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FESTIVAL REPORT: Deer Shed Festival 12

When: 29 – 31 July 2022

Where: Baldersby Park, Topcliffe, North Yorkshire, England

Judging by the smiles on their faces, there are 10,000 very happy people here who will all attest to what an absolute thrill it is to welcome back the full Deer Shed Festival experience to Baldersby Park. After a three-year, pandemic-enforced hiatus this family-focused festival returns in all of its singing and dancing glory.

In the interim, there had been a couple of lower-key, though nonetheless hugely enjoyable events – Base Camp and Base Camp Plus – their reduced scope and size necessitated by the ongoing impact of coronavirus. But this year the 12th annual edition of Deer Shed is once again firing on all six creative cylinders, presenting a fabulously full and varied programme of top-class music, comedy, arts, shows, science, spoken word and literary events, theatre, cinema, workshops, sporting activities, and not to forget Wilderwild, an exciting exploration of the wildest spaces in this beautiful part of the North Yorkshire countryside, all of which hold such great cross-generational appeal.

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Deer Shed Festival 12

Deer Shed Festival 12 is built around a theme of the Pocket Planet and comes to us as “a celebration of different things from different places”. And this emphasis on diversity is reflected in this year’s music line-up. Over the course of the weekend, more than 60 individual acts perform on Deer Shed’s four music stages. Covering a wide range of musical genres which stretch from pop to psych-punk and folk to rap, these acts are drawn from across the United Kingdom as well as Ireland, the USA, Malawi, the Netherlands, and Southern Ghana. The ever-expanding global reach of Deer Shed, though, is not achieved at the expense of the festival’s firmly established commitment to the showcasing of local talent which remains just as strong as ever.

As always there is an incredibly exciting raft of entertainment and activities for people of all ages to see, do, and enjoy at Deer Shed, but God Is In The TV’s primary focus remains that of music and here we select some of our own personal highlights from over what is a really wonderful weekend.

Friday

Yard Act

First up flying the White Rose flag for Yorkshire and continuing in their quest for world domination are Yard Act. Recently named as this summer’s most-booked emerging act at European music festivals and championed by no less than that most esteemed knight of the realm, Sir Elton John you quickly see what all the fuss is about. A riot of raucous post-punk noise, driven along by hefty angular rhythms over which James Smith belts out his wry, insightful lyrics about modern-day Britain.

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Yard Act

And James Smith is entering fully into the spirit of the occasion. Recognising that more than half of those who routinely attend Deer Shed are under the age of 16, the song ‘Pour Another’ is dedicated “to everyone who is in a stroller” which accounts for more than a fair few in this most sizeable of tea-time crowds who are there in force to greet their local heroes. Smith also quickly disabuses anyone present who may mistake him for an arrogant, obnoxious individual. He tells us he is the kindest person he knows, always giving to the Red Cross. If, as would seem to be most unlikely right now, Yard Act’s star does begin to fade, he clearly has an alternative career waiting for him in stand-up comedy.

For ‘The Overload’ Smith invites a young man on stage to join the band. Sporting a pair of glasses and the sort of Gannex raincoat often favoured by Yard Act’s lead singer and, before that, fellow Wessie and former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, this lad is most certainly Smith’s junior doppelgänger. As Smith himself says “what a ride it’s been”, especially when one considers the last time Deer Shed took place, Yard Act didn’t even exist.

Straight Girl

Right before Yard Act on the In The Dock stage, fellow Leeds artist Straight Girl – the musical project of local composer and producer Remy Enceladus – steps into an eleventh-hour breach left by the last-minute, unforeseen withdrawal of Kobe Onyame. They grasp this unexpected opportunity with relish, launching themselves into a dynamic performance that combines glorious sound and monochrome vision. Setting the Alesis V49 controls for the heart of a resounding groove, Straight Girl is a constant blur of febrile energy and expressive movement.

John Francis Flynn

Not only is John Francis Flynn an outstanding musician, he is also a mighty fine storyteller. He regales us with tales of English service stations from Pease Pottage to Tebay, as well as the Yorkshire market town of Todmorden (though he does need a little help with its proper pronunciation), but still finds time to teach us how to dance with one thumb stuck inside our trouser pocket. There is also the no little matter of his playing some truly stellar tunes.  Ably assisted, as always, by Ross Chaney on drums and mercurial multi-instrumentalist Brendan Jenkinson, the three men conjure up a delightful storm which crosses sonic divides from traditional Irish folk music (‘Tralee Jail’, played on two tin whistles that are taped together) to the cosmic (‘My Little Son’).

Nadine Shah

By all accounts, it does seem that 2022 has been a particularly difficult year for Nadine Shah, one in which she has not had her own troubles to seek. But here she is, standing strong and true on the main stage, celebrating her very first festival headline slot. She appears focussed and determined and despite an understandable ring-rustiness from a dearth of recent live shows puts in a towering performance that owes as much to her personal resilience as it does the blistering set of songs the South Tyneside singer and songwriter and her impeccable band play here tonight. It is an unquestionable personal triumph over adversity.

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Nadine Shah and Pete Wareham

Saturday

Adrian Crowley

With what is a certain inevitability seeing as it is British summertime and this is a music festival, Saturday brings us the rains. But it also brings us a very strong Irish presence at Deer Shed. Earlier in the day first CMAT and then the Limerick-based rapper, singer, poet, grime, and hip-hop artist Denise Chaila put in powerful, vibrant, and spirited shifts on the main stage. The Future-Afro soul vocalist, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Fehdah – who had come to Ireland from London as a small child – does likewise on the Acorn stage. But it is the native of Barna, County Galway, Adrian Crowley who steals the individual Emerald Isle honours today. He continues to reach for, and find, songs from individual memory, mystery, and unfettered imagination.  

Self Esteem

The island of Ireland also features in Self Esteem’s Deer Shed 12 narrative. Having played at the All Together Now festival in County Waterford the previous day, Rebecca Taylor and her band members then faced travel difficulties in crossing the Irish Sea, the consequent delays meaning that she would miss her scheduled In Conversation appearance earlier in the day. But thankfully they are all here in good time to take Self Esteem’s merited position as Very Special Guests at this year’s Deer Shed.

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Self Esteem

It is hard to believe that as relatively recently as Deer Shed 5, Rebecca Taylor was occupying an early Sunday afternoon slot on a small stage here as one half of indie-folk duo Slow Club. Since that time, she has undergone a radical personal and artistic metamorphosis, re-emerging as Self Esteem and in the process producing the remarkable album, Prioritise Pleasure, which has only just gone and got itself nominated for this year’s Mercury Prize. And we get plenty of that huge pop album this evening with Taylor clearly happy to be back on home Yorkshire soil. Towering, vertigo-inducing choruses and carefully coordinated dance moves combine to staggering effect.

Samantha Crain

Samantha Crain is one of many returning Deer Shed alumni, such is the desire of artists to come back time and again to this warm and most welcoming of environments.  The Oklahoman musician may have temporarily lost her drummer and clarinet player to a wedding but together with the three remaining members of her band, she produces a spellbinding set that oozes intimacy and charm. Taking its tuning from Richard Thompson’s ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’, her solo reading of ‘Elk City’ is an absolute delight.

John Grant

“There’s no perspective like your own”, John Grant says, speaking to poet and writer, Will Burns. It is 45 minutes on Grant’s perspective on, and genuine love for, words and language (this is a man who sleeps with his dictionaries; currently Russian, Icelandic, and German). Entertaining, often moving – “I was told I had no talent … but I stuck it out” – the conversation gives us a deep insight into the soul behind the lyrics and melodies, and his influences, from David Bowie to PJ Harvey, through to wordsmiths Dorothy Parker, Woody Allen, Cole Porter….and Viz Profanisaurus

Later this evening and about an hour before their respective sets, a random chap tells me he is unsure whether to catch John Grant or KEG. He says he has seen Grant before and didn’t much care for him. Trying to be diplomatic, I suggest that the man from Michigan and all-around legend is perhaps not to everyone’s taste. “Well, he’s not to my taste”, growls the dour Yorkshireman.

John Grant is clearly favoured by plenty of other folks at Deer Shed, though, as he delivers a profound and incredibly powerful performance to a huge Saturday night crowd. Moving to piano for ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’, Grant says that this was the song that got him through Covid. And you can see exactly why, as its raw lyrical imagery and delicate melody combine to such poignant and restorative effect.

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John Grant

Sunday

James Smith

James Smith is one of the absolute stars of the weekend. Having appeared here with Yard Act on Friday evening, he then went with the rest of the band to play at the Kendal Calling festival yesterday. He is now back at Deer Shed making his debut in the Spoken Word tent, in conversation with Ian Winwood, music journalist and author of ‘Bodies: Life and Death in Music’ (Faber & Faber) 

The words “cautionary” and “tale” may spring to mind about the book, but the conversation around some of the music industry casualties’ (including Winwood himself) – a long way from the wholesomeness of a Deer Shed Sunday lunchtime – is fascinating, and is interspersed with honest and often hilarious anecdotes, delivered with the wit and candour of two people who are clearly at ease just talking to each other. As the subsequent Q&A with those in the audience shows, among James Smith’s younger followers the lure of the music industry is clearly a strong one. 

Sita Brand

As the sun begins to slowly emerge from behind clouds of the earlier rains, Sunday afternoon lends itself to spending time in the estimable company of Sita Brand, the woman behind the storytelling organisation Settle Stories. She enthrals us with her magical interpretation of the Bengali folktale of The Boy with the Moon on his Forehead. Brand brings this ancient story to vivid life through her wonderful expression and empathy, gently exploring the timeless concepts of jealousy, hate, and love as she does so.

The Bug Club

In a day that is otherwise heavily populated by guitar-driven indie rock, The Bug Club stand aloft as they bridge a musical gap between grunge, garage, and pop. The trio from South Wales have a gift for the kind of songs that blends euphoria with the everyday. They put you in mind of The Lemonheads at their early 90’s creative peak, with some added guts and oomph for very good measure. The new single ‘It’s Art’ continues their rich vein of form, only taking up a couple of minutes of our time but worth every single second of it.

Ash Kenazi

Ash Kenazi is incredibly busy. The North London drag queen has already hosted Drag-ony Aunt, a special live Q&A session in which they have given festival punters the benefit of their wisdom. They have then presented Popperz, a queer house/disco/pop rave. And now following Dry Cleaning’s unexpected last-minute cancellation through illness, Pip Blom’s sudden elevation from In The Dock to the main stage to take their place, a gap has been left where the Dutch popsters would otherwise have been. Enter Ash Kenazi, naturally, wowing us with their passion and pizzaz, the absolute highlight of their performance being an outrageous accompaniment to Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’ whilst keeping pace with a fast-moving treadmill in six-inch heels.

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Ash Kenazi

Stewart Lee presents King Rocker

Nothing if not eclectic after the youngsters have left the Big Top on Sunday evening Deer Shed delivers a hidden gem, the fabulous King Rocker.  

Premiered at Sheffield Docfest in 2020, this ‘anti-rockumentary’ made by comedian Stewart Lee and directed by Michael Cumming (Brass Eye) about The Nightingales’ frontman Robert Lloyd, and how he has remained – for over four decades – out of the mainstream, through reincarnations and reinventions, largely ‘under the radar’ but still writing and recording music with albeit a new line up of the cult post-punk band. Told largely through conversations – those who were there, those who weren’t – we learn of Lloyd’s early life sleeping rough in a car showroom, through to managing girl bands, and appearing on Pebble Mill to the present day, married finally to his childhood sweetheart, Julie.  

Including conversations with comedian Frank Skinner, John Taylor of Duran Duran, cookery writer Nigel Slater, and actor Robin Askwith, as well as some great original footage of Nightingales’ fan and champion John Peel, it’s a real journey through four decades of the band.  

This is all set against the backdrop of, as Lee himself says at the start of the film, “Birmingham rejecting…. its culture”. In parallel to Robert Lloyd’s story, we follow another ‘outcast’, Nicholas Monro’s King Kong statue on his journey, rejected from Birmingham to its status as an art installation. It is a story of chances, lost chances, and second chances. 

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Deer Shed Festival 12

There has been rain. There has been the occasional tear too, primarily from youngsters who have understandably hit the physical and emotional buffers after 60 hours of non-stop fun and games in the festival’s Sports Field, at the inspirational workshops in the Science Tent, out enjoying the enchantment of Wilderwild, and fully embracing the myriad of other fabulous activities that have been laid on for them over the course of the weekend.

But there has been plenty of sunshine and laughter too. In fact, it’s been a blast. Deer Shed has withstood the vicissitudes of the pandemic, emerging on the other side in rude health. There have been incremental, positive changes to the layout of the site, but what still remains resolutely in place is Deer Shed’s firm adherence to the principles of safety, inclusivity, and its ongoing ability to produce what must be one of the best summer festival experiences in the country today.

Additional reporting: Claire Eggleston

Photos: Simon Godley

More photos from Deer Shed Festival 12:

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.