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Deer Shed Festival 2014: Day 2 Roundup

 
By on Monday, 11th August 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Camping with kids at festivals is rewarding and frustrating in equal measure. Despite running around all day, playing swingball in fits of glee, they rarely fall asleep anywhere near normal bedtime yet paradoxically wake at the crack of dawn, as the first glow of sunlight forces its way through increasingly stuffy canvas. Which would explain the weary expressions on the faces of parents in the queues for coffee and bacon sandwiches early Saturday morning at Deer Shed festival. Plenty simply hadn’t bothered to get dressed, waiting in line in pyjamas and Crocs for the calories and caffeine which would finally drag them into the realm of the waking.

As good a place as any to eat breakfast was the Big Top tent, with Paul Cookson and Stan Cullimore for company. Stan used to be in The Housemartins, so he can play the ukulele and now sings songs for kids rather than blather on about how good Hull is. Paul Cookson used to be a teacher, so knows how to handle a crowd of over-excited children, and trades in performance poetry when not accompanying Cullimore on the ukulele. He has one particularly memorable routine in which he impersonates his teenage daughter’s head-shaking, hand-waving putdowns: “Wha-eva, major loser!” Elsewhere, the Stan sings a song about the virtues or otherwise of his musical partner’s digestive system, which of course brings the house down. A great way to banish the cobwebs.

Leeds’ Post War Glamour Girls do a good job of convincing people to buy their début album ‘Pink Fur’. Its scuzzy, incessant grooves infected with gothic despair are ironically just the ticket to really launch into Saturday PM. The shadow of Nick Cave hangs heavy over them; indeed, the male-female interplay recalls Cave and Minogue at their most lugubrious. After all that, how bad can one’s life be in comparison? Dublin’s Raglans do exactly what you might expect of a few likely lads equipped with guitars from Ireland’s party city. Upbeat, jolly ditties, delivered with irrepressible enthusiasm. Their song entitled ‘White Lightning’ might raise queasy memories of last night’s cider-induced hangover, but apart from that, they deserve full marks for kicking the Main Stage into life.

With nothing of interest to follow on the Main Stage, it’s to the comedy tent to witness Wes Zaharuk (yet another name misspelled in the programme). His brand of shambolic, power tool-assisted slapstick comedy has the power to have an audience in tears of laughter in short order, and gives any manner of ideas for mayhem to errant toddlers. A whole toilet roll is unravelled in someone’s face using some sort of power blower, and a lucky lady gets to feed Wes a banana. From behind. Without looking. It’s unclear how he gets away with it, but give praise to the god of slapstick that he does.

Happyness are the perfect mid-afternoon tent band. Their chilled-out obscurantist rock proves how effective the power trio lineup can still be. Their songs have a deceptive superficial simplicity in which hides all manner of clever guitar work and surrealist lyrical content. ‘Refrigerate Her’, anyone? The irony of their name versus their faux-glum onstage banter doesn’t go unnoticed, either. With their début album now released, Happyness deserve increasing recognition for their West-Coast-by-way-of-South-London vibes – and they’re certainly headed in the right direction.

Unfortunately Catfish and the Bottlemen are indisposed, so Bleech play for the second time in 2 days. Which means that We Were Evergreen’s upcoming claim to Deer Shed fame – that they’d be the first act to play the main stage twice – is cruelly usurped by fate at the last possible moment. Which makes it even more inexplicable when the compere introduces “We Are Evergreen [sic], the first band ever to play the Main Stage twice!” just after Bleech had finished playing their second Main Stage set. Evergreen’s name had been misspelled throughout the catalogue and lanyard – one would imagine that a band that had played before would have better name recognition than the others, but apparently not. Anyway, a bit of a low point, credibility-wise.

What wasn’t a low point was We Were Evergreen’s actual set. Fortunately, the Parisian three-piece multi-instrumentalists can remember their own name and what to play. They’ve taken their time releasing their début album ‘Towards’, but the wait has been worth it. They’re complete antithesis of a guitar band: yes, they have a Telecaster and a ukulele, but they work in deference to the song, instead of the song being an incidental excuse for six-stringed excess. It’s impossible to overstate the songwriting efficiency that goes into a song like ‘False Start’: its funkiness is off the scale, there’s hooks galore, and the whole thing hangs in the air with a citric freshness of style for which merely being Gallic isn’t sufficient explanation. The closer ‘Belong’ has a climax of such theatrical intensity that it leaves the crowd in raptures of applause. There isn’t enough time in universe to get bored with it. We Were Evergreen deserve widespread acclaim, as do Deer Shed for hosting them twice – let’s hope they get their name right third time around.

Summer Camp play the “In the Dock” stage, which is a tent, but they surely would have worked just as well on the main stage, such is the power of their funkily intense pop music. Indeed, Summer Camp are perhaps the perfect intelligent pop band, with just the right blend of sugary melodies, acerbic observational lyrics, and a decent slug of wig-out when they’re really powering on. There’s some cuts from their recent ‘Beyond Clueless’ semi-soundtrack album, but the greatest acclaim is reserved for their back-catalogue classics – ‘Better Off Without You’ from ‘Welcome To Condale’ is received like an old friend. Elizabeth Sankey is a woodland diva, her tremulous soprano lending an air of dignity to the acerbic lyrics, whilst Jeremy Walmsley’s ’80s retro grooves ensure that any joints that may have become stiff in the evening breeze are well-loosened in anticipation of our headliner.

And so we come to Johnny Marr. In part 1 it was already established that Mr Marr is the most successful Deer Shed headliner ever, and outlined the reasons for it. Suffice to say that to these ears, seeing Marr live is actually superior to seeing the Smiths in their pomp: Marr’s voice is adequate but nothing spectacular, which leaves the music and songs space to breathe – the whole isn’t dominated by a preening diva flouncing around. Having said that, Marr is a surprisingly good mimic, his tone and inflection an impressive imitation of Morrissey’s, and indeed Neil Tennant’s for that matter. He played a decent mixture of solo songs, Smiths classics, one or two from Electronic, and a fine rendition of ‘I Fought The Law’. The enormous crowd gave a rapturous welcome, and even though this was surely a modest crowd by Marr standards, it was perhaps one of the most appreciative. It turns out an elder statesman headliner is perfect for the of-a-certain-age Deer Shed demographic. The mind boggles as to where this could lead – there’s no dearth of ex-singers or guitarists from respected bands which were active over the last two or three decades, any of which would be a perfect fit for Baldersby Park. More on this topic in part 3…

Keep it here on TGTF for the conclusion of Martin’s time at Deer Shed Festival 2014 coming soon.

 

Deer Shed Festival 2014: Day 1 Roundup

 
By on Thursday, 31st July 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

On Saturday the 26th of July, on the occasion of its fifth birthday, Deer Shed Festival finally came of age. I mean no disrespect to Villagers or Darwin Deez, but Johnny Marr is the perfect climax to Saturday night at Deer Shed. He drew a crowd to Baldersby Park’s gently sloping natural auditorium unmatched in both size and enthusiasm than in any previous year. By virtue of writing the music to countless songs that soundtracked the lives of the adults in the crowd when they were young, free, and unencumbered by the offspring who were variously marauding around the site in frenzied glee or asleep in their arms despite the noise, for an hour or so they gave Marr their undivided attention and appreciation as he reeled off one classic after another.

Even though perhaps not as much a household name as his Smithsian lyricist and singer, by virtue of avoiding the latter’s rum pronouncements on vegetarianism, race, and sexuality, and sticking to what he does best – playing decent music – Marr succeeds in a similar, but much larger fashion, to that which Gaz Coombes did the previous year. A combination of life-affirming back catalogue hits, each of which instantly evoke dusty memories of life past, together with new material that easily stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the older stuff, is a recipe for success at Deer Shed Festival. Thusly are memories of the future made.

But Deer Shed Festival is far from being just the Johnny Marr show, and the adventure commenced the previous sultry afternoon. For those that don’t know, Deer Shed festival is held in North Yorkshire, just off the A1 on the way to Thirsk, in the beautiful grounds of Baldersby Park. The unwritten rule of Deer Shed: bring the kids. Even though the music is as good as anywhere, the real focus is on giving children a good time throughout the weekend, so if you’ve an aversion to the little blighters, look elsewhere. If you need an event where the kids are kept amused as Dad moshes down the front, Deer Shed is for you.

After a less-than-arduous 5-minute walk from car park to campsite, silently congratulating oneself for attending an event of a sensible acreage, and a bout of fumbling with canvas and string in the baking hot sunshine, refreshment and musical entertainment are less desired than demanded. Teleman were welcome succour. Comprising three of the admired Pete and the Pirates but swapping jaunty guitars for more considered electronica-enhanced melodies, they mix Erasure’s way with a dramatic synth-pop arc with Belle and Sebastian’s observational twee. All We Are eased the main stage into the late afternoon sunshine with the gentle ebb and flow of their gently atmospheric, shoegaze-influenced pop. Contenders for “The xx imitators of the Year” award, along with Woman’s Hour.

PINS are impeccable now. Watching them transform from a rickety band of noiseniks just a couple of years ago into today’s whirlwind of glamour and red lipstick is a life-affirming experience. They combine the power of 1970s New York glam-punk rock with an overlaid sweetness of melody and delicacy of touch comparable with any Supremes classic. While the phrase “girl band” has loaded connotations of manufactured, shallow pop nonsense, bands like PINS are doing their best to reclaim it for groups of talented musicians who just happen to be women. Whether or not there’s any great feminist insight is open to debate, but nevertheless, theirs was one of the performances of the weekend.

Next comes the only major misstep of programming of the whole weekend. Just as the sun starts to think about lazily drifting towards the horizon, and the main stage crowd are tucking into their evening meal of organic houmous and vintage prosecco, along come Toy to blast away the early evening reverie. On record, TOY are more considered, melodic, and song-focused, but live they come across as an incessant wall of noise; they’ve got three guitars and they’re going to turn it them all up to 11. ‘Join the Dots’, the title track from their début album, is a case in point – its climax of multi-layered guitars, phased into the next universe, is an undoubtedly viscerally thrilling piece of music, but perhaps not enjoyable if it disturbs little Johnny’s digestion and makes the whole family go scrabbling around for the ear defenders.

It’s not that they’re a bad band. Far from it. In fact, along with Temples, they’re one of the most convincing neo-psych bands in the country right now. But in this instance it’s a case of right band, wrong stage. Various overheard grumbles pay testament, including the old classic, “it’s just noise!” A considerable chunk of the Deer Shed crowd rock up to the main stage auditorium in the morning with their camping chairs and stay there all day, so in a way have little choice as to what they are made to listen to. Whatever is on the main stage influences the enjoyment of the entire site, and the Friday evening slot needs to be something less challenging, a little funkier, to properly match the mood of the audience.

A band on the correct stage are Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – they play the tented Lodge stage, so aural participation is distinctly optional – but certainly recommended. Pip’s gently political and moderately sweary diatribes (“that last song had an MF in it, sorry parents!”) combined with Sac’s dubstep-flavoured soundtrack excites many audience members into a display of such extrovert dad-dancing that any child would be excruciatingly embarrassed. The atmosphere in the tent is genuinely charged with enthusiasm; Deer Shed’s first foray into urban/rap/hip-hop is superbly received. More please. In common with several other acts, Pip seems genuinely pleased to have such a diverse range of ages in the audience – officially the most people on shoulders ever at one of their gigs, as children are raised aloft to experience “the man with his head on upside down”.

The main stage headliner is British Sea Power, but inevitably for many parents their slot coincided with trying to settle one or more very excited children to sleep. They sounded great from the campsite. When eventually the kids are settled, the last attraction of Friday is the genius that is Darius Battiwalla accompanying a silent film: this year, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. It was intended to be The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari but had to be changed for licensing reasons, which would have suited the time travel theme far better, and also the patience of the crowd: Caligari is a mere 67 minutes long, whereas Hunchback is over 2 hours. Whilst I’d happily listen to Battiwalla play over a cornflake advert, that’s a long time to spend watching Lon Cheney gurning, and by the time the film’s impenetrable plot reached its climax, the audience were variously physically uncomfortable or sound asleep. It’s surprising how loud a small boy’s snores can be in the auditorium of a silent film!

Stay tuned for more of Martin’s coverage of Deer Shed coming soon on TGTF.

 

Preview: Deer Shed Festival 2014

 
By on Friday, 20th June 2014 at 9:00 am
 

Editor’s note: for a flavour of what Deer Shed has offered in previous years, read Martin’s coverage of Deer Shed in 2013 and 2012.

It’s that time of year again when thoughts turn to spending a weekend under canvas, listening to live music en plein air and generally having a good time whilst dodging the rain. But there’s no reason why such enjoyment should be the exclusive privilege of adults – which is where the good people at Deer Shed Festival come in. Their particular brand of genius revolves around providing a surfeit of proper bands so that Mum and Dad can be exposed to a year’s worth of good new music and also have a ramble down their musical memory lane, whilst the children get up to all sorts of shenanigans with drumming workshops, making things out of string, and learning the occasional naughty bottom joke.

Deer Shed’s musical programming has always been high quality and eclectic, and this year promises the same. The general musical theme of each day at previous Deer Sheds has been as follows: Friday is party night, Saturday is mostly guitar-based, with a sprinkling of Dadrock, and Sunday is most definitely chill-out-with-a-bacon-sandwich time. This year seems to our ears a little more guitar-centric than previous, so don’t forget the kids’ ear defenders!

Friday night sees hip-hop making its first Deer Shed appearance in the form of Dan le Sac, bringing beat poetry into the 21st century with the help of his partner in beats DJ Scroobius Pip. Headlining the other stages are perennial indie favourites British Sea Power, and underground darlings Wolf Alice. Try not to miss Toy and Pins either. Saturday is the day where all manner of shenanigans break loose, with a full programme of music only half the story. TGTF’s band picks are Leeds’ Post War Glamour Girls, husband-wife ’80s revivalists Summer Camp, London slackers Happyness, the superb French arch-pop of We Were Evergreen (in a rare return to Baldersby) and the ex-Beta Band Steve Mason, second on the bill only to Johnny Marr, who is sure to warm the cockles of dads of a certain age, perhaps reminding them of that 6th-form disco when they heard ‘How Soon Is Now’ for the first time – and when they still had hair…

But there’s far more to Saturday at Deer Shed than that. In fact, I’d say the kids get the best part of the deal, because while their parents are otherwise distracted, passively absorbing what’s on stage, the kids get to actively participate in some really cool stuff. Let’s consider workshops – the lucky blighters can variously make a castle, a cyborg teddy, a lolly stick trebuchet, a comic book, a princess costume, badges, bracelets, and pretty much anything out of clay. They can learn how to drum, perform circus feats, play the ukulele, and shoot a cocktail stick crossbow. And if that’s not enough they can watch as much slapstick and learn as many naughty jokes about bums that their little heads can handle. Particular standouts from the PG-rated comedy strand include the proptastic Wes Zaharuk, Paul Cookson and ex-Housemartin Stan Cullimore doing kid-friendly ukulele singalongs, and for the little ones a puppet show featuring the adorable Lulu – a sort of emu, but with Rod Hull nowhere to be seen.

Arts activities for adults include a spoken word strand curated by the Guardian’s Dave Simpson – check out ‘The Fallen on The Fall’, allegedly the most Fall musicians in the same room except actually in The Fall, or Saint Etienne‘s Bob Stanley discussing his book ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’: the complete story of the modern pop era, apparently. There’s all you ever wanted to know about The Wonder Stuff, and all you never thought to ask about Bradford’s musical history. If that’s all too much and you fancy slumping down in front of the big screen, there’s time travel-themed movies all weekend, culminating in 1920’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, with live piano accompaniment from the genius that is Darius Battiwalla. Almost worth the entrance fee alone.

Speaking of themes… Friday night sees the Time Travel Party get into full swing. What that involves isn’t clear, but we imagine one of two things – either remembering the date for the future when time travel machines have been invented, then going back in time to attend, or, perhaps the easier option, bring some clothing that was fashionable in the past, or perhaps will be fashionable in the future, and wear that to the party in an effort to convince fellow revellers that you really are from the future. Or perhaps the past. This time travel business gets confusing very quickly. What you under no circumstances must do is attend from both the present and the future – if your two selves meet, the very fabric of spacetime will be rent asunder – an event hardly conducive to a decent party. If anyone needs advising on the tricky details of time travel, no doubt Marty McFly will be on hand to help, and perhaps one or two generations of Dr Whos. Don’t forget to bring your flux capacitor.

Even though Deer Shed offers good value in musical terms even if you haven’t got kids, the whole point of the event is that it’s a place where the little blighters can let off steam and have some fun in a relatively safe environment, with both children and adults catered for in terms of activities. Even though other festivals have their kids offerings, Deer Shed has the need to keep kids entertained woven into its very DNA – it’s something it’s very good at indeed. Added to the fact that it’s never rained at Deer Shed in living memory… what more do you need to know?

 

Deer Shed Festival 2013: Day 3 Roundup

 
By on Monday, 12th August 2013 at 2:00 pm
 

Sunday is always chill-out day at Deer Shed, and the lineup today bears this out, with spoken word replacing the second stage, and less guitars all round. Indeed, more than once was the opinion mooted that Sunday’s main stage trifecta of AlascA (Amsterdam-based multi-instrumental folk), Moulettes (whose violin, cello and bassoon overlaid with a female duet take the string-based ensemble to places never before suspected possible) and the genteel lilting of Fifer King Creosote neatly summarises the ideal vision of Deer Shed’s musical programming. But in parallel were two world-class multimedia performances in the Big Top tent. Despite a gulf in musical styles, Public Service Broadcasting and The Unthanks (presenting ‘Songs From the Shipyards’) are thematic bedfellows, both utilising the emotional power of historical events to both inspire the music itself and take part in directly it via audio samples and video clips.

I’ve already reviewed Public Service Broadcasting at a recent headline show – suffice to say that the reception at Deer Shed was no less rapturous than that in Newcastle. People just lap them up. What does become apparent on a second reading is the subtle differences in each performance – it’s easy to assume that given the sequenced and sampled nature of the songs, that they sit within a rigid framework. However, on careful examination, it’s clear that Wilgoose and Wrigglesworth are delivering a genuine performance, with all the natural variation that implies. Even more impressive, then, that they can manage such a note-perfect performance every time. The only slight slip-up this time around was the demise of a snare drum skin, and even that mishap was an opportunity for more merriment from the now-famous sampled voice. “Silly boy!”

‘Songs From The Shipyards’ is a collection of songs, mostly covers, chosen to accompany a compilation of short films curated by Richard Fenwick, telling the story of the past century of British shipbuilding, with a particular focus on the Swan Hunter yard at Wallsend in North Tyneside. Arranged chronologically, each section has a title (“Taking on Men”, “Big Steamers”, “The Strikes”), and most have an accompanying song of the same name, although some sections retain the narrative soundtrack of the source film. The visuals are deeply compelling in themselves: the immense physical presence and forthright majesty of a newly-built ship towering over rows of humble Tyneside terraces is unforgettable; the very enormity and power of heavy engineering writ large on a cinema screen is a thrill in itself. But The Unthanks’ poignant performance heightens the mood and deepens the emotional response – over the course of the hour the 100-year history of modern British shipbuilding is laid bare, from the early glory days to its slow, painful decline.

The Unthanks have an otherworldly knack of taking a song about what on the face of it might appear a dry or unglamorous subject, and by their powers of delivery elevate it to as glorious a height as is possible in music, comparable in emotional impact with midnight Mass at Westminster Cathedral, or the Berliner Philharmoniker delivering the final bars of Ravel’s Bolero. In other words, the definitive performance of a piece, by which all others must be judged. In a nice plug for Deer Shed, Mark Radcliffe had already tweaked the expectation skywards in demonstrating what The Unthanks are capable of by playing ‘King Of Rome’ in its full 7-minute glory on his 6music show just a few days before, a song which begs the question: if grown men can be brought to tears by a song about a single pigeon, how much more impactful can a 1-hour cycle about events which involved thousands of people be?

The performance is intended to be taken as a whole, but one can pick out moments of particular note: local singer-songwriter Jez Lowe’s ‘Black Trade’ enumerates trades long forgotten: boilersmiths, platemen, riggers, coppersmiths; skills which used to be commonly found within shipbuilding communities, giving each specialist a sense of pride and place – now, if they exist at all, it is only in tiny pockets of endeavour, a loss which, like so much described here, has had a profound effect on the very fabric of society. ‘Big Steamers’ takes Rudyard Kipling’s peerless words, profoundly evocative in their sense of time and place, and frames them in a delicately unsettling call-and-response arrangement:

[call]
Then I’ll build a new lighthouse for all you big steamers
With plenty wise pilots to pilot you through

[response]
Oh the channel’s as bright as a ballroom already
And pilots are thicker than pilchards at Looe

all accompanied by Adrian McNally’s grand piano which gathers in portent as the song reaches its uncomfortable denouement. A true highlight in a figurative sea of excellence.

This year marks 110 years since the zenith of Wallsend shipbuilding – the birth of Cunard’s pioneering ocean liner RMS Mauretania, a ship who not only held the Transatlantic speed record for an impressive 22 years, but played a significant part in the success of the Great War effort as a troop-, and latterly hospital-ship. Indeed, the grandeur and optimism of Tyneside shipbuilding truly belongs to the pre-WWII period. By 1966 the government’s Geddes Committee found that British prices for tankers and bulk carriers were uncompetitive, and the industry was rife with inefficiency and industrial disputes. Governments of all stripes tried various means of artificial support: Conservative Edward Heath included support for shipyards in his ultimately futile package of generous Keynesian giveaways in 1972, none of which were enough to give the economy any more than a brief respite from its downward slide, or indeed save his own political fortunes. Even if the shipyards had been in tip-top condition, the further deterioration in the British economy under the watch of the wafer-thin Labour government of Heath-Callaghan, culminating in 1978’s “Winter of Discontent” and the three-day-week, would have been enough to discourage even the most enthusiastic customer of Tyneside shipbuilding from placing an order.

In a move guaranteed to bring even more disruption to an already unstable industry, Labour’s 1977’s Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act brought swathes of Britain’s heavy manufacturing under forced public ownership, a move too rich even for champagne socialist Alfred Robens, ex-chairman of the National Coal Board, who previously oversaw a more than 50% reduction in Britain’s coal mining workforce. Quite why the government at the time thought they could run shipbuilding better than the private owners is unclear. What is apparent is that all they touched turned to rust: in just five years of public ownership half of Britain’s shipyards had shut, and a mess of recrimination festered over compensation for the forced takeovers. After building over 100 warships, including HMS Illustrious in 1978, and HMS Ark Royal in 1981, Wallsend’s shipbuilding came to an ignominious end in 2006 with the half-finished RFA Lyme Bay being towed to Govan for completion after delays and cost overruns. To date no further ships have been laid at Wallsend, and it is unlikely any more will.

Richard Fenwick’s selection of news footage touches on the industrial disputes that inevitably rose during the industry’s slow but steady decline. We see picket lines, dire warnings of the potential consequences of strikes and workers’ opposition to modernisation; most poignant is a section which shows unedited soundbites from the workers themselves. They are clearly being prompted, given lines which on paper sound optimistic, but their unconvincing delivery tells a very different story. Margaret Thatcher even pops up as the pantomime villain, but in truth no government could have stopped the rot: even if Thatcher had been minded to prop up the industry with subsidy, European rules forbade it. Not a restriction that the Far Eastern shipyards suffered, and one which highlights Britain’s uneasy subjugation under the European parliament which continues to this day.

Even though on the surface this is a story about Tyneside and its people, the same arc of proud rise followed by slow, bitter collapse can be traced through the majority of once-great British industry. Given Britain was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, single-handedly inventing modern industrial practice, it is a particularly cruel irony that those skills that she taught the world should be used to destroy their practice in their seat of invention. The consequent loss of employment and income has done untold harm to countless regional communities, a great many of which now linger in a curious netherworld of state-sponsored vacuity from which it is next to impossible to escape.

Wallsend itself survives as a community, but only just. The once-proud shipbuilding workforce has either retired early, or moved on to take lower-skilled and lower-paid employment elsewhere. Many ex-labourers are resigned to a lifetime of benefits and poor health, having no useful skills outside shipbuilding and being too old to retrain. Diabetes is rife; the local discount bulk snack-food shop does a roaring trade, dishing out refined sugars and saturated fat to a population either too ill-informed to know better, or too bitterly resigned to care. Many school-leavers face a dismal prospect of menial work or call-centre purgatory – the skilled apprenticeships provided by the shipyards are sorely missed.

Thusly, ‘Songs From the Shipyards’ is an important piece of living history: a fine tribute to a once-proud industry and the people that served it. Never again will their like be seen again; the world has moved on, and it is the responsibility of everyone to move with it. The region is lucky to have such a vigorous history, and such fine musicians to remind us of it. Not only remembered, but celebrated.

As is the Deer Shed way, no sooner had such cerebral thoughts coalesced, they were rudely set aside in favour of constructing a novel yet vaguely functional monotonal wind instrument from an enormous pile of plastic plumbing pipes. Earlier I had shared in the wonder of an 18-month-old boy watching a vintage tractor drive a machine which crushed large stones into smaller ones. Rather a highlight of the weekend, both for him and me. The soft play area was very popular, to say nothing of home-made elastic-band-propelled buggies, and a tree made out of plastic piping with CDs for leaves. A number of mysterious machines made an appearance throughout the weekend, best described through the power of photography, but particularly notable was the bench upon which two humanoid robots sat perfectly still – until an unsuspecting human sat between them, at which point their heads turned towards you in a gently unsettling manner. For the older kids there was soldering practice, Raspberry Pi programming, actual robotics, and a brilliant Scrapheap Challenge.

As we ambled away from the site to begin the journey home to the comforting strains of King Creosote, it was time for reflection on how Deer Shed 2013 had treated us. There were some hiccups – the bar was too small and ran out of several beers, the campsite shop was deeply underwhelming, and it did actually rain a bit on Sunday morning. But everything else was as pretty close to perfect as a family-friendly festival gets. 2013 might be the year that Deer Shed comes of age – the biggest crowd, some site jiggery-pokery, but they didn’t lose the essential friendliness, and even cosiness, that defines the event. Well done to all the organisers, and the numerous volunteers who worked all weekend to things running as we were all having a great time. Early bird tickets for 2014 go on sale in September for what will undoubtedly be a bargainacious price – snap them up and I’ll see you there!

 

Deer Shed Festival 2013: Day 2 Roundup

 
By on Monday, 5th August 2013 at 2:00 pm
 

Saturday at Deer Shed Festival 2013 dawns bright and sunny again, and the search for sustenance before the day gets properly going commences. Now, on that topic, a word about Thomas the Baker. The esteemed purveyor of sweetmeats was on target for being absent this year, for reasons unknown. But at the last minute, their attendance was announced, to the delight of those of us who consider a cheese straw and a sausage roll to be a delicious and satisfying snack. And Thomas does the best in the business. But the real highlight of their range is quite the definitive Yorkshire curd tart, the reference for all other boulangers to aspire to. The place wouldn’t have been the same without them, so as a personal favour, please can Thomas and Deer Shed never part? Thanks.

Blood Relatives continue the Scottish flavour which continues throughout the weekend. They are a very young four-piece from Glasgow trading in summery, jangly tunes, who wouldn’t be out of place on Edwyn Collins’ Postcard Records. Along with deep-fried pizza and brutalist council estates, it’s the sort of thing that Glasgow churns out seemingly without effort. First and only single ‘Dead Hip’ sums up their sound – all chiming guitars, intertwining vocals and clever wordplay. Lovely to listen to, and the perfect way to ease into a long day of music, but perhaps their chip-off-the-old-block stylings mean they need a few more releases before they can stand apart from the immense back catalogue that their part of the world carries. (3.5/5)

Moving from Scotland’s west to its east coast, the four young lads that make up Bwani Junction bat away various technical problems to deliver an energetic, good-humoured set of funky guitar pop with chiming, trebly, afrobeat-inspired guitar overlay. Latest single ‘Papa Candy’ actually gets pretty heavy in places, whilst maintaining a surreal edge (“The milkman is evil,” anyone?) There’s a hint of ‘London Calling’-era Clash in their mashup of styles – the backbone of punk is ever-present, the world music influences keep things fresh, but their essence lies in observational songwriting in the vein of Arctic Monkeys. A great find. (4/5)

Spring Offensive are no stranger to these pages; we reviewed them just over a year ago when they were touring single ‘Worry Fill My Heart’. Back then they seemed destined to be the next big band to come out of Oxford. Today… is it my imagination or have they perhaps lost a bit of their sheen? The WWII threads have been all but abandoned; today there’s less of a sense of genuine menace and portent that they are capable of at their best. Losing a superb bass player into the ravenous clutches of Gaz Coombes can’t have helped matters. Although it may all be down to the incongruity of it being a sunny afternoon at a family festival, a point acknowledged when they launch into ‘The River’, a particularly maudlin affair with the chorus “I suggest you slide into the river / like the rat that you are”. Hello children, everywhere. Nobody else does a sense of modern despair like Spring Offensive, as they evoke grey clock-watching employees and care-worn lovers with ease on ‘52 Miles’. All told, Spring Offensive not quite firing on all cylinders is still of a level of quality that many bands would envy. (4/5)

Zervas and Pepper are a Welsh singer-songwriter duo – you may have heard their latest single ‘Jerome’ being promoted by Lauren Laverne on her 6music show just the previous day. An atmospheric slice of country rock straight outta the 1970s, ‘Jerome’ is named after the eponymous Arizona town, a place which neatly summarises the music’s windswept desolation. The obvious reference point for the combination of acoustic and electric guitars, and the mid-tempo vibe is Neil Young’s ‘After the Gold Rush’ period; there’s a touch of psychedelia in the spacey reverbs and multi-layered backing vocals that previously Young had the exclusive rights to – not anymore! What’s most impressive is how genuine the sound of giant-sky Americana being conjured actually is, considering the protagonists aren’t from round those parts. ‘Somewhere In The City’ is a brilliant primer as to the power of Z&P – a beautiful acoustic guitar intro, those fantastically widescreen vocals throughout, and even a flute solo all add up to a beautifully atmospheric piece as good as anything released in the 1970s by proper Americans in big cowboy hats. (4/5)

To Kill a King’s Ralph Pellymounter proudly strides onstage wearing a Brudenell Social Club t-shirt – a badge of honour that obliquely declares the band’s city of origin, and also pays homage to the cult music venue nestled in terraced Leeds suburbia which continues to play an important role in the development and support of local bands. In which category To Kill a King are the latest, and perhaps one of the best. In Pellymounter, they have a deeply charismatic, if unusually-bearded frontman, whose infectious smile and direct eye-contact enchants the audience from the very beginning.

Musically, TKAK are from the stable of Noah and the Whale (close your eyes and it could be Charlie Fink on vocals), and (whisper it) Mumford and Sons, but dispense with the cod-folk stylings of the latter in favour of a far more contemporary approach. The majority of debut album ‘Cannibals With Cutlery’ is played: something like ‘Funeral’ (perhaps a nod of gratitude to Arcade Fire there?) has the radio-friendly sheen of melody and climax of the aforementioned megabands, but still manages to carry a reasonably complex message; ‘Besides She Said’ manages to be romantic without ever resorting to saccharine sweetness. If everyone who owned a Mumford’s CD replaced it with something by To Kill a King, the world would be a better place. (4/5)

I’ve discussed the importance of The House of Love elsewhere on this site (read the retrospective here), so I won’t go into too much detail here. Suffice to say that Guy Chadwick looks older than one would expect, and could do with a decent manicure. Terry Bickers has lost nothing of his legendary guitar skill, and could pass for a close relative of Bernard Butler both in looks and playing style. Perhaps it’s simply the power of familiarity, but the old songs sound stronger and in a way fresher than the post-reformation material. Time hasn’t dulled the power of an anthemic ‘Shine On’, and ‘Beatles and Stones’ works brilliantly live. Much as with Edwyn Collins, I suspect a neutral listener may not appreciate the portent of it all, but in its proper context, any performance by The House Of Love is special. (4/5)

It’s fair to say that Darwin Deez is hardly a household name, so perhaps an odd choice for headliner. But if there were any doubts as to his ability to carry a top billing, a few blasts of virtuoso guitar work instantly dispel them. Deez specialises in funky, jazz-inflected ditties with witty, observational lyrics and regular forays into complex fretwork. Comparisons with Prince are to a certain extent valid: they both share an ability to conjure a potent blend of funk, soul and rock, even if Deez doesn’t quite aspire to the vast artifice that is ‘Purple ‘Rain’ live. Neither does he carry the massive ego: everything is deported in a humble manner, even when at his highest level of fret-shredding. An ambitious choice of headliner for a Yorkshire family festival, but an inspired one – in his 90 minutes, Deez really does turn in a wide-ranging performance; yes, heavy on the guitar but also carrying a full-on party vibe, which gets the crowd all worked up for… (4/5)

DJ Smoove is the production brain who, along with John Turrell, make up the creative heart of Tyneside funketeers Smoove and Turrell. After their live set earlier on in the day, Smoove is back for a two-hour DJ set of old-school tunes, to keep the crowd (mostly dads who have escaped the family tent for a bit of out-of-hours boogieing) going into the small hours. And thanks be to the God of DJing, because Smoove brings to the party those increasingly rare accessories – a pair of turntables and several circular black plastic discs commonly known as records, which I believe are still used occasionally by those who learned their DJing trade before the advent of CDs and the various digital shenanigans commonly seen on a DJ’s desk. Smoove totes a couple of decks and a mixer, nary a Macbook in sight, and his set is all the better for it. His set ranges through soul, funk and house, blended with beatmixing and proper vinyl scratching that’s simply world-class. He may not be a household name, but DJ Smoove is a class act on the decks. (5/5)

 

Deer Shed Festival 2013: Day 1 Roundup

 
By on Thursday, 25th July 2013 at 2:00 pm
 

Right in the middle of his Saturday night headline set at Deer Shed Festival 2013, Darwin Deez brought his band to the front of the stage, and all four men lined up in silence. Then a metronomic electro beat kicked in, and they began to move. Initially, just an arm would go up in response to a recorded note. Then each dancer took on a musical motif as his own, limbs locked in time with the music, until they were a blur of moving body parts, aligned in rhythm but diverse in motion, as if the internal workings of a wristwatch. It spiralled from there: in pairs, each couple chiding the other – using nothing but the power of dance – to even higher levels of highly-skilled yet light-hearted boogie-banter. It was a moment that summed up the entire ethos of Deer Shed Festival: do something fun; do it well; do it with the unselfconscious devotion of a child. And if it involves putting a cardboard box on one’s head and pretending to be a robot, so much the better.

Rewind a day or so, and the famously clement Deer Shed weather made putting up a tent both a pleasure and a chore – baking hot sunshine is perfect when the work of tent-erection is over, cold beer in hand, but slightly less enjoyable whilst in the process of whacking tent pegs into baked-hard ground. Still, it beats rain in any form, and Deer Shed still has a 100% record for no significant rain at any of the four events so far, a record which leaves many festivals blushing with envy. The site itself was significantly rearranged this year, cleverly making use of Baldersby Park’s natural bowl-shaped amphitheatre, although this sadly leaves the eponymous Shed outside the arena, looking very much unloved and forlorn. Perhaps it could be brought into use for… ooh, I don’t know… housing deer for the weekend?

Gaz Coombes Deer Shed 2013

No sooner was the tent upstanding then it was time for music. First up was Gaz Coombes, late of Supergrass, and what a superb opening gambit he turned out to be. His recent work, as chronicled in long-player ‘Here Comes the Bombs’, was very much in evidence, as expected, as was heartbreaking recent single ‘One Of These Days’. Songs such as the sub-3-minute stomper ‘Whore’, and the more circumspect, spacey almost-prog of ‘Universal Cinema’, were rapturously received by a crowd who appeared initially not to know quite what to expect.

What they got was a spectacular performance from a well-drilled and vastly experienced practitioner of alternative guitar-pop. A lady or two might have swooned at the sight of his impressively-sideburned visage. Imagine the delight of the crowd when treated to an acoustic interlude of a couple of Supergrass numbers, including the divine ‘Moving’, which excels when given a stripped back treatment. Then imagine that delight transforming into headbanging ecstasy when the very last song turns out to be the storming ‘Richard III’ from Supergrass’ sophomore release. Not a brow was left unsweaty. (5/5)

Edwyn Collins Deer Shed 2013

By chance, a member of our entourage is acquainted with a good friend of Edwyn Collins, and from him has learned how devastating the double cerebral haemorrhage and subsequent complications Collins suffered in 2005 actually were. Thusly, we’re under no illusions about how impressive it is that he’s here at all. Which makes reviewing his performance a little tricky. Collins himself isn’t overly mobile, his right side clearly considerably weakened. He sits on an amplifier throughout and plays no instrument. He has an odd way of speaking – in short, sharp facts rather than conversational sentences. His speech is slurred. Yet here he is, confidently headlining. It cannot be overestimated how significant an achievement that is, and a tribute to Collins’ efforts of rehabilitation. Such sentiment is largely irrelevant, however, in the context of musical criticism. And whilst on the surface this could be a difficult listen – a bald reading of some relatively obscure songs from a man who slurs his words and is liberal in his approach to perfect pitch – anyone with even a casual familiarity with his work will appreciate the resonance of this performance as a whole.

The set ranges widely over Collins’ long career – the white funk of his Orange Juice period still sounds fresh in ‘What Presence?’, time hasn’t dulled ‘Gorgeous George’’s edge, but it’s the new, post-illness material that’s most impressive. We get a smattering from 2010’s superb Losing Sleep LP, including the Northern Soul-influenced title track and the touchingly romantic ‘In Your Eyes’. But the best bits come from this year’s ‘Understated’. If Collins’ voice is damaged, his ear for a tune is still factory-fresh. There’s a strong autobiographical thread running through his newest songs: ‘31 Years’ and ‘Understated’ are barely-concealed musings on his past, his achievements, and what the future might hold, all bound together with expert songcraft. Bad health may have robbed Collins of his ability to play his cherished guitars, but it has thankfully left his musical brain intact. A performance for connoisseurs, but what it lacked in accessibility it made up for in depth. (4/5)

A particular highlight of last year was Darius Battiwalla’s piano accompaniment to the eerie ‘Nosferatu’. This year, Darius was back with 1925’s ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. ‘Phantom’ tells the story of Erik, a hideously deformed figure who lives deep in the bowels of an opera house, falls in love with a leading lady, and proceeds to terrorise all those who would stand in his way. A disturbing portrait of manic depression, it contains some genuinely chilling scenes, notably the casual way Erik dispenses with his first underground caller.

The production is astonishing even when viewed with a jaded modern eye – the subterranean lair is a romantic gothic masterpiece, and the restrictions of black and white film are used to its advantage when portraying the inky blackness of water, and by the use of tints to reinforce the emotional context of a scene. Battiwalla’s playing is an absolute joy, so expertly reflecting the on-screen action, one could close one’s eyes and imagine how the story was developing. Beautiful melodic vignettes of disparate theme, pitch and tempo flow together to create a seamless soundtrack, all the more impressive for being played without sheet music. Cinema doesn’t get any better than this. (5/5)

Head on over to Martin’s Flickr for high-res versions of his photos taken at this year’s Deer Shed Festival.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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