Friday means site-orientation with old classics by The Beat

Shambala 2008 review

published: Wed 27th Aug 2008

around the site (1)

Friday 22nd to Sunday 24th August 2008
a secret location in the Midlands, Northamptonshire, NN6 9LY, England MAP
adult weekend £89, child (5-17yrs) £25, under 5s Free - SOLD OUT
last updated: Thu 21st Aug 2008

This was the 9th Shambala Festival, a sell-out of its 7,000 tickets, and a highly-impressively organized experience it was too considering its roots as a gathering of "a few friends in a field with a farmer's trailer as a stage and a stinky portaloo" to quote the £2 brochure that's informative, colourful, and easy-enough to handle.

around the site (1)

It's also the festival commonly known as 'Sssshhhhh...' due to its traditionally secretive nature whereby the location is not advertised except to ticket-holders, very few musical acts are announced in advance, and the commonly-held belief that the event is so good that it should only be for you and your friends. In similar vein, the organizers have swung back and forth in terms of whether they want the media to be aware of Shambala's existence, and hence or otherwise this is eFestivals' first review of this festival in a while. Couple that with it being my first festival review and that the whole family are coming along for the ride, and as you will see, this all became a rather complex if enjoyable task.

We arrive Friday lunchtime to discover that the venue has been drying out from some heavy Thursday rain. Security are organized and welcoming enough, and we start the trek from car park to camping area, a distance said by people on the festival's own forum to be around 800m. Those coming by public transport or cycling (as encouraged by the website) can expect similar distances. Just before we reach the camping area, we are greeted by the stewardesses of 'Shamair.con', offering free drinks and sweets, a plane cabin to rest in, and a baggage check for those that want to indulge. Just the ticket for aching arms!

around the site (2)

We set up camp in Family Camping, which was a bit of a challenge as a lot of space had disappeared to those sensible enough to establish their spots from Thursday afternoon. An extra area was eventually opened up for camping, but perhaps this could have been made available from the start, to avoid a cramped vs spacious camping lottery. On the plus side, there were plenty of water outlets nearby, toilets close enough, and the main site was but a few minutes walk in-between tent ropes. Family Camping also hosted a large family yurt that provided friendly advice and community eleven hours a day. Our 6-year old daughter and I enjoyed story-telling with cocoa there on the first night, she like most children there joining in with their parts of the lively tales. The yurt also offered a free cloth-nappy service, a family-fire, and various baby workshops such as the massage demonstration that I saw on Sunday was pleasantly full with mothers and rugrats.

When recovered from the arduous task of moving the kitchen sink from car to tent, we set about discovering the festival's main areas. There is a mountain of accompanying photo archives here to demonstrate the colourful and varied delights of what we found, the whole site being very photogenic. But to sum it up in words, it is a very spacious and picturesque site that hosts a variety of stalls, around five music stages of various shapes and sizes, an enclosed large kids' area, a craft area, a sacred space, an open area for sports and games, and a woodland area next to a lake.

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Quite enough, in other words, for the 7000 punters to constantly find new things across the three days, and for me to forget what we did when except for Friday night's music. Samsara entertained a reasonable crowd very well with lively reggae/ska tunes that will make me search them out again, and clearly had pulling power as the crowd easily doubled in size by the time they’d finished. Of the songs I recall, 'CCTV' stood out about their experiences of London as a place so full of the things that we were beckoned to "smile for the cameras". Meantime our two boys scrambled up and down a huge nearby statute of the letters 'Yes' (like 'Love' at Glastonbury), a monument that never seemed to lack people sitting or dancing on top of it, admiring the view or their prowess. Not sure what Rik Wakeman would have made of it though, especially with all the graffiti it attracted that may have been a by-product of the many professional graffiti artworks close by.

The Beat played a solid set of crowd-pleasing ska tunes to a fair crowd, to close the Friday at the main stage. The area was now illuminated with huge, flamboyant stars and a bright stage with a well-placed screen just above the band for those that were challenged by the gentle upward incline of the viewing area. We were treated to a good selection of the band's back-catalogue such as 'Hands Off She's Mine', 'Rough Rider' and 'Mirror in the Bathroom', along with some newer compositions that highlighted the rapping ability of 2nd vocalist, Ranking Roger's son. The set was also tightly choreographed, with an abiding memory of father and son running back and forth in time across opposite ends of the stage, alongside good crowd interaction and Roger's falsetto 'wicked' that made me titter.

The Beat

However we finished the evening at the large bonfire near the Lakeside Stage, where there were plentiful hand-made seats and the odd throne. This tempered a properly cold evening, whilst the kids additionally enjoyed one of the many hot chocolates sampled from the stalls. Winning entry across the weekend, incidentally, was the version with cream and marshmallows from Granny’s Gaff, according to our daughter, nothing to do with it being served by Grannies of all shapes, ages and genders as far as I know. Anyway, a quick bit of praise for the band playing the Lakeside Stage at that time, who I could hear nicely at the fire, and who sounded pleasingly rock-psychedelic if with occasional squeaky vocals. The programme revealed them to be The Transpersonals, and they conveyed their hooks across a wide area well. Alas we miss Flipron and Bison, going on until 2am on that stage, as coldness and tiredness drag us back to the tent. The long night belongs to the night-owls, a number of whom seem to be heading for bed when we start circulating the next morning. One such punter informs me that Nicky Blackmarket was a highlight in a very busy venue, and the brochure fills in the gaps that this jungalist closed The Dome stage, possibly around 2am. Another person highlighted the nocturnal joys of a small piano bar. And there were definitely musical happenings drifting across when I stir at around 5am.
review by: Clive Hoadley

photos by: Phil Bull

Friday 22nd to Sunday 24th August 2008
a secret location in the Midlands, Northamptonshire, NN6 9LY, England MAP
adult weekend £89, child (5-17yrs) £25, under 5s Free - SOLD OUT
last updated: Thu 21st Aug 2008


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