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.