Secret Garden Party 22nd-24th July 2016
The Secret Garden Party (SGP) is one of our favourite festivals. We normally associate it with youthful exuberance, fun, a sense of wonderment and sunshine. Last year, it was sadly missing the last of those as it endured a whole weekend of downpours. It was, therefore, with a sense of relief that we arrived in the sunshine and the promise of good weather for the whole festival. That sense of jubilation was certainly present among the masses who had started arriving from the Thursday.
The sunny day feeling was certainly well placed for the first act we caught, Natty. It was a laid back, reggae inspired acoustic session. It was a bright start to the festival and set up a feeling of love and joy which is just perfect for Secret Garden Party.
The first Indie rock band of the day was Little Comets. On the whole, indie rock is relatively rare at this festival compared to many other ones. This band tend to play their guitars a little too high for us, we favour a low slung rock n roll feel, but their funky, indie rock sound attracted a decent crowd, who gave the band a lot of support. That indie sound was taken up another level by Swim Deep. They add an extra bit of glitter and pop to their songs and they sound as good here in a field as we are sure they would in an indie disco. There’s something a bit retro about them, but also quite endearing. It’s a sound that gets the crowd not just jumping, but genuinely dancing. It’s not all brightness though, some of the tracks do have a darker, even Joy Division esque, edge to them. It’s a really good set by a band you feel could emerge into something great.
SGP is a lot about art and flamboyance. In that respect, the fact that Pins look like a band from a Warhol film, means they fit in very well. They’re dressed all in black and have a lot of style about them. Thankfully, it is also backed up with a cool, garage pop sound. Naturally, there is a sixties feel to them but definitely not of a wholesome kind. They remind us a bit of a UK version of Those Darlins.
One of the biggest bands on the bill, both in terms of sound and commercial success, is Band Of Skulls. The start of the set sees the crowd calling for the vocals to be turned up, but they sounded great right from the first song to us. Band Of Skulls are now just a huge rock band and they have the songs to match the loudness of their sound (unlike some other bands). Their last release “By Default” was particularly great, but actually all their songs now translate so well to their live shows. The only question we would ask, is why aren’t they headlining these type of shows? There are few bands who can deliver rock music and get a crowd dancing as well. The band absolutely smash it with this set and are surely one of the best rock bands in the UK at the moment.
We proceed to spend the rest of the evening just wandering around the festival site taking in and tasting everything it has to offer (quite literally in the shape of the Japanese curry we chose for dinner!). The festival comes alive in the late night and early evening. It’s a cacophony of sounds, taking in every kind of music and alternative entertainment. The other great thing about the festival is the feel good factor it generates. It’s one of the few festivals where you can wander around all day and into the early morning without any sign of trouble. All the crowd seem intent on just having a good time.
Saturday proves to be another scorching day. That’s great in the end, but not quite so good when you wake up to find your tent is in fact now the world’s hottest sauna!! In the search for some shade we check out some of the other areas on the site. This includes the Forum which is hosting a number of speakers. We catch a talk about what ‘Home” really means. There is a spiritual element to SGP that not all festivals have. Sure the majority of people are here to party, but there are those who are genuinely into a ‘different’ kind of life style. We are sure there will be at least a few youngsters that will go home with a changed mind set and that must be a good thing.
By 1pm we are ready to start dancing again, even though that time is still really early in SGP world. Hats off then to Jungle By Night, a funky, Afro beat, brass band. They generate a really good and very enthusiastic crowd. It’s really great stuff and they very quickly create a carnival atmosphere and get the crowd jumping, dancing and crying for more. They manage to encourage one of the best atmospheres of the weekend amongst the watching crowd. One of the best things about a festival is stumbling on a band like this and just having a fun time.
There’s a more restrained feel to Keep Up. Maybe it’s all the Tom Petty that was played prior to their set, but there seemed to be a very commercial rock element to their songs. In fact, our minds kept wandering to Coldplay during a few of their numbers. The only thing blue about Kudu Blue is their name, they actually offer up some sweet soul/jazz songs that were built for a blissed out lie down in the sunshine.
That feeling is kept going by Lissie who is making her third appearance at SGP and keeps the sunshine pop going. Wearing a suitably hippy floating rainbow kaftan, it’s a summery sound which sees our minds wandering to Fleetwood Mac. She certainly has a powerful voice and throws some energy into every one of her songs. Indeed, the set ends with her discarding her robe and belting out the Bangles’ Eternal Flame…. All very Secret Garden Party!
We then chanced on going to see The Wholls, and we were sure glad we did. They brought a bit of rock n roll to the festival. It was great to hear a band come out with some crunching guitars. They kept the melody but still delivered some punk n roll in their sound. It was not surprising to note that the bassist had something of a cool, clash esque sensibility about his style. It was good to see some low slung guitars, always a good barometer for a band! When Man & The Echo first kick off, we can only think of The Beatles and pop songs. Imagine an even geekier Weazer with perhaps a hint of Jellyfish thrown in. They’re definitely not a ‘cool’ band but, you know what, we really enjoyed them. In particular, the front man showed a real sense of wit, a la Jarvis Cocker. In particular, he delivered a cracking send up of the predominantly middle class crowd. They end up being really entertaining and it’s a great set.
The next band we check out are Courts. They add some funky sounds to the setting sun of the early evening. It’s a kind of acid jazz sound (does that genre still exist??), that fits in perfectly with the heady summers evening. The late night/early morning continues with mash up DJs like WBBL before we head over to the Next Stage for a three hour Bowie and Prince marathon. Are there any other artists who could truly keep an entire tent fully engaged and dancing for three hours? It’s just great track after great track. It may be an easy win for the DJs, but they keep the whole crowd singing, dancing and hugging until the sun comes up. A fitting tribute to two of the greatest musicians that ever lived.
After a bit of meandering around the various stalls at the festival, we start the next day off with something else a bit different. We hear laughter from a tent and find comedian Louie Burgess delivering a somewhat shambolic set. We thought being a band booked to appear early on a festival line up was tough, but it must be even harder for a comedian. Fair play to Louie then, he delivers a rough but really great routine. He was perfect for a festival as he blends comedy with music. In particular, his song about being a middle class white boy rapper was brilliant. He handled the heckles and the attempts to join in by the still inebriated crowd like a pro. Importantly, he won everybody over and got them to listen … A tough challenge!
Back on the main stage, Hot 8 Brass Band, certainly make sure that everyone has woken up. They had one of the largest crowds of the festival and again made sure the Sunday had a carnival feel to it. It was certainly a good booking by the gardener as they shook everybody up and got them to put their dancing shoes back on. There was an atmospheric pop style to Kloe that reminds us of Roisin Murphy or La Roux (without the eighties sound). It’s a sound which is probably more suited to a late night club than a festival tent if we’re honest. Although, new single “Liability” actually has a slightly rockier feel. The guitars take over from the keys and it’s a good little number.
If ever there was an act that sums up a lot about SGP it’s Beans On Toast. Although that has absolutely nothing to do with his sound. The folk/punk songs he delivers are actually at odds to much of the music at the festival which has far more of a dance element to it. What Beans On Toast perfectly demonstrates and exhibits is the spirit of the festival. A point almost summed up by the fact that he turns up early for his sound check and rather than worrying about set times or formalities just kicks his set off early. It’s that feeling of not worrying about things and just doing what you want. His early start gives him the chance to try out a few new numbers. He also has to deal with it being interrupted by fireworks (in the day time??) but takes it all in his typical humorous spirit. Not many acts can so aptly join music and humour. The stories and inter song banter are equally as entertaining as the songs themselves. It’s no surprise that he attracts the largest crowd of the weekend to the Where The Wild Things Are stage. Indeed, he performs the majority of the set from the crowd. He’s a man with a mission to help people enjoy themselves and have a good time. However, he also delivers some important messages. It’s up to you, you can just sing along or give it some thought. The man himself means it, but his main concern is ensuring that everyone has a brilliant time.
That’s a pretty good summary of SGP, it’s a fantastic festival and one where you can take any experience you want from it. There’s plenty of music and no matter what your preferred style or genre, you will find a band playing it. There’s loads of forums and activities ranging from meditation and yoga to political and environmental stuff. Hell, there is even a full on spa area where you can drink champagne in a hot tub. However, half of the fun is just walking around and just bumping into stuff, be it a dance troupe, a bunch of drummers or a fantastic new band. It really is a great environment to escape from the mundane elements of your working life and try something new. The atmosphere, which was helped by the beautiful weather, is fantastic and there is a real sense of togetherness amongst the attendees. Yes the UK festival market may be getting crowded, but you will be very hard pushed to find one that offers more than SGP.