Summer in the UK, and there are literally hundreds of festivals to be had. Which one do you choose to spend your hard-earned cash on attending? If you're a family and you live in the north of England - or perhaps neither - you should try the Deer Shed. I've come back this year for my second helping, and here's why...
If you're not yet familiar with the Deer Shed, then it is probably time you were. This festival is an absolute gem when it comes to all-round entertainment for families with kids of any age. Set in the grounds of a farm in the North Yorkshire countryside, it is quiet and idyllic a surrounding and yet bursting with all sorts of activities, live acts and music, spread out over a three-day period. Only a couple of thousand revellers come here, and yet this event seems much bigger in terms of energy, whilst also managing to retain a feeling of being quite intimate.
Each year, the Deer Shed changes its theme and creates many of its activities around it. Deer Shed 7 is 'At the Movies', and this could be seen everywhere we ventured. We found lots of Star Wars influenced stuff - perfectly suited to our growing Jedi family - from Kylo Ren and Rae fighting with light sabres up on the hill, to the Binks Mobile and Darth Wader interactive sculptures teaching the kids about cause and effect. Dorothy and the Tin Man could be spotted wobbling around the main stage area on the Saturday, shaking hands with the crowd in between musical acts. There was also a dedicated movie tent which was playing all sorts of old black and white footage amongst other stuff, and several Sing-a-Longs on the Sunday including ones from the popular kids movies Tangled and Inside Out. The organisers were even taking the opportunity to make their own movie this year, and opened up audition slots over the course of the event for punters who wished to have a crack at the thespian life to try out for a part. Not us, mind you - our kids found munching on popcorn throughout the weekend proved movie-like enough to them.
We brought our campervan this time around, which is great in having to set up very little upon arriving on the Friday afternoon, not to mention the battle that would have ensued putting a l6-person tent up in 30 degree heat - and we see plenty of folk having such to contend with on the walk down to the main arena. Almost everything we see appears identical to last year; the clean camping fields and almost 'clinical' toilets are in the same spot, as are the music tents and main stage, the fairground, and most of the food stalls - 'if it aint broke' and all that. Although new to the festival for 2016, however, is a sports field completely dedicated to all sorts of fitness based activities. There's a small half-pipe and set of ramps which keeps the budding skater and scooter fans happy, whilst a good-sized crowd joins in with the frequently run parents and kids exercise sessions. The Middlesbrough Football Club are running a hands on session for wanna-be soccer stars, and if that doesn't light your candle, then there a balls and hoops a plenty for solo kick-ups and hoola. Whist the Science tent is staple here each year, the activities within are mostly new and this proves a big hit with the kids all weekend long, with mini robots and rockets to make, technical instruments like Push to create a tune or two and even a chance to use forensics in a mock crime scene to solve the Whodunnit!
When it comes to music, Deer Shed likes to serve up a variety of artists and styles, with only a handful of big name performers, a good number of well knowns and more who are off the average bod's radar altogether. You would think, something for everyone. Our own personal ear candy came in many guises this year, starting with Manchester's Lonelady, who provided a great mid evening set on the Friday, her simple but catchy 4:4 electronic beats giving mostly a dance vibe (its no surprise to learn she is signed to Warp) and then as each song grows, the guitars layered on top send her tunes somewhere else, some toward Punkville. Headlining the Lodge stage a little later, Eagulls were much improved in my eyes and ears; their sound appeals to many, I'm sure, although when I last checked them out in Leeds I wasn't overly impressed - but I haven't really done Goth since the 80s. Here, they seem much more settled into their skin and although still full of dour, there's some pop dust sprinkled atop the Leeds lads these days which I am sure will annoy the traditionalists and yet see them growing more popular with the mainstream.
The night belonged to Everything Everything, however, who belted out a cracker set to hundreds of revellers main stage. The sun had long since disappeared, and yet the stage was awash with warm colours like it was still setting around us, glowing reds and oranges, providing a beautiful contrast to the guys from the band in their matching white suits. Regret, from their latest long player, had everybody spellbound; where Distant Past saw all here up on their feet and dancing their socks off. Fab.
Quite an audible mix was to be had on the following day. Saturday started well for us with a Swedish/American bunch of lads calling themselves Fews. Apparently, this was their earliest festival slot ever, but their fanatically fast rock tunes quickly lured in a crowd from outside the In the Dock tent and although most sat still to listen there was a nice gathering up front who head-shook along to guitarist/singer Fred Lundqvist's frenzied performance on centre-stage. Female duo Tuff Love followed, bringing the thrashing around down a peg and providing a more cruisey vibe for this time of day. Radio 6 are fans of this band and its easy to hear why, their Surf Pop tunes rather catchy and perhaps unique in being Glasgow's only band of this genre. Elewhere, the Main Stage was hosting one Cattle & Cane, whom are pigeon-holed alongside Mumford and Sons, but arguably more uplifting, courtesy of the beautiful female vocals of Helen Hammill alongside those of brother, Joseph. Not really my cuppa, but plenty present seemed happy to listen and dance along, the crowd growing quickly throughout the set. And from Folk, to something else altogether. Plastic Mermaids had been pitched as 'a bit like Mercury Rev', and for this reason - plus their rather nice band name - I hunted them down. And how chuffed that I did? Very! Definitely Mercury Rev influenced, with wispy percussion weaving in and out of gentle vocals (the piano and strings on Polaroid also proving Rev-like), some other songs were more keyboard-heavy, with guitar chords over the top, often played using a violinist's bow. Alaska was just gorgeous and at times during this set, I was close to tears. Although not all due to the sound; I have always love watching a band who are evidently blown away by the crowd's support and enjoyment, and these chaps were clearly moved. Beautiful stuff.
Come Saturday evening, and being pulled from stage to fairground to food stand and back again by my kids, I was left to catch the Main Stage acts in dribs and drabs. I have seen Misty Miller play before, and her more recent punk-like style and tales of cheating on boyfriends could still be heard from wherever I was stood. Her quirkiness and sometimes risqué lyrics are more fun than offensive and she holds her own well on the guitar, so all up, she's decent and the crowd applaud seemed to agree with that. Rae Morris, another British female solo-artist, brought her piano pop sound to the stage next. Much more relaxed in pace than Miller, she gave the audience a chance to sit, chill and bask in her beautiful voice and accompanying piano riffs. Unguarded was released only recently; check out the title track, particularly if you like this type of music, its quite lovely. Next, Scotland's Steve Mason, who did liven things up again, going by those who'd been sat chilling suddenly remembering that they had feet and rushing toward the stage. He's made several albums, under different guises, although recent album tracks Alive and the fantastic Planet Sizes were among the evenings most enjoyable moments.
Richard Hawley, a veteran of the British music scene, was a must see - said everybody at the Deer Shed this year. And what's not to like, here. Whether his musical style is your bag or not, that deep, velvet voice and his easy-going love songs were received well by the looks, lullabies for the remaining tired kids present and an additional night cap for the Mums and Dads. After hours, and with the kids in bed, things got more interesting. Marc Riley's DJ set in the Obelisk tent was something I was intent on hearing, particularly after having missed electro massif Galaxians playing on the Friday night. Yes, my husband won Rock Paper Scissors to stay out late the previous evening; well, he wasn't having that luxury two nights running! What a crowd for Mr Riley; no surprises though, really, he being one of the "6 Music" Gods, after all. He played all sorts of tunes, including LOTS and lots of Prince and Bowie (thanks, Marc!), plus The Clash, Stone Roses and Happy Mondays amongst others. He actually couldn't put a foot wrong, it seemed - even Britney Spears' Toxic sounded fab to this crowd - and, with our kids tucked up in their sleeping bags, we all took an opportunity to go crazy with the dance moves for a good couple of hours. At least until the thought of a 6am awakening got the better of us, that is.
And from music, to cuisine. Now, I'm not entirely sure at which point in time festival food turned from noodles in soy sauce or a soggy pie to something resembling gourmet, but you will most certainly only find the latter here at the Deer Shed. The food options and tastes are nigh on outstanding. There must be a stall for everybody's palate, although some clearly outshone the others in popularity; once again, the Wood Fired Pizza stand claims the gold medal here, although its fair to say the fish finger sandwich bar proved a stark competitor (and yes, we sampled both, more than the once!). The Indian take-away was absolutely delicious, too, particularly the lamb Rogan Josh. So many sweet treats on offer, as well, which is great for the littlies - waffles, crepes, homemade lemonade and cakes, chocolate sundaes.... Sugar galore!! None of it particularly over-priced, either. As for the drinking options, the Sloemotion cocktail tent (which had doubled in size from last year) had a permanently steady queue, so much so that they had sold out of their No7 fruit cup by Saturday afternoon according to their owner, Claire. No surprises really, the warm sun and beautiful grassy surroundings egging folk on for an afternoon beverage of some sort or another - including yours truly. The bar to the left of the main stage regularly looked as rammed as the Sloemotion tent did, although proved nowhere near as inviting a spot, more 'grab your beer and go' than sit and chillax. And well done to the genius who placed a load of hay bales next door to a cocktail area, allowing for little people's keeping themselves entertained while the sloe gin was doing the same for the big people.
Cost-wise, this festival is fairly priced at under £150 per adult (and way less for kids), with everything except for the fair ground rides and refreshments included in the price - standard stuff, really. Pitching a tent will cost you zero extra, while glamping in a tee pee or bringing your own campervan on site will both cost you more; again, this shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Food - and drinks, to some degree - can be brought into the arena, so staying fed and watered needn't break the bank, either. Situated less than an hour from Leeds, it's almost smack-bang in the centre of England which makes the festival pretty much accessible to anybody without too much of an effort. Of course, "the weather help maketh a party", and we were blessed with belting hot sunshine for the first two days this year, only having to cope with that wet stuff on and off come Sunday lunchtime. But there is so much more to the Deer Shed's success than the weather; even the bands playing and activities on offer cannot alone account for the wonderful vibe here. You can thank all of the people for this, from workers to volunteers to the parents and kids, big or small. What a fun and friendly bunch they all are! And whilst I am still to find someone who was one of the original crowd to attend some seven years ago, most people I ask have been here at least a handful of times before this one. Anna and Phil from Manchester, my dancing pals in the Obelisk tent on the Saturday night, are in their 'Year Four' now, and did asked me not to write too good a review to save on the word spreading further on just how good this little Yorkshire festival is. Whilst I understand their reasons, and I respect their wishes since they are now my amaaaazing FFFs (that's Fest Friends Forever), I wouldn't be doing the event any justice by keeping quiet about it.
Deer Shed isn't just a marvellous festival, but THE one to attend for families and people of all ages, sitting several notches above its northern festival counterparts. Where else can you launch a water bottle rocket, star in a movie, play Swingball, do a workout session, build a den, sit on sculptures that emit gas, ride a Helter Skelter and collectively drink the cocktail bar semi-dry, all in one field? There is so, so much going on here, it is impossible to mention it all. But you are guaranteed to find something to have a go at or simply to observe - from air guitar comps to street dance, free poetry to watching funny lady Barbara Nice crowd-surf whilst the entire Big Top sang Frozen's Let It Go. No doubt the Deer Shed will keep on growing in popularity - perhaps, so much so, that it will have to rethink its venue. Or else, you will have to hope that you are one of the lucky few who manages to snare a ticket. PLEASE @deershed8, can I be one of them?
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