Tickets completely sold out, an impressive musical line-up, an exciting new Wilderwild theme and a positively diabolical weather forecast. Welcome to Deer Shed 8!
Offering a weekend jam-packed full of live music, comedy, spoken word and activities of all kinds for young and old folk alike, Deer Shed is a gem of a festival and perhaps the finest of its kind within the north of England. Whether it’s the genuine family vibe, the multitude of things you can see and do, or simply something in the Yorkshire water, Deer Shed will have you smiling from the minute you’re through the gates to the moment you wave it ‘ta-ta’ three days later. At least, this is what it does for me! Which is precisely why, despite this year’s abysmal weather forecast, I’m just a little excited to be back in the Baldersby St James fields for a third helping.
Let’s be honest, nobody likes a rainy festy. And, for the first day at least, Mother Nature played along nicely with the preferred plan, the grey skies always looking ominous but thankfully, never turning on the wet stuff until most of us were long tucked up in bed. Plenty of folk had arrived early Friday by the looks, the camping fields already busy by lunch time and the arena no different as people got out and about whilst it remained dry. After a super-quick nosey around the place to check out what was where, and an obligatory splash of cash down at the fairground, we turned our attention to some live music. It was something of a hotchpotch, to be fair, beginning with Honeyblood. They’re a newish band consisting of two Scottish ladies who bang out some powerful drum beats and guitar riffs, playful melodies and, at times, angry lyrics which today, had them sounding as annoyed as the sky looked. All up, a nice Grunge-pop style that’s easy to cruise along to and not a bad start to procedings. Next, on to the Big Top to see the legendary John Shuttleworth and his musical comedy act for which squeezing in the tent was no mean feat and, once shoe-horned inside, there was absolutely no chance of leaving – and why would you? He’s an extremely funny human being, his Yamaha-backed tunes still side-splitting stuff several decades on and all of us were in stitches thanks to his crazy tales of all kinds of bonkersness. Elsewhere, Cabbage were a must-see for me since I’d missed them several times recently. Catching the final couple of songs, they were as loud and nasty as I’d expected, their Post-Punk clearly more traditionalist with plenty of screaming rants, guitar distortion and fast drums whipping up the fesity In The Dock crowd. And to finish, Main Stage head-liners Teenage Fanclub, who showed hundreds of happy folk why they’ve managed to stay around the scene for almost thirty years. Their set showed exactly what this festival is about, resembling something a big hug from an old friend and making one feel content, nostalgic and a little teary-eyed all at once. There was a lovely moment where the band dedicated The Concept to a boy in the crowd named Jack, who the Fannie’s front-man Norman Blake had apparently met earlier in the day whilst walking through the arena. Unbeknown to me at the time, it was my mate’s eight-year-old son whom had accidentally stumbled into his musical hero that afternoon and earned himself a shout-out in the process. You can imagine how thrilled he was about it, too. Nice touch, Norm!
Saturday morning arrived, complete with some kind of mini cyclone strapped to its back. Which lasted for five hours. And whilst we struggled to fry bacon and eggs from under an umbrella whilst sporting industrial-strength ponchos and wellies, we remained positive it would pass. By just past lunch time it was done, and although the ground was completely wrecked our spirits remained intact – well, minus one bottle of vodka which had helped some breakfast Bloody Marys take the cold, damp edge off! Boots on and mud squelching everywhere we stepped, we headed to the sports field to check out the various activities on offer; to be fair, not a lot had changed here since this area was introduced at DS7 but loads of families were lapping up the activities on offer from BMXing and skateboard lessons to quidditch, obstacle table tennis and more. Back on the music trail, we caught the beginning of the Man and Moon gig at In The Dock, a shoe-gaze duo - also from Bonnie Scotland – who’s slow tempo tunes proved a nice ‘ease your way in’ option. Stopping off for a pint whilst wandering through the arena also gave us a chance to hear She Drew The Gun and their psych-pop poetry – some to music, some unaccompanied – which looked to please a decent sized crowd at the Main Stage. Singer Louisa Roach was full of enthusiasm, perhaps a hang-over from their winning Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent competition recently – or, she was merely chuffed the rain had cleared off. Over at the Obelisk, The Guardian’s socialist hero Owen Jones addressed a full tent of folk and unfortunately, fit to burst as it was, some of us had no option but to listen from the periphery although we could still hear him covering all kinds of topics, amid much applause from the audience who eagerly participated in a very interactive session with the Left’s man of the moment. Contrarily, Laucan drew in only a handful of punters to his set that immediately followed Jones, yet those of us who stuck around felt quite fortunate to have heard his beautifully feminine, falceto-pitched voice and accompanying cello which together made for some marvelous and mellow music. Whilst my photographer then opted for King Creosote’s set, which he tells me included ‘plenty of people and stringed instruments’ alongside the Scotsman, I was stood mesmerized listening to some wonderful talent in the Poetry tent. I had over-heard the familiar voices of some chaps from last year’s festival as I walked past, just as they were mid ‘battle’ – a process whereby they take suggestions from the audience to make a theme and create a fictional story through free-style rap. It’s extremely clever, super funny stuff, and certainly worthy of the stage set they had earned themselves this year.
For me, the day very much belonged to the smiley, happy peeps known as Ibibio Sound Machine. After seeing them magically light up a rain-sodden crowd here two years prior, I was practically wiling the fairer weather to remain for their set this year and thankfully it did just that AND some, with a killer sunset thrown in to boot. Their vocalist Eno Williams is a tremendous performer, with the vocal chords to back up her stage presence and stunning smile. I’ve heard them likened to Parliament; there’s definitely lots of wacky sounds from the keys that resemble Sir Clinton’s inter-galactic genius, and their Afro-beats and a fast-tempo it’s a groove you simply cannot help but dance to. We had a proper treat in some ‘flash mob’ antics too, the front section of the crowd having earlier rehearsed a few moves to throw down mid set. Not that they needed to really, with just about everybody here up and dancing like crazy to the happy vibe this London-based band put out. This was so much more pleasant than the last time the Imbibios played here in the rain - although it didn’t stop everyone getting up for a dance then so there was no chance of that happening now!
Kate Tempest wasn’t so lucky with the weather, unfortunately – as was the case with her sound-check earlier - and we returned to scenes akin to this morning with rain lashing down almost sideways at times seeing the rather comfy and content crowd thrown into disarray in seconds. Many people vanished, but the hardcore remained for a set you would expect from one of the nation’s most successful modern day poets, during which she unleashed her viewpoint on a disconnected and disillusioned world, a stance that she shares with many I imagine. Perhaps the elements should only have been expected to mirror the tone of her set; Tempest v tempest both raging on, perfectly matched in their ‘little black numbers’ (they had clearly discussed their outfits on the phone earlier…) Despite the monstrous weather, it was a sound performance from a highly successful and unique British artist.
Three years on, you can’t help but look for what’s new around the place. Many things remain, and for that you have to be thankful – we’re creatures of habit, after all – with the little ones happy to see everything they know and love at Baldersby, fun fair and Science Tent included! But the Wilderwild area was without question an amazing addition to this year’s event, and although it formed the leading component the DS8 overall theme, rumour has it this might become a staple at festivals to come. Let’s hope so, because the kids absolutely loved this area and all it had to offer. There was so much to do here – from den building and wood carving, to making mobiles or turning leather into keyrings and bracelets. Newfoundland dogs pulled along trolleys offering kids rides. Metalsmiths helped others to make S-hooks using heat and a hammer. A key feature was the Woodland Walk, where groups were taken by guide into the forest where they could participate in some interactive role-play courtesy of Pip Theatre. Designed to build over the course of the weekend, this was a story you could dip in and out of as you liked. The ‘Woodland Creatures’ told of the White Invaders having come to Deer Shed to invade the land, with whom they wanted to make peace. Using items from the woods, like sticks and conkers, together everyone made gifts to take to the invaders (whom, over at their own camp were reciprocating on the gift idea by making biscuits!). Things came to a head when all creature and invaders were brought together to exchange their gifts and perform a pre-rehearsed dance for one another and to make peace. If only our world leaders could follow this example?!
When it comes to being fed and watered, this festival has it completely covered. The Sloemotion tent is a Deer Shed staple and once again, the local brewers did not disappoint us with a fine array of mouth-watering mixtures on offer, most of which using their flagship sloe gin as a base but also serving up your traditional G and T’s thanks to their new Hedgerow Gin that has recently joined the crowded market. It’s lovely stuff, too, and wasn’t overstepping the mark at £8 a double. The main bar had stacks of choice too, whether lager, ale or cider was your pint-sized tipple, all served in a rather nicely adorned recyclable plastic glass. Right on! Food options were much the same as ever, which was great as there is definitely something for every taste in the Deer Shed kitchen. The burgers were divine, the wood fired pizza again looked a crowd pleaser and once more, won the ‘longest queue’ award – which I think is a positive?! - and the Mac n’ Cheese was a decent option for the kids. Nothing cost much over a fiver so all up, great value.
Unfortunately, we had to cut things short on the Sunday, and left just after visiting the Wilderwild. And yet my trusty photographer was fortunate enough to take in The Divine Comedy. And he tells me I missed a real treat! Neil Hannon, dressed as Napoleon, was full of banter throughout the set – even managing to make a joke out of forgetting his lyrics mid-song. Between the wit, familiar tunes and costume changes (Hannon becoming a black-suited business type mid-set), it all made for a fine performance which the crowd were completely happy with, singing and dancing along happily - even when a quick shower looked to end it all too quickly. It certainly sounded a cracking way to bring the festival’s entertainment to an official close and bid farewell to the DS revelers for another year.
It always strikes me at Deer Shed how lovely everybody is. Seriously, if you’re looking for frowns – for whatever reason – then you’re at the wrong place. Even the security team are pleasant; they wouldn’t stand a chance scoring a doorperson job at an inner city nightclub, they are way too friendly! They had a little more to do this year, too, what with an extra thousand or so people to manage than in prior years and a stepped up bag search policy (which was more of a ‘rummage’ than a search, to be fair). They also had the task of finding one of our group’s children shortly after we’d arrived on the Friday, someone so keen to get down and collect their wrist band, they had wandered off and become lost amongst the mass of tents within seconds. Whilst there was a brief moment of panic, it was very quickly superseded by a calmness which you knew was down to the fact this place feels one of the safest festival’s imaginable. And with good reason, our Lennox located and reunited with his Mum and Dad in less than fifteen minutes!
As well as the missing child scenario, there were a few other ‘festival firsts’ for me this year.
Likes several children in our party deciding to pass a sickness bug around like a Mexican wave, which of course wasn’t pleasant for anyone. And then there was the entire family in our party who completely vanished! Within 24 hours of arriving, too (they blamed the rain but I still suspect the amount of gin consumed on the Friday evening as having played a part in their quick demise…). And then there was that other family who did well to avoid being lynched for picking the worst spot EVER for a pitch in the entire history of festival tent-pitching, quote: “But surely its great being next to the loos, isn’t it?”. Several hundred Portaloo door slams later, you live and learn.
It’s quite difficult to get across just how fabulous a festival the Deer Shed is. But I’ll try.
Imagine ten thousand people. Almost half of those are children. And everyone is laughing and smiling from ear to ear for an entire weekend, no tears (ok, so perhaps a few, but they’re to a minimum). There’s a fantastic variety of musicians and comedy acts for everyone to see, and lots of lovely food and drinks to share, all reasonably priced. There’s more activities than you could poke a stick at for all to try out. And all of this in a safe and relaxed environment, its more than just a ‘family-friendly’ festival – it’s purpose-built for families. And all of this costs you a nudge above £100, if you get your ‘early bird’ goggles on. Value for money? Without a doubt. Enjoyable? Seriously, it doesn’t get much better than this. Although you can drop the rainy bit next year Shedders, cheers!
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