Deer Shed Festival 2019 – Review
By Victoria Holdsworth, September 2019
Last year was my first ever Deer Shed festival; the bands were great, the food was amazing and the weather was scorching, and I have to say I was mightily impressed with the whole thing – so much so that I had planned this year’s visit early.
The 2019 version was even bigger and better and although it did seem to rain for three days solid in the middle of a heatwave, I was still delighted with the event, despite being a little soggy.
The weather did not dampen the spirits on the tenth anniversary of the festival, whose theme this year was Generation X,Y,Z, which the organisers captured perfectly. The festival had impressively sold out on the Monday prior to gates officially opening from 26-28th July.
The festival itself managed to pack in over 1,800 hours of entertainment – everything from music, comedy, cabaret, theatre, science, sport and arts and craft workshops – into one weekend. Four live music stages hosted acts like recently Mercury-nominated Anna Calvi, Ezra Furman, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, The Wedding Present, Akala, Lucy Rose, Gruff Rhys and Steve Mason.
The Big Top and Buckendz tents hosted an array of comedy, shows, podcasts and literary events, with high profile names like Nina Conti, Reginald D. Hunter, Milton Jones, Richard Herring and Angelos Epithemiou.
The highlights for me on the Friday night were Leeds’ very own, The Wedding Present, who have been one of the most underrated bands in British music history. Kicking off with ‘My Favourite Dress’ and ‘Brassneck’, which were released in ’87 and ’89 respectively, you would never have known these songs were that old. The still sounded fresh to me and prove that they can still take on the best of them.
What was amazing to see was the younger audience members really getting into a band I grew up with, as if they were discovering a hidden gem for the first ever time. Just goes to show that there is life within the old dogs yet. Dave Gedge et al have honed their crafts superbly over the years, and the tunes ‘What Have I Said Now?’ and ‘Panama’ are just absolute classics! You can really see how they subtly influenced an entire music scene.
Slow Readers Club headlined the Dock Stage, which was absolutely rammed to the rafters, and not just because of the rain. I have always missed this band when they played in Leeds, for whatever reason, but I really wish I had seen them sooner. ‘Start Again’ is a fantastic indie track, and I kept having to remember that this collective are actually on their third album now. The rest of the set was pretty darn solid. The passion with which they play is obvious, and tracks like ‘You Opened Up My Heart’ and ‘Plant The Seed’ formed the perfect set-list order to get the crowd moving, before playing one of their most lyrically significant songs, ‘On The TV’, which they ended the set with, leaving a few people with some food for thought.
Massive props on the Friday to Little Ruins, who hail from New Zealand. Their EP, ‘Olympic Girls’, is remarkable and even though it was lashing it down at this point, these guys will give you the warmest glow just listening to them. They certainly helped the mood of the crowd. If you get a chance to catch them anywhere I would highly recommend giving them a listen.
Unfortunately the rain was getting the better of me, and I missed Anna Calvi on the main stage, however I did manage to make it to the refuge of the Big Top Stage to see the hilarious Justin Moorhouse, who helped to warm everyone’s cockles. The Tameside comic is such a great host and naturally funny without even trying, but the performance from Raymond & Mr Timpkins, is absolutely genius, with their silly vaudeville stand-up routine. Think of Mark and Lard meets the Chuckle Brothers! I shall definitely seek these ones out for a show of their own.
Waking up on the Saturday, I would hope that there had been a break in the weather, but it was not to be. The rain poured for most of the day, but unlike a lot of other festivals, Deer Shed have it covered very well! All the pathways to the stages and sites were not excessively muddy, due to the tracking that they put down, and they dried everything up as much as they possibly could. The support on the campsite is the best, and I must give a huge thanks and buckets of appreciation to Ellie who runs the accessible camping site, because without her, many people would never have left their tents. The girl deserves a medal for keeping things ticking over so efficiently.
There was some rain respite in the afternoon, and there was even some sunshine to look forward to later on in the day in the form of a live podcast with The Scummy Mummies. If you have never listened to them, I will warn you that you will not stop laughing from beginning to end. The ‘not so perfect parents’ love gin in a tin, napping when they can and pissing without spectators. Today they are doing a live podcast which usually involves chats about adoption, racism and motherhood’s effect on creativity, coupled with some wine-fuelled rants about their better or worse halves, all performed in splendid gold Lycra.
Richard Herring was next up at The Buckends stage. I have always been a massive fan of Mr. Herring, and today he was being interviewed on stage by Aussie stand up, Sarah Bennetto. I was thinking it was going to be a role reversal of his usual RHLST podcast, and I was sadly wrong! The delivery was plain embarrassing and awkward and, to be completely frank, just not funny at all. I felt sorry for Herring, who is usually drowning in laughter at his work, because this set up simply did not work!
Luckily the despair was not to last long, with the performance from Flamingods on The Dock Stage, who are a four-piece alternative rock band from London and Bahrain. Their excellent blend of psychedelia and indie pop, with some eastern influences is magnificent, and a great festival crowd-pleaser, whose energy reminded me of Gogol Bordello, even if the rain did play havoc with some of their instruments.
More rain, just in time for the main stage act teatime treat with Gruff Rhys, lead singer in Super Furry Animals. However, the Welsh musical demigod of managed to win the crowd over, for some peeking out from under umbrellas and getting some folks dancing in the mud. He admits that he didn’t bring a raincoat. His new album is completely in Welsh, and even includes a song called, ‘Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru’, which highlights the difference in dialects in his own language.
Gruff demonstrates how something monotonous and mundane can sound majestic in Welsh. That’s not to say his English songs aren’t melodious – he plays ‘Candylion’, which is a delightful ditty of an indie pop tune, and far from his SFA roots. There is nothing that this man cannot turn his hand to musically, as he mixes classic traditional folk music with indie rock and pop and defies music conventions. ‘Lonesome Words’ remains a very special track indeed, with a metronome called Nigel used as the backing percussion! ‘Sensations In The Dark’ from his 2011 album Hotel Shampoo is catchy as hell – you have been warned!
It was starting to get even darker at the end of the set, and yet again more rain came, but it did not stop the packed out crowds who were waiting for the comedy legend that is Daniel Renton Skinner, otherwise known as Angelos Epithemiou. Again, the comedy tent was packed, and everyone seems to have brought chairs and lots of children, so it was a little hard getting into the place, let alone manoeuvre anywhere.
Angelos was a little taken aback by how many kids were there too, and quickly had to adjust his set to accommodate for this, which did detract from his usual shenanigans, and he did try and incorporate some comedy in there for the little ones also, but it was a little trying to watch at times, and he looked stifled. This was also the same with Milton Jones. Whilst Milton’s comedy is less risqué, it still contains some adult themes, and again, he had to quickly ad-lib and alter his act on stage as he went. The puns were as good as ever, and his interaction with his audience is hilarious, however this was kept to a minimum for the kids. The whole thing matched the weather – a little damp.
Sadly, I could not wait until after midnight to see Reginald D Hunter, although at that time of an evening, I would have expected lots of the crowd to be adult only. However, being stood in the rain for so long, started to take its toll on me, and by the time he graced the stage, I was tucked up in my damp sleeping bag trying to keep warm. I did, however, manage to catch the headliners on the main stage, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever.
RBCF, hailing from Australia are the real deal. The structure to their entire outfit is impressive, and whilst they are still to make a big dent in the music world, due to the fact that they haven’t really put out that much material, I do not think it will be long before they are firm favourites on many a play list.
The final day started with some overcast sunshine, finally! Moods and spirits were lifted, and even though it did shower later on, who cared. Sunday was spent split between the Dock Stage and the Main Stage, and what a line up the day held, with the most noteworthy being the bright spark that is Willie J Healey. What a talent this lad has, with his cocktail of classic rock undertones, jangly indie grooves, and melancholy pop. Willie J Healey is seemingly the whole package. His infectious tunes will have you jigging about within seconds.
Skinny Pelembe provided the crowds with a solid set with his blend of laid-back R&B tinged folk dub soul, whose instrumental playing blew me away. Firm festival regulars now, She Drew The Gun, really set the festival alight with their punk psycho pop overtures and lead singer, Louisa Roach is a formidable front woman. Their set was fairly similar to when I saw the in February in Leeds, and they still had the same effect on me today. Their guitar drench sounds, combined with some fearsome lyrics really set them apart. ‘Resister’ is a fine tune which shows this talent off perfectly, and the soaring vocals on ‘Wolf and Bird’ will leave you staggering. A great choice by the Deer Shed team, which perfectly encapsulated their theme this year.
The excitement was now building in me for the next act on the main stage. Steve Mason is a man who defined indie music for me. A musical hero of mine, and a founding member one of my all-time favourites, the much overlooked Beta Band.
A man of the people, Steve Mason took to the stage with his unique indie-psychedelic folk stylings. There are no airs and graces with this man. Almost Syd Barrett-like in his approach to fame and his talents, he opened with ‘Planet Sizes’, and really got the crowd going with its fast-paced guitar work, driving bass and glorious keyboard harmonies. The chorus is a real earworm too; you will be singing it for days on end.
‘Fox On The Rooftop’ was an outstanding addition to his set list – almost a nod to Echo & The Bunnymen with its languid dreamy shoegazing swirls and crunching guitar. Beautifully arranged and expertly executed, as indeed are all his songs tonight.
‘Words In My Head’ from the album Meet The Humans is an intoxicating love song in many ways, and as with most of Steve Mason’s lyrics and music, he lays his soul bare, warts and all and will transport you straight back to the 90s, especially with its rippling synth lines and puncturing percussion. I could have listened to him all day and night, however Ezra Furman was about to take the stage reins from him to close off the final day.
I was not very familiar with Ezra’s musical offerings before today, but he certainly has a magnetic appeal, is lyrically brilliant, and he completely took me by surprise. From the opening ‘I Wanna Destroy Myself’ he had me hook, line and sinker. This feisty track is already six years old, so I have a lot of catching up to do.
‘Rated R Crusaders’ was a personal favourite in the set list, and Ezra’s stage presence has captured the entire crowd. He regulates his set well between the fast and the slow to obscure and ‘My Zero’ is completely contrasting with its bittersweet melodies and lyrics, all perfectly encompassed in his own energy – so much so that you forget all about it being about the breakdown of a relationship.
Ending his set with ‘Tip Of The Match’ the crowds are in no rush to get home, and the calls for an encore are passionate. As he leaves his crowd wanting more I hope he walked off that stage knowing what a great job he had done in closing off the Deer Shed Festival 2019. Their first Sunday night headliner was a huge success and I cannot wait for next year.