The UK's Best Small of Festival of 2008 went one better this summer writes Daniel Fahey.
Overall – 8/10Rodrigo y Gabriella – 8/10
After taking away the Best Small Festival gong at last year’s UK Festival Awards, the Secret Garden Party bosses look set to repeat the feat with another superb edition of the event. Meticulous planning and colourful execution are fused with some spirited community camaraderie and plenty of chaotic tomfoolery that make the festival one of the most original and unmissable events of the year.
Casting aside big musical names and artists, the festival relies on ticket-holders packing an open mind, plenty of fancy dress and an all-important smile. Focusing on audience participation Secret Garden Party is awash with paint fights, join-in theatre, mud wrestling, boat punting and twisted village fete treats like Ghetto Olympics (a chav-tastic sports day) with the music taking a back seat.
Fans that are there for aural pleasure alone are treated to some superb showings from Foreign Beggars, Rodrigo y Garbriella, Golden Silvers and a host of DJs, as the line-up reflects the need for people to have fun rather than to sit, muse and watch huge artists.
The fireworks, thousands of floating lanterns and the Guy Fawkes-inspired destruction of the floating Tower Of Babel on the Saturday is the crowing festival moment though with thousands fixated by the endless pyrotechnics burning in the darkness. From there on in though, the rain put a dampener on proceedings with a much more mooted Sunday feeling oddly hollow after three fantastic days.
The site – 8/10
Organisers use the lake in the centre of the site to split the festival into two: Babylon and Eden. Babylon houses the biggest bands and the heavier dance DJs, while Eden is a much more sedate and relaxing utopia with the children’s area, a sauna, Chai Wallah tent and a stage done up to look like the inside of a Living Room.
The floating Tower Of Babel in the middle of a lake is the special centrepiece of the event, which is only accessible by boat, while the sloping hills and tents hidden in the copse make for a pretty idyllic garden and a festival site that just begs to be explored.
Getting there and back – 7/10
With the venue a secret, Gardeners only find out the location when they get their tickets. Taxis are the best option for those arriving by train, with just a ten-minute journey from the train station to the site. For those travelling by car a decent map or Sat Nav is recommended with few signs showing the where the event is, but once ticket-holders are on the right road, stewards and queues of cars are good indicators of the entrance.
Atmosphere – 8/10
With the allocation of Babylon and Eden tribes for Gardeners and the division of the festival, Secret Garden Party offers two types of affair: relaxed or energetic. Eden has a lethargic and friendly feel with revellers sauntering around and relaxing, while Babylon is tuned in for ravers with the bouncing Hanging Gardens Of Babylon. But it’s the friendly crowds that make the event special with the Bad Advice Bear giving out ghastly guidance, the Hug Monster handing out cuddles and a badger rolling a coconut to strangers just for them to roll back again.
Music – 6/10
Phoenix – 8/10
The French six-piece put on a dynamic show, running through an ever-growing repertoire of top tunes including 'Lisztomania' and 'Consolation Prizes' that outshines even the greatest of showmen, headliner Jarvis Cocker. By the final quarter fans chill to the more downbeat numbers like 'Run Run Run' before the band's French revolutionary impulses incite the storming of the stage. While hi-fiving the bassist one gardener asks “how's Jarvis going to top this?” “He's not!” retorts his mate who’s fiddling with the guitar pedals.
Within minutes of the Tower of Babel blowing up amidst a flurry of fireworks and Chinese lanterns, the nifty Mexican duo produce an equally fiery mix of flamenco rhythms and metal riffs. The sweet, innocent Gabriella is quick to embrace the atmosphere, encouraging punters to “fucking run around naked, dance along or whatever,”
as her partner in crime lodges a fully fledged assault on his strings. New material, Metallica covers and their own favourites including the distinctive 'Tamacun' overshadow the odd sound glitch and a slightly underpowered PA system on a rare British headline outing.Foreign Beggars – 8/10
Attracting one of the largest crowds of the weekend, Foreign Beggars
produce a show to match any amount of numbers trying to fill the Valley Of Antics tent. Quick paced rapping from the UK hip hop crew wakes the afternoon crowd before DJ Nonames mashes up some Noisia, TC and dubstep to compliment their own material like ‘Hold On’. “Sound guy, turn it up for them,”
shouts Metropolis – yes more please.The Resonators – 7/10
There’s rain outside the tent, by The Resonators
make sure it’s nothing by sunshine within the canvas walls of Valley Of Antics. The stylish outfit hail back to the great 70’s era of reggae and dub mixing guitars, horns and skanking with a few riffs that Jonathan Richmond would’ve been proud of.Geno Washington – 7/10
With Fat Freddy’s Drop pulling their European dates it’s down to old soul legend Geno Washington
to bring the festival to a close. Despite only attracting a small crowd, with most scuttling undercover due to the rain, Washington proves one of the highlights of the festival. Dressed like the 13th member of D12, the singer storms through classics like ‘Give It Up Or Turn It Loose’ and ‘Knock On Wood’ with Delroy Williams, who Washington concedes stole his first wife, as the last stragglers dance towards the curfew.DownersThe Holloways – 4/10
Sounding like the groggy hangover from a landfill indie party a few years back, The Holloways
are just plain awful. The energy is there, but the lack of catchy tune and a decent lyric is quite apparent. With a full tent thanks to the rain, lead singer Alfie Jackson manages to break three strings and trip over his guitar lead but, sadly, that’s where the entertainment ends. ‘Two Left Feet’ sounds old and worn, while saving grace ‘Generator’ just simply isn’t enough.SoKo – 4/10
The multi-talented singer, songwriter and actress SoKo
was a buzz name a couple of years ago but when she disappeared to record her still-unreleased debut, she decided that she was 'dead' because she was scared of the music industry.
It appears, despite her resurrection, death has left her rather snipey. Several times she lambastes the soundman for his levels (although it must be said, leaving for the toilet mid-set is unforgivable) and she get angry with the crowd for asking for her only release. 'I Want To Look Like A Tiger' is her strongest number, but when matched against songs like 'I Love Peanut Butter' there's hardly any competition at all.Peter Green And Friends – 4/10
A legend of sorts among fellow musicians, former-Fleetwood Mac recluse, Peter Green
, brought together a band of friends for a rare festival date at SGP
. But it would seem he’s not quite out of his shell yet as the guitarist barely speaks and plays from a chord book during the set. Eric Burdon’s ‘Don’t Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down’ and the Mac’s ‘Albatross’ are both given the type of finish you’d expect from a pub blues outfit, not a world-renowned guitarist – boring.Random events
Badgering the Ferris Wheel
The aforementioned Badger, long after losing his coconut, found a new infatuation in the early hours of Sunday morning: the Ferris wheel crowd. The dancing badger confronted those trying to get onto the ride – he obviously didn’t like the rest of the late night entertainment.
Some people either can’t handle late nights and drink, or they are just mental as one girl showed on Friday night in the campsite.
Strange girl to a group outside their tent: “Why have you taken my beer?”
Boy in group: “We haven’t.”“Yes you have. I’ve been in my tent for the last 20 minutes and you’ve been talking about me.”“No we haven’t.”
This is true; they’d actually been discussing David Lynch and how small lighthouse light bulbs actually are.“Well it must be someone else with a big light talking about me then.”“What like that one?”
The boy points back at the festival.“Yeah.”“Well, that’s the festival. I don’t think they were talking about you.”
“You were talking about David Lynch though.”“Erm, but you’re not David Lynch.”
At this point the girl leaves, hopefully to go to bed.