The weekend draws to a close with a thrilling anti climax
Sundays are always a double-edged sword at festivals. On the one hand it’s a downer that it’s all about to end and there’s the long haul back to reality, and on the other there’s a full day of fun left and the next day we’ll be back to luxuries such as electricity and running water. And today’s lineup is incredible, so the trick is to get stuck in and enjoy it and worry about tomorrow tomorrow. Having said that I must confess that energy levels are running low today, and my tolerance of camping, constant walking and standing are also veering towards to red, especially as the recent rain makes sitting down either unlikely or unpleasant for most of the day
Things start in a gentle manner, as the first band to catch are the Unthanks. Again this strikes me as a bit of bad scheduling and they should surely be on in a higher profile slot later in the day? Anyway, they draw a reasonably sized crowd and gently ease us into the day with a set that encapsulates style and elegance. They seem like such unassuming folk too - I could never imagine an Unthank having a diva fit or demanding only Pelligrino water after a gig. Their sets also sees the first outbreak of clog dancing on stage, and maybe this is something other performers should be taking up. Take note Chuck D! There is an (at first) shocking difference between their singing and speaking voices that only adds to their charm. Other words that pop into my mind whilst watching them include ‘organic’, ‘unassuming’, ‘intricate’ and in a rare moment of synaesthesia, ‘blue’. The fact that they cover King Crimson’s prog epic Starless and make it sound like a folk lament speaks volumes for their talents. One odd facet of today’s performance is the fact that The Midnight Beast (who I’d never heard of) are on after The Unthanks, and they seem to be particularly popular with children who seem barely able to go to gigs without serious amounts of chaperoning. As a result, the front of the crowd starts to fill up with these precocious teens, many sporting ‘ I heart TMB’, ‘I heart Dru’ or, more bizarrely, ‘I am not a lesbian’ written on their cheeks, shoulders and chests in mascara. This must surely be the oddest audience The Unthanks have played to for some time and a surreal culture clash plays out stage front
After this I head over to the main stage to see The Drums on the recommendations of a few friends. Friends who I shall never speak to again – this is generic indie with nothing to distinguish them from many other lumpen, middle-of-the-bell-curve outfits. As stodgy and unpalatable a bit of festival fayre as the burgers that seem to be on sale every few feet
A trip back to the tent to change into wellies is in order (it was ridiculous really, thinking trainers would cut it today, but call me an optimist if you must, I thought I’d chance it) and thence to see Noah and the Whale. At first glance they look like a group of employees from a late 60s gentlemen’s haberdashers who have managed to end up on stage, but they have managed to crank up the rock since earlier outings. Firmly walking out of the Nu Folk shadow they have previously been cast in, they play a confident set to a packed crowd. My only criticism is that everything sounds almost exactly as it does on the album, as if they’ve decided they’re going to rock out, but don’t quite have it in them to cut loose on stage. Also, they play for a mere 35 minutes and leave out many favourite songs – particularly from their excellent Last Days of Spring album. This is something of a bugbear with me – surely it makes sense to have less bands on, but let them do a full set, no?
Next up is another spectacularly strange piece of stage programming, as the mighty John Grant is scheduled to appear in the tiny Psychedelic Worm tent which, just for good measure, isn’t even in the main arena. Now I know he may not be a household name just at the moment, but with plenty of press coverage in the more ‘serious’ music mags and newspapers surely a more mainstream slot would again have been of benefit. Anyway, it was a tired and dishevelled me that dragged his sorry arse all the way to this stage for another must-see of the festival. But, John Grant took the stage and delivered his tongue in cheek confessionals with such class that, thankfully, the restorative powers of music well and truly picked me up, dusted me down and gave me a gentle massage. This man is incredible, his honey-rich voice and the spartan instrumentation (one baby grand and a synth) lent new life and a new poignancy to his songs. The reaction from his crowd was one of huge appreciation and he seemed genuinely touched by the long and loud cheers that greeted the end of every song. Another set that was criminally short tho, once again clocking in at a brief 35 minutes, but most definitely one of the festivals highlights
I was wondering which Global Communication we would be getting today – the DJ duo who delivered the smooth, dancey Live at Fabric CD or Global Communications – The Band, masters of ambient chillout. I was expecting the former, but hoping for the latter. Thankfully, when they appear on stage, they appear as a band and deliver one of the most hauntingly beautiful sets of the festival. The crowd start to leave as it dawns on them that this not going to be any sort of four-to-the-floor affair and that lowest common denominator dance music this is most definitely not. They play the superb 14:36, surely one of the best ambient tunes ever, whose sole source of percussion is a slowly ticking metronome. The song builds and builds over the eponymous 14 minutes and 36 seconds until the whole tent is awash with swathes of sound. Not knowing quite what to do to this kind of music in a live setting, and with the mud being an inappropriate seating place to enjoy this, I opt for a bit of gentle swaying. The next few songs feature no percussion whatsoever and people continue to leave. I feel like chasing after each and every one of them and bopping them on the head with one of their abandoned glowsticks. If I could choose only one set from the entire festival to download, it would undoubtedly be this one
Next it's another trek to the Bollywood field to catch Jacques Lu Cont, aka Les Rythyms Digitales, Paper Faces, Thin White Duke or, as his mum calls him, Stuart Price. It is under this name that he has founds most fame, as producer du jour for the likes of Madonna, The Killers, Scissors Sisters, etc. Again I am left unsure as to whether we get the DJ or a live act, but in this instance it is the former. However. the Bollywood tent is packed way beyond bursting point and after much trying I manage to get to within a mere few feet of the outside of the tent. Even from here I can feel red hot heat escaping from within, as the crowd whoop, holler and dance like things possessed. Judging by the looks on the many gurning faces, I would say that people are working hard to ensure that they don’t have to take any of their festivals stashes back home with them. The music from within the inferno is big of beat, loud of volume and makes me wish I feeling well enough to have jumped into the middle and partied like it was just under £20. As it is I listen from my vantage point just outside where I can dance and feel the cooling breeze on my face. Best of both worlds – who’s laughing now sweaty ravers! Ha haaaaaaa
After the high bench mark set by the last 3 acts, I am expecting great things from Bjork. However, I am destined to be disappointed as she plays her as-yet unreleased album. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it is reliant mostly on some slight 'plink plonk' type noises throughout. Now this may sound perfectly splendid in a home setting, but on a stage of this magnitude it seems akin to putting a microphone to a music box and expecting it to headline a festival. Too little, too late I’m afraid. After a few songs the audience start to leave in droves and I am saddened to say that I am one of them. A real shame and a disappointment this, as I was looking forward to Bjork all weekend. I am prepared to accept that in my crumpled state, I share in the blame, but a festival needs to finish on a crash and a bang, not on something so intricate and delicate. Also, the 4 video screens that have been providing the audience with a decent up close view of the performers all weekend is now showing some ‘multimedia’ images that look like they were designed by the company who made the Asteroids video game, with the result that anyone further back that the first few rows can’t even see what’s going on on stage. It feels like an open goal missed as I walk away from the main stage
About this time, the fatigue that I have been feeling most of the day finally turns into a full on cold/flu (delete according to your level of cynicism about men and colds) and each step sends fresh waves of pain through me. A quick trip to see Errol Alkan masterfully bring the RizLab stage to a close doesn’t help and I slowly trudge back to the tent a beaten man while the festival climaxes around me. Once abed, even the sound of many and huge fireworks cannot rouse me to look out of the tent and I try to sleep. The fact that I wake up in a flooded tent, wrapped in a damp duvet and resting my head on a damp pillow does not help
Ok Bestival, you won this time, but I’ll be back and next time I’ll be ready!
8901 Marmora Road, Glasgow, D04 89GR