Shambala is a brightly coloured parallel universe

Shambala Festival 2010 review

published: Thu 2nd Sep 2010

around the festival site (Fancy Dress Procession 1)

Thursday 26th to Sunday 29th August 2010
a secret location in the Midlands, Northamptonshire, NN6 9LY, England MAP
£109 for adult weekend - SOLD OUT
last updated: Tue 24th Aug 2010

Shambala is nothing like any other festival I've been to before. Well that's not strictly true. If I were to take all of the best bits from other festivals I've ever been to, put them into a huge blender, add some lunacy, invention and a bunch of people hell bent on having a fantastic time (while at the same time, not infringing on other people having their own kind of fantastic time), I would be on the way to Shambala but still a little short of the mark.

around the festival site (3)
Our festival was due to begin with a departure in the middle of Thursday morning but we received a text message (along with all other ticket buyers), warning that due to some pretty biblical scale rainfall, the site was not ready for our arrival and that the gates would open on Friday instead. A sensible step, allowing the site sufficient time to drain, and the organisers time to transform the site from pretty, to incredibly beautiful.

Friday's arrival for about 11:00 am was completely painless. We pulled straight onto site, were directed to a place to park, and got wristbanded up immediately.

The welcoming committee of Sham-Air greeted us and took us into their departure lounge with sweets and refreshments available for our kids (aged 9 and 4). We then walked the short distance to family camping. I'd probably opt for some more signposts for family or quiet camping as there seemed to be a few people camped there that hadn't expected to be surrounded by spritely kids first thing in the morning.

around the festival site (3)
I imagine the Shambala site is beautiful when the festival is not there, but the hundreds of flags, bunting and site decor make it one of the prettiest festivals I have seen. A huge bunch of illuminated tulips stand tall in the area around the lake. A 'Burning Man' figure stands guard over the festival awaiting its flame. Sculptures and artistic installations nestle in the surreally lit trees in the woods. Experts carve fantastic figures from timber. Graffiti artists conjure up magical vistas and empty their heads onto boards set out for their use. Vibrant colours punctuate the air and bring the site to life.

Many of the bars and smaller stages employ more interesting and well thought out quirks than I've seen before too. The Compass of Lunacy bar boasts a fine menu of Georges Marvellous Medicine, Liquid Lunacy and The Blue Pill or The Red Pill. All fantastic drinks with special slur inducing ingredients. They also have a tiny tunnel outside labelled as 'The Portal of Doom'. Our kids see other kids emerging from the portal and decide they would like to explore and find themselves popping out of a cupboard in front of a stage.

around the festival site (2)
Similarly, on one of my late night wanders, I enter a small door with the appearance of a Tardis, walk carefully down a low and narrow triangular corridor to find myself in a very well hidden tent. It's rammed full of people and playing the most beautiful dub reggae and yet from the outside, you wouldn't know it is there.

This year the camp site allows fires on the camp site (providing they are contained and raised off the ground). Communal gatherings around fires like this make for some great opportunities for meeting people and engaging in some pretty surreal conversations (vegetarian mythological creature substitutes – 'uni-quorn' anyone? I guess you had to be there).

Cirque Du Freq
The mad dashing around to see bands seems to be far less important at Shambala when compared with other festivals. Only a few acts on the bill are released prior to the gates opening and the whole focus seems to be on the vibe of the festival and people having a good time. Saying that, I saw a fair few bands whom I would heartily recommend. Kid Carpet with his 'Carrier Bag' track, and a great new song about being a kid and having to have a poo in the forest, and the brilliant 'Can't Stop The Pop'. Kid Carpet mentioned Eurovision at one point in his set. He is one of the few acts that would make me watch Eurovision.

Kormacs Big Band
Another belting set was Kormac's Big Band on the main stage. A madass mixture of 1920s sounds, through to 1940s music, with a quartet of rappers, and an 11 piece orchestra. Mad samples, dancey beats and catchy hooks really warm the crowd and get everyone moving. The bouncy piano of 'Showtime' was a real winner.

The legend and supreme observational poetic musician that is Mik Artistik also played to a packed tent. He really should have been playing a bigger tent at a more sensible time but on the face of it there is nothing much sensible about Mik Artistic. With songs about a leaf stuck under a windscreen wiper ('Sweet Leaf of the North'), and 'Clampdown' about the need for a clampdown on dog turds. The man is bloody clever, funny and musically pretty talented too. It could be an annoying combination if he didn't deliver it so bloody well!

around the festival site (3)
Bass fuelled dance madness was in evidence throughout the site in the late evening and early morning but RSD featuring Joe Peng, supplied one of the more memorable sets from my perspective. They seemed to be having a great time and a brilliant set comprising of Junglist dubstep enough to make your knees go weak.

The cross section of musical genres at Shambala was immense and I particularly enjoyed Shri. I'm more familiar with his work with Badmarsh but his staccato flute and blissed out laid back sounds matched the surroundings brilliantly.

The Egg
The special mystery band described with a clue of 'Oval Breakfast Item' was, surprisingly, The Egg. They seem to have had a change in line up with a new guitarist and although some of the tracks sounded slightly different to previous visits to see them, I was very impressed. They seemed tight and on a bitterly cold evening, warmed me to the core and were more uplifting and lively than any other time I have seen them.

Sheelanagig with their sound married from a bastardised marriage of folk, eastern European, ska and country music were brilliant. Playing late on Sunday night, they pulled people into the tent and compelled them to dance!

I was also pleased to see Los Albertos. Their set was full of bounce and left me wandering in search of more music that could match their levels of energy.

around the festival site (3)
Kids are extremely well catered for at Shambala. A field full of excitement and entertainment awaits them. Circus skill workshops, a sensory tent full of things for little fingers, eyes ears and noses to explore, and our favourite, Biddy Bingo. A tent rammed full of daft fun. Bingo for kids (with adult helpers), where the organisers are dressed as pensioners, frail and unstable (physically and mentally). All participants are encouraged to dress up as grannies and enjoy the game. Every prize for a line or full house is the very same Peter Gabriel LP and they gave hundreds away.

Moustache making, face painting, and flower decorating for Granny's Garden were all part of the fun that our kids enjoyed. Circus, acrobatic and theatrical performances were scheduled throughout the weekend. Wonky bikes that went the opposite way that you wanted them to, that had to be pedalled backwards or generally didn't work as anticipated were all over the place.
around the festival site (1)
Last year's scramble nets in the woodland area have been put to shame by a circular scramble route. Our kids are both able to enjoy it at their own pace and love the time that we spend up there underneath the beautifully lit tree canopy, sheltered from the elements.

The 'Kings of Ping' table tennis tournament takes place in a covered tent and one of our friends has entered and does really well. We bask in his glory as he progresses through to the semi finals while the wind and rain make life less comfortable for those battling to see the main stage acts outside. The organisers really turn ping pong into a spectacle.

around the festival site (Fancy Dress Procession 1)
Our kids love the feeling of Shambala. They are included and welcomed rather than being shunned or kept out of the way. They love getting painted up and find a guy doing glitter and glue tattoos and UV body painting.

Dressing up and joining in is essential rather than something that a few people do at other festivals. The procession on Saturday probably has the highest percentage of dressed up attendees of any festival I have been to: The Wombles, Human Tetris collective, 101 Dalmatians, Lego man, a whoopee cushion, Star Wars troupe and many, many more make up a procession filled with drummers and jugglers.

The burning man and firework display help remind us that we are in the last night of the festival and that we have a lot more fun to squeeze into a limited time.

Shambala is a brightly coloured parallel universe, a trip down the rabbit hole, through the looking glass and then into hyperspace. I'm still basking in the joyous bubble that it has left me in and trying desperately hard not to think that it's now a year until we can do it all again. What a great way to round off our festival year. I'd advise anyone wanting to go to buy the early bird tickets as I foresee an earlier sell out next year. Just wait until I've got mine first!

around the festival site (Fire Show)

review by: James Tayler

photos by: Phil Bull

Thursday 26th to Sunday 29th August 2010
a secret location in the Midlands, Northamptonshire, NN6 9LY, England MAP
£109 for adult weekend - SOLD OUT
last updated: Tue 24th Aug 2010


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