Leefest 2013 festival review

'Little room for improvement'

Photographer:Sara Bowrey

John Bownas - 15 July 2013

With its simple array of two stages, a DJ tent, a small variety-room and a hay-bale-surrounded beach, Leefest nestles on a piece of working farmland in open countryside on London's far south-eastern fringe.

For 2013 it's kept its capacity down to just 2,000 people – most of whom are fresh-faced young things, and by-and-large the parents seem to have been left at home.

Overall the atmosphere is beautifully relaxed – largely due to the relatively small boutique nature of the event. Put into context, the entire Leefest crowd, if the site was at capacity, would fill only a quarter of the big tented third stage at T in the Park.

First-up, local Surrey four-piece guitar-band, Lola (7), are suitably moody and bluesy in equal measures. They might be playing to a bigger crowd if it wasn't for the long queue still crawling through the main gates as thorough bag searches slow up the entry process. But many of the two-deep front-row crowd are none the less waving their handmade 'Lola' flags and showing their enthusiastic support.

They may be playing in the full glare of the sun, but the lighting is still exceptional for an event of this scale and what stands out visually over all the days is how much more atmospheric during the daytime the main stage is than even Glastonbury's Pyramid frequently manages to be.

Because everything is so compact in the main arena there's a real sense of not having to worry about missing anything that might turn out to be Leefest's defining moment. It takes only a few minutes to walk around the whole site, with the only hazards being flailing swing-ball rackets and the Freestyle crew's fantastic frisbees.

For those who aren't encyclopedias of the latest buzz-scene or who haven't done thorough research into all of the scheduled acts the rule-of-thumb is a simple one.. when all-of-a-sudden things seem a little quiet wherever you are it's time to take a minute’s stroll and go to see where the action might be.

The headliners are generally pretty safe bets.

Delphic (9) provide – unsurprisingly – a great end to Friday night, with their 80's influenced synth-pop-rock being echoed throughout many of the other acts scattered across the weekend's line-up.

Playing late afternoon on Saturday, All We Are (8) are just one more example of how that glorious decade spawned musical stylings that will find new exponents and new fans in every generation. With Guro Gikling's vocals making them more Cocteau Twins to Delphic's New Order, the band's slot ends up being an hour later than planned after the sad no-show of much-anticipated Concrete Knives, who are stuck in France and unable to appear.

Noisettes (10) are pretty much on home turf, cheekily reference 'Croydon Town' in a tweaked version of 'Hey, Hey'.

Their stage-show is, as ever, a huge part of their appeal and Saturday night sees the sun going down across a stage resplendent in feathers and golden finery. Shingai Shoniwa kicks off her shoes to 'Don't Upset the Rhythm (Go Baby Go)' and an enthralled audience bathes in pure liquid pop of the highest order.

Wrapping things up on Sunday, East London's Skints are less powerful (8) but still deliver some ska-ful delights – although to a diminished crowd...after all, it is a school-night. Guitarist Josh Rudge proves how dangerous the music industry really can be when he chips a tooth on his microphone during one of the first songs in the set.

Elsewhere over the weekend Story Books (6) seem to be more focused on the next day's T in the Park show, The Ramona Flowers' rather lacklustre set (6) just isn't right for the time of day and the Hackney Colliery Band (7) are a tipster's choice, but they're just taking it all too seriously and don't have what it takes to put the fun in funky.

However the stand-out moments are to be found during London Grammar's understated but tent-filling slew of safe-but-sexy synthy serenades (8), King Charles' uplifting Saturday mainstage crowd-pleasing showmanship (9), Man Like Me's excellent use of a Lidl shopping bag as a stage prop (9) and, for the pure joy of something fresh or different, Sea Stacks, the No Limits Street Band and Philious Williams.

Sea Stacks (10) play to a small but wrapt audience in the Clocktower with a classical string quintet fronted by vocalist/antique squeezebox player/percussionist Davy Berryman. This is dreamy yet in-your-face stuff that should be raising the roof in cathedral-style venues across the world.

In contrast, the No limits Street Band are a fun-loving group of brass-players (9) who take pop classics apart and blow them to kingdom come with arrangements that get even the most cynical feet stamping in the sand and the majority of the Magical Beach crowd dancing. If there was ever a perfect festival good-time band, they are it.

And on Sunday the real wake up and smell the caffeine moment is Philious Williams (10), a relatively new London band whose growly but sweet heavy western blues feels like it's been here since time began and will rumble on into a distant future without any sign of slowing down.

If there's one grumble it's that the real ale runs out by Sunday afternoon.

But on the whole, for LeeFest 2013 it's a big thumbs-up and 9/10 with little room for improvement.


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