Another weekend, another festival & it's off up the A1 we go for the fourth Deer Shed Festival. Deer Shed confidently nails its colours to the mast. This is family friendly in the extreme. Indeed, it's so family friendly that you wonder at times if it's compulsory to have under 10's by your side to attend. And yet ultimately, the quality of music, art and entertainment pulls it back from that brink.
I can hear the sixties psychedelia of the likeable Deep Sea Arcade arcing out across the site as I put my tent up and survey my weekend surroundings. I'm keen to see this bunch of Aussies closer up but their set is over quicker than a batting collapse and so instead I chat to my neighbours.
"Have you ever been to Camp Bestival?" asks Phoebe, a pleasant 10 year old girl as she eats her pasta confidently cooked by Dad on his camping stove which resembles an Aga in a field. "Yes, I went to the first one with my 10 year old son," I reply ever so slightly embarrassed about how shambolically I've packed my kit. I ask to borrow a mallet. "This is really really better than Camp Bestival but smaller", offers Phoebe.
There's four stages at Deer Shed. The open-air main stage plays host to a wide range of music over the weekend. It's mostly music to appeal to parents of a certain age but it's inventive programming and this middle aged man enjoyed thoroughly what was on offer. Just next to the main stage is the Lodge Tent. Mostly, this also gives us music when there's nothing on the main stage. On the Sunday though, this stage is given over to Roald Dahl storytelling, discussions about the state of English football, heavy metal iconography and what it was like to live through Madchester (with Tom Hingley). The Big Top stage nestles in the corner of the arena. For most of the weekend we get a mix of film, cabaret, comedy and drumming workshops in here though on the Sunday, the tent is given over to two very special music acts that both use an audio-visual combination to give us an afternoon treat. More on that later. Completing the stages is the In The Dock stage, the first tent that you arrive at when you enter the arena from the campsite. Again, there's a mix of entertainment on offer here across the weekend with music and PG rated film dominating much of the timetable.
The theme pervading across Deer Shed 4 is Machines (it's that confident in what it offers it has a theme). This seems to allow the festival to also call itself a 'science festival' within its branding. It's a novel take and yet the idea seems clear and credible; "Occasionally, I'm sure we all feel that we live in a world where we are slaves to technology rather than being in charge. We throw away anything that stops working rather than make any attempt to fix it ourselves," announces the editorial within the comprehensive programme. Deer Shed 4 wants to redress this balance by offering youngsters (and their parents) access to practical and creative machine based workshops.
It's certainly a buzzing hive of creativity when I dip my left toe into the Machines Tent on Saturday morning. In here, there are youngsters and their parents making the most of the opportunity to create and develop computer games using the Raspberry Pi, a £25 credit- card-sized single board computer. Others are building electronic circuits with Madlabs, programming with Scratch, building elaborate Meccano designs and racing Lego cars. Boys seem mostly drawn to this tent but it's encouraging to see the Robogals stall, aimed primarily at introducing young women to engineering and technology.
You and your youngsters won't go hungry at Deershed, especially if you're not averse to a Carb heavy diet. There's a relatively wide array of food stalls dotted between the entertainment tents. I seem to be following Gandhi's Flip Flop around this summer but this weekend their wonderful £2 veggie samosa's have competition from farm reared sausages, stunning paella, Tuk Tuk Thai food, quality pizzas and frozen yoghurt. There are many more interesting looking foodie places that I don't try that seem to draw decent crowds across the weekend. Stuffed.
If you want to get a pint in the arena, there's just one bar. When compared to other smaller festivals and those of a similar size, this provision feels a bit light and it's true that queues do tend to mount up in here. I head in on the Saturday night to get away from Darwin Deez playing his one song over and over again on the main stage to find the bar ten deep in customers. But this is a minor quibble for the staff at the bar are speedy and courteous, there's a decent choice of ales and cider (Thatcher's Gold) and the costs (at £3.50 a pint) aren't a rip-off. York Breweries are the Real Ale provider of choice and a mainstay across the weekend is their Mechanic Ale, a pint brewed (it seems) especially for the Deer Shed Festival. A popular stall selling fine coffee does it's best to spice up their offerings at night with a wide assortment of whisky, rum, Baileys and gin additions to their standard brews.
I've studied the programme and I know what I'm going to get up to on the Friday night. Edwyn Collins is headlining and so I grab a spot by the side and get ready to be moved by the great man himself. Edwyn shuffles on and takes a seat centre-stage. He consults with the song book and lyrics that are next to him on a music stand. 'Falling and Laughing,' he states and his band launch into the opening bars of this classic Orange Juice tune. Collins still looks fragile eight years on from the double brain haemorrhage which put him into intensive care and lengthy rehabilitation. But then he starts to sing in that rich, distinctive white boy soul voice and the fragility is replaced by a tender confidence. Songs from newer albums 'Home Again' and 'Understated' draw some nods of recognition from the more fanatical amongst the crowd but it's the Orange Juice tracks that really get us going. Grown men with sons on their shoulders fight to hold back the tears when Edwyn's son takes to the stage and sings a song whilst Proud Dad looks on. As the hour and a quarter set draws to a stunning finale with 'Rip It up' and 'A Girl Like You', the cheers, smiles and love that emit from the audience encourage Collins onto his feet to attempt a Dad dance. Wish you were here to see the Postcard records legend in action.
Maybe I'm simply getting used to pooing in a field but toilet provision at this year's festivals has been top notch. I ought to say that Deer Shed takes this up a level. Perhaps the abundance of young people on site has allowed organisers to think fully about their bog offer but here we have a mix of compost toilets and huge portatoilets. In each portatoilet you have space to swing a very clean cat and then bathe it under a sink.
Saturday morning and I'm woken quite early by parents moaning at their children for waking early but I take the opportunity to wander a bit more around the site. I have no idea what Baldersby Park is used for year round but the imposing Georgian, neo Palladian villa which overlooks the site multiplies the sense that wealth is all around. There's a lovely lake on the entrance to the arena. I'm encouraged to read in the programme that this space has recently been renovated and that the lake is being developed back to former glories.
If you want to party hard until the morning, then Deer Shed probably shouldn't be your first choice festival of the summer. But, once the music has stopped, the Lodge stage does have DJ's spinning out their tunes until 3am for parents with a pass. On the Friday evening, I head to the Big Top to watch an old 1920's silent movie version of Phantom Of The Opera with pianist accompaniment. It's bizarre, surreal with a plot that's tough to follow but I watch and enjoy.
The following afternoon, I watch some of the comedy on offer in the Big Top. I've seen the character hospital radio DJ, Ivan Brackenbury, before and given that most of his material is the wrong side of rude, I'm intrigued about how he might fare at a family friendly festival. There's a programme change though and Tom Binns, the comedian who is Brackenbury, instead gives up another creation, Ian D Montfort. Montfort is a slightly camp comedy psychic. He entertains a packed Big Top by accurately 'guessing' the star signs of punters. In between relaying messages from great Auntie Mabel, he tells some jokes. Some of them are rude but this mostly whooshes over the heads of the kids in this tent.
I adore Sweet Baboo. Having previously seen Steve Black and his band in a Leicester pub, I know that I'm very likely to delight in the psychedelic country brass twee folk served up by this Welshman. With 6 Music picking up on recent singles, the Lodge Tent packs out on this warm Saturday afternoon. The whole tent is paddling in pleasure as Black crawls through 'Let's Go Swimming Wild' but for me the highlight of the set is his 'Cate's Song', a lovely, tender song about friendship and how it changes over the years with a melody that bounces into my head and refuses to leave.
I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I've never seen The House of Love live before. They appear on the mainstage as the sun begins to drop on the Saturday. It's a functional, workmanlike set. The greying Guy Chadwick maintains a grumpy aloofness but shows signs that he's enjoying himself. Terry Bickers shows that he's lost none of the guitar prowess that arguably shot the House Of Love to fame back in the day. They play tracks from their new album but this is a set that only really hits the heights when they head back into their catalogue. 'Christine' is still a shimmering gem of a tune and 'Shine On' a singalong of epic proportion.
It's not all about music from the past though. Blood Relatives (who used to be Kitty The Lion) impress with their tuneful pop folk. Stealing Sheep have a Mariachi band as backing and captivate all with their medieval, face painted electronica. AlascA have travelled all the way from Amsterdam to give us their modern take on proggy folk. Splendid playing by these young lads who are without doubt ones to watch. Barbarossa are a new band to me but their dreamy, emotive sound is perfect for a lunchtime and I’ll certainly be checking them out at future festivals.
The music is ticking a lot of boxes but I drag myself away to have a look at some of the workshops on offer for the younger ones and their parents. Sometimes, it's the simple things that work the best. The older children seem drawn to the computer based Machines tent but across the Sunday, the younger ones play in the Cardboard City. Boxes, large and small, are twisted into tunnels and made into small worlds. Pens are used to add a dash of colour. I reckon that there must be at least thirty workshops running over the weekend. The plumbing pipe construction looks to be well attended and judging by the amount of people walking around in cardboard Robot Heads on the weekend, it seems that this simple idea has had a lot of takers. If you're desperate for a Sunday morning jog then Deer Shed offers athletes the chance to run around a two and a half mile off-site track. It tires me out simply watching the enthusiastic fitness freaks. Who brings running kit to a festival?
It's Sunday lunchtime and I'm back in the Big Top for a pretty splendid double bill. First up it's Public Service Broadcasting. This is now the fifth time I've seen them this year but I've yet to tire of their act. The cinema screen set up behind them in this Big Top is a decent size and so it makes for a special show. They're not allowing our hangovers to settle though and this morning their sound level has some youngsters (and adults) running to the entrance of the tent holding their ears in pain. Others, both young and old, are clearly enjoying this history lesson and PSB leave the stage with an appreciative audience wanting to learn more.
An hour later, The Unthanks take to the Big Top stage to perform their 'Songs From The Shipyards' show. It’s another history lesson supplemented with film images and it tells the story of the rise and fall of the Shipbuilding industry in the North East of England. The combination of perfect harmonies and poignant images leave many in the audience grasping for their tissues to catch their tears. Images of Thatcher elicit hisses of disapproval yet no tears are shed at this point. The hour ends and those in the audience who are sat stand to their feet to offer an ovation to a truly remarkable show. This is a show not to miss.
The strains of King Creosote are spreading out across the site from the main stage. I do like Kenny Anderson and his band of randoms but it feels odd to see a headliner beginning a set at 2.45 in the afternoon. For some reason (maybe it’s to do with licence or a view that parents are likely to get too vexated by their kin if the festival is extended for too long) the entertainment finishes at 4pm on the Sunday and so I head back to pack up my tent and appreciate the Scottish lilt from afar.
Deer Shed is jam packed with quality. The organisers have clearly given much thought to what all members of the family will want within a festival and have gone a considerable way to delivering that. The science of family friendly festivals is being preserved in North Yorkshire. If you have a child under 10 then this should be a must-do on your festival list. If you simply want a weekend full of quality entertainment, then it should definitely be considered.
latest on this festival
line-ups & rumours
plus Public Service Broadcasting, Gaz Coombes, Fazerdave, SLUG, & more
also announced are Jane Weaver, Bill Ryder Jones, The Orielles, Lowly, & more