July means two things to family Gilbert: summer holidays and the Deer Shed festival at Baldersby Park, North Yorks. This year’s event – our fifth, Deer Shed’s tenth - had us extra special-sized excitable. Why? Well, aside to the fact their annual theme – Generation X Y X – was clearly a nod to my other half, kids and I (aww… thanks guys!), we also had a double air bed for use in the awning which was set to make the sleeping arrangements A.MAZING. No, really it would!
So, Generation X Y Z, hey? How super inclusive of you, Deer Shed, devising a theme to encompass just about everyone who passes through your gates over the course of a weekend! Nicely done. Shame you didn’t apply your genius to catching Mother Nature for a chat before she went on annual leave... But, we’ll let that pass since we love you so verrrrry much. And besides, the rain wasn’t that bad, right?
On perusing the festival programme, the biggest quandary to any Shedder must be this one: how can we possibly fit all of this activity into three days? This is way more than ‘a few bands over a pint’ type stuff. Spoken word, comedy, sports, science, literary, cinema, workshops, well-being, arts, the list goes on… Let’s be clear, this is not a music festival, nor a kid’s festival – this is a festival for all people of all tastes. So, put down your gadgets, throw some waterproofs on and step into the fields for three days of eclectic shenanigans!
Now, I’ve heard some folk like to prepare a plan – like you might if birthing, for example - and then in the throngs of it all, abandon ship. And so, it should be the law! The very beauty of Deer Shed is this: it will never be quite as you expected. Go with it! Guaranteed it will not let you down. As was the case this year, where we had half-expected a festival spent within the confines of a tent thanks to the dire weather ruining our one and only annual pre-booked weekender. Sure, we visited a lot of tents and it did rain. A lot. And yet, wherever we ventured, nobody seemed to care one bit.
Friday was: Mostly dry with sunny inter-spells, spinning things and pints.
Yes, it was another festival fueled by fast and furious fairground rides. Of course you can go on the rides, we said, with a caveat of no more than 3 goes per day! Ha! “Budget Smudget” the response from our kids as they spun, rocked and slid themselves dizzy, on repeat, for the first two hours upon arriving at Baldersby Park. Thankfully, from the top of the hill where the fairground sits, one finds themselves caught between the festival’s two primary musical settings, the In The Dock tent and the Main Stage, meaning you cannot and will not avoid some band or another before bedtime. Which is pretty much close to perfect, leaving the kids to wind up just as we start to unwind.
As ever, the music was a genuine mix of the old and the new; old meaning ‘having been around a while’ or ‘no stranger to a Deer Shed’. See Exhibit A, DS10 special guests and frequent flyers, Wedding Present, last seen here headlining a full In The Dock tent in 2015. This year, promoted to the Main Stage, their early evening slot still brought in a decent sized crowd all eager for a slice of yesteryear from this vintage Leeds lot. Back up the hill at the Present’s previous hang out, came Manchester band and DS newcomers (and my pick of the day) The Slow Readers Club. To be fair, it was an off-chance encounter on return from the loo; just another reason pints rule ok IMO and being ‘desperate’ having its rewards asides to the obvious. I was wrapped from first ear-swish, thinking for a split second that Depeche Mode had made a surprise visit to Baldersby (ooh, now there’s a thought…). Loved by Mancunians, now loved by Yorkshire folk and its weekend visitors, no doubt, the Readers’ electronic set was greatly received, in particular, their recent single Build a Tower sending many a wide-eyed onlooker loopy. And to finish? How about a topping of Anna Calvi? Quite simply, the lushest way to close out the evening, with Calvi’s strong operatic voice belting out loud and proud across Baldersby Park; it’s odd to think singing came as an afterthought once Calvi had mastered the violin and guitar. Thank you, Anna. What a nightcap!
Saturday was: Mostly wet with a hint of dampness in between showery wet stuff. With ice and garnish.
The morning’s coin-toss for ‘kid’s stuff day vs parent’s stuff day’ was a big win for Gen X Y, aka the parents. Which meant another one filled with live entertainment in the form of bands! OK, with the odd venture into a tent to dodge rain drops and treat ourselves to some of that stuff called ‘dry’. Anyone lucky enough to shoe-horn their way in amongst the hundreds of others doing likewise at the Big Top would have caught ‘Law With Kids’, a rib-tickling act who told the story of an eagle falsely accused of a felony and Judge Moody, the legal type hell-bent on seeing our bird doing… bird! It definitely topped up the laughter bank, which was needed! We also snuck in some Science Tent action which, it must be said, NEVER fails to amaze little and big kids alike with its vast array of interactive delights, this year offering circuit-driven metal soldering, Sega and Nintendo games reworked and a vinyl mixing lesson. How very old-skool!
Naturally, plenty of refreshments are a necessary component of the festival equation. Thankfully, a love of gin took me frequently to the Sloemotion cocktail tent, west of the Main Stage. Not only did the drinks delight, but a pop-up Jazz quintet provided one of those ‘moments’. Just how good can a double bass, clarinet, cymbals and a washboard sound? Splendid is the answer! Just on receiving one of my favorite tipples – a Sloemotion sloe gin with free pour prosecco, in case you’re interested - they covered Iko Iko which caused much call & response action not to mention a tent full of toe-tapping. But it got better still when, close to the song’s finish, one of the band whispered “Cantina” under his breath and they launched into the Star Wars classic with Gusto! Funnily enough, I think that could have been their name… ‘’Something’ Gusto… It’ll come back to me later…Whoever they are, at that moment the rain outside disappeared off to a galaxy far, far away… Temporarily, at least. And, rather fittingly, a group dressed in full Star Wars garb strolled past the cocktail tent door seconds later, fresh from Tatooine! Magic.
T’was a varied day on the music front as Deer Shed did its best to cover the style spectrum. Tom Williams, another artist who has traipsed the DS boards more than once before (and it’s obvious why) was an easy listen with his inoffensive acoustic guitar-led ballads covering life’s many mysteries. Similar to the rain, it proved a steady start. Next up, the much-anticipated rapper come actor – or is it vice versa? – Dylan Cartlidge, known to many as the Wetherspoons worker from BBC doco ‘The Mighty Redcar’. While he laid down some cool beats to a full crowd in the Dock tent mid-afternoon, he was not as lively as I’d imagined he would be, seeming a little lack-luster. Perhaps one of the several billion wasps who’d also acquired weekend tickets this year had got to him? To be fair, they’d got to most of us by this point.
Contrarily, BC Camplight - aka Brian Christinzio - was a genuine delight. A boy from Philly with years of mental health, drug and alcohol issues, and a UK deportation under his belt, I expected a set oozing with grime. Sure, some of his lyrics were raw yet his melodies much more upbeat and joyous-sounding in a floaty, Brian Wilson way. Nothing was more ideal for a rainy Saturday afternoon in Yorkshire and it segued well into one Gruff Rhys’ set who, while much deeper in voice, is not altogether dissimilar in sound and vibe. Shame he didn’t bring along a 72-piece orchestra as per last year’s Babelsberg album. A bit much, perhaps?
Just as many of us were wrapping ourselves in blankets, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs (or Pigs x 7 if you’re pressed for time). flew in on the Dock stage. Put simply, Pigs are a pack of raucous, full-blown metal-head bikers from the North-East. Now, anybody concerned about the replacement for original Saturday night headliners Fontaines DC needn’t have been. What a riot! The thunderstorm forecast for ‘about then’ never arrived although plenty of liquid in the form of sweat beads was being lashed around inside the tent thanks to our Pigs. Perhaps the lead singer’s pre-set ritual, a yoga-style performed centre stage in a hooded robe and little else, scared away the rain Gods? Noise x 7, craziness x 8, cracking x 10. Way to close things out, Piggies!*
*As rumour had it, some K.O.G. and the Zongo Brigade were actually stealing the limelight over on the Lodge stage. One of those missed moments of magic, by the sounds. Darn you, schedule clash!
Sunday was: Muddy but dry and plenty of cloudiness.
It was also kid’s day. Yay! To The Wilderwild, and don’t spare the horses! Now in its third year, this end of the festival cannot fail to impress young and not-so-young alike with a gaggle of stalls which bring out the Cub Scout or Brownie Guide in all of us. Whittle some wood, hammer some metal; or, new to the Wilderwild this year, head off on a Fairy Experience (I was absolutely gutted these sessions had sold out by the Friday afternoon!) It’s wholesome, earthy goodness at its best with a bit of the magical thrown in too. This is also the area of Deer Shed where its highly popular interactive woodland trail begins; at least, we guess it’s popular, taking us three attempts to secure a spot. Once you’re on the trail, it’s easy to see why. For a good hour, we and other Shedders are invited into another world – this year, an ‘X Y Z’ mish-mash world – where we meet young Amber and her Gran, two generations of family apart and both mad-keen to know what life exists in the universe asides us humans. Together with alien-sceptic, Dan Sebastian, they take us on a journey through the woods where we meet Martin the Martian, learn to speak his native tongue (“click click click”) and help him repair his broken spacecraft to help him return home. Any future Shedders, martian or human, be sure to give the trail a look.
On route to the Sports Field,musician slash inventor Sam Battle otherwise known as Look Mom No Computer was having a field day on the Dock’s stage, lashing down beeps, bleeps, tweaks and shrieks from his array of machines including synthesizers, keyboards, Gameboys and Furbies. Yes, the small cuddly toy type Furby! He could have easily written the soundtrack to the Wilderwild, unleashing tunes like some kind of alien invasion was unfolding. You have to see Battle in action to believe it; he’s a YouTube sensation, don’t you know… and well worth a search.
Once at the Sports Field we found many of its regulars back for more fun and games; the skate and BMX ramps, Parkour course, quidditch (seriously!), footballs and cricket bats in full swing. New additions which produced LOTS of laughs included wrestling, crazy golf and human archery – with soft-ended arrows, I might add! Despite this being a field full of constant activity, it does offer something of a sanctuary for a while away from the bands, their sounds, the people. Not that you’re alone here, with stacks of other families doing just as you are. Still, it provides a change of scene where none of the activities are compulsory; if need be, simply sit on the grass in an open space and watch others being active!
In previous years, Deer Shed main entertainment schedule has always come to a close early evening. This year, with those wonderful organizer types allowing campers to remain on site as standard (that is, at no extra cost!), they chose to continue the programme into the evening – which must have been fabulous for those committed to another night’s camping! Who would have missed Ezra Furman? Well, unfortunately, we did, having to leave Deer Shed long before his set began in preparation for work the next day. I know! “Our bad” as the Gen Z lot like to say. Next year, to avoid our own scheduling faux pas, we’ll include Monday as part of our trip for sure. It also gives you that but more bang for buck having three full days of festivities; that’s under £50 a day for your entrance ticket. Highly reasonable for this amount of entertainment, we’d say.
Have we talked food yet? So, lots of choice for all tastes at a reasonable cost is the short synopsis. But how about some shout outs for top taste? So, for lunch, how about Tacoporium for their pulled pork Tacos with spicy sauce; Fish Finger Heaven for a generously packed butty (white bread, obv) with a side serve of beans; and The Allotment for halloumi bites you could give up meat for. For hot drinks, Teatime Yorkshire had grand coffees, amazingly yummy cakes plus lovely chill-out (or keep dry) area out the back!
For drinks, it has to be Sloemotion every time, this year’s fave STILL their take on a Royale – a Sloemotion Sloe Gin and free-pour of prosecco. Oh, and just to even things out, a few Hedgerow Gin and tonics to help wash them down J
And so, we survived another Deer Shed. As did our double airbed! Result! Hats off to the Shed’s organisers for what we felt was a hugely successful event this year. Even in the most dire of weather conditions – Saturday was hard work, we’ll admit it – the punters still came out to play, as did the musicians, entertainers, staff, food providers, security and local farmers, all creating smiles for miles and ensuring the festival retains the happy vibe it has become known for. I thought my daughter summed up the sentiment well on the drive home Sunday afternoon: “Mum, when we go to the next Deer Shed can we, like, stay for a week or something?”. Gen Z, hey. Totes cute.
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