Live Report: Camp Bestival 2023

Golden vibes and big love on a drizzly weekend in Dorset...

“All you need is love / Love is all you need”. The immortal Beatles couplet wafts dreamily across the sodden lawn of Lulworth Castle on Thursday as my family and I rock up to Camp Bestival, the festival where bringing kids isn’t just tolerated, it’s basically the entire point. 

Man, there was a whole lot of love around. Just as well, because the weather sucked. In fairness, Lulworth castle looks extremely fetching shrouded in mist, like something off the cover of a gothic novel. And besides, parents – we’re all parents here – know a thing or two about patience and stoicism. Early doors I cross paths with a glamorous young mum in a zebra-stripe pantsuit, negotiating a heavily-laden buggy around a puddle with one hand, slurping a gin-in-a-tin with the other, a look of zen serenity plastered across her shiny glittered face. Absolute queen.

Because we’re all lumbered with sprogs – everything from newborn infants to surly bucket-hatted teens, each a ball-ache in their own special way – the camaraderie here is strong. My four-year old fell in the mud, and a steward appeared instantly with her own personal water bottle to hose her down. Lots of gorgeous smiley little-uns in wheelchairs quite rightly enjoyed absolute priority everywhere, the team bending over backwards at all times. Kudos to you, Rob da Bank, you’ve built an incredible, inclusive squad.

This family atmos is reflected in the music too. Beans on Toast performed a mid-morning kids set in the big top, strumming tunes about his nan, his missus, and chickens. At one point Beans’ own adorable little girl, Wren, took to the mic to sing a lilting melody, and told us a lovely story she made up about dragons. Transcendentally magical. 

Sophie Ellis-Bextor – herself a mum of five, amazingly – dominated the main stage, declaring, misty-eyed, “I love this festival, you’re always the most joyful crowd. I came as early as I could this morning with my kids, we’ve just been wandering around, loving it!”

Ellis-Bextor cheekily padded out her own set with covers – Moloko, Madonna, crowd-pleasing bangers. You know what though? That’s exactly the right approach here. We’re all music fans. But we’re not here to discover new stuff. Nobody, honestly, cares about these artists’ new material. We’re here to party, with our mates, and our kids, and yell along to tunes we hear on the radio, on the school run. Is that basic? Maybe. So bloody what.

My favourite moments, in truth, were basic as hell. Elvana – you know, the Elvis-fronted Nirvana covers band – delivered a wry main-stage set, with a decent topical Barbenheimer gag. Old Time Sailors Club shantied up ‘Yellow Submarine’. Rhythm Of The 90s – a covers band, on the main stage! – played ‘Castles In The Sky’ and ‘Bullet From A Gun’. Banging stuff. Mooching around the site I twice – twice! – heard ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, and sang along lustily both times, broad smiles all around me.

The Kooks – who I actually adore, and interviewed on these very pages not long ago – should’ve gone a bit more everyman, a bit more basic. Sorry lads, people in this setting don’t really want to hear your new stuff. Do ‘Naive’, ‘She Moves In Her Own Way’, ‘Seaside’, then chuck in a few cheeky covers. Four Non Blondes. Something anthemic. Hell, a bit of Oasis would’ve gone down a treat. 

Half the lineup is aimed squarely at kids. When the weather did perk up, on Saturday – my nose is hilariously sunburnt as I write this – I plonked on the grass with my nine-year-old and did Cosmic Kids Yoga, alongside a thousand other knackered breeders all cranking their feet up to their ears like a telephone. Life affirming and wondrous. Lots of names you won’t know unless you’re a parent. Mister Tumble. Bluey and Bingo. Hey Duggee, whose bouncing banjo theme song, in the pissing rain, on a hungover Sunday morning, got a better vibe going than The Kooks. Sorry, but it’s true. 

Not that it was exclusively covers and TV themes. Grace Jones on Saturday night – 75 goddamn years old! – delivered an assured suite of muscular goth disco, bopping up in a steel skull mask, like a sexy steampunk Skeletor. Just before beddie-byes I wandered at random into a hardcore techno set, giant crowd popping off, only to realise it was Dick and Dom. Actual Dick and Dom! Dick and Dom go hard, trust me fam. Sleep on Dick and Dom at your peril.

I heard a wild rumour that Pete Doherty played in Caravanserai, the groovy festival-within-a-festival where the cool mums hang out. A flying grand piano dazzled as the drizzle set in on Saturday night. I had a nice chinwag with Beans on Toast, dancing with our daughters at Beatles Dub Club in the Bollywood tent that afternoon. Nice to see a geezer who plays hundreds of festivals and is probably sick to the back teeth of most of them actually hanging out at one. And of course it’s Camp Bestival, the friendliest festival of all. All you need is love. Love is all you need.

Words: Andy Hill

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