Shambala offers a wealth of possibilities for having fun

Shambala 2012 review

published: Wed 29th Aug 2012

around the festival site (2)

Thursday 23rd to Sunday 26th August 2012
a secret location in the Midlands, Northamptonshire, NN6 9LY, England MAP
£119 for weekend - SOLD OUT
daily capacity: 8000
last updated: Tue 21st Aug 2012

As our last festival of 2012, we hit Shambala at a sprint. It's a firm favourite with our children (aged 11 and 6), and its easy to see why. Other festivals concentrate on a main stage line-up where people in picnic chairs camp out for the day. Not Shambala. Although the musical line-up is outstanding, there are far too many things to do between catching your favourite acts so there is no time to sit still for too long.

From the moment Dr Love and his team greet us on entry through the tunnel of love, with love hearts, big hugs, drinks and health checks, the carnival atmosphere envelops us all.

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This year our senses are tantalised in what becomes one of our favourite parts of the festival, an all new straw bail built arena hosting the Shambolympics. Well trained and seasoned professional athletes at the peak of physical fitness compete in various feats of endeavour over the weekend. I manage to pick up a silver medal in one of the 100 meter space hopper races, while others don fat suits to take part in Sumo. There's rhythmic gymnastic floor routines, jelly wrestling a Bohemian Rhapsody glitter flashmob and a whole weekend full of daft sports besides.

As part of a group, we make some of our own entertainment too. Campsite killer is a game where all of our names are put into one hat, a number of festival locations into another, and objects into a final hat. Passing the object to the unsuspecting person in that location is a great challenge and probably about half of the group are 'killed' over the weekend.

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The kids are entertained by a number of activities including pom-pom making out of old carrier bags, dance workshops (OK it wasn't just the kids involved in that one), riding impossible bikes, circus skills workshops and making flower garlands. Some of the activities listed in the programme didn't have a location against them but we got to most that we wanted to and wandering around looking for things actually helped us find more things to do or join in with. The Angel Gardens in the kids field is a central point for activities for younger children and they have a wealth of experience in entertaining kids at festivals.

For the under 5's, there is also a day time crèche available where parents can leave children for an hour or so and enjoy a drink by the lake or and take part in some of the adult crafts. A full programme of spoon making, basket weaving, wood turning, blacksmithing Felt, and leather making is available. Two of our party celebrate 20 years together by making rings for each other, and they look absolutely stunning.

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It seems that wherever you look, there's something going on, it's a feast for the eyes. Some amazing cloud formations form the backdrop for the festival and I'm not sure if there's an air show going on somewhere but we're also treated to some aerial acrobatics and fly pasts from a Vulcan, a Lancaster Bomber and, more serenely, hot air balloons and bi-planes.

Feet back on the ground, Shambala boasts a permaculture area offering the opportunity to make bread, learn how to forage for food around the woodland and festival site or sit and listen to a variety of guest speakers whilst sampling some of the festivals fine foods.

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The selection of stalls seems to be down a bit on last year but we still manage to enjoy enough variety to taste food from different stalls for each meal. The Chai Stall sells an incredible nut roast as well as a great kids portion of pasta, but my personal favourite is the kebab selection from the Shisha lounge. There's something for all tastes and although the chip stall does a roaring trade, it's nice to see so much healthy food available.

The bars are also stocked with a variety of different tipples. The festival pub 'The Wonky Cock' serves a huge selection of cask ales on a 'when it's gone it's gone' basis and go it does, very quickly with most ales gone by Saturday night. Not many festivals (other than large beer festivals), offer this range of choice to their punters. Thatchers Gold a scrumpy cider are available at most bars all weekend too as well as a selection of cocktails wines, spirits and largers.

around the festival site (6)
Shambala like many other festivals touts itself as a 'green' festival caring for its environment. I think Shambala goes further than most to back up those claims. We get two bags as we come onto the festival site. One for recyclable items (and for the uninitiated, examples are printed on the bag), and the other for landfill. Part of the ticket cost is a £10 refundable deposit for recyclable rubbish. On the Sunday or Monday, simply take your rubbish bag to the recycling point and collect a token. That token can then be exchanged for your £10 or a goody bag containing a t-shirt, calendar, car sticker and CD of some of last years artists. What a fantastic idea!

When buying a ticket, punters are also offered the chance to offset the carbon footprint of their journey with a donation which ensures that trees are planted to cancel out that return trip. For the more energetic, there is also the opportunity to join a hosted cycle ride to the site guided by the good people at Sustrans. Put simply, this is the most incredible way I have ever arrived at a festival. A rapturous welcome, endorphins buzzing and with a great thirst!!

around the festival site (6)
Three of the kids in our party take part in an off site overnight stay in shelters that they have built for themselves. They come back having been told stories, learnt survival techniques and been taught about animals in the rainforest. They are pretty tired and have endure a fairly hefty downpour overnight but they seem to have enjoyed themselves.

The Shambala site has it's own beautifully decorated wooded area and by day the trees provide a tranquil retreat from the sun (yes, it really is quite warm at times), and an area for the adults to sit and relax while the kids explore. Kids can also participate in daytime bushcraft sessions. At night a 360 degree projection dome is lit up with an AV system to tantalise ears and eyes, whilst during the day a huge range of sculptures are found nestling in the trees and plants. It's beautiful in there and a nice break from the busier areas of the festival.

Joe Driscoll and Seckou Kouyate (crowd)
There are loads of little venues around the site apart from the main stage area. Our kids enjoy watching 'My Neighbour Totoro' in the cinema, there's the Chai Wallahs stage offering a huge array of musical and poetic acts over the weekend. The Social is a beautifully ornate wooden Spiegel tent with bands, open mic, discos and cabaret shows throughout the weekend. The Kamikaze is a small hop skip and jump from the main stage and offers a well timed alternative programme which really come alight at night. If the Kamikaze is alternative, Sankofa's is pretty off the wall with more of a roots or world vibe going on.

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My absolute favourite place to pass time once the kids have gone to bed is The Peoples Front Room. I see a variety of acts there but the one band that I take away from Shambala keen to see again is Bombs. They are billed as Bombs Acoustic, and after doing a little bit of digging it seems that this is a stripped down version of their usual setup. No matter, the singer/ guitarist has a voice to make you tingle and an air of confidence that I really hope sees them go a very long way indeed. I see them twice and on the second set I'm not tempted to walk away and find something new, I'm as captivated as the first listen.

Other acts that really stand out for me over the weekend are Twinkle Brothers. Their bass heavy reggae beats are heavenly and even the most reserved audience members (are there any at Shambala?) move quickly from a sway to a stomp. I'd really like to thanks Micky Finn, and Aphrodite for a step back down memory lane. Their set list has been updated but the old school vibe is still alove and strong in the tunes that they play.

Twinkle Brothers
Hannah Williams & The Tastemakers really impress too. The soulful funky tunes coupled with her unfaltering voice and an immense set of lungs make them really memorable. Grabbing a quick drink in Chai Wallahs, I get sucked into The Emergency Band, their brassy versions 'These Boots Are Made For Walking', and 'Super Sharp Shooter' sound so tight and polished.

A firm favourite of mine are Dizraeli and the Small Gods. Words spoken from the heart of their beat poet front man and the angelic voice of Cate Ferris is a match made in heaven. Add Berllatrix on the double bass and Beatbox and it's a very moving experience. I'm comforted when I notice a few other people wearing broad smiles wiping away tears. Isn't it incredible when music moves you like that?!

Bellatrix also features in Shambala Beatbox Orchestra, a group of talented individuals making music with their mouths. There are a few bemused onlookers when they begin their set but by the end, the crowd has been stirred to a frenzy with fists pumping.

Billy Bragg
I really enjoy Billy Bragg's 'Waiting For The Great Leap', but having seen him already a couple of times this year I grow a bit impatient at the long talks between songs.

Another additional venue this year is a flying saucer. It has landed in the middle of the festival site between the main stage and the Kamikaze stage. It opens to abduct us to another world of bleepy music and boasts a sunken dancefloor, bar, and an impressive lighting rig. The only complaint is that there are sound bleed issues between this and the main stage.

around the festival site (2)
My only other grip is the loo situation at Shambala. Actually, for me it's not too bad as there are a fair few urinals around, but the ladies in our group face at least 10 minute queues at busier times and often it's longer than that. The loos situated in the middle of the main part of the site queue out onto the main walkway and trying to get through there with a buggy looks like a pretty difficult at peak times. The compost loos fill up on Sunday meaning that there are even less toilets available in the areas that need them the most.

around the festival site (fancy dress parade 2)
One of my favourite parts of the festival is the Saturday evening fancy dress parade. This years theme is celebration which is pretty open to interpretation. There are a fair few Olympians sporting Wiggins sideburns or Ennis face masks. There are wedding parties, a masked ball, superheroes and so many outfits that have had so much effort go into them. I think Shambala has the very best fancy dress parade due to the number of imaginative people who go and make an effort.

Sunday evening down by the lake, an Olympic archer begins the ceremonial Big Burn. The wooden hut is burnt while a fantastic fireworks display brings our festival to a close. There is still a full programme of events until the early hours but as I said we hit Shambala at a sprint and we're as eager as the children to get into bed.

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I'm conscious that I've missed loads of fantastic bits out, but the best way to find out what it's all about is to come along and enjoy and explore it for yourself. Over the years I've been to lots and lots of festivals but nothing comes close to capturing the inventiveness, the spirit and the feeling of freedom that Shambala has fostered for over a decade now, it is my favourite festival.

It must take a lot of effort and organisation to create something which on the face of it appears to be as shambolic and spontaneous as Shambala. The only hard thing is coming home. As I write this now, I want to be back in that field with those same people. Shambala 2012, you've been wonderful and we look forward to seeing you again in 2013.
review by: James Tayler

photos by: Phil Bull

Thursday 23rd to Sunday 26th August 2012
a secret location in the Midlands, Northamptonshire, NN6 9LY, England MAP
£119 for weekend - SOLD OUT
daily capacity: 8000
last updated: Tue 21st Aug 2012

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