Festival coverage, including that from SXSW 2017 and BIGSOUND 2017, can be read through here.

SXSW 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | Live at Leeds 2016 | 2015 | 2014
Sound City 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | Great Escape 2015 | 2013 | 2012

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Deer Shed Festival 2017: Day 3 Roundup

 
By on Tuesday, 15th August 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

Words and photos by Martin Sharman, formerly Head Photographer at TGTF

Sunday morning at Deer Shed Festival 2017 dawns brightly, and last night’s storm in a teacup is but a fading memory. Traditional Sunday morning activities are executed: the consumption of coffee and pork products in bread, playing in a giant cardboard city, perhaps a tutorial on how to write (hint: let your consciousness stream away, don’t edit as you go, grammar and spelling can go hang). There’s only a few hours left of the big activities like the science tent, so it’s time to get on it again. But by lunchtime, the kids had been offloaded onto some friendly passers-by, which meant a good opportunity to sit down in one place and let the main stage do its thing.

Flamingods at Deer Shed 2017

And what a thing it was. SXSW 2017 alums Flamingods bring Bahraini psychedelic shoegaze – not a genre you encounter every day – and it’s superb. Frontman Kamal Rasool plays a bizarre traditional guitar-ish instrument (not unlike the three-string cigar box guitars being sold by Chickenbone John elsewhere on site), there’s much instrument-swapping and the ever-present thwack of crazy drums. They end with an epic 10-minute jam, the sort you can sway around to seemingly for hours on end. The crowd is massed and appreciative, and it becomes clear that this particular Sunday isn’t the traditional Deer Shed warm down. It’s actually shaping up to be something very special indeed.

Teleman at Deer Shed 2017

Teleman have quietly matured into a band of great importance. In the early days, they could be a bit too aloof for their own good, but two albums in, today’s performance presents their delicate songs in a muscular, festival-ready form. Classics like ‘Cristina’ and ‘Dusseldorf’ carry mass appeal hidden in their precise arrangements, and they properly rock out towards the end. They’ve surely made a plethora of new fans here today.

And so we come to what is arguably, in this writer’s opinion, the finest bill-topper in Deer Shed history. Neil Hannon as The Divine Comedy marches on stage in full French Revolutionary regalia, as the note-perfect band launch into ‘Napoleon Complex’. And thus begins a masterclass in how to do witty, tuneful, intelligent – and most importantly, inclusive – social commentary through pop music. ‘A Woman of a Certain Age’ is a touching discourse on advancing years from a female perspective, and ‘Catherine The Great’ takes on a further poignancy when dedicated to his partner and fellow musician Cathy Davey. After a quick costume change, ‘The Complete Banker’ gently knives society’s favourite punching-bag profession to musical accompaniment that the Sherman brothers would be proud to claim for their own back catalogue, yet Hannon has the good grace to apologise to any bankers actually in the crowd.

Neil Hannon as The Divine Comedy at Deer Shed 2017

But they know what we’re all waiting for. Unafraid to delve into the earliest reaches of their back catalogue to please a crowd, we lap up ‘Generation Sex’, ‘Something for the Weekend’, and, gloriously, ‘National Express’. Moments when an entire crowd – and possibly an entire festival – are united around one band, one song, one line of lyrics, are rare indeed, and The Divine Comedy deliver. A brilliant moment of joy, togetherness and love amidst the turbulence of modern life. That’s what Deer Shed is all about.

Regardless of my personal views on one or two of the acts, it should not be inferred that this was anything other than yet another brilliant chapter in the Deer Shed story. Stuff that is taken for granted but really shouldn’t be – superb food, properly clean toilets, ample camping space, decent beer – was all present and correct. I’m very excited about what a little birdie whispered about a potential lady headliner for next year. And thus Deer Shed grows with the kids that revel within it – every year is different, bringing new challenges and fresh joys – and we love it all the same.

 

Deer Shed Festival 2017: Day 2 Roundup

 
By on Tuesday, 1st August 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

Words and photos by Martin Sharman, formerly Head Photographer at TGTF

A rain shower of ferocious but mercifully short intensity awoke all but the most persistent party heads at breakfast time. Saturday is the traditional time when the kids are raring to make a mess and have a party with the smorgasbord of stuff laid on for them, so off we go. There’s crafts galore: painting pots, making milk bottle faces, sewing ra-ra skirts, and creating robot faces out of cardboard boxes. For the little ones, there’s storytelling, and not just your average bedtime effort: this rendition of Bear Hunt ended up in a toddler foam party. Don’t try this at home, kids. Honestly, please don’t. For the older ones, the science tent is where it’s at. There’s countless electronic experiments to take part in, from making basic circuits on cardboard bases, to soldering more complex ones, to taking a screwdriver and a hammer to an enormous pile of obsolete consumer electronics. Music-wise, there was a competition to see who could sing the longest note (I had my eye on the top prize but had to settle for third with 42 seconds), and a multitude of analogue synth and beginners’ DJ classes. The racket from which, as you can imagine, makes the science tent quite an intense experience. Misophonics should steer clear.

Deer Shed 2017

The theme for this year was the Wilderwild, which introduced a completely new area of the festival, devoted to the natural world and humans’ place within it. There was all manner of wild pastimes to have a go at: a stall devoted to a love of hedgehogs, where you could make one out of a pine cone; an actual blacksmith where you could make your own horseshoe in case your steed had lost one; the seemingly innocuous but actually very messy chance to model clay; and a brilliant method of making fire from sticks, which actually works, but is a bit more involved than just rubbing a couple of twigs together. We made a dream catcher. We missed the den building and the live theatre so can only imagine their wondrous delights. In short, what a brilliant and appropriate addition to the festival and one can only hope it becomes a permanent fixture.

Bands-wise, October Drift were impressively active in their morning slot (Teenage Fanclub take note), their proggy songs suddenly jerking into life a bleary early crowd. The Big Moon were brilliant as always and continue the tradition of excellent lady-bands at Deer Shed. Roddy Woomble was the highlight of many people’s weekend with his off-kilter guitar pop.

Happyness at Deer Shed 2017

Stop the press for Happyness. Not satisfied by their performance on Friday night, they were pressed into service for another performance to substitute for a sadly absent booking. And in the flesh they were the best I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen them a lot. In this writer’s opinion, they are the best art-rock band in the country right now; their offering of surrealist, downtempo art-rock is utterly perfect – there was some involvement of the legs from a high-street window mannekin, and of course scalping Win Butler – they’ve added a keyboard player now but still there is no finer afternoon festival experience than the inscrutable minimalism that is Happyness. They don’t seem that happy but that’s how I end up when I see them. Well done.

The return of Ibibio Sound Machine is a glory to behold. Bringing a flash of African colour to the North Yorkshire countryside, their mere presence is a joyous, uplifting affair – add to that that they play a wonderful mashup of traditional African rhythms, funk, soul, and electro, and further still that singer Eno Williams wears shoulder pads so impressive you could serve Sunday lunch on them, and you have the recipe for a classic Deer Shed appearance. Tea time on Saturday is the musical crescendo of the festival for many: either kids for whom bed isn’t far away, or the parents that have to return to the tent to look after them. To experience such a blast of positivity and extroversion should be the way we all prepare for a decent night’s slumber.

[Those averse to a rant, or are in favour or Ms Kate Tempest should skip the next three paragraphs. You have been warned.]

The worst way to be woken from such repose would be by the awful racket that comes out of Kate Tempest’s mouth, so what better way to drown it out than another droning cacophony: that of a heavy rainstorm atop canvas? Which is exactly what happened. For the exact duration of her set – no shorter, no longer – the heavens gave the site a thorough drenching. Deer Shed themselves reviewed her performance as prophetic. How? Their review was written only the day after. Had anything she prophesied already come true? Did she predict the rain? Does a black cloud follow her around? Or maybe she’s prophetic in the more general sense of being a prophet: a modern-day Chicken Licken who’s come to tell us how awful we all are and how shit the world is. According to the festival, being subjected to “an apocalyptic epic poem about the pain and suffering inflicted on the most deprived members of society” is a fun way to spend a Saturday night, and apparently the pouring rain actually enhanced the experience. The sky is falling! Wicked, man! Blame the Tories!

It’s a truism that one person’s champion of the disenfranchised is another person’s dreary propagandist, and for this writer Kate Tempest falls firmly into the second category. So we have a situation exactly like Billy Bragg in 2015: at least half the festival have NOTHING TO SEE at what should be the climax of the entire weekend. Why Deer Shed should repeat the mistake of headlining a divisive, politically-charged, minimalist solo artist who’s made a career entirely out of invoking leftier-than-thou middle-class guilt at the exact time when everyone should be united in one big pillow of funky togetherness absolutely fails to compute. Moreover, Tempest is a hypocrite of the highest order – she moans about “the gulf that separates us” whilst by her own presence creating that very gulf; she quite shamelessly complains about “ugly words in public spaces” – I couldn’t think of a better way to describe her own perverse, monotone streams of consciousness. I come to festivals for respite from the turbulent political landscape, not to have it thrust before me. I come to festivals to experience beauty and optimism; hers is an ugly, hopeless world. Most importantly, I come to festivals to have fun, and Tempest is no fun at all. The triumphs of Darwin Deez, Johnny Marr and Richard Hawley are but mocking memories.

Apparently the reasoning for the Tempest booking is to attract more “young people” to the festival. Which is deeply patronising and didn’t work out anyway: every person I spoke to, of all ages and shoe sizes, could sum up their opinion of Tempest as “meh”. And is it just me, or are there already more children here than at every other festival in the land? Perhaps by young people they mean young adults, in which case I would have thought that that age have ample choice in the festival market, and to try and attract a group who the vast majority of your usual demographic are paying you good money to avoid, would be something of a mistake. The Big Chill tried that and look what happened to them. The “young adult” that I bumped into who was complaining about losing his block of hashish before promptly consuming most of a discarded and grassy cardboard plate of cold pasta with his bare hands could hardly be called Deer Shed’s target market. Stick to what, and who, you know.

At any rate, the potential disappointment for losing a Saturday headliner was tempered by the fact I didn’t have to get wet listening to them, and that the Obelisk stage actually worked this time. By which I mean the post-Tempest brilliance of Aelfen, who are secretly a heavy metal act disguised as a folk band – they started off innocuously enough, but by the end of their set the tent was rocking. Good stuff. Marc Riley took over for a bit, playing a predictable but nonetheless rewarding set of classic tunes: lots of ‘80s, some Prince, Bowie, et al.

And then – stop the press! – some actual DJing from Manchester-based collective Across the Tracks. Of course you never see real vinyl these days, but these guys were the next best thing, beatmatching like the experts they are, wrangling perfect mixes from the tabled Pioneers. For a while the tent was properly grooving and whooping to a very competent house music set, and finally there was a reason for the “Rave” definition that the programme had so tantalisingly promised. Deer Shed was finally letting its hair down, which is really all we ask of it.

As I left the Obelisk tent, the rain was falling. The ground was slippery mud. Tomorrow could be challenging.

Across the Tracks at Deer Shed

 

Deer Shed Festival 2017: Day 1 Roundup

 
By on Monday, 31st July 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

Words and photos by Martin Sharman, formerly Head Photographer at TGTF, except where noted

If last year’s Deer Shed was the impeccably-behaved child who eats with their knife and fork and never speaks with their mouth full, 1 year on that same child is bigger, a bit more difficult to get on with, but still manages to bring joy in virtually unlimited quantities when they’re on their best behaviour. The first signs of growing pains come when we are introduced to a brand new parking field, easily doubling the distance ‘twixt vehicle and pitch. Still a modest trek in comparison to some, but the extra luggage distance is a sure-fire recipe for sore arms. The new field was needed because the camping areas have been enlarged at the expense of parking spaces, meaning that there’s almost too much camping space: there’s acres of room, so nobody has to camp near anyone they don’t want to.

Deer Shed 2017 signpost

It was sunny.

On Friday, the dulcet melodies of Happyness (of whom more later) and Honeyblood (a brilliant two-girl Scottish duo of various grungey textures) spill on the gentle breeze as we have line-of-sight of the main stage from the campsite: such luxury!) But by the time airbeds are firmed, John Shuttleworth is the unanimous choice for first act in person. His deadpan delivery is spot on, as always. The “soundcheck” joke deserves to be repeated at stages across the land, and in his delivery of such postmodern classics as ‘Two Margarines’ and ‘I Can’t Go Back to Savoury Now’ live the ghosts of such diverse entertainers as Les Dawson and Fred Dibnah.

John Shuttleworth by photographer Simon Godley for Deer Shed Festival
John Shuttleworth by photographer Simon Godley for Deer Shed Festival

Kids are dispatched, and it’s time to finally see Teenage Fanclub live after many a year of listening to them on record. I believe they were alive, just, although from the one-dimensional dynamic built from the same metronomic handful of chords played in slightly different orders, it was difficult to be sure they were fully awake. The breathless fanboyism of Deer Shed’s own review tells a different story, but let’s set the record straight here: unless your idea of fun is watching the result of an accountants’ team-building session shuffling around a stage, stick to their recorded oeuvre.

It was still dry.

Teenage Fanclub by photographer Simon Godley for Deer Shed Festival
Teenage Fanclub by photographer Simon Godley for Deer Shed Festival

This was mentioned back in 2015, but it bears repeating now: presumably in an effort to swell the audience for a headliner who needs such assistance, there is nothing scheduled elsewhere on the site during the final main stage band. There was little point in escaping Fanclub so they received the benefit of the doubt and a full viewing in case they got going a bit towards the end (they didn’t). The Obelisk tent is Deer Shed’s traditional late-night party venue, and it kicks off just after the headliners finish around 11 o’clock. Revellers flock there to continue the party, in the hope of a fresh beverage and some tunes of increasing intensity.

The former: yes, the latter: not so much. Bryde is excellent in her own way, with a beautiful breathy voice and songs of drama and poise. I wouldn’t mind her in the sun earlier in the day, but in essence she’s just a girl with a guitar, at gone 11 at night, when there’s nothing else on and everyone wants at least a boogie, basically. And after her there’s another solo singer/songwriter, Lewis Bootle, who I like less. His patois-hip-singing is annoying and falls far short of satisfying an increasingly impatient crowd. They’ve even taken away the piano that’s been in the corner of the bar for Sheds past. Sacrilege! (I’d find it the next day, looking damp and forlorn, abandoned on the grass some way outside the tent. With the lid locked shut.)

Someone faffs around with a mixer for ages and finally, well past midnight, some danceable music comes on. Nothing special mind, just an indie disco basically, but it’ll do. They say you make your own entertainment, however, so meanwhile all number of just-about-remembered faces from festivals gone by are reacquainted, along with some new ones (shout out to Jen, Billie, Alex, Chris, Neil… and all those others whose names I’ve forgotten), so a night in the Obelisk is always memorable. But please, Deer Shed, can you schedule something upbeat every night as soon as the main stage ends? Many thanks.

It still hadn’t rained as I crawled into bed.

 
 
 

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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 is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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