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Deer Shed Festival 2014: Day 3 Roundup

 
By on Friday, 15th August 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

No review of Deer Shed would be complete without mentioning the various extra-musical activities available for the under-16s. And where to begin? Perhaps on Sunday, when the musical offerings are relatively modest, to help the crowd wind down, and to let the kids’ activities, rather than the adults’, prevail. There was shaker-making (sadly not to the soundtrack of Oasis’ ‘Shakermaker’), badge-making and flag-making. There was a real-life yellow submarine, which hosted any number of interactive workshops. There was actual jousting, on horseback and everything. There was a beach. For the older ones, there were electronics projects, Minecraft, soldering for girls and the mildly disturbing Tedroids. There was hula hooping, swingball and lots and lots of bubbles. Best of all, the famous enormous cardboard boxes were there to age-independent glee, hand-decorated and constructed into elaborate, surreal, child-sized cities. It’s impossible to imagine a more perfect child-friendly festival experience. And by virtue of the new-for-2014 Obelisk stage and bar, subtly located in a nook behind the kids’ tents, Dad can sneak off for a quick premium ale without too much fuss.

As Sunday drew to a close, and tired children napped in homebound cars, thoughts turned to Deer Shed’s short but happy history, and where it might go in the future. The site has been subtly rearranged every year, but seems to be settling in its current format for now. There’s no doubt that the essential details have been resolved – the stage names and locations, the excellent food outlets, the plentiful camping areas – all satisfyingly top quality. The big question for this writer is – where will the music policy head in the future? The good news is Deer Shed has its finger firmly on the pulse of the zeitgeist, unfailingly booking acts just as their careers are taking off, so it’s as good a place as any to work out who next year’s big names will be as any.

However, various online hints suggest that the curators enjoy their guitar music, particularly around the punk/new-wave spectrum, and whilst those genres are an essential part of festival programming, this year seemed more guitar-oriented than last, and that’s perhaps something of a shame. Sac ‘n’ Pip demonstrated that there’s a powerful appetite for a bit of urban music in the Yorkshire countryside, so more of that please. There’s loads of scope for more country, dance-funk, electronica and after-hours ambient. And not to mention that Saturday night headliner… I wonder what Jarvis Cocker is doing this time next year?

And sticking with the Js, why not Just Jack, Jon Allen and John Shuttleworth? Keep the guitar bands in the tents, and funk up the main stage. The truth is, however, Deer Shed could stick on a couple of buskers for half the bill (or, goodness forfend, The Lancashire Hotpots) and still people would flock to it. Because there’s something about the atmosphere, the site and the families, which remains unmatched anywhere in festivaldom. And I’m willing to wager that for 99% of the audience at Deer Shed, that’s what keeps them coming back year after year. Here’s to Deer Shed’s 6th birthday.

 

Deer Shed Festival 2014: Day 2 Roundup

 
By on Monday, 11th August 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Camping with kids at festivals is rewarding and frustrating in equal measure. Despite running around all day, playing swingball in fits of glee, they rarely fall asleep anywhere near normal bedtime yet paradoxically wake at the crack of dawn, as the first glow of sunlight forces its way through increasingly stuffy canvas. Which would explain the weary expressions on the faces of parents in the queues for coffee and bacon sandwiches early Saturday morning at Deer Shed festival. Plenty simply hadn’t bothered to get dressed, waiting in line in pyjamas and Crocs for the calories and caffeine which would finally drag them into the realm of the waking.

As good a place as any to eat breakfast was the Big Top tent, with Paul Cookson and Stan Cullimore for company. Stan used to be in The Housemartins, so he can play the ukulele and now sings songs for kids rather than blather on about how good Hull is. Paul Cookson used to be a teacher, so knows how to handle a crowd of over-excited children, and trades in performance poetry when not accompanying Cullimore on the ukulele. He has one particularly memorable routine in which he impersonates his teenage daughter’s head-shaking, hand-waving putdowns: “Wha-eva, major loser!” Elsewhere, the Stan sings a song about the virtues or otherwise of his musical partner’s digestive system, which of course brings the house down. A great way to banish the cobwebs.

Leeds’ Post War Glamour Girls do a good job of convincing people to buy their début album ‘Pink Fur’. Its scuzzy, incessant grooves infected with gothic despair are ironically just the ticket to really launch into Saturday PM. The shadow of Nick Cave hangs heavy over them; indeed, the male-female interplay recalls Cave and Minogue at their most lugubrious. After all that, how bad can one’s life be in comparison? Dublin’s Raglans do exactly what you might expect of a few likely lads equipped with guitars from Ireland’s party city. Upbeat, jolly ditties, delivered with irrepressible enthusiasm. Their song entitled ‘White Lightning’ might raise queasy memories of last night’s cider-induced hangover, but apart from that, they deserve full marks for kicking the Main Stage into life.

With nothing of interest to follow on the Main Stage, it’s to the comedy tent to witness Wes Zaharuk (yet another name misspelled in the programme). His brand of shambolic, power tool-assisted slapstick comedy has the power to have an audience in tears of laughter in short order, and gives any manner of ideas for mayhem to errant toddlers. A whole toilet roll is unravelled in someone’s face using some sort of power blower, and a lucky lady gets to feed Wes a banana. From behind. Without looking. It’s unclear how he gets away with it, but give praise to the god of slapstick that he does.

Happyness are the perfect mid-afternoon tent band. Their chilled-out obscurantist rock proves how effective the power trio lineup can still be. Their songs have a deceptive superficial simplicity in which hides all manner of clever guitar work and surrealist lyrical content. ‘Refrigerate Her’, anyone? The irony of their name versus their faux-glum onstage banter doesn’t go unnoticed, either. With their début album now released, Happyness deserve increasing recognition for their West-Coast-by-way-of-South-London vibes – and they’re certainly headed in the right direction.

Unfortunately Catfish and the Bottlemen are indisposed, so Bleech play for the second time in 2 days. Which means that We Were Evergreen’s upcoming claim to Deer Shed fame – that they’d be the first act to play the main stage twice – is cruelly usurped by fate at the last possible moment. Which makes it even more inexplicable when the compere introduces “We Are Evergreen [sic], the first band ever to play the Main Stage twice!” just after Bleech had finished playing their second Main Stage set. Evergreen’s name had been misspelled throughout the catalogue and lanyard – one would imagine that a band that had played before would have better name recognition than the others, but apparently not. Anyway, a bit of a low point, credibility-wise.

What wasn’t a low point was We Were Evergreen’s actual set. Fortunately, the Parisian three-piece multi-instrumentalists can remember their own name and what to play. They’ve taken their time releasing their début album ‘Towards’, but the wait has been worth it. They’re complete antithesis of a guitar band: yes, they have a Telecaster and a ukulele, but they work in deference to the song, instead of the song being an incidental excuse for six-stringed excess. It’s impossible to overstate the songwriting efficiency that goes into a song like ‘False Start’: its funkiness is off the scale, there’s hooks galore, and the whole thing hangs in the air with a citric freshness of style for which merely being Gallic isn’t sufficient explanation. The closer ‘Belong’ has a climax of such theatrical intensity that it leaves the crowd in raptures of applause. There isn’t enough time in universe to get bored with it. We Were Evergreen deserve widespread acclaim, as do Deer Shed for hosting them twice – let’s hope they get their name right third time around.

Summer Camp play the “In the Dock” stage, which is a tent, but they surely would have worked just as well on the main stage, such is the power of their funkily intense pop music. Indeed, Summer Camp are perhaps the perfect intelligent pop band, with just the right blend of sugary melodies, acerbic observational lyrics, and a decent slug of wig-out when they’re really powering on. There’s some cuts from their recent ‘Beyond Clueless’ semi-soundtrack album, but the greatest acclaim is reserved for their back-catalogue classics – ‘Better Off Without You’ from ‘Welcome To Condale’ is received like an old friend. Elizabeth Sankey is a woodland diva, her tremulous soprano lending an air of dignity to the acerbic lyrics, whilst Jeremy Walmsley’s ’80s retro grooves ensure that any joints that may have become stiff in the evening breeze are well-loosened in anticipation of our headliner.

And so we come to Johnny Marr. In part 1 it was already established that Mr Marr is the most successful Deer Shed headliner ever, and outlined the reasons for it. Suffice to say that to these ears, seeing Marr live is actually superior to seeing the Smiths in their pomp: Marr’s voice is adequate but nothing spectacular, which leaves the music and songs space to breathe – the whole isn’t dominated by a preening diva flouncing around. Having said that, Marr is a surprisingly good mimic, his tone and inflection an impressive imitation of Morrissey’s, and indeed Neil Tennant’s for that matter. He played a decent mixture of solo songs, Smiths classics, one or two from Electronic, and a fine rendition of ‘I Fought The Law’. The enormous crowd gave a rapturous welcome, and even though this was surely a modest crowd by Marr standards, it was perhaps one of the most appreciative. It turns out an elder statesman headliner is perfect for the of-a-certain-age Deer Shed demographic. The mind boggles as to where this could lead – there’s no dearth of ex-singers or guitarists from respected bands which were active over the last two or three decades, any of which would be a perfect fit for Baldersby Park. More on this topic in part 3…

Keep it here on TGTF for the conclusion of Martin’s time at Deer Shed Festival 2014 coming soon.

 

Deer Shed Festival 2014: Day 1 Roundup

 
By on Thursday, 31st July 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

On Saturday the 26th of July, on the occasion of its fifth birthday, Deer Shed Festival finally came of age. I mean no disrespect to Villagers or Darwin Deez, but Johnny Marr is the perfect climax to Saturday night at Deer Shed. He drew a crowd to Baldersby Park’s gently sloping natural auditorium unmatched in both size and enthusiasm than in any previous year. By virtue of writing the music to countless songs that soundtracked the lives of the adults in the crowd when they were young, free, and unencumbered by the offspring who were variously marauding around the site in frenzied glee or asleep in their arms despite the noise, for an hour or so they gave Marr their undivided attention and appreciation as he reeled off one classic after another.

Even though perhaps not as much a household name as his Smithsian lyricist and singer, by virtue of avoiding the latter’s rum pronouncements on vegetarianism, race, and sexuality, and sticking to what he does best – playing decent music – Marr succeeds in a similar, but much larger fashion, to that which Gaz Coombes did the previous year. A combination of life-affirming back catalogue hits, each of which instantly evoke dusty memories of life past, together with new material that easily stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the older stuff, is a recipe for success at Deer Shed Festival. Thusly are memories of the future made.

But Deer Shed Festival is far from being just the Johnny Marr show, and the adventure commenced the previous sultry afternoon. For those that don’t know, Deer Shed festival is held in North Yorkshire, just off the A1 on the way to Thirsk, in the beautiful grounds of Baldersby Park. The unwritten rule of Deer Shed: bring the kids. Even though the music is as good as anywhere, the real focus is on giving children a good time throughout the weekend, so if you’ve an aversion to the little blighters, look elsewhere. If you need an event where the kids are kept amused as Dad moshes down the front, Deer Shed is for you.

After a less-than-arduous 5-minute walk from car park to campsite, silently congratulating oneself for attending an event of a sensible acreage, and a bout of fumbling with canvas and string in the baking hot sunshine, refreshment and musical entertainment are less desired than demanded. Teleman were welcome succour. Comprising three of the admired Pete and the Pirates but swapping jaunty guitars for more considered electronica-enhanced melodies, they mix Erasure’s way with a dramatic synth-pop arc with Belle and Sebastian’s observational twee. All We Are eased the main stage into the late afternoon sunshine with the gentle ebb and flow of their gently atmospheric, shoegaze-influenced pop. Contenders for “The xx imitators of the Year” award, along with Woman’s Hour.

PINS are impeccable now. Watching them transform from a rickety band of noiseniks just a couple of years ago into today’s whirlwind of glamour and red lipstick is a life-affirming experience. They combine the power of 1970s New York glam-punk rock with an overlaid sweetness of melody and delicacy of touch comparable with any Supremes classic. While the phrase “girl band” has loaded connotations of manufactured, shallow pop nonsense, bands like PINS are doing their best to reclaim it for groups of talented musicians who just happen to be women. Whether or not there’s any great feminist insight is open to debate, but nevertheless, theirs was one of the performances of the weekend.

Next comes the only major misstep of programming of the whole weekend. Just as the sun starts to think about lazily drifting towards the horizon, and the main stage crowd are tucking into their evening meal of organic houmous and vintage prosecco, along come Toy to blast away the early evening reverie. On record, TOY are more considered, melodic, and song-focused, but live they come across as an incessant wall of noise; they’ve got three guitars and they’re going to turn it them all up to 11. ‘Join the Dots’, the title track from their début album, is a case in point – its climax of multi-layered guitars, phased into the next universe, is an undoubtedly viscerally thrilling piece of music, but perhaps not enjoyable if it disturbs little Johnny’s digestion and makes the whole family go scrabbling around for the ear defenders.

It’s not that they’re a bad band. Far from it. In fact, along with Temples, they’re one of the most convincing neo-psych bands in the country right now. But in this instance it’s a case of right band, wrong stage. Various overheard grumbles pay testament, including the old classic, “it’s just noise!” A considerable chunk of the Deer Shed crowd rock up to the main stage auditorium in the morning with their camping chairs and stay there all day, so in a way have little choice as to what they are made to listen to. Whatever is on the main stage influences the enjoyment of the entire site, and the Friday evening slot needs to be something less challenging, a little funkier, to properly match the mood of the audience.

A band on the correct stage are Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – they play the tented Lodge stage, so aural participation is distinctly optional – but certainly recommended. Pip’s gently political and moderately sweary diatribes (“that last song had an MF in it, sorry parents!”) combined with Sac’s dubstep-flavoured soundtrack excites many audience members into a display of such extrovert dad-dancing that any child would be excruciatingly embarrassed. The atmosphere in the tent is genuinely charged with enthusiasm; Deer Shed’s first foray into urban/rap/hip-hop is superbly received. More please. In common with several other acts, Pip seems genuinely pleased to have such a diverse range of ages in the audience – officially the most people on shoulders ever at one of their gigs, as children are raised aloft to experience “the man with his head on upside down”.

The main stage headliner is British Sea Power, but inevitably for many parents their slot coincided with trying to settle one or more very excited children to sleep. They sounded great from the campsite. When eventually the kids are settled, the last attraction of Friday is the genius that is Darius Battiwalla accompanying a silent film: this year, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. It was intended to be The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari but had to be changed for licensing reasons, which would have suited the time travel theme far better, and also the patience of the crowd: Caligari is a mere 67 minutes long, whereas Hunchback is over 2 hours. Whilst I’d happily listen to Battiwalla play over a cornflake advert, that’s a long time to spend watching Lon Cheney gurning, and by the time the film’s impenetrable plot reached its climax, the audience were variously physically uncomfortable or sound asleep. It’s surprising how loud a small boy’s snores can be in the auditorium of a silent film!

Stay tuned for more of Martin’s coverage of Deer Shed coming soon on TGTF.

 

Preview: Deer Shed Festival 2014

 
By on Friday, 20th June 2014 at 9:00 am
 

Editor’s note: for a flavour of what Deer Shed has offered in previous years, read Martin’s coverage of Deer Shed in 2013 and 2012.

It’s that time of year again when thoughts turn to spending a weekend under canvas, listening to live music en plein air and generally having a good time whilst dodging the rain. But there’s no reason why such enjoyment should be the exclusive privilege of adults – which is where the good people at Deer Shed Festival come in. Their particular brand of genius revolves around providing a surfeit of proper bands so that Mum and Dad can be exposed to a year’s worth of good new music and also have a ramble down their musical memory lane, whilst the children get up to all sorts of shenanigans with drumming workshops, making things out of string, and learning the occasional naughty bottom joke.

Deer Shed’s musical programming has always been high quality and eclectic, and this year promises the same. The general musical theme of each day at previous Deer Sheds has been as follows: Friday is party night, Saturday is mostly guitar-based, with a sprinkling of Dadrock, and Sunday is most definitely chill-out-with-a-bacon-sandwich time. This year seems to our ears a little more guitar-centric than previous, so don’t forget the kids’ ear defenders!

Friday night sees hip-hop making its first Deer Shed appearance in the form of Dan le Sac, bringing beat poetry into the 21st century with the help of his partner in beats DJ Scroobius Pip. Headlining the other stages are perennial indie favourites British Sea Power, and underground darlings Wolf Alice. Try not to miss Toy and Pins either. Saturday is the day where all manner of shenanigans break loose, with a full programme of music only half the story. TGTF’s band picks are Leeds’ Post War Glamour Girls, husband-wife ’80s revivalists Summer Camp, London slackers Happyness, the superb French arch-pop of We Were Evergreen (in a rare return to Baldersby) and the ex-Beta Band Steve Mason, second on the bill only to Johnny Marr, who is sure to warm the cockles of dads of a certain age, perhaps reminding them of that 6th-form disco when they heard ‘How Soon Is Now’ for the first time – and when they still had hair…

But there’s far more to Saturday at Deer Shed than that. In fact, I’d say the kids get the best part of the deal, because while their parents are otherwise distracted, passively absorbing what’s on stage, the kids get to actively participate in some really cool stuff. Let’s consider workshops – the lucky blighters can variously make a castle, a cyborg teddy, a lolly stick trebuchet, a comic book, a princess costume, badges, bracelets, and pretty much anything out of clay. They can learn how to drum, perform circus feats, play the ukulele, and shoot a cocktail stick crossbow. And if that’s not enough they can watch as much slapstick and learn as many naughty jokes about bums that their little heads can handle. Particular standouts from the PG-rated comedy strand include the proptastic Wes Zaharuk, Paul Cookson and ex-Housemartin Stan Cullimore doing kid-friendly ukulele singalongs, and for the little ones a puppet show featuring the adorable Lulu – a sort of emu, but with Rod Hull nowhere to be seen.

Arts activities for adults include a spoken word strand curated by the Guardian’s Dave Simpson – check out ‘The Fallen on The Fall’, allegedly the most Fall musicians in the same room except actually in The Fall, or Saint Etienne‘s Bob Stanley discussing his book ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’: the complete story of the modern pop era, apparently. There’s all you ever wanted to know about The Wonder Stuff, and all you never thought to ask about Bradford’s musical history. If that’s all too much and you fancy slumping down in front of the big screen, there’s time travel-themed movies all weekend, culminating in 1920’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, with live piano accompaniment from the genius that is Darius Battiwalla. Almost worth the entrance fee alone.

Speaking of themes… Friday night sees the Time Travel Party get into full swing. What that involves isn’t clear, but we imagine one of two things – either remembering the date for the future when time travel machines have been invented, then going back in time to attend, or, perhaps the easier option, bring some clothing that was fashionable in the past, or perhaps will be fashionable in the future, and wear that to the party in an effort to convince fellow revellers that you really are from the future. Or perhaps the past. This time travel business gets confusing very quickly. What you under no circumstances must do is attend from both the present and the future – if your two selves meet, the very fabric of spacetime will be rent asunder – an event hardly conducive to a decent party. If anyone needs advising on the tricky details of time travel, no doubt Marty McFly will be on hand to help, and perhaps one or two generations of Dr Whos. Don’t forget to bring your flux capacitor.

Even though Deer Shed offers good value in musical terms even if you haven’t got kids, the whole point of the event is that it’s a place where the little blighters can let off steam and have some fun in a relatively safe environment, with both children and adults catered for in terms of activities. Even though other festivals have their kids offerings, Deer Shed has the need to keep kids entertained woven into its very DNA – it’s something it’s very good at indeed. Added to the fact that it’s never rained at Deer Shed in living memory… what more do you need to know?

 
 
 

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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 was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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