From Marc Bolan and free milk to stadium rave and boutique festivals, this damp isle has long been a fine place for a party. It may have nothing quite as hot as Valencia's Benicassim or as far-out as Nevada's Burning Man, but this wild bunch - from Butlins-brewed indie to Wiltshire-based world music, with stopoffs for classic metal and avant-garde electronica on the way - should satisfy anyone's hunger for music and thrills.
Britain’s top music festivals
Like many of the smaller festivals done good, this Isle of Wight wig-out’s increased capacity has taken a little of its intimacy. But Bestival isn’t taking itself too seriously yet. The line-up mixes indie, dance and hip-hop with classic pop in groovy mix-tape style, big-selling headliners and late-night DJs keeping things busy till long after nightfall. The joyous Saturday fancy-dress parade, meanwhile, sees Stormtroopers, strange animals, space hoppers and mashed up beat-seekers join forces in the festival’s pleasantly wooded valley setting, offering one of the festival’s season’s definitive highlights.
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All Tomorrow’s Parties
Over a decade after it began, ATP is full of contradictions. It brings drugs and rock‘n’roll to the faux-suburbia of a Butlins holiday camp. It marries experimental music (ferocious hardcore, wonky electronica, sublime and silly prog-rock) with a hearty sense of nostalgia (indie-group reunions are a speciality). And it works: performers and audience alike are buffeted by waves of noise, offered horrific frankfurters and grim artificial cheese and wander from chalet to rock-out to beat-fest, safe in the knowledge a hot shower is a mere shout away.
ATP takes place on various dates, typically May & Dec, visit for more.
“It’s too big”, moan the festival veterans. “It’s too mainstream”, grumble the music lovers. “It’s too dodgy”, weep the parents. Glastonbury may be all these things – and, with its big fence, chic VIP areas and visits from royals, it sometimes feels as countercultural as a cabinet minister – but it can still be a magical place. There are countless corners to explore: dance tents, pagan villages, kids’ entertainers and, inevitably, some of the biggest bands the world has seen. You might even see some sunshine…
Cambridge Folk Festival
Folk is enjoying a moment in fashion’s spotlight thanks to the vigour and marketability of acts like Mumford & Sons, but it’ll take more than that to change the Cambridge Folk Festival’s mellow spots. With stripped-down narratives, foot-stamping, rootsy sing-alongs, more guest appearances than a chat show and the odd bit of blues, indie or reggae, this endearing, unpretentious festival looks as strong as ever, almost five decades after it began.
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Donington Park, which has had had a metal connection since 1980’s inaugural Monsters of Rock festival, has moved with the times and the current Download festival mixes ancient behemoths like Iron Maiden and AC/DC with newer acts and the odd indie or emo band, who usually risk having a plastic bottle or hundred flung their way.
Though hotly tipped indie and dance bods are on stage throughout the weekend, you don’t get many big-name acts here, but that’s just fine: Secret Garden really is about more than just the music, man. A gorgeous lake, wacky art installations and all manner of half-organized weirdness distinguish this genial Cambridgeshire fancy-dress fandango.
T in the Park
Heavily branded, sat near a stinking chicken farm and packed with drunk wee nippers, T in the Park may not be for everyone. But if you want up-for-it crowds, headline acts that often trump Glastonbury in their prestige and some often-glorious sunsets, breaking over the hills that fringe the main stage, you’ll have a whale of a time in Perthshire.
Head to for full details. The festival takes place in early July.
Its current base may be a Cotswolds market town, but with spin-offs in Spain, New Zealand and Abu Dhabi and performers from every continent, WOMAD has never lacked ambition. Its thrillingly broad palette – you might hear Peruvian dance music, Chinese pop, urban African funk and English folk – is set alongside stalls, workshops and arts performances and lapped up by a mellow crowd.
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