Baldersby St James. For much of the year, a sleepy North Yorkshire village with a population of around 300. For three days, host to several thousand revelers, young and old, for some serious festival shenanigans at the annual Deer Shed.
If you’re coming here for the first time, congratulations: you’ve just found the best festival for families in the north – perhaps even the whole UK. I’m sure it’s word of mouth which has helped persuade you this one, amongst the hundreds of others, is the one for you this Summer. You must be so excited!! Despite DS9 being my fourth on the bounce, I’m giddy as all hell to be here, too! Why? Well, it’s never failed to impress prior to now, and with the DS crew having gone all out this year - bigger bands, a new site lay-out, more stalls than ever and tons of activities for the kids – I sense another goody coming on!
And so, with a spring in our collective wellies this Friday afternoon we’re parked up, awning erected and away in search of adventure. The first thing we – ahem, our kids - spot on entering the site is the fairground, complete with Helter Skelter, Ferris Wheel and Chair-O-Planes. A trillion turns and several quid later, we manage to entice everyone away for a proper wander, first stop, the Leeds City College tent. My son tries his hand at screen printing whilst my daughter opts to have her face painted, leaving her looking like a Smurf dipped in glitter and me praying it comes off with a wet-wipe. Next, to the Big Top for a laugh at comedian Little Howard. He’s impressive – at least, the kids in the tent think so, howling away at his ukulele-backed ditties about all kinds of stuff and nonsense. A good start to proceedings on the entertainment front and a chance to avoid the one and only downpour this weekend.
There’s a couple of bands I’m keen to see tonight: Drenge, a Sheffield rock trio who’re headlining the Main Stage, being one and HMLTD, a rather risque London lot I’ve seen play in Leeds semi-recently, the other. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage either one thanks to my youngest child – Smurfette - selecting this very night to fall ill and want Mummy cuddles in the campervan... Not all bad, her nodding off the minute her blue face touched the pillow and leaving me alone with my private gin bar, and HMLTD’s ‘To The Door”, which somehow finds my ears from two fields away. As for Drenge, again, I was able to hear the gig despite not seeing it. I have to say, they sound exactly as I’d expected– kind of dark, kind of grungey, kind of... Drengey?! My ‘man on the ground’, aka Rich the photographer, tells me the following morning they were decent enough, bringing plenty of bounce to an appreciative, half-full crowd. Not to mention a giant squid and illuminated jellyfish, the band’s nod to this year’s festival theme, Making Waves. Respect!
Saturday brings sunshine and some serious catching up to do after Friday’s early night (thankfully, my youngest is OK – she still looks a little off-colour, but that’s just the face paint; she’s otherwise improving). I’m desperate to catch Sunderland’s Slug, after his announcing on Twitter yesterday anyone watching his gig would need a bag in which to carry away their melted face. I arrive minus one shopping carrier, but no matter – I’m finally seeing a band in the flesh! And, by crikey, am I chuffed?! What a fab sound. Together with his accompanying musicians, a couple who’re from Slug’s ex-band, Field Music, he lays down some great bass-heavy rock tunes, chaotic in sound whilst well organized in structure. I’m unsure if Queens of The Stone Age is complimentary (it is in my book), but this is who springs to mind thanks to the vocal pitch and the bass. It’s all nicely Higgledy Piggledy, which is clearly what helped Slug arrive at his latest album name. Dressed in a Nun’s habit and Barbershop Quartet attire, they’re as bonkers-looking as they are sounding and immediately become one of my festival ‘Top 3’, with a set which I’m sure would have easily held its own higher up on the bill.
It’s a good time to explain one of this year’s DS success stories. The lay-out – and band scheduling - which has been changed to accommodate the Main Stage and In the Dock stage in a rather genius tag-team style. If it’s primarily music you’re here for, or even if it’s not, there’s little excuse not to hear every band in action on these two stages over the course of the weekend. Great for the likes of us this Saturday, aiming to do just that. The afternoon ebbs and flows along to a range of sounds. Some, like Boy Azooga, easy on the ears and the perfect band to kick off today’s Main Stage offering; others, like Orielles, a little less so, although I’d say it’s the fault of a tech-type glitch over anything else. In between, AK/DK cause a stir up the hill by arriving on stage later than planned; down to transport issues after another gig last night, apparently... Subsequently, they’re still plugging in equipment mid-gig which just adds to their charm. What a show, which they completely nail. Loads of drums and machines, hammering out big noise at full pelt. The crowd love it. They love it. Everyone’s in love.
At this point, I have to mention Hyde Park Brass, who, according to the festival brochure, are playing several sets in different locations across the course of the weekend. In reality, they’re everywhere! And not just playing in a static setting, either – they’re playing on the move! You know, just wandering around the festival, playing quirky cover versions as they go, wowing everybody they come across. I manage to catch them delivering a cracking set in the Sloemotion tent left of the Main Stage mid-Saturday afternoon, which draws in one massive audience and has plenty of gin-fueled folk up and dancing to the Jackson 5, myself included. Such a talented bunch of lads and definitely a ‘Top 3’ for me. The gin cocktail isn’t half bad, either.
Saturday evening sees some big names playing Baldersby Park. Avalanche Party, possibly the most local of bands to Baldersby, keep it noisy In The Dock area with post-punk delivered as it should be - fast and furious. Not a soul here looks disappointed with their performance and, if you’re not already following them, do it! This Is The Kit, aka Kate Stables, hypnotises the slightly calmer Main Stage crowd shortly after with her beautiful brand of Folk; AND manages to have everyone up and ‘flossing’ in some kind of Guinness attempt at the largest festival floss ever! Fair play to her, this is the Chinese Year of the Floss, it seems - at least, you’d think that the case here at DS9, arms flapping madly everywhere you turn this weekend. Following Kate comes Public Service Broadcasting, returning to Deer Shed after a five-year break; nice they could fit us in, to be fair, busy as they are these days. Most will know of the visual aspect to their output, with old film footage comped together and projected on huge screens a part of each song they deliver. They’re clearly a must-see band this weekend, the crowd doubling the moment they take to the stage tonight and remaining buoyant throughout, in particular, during hit song Go when an amazing flash mob takes full effect.
Back to In The Dock next, and one Gaz Coombes. Part cheeky-chappy, part cool. And a wonderful voice, too – not something I appreciated in full during the Supergrass years, despite being a fan. This evening, he has folk spilling way out of the tent into the surrounding ether to catch his set – as you’d expect – as he plays many of his solo songs as well as the odd ’90s gem such as Caught By The Fuzz. My highlight was another classic, Moving, which leaves me close to tears. Nope, not the gin – more the nostalgia music from this era manages to evoke, when gigging was done impromptu and never involved a babysitter. Aww... Thanks for the memories, Gaz!
Here I am, thinking Gaz Coombes is cool; enter, Alison Goldfrapp. What to say. Wow. Just. Wow. From the very beginning, striding in from back stage fully caped up like a superhero, the singer’s intent is clear. She and partner, William Owen Gregory, are about to kick us all up the you-know-what with some thumping Electronic tunes. They have the crowd on board in seconds – even the sceptics up the back near me! Not that they’re against Goldfrapp, they tell me, more they don’t see them as the ideal headliner for Deer Shed. I disagree. Goldfrapp is exactly what this festival needs to close out Saturday’s show! And how amazing to hear from singer Goldfrapp they have never headlined a festival before this evening! They must have played hundreds, if not thousands, of festivals world-wide. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. An incredible ‘Top 3’ set, with plenty of Ooh La La which sees everyone up and pumped just as we’re about to think about bed. Hmm. Anybody fancy the Silent Disco? Nope, me neither!
Despite DS9 upping the musical ante this year, it remains as balanced as ever in terms of its general festival offering. There is much more to behold than a few bands – way too much to mention all of it. But a few highlights deserve some air play, firstly, the Wilderwild area. Introduced last year as part of the festival theme, it was created for bush-craft activity and interactive theatre. It’s great to see the organisers felt it worth keeping on as a regular feature; even better that it comes with a gin bar this year! Whilst our wee ones are not fussed for the bush-craft offering this time around, despite the many activities, they love the interactive theatre element. As we wander through the forest with our group leader, Sol, a tale unfolds around us. It’s classic story-telling fodder – Old Father Time (the Goody) is kidnapped by the Bordermites (the Baddies) and we all work as a team to save our hero. A few cheers, boos and some well thrown water bombs later, good wins the day.
A second highlight for the kids is the Parkour circuit in the Sports Field. As if this area didn’t have enough going on with skate-boarding, football, cricket, lacrosse, yoga and quidditch to choose from – even kids wrestling! But the Parkour wins on popularity, with each session fully booked except for the final one of the day - which we snaffle up in a flash. It’s great to see the 7 year olds in our group giving the course a crack, jumping up and over all kinds of obstacles and pushing themselves to get around the course as quickly as possible. Much more fun than a ride on the Helter Skelter, I’d say. As for the tree climbing, our third highlight, wow. Another fantastic opportunity for the younger ones to step out of their comfort zone and try something new. In a harness, thankfully (and yes, I definitely feel more scared watching my kids than they do participating!).
There is so much more worth a mention. The amazing food on offer, which got better again this year, thanks to the new sushi caravan. OMG, it’s quite possibly the tastiest sushi around (and way cheaper than a certain high-street restaurant which shall remain nameless…). The bars, again, more plentiful this year, meaning you’re never too far from your next beer, wine or GnT – an absolute essential to many a camper. The facilities are as clean as you can get in a place more used to animals than humans for most of the year. It’s easy to reach – come on, we’re central-UK here, people - which means access to all. And we’re friendly, too! I mean, why on earth would you head south??!
Then there’s the plethora of stuff we didn’t manage to do this Deer Shed. Like pretty much all of the comedy and spoken word on offer. Sunday’s bands – yes, I’m talking to YOU, Field Music! And all of those other magic moments people tell you about after the fact, like Hyde Park Brass playing from the tree tops as the festival drew to a close. But the toughest thing about Deer Shed is always going to be knowing how and where to spend your time. There really is that much on offer and, unless you borrow Alison Goldfrapp’s cape, there’s no way you can do it all. My advice, for what it’s worth. Just get there, that’s the first step. The rest will take care of itself.
Tenth anniversary next year, people. Just saying...
latest on this festival
with expanded Sunday entertainment for the 10th edition
Deer Shed 2018 review