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Deer Shed Festival 2018: Saturday Roundup

 
By on Monday, 6th August 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

Most years at Deer Shed, it’s possible to detect a secret theme influencing the band selection. We’ve had lady bands, we’ve had Celtic, and following on from Leeds’ Mush yesterday, this year we have a plethora of Northern English bands: Yorkshire’s North and West, Wearside, and Tyneside are all represented. From this fact, combined with the utter off-the-scale brilliance of how Saturday would pan out, we can deduce that that region of the UK is producing some of the country’s, if not the world’s, finest bands.

An embryonic SLUG were at Deer Shed 2015, but this year sees Ian Black’s outfit demonstrating how far we’ve all come since then. His backing band aren’t Field Music any more, for instance, but rather a bunch of chaps dressed up as a barbershop quartet for some odd reason. They’re promoting second album ‘Higgledypiggledy’, which continues in the same obscurantist funk vein as their first. Ian Black is wearing a nun’s habit, making him a rather unlikely spectacle, but there’s nothing sacred about the sinful Devil’s music they’re knocking out. Oldies like ‘Cockeyed Rabbit’ and ‘Greasy Mind’ are now familiar sing-alongs, and when it all crescendos with a young chap plucked from the crowd to knock out a casual solo on Black’s guitar there’s the realisation that, rather than just an offshoot from the Sunderland scene, SLUG are rapidly redefining it.

SLUG-Deer Shed 2018 Saturday

Boy Azooga are the first of today’s brace of Heavenly signings and play the majority of their début ‘1, 2, Kung Fu!’ Main man Davey Newington is on bass, gazing zen-like from the stage, as his band alternately knock out laid-back melodies on ‘Jerry’, urgent riffs on ‘Loner Boogie’, and psych-tinged mellotron lines on ‘Face Behind Her Cigarette’. Seemingly appearing from nowhere to be the band on everyone’s lips right this second, Welsh act Boy Azooga manage to be indefinable and familiar; retro yet of the zeitgeist; a melting pot, yet unique. Quite some achievement, and an astute booking.

Boy Azooga-Deer Shed 2018 Saturday

Remember that feeling you get when stuck in traffic? Even when there’s no particular deadline, the tension rises, tempers fray, radiators overheat. AK/DK arrive from Blue Dot Festival with literally no minutes to spare, and the ensuing breathtaking display of groove-led mentalism surely is thanks in no small part to the traffic-related adrenaline coursing through their systems.

AK/DK Deer Shed 2018 Saturday

‘Morphology’ is a song perfect for the moment: a driving synth line and keening, distorted samples, all pushed along by AK/DK’s double drum kit attack, creates a febrile atmosphere, the audience expressing their relief and release that the band finally made it. And they are repaid by banger after banger. There’s sweat everywhere, both on stage and off, the drums are whacked with ever increasing ferocity (there’s big chunks out of the edge of one of the cymbals), the analogue sequencer in the background ticks its clock-face LEDs in metronomic rhythm, an electronic heart propelling ecstatic human souls. Exhausting, exhilarating, exponential.

Let’s revisit 2013, shall we? A little corner of the internet (yes, it was us) was insistent that an obscure band of 15-year-olds from Halifax could well be the next big thing. How did we put it? “If they’re this good this young, how good will they be in a few years time?” Now we know the answer. The Orielles are extremely good indeed. There’s some shoegaze in their sound, maybe a bit of Sleeper in Esme Hand-Halford’s lazily-enunciated vocals, walls of chorused guitar, and little synthy details atop like hundreds and thousands. The songs are expertly arranged, the faux-naïve component parts slotting together to create weird yet accessible garage nuggets.

The Orielles-Deer Shed 2018 Saturday

‘Old Stuff, New Glass’ is enhanced with bongos and yelps all over the place, ‘Sugar Tastes Like Salt’ opens with a Beatles-esque contrapuntal dance between keys and bass, continues into a pogoing off-beat middle section, and goes properly berserk towards the end of its eight eventful minutes. Henry Wade is growing into a proper guitar anti-hero in the vein of Graham Coxon, his on-stage persona is a masterclass in deadpan humour. It bears saying again: “If they’re this good this young, how good will they be in a few years time?”

Just when you think it’s safe to assume you’ve seen the performance of the day, along come Avalanche Party. Their own description is “feral garage-punk from the Yorkshire Moors”, which is a difficult description to disagree with, except inasmuch as it doesn’t really go far enough. If this is punk, it’s space-age, widescreen, conceptual, melodic punk. If it’s garage, this one is packed to the gills with cans of petrol with the lids off, a V8 motor rumbling in the corner, one discarded cigarette end away from catastrophe, the air heavy with the scent of fear.

Avalanche Party-Deer Shed 2018 Saturday

Recent single ‘I’m So Wet’ is a lazy, sexy groove, something Serge Gainsbourg might fantasise about, before running away in terror at the multi-layered screaming crescendo. ‘Solid Gold’ just kicks off and never lets up the pressure for a second. The climax of ‘Revolution’ is a triumph of four-to-the-floor heavy riffing, bare-chested Jordan Bell screaming as if his life depended on it. Like the ritual sacrifice of a lamb atop a heather-strewn heath, Avalanche Party are raw, visceral, glamorous, dangerous, sweaty, bloody and unforgettable.

Phew. Like the best underground scenester venue, Deer Shed has just treated us to a masterclass in superlative new music: five brilliant acts hot off the press, the world at their feet. Things have to calm down at some point, and it takes the folky, downtempo acoustica of This Is The Kit to do so. Warm Digits (below) are the second brilliant electronica band of the day, and with the appearance of Field Music’s Peter Brewis are a great example of what beauty happens when Newcastle and Sunderland put aside their rivalries for just a little while.

Warm Digits-Deer Shed 2018 Saturday

Gaz Coombes (below) is his usual superb self, retro and zeitgeist wrapped into one man, and Goldfrapp were the big name with the big show. Some controversial souls found themselves preferring another dose of Hyde Park Brass. Truth be told, for this reviewer the undercard had completely walloped the headliners into semi-irrelevance. What a Saturday.

SLUG-Deer Shed 2018 01 Saturday-2190

 

Deer Shed Festival 2018: Friday Roundup

 
By on Monday, 30th July 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

No sooner had we arrived on site at Deer Shed 9, son one, having attended a Deer Shed every one of his 7 years, declared he had his first wobbly tooth. And so we add another ‘first’ to the many that Deer Shed has provided over the years. Every parent will share the excitement tinged with a pang of sadness that this momentous moment brings. It represents the end of the first stage of childhood. With the arrival of the new denticulus, they will never again look the same. Yet no parent would wish their offspring to remain permanently young. To fulfill their potential, they must grow up. One’s only wish is that they retain what makes them truly themselves as they do so.

As it turned out, exactly the same sentiments could be held about Deer Shed’s growth in 2018. Instead of a new tooth, they have a new field: what luck that a second natural amphitheatre exists to the north of the site, and many an experienced Deer Shedder was to be found wandering around confusedly in the vicinity of where the main stage, big top and helter-skelter used to be, it slowly dawning that that silver edifice in the distance near the car park was, in fact, the newly-relocated main stage.

Sadly, that meant a number of dearly-held Deer Shed locales simply ceased to be. The Obelisk tent and its associated gate is no more, perhaps due to its rather exuberant dampness in the rain last year. Those of us who tend to camp on that side of the festival had a lot further to walk to get to the main stage. And there was no point in strolling alongside the lake, because there was no access to the festival that way, either. There was a lot more fencing directing people hither and yon, whereas previously the arena was just one big circle and you could pretty much go where you pleased. The reward for such palaver was a 25% increase in space for the same number of people.

So. We mourn the loss of Deer Shed’s baby teeth…. Done. Let’s see what their new gnashers are made of.

Hyde Park Brass are first up, and also almost the last. They’re intertwined around this year’s festival like ivy around a tree. Here they were in the tiny pallet stage, and slightly more subdued than they would be on latter days. Pop brass is becoming more of a thing these days, and HPB remind me a fair bit of the incredible Riot Jazz Brass Band of Kendal Calling fame. Every good brass ensemble needs a festival residency, and these guys are no exception.

If you close your eyes – and forget they’re from Leeds – Mush are Lou Reed fronting Pavement. Their 10-minute epic ‘Alternative Facts’ has a slacker undertow with punky icing, and when lead singer Dan’s not speaking in tongues, he’s all wry humour and casual delivery. Single ‘Comment Section Creeps’, of which a limited edition 7” is sadly sold out, is a cutting social commentary on the dehumanising liberty of posting on the internet anonymously. Probably.

Mush Deer Shed 2018 01 Friday (landscape)-1597

whenyoung are a trio from Dublin whose uptempo 3-minute pop nuggets hint at the time just before Britpop became a dirty word, yet shot through with a slew of Edge-isms in the guitar work. ‘Heaven on Earth’ has a boxy, chorused tone evoking U2’s earliest, New-Wave influenced work, and ‘Pretty Pure’ has the classic tropes of dotted delay and infinitely sustaining guitar notes. There’s an innocence in Aoife Power’s sweet vocals, not to mention a generous helping of fellow countrywomen Sinead O’Connor and Dolores O’Riordan, so it’s only half a surprise when they launch into a note-perfect rendition of The Cranberries’ ‘Dreams’. Touching, appropriate, bittersweet.

whenyoung at Deer Shed 2018 01 Friday (landscape)-1700

It doesn’t take long to realise that if this weekend’s bands are anything like the quality of HMLTD, we’re in for a veritable treat indeed. Clad in all manner of leather, fishnet, tartan and makeup, their stage presence is off the scale, and the music not far behind. 2017 single ‘To The Door’ is like The Stooges covering one of Ennio Morricone’s more outré spaghetti western themes, but with a dubstep coda. Eh? ‘Satan, Luella, & I’ evokes a she-devil, a proposition, and gore but is lyrically optimistic and life-affirming. What?! For all their aesthetic outrageousness, which cribs heavily from theatrical Eighties’ glam like Adam Ant, there’s an underlying understanding of songwriting which gives the entire package credibility. Properly breathtaking.

HMLTD Deer Shed 2018 01 Friday (portrait)-1877

Drenge have matured nicely since I last saw them at Live at Leeds in 2014. Then just a brotherly two-piece, now they have both a bassist and a chap on ‘things’. They pull off a headline set with skill and good grace, and even have a laugh at wearing comedy air tanks consistent with Deer Shed’s ‘Making Waves’ theme. Material like ‘Bloodsports’ has lost none of its power through familiarity, and new single “Before the War Begins” reveals a simple, honest clarity of purpose reminiscent of the Manics at their best. Completely devoid of histrionics, clad plainly in comparison with the extravagance of an HMLTD, they nevertheless still pack a devastating punch.

Drenge Deer Shed 2018 01 Friday (landscape)-2076

And that’s it for Friday. There were DJs until half 2 next to the excellent bar, TGTF needed all possible energy to prepare for Saturday. More tomorrow.

 

Deer Shed Festival 2016 Review (Part 2)

 
By on Tuesday, 2nd August 2016 at 2:00 pm
 

Go here to start at the beginning of Martin’s review of Deer Shed 2016.


Anna Calvi Deer Shed 2016 / photo by Martin Sharman

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.


Richard Hawley Deer Shed 2016 / photo by Martin Sharman

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?


Martin's son at Deer Shed 2016

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.

 

Deer Shed Festival 2016 Review (Part 1)

 
By on Monday, 1st August 2016 at 2:00 pm
 

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.

Eagulls Deer Shed 2016 / photo by Martin Sharman

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.


Eagulls Deer Shed 2016 2 / photo by Martin Sharman

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.


RHAIN Deer Shed 2016 / photo by Martin Sharman

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.

 

Preview: Deer Shed Festival 2016

 
By on Thursday, 21st July 2016 at 10:00 am
 

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.

 

Deer Shed Festival 2015 Review (Part 2)

 
By on Wednesday, 12th August 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

To catch up on part 1 of Martin’s coverage of Deer Shed Festival 2015, head this way.

Saturday at Deer Shed Festival belongs to the kids. The workshops are in full flow, the bizarre moving sculptures are operated to the verge of destruction, and the bubble man does well to escape being trampled to death by a million over-excited feet. As if seen through the eyes of a 3-year-old child, this is what we did: “We went first to the craft and singing tent. We made a bug out of pipe cleaners and some foam. We watched the singing but didn’t join in because we were shy. We found a table with some ink stamps and played with those, including stamping our own arm. We met a friendly but slightly scary man who taught us how to make a really good paper aeroplane. Daddy helped me make it. Then we stood on top of a really high platform and threw the aeroplane down to Mummy. It flew really well!

“We watched some older children make computer-controlled Lego robots that moved by themselves. They looked very exciting! I’ll play with those myself when I’m a bit older. Daddy helped me cut out some cardboard fins that we stuck to a bottle of water to make a rocket. Then a man put it on a launcher, pumped it up and we counted down from 10. When everyone shouted “Lift-off!” I pressed the button and my rocket shot into the air and landed on the roof of the tent! It was the best rocket of all! I’ve still got it in my bedroom.

“We saw a big table full of metal toys that Daddy said was Meccano, and we bolted some bits together to make a flying helicopter chair. Then we played with the bubbles that the bubble lady made. She could make lots of bubbles all at the same time! Then Daddy bought me a bubble saxophone so I could make my own bubbles. Then we were all very tired so we went for a sit down.” Phew. There’s some great stuff for all ages, and particularly for the older kids the wackier sideshows – like the battle game that uses a measure of brain activity to move a ball back and forth – seem particularly unique. And I’d single out Andy Chipling and his expert method of folding a paper aeroplane for giving this particular big kid a skill that I’d always wanted to refine but never been able to. Ten minutes well spent!

At Deer Shed, it’s folly to make a long list of ‘must-see’ bands. Who you can actually get to see very much depends on circumstances, rather than forward planning. One or two of our group ‘saw’ no bands in the conventional sense: there was plenty of music in the background, but they had the good grace to be guided by the needs of their kids, rather than chasing down the music. Having said that, this is how some of the bands went down on Saturday.

In the Lodge stage it was Celtic day. The Pictish Trail is Johnny Lynch, who hails from Eigg and lulls us all into a false sense of security by making his first few numbers gentle acoustic ditties. Which had me reading my programme with incredulity: “This is supposed to have electronica in it!” All good things come to those who wait, however, as all of sudden Johnny breaks out the drum machine and wild synth sounds: add in a dose of surrealist humour and all is well with the world.

Hinds are brilliant on the main stage. The four Madrid girls create dreamy garage songs perfect for languid singalongs…if anyone knew the words. Actually, ‘Davey Crockett’ is pretty simple to sing. And play, by the sounds of its three chords. This sort of thing is widely called lo-fi, although that relates more to the relaxed vibe than any reflection on their sound quality. A lovely slice of sunny Spanish insouciance. All Tvvins are a Dublin trio who make spacey slices of bass-heavy electro-pop. The guitarists comprehensive pedal board tells its own story – the guitar work is heavy on the delay, rapid strums generating a wide soundscape that brings to mind another Edge-y son of Ireland’s fair city. Superb toe-tapping stuff.

It’s tradition not to have rain at Deer Shed, but tradition went out of the window this year as the heavens opened mid-afternoon. Given that two of the stages were under cover meant that, if anything, more people got to see more music. But what of the main stage? If there was any band that could entice punters out from under canvas to have a boggy boogie, it’s Dutch Uncles, and they don’t disappoint. If there’s a sharper band this side of the equator, I’d like to hear them. Duncan Wallis’ remarkable body moves never fail to impress, and he does well to throw them given the increasingly slippery stage. Those that braved the rain were rewarded a couple of songs in with a break in the cloud, waterproofs steaming in the sunshine. I can’t be far off double figures seeing Dutch Uncles now, and every time it feels like a treat. Their music is fractal-like: no matter how familiar one thinks one is with it, each repeat listen reveals further hidden details, whether they be time signature changes, details of instrumentation, or lyrical insights. A fine achievement.

Damien Dempsey‘s none-more-Irish passionate delivery is the discovery of the festival for me, for three very important reasons: 1. You know exactly what he’s saying, at all time. 2. He talks about stuff that is relevant, and real, to everyone who has to suffer the human condition. 3. He means – properly means – every word he sings. He stridently complains about the historical treatment of the Irish (and half the rest of the world) on ‘Colony’; you might not agree with his interpretation of history, but you can’t deny how effective a cheerleader he is for the dispossessed. ‘Serious’ paints a brilliantly-acted picture of a malicious drug dealer trying to convince an innocent to sample his wares in a seedy Irish pub using a narration with a spectacular Dublin accent. Really powerful stuff, with hints of two Bobs – Geldof’s uncompromising attitude and Dylan’s storytelling passion.

And so we come to the pinnacle of the entire festival, John Grant: in his own catty way, one of the least appropriate headliners for a child-friendly festival this side of Marilyn Manson. The entirety of sweary solo début ‘Queen of Denmark’ is devoted to documenting his drug, alcohol and homosexual relationship problems. Granted, this isn’t your usual bargain-bin autobiography, illustrated as it is with beautiful piano playing and lucid wordplay, but still. Thank goodness my kids are too young to pick up on lines like “I’ll sell your Grandma on the street to buy crack”, “that little ass of yours looks just like food”, or crowd favourite “I casually mention that I pissed in your coffee”. What’s that man singing about, Daddy?

What people want as their reward after spending £200 to drag the kids around a field all day is to stand, sit or lie down together in the darkness to something that they know, can sing along to, and can feel good about, preferably something that reminds them of the fun they had in the years BK. Not some lonely chap complaining about his boyfriend’s inadequacies, regardless of how eloquently those sentiments are expressed. After Johnny Marr‘s triumph last year, 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. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Whilst there will have been true fans of both headliners in the crowd, neither were the unifying force that one would ideally want, which is a bit of a shame.

Deer Shed isn’t even close to being all about the music. But the music is an integral part of the experience (and the price), otherwise we’d just take the kids to scout camp and sit around rubbing sticks together and singing Kumbaya. Of course it’s a little churlish to criticise an event that gets so much right, but the headliners have such a dominant influence over the feel of the whole event, who plays at the top of the bill really matters. Having said all that, in 2015 Deer Shed joined the big time – in common with the vastly bigger festivals we all know about, regardless of the headliners, people flock to Deer Shed because they love the vibe, they love the company, and they love the setting – chilled out, friendly, and beautiful. What more could you ask for?

 
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About Us

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. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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