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Deer Shed Festival 2015 Review (Part 2)

 
By on Wednesday, 12th August 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

To catch up on part 1 of Martin’s coverage of Deer Shed Festival 2015, head this way.

Saturday at Deer Shed Festival belongs to the kids. The workshops are in full flow, the bizarre moving sculptures are operated to the verge of destruction, and the bubble man does well to escape being trampled to death by a million over-excited feet. As if seen through the eyes of a 3-year-old child, this is what we did: “We went first to the craft and singing tent. We made a bug out of pipe cleaners and some foam. We watched the singing but didn’t join in because we were shy. We found a table with some ink stamps and played with those, including stamping our own arm. We met a friendly but slightly scary man who taught us how to make a really good paper aeroplane. Daddy helped me make it. Then we stood on top of a really high platform and threw the aeroplane down to Mummy. It flew really well!

“We watched some older children make computer-controlled Lego robots that moved by themselves. They looked very exciting! I’ll play with those myself when I’m a bit older. Daddy helped me cut out some cardboard fins that we stuck to a bottle of water to make a rocket. Then a man put it on a launcher, pumped it up and we counted down from 10. When everyone shouted “Lift-off!” I pressed the button and my rocket shot into the air and landed on the roof of the tent! It was the best rocket of all! I’ve still got it in my bedroom.

“We saw a big table full of metal toys that Daddy said was Meccano, and we bolted some bits together to make a flying helicopter chair. Then we played with the bubbles that the bubble lady made. She could make lots of bubbles all at the same time! Then Daddy bought me a bubble saxophone so I could make my own bubbles. Then we were all very tired so we went for a sit down.” Phew. There’s some great stuff for all ages, and particularly for the older kids the wackier sideshows – like the battle game that uses a measure of brain activity to move a ball back and forth – seem particularly unique. And I’d single out Andy Chipling and his expert method of folding a paper aeroplane for giving this particular big kid a skill that I’d always wanted to refine but never been able to. Ten minutes well spent!

At Deer Shed, it’s folly to make a long list of ‘must-see’ bands. Who you can actually get to see very much depends on circumstances, rather than forward planning. One or two of our group ‘saw’ no bands in the conventional sense: there was plenty of music in the background, but they had the good grace to be guided by the needs of their kids, rather than chasing down the music. Having said that, this is how some of the bands went down on Saturday.

In the Lodge stage it was Celtic day. The Pictish Trail is Johnny Lynch, who hails from Eigg and lulls us all into a false sense of security by making his first few numbers gentle acoustic ditties. Which had me reading my programme with incredulity: “This is supposed to have electronica in it!” All good things come to those who wait, however, as all of sudden Johnny breaks out the drum machine and wild synth sounds: add in a dose of surrealist humour and all is well with the world.

Hinds are brilliant on the main stage. The four Madrid girls create dreamy garage songs perfect for languid singalongs…if anyone knew the words. Actually, ‘Davey Crockett’ is pretty simple to sing. And play, by the sounds of its three chords. This sort of thing is widely called lo-fi, although that relates more to the relaxed vibe than any reflection on their sound quality. A lovely slice of sunny Spanish insouciance. All Tvvins are a Dublin trio who make spacey slices of bass-heavy electro-pop. The guitarists comprehensive pedal board tells its own story – the guitar work is heavy on the delay, rapid strums generating a wide soundscape that brings to mind another Edge-y son of Ireland’s fair city. Superb toe-tapping stuff.

It’s tradition not to have rain at Deer Shed, but tradition went out of the window this year as the heavens opened mid-afternoon. Given that two of the stages were under cover meant that, if anything, more people got to see more music. But what of the main stage? If there was any band that could entice punters out from under canvas to have a boggy boogie, it’s Dutch Uncles, and they don’t disappoint. If there’s a sharper band this side of the equator, I’d like to hear them. Duncan Wallis’ remarkable body moves never fail to impress, and he does well to throw them given the increasingly slippery stage. Those that braved the rain were rewarded a couple of songs in with a break in the cloud, waterproofs steaming in the sunshine. I can’t be far off double figures seeing Dutch Uncles now, and every time it feels like a treat. Their music is fractal-like: no matter how familiar one thinks one is with it, each repeat listen reveals further hidden details, whether they be time signature changes, details of instrumentation, or lyrical insights. A fine achievement.

Damien Dempsey‘s none-more-Irish passionate delivery is the discovery of the festival for me, for three very important reasons: 1. You know exactly what he’s saying, at all time. 2. He talks about stuff that is relevant, and real, to everyone who has to suffer the human condition. 3. He means – properly means – every word he sings. He stridently complains about the historical treatment of the Irish (and half the rest of the world) on ‘Colony’; you might not agree with his interpretation of history, but you can’t deny how effective a cheerleader he is for the dispossessed. ‘Serious’ paints a brilliantly-acted picture of a malicious drug dealer trying to convince an innocent to sample his wares in a seedy Irish pub using a narration with a spectacular Dublin accent. Really powerful stuff, with hints of two Bobs – Geldof’s uncompromising attitude and Dylan’s storytelling passion.

And so we come to the pinnacle of the entire festival, John Grant: in his own catty way, one of the least appropriate headliners for a child-friendly festival this side of Marilyn Manson. The entirety of sweary solo début ‘Queen of Denmark’ is devoted to documenting his drug, alcohol and homosexual relationship problems. Granted, this isn’t your usual bargain-bin autobiography, illustrated as it is with beautiful piano playing and lucid wordplay, but still. Thank goodness my kids are too young to pick up on lines like “I’ll sell your Grandma on the street to buy crack”, “that little ass of yours looks just like food”, or crowd favourite “I casually mention that I pissed in your coffee”. What’s that man singing about, Daddy?

What people want as their reward after spending £200 to drag the kids around a field all day is to stand, sit or lie down together in the darkness to something that they know, can sing along to, and can feel good about, preferably something that reminds them of the fun they had in the years BK. Not some lonely chap complaining about his boyfriend’s inadequacies, regardless of how eloquently those sentiments are expressed. After Johnny Marr‘s triumph last year, the hope was that future years would essentially duplicate the pattern for well-regarded contemporary indie band on Friday for men of a certain age, big name from the parents’ past on Saturday for everyone. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Whilst there will have been true fans of both headliners in the crowd, neither were the unifying force that one would ideally want, which is a bit of a shame.

Deer Shed isn’t even close to being all about the music. But the music is an integral part of the experience (and the price), otherwise we’d just take the kids to scout camp and sit around rubbing sticks together and singing Kumbaya. Of course it’s a little churlish to criticise an event that gets so much right, but the headliners have such a dominant influence over the feel of the whole event, who plays at the top of the bill really matters. Having said all that, in 2015 Deer Shed joined the big time – in common with the vastly bigger festivals we all know about, regardless of the headliners, people flock to Deer Shed because they love the vibe, they love the company, and they love the setting – chilled out, friendly, and beautiful. What more could you ask for?

 

Deer Shed Festival 2015 Review (Part 1)

 
By on Tuesday, 28th July 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

Like the cohorts of children that carouse within its boundaries, Deer Shed Festival grows up perceptibly every year. This time the powers that be had the astute notion to shift the whole affair a week later in the calendar to encompass the school holidays, thus making it much easier for parents with school-age kids to arrive early in the day. A happy by-product was that the festival sold out for the first time. Result!

So by Friday lunchtime, the site was mostly full: an impressive achievement considering the stresses involved in corralling over-excited children. Having said all that, over a Deer Shed weekend one inevitably misses several sets of essential music due to the inconvenient timing of a child needing a toilet stop, meal break, or perhaps having fallen in the lake.

First on the list of oh-no-is-that-the-time-I’m-going-to-miss-them-now sets was Diagrams, who played at the deeply unsociable hour of half past 5 in the afternoon. Luckily, however, our group had decided to camp next to the eponymous Shed itself, which location, apart from having grass rendered pungently musky by the recently vacated permanent residents, had a direct line-of-hearing from the main stage. So I can confidently say that Diagrams’ set was a triumph, Sam Genders’ tales of adulthood working just as well as festival pieces they do being mused over headphones. The songs were a bit beefier played by a live band, which did them no harm at all, and their breezily jaunty rhythms were a perfect way to kick the weekend off.

Black Rivers, a band for one obvious reason particularly close to TGTF’s heart, were up next, and thankfully experienced in person. They really are very much like Doves, except the bass player is now right-handed. So you know what to expect – a touch of bagginess, tinges of electronica, lots of lovely melodies, and they played one or two Doves tunes. You know the one… oh, the name escapes me now…

Parents hoping for their kids to have an undisturbed night’s sleep would have done well to avoid Du Blonde’s ferocious set: all red lipstick, skin-tight leggings and diva attitude, it’s enough to give even big kids some weird, if not unpleasant, dreams. To be fair, in addition to the noisy stuff, Beth Jean Houghton‘s ballads are arguably even stronger pieces of music, so she’s got the bases covered. As reinventions go, this one has been particularly successful. For any fan of the assertive young lady musician – and even though it’s a cliché I have to make a comparison to PJ Harvey – Ms Blonde is officially the Real Deal.

And so we turn leftwards to Billy Bragg. Granted, some people like him, in the same way as some people like cold showers or running marathons. Worthy causes, but are they truly enjoyable leisure activities? Or is the best part about it the smug sense of satisfaction afterwards, personified by being able to wear the t-shirt for the next 5 years? Personally, I can’t stand the chap, what with his clangy Telecaster and unreconstructed Red Wedge politics. And while Bragg is a fair booking at a bigger event, where those of us who gladly left politics lectures behind in our teens can wander off in search of more welcoming, funky fare, to plonk him at the very head of the bill, with nothing else available on any of the other three stages for the best part of two hours, is bad planning at best, and deliberately divisive at worst. None of our group, including one or two whose politics may coincide with that which Bragg espouses, were remotely bothered about his music. Just as we’d been released from the shackles of childcare, there was nothing to party to. Bummer. So a long wait by the bar until…

…the true headliners of the night appeared. Holy Moly & The Crackers are a band whom it’s impossible to dislike, and easy to love. Lead singer and violinist Ruth has beauty in her soul and her voice, the music is a clever combination of traditional English folk and off-beat Baltic rhythms, and it worked perfectly in a packed Obelisk tent, the crowd united by a love of inclusive music and the basic instinct to have a boogie. After an hour of breathtaking hoe-downs, everyone seemed in agreement – that’s how you do a headliner.

Tomorrow at Deer Shed 2015: it’s the turn of the kids!

 
 
 

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