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!