Review: Secret Garden Party
For a first-timer like me, this year’s Secret Garden Party was a dramatic initiation into the weird world of music festivals in the very best of ways. Already ankle deep in mud by Friday afternoon, my fellow Gardeners (the affectionate name given to the event’s attendees) and I were not put off by the weather. We delved into the festival’s music, performances and silliness with a suitably juvenile enthusiasm given the festival’s theme for 2015 – ‘childish things’. The theme only emphasised the festival’s warm-heartedness; it was a place to frolic and have fun, where not getting involved was strictly prohibited and exploration was greatly encouraged.
Topped with a toy train, The Great Stage played host to the festival’s headliners. Jungle and The Cat Empire powered through Friday and Saturday nights respectively, whilst Caravan Palace let revellers party away the final night. For me hearing Kate Tempest’s Hold Your Own from the back of the Great Stage was a highlight of the party, as was wildly dancing to The Correspondents whilst covered in post-paint fight colour in the pouring rain. Perhaps due to the headliners comparative obscurity to those at other festivals – there’s no Kanye or Florence here – SGP did not seem to centre on The Great Stage too much. In fact, the smaller stages flourished, and not just because most of them were under canvas. The Kitsch Inn was my favourite; the sickly sweet decoration countered by fantastic bands, like the Temple Funk Collective and the Dutty Moonshine Big Band who proved to me that brass bands could be more than just for my parents. The Small World tent was a real draw too. After stumbling upon Crinkle Cuts on Friday night and discovering what ‘eargasmic tantric funk’ actually consisted of, I returned in a more sober state to enjoy Mad Apple Circus’s upbeat rhythms on Sunday. The music was complimented by a relaxed atmosphere cultivated by the rugs, candles and mugs of hot chocolate that could be found inside.
As a newbie to this whole thing it was exciting to discover the acts that seem to be festival favourites. Whilst The Undercover Hippie and Beans on Toast seemed to be the 1D of the weekend – the latter even got a group of girls up on stage as his back-up singers – I got to experience them for the first time and they’re now firmly placed on my Spotify playlists. These were two of the performances that got me all fired-up with their lefty political credentials. Politics has been a depressing place for the past few months if you’re liberally leaning, so listening to the cheers Beans on Toast received as he denounced fracking and capitalism was an uplifting escape from the gloom.
Even more surreal were some of the performances and installations that it was impossible not to stumble into. I was welcomed into my first proper night in the Garden by a quite aggressive nuzzling from a faun whilst in the Lost Woods, an area that was fantastical enough without the addition of mythical creatures. On various explorations of the woodland I found both an absinthe bar and an observatory tower. The Spiritual Playground was an equally wonderful and yet very odd place to find yourself. You could catch a Spiritual Disco where various deities would dance for your entertainment or be blessed with the sixth element, kale. It’s a testament to the intoxicating nature of SGP that though I was initially dubious about getting involved it only took until Saturday for me to find myself lying on the floor meditating with Merlinji, the Mixed Race Medicine Man. As previously alluded to I was also lured into the famous SGP paint fight too and wore my multi-coloured hair proudly on the train ride home.
It might have been a fantastic weekend, but that wasn’t to say that SGP didn’t have its issues this year. It really doesn’t seem to be a festival well designed to cope with bad weather, so some elements of the fun did struggle to continue when things got really grim. Plus, whilst changes to the programme are probably to be expected, anyone who was waiting for the cancelled Game of Thrones panel was slightly aggravated that no-one bothered to tell the large crowd gathered that it wouldn’t be happening until after quite a lot of waiting. Two of the most intriguing stages seemed underused too; both the Pagoda stage, located right on the edge of the lake and accompanied by huge running taps, as well as the floating Lake Stage, were home only to DJ sets and no live music. Perhaps this final complaint is more due to personal music preferences though.
SGP did not leave much to moan about. Its enthusiasm, energy and sense of pure fun were infectious, even in the wettest of moments when I was seriously doubting whether my little purple tent was going to make it to Monday. Seeing The Big Burn on the final night I felt a genuine twinge of sadness that I was going to have to leave this bubble of childishness behind come the morning. I can see why Gardeners return year after year and I will be joining them.