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Deer Shed Festival 2012 Review (Part 2)

By on Thursday, 2nd August 2012 at 2:00 pm

Part 1 of Martin’s report from Deer Shed Festival 2012 is right this way.

After an extended bedtime story, only Villagers are left. The skies appropriately dark, Conor J O’Brien comes across as an indie Harry Potter, his young, slight frame variously bashing the bejeezus out of a parlour guitar and mourning into his microphone. There’s something distinctly eerie about the band – take the midnight-steam-train harmonies at the end of ‘Ship of Promises’: there’s nothing quite like its collective microtoned dissonance this side of a Steve Reich score; guitar strings are bent out of tune or played deliberately a semitone out, adding to the sense of unease. For a young man, O’Brien has plenty of deep concerns – there’s not much sense of sunlight here, with clanging drums and portentious lyrics – even with the occasional lighter musical moment, the sense of dread isn’t far away. Or maybe it’s the chilly night air making it all seem more dramatic than it actually is.

In any event, Villagers are the perfect warm-up act to one of the unsung highlights of the festival – a midnight showing of the seminal 1922 German vampire film Nosferatu, accompanied by live, improvised piano from virtuoso cinephile Darius Battiwalla. Groundbreaking in many ways, Nosferatu was almost lost to history when all prints were ordered to be destroyed for infringing the copyright of Dracula, upon which its story is based. Luckily, a handful of copies survived, saving the profoundly disturbing lead character (who remains genuinely frightening even in this desensitized era of plentiful gore) from an end more ignominious than that which finally befalls him in the film. The piano accompaniment rises and falls beautifully in tandem with the narrative of the film, Battiwalla note-perfect for almost two hours. A rare treat.

Despite the official theme of Monsters, Deer Shed’s actual theme, on Sunday at least, is ‘chilling out’. Rarely does a festival achieve such an atmosphere of relaxation, with seemingly every guest either lazing in a camping chair or sprawled on a rug under the non-stop sunshine. In tribute to the genius of the programmers, Sunday’s musical menu was perfectly judged for such an atmosphere. French obscuro-popsters We Were Evergreen tantalised with exotic accents and quirky tunes, and were thought by many to be a particular highlight.

Malcolm Middleton’s new act Human Don’t Be Angry was controversially ignored in favour of a spoken-word event – music journalist Dorian Lynskey and Chumbawamba guitarist Boff Whalley discussing the history of protest music. Lynskey was here partly to promote his book on the subject, 33 Revolutions Per Minute – A History Of Protest Songs; nevertheless his analysis was the highlight of the discussion, which proceeded at a leisurely pace, possibly hindered somewhat by the warmth of the tent. The usual suspects of the Sex Pistols and Crass were brought up, David Cameron’s sincerity in claiming he likes The Smiths was called into question (the conclusion was: he probably said that because he actually does like them), and Boff Whalley described how the introduction of fame to a previously obscure band like Chumbawamba changes your career path so much that you end up assaulting the corpulent frame of the Deputy Prime Minister. It was all interesting stuff, and Lynskey clearly knows his subject, but the irony of such a polite conversation about what should be a shouty and emotive topic hung in the air like a swear word on prime-time television.

Leisureliness must have been in the air, because Cherry Ghost popped in a slow-burning set of hits accompanied by guitar and keyboards only. The full band wouldn’t have been appropriate given the horizontal nature of the crowd, but the full power of songs like ‘We Sleep on Stones’ and ‘Mathematics’ were a little lost. Still, a warm performance, and he does have loads of good tunes, so a fittingly chilled-out finale to the weekend.

All that said about the music, vast swathes of the punters couldn’t care less about the performances. For the kids, it was all about getting their picture taken with a man in a skeleton suit, making a cardboard guitar or a clay monster, learning to hula hoop, or simply playing inside a massive cardboard box. No mention here has been made of the numerous kid-friendly activities in the Deer Shed itself – the storytelling, the poetry, the spiders and snakes – because one can’t be two or three places at once. But suffice to say they happened, and from the reactions of the kids who saw them, they were brilliant.

Anything else of note? The food stalls were excellent – with two notable exemplars – the Lamb Bhuna of home-made curry purveyors Sizzle and Spice was, to my mind, the best I’d ever tasted, and the chef agrees, claiming it’s the best curry in the world right now. I’m not well-travelled enough on the subcontinent to be utterly certain of the veracity of that claim, but as someone who spent several years in Bradford, I can verify it’s right up there with the best of them. And Thomas the Bakers of Helmsley rocked up with their deliciously fresh fancy goods, with no festival-style price hikes, making the 60p they charge for a Yorkshire curd tart the bargain of the festival. It’s the little details that matter at Deer Shed – a secret insider informs me that mountains of metal roadways were hired before the festival began to ensure the heavy machinery required to install the tents didn’t mash up the then-boggy ground. But then they were removed so we could all relax on the grass – impressive stuff. And I am bound to say that all the stewards and volunteers were lovely, and the festival couldn’t happen without them. So give yourselves a big round of applause!

In these days of health and safety, and restrictive but genuine concerns about the safety of children when they’re out of sight, it can be very difficult to genuinely relax when the kids are let off the leash. Deer Shed is about as close as it gets to letting the kids run off with impunity, safe in the knowledge that they will return in one piece. There was the odd stressed parent as their charges had failed to return at the alloted time; I hope it’s fair to assume there was a tearful reunion not long after. In summary, Deer Shed comes heartily recommended for the whole family. Some festivals you need a holiday to recover from – Deer Shed is both holiday and festival wrapped up with a sunny smile. I will be back – with more people – next year.


Deer Shed Festival 2012 Review (Part 1)

By on Wednesday, 1st August 2012 at 2:00 pm

If required to choose three bands to invite to the apocryphal desert island for a night’s entertainment, one would be hard pressed to come up with a bill more satisfying than Moody Gowns, Janice Graham Band and Dutch Uncles. It is with a heavy heart, then, that I report that that superb line-up is exactly what I missed on Friday night at this year’s Deer Shed festival. Due to a combination of not being able to cut work early, having to perform a new tent’s virgin erection, and putting a little one to sleep in the big outdoors for the first time, the fantasy triumvirate was heard somewhat faintly from distance, and then only with the wavering consent of a fickle breeze.

When the dewy arena was finally breached, Saint Etienne were halfway through their headline set. Sadly, what sounded like a 120dB piledriver interrupted several songs, clearly deafening Sarah Cracknell and dampening what should have been a pillowy ride of joyous gossamer pop. However, no sooner had the main stage shut for the night, then a motley crew of folky songsters took up residence at the back of the ale tent, and kept everyone dancing in a happy, beery fug for until the wee small hours. Local brewers Daleside had come up with a signature Deer Shed ale; a fine drop which by rights required several tastings to reveal its true complexity of flavour. Fuelled by this and several sets of quality Celtic-tinged folk, the tent was still buzzing as TGTF meandered tentwards way past bedtime.

A quick word about the camping areas: in comparison to more populous events, Deer Shed has more camping space than campers, meaning that pretty much everyone gets to rent their own decent plot of prime grassy real estate for the weekend. I saw no cramped camping, except for those groups who chose to pitch together of free will. There were just about enough portaloos, and they were kept clean all weekend; no into-the-pit-of-Hades bravery required. Most campers were respectful of the need for quiet in the family camping, except for one group of morons who insisted on playing terrible songs on an out-of-tune acoustic guitar in the early hours of Sunday morning. Note to them: we’re here to hear professional, world-class musicians. Nobody wants to hear your sad, honking version of ‘Sonnet’ at 1am, you antisocial pricks. Family camping is for families, which implies children and parents getting some much-needed sleep. Children without their parents, like yourselves, should pitch up in regular camping, where your behaviour might be slightly more tolerated. /rant.

Saturday morning dawned with blazing sunshine, the like of which hadn’t been seen all year, adding to the discernibly special atmosphere which would develop over the course of the weekend. Dominated by a vintage Ferris wheel, and looking even better in the sunshine as it had in the dusk the previous night, the arena is simply one large field with facilities dotted around the edge, and the eponymous deer shed up in one corner, behind the main stage. Such is the compact nature of the site, one is never more than 5 minutes’ walk away from any particular attraction, making long drags from one band to another a thing of the past. A stroke of scheduling genius means that as soon as a performance finishes on the main stage, another starts in the tent directly opposite, making for a pretty much continuous flow of music. Ace.

There was so much other stuff going on at Deer Shed, it hardly seems appropriate to call it a music festival: festival with music sounds more accurate. However, this is a music site, so the bands will be reviewed properly. Please note: the nature of attending a festival with kids means that their needs come first; sometimes one has to skip a much-anticipated performance if a little one needs to be fed, changed, or put to bed. If an act is missing from this review, assume that they were missed out of necessity rather than choice. That being said, there was so much on offer, one never felt short-changed. First up, Washington Irving wake everyone up with their Scottish guitar-folk – think bedmates of Admiral Fallow, or moments of Travis on a good day with flutes and big harmony moments. A mellow, widescreen set: the sound of setting sail from Tobermory under an autumn sunrise.

A quick, 1-minute nip to the In The Dock tent, and it’s Woodenbox. These guys boast a mini horn section, just the ticket to jazz up their funkily-loping, ska-jumping sound (the band themselves call it Mariachi-folk). Kicking off with the darkly immense, New Orleans-jazz-infused ‘Everyone Has Their Price’, the tent was bouncing, straight off the bat. Several pieces off their EP ‘The Vanishing Act’ later, it was clear just what a powerful act Woodenbox are. Just two performances in, and the ‘New Band Of The Festival’ award already has a strong nomination.

Via an (un)holy combination of Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent competition and Mumford’s Ben Lovett’s Communion label, we have Treetop Flyers. Whilst they are perfectly fine entertainment in a laid-on-a-sunny-blanket-with-a-pint-of-cider way, one cannot help but think they’re simply a mashup Southern Gothic tribute band – there’s Crosby, Stills and Nash in plain earshot, and indeed plenty of Young in Reid Morrison’s voice. Utterly competent stuff, and possibly the next best thing to seeing Young in person. But when you’ve been exposed to the visceral, feedbacked intensity of a guitar-breaking performance by Young himself, utterly competent doesn’t quite cut it any more.

Laki Mera are in an entirely different league of originality – their sound is both electronic and organic, vintage synths vying with acoustic instruments and the silky tones of Laura Donnelly (pictured above and at top). Comparisons can be made (Massive Attack, Cocteau Twins, Bonobo); however the band have a sound entirely their own: each piece is crafted into a proper song, and it’s simply gorgeous to listen to. Donnelly herself is an excellent frontwoman, shaking her long hair with abandon, and emoting into the middle of next week. Chilled and powerful at the same time, Laki Mera are yet more evidence of the exciting music pouring out of Scotland at the moment.

Beth Jeans Houghton took the main stage attired in a natty purple leotard, tights fresh with mud from the previous day’s show, and proceeded to romp through most of this year’s ‘Yours Truly, Cellophane Noise’ released on Mute Records. Such singular material needs no introduction – indeed, no explanation is possible – suffice to say the performance was polished, if a little aloof. Perhaps familiarity has dulled Houghton’s enthusiasm for the songs, or the band are a little gigged-out, having been treading the boards for months on end now. It seems a reasonable guess that her character being as it is, BJH is far happier exploring new avenues and trying out novel material than playing the same set over and over. Such are the trials of pop stars.

Ah, Field Music. How on Earth such subtle, cerebral, detail-heavy, music can be delivered in such an exciting, danceable manner really is one of the small miracles of modern times. The band stick to the format of this spring’s ‘Plumb’ launch gigs, the opening movement of which introduces today’s set. A handful of favourites close it (‘Just Like Everyone Else’ is truly sublime live, a companion mood piece to The Beatles’ ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’). Sandwiched are a few favourites from albums gone by – ‘In Context’ jerks its way into the audience’s feet, the whole performance is warmly received, and judging by post-festival Facebook comments, Field Music deliver the set of the weekend. Weighing up the combination of perfect musicianship, strong, unique, material, and the Brewis brothers’ own easygoing manner, it’s difficult to disagree.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Martin’s experience at Deer Shed Festival, which will post tomorrow.


Preview: Deer Shed Festival 2012

By on Tuesday, 10th July 2012 at 9:30 am

There’s no doubt that a decent music festival is, at its best, an enjoyably classy way of passing a long weekend, offering as it does equal parts high culture, great outdoors, and the occasional moment of face-melting hedonism. Even though there are and will forever be rough-and-ready, pills ‘n’ beats ‘n’ beer festivals (T In The Park, Reading/Leeds, even some bits of Glastonbury – I’m looking at you), recent years have seen the rise of a subtly different breed of music festival. All too often tagged with the infuriatingly smug epithet “Boutique” (who actually uses that word with a straight face?), what these events actually are is smaller, calmer, more dignified places, with the emphasis on quality, rather than quantity, of the music, refreshments, and punters alike. Inevitably appealing to the, er, more mature end of the festival-going public, which in reality simply means a welcome lack of arsonist teenagers and career crusties, these are places where the trials of festival going extend not to the risk of contracting trench foot, or being knocked unconscious by a flying bottle of piss, but maybe that the hummus has gone fizzy in the midday sun – in other words, rather a different set of priorities.

The demographic shift in audience introduces a physically small, but very important new factor – kids. The late 20s/early 30s discerning consumer of the new breed of posh alt-fest inevitably has dipped their toes into the water of family, and is the proud owner of one or more mewling mini-mes. How are they to be accommodated at events which are traditionally adult entertainment? Shrewdly, many events feature a distinct kids’ strand: a full catalogue of events to keep the children entertained whilst one parent (inevitably Dad) slopes off to catch Lanterns on the Lake‘s latest opus. Such is the demand for this sort of thing, that some festivals even go so far as to make the kids’ activities the raison d’etre of the whole shebang. Jealous much?

Deer Shed festival, held – where else? – in beautiful North Yorkshire, is one such event, even going so far as to give the weekend a natural climax on Saturday night, making Sunday a coffee-and-cake day, with only gentle entertainment to wind everyone back down to earth before the drudgery of Monday comes round again. Apparently, Friday last year was quite a relaxed affair, although this year it’s hotted up a bit, but still only optional, for those who don’t fancy more than one night camping with the little darlings.

The music needs to make no apologies; being a small but perfectly formed card, there are many gems on offer. Retro dreamy pop headlines the Friday in the form of Saint Etienne, a rare chance to see the fragile beauty of Villagers (pictured at top) tops the bill on Saturday, and wrapping up the whole event is the honest, heartfelt songwriting of Cherry Ghost on Sunday afternoon. A fine trio of headliners is lubricated with a handful of the usual suspects (Houghton, Uncles, Field Music). Personal recommendations include: brassbound Mancunians Janice Graham Band come highly recommended from those in the know in the North West, proper English eccentricity overflows from Leeds’ Moody Gowns, and purveyors of Glaswegian electronica Laki Mera apparently were a strong highlight of last year’s festival and are back for 2012. And there’s loads more good stuff.

Phew. And in a way, the music’s only at Deer Shed to distract the adults while the kids have fun. There’s a beach. There’s snakes, spiders, lizards, and massive toads. There’s a cardboard box playground, junk modelling, and as much jewellery making as they can handle. There’s graffiti, paintball art, and sock puppets. The theme this year is Monsters – all sorts of gribblies will be in attendance, with the opportunity to create even more with monster-making workshops. Not to mention the famous, home-made versions of That Game With a Tennis Ball on a String – surely the adults won’t be able to keep their hands off that?

On a serious note, with kids one has far more to worry about – safety, cleanliness, hunger… they’ve thought of all of that. With extra-size portaloos, a changing area, microwaves available for heating food, child-friendly stewards on the lookout for strays, breakfast deliveries to tents, and a campsite storyteller in the evening, all the little details have been taken care of to give all the family a fun, safe weekend. Tickets are selling out fast, and with just a couple of hundred left at the time of writing, anyone wanting to give their kids a great start to the summer holidays should head over to without further ado. And if you don’t have kids – well, one day, like it or not, you probably will…so don’t forget the name Deer Shed.

Deer Shed Festival takes place 20-22 July 2012 at Baldersby Park, Topcliffe, North Yorkshire, and we’ve been advised that a limited number of tickets are still available, so if you’re in the North East or fancy a trip to that part of blighty, act quickly. The prices can’t be beat: a full weekend adult tickets runs a mere £69 plus booking; comparatively, a child’s weekend ticket for children 6 and up is £20 plus booking (children 5 and under are free).


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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.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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