Secret Garden Party, Abbots Ripton 23rd July – 26th July 2015
If you haven’t been to the Secret Garden Party (SGP), then you have truly missed out on one of the best festivals in the UK. It is one of the few festivals which has retained a sense of mystery and uniqueness in a somewhat crowded market. A lot of credit has to go to the organisers, or the head gardener to give them their official title, for the truly eclectic mix of bands. There really is a representative from every single genre of music at the festival, and if you can’t find something you like then you need to check you have a pulse.
Normally, the gods look favourably on the festival and bless it with a glorious sunny, summer weekend…sadly, for once, this wasn’t the case this year. Not that the hardcore festival goers allowed that to spoil their fun. The first band we caught were a great little indie rock band called Flyte. They had a set of chirpy songs that you could see easily having a wide commercial appeal. They admirably fought against the rain and played a really tight set, which deserved the larger crowd a spot of sunshine would surely have brought them. There was more great pop from The Magic Gang, who played a Weezer inspired pop rock noise and with the track “Birthday”, have a song that deserves to be a big hit. It’s not alone in being one of their songs that blend indie with an almost power pop sound. Geeky looking boys with cool songs is certainly a winning combination.
The great thing about SGP, is when you stumble on a small stage in the middle of a wood or a clearing and discover a truly wonderful surprise. That was certainly the case when The Gypsies of Bohemia turned up. They play awesome gypsy inspired versions of some pop/rap classics including “Hot In Here” and “Hot Stepper”. When this band played you forgot it was raining because you, along with the whole crowd, are just having so much fun and smiling from ear to ear. The crowd go wild for a great “Seven Nations Army” before exploding when they flow in to a Backstreet Boys number!!
This built us up for one of our favourite new bands, Hinds. We previously caught this band at Glastonbury and were blown away by their enthusiasm. This weekend, they were able to bring a little bit of Spanish sunshine to a very gloomy British day. You can’t help but get caught up in their excitement and the fact they managed to get a very damp crowd dancing along, says it all. We are sure that inevitably they will receive misguided comparisons to Haim, mainly just because they are young girls with an ear for a melody. In fact, they are far more like Those Darlins in the way that they show a love for pop songs but with a punk snarl.
Saturday saw a brightening up in the weather and with it the ability to discover even more of the festival site. This means the chance to check out some of the passing acts who perform throughout the site, as well as the vast array of enticing food and drink outlets, all while getting a bit of face paint glitter. The variety of musical entertainment continues and in Davey James you got a nice wakeup call with some folky/Americana tunes, but played with a bit more of a rock n roll tempo. It includes some neat slide guitar which blends in perfectly with the Wild West scene created by The Cross Road tent. Too early for a bourbon?…don’t think so! Similarly, Smokey Angel Shades also share an Americana feel, but this time with a dash of almost Beatles esque harmonies. They are far, far tighter than their ramshackle look would make you think and there is a Tom Petty feel to many of the songs. In some ways, they are almost too polished and you kind of hope that maybe later in the day, after the band themselves have enjoyed a few drinks, they might loosen up a bit and rock out a bit more.
As a contrast, Brass Roots, offer up some funky brass band playing, as they deliver some great covers, including “Fuck You” by Ceelo Green and the classic “Word Up” by Cameo. It’s no wonder they attracted a bit of sunshine to the sky. They also played the brilliant and unforgettable, “Never Too Much” by the legendary Luther Vandross. It was a song that got us of a certain age reliving our youth, but also met with a great reception from the far younger crowd. There aren’t many festivals which offer French/Cuban twins playing a soul, almost jazz, feeling set, midway through the day on the main stage.
However, the appearance of Ibeyi is yet another demonstration of the eclectic musical booking of SGP. Indeed, it is more unusual to hear the relatively straight forward, rock n roll sound that is offered by Angus & Julia Stone. Their songs have an intense, almost grungy feel and very Alt American sound with an almost southern tinge to them.
Another great new discovery from the weekend were Fickle Friends, who offered a great line in Indie pop with an almost eighties feel, which had us making comparisons to the excellent La Roux. Like her, there are plenty of songs that you can easily imagine being big radio hits. They manage the difficult job of being catchy and a bit retro, without being throwaway. They certainly got the SGP crowd dancing in the mud.
However, we were also craving a bit of punk rock n roll, which we certainly got with Telegram. Seeing them appear in a dark tent, late at night, threw us back to a feel like CBGBs in NYC. An awesome band, who had the same kind of trashy punk rock look and sound that has served The Libertines so well, and before them the kings of trash rock, The New York Dolls. It was a great find of dirty rock n roll, with the accompaniment of snarls and abused guitars that we love. That built us up perfectly for one of, if not the, best bands on at the festival, The Urban Voodoo Machine. Yeah, it probably helped that we called by The Rum stand on the way there and the fact that the audience contained a fair few people that appeared to have jumped ashore from a pirate ship. However, the key thing, was the songs and the music which were delivered with the usual sense of passion and fun that we expect from this band. The band themselves have been through a really tough time recently, with the tragic death of their guitar player. However, the band remain committed to putting on one hell of a show for their crowd. Indeed, in Tom Spencer they have a great guitarist who has played in some of the best punk rock bands in recent years, including the brilliant The Yo-Yos. It was a raucous set which got plenty of people drinking and dancing, which you sense is very much mission accomplished for the Urban Voodoo Machine.
Sunday opened up in a far different style, with the rather downbeat sounds of Laurel. She plays an atmospheric, electro pop sound. She certainly has a strong voice and it is supported by an almost orchestral backing due to the violin and synthesiser. It’s not exactly our cup of tea, but the melancholic feel of the set probably matched the sore heads of many of the festival goers. Gentlemen’s Dub Club certainly try to brighten things up with their ska/reggae set. It might not have brought the sun out, but it did attract a good sized crowd and more importantly got them up and dancing.
Along with the music, the festival also offers a number of other great sights and events. This ranges from the outfits inspired by the fancy dress theme (this year being Childish Things), visual art work and some literally breath taking fireworks displays. One of the big highlights for the festival regulars is the paint fight that takes place in front of the main stage. It attracts one of the largest crowds of the weekend and shows that they are all up for some fun. It is literally an explosion of colours and laughter and not to be missed.
It was followed by The Correspondents, who had an equally live wire front man dressed in what appeared to be a Zebra inspired onesie! Their sound was a very cool electro swing that you would perhaps normally expect to find in a grand ball room rather than a muddy field, but it still worked.
There was then still time for a bit more rock n roll, firstly brought to us by Kill It Kid. Whilst possessing an American or even roots feel, they played with a rocking vibrancy. The singer in particular, was in possession of a good, rasping voice which suggested a life of living beyond his rather young years. It contrasted really nicely with the softening effect of both the keyboard and the female vocals of the keyboard player. The set gets rockier as it goes on and adds a bigger bluesy sound, which actually gets us thinking about The Black Crowes. The songs have a raw, blustery, blues sound which certainly goes down well with all the audience in the tent.
In terms of rock n roll, however, even they are put in the shade by The Ming City Rockers, who bring a bit of sleaze glamour to the festival. Well, glamour if that’s what you call scuzzy glam rock and a look which could be a mixture of UK bands like the Dog’s D’Amour or the Quireboys, mixed with the glam and big hair of Motely Crue or the New York Dolls. It’s proper rock and roll – all shouty choruses, low slung, cheap dirty riffs and dodgy clothes and barnets… we loved it. A raucous sound of probably missed chords that are only just held together, but recall great bands like The Star Spangles or Hanoi Rocks. How good were they… put it this way, they were twice told by the sound people to turn it down. At a festival which is built on fun and a good dose of debauchery, it is a definite sign they were doing something right.
For once, SGP had to fight against the odds to be a success purely down to the weather. It was unbelievably poor for a weekend at the end of July, even for our notorious summer. It is therefore a testament to both the organisers and the attendees that it was such a success. Over the weekend, we only got to see a fraction of what was going on but it still included – Cuban jazz, brass bands, ska/reggae, rock n roll, punk rock, and dance pop as well as drinking imported rum served by pirate wenches. That surely is a weekend that can be enjoyed even with some rain! A final comment should also be provided to the festival goers, who must be credited for their determination to have a wild and fun time. It’s a festival with a hugely diverse crowd, with widely different music tastes, but a united determination to have a good time. All these factors combine to make SGP a really special festival and one where you should be taking up the early offer to get tickets for 2016 now!!!!