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.
Full details at www.cambridgefolkfestival.co.uk.
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.
Secret Garden Party
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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