Flamboyant, bohemian, extravagant, hedonistic, chaotic and completely off the wall, there are so many things that have been and will be said about The Secret Garden Party; in reality this festival is a one-off occupying a unique and unrivalled place on the festival circuit.
Partying and good times are taken very seriously at this festival but it’s not the only factor taken into consideration on a specially built site that’s crammed with magical delights guaranteed to make you question what you think you know about life, the universe and all things festival.
The Secret Garden Party or SGP as it is colloquially known is rather more than your average festival coming as it does from so many different angles. To enter SGP really is like stepping into a very different world, a world where everything seems possible and nothing is quite as it seems, simultaneously everything seems just as it should be, it’s definitely a bit Alice in Wonderland. On a practical level you don’t get charged extra for camping or parking and you also get a quality printed programme detailing the wealth of entertainment on offer, a valuable and very welcome step away from the norm, but then again just as you would expect because this whole event is a big step away from the norm.
Probably the least judgemental of all the festivals on the scene and one that truly treats it’s ‘gardeners’ as they are known as valued members of a rather unlikely society, a society that springs up once a year to provide a weekend of genuine professional escapism and the real unexpected luxury of truly getting away from it all. The event has been running for some 13 years and is presided over by the head gardener Freddie Fellowes who’s vision has transformed the family farm into something of a haven for all those seeking escapism in an environment that screams freedom from the overwhelmingly commercial, prescribed levels of what we are all supposed to find engaging in today’s vastly overhyped events, events that tell us in no uncertain terms what we are all supposed to believe in and subscribe to.
SGP is the sort of event that could only be dreamed up by someone who has a deep understanding about human nature, life and the issues we all have to deal with every day, this is someone who knows just what is needed to soothe and rejuvenate the soul, therefore SGP is most certainly a festival of experience and it offers more than you could hope for on so many levels.
You will most certainly be surprised at SGP, conversely you will not be surprised, this purpose built festival site has been carefully crafted to allow a wealth of activities to be spread-eagled around, allowing you to be free to wander, discover and revel in the sheer mystique of it all, it’s more thoughtful than most and the attention to detail will make you smile while also making you think and ponder. It’s meticulous while at the same time giving the initial impression that things have just been thrown together, in essence it’s very, very clever.
This is the sort of site that could only have been put together by serious party goers for serious party goers, there’s places to go raving mad, places to play, places to get naked, places to eat, places to sit and ponder, places to meet and chat, places to just sit and think and, with their support for CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), there’s even paces to get help and support if needed, nothing seems to be overlooked yet nothing is forced upon you, it’s there for you if you want it but it isn’t rammed down your throat, you make your own choices.
So much has been made about the hedonistic and bohemian nature of SGP, and yes, it is all that, but not to see beyond the obvious is to miss the point at this one, SGP doesn’t follow the herd, it doesn’t even set the agenda, SGP is a law unto itself and it’s one that will not be pigeonholed, tamed or forced to comply, SGP is a true one off in the sense that it is driven by a genuine desire to promote an ethos and morality that’s so often missing these days, it’s all about living life to the full but not forgetting that everyone else around you is part of the experience too. That level of deep understanding has, through the 13 years that SGP has been going has clearly rubbed off on the crowd it attracts, and we’re not talking in a ‘hippy-trippy, peace and love’ type of way it’s a deeper kind of caring which is more about tolerance, compassion, acceptance and recognition, you are at once the centre of the universe and yet you are only one small part of a much bigger whole, the gardeners truly get this concept.
And so it was for 2015, the theme of Childish Things was embraced fully as the heavens opened on the Friday and the rain was utterly relentless, this had the effect of encouraging a sea of mud pies as the normal activities are put on hold and water became the overarching theme, so it’s a day of puddles and pools, brolly’s and ponchos with much slithering and sliding evident around the site, nothing that the weather could throw at them would dampen the spirits of the gardeners at SGP, yes, there was a lot of huddling under what shelter could be found but there was fun, games and a full embracing of what was on offer, and on offer was, as always, an awful lot.
One of the great joys of SGP is their booking policy, they are adventurous, very adventurous and that is another factor in their ability to provide a genuinely different festival experience, SGP do not have to rely on booking the obvious to sell their tickets, instead they bring a thoughtfully and carefully crafted raft of acts that are a step away from the commercial events, this means that the acts fit in with the festival ethos hand in glove. That's not to say you won't get some top acts at SGP, you'll get some top acts among a mix of very engaging and unusual offerings not found at mainstream festivals.
Sometimes it gets a bit chaotic with bands not playing to time so it’s hard to plan, but again this is just one of the many joys as it leaves you free to uncover something different that you might not have seen before. Shamelessly non-commercial in all aspects including the music, SGP seem to effortlessly engage and encompass everyone who becomes part of this crazy family.
We caught some fabulous acts and Friday highlights came with a phenomenal set from Jack Garratt, a young multi-instrumentalist who has been writing music since he was just 12 and manages to produce far more sound than you could think possible for one lone musician.
Kate Tempest is another engaging act that whose ability to make the ordinary extraordinary is unparallel; she truly is our high priestess of wordery and worked her magic at SGP effortlessly.
Lianne La Havas has a rather unique and beautiful voice, quite addictive once you start to listen to her beautifully crafted songs, a singer who won't be pigeonholed and who is more than capable of beautiful poetic musings whilst making it totally accessible, a very soulful, insightful and enchanting set.
Darwin Deez played on the wonderful Where the Wild Things Are stage but seemed to be a tad more subdued than usual, it may have been that relentless rain!
Other highlights we caught during the day included some intensely good sets from Black Honey, Cut Capers, Danny and the Champions of the World, F.u.r.s., Public Service Broadcasting, Racing Glaciers, Say Lou Lou, The Magic Gang and a host of quality dance acts.
The main stage was closed with a stunning set from Jungle, a band who are really gaining ground, this headline slot gave the band a chance to show just how far they have come and just how much they have to offer. Polished, professional, fabulous falsetto vocals, funky, appealing and without doubt making the crowd to forget about the weather, Jungle ticked all the boxes and then some!
Mercifully the rain gave way on the Saturday and we got treated to some pretty impressive music from the likes of Croox, Dungeon Meat, Elder Island, Fickle Friends, Honne, Ibeyi, Iyes, Josef Salvat, Luca Cazal, Waze & Odyssey and many more.
Specific stand outs came from Temples who make psychedelia accessible, cool and modern yet taking you back to the heady days when the summer of love was de rigueur, these guys have a modern twist on all things and flirt within the genre in a kind of counter-culture manner, a great band who deserve to be very much on the radar.
Another trip down memory lane came in the form of brother and sister band Angus & Julia Stone, this Australian brother-and-sister duo zap you right back into the sixties hey day of laid back, folky musings yet at the same time quite forward thinking, ultimately really rather quirky.
The traditional and somewhat exceptional firework display was executed to perfection and drew just about everyone to the main arena as it always does, this time the boat was not burnt with the fireworks but the cinema screen was torched instead. This annual display provides a unification and joyful aspect to this event and somehow seems to epitomise what SGP all about.
Closing the main stage were The Cat Empire, a six-piece funk fusion band from Australia, a band truly built for good times and heaps of fun, mixing rock, reggae, funk and jazz, a sizzling performance from a very tight band, following the firework display this seemed a perfect closure to the days main stage festivities.
There was so much more going on around the site over the weekend and as always it simply takes your breath away. For a more in-depth review on just how much this festival has to offer see our 2013 review.
Aside from the wealth of events and entertainment on offer the food was impressive and reasonably priced, lots of choice and options available to satisfy even the most discerning palate.
The centrepiece on the lake this year was a tugboat in the form of a bath toy, also very much in evidence was a gigantic pair of taps spouting water, in and of themselves these were pretty spectacular but at SGP they are just part of a hugely unique, extravagant and elaborate site scattered with spectacular detail.
Once again there was just so much going on around the site that any review can only give you a tiny taste of what is on offer, and no review can ever really do justice to this event, the thing about The Secret Garden Party is that it is all about the experience.
We have no hesitation in saying that this festival ranks up there as one of the greats and we are so fortunate to have an event of this calibre on the festival circuit, it's quite unique, ingenious and totally engrossing, offering something quite different to the usual array, that's not to say that there aren't other good festivals out there, it's just that The Secret Garden Party is utterly brilliant and quite faultless in every respect.
A little walk on the wild side - The Secret Garden Party is truly a touch of class.
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