Bestival 2008 Clockwatch: Saturday, September 6th (Part Two)
17.30: Do believe the hype. And do believe those all seeing, all knowing Oxfam volunteers. Because Thursday night's rumours come true as The Specials (officially billed as Terry Hall And Friends due to the absence of founder member Jerry Dammers) reform for their first gig in almost three decades. “We've waited 27 years to play to a field full of fucking king prawns”, sulks the aforementioned Hall, striking up a cigarette and obviously not impressed by the efforts of those in fancy dress.
2-tone classics such as Gangsters, Too Much Too Young, Nite Klub and A Message To You Rudy go down a storm, and not even the never-ending rain can dampen their sunkissed ska vibes. We bop happily, Kate nearly takes out Benjamin’s eye with her umbrella several times, a man in front of us skanks with his partner and their teenage children like it’s 1977 again and a speechless Shaun is only capable of repeating the words “The Specials! Th… the… the fucking Specials!” over and over again afterwards.
Our commiserations go out to the man we encountered afterwards in the queue for the backstage loos, who, to his chagrin, missed out on this once in a lifetime show as he was otherwise engaged watching Red Snapper in the Big Top. BT and KG
18.20: Backstage has been in lockdown for a little while now as there is a queue to get back to the press tent. Whoever we’ve got next must be pretty damn big. A knock on the door and a polite “excuse me” from our Lord Advocate in the form of a Mr P Jupitus soon hurries along our collective progress, however.
In under a minute, Shaun is spotted chinwagging with Gary Numan like they’ve known each other for years. I have to rub my eyes twice and make sure this is actually happening as every single photographer in the tent tries to get pictures of the face that launched a thousand electropop floorfillers. He comes back over to us with a grin like the Cheshire Cat on his face (Shaun, that is, not Gary Numan - although he seems a smiley, pleasant chap, happily signing autographs before hopping into a minicab. I guarantee that the driver will never get tired of saying “You’ll never guess who I’ve had in the back of my taxi…”). KG
18.30: We see numerous figures dashing about at the back of the Main Stage, but despite popping out front and examining the instrumental setup, all of us are none the wiser as to who to expect on it. Site rumours have been plentiful and varied, ranging from Black Kids or Lykke Li - rescheduled from yesterday’s cancelled BBC Introducing programme - to Deborah Harry and/or Blondie, Dolly Parton, Bat For Lashes …and even Madonna! Surely not? KG
18.35: The band strike up a glacial 80s-style slow disco beat, there’s lashings of both smoke and wind machines, and Shaun points at the big screen. “It’s Grace Jones! It’s Grace fucking Jones!!!” he shrieks in total disbelief. Indeed, there she is, sporting a typically eccentric piece of millinery, with her most enviable pins astride a twenty-foot tall speaker stack. We’re all quite shocked. Having pulled The Specials and Grace Jones out of the bag (and Madness last year), one wonders just quite how the da Banks and co will top that in 2009. KG
19.00: Whilst she wasn’t anywhere near as terrifying as the clown backstage, both of us still view Ms Jones and her numerous costume changes with considerable trepidation after about half a dozen songs, including an excellent Slave To The Rhythm, so we trek up to the Bandstand and I regale Benjamin with the tale of the Russell Harty chatshow incident, followed by a brief discussion of the James Bond franchise.
We are hoping to catch Soko, described in these pages as “a darker and more surreal Gideon Conn” by a fellow Fugitive. However, the Bandstand is running late due to technical difficulties brought on by the weather, so instead we see the hitherto-unknown (to us) Manouchska. Whilst they’re not really Benjamin’s cup of tea, I’m quite taken by their combination of gypsy-style folk, swing and jazz influences, all held together with a distinct air of ‘knees-up round the old Joanna’. Definite party-starters. KG
19.30: Another downpour cuts off the Bandstand and we retreat into the set of Shrek (OK, the nearby olde-worlde style ‘Pub’ tent) for a swift pint and a chat with a nice young bartender who’s wondering if he will finish his shift in time for Annie Mac’s DJ set at the Bollywood Bar. I advise that he allows plenty of time to get down there if he wants to get within 50 feet of the stage after last year’s throng around the same venue for her set. KG
20.20: Time to introduce Benjamin to the delights of Pieminister (with success!) and lament the fact that the BBC Introducing stage unfortunately seems to have malfunctioned again. Fingers crossed it will be back up and running later for Noah and the Whale and Late of the Pier! KG
20.40: As we wait in a lengthy queue for the toilets, an aptly muddy bassline squelches through the darkness. It's the sound of the greatest, and possibly only, rap record to namecheck cheese on toast. I race into the Red Bull tent to hear Roots Manuva perform Witness (1 Hope), his biggest hit to date. And it's most definitely worth losing my place in line for, and crossing my legs for another few minutes. BT
20.58: As we approach the Main Stage, I admit to Benjamin that I will be disappointed if Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip is not wearing fluorescent trousers and braces, as he did at Glastonbury. However, he has gone one better - not only is he dressed in a suit of armour, but his band members are disguised as a variety of animals, including what appear from a distance to be a dragon and a tiger. KG
21.00: Like Foals before them on the main stage, Hot Chip prove that the size of one’s light show is often inversely proportional to musical brilliance, as their lasers strafe the night sky. At this point, it should be noted that Laura Marling needed none of these optical illusions to make our hairs stand literally on end earlier.
However, it's impossible not to be moved emotionally by their cover versions of Prince's Nothing Compares 2 U and New Order's Temptation, or to be moved physically by Over And Over and Ready For The Floor. BT
21.45: Once again, power cuts have unfortunately struck the BBC Introducing stage, meaning that we miss out on performances by Late Of The Pier, Hadouken!, and Noah And The Whale. C'mon Auntie, get your act together! BT
22.40: We open a book as to what time Amy Winehouse will arrive on stage. My prediction is 23.15, later revised to 23.17. So far, I am the only person to venture a time. KG
23.04: Come on Amy! Thirteen more minutes… KG
23.10: I’m starting to get itchy feet now. Please! KG
23.15: The band file on and Amy Winehouse takes to the stage, opening with Addicted. Benjamin has to ask me “what’s that?” after the song’s finished as he doesn’t recognise it. All around us… stunned silence. One or two people decide they’ve seen enough and turn and leave at the back, and as the set progresses it becomes a slow but steady trickle.
I’m genuinely mortified by what I’ve just seen. That’s not my Amy, our Amy, up there. That’s not the engaging young woman I talked to four years ago about tattoos, touring, and how she wrote such heartfelt songs, before listening to her belt out You Sent Me Flying, Stronger Than Me, even a rudimentary version of Addicted, with such unbridled passion that she stunned Manchester’s Academy 2 into a different kind of silence. Yes, believe it or not Amy was a friendly, healthy girl who spoke with such enthusiasm of her musical idols including Sarah Vaughan, Donny Hathaway. I remember she advised me to check out Soweto Kinch (a brilliant musician and later to become, like Winehouse, a Mercury nominee).
It’s not even the Amy we both saw last summer, just before she became constant tabloid fodder. Tonight’s Amy is totally drowned out by her ever-excellent backing band from where we’re standing. Just as silent as us between songs, she clutches onto a mock ship’s wheel at the front of the stage, stumbling feebly through Cupid and Best Friends with barely a tenth of her vocal power and passion at its peak. Four songs in and I genuinely can’t bear to watch any more, so off we trot, both still slightly shaken by how it all went so wrong. KG
23.30: Hercules And Love Affair's hypnotic disco is seemingly never-ending, so much so that we can still hear their beats and basslines from the Big Top long after we've returned to our tents for the night. The rowdiest audience reaction is of course reserved for Blind and You Belong from their recent self-titled album, with these songs being interrupted by impressively funky improvised jams. BT
words: Kate Goodacre and Benjamin Thomas
pictures: Kate Goodacre