SXSW 2016 | 2015
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Go here to start at the beginning of Martin’s review of Deer Shed 2016.
I mentioned in my Deer Shed preview that this year there were a notable number of female performers, and Anna Calvi‘s set completed my Saturday triumvirate. Hers is an intense sound: led by dominating Telecaster work and architectural voice, Calvi is a true guitar hero to both girls and boys alike. Speaking of which, Richard Hawley can play a note or two as well. His was a proper headlining performance, bringing out one vintage guitar after another: Gibson ES-335, gold top Les Paul with Bigsby and a stunning, enormous green Gretsch. This was near enough the perfect headlining performance, reminiscent of Johnny Marr‘s similarly triumphant show a couple of years before. Hawley has meandered through a number of styles over his long solo career, including pastoral acoustica, but tonight he was doing what he’s best at: being a guitar hero. It’s easy to forget that before becoming a frontman Hawley was primarily a guitarist, and all his impressive chops were on display tonight. His songs are epic, powerful things, dominated by his sublime guitar work, and solos that take one on a journey into the cosmos. As the centrepiece of the festival, there couldn’t have been a better choice.
As for the kids, they had an absolute blast. The science tent was where it was at for the 4-and-a-half year old, making a flying buggy from some plastic Meccano, learning how to plant seeds, making his own pin badge, and – a better father-and-son activity it’s difficult to imagine – ripping apart the innards of a defunct laser printer with side-cutters and pliers. “This is a circuit board, those are capacitors… now destroy it with tools!” The theme this year was movies, so there were plenty of themed activities for the older ones to have a crack at, including making your own film set from a cardboard box and lolly sticks, and being tutored on how to make Gromit out of plasticine by Aardman Animations themselves. The activities are too numerous to list here, as the list of delights goes on and on. The mechanoid that filled its wader boots with air and let it out through a car horn was a particular hit. A new addition for 2016 was the sports field in front of Baldersby’s manor house: something for everyone, including proper football, a brilliant slacklining course, various yoga and keep-fit activities and a dedicated skate park. Yes, a dedicated skate park. Is there anything they haven’t thought of?
The beauty of Deer Shed is that, even though some of the kids activities are familiar year-on-year, as one’s kids grow up, they prefer to do different stuff every time. The festival grows up with the kids, an annual treat that they wouldn’t miss for the world. And Deer Shed did seem to grow up this year – there were more random sideshows and “happenings” than ever before. The Leeds Brass Band were a particular highlight, marching through the arena with gusto, occasionally stopping for a quick blast of ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This’, as an impromptu, grooving crowd gathered underneath the sunny skies.
On Sunday, Beth Orton was unlucky enough to play the only rain-sodden set of the day, the damp conditions hampering what would otherwise have been a collection of wonderfully chilled-out songs, ranging from 20-year-old classics to new ones from her latest release ‘Kidsticks’. But really, Sunday belonged to the final performance of the entire festival from Holy Moly and the Crackers. As befits a closing set, theirs was a raucous, whisky-sodden blast through their sea shanty-inspired gypsy-folk tunes, frontman Conrad the perfect mischievous ringleader. The tent was jumping from the first moment to the last, their expanded band thrashing out a cacophony of off-beat rhythms and trombone blasts. Wherever there’s Holy Moly, a party can’t be far away. And that was it. Ears ringing, we set off to collapse a damp tent, with perhaps one or two tear-dampened eyes to go along with it.
Well done, Deer Shed. I was a bit harsh about 2015, but this year was the best yet, by a considerable margin. The music policy, always good, got the headliners right (big indie band Friday, a proper legend Saturday), and the undercard was a delight to behold. There’s loads I haven’t mentioned, including the eclectic Big Top lineup, as well as some excellent comedy, but, as they say, there’s not the space to tell it all. All I can add is, if you’ve got kids and you love music, come to Deer Shed and find out what goes on there – I challenge you not to be surprised and delighted. Or else I’ll come round to your house and do the washing up for a year. In 2016, Deer Shed Festival was back. With a capital bang.
Right. Let’s get something straight right from the start. Deer Shed 2016 was essentially perfect: a wondrous box of delights for young, middle and old alike. Whilst the event has evolved over the years, if someone said, “Freeze. This is perfect. Don’t change anything,” I doubt there would be any complaints. The camping is spacious and quiet. The toilets are clean and useable. The food is utterly delicious. The bar is well-run and well-stocked (some of us still mourn the loss of Ilkley’s Mary Jane, however). The crowds are beautiful and well-behaved… well, at least the kids are. Oh, and someone must have paid the weather bill because the sun shone nearly all the time.
And so we come to the entertainment. Deer Shed is effectively two festivals in one – a box of delightful activities for kids – stuff so unique that they only get to do it here – and a proper music festival for grown ups. We’ll come to the kids’ stuff in due course, but let’s consider the music first. If you think a festival that welcomes so many children just tags on a few bands to keep the adults half-amused, then think again. I don’t know how they do it, but Deer Shed’s music lineup is second to none. A festival of any size would be proud to come up with such a fresh, forward-looking bill. For a modest spot of land in the North Yorkshire countryside, it’s nothing less than a triumph.
By the very nature of Deer Shed, one often has a youngster tugging at one’s sleeve, wanting to go and jump around outside the bubble stall for the hundredth time. The list of missed bands gets longer and longer, but that just makes one even more appreciative of the music one does manage to see. First up for me were Leeds’ Eagulls, whose sound is the natural result of owning several Squier guitars, a floor full of reverb pedals and a record collection largely consisting of the Cure’s more introspective records. I’m not exactly sure what the frontman’s on about, and the whole shebang is based on some purposely obtuse chord progressions. But when it all comes together they create an urgent wash of heady nu gaze that urges you to close your eyes and get swept away.
Friday night headliners Everything Everything have made the inevitable, if not a little unsettling, transformation from regular indie band to some sort of futuristic gospel praise outfit. Singer Jonathan Higgs wears ankle-length robes, holds his hands aloft and teases the crowd with his oblique commentary on the state of everything. He even retreats to his own podium at the back of the stage on occasion, cavorting and exclaiming like a greasy televangelist, except with something better to sell than false hope. A quite extraordinary performance: danceable, unforgettable, slightly disturbing. [Should be interesting to see what the Americans make of them on their first headline tour of America that begins this week. – Ed.]
Saturday dawned with the hazy memory of having an impromptu jam session around the piano in the Obelisk tent. Whether real or imaginary, such late-night escapades are soon forgotten in favour of the promise of a sunny day, and plenty to do with it. FEWS shake off the cobwebs with a pre-midday slot of their driving instrumental post-rock. It’s the sort of thing that you can get lost in, labyrinthine melodies hidden within an incessant motorik rhythm section. Teessiders Cattle & Cane give me a little “festival moment”: the weight of a child on one’s shoulders, bopping away in their own little way to a warm-hearted band… such fleeting yet timeless moments of joy make the grind of life worthwhile. TGTF has come across Misty Miller a couple of times before, and she’s never been the same performer twice. Currently in a goth-inspired phase, her rock ‘n’ roll ditties remain as strong as ever, and her passion for reinvention means somewhere along the line she’s sure to hit on a persona that really propels her into the mainstream.
Somehow I managed to get rid of the kids for an hour or so at this point, and found myself in a state of euphoric peace lounging at the back for Emma Pollock‘s set. Hardly a household name, but her former group The Delgados will be familiar to students of Scottish indie bands, and her solo set was an absolute masterclass in grown-up songwriting. One delightful tune after another fell from her guitar, and backed by an excellent band she was an unexpected treat. Her song about dark skygazing was hugely evocative: a more sublime way to close one’s eyes and lay back in the late afternoon sunshine it’s difficult to imagine.
TGTF raved about RHAIN‘s double performance at Kendal Calling last year, and her set in Deer Shed’s Obelisk tent was the stuff that legends are made of. Her voice is nothing less than astonishing, and the rare beauty of her jewelled songs quickly had the tent full to capacity. Her friends Plastic Mermaids, fresh from their own storming set earlier in the day, backed her for a few numbers, but it’s when RHAIN picks some simple piano chords to compliment her extraordinary vocal performance that really showcases what she is capable of. To witness a musician of such powerful talent in such intimate surroundings is a very rare treat; the electric atmosphere and the standing ovation that followed her performance is testament to the intensity of what she is capable. Utterly, utterly wonderful.
Stay tuned: the second half of Martin’s review of Deer Shed 2016 will post here on TGTF tomorrow. Same bat time, same bat channel.
Do you think having kids means you can’t indulge in a festival weekend of nonstop, top class music, comedy and the odd craft ale? Deer Shed Festival 2016, nestled in the heart of beautiful North Yorkshire, is here to prove that little ones are no barrier to such delights. Now in its seventh year, and having grown bigger and better every year, Deer Shed prides itself on not just catering for kids in one corner of the festival arena, but actually integrating activities and attractions for your offspring throughout the festival itself. Activities break down roughly into Arts, Science, Sporty and Workshops categories, and there’s far too much going on to do justice to here. But here’s a list of the more, ahem, unique activities: Sock Wrestling, Tree Identification, Guerilla Archaeology, Taking Things to Pieces (my favourite!), not to mention loads of kid-friendly comedy and films.
So whilst the kids are busy deconstructing the inner workings of a cathode ray tube, the adults’ attention turns to the music stages. And I can confidently say that no festival has their finger on the pulse of contemporary alternative music as precisely as Deer Shed does. Between their modestly-sized stages, they put on an extraordinarily diverse and beautifully-curated lineup, the strength of which will make even the most clued-up muso stroke his or her beard and exclaim, “Forsooth, whence has this talented beat combo passed me by, for they are excellence personified!” (Translation: there’s loads of brilliant bands, some of which you’ve never heard of.)
There’s a lot of ladies at Deer Shed this year; it might even be the unofficial theme, like Celts were last year. By my calculation, almost exactly half of the acts are either actual ladies or lady-led, which is how it should be, but rarely is. Amongst others there’s Tuff Love, a pair of chiming, Glaswegian ladies with a melodic sensibility; Gwenno, ex of The Pipettes, her of the Welsh-language dystopian album ‘Y Dydd Olaf’; a rare festival appearance from famously reclusive Mancunian groovenik Lonelady; a touch of nu-soul from Mahalia; and Irish ethereality from Saint Sister. Phew.
Let’s turn to the headliners. And if I may indulge myself in a reminiscence, here’s some words from last year’s review (in which I got a bit huffy in parts): “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.” Well, that’s exactly the formula that’s been used this year, and it promises to be a triumph. Everything Everything should need no introduction: now they’ve got three albums to go at, so expect their characteristic jumpy rhythms and highly-strung vocals, perhaps with a bit more guitar than we’re used to if their latest material is anything to go by. Beth Orton is the closing act on the Sunday, and a more gentle and apposite comedown is difficult to imagine. Her dreamy arrangements and almost-whispered vocals became the soundtrack to coming-of-age for a certain generation around the millennium that have all grown up a bit now but still remember fondly those hazy, lazy days.
When Deer Shed management asked on Facebook for suggestions as to future headliners, my answer was clear: Jarvis, Jarvis, Jarvis (I also made this suggestion in my 2014 review). If I’d thought harder, that answer actually could have been expanded to “any former member of Pulp with a decent solo career”, and who better fills that brief than Richard Hawley (pictured at top), Saturday’s main stage main man. He can pick and choose from an oeuvre spanning decades, varying from gentle pastoral acoustica to transcendental psychedelic jams. He’s rapidly becoming one of the country’s most well-renowned songwriters and performers, managing to be both a ‘50s throwback and achingly contemporary simultaneously and effortlessly. It’s difficult to think of a more appropriate talent to be this year’s main attraction… Unless he’s joined by Jarvis, of course!
All in all, it really is no exaggeration to say that 2016 could and should be the best year yet at Baldersby. The secret to Deer Shed Festival? It’s not just for kids.