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Camp Bestival 2014

It’s the very epitome of mainstream family-friendly festival going and this year’s event at Lulworth Castle again showed why it performs so well with the folks that give out awards for such things.

Forensically well organised from the moment you arrive on site, it feels like a giant garden fete, a kind of annual gathering you’ve been going to since you can’t remember when. As ever, there are evolutions to the format rather than grand changes – some interesting new venues, slightly fewer trade concessions, a nature walk instead of an art trail, the peculiarly pricey ‘posh (ie clean) loos’ at two pounds a pop – but it doesn’t take long for the Camp Bestival spirit to rekindle as old friends meet and new ones get acquainted.

The Castle grounds betray the damage wrought by this year’s storms and one or two aspects have opened up, but all serve to reinforce just how well Camp Bestival sits within the sweep of the Purbeck landscape – a transient invasion of a Jurassic coastline that’s older than time.

Talking of well aged, Johnny Marr stole the weekend for these eyes and ears. His opening night set leaned heavily on his confident debut solo album, last year’s The Passenger, but with scant regard to its successor lined up for autumn release, he served up a slew of Smiths tunes that had grown men in tears to my right and women melting where they stood to my left, while in front an impromptu mosh pit of teenagers far younger than their parents most likely were when Hand in Glove was released went politely crazy. (Sorry kids, but things were much rougher back in the day!)

His guitar noodling that resolved into the opening notes of Please Please Please, Let Me Get What I Want was nothing short of sublime; while the blue notes he toys with in the Electronic hit Getting Away With It draw on influences as bewilderingly wide as Marc Bolan, Bert Jansch, Dave Davies, Nile Rodgers, even Buddy Holly. How Soon Is Now caused a near riot and provoked grins as wide as Lulworth Cove. Solo strikes such as Generate Generate and Upstarts more than earned their keep, as did a balls out, glammed up, mid-set stomp through Bobby Fuller’s I Fought the Law.

He even popped back on stage to join first night headliners James (who opened for The Smiths on the Meat Is Murder tour) for a supercharged Come Home.

Earlier, elsewhere, former Beta Band cornerstone Steve Mason delivered a mesmerising set that fizzed with social comment, never more so than on the Blair-baiting, anti-capitalist tirade Fight Them Back – wonder what he made of the BMW stand to the left of the Castle Stage.

All of which meant I missed apparent treats such as Rob Heron’s Tea Pad Orchestra in the intimate Matua Sessions venue and Howard Marks reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the Guardian Literary Institute, but did manage a restorative cuppa in the WI tea tent, the astonishingly acrobatic Insect Circus and the ever entertaining Folk Idol on the enlarged Bandstand.

Morning rain didn’t stop play on Day Two as thousands more arrived on site. That afternoon the Radiophonic Workshop went all Doctor Who on the Main Stage, Pop Will Eat Itself showed they’ve still plenty of appetite and, later on, Laura Mvula just about brought the house down ahead of bill toppers De La Soul – although for anyone near enough to hear, her charming set in the Roost above the Nando’s van earlier in the afternoon provided a genuine festival moment; and not only for her somewhat inelegant exit.

The meaty beaty newbie ranter John Fairhurst ripped up the Matua Sessions with a stormy set in front of label bosses Scroobius Pip and Polar Bear; while the inexplicably well known Gentleman Rhymer (Michael Gove’s a big fan) used his beats and banjolele to good effect as his ‘chap hop’ reclaimed rap for the Queen’s English. Other Big Top standouts included the psychedelic Tuareg funk of Mdou Moctar and the yet-to-fully-convince acousto-pop of Denai Moore.

Away from the hurly burly though, the day’s real treat (for at least 20 of us) was legendary record producer Joe Boyd whose insightful introduction preceded an album playback (on vinyl, natch) of Fairport’s Liege & Lief in the appropriately reverential confines of St Andrew’s Church. These Classic Album sessions are a great way to cop a break from the incessant ebb and flow of child trolleys outside (Hunky Dory, Dusty In Memphis, Grace, Kind of Blue and Metal Box were among other featured records), although in the event perhaps the chin-stroking mood for Liege & Leaf was a little too worshipful.

A sunny Sunday saw the crowds thin a little as folk tended to take root and stay put. The Magic Meadow though was all hurly burly, complete with the Wall of Death, the Soul Park for anyone who just couldn’t get by without a tarot reading head massage sauna spa, the brand new Den for teenagers (nice trippy folk-hop set from CoCo and the Butterfields), the fantastic Observatory and the junk yard art installation venue Caravanserai with adjacent Big Pig’s Ballroom, wherein Sara Spade showed why the likes of Hank Marvin and Jools Holland rate her 40s jump blues so highly and later Mark Kermode’s Dodge Brothers displayed their skiffle-bluegrass-western swing chops to considerable effect.

Over on the main stage Chas & Dave ripped it up royally and again showed they’re so much more than novelty as music hall combines with field hollers, boogie woogie and plain old rock ’n’ roll. Blinding, as me ol’ muvver would say.

The Mother Ukers provided ukulele translations of rock and dance anthems in the Matua Sessions – with Laurel and Hardy lookalikes in the house, just for a moment it seemed as if George Formby was playing Firestarter. Weird… and then some.

At the other end of the expectation spectrum, Peter Hook rode a considerable wave of audience love and no small amount of luck to get away with a pretty scrappy set of Joy Division and New Order highlights. Hooky is many things, but a singer is not one of them and he’s even drafted in a bassist to cover most of his most recognisable lines. With all respect to his new running mates The Light (troupers to a man), I think we’d all like to see Hook back with Barney and Stephen again. Maybe one day.

Some suitably incendiary showbiz dance anthems from Basement Jaxx and Son Et Lumière’s trademark fireworks and light extravaganza projected on Lulworth Castle and it was over for another year. Just like that. Phew.

Nick Churchill