked straight from the pages of an Edgar Allan Poe novel.

A drizzly Sunday perks up with Brooklynites O’Death, who make like Calexico duetting with Pixies – they’re by far the discovery of the festival – but it’s oldies Chic who end the weekend in style. Prick guitarist Nile Rogers’ skin and he surely bleeds the elixir of awesomeness. It’s easy to forget just how many hits they’ve had, but it’s their sublime version of ‘Let’s Dance’ complete with slap bass solo, followed by the timeless ‘Le Freak’ that prove irrespective of whether you’ve survived the weekend on organic sausages and nettle beer or squished cereal bars and pear cider, there’s nothing quite like getting your disco on in a wet Dorset field.

Laura Snapes

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