REVIEW: Deer Shed Festival

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The Deer Shed Festival continues to go from strength to strength with this year’s sold out event definitely the best yet.

Now in its sixth year, the ever-increasingly popular North Yorkshire bash sold out all of its ticket seven weeks before the event.

The best yet in Deer Shed’s burgeoning reputation in what is becoming the north’s answer to the Latitude Festival

Ian Monaghan

Boasting headliners John Grant, Billy Bragg and The Unthanks, the expanded music, arts & science festival drew in festival goers to the lovely Baldersley Park venue at Tocliffe, Thirsk.

There is something for everyone at the family friendly festival, including science and crafts events, top comedy, spoken word and, of course, the music stages.

This year’s theme was Up in The Air and, having neatly side-stepped a pedal-powered flying machine, this reviewer settled down on FRIDAY to catch former Tuung frontman Sam Gender’s new folk-electronica outfit DIAGRAMS, followed by former Doves members Jez and Andy Williams new band BLACK RIVERS, who dropped a couple of their former group’s tunes into the set.

THE FELICE BROTHERS provided fine fiddle-fuelled Americana on the mainstage, which was followed by a revelatory set on the Lodge stage by DU BLONDE.

Three years ago Beth Jeans Houghton performed her indie-sweet tunes with her band The Hooves of Destiny at Deer Shed.

But Beth has since undergone a Bowie-esque change of image, coming across like a peroxide Patti Smith fronting her fierce band, especially on an inspired cover of The Pixies Where Is My Mind.

Headliner BILLY BRAGG has been playing and performing for over 30 years now and it is pleasing to report his voice has never sounded better.

The Bard of Barking performed songs from the whole of his career, from the likes of Sexuality and Power In A Union to nods to his hero Woody Guthrie when, accompanied by pedal-steel player CJ Hillman, he played a delightful Dry Bed especially for all the kids in the audience.

Bragg ended with the mass singalong of New England sending the the huge mainstage crowd back to their tents happy.

Bragg kicked off Saturday too in conversation with The Guardian’s Dave Simpson, covering such topics as Morrissey’s incontinence bedsheets, his spell in the army at nearby Catterick Camp and the obligatory Fall joke.

This was followed at the same Obelisk stage by former Slits member Viv Albertine reading from her remarkable biography, including sexual encounters with Jonny Rotten and the gender politics of girls in rock n roll.

FATHERSON enjoyed the mid-afternoon sunshine on the mainstage with their soaring vocals and quietly anthemic songs before the excellent PICTISH TRAIL on the Lodge Stage.

“I’m from the Scottish island of Uig - it’s a lot like Hartlepool”. Cheerfully accepting this introduction, the audience marvelled at his rave ballads, his 30 second song catalogue, including Sweating Battery Acid, and the lovely Birds. A top turn and a natural performer.

HINDS failed to live up to their hype, and the DUTCH UNCLES unfortunately caught the rain on the mainstage. That was no excuse though for the ersatz cover of Seal’s Kiss from A Rose and the worst frontman stage patter this reviewer has ever heard.

Scottish singer-songwriter JAMES YORKSTON possesses a fantastic voice - imagine a singing Sean Connery - and his song I Fell In Love With My Fellow man went down like a shaken not stirred martini.

Conor O’Brien and his band VILLAGERS eased the mainstage crowd into early evening with the sumptuous, plaintive melodies of Man On Wire and Courage.

Dublin singer-songwriter DAMIEN DEMPSEY was a treat on the Lodge Stage, the big man with the big voice and even bigger heart, singing his passionate songs to the max and getting the crowd singing along with the Irish expats in the audience.

Being the final show of JOHN GRANT’s Pale Green Ghost tour and also his 48th birthday, this turned out to be a very special night indeed.

Being serenaded by the audience with ‘Happy birthday to you’ a taken-aback Grant kicked off with the sublime I Wanna Go To Marz and didn’t let up throughtout his 75 minute headline set.

The sonorous singer played a great set, with songs from his Queen of Denmark album, including Where Dreams Go To Die, Caramel and Outer Space, and selections from his electro-tinged Pale Green Ghosts album, including the title track, Black Belt and GMF.

After teasing fans about playing a song from his new, yet to be released album Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, Grant introduced Conor O’Brien from Villagers for Glaciers.

With wonderfully-turned confessional lyrics, Grant is very much a Leonard Cohen for our time.

SUNDAY got off to a start with DJ and broadcaster ANDY KERSHAW winning the ‘Yorkshireman who most loves the sound of his own voice’ award in a spoken word session on the Obelisk Stage.

ELIZA SHADDAD is known as the voice of electro outfit Clean Bandit, but showed off her own songwriting talents on the mainstage with the likes of Come Back with her silky vocals.

ROZI PLAIN delighted the Lodge Stage audience with her soft vocals over the synth pulse and muted beats of her finely-crafted songs.

SEAFRET’s singer Jack Sedman must boast the baadest - and only? - afro in Bridlington and, along with partner Harry Draper, went down well with their sensitive songs.

USA alt rock band FRANCISCO THE MAN take their name from the Gabriel García Márquez novel 100 Years Of Solitude and were suitably serious and bookish while IBIBIO SOUND MACHINE managed to keep the rain at bay with their sunny electro-African funk, including Let’s Dance.

Alas the rain steadily came as fantastic folksters THE UNTHANKS took the main stage in the later afternoon to complete the mainstage music.

The best yet in Deer Shed’s burgeoning reputation in what is becoming the north’s answer to Latitude Festival. Roll on next year.

- IAN MONAGHAN