Deer Shed Festival. Baldersby Park, Thirsk. 28th-31st July.

This really is your perfect family festival. The list of things on offer is phenomenal. When the programme you can buy contains 144 pages and only 37 of those are to do with bands and DJ’s you know that Deer Shed is much, much more than just a music festival. There’s comedy shows – afternoons for the kids, late into the evenings for adults, there’s cinema, literary and spoken word events, outdoor art events, green crafts, fireside sessions, a ‘City Of Play’, wellbeing sessions including wild swimming, ice baths, a sauna box and yoga, a Sports Arena – kayaking, nerf guns, skateboards, wrestling, a wild run plus more. There’s science workshops – synth building, A.I album covers, escape boxes, a digital audio workshop and a ton more, tree climbing, mask making, stone painting, this list goes on and on. There’s even a Mini Shedders Tent with activities solely for the under 5’s.

In fact there’s so much on offer at Deer Shed for youngsters that parents might just find it difficult to tear themselves away to watch one of the many bands. Groups of people are either families or older friends that have met up for the festival. There isn’t hordes of hormonal teenagers wandering in packs with no interest in what’s actually on offer. In short, it’s nice. It’s safe. It’s in a beautiful spot and it’s very well organised. As soon as you arrive you’re greeted by helpful, smiling volunteers. Campervan pitches are huge, family camping spacious. There’s a cost of living crisis and Deer Shed have worked closely with food and drink providers to keep prices reasonable. Decent beer and cider from local breweries is less than £6.00/pint – cheap when you consider how much O2 venues charge for drinks. There’s a huge variety of food available and it’s cheaper than it was at another recently attended festival. Well done Deer Shed.

I’m here for the music though. There’s three stages. The main stage is at the bottom of a gentle slope (there’s a significant flat area immediately in front of it) which means that you get a really great view even if you choose to stand at the back because you look down to the stage. At the top of the slope, next to a bar, is the In The Dock Stage. Set inside a big tent this proves to be the ideal space for the bands Deer Shed have scheduled in it whether this is infectious punk, noisy post punk, funk, irish folk rock, rap or late night DJ sets the atmosphere created makes it seem smaller, more intimate. Deer Shed have thought carefully about who plays in here.

A short stroll away, along a corridor of foodstalls, merchandise stalls, Crash Records pop up tent etc is the small Lodge Stage, stage and audience situated under a large canopy. Here’s where you find the smaller up and coming bands, bands with a niche following as well as many of the spoken word events.

Whilst there were plenty of bands playing that I already knew about/own their records/have seen live before, including one of my all time favourites, there was also plenty I’d only heard about, done a bit of research on and was really looking forward to seeing. Once again Deer Shed has managed to put on bands where everyone will find some they really like but at the same time managing to stay away from mainstream fodder. Big credit to the booking team.

Friday begins with the chilled out folky sounds of Katie Rigby in the rather sublime surroundings of the Lodge Stage. The sun is shining, I’m sitting by a lake and I’ve a drink in my hand. Perfect.

Special mention to Bug Teeth, recipients of the first Deer Shed talent search “Come Play With Deer Shed”. Full of dreamy, alt-pop sounds and carried by the almost whispy voice of front person PJ, Bug Teeth are certainly ones to keep an ear out for in the future.

Over on Main Stage Mi Mye are superb. Like the imaginary offspring of Sparklehorse, Tindersticks and a bit of Beautiful South. Fantastic, as is their new album ‘My name’s wimp’ which is well worth some of your time.

Late afternoon and I get to see the first of the weekend’s bands that make me think I’ve witnessed something special. Imagine chopping up and blending together bands such as Crows and Pigsx7 and you’ll get reasonably good idea of what Ditz are. A huge sonic assault of pounding drums and slicing guitars. Full of anger, distortion and in your face noise. And in front-person Cal Francis a mesmorising presence. Not only delivering acerbic vocals they’re over the barrier not caring who get’s in their way as lyrics are screeched around the venue. Finally the scaffolding proves irresistible and Francis climbs it, swings from it and belts out words to a crowd that is partly fascinated and partly hoping he makes it down safely. He does. An incredible performance by the whole band, 5.15pm on day one and I know Ditz will be in my top 5 of the weekend.

Main Stage then provides a brilliant alternative to a massive noise in a smallish place with W.H Lung. First time I’ve seen them but their huge, incredible synth-pop and massive guitar sounds is irresistable. Atmospheric, their sound literally soars around the arena and in vocalist Joe Evans it’s all topped with a great voice. Impossible to stand still whilst listening W.H Lung have the crowd dancing within minutes. Add in a couple of songs where the guitar work could be straight out of a workshop run by The Chameleons and what’s not to like?

There’s a lull around the In The Dock Stage as Grove have been delayed in trafic but when they finally do arrive on stage we’re treated to a brilliant mix up of garage RnB/dance with a real punky attitude. These grooves remind you of a dark, dingy club at 3am. Jumping, swirling around the stage Grove’s often trance like beats turn the tent into an early evening house music club. The crowd lap it up, yelling their approval. A 3am atmosphere at 7pm? Grove prove it’s perfectly possible.

In The Dock keeps on delivering. Dream Wife, with three albums under their belt, bring their fierce punk influenced sound that shouts loud and clear about issues surrounding gender, image and feminism. Their appeal spreads across the generations bringing hope that the youngsters witnessing Dream Wife tonight will grow up having shed so much of the negativity around at the moment. The tent is packed and absolutely bouncing. The first band of the weekend to bring a ‘one out, one in’ situation as latecomers realise something special is happening but can only listen from outside.

The Comet Is Coming close Friday night’s main stage with their blend of improvised jazz, funk, electronic sounds. A complete psychedelic experience including the lights which bathe everything in a deep red. It’s impossible not to be completely hooked in by the sax playing of King Shabaka. This is full on dance infused, rocky jazz-funk that’s infectious. Those who know the band’s music well are having a great time, those that don’t are rapidly getting sucked in.

Saturday starts for me with Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan – the musical project of Gordon Chapman-Fox who, despite being alone and not straying away from his laptop and desk of mixers, manages to create a superb atmosphere with hypnotic beats that build and build. Dark, dreamy, emotional. Imagine a 21st Century version of side 2 from Bowie’s Low/Heroes albums. In much the same way as Public Service Broadcasting tell history through visuals, music and words WRNTDP’s music leaves it completely to your imagination and it’s not hard to visualise concrete blocks, brutalist architecture and the change from an industrial landscape through barren, characterless town centres and ultimately to a sci-fi future where technology dominates everything.

With their spiky guitars, rocket paced drums and fun-filled full on punk attitude Panic Shack are completely at home on Main Stage. Readily admitting it’s the first gig they’ve played sober for a while (it certainly doesn’t take anything away from their performance) and apologising for the early afternoon swearing they hammer out a set of songs kicking hard against toxic masculinity, the still male dominated music industry and gender roles. With songs that weave in brilliantly topics such as meal deals, mannequin men and the ick Panic Shack bring a slap across the face wake-up call to those watching this early in the day.

Pale Blue Eyes play a set full of hints back to the big commercial indie sounds of the 90’s but with a real edge to them. Keyboards/synths play a big part to their sparkling sound which is no bad thing. Another band I’ve seen multiple times over the last year and another that never disappoint. On main stage the combination of James Yorkston and Nina Persson (of The Cardigans) works perfectly. Beautiful duets on a hot summer afternoon. Charming and witty their combination oozes feelings of heartache, love and hope. Yorkston is a prolific songwriter who has released plenty of albums. Teaming up with Persson adds a great new dimension to his work. Back at In The Dock Skinny Pelembe brings some late afternoon funky grooves and gets a great response from the crowd.

Having seen Sprints just a week ago I was particularly looking forward to seeing them again and was not disappointed. A standout of the whole weekend Sprints hammer out superb garage-punk, their sound engulfing the confines of the In The Dock tent. There really is no let-up in their angry, full-on energy. A driving force that really shouldn’t be missed if they tour near you. Oh, they also do a fantastic cover of Wet Leg’s Chaise Lounge.

Gaz Coombes brings a slick dose of guitar heavy songs with occassional sounds borrowed from the 60’s. It’s raw yet incredibly professional and he’s backed by a band of brilliant musicians. Fantastic also that he doesn’t need to fall back on the big hits from his time as Supergrass frontman. Gaz Coombes has moved on and is all the better for it.

And so to headliners Public Service Broadcasting. Yes they’re one of my favourite bands. Yes I’ve seen them numerous times already in the last 10 months but WOW! This band blow me away every time I see them. The last time I saw them on an open air stage was nine years ago (recent Bearded Theory appearance was in a huge tent) and it’s hard to express just how their sound carries around the space. Every song they play is a visual and musical treat. The songs chart key moments in history, some are mammoth achievements but some reflect dire times. I could describe every song but will simply say that Blue Heaven (Era’s vocals!), Progress, Spitfire, Everest and People Let’s Dance are stunning. And, of course, Go! The crowd love it, the band are clearly loving every moment. Despite the constant drizzle from the sky it really is a perfect 75 minutes.

Sunday morning brings rain and with it the rumour that it’s not going to stop. I sacrifice the early bands in order to pack the van in preparation for a quick getaway after tonights headliners. It’s a cooler day and the rain becomes intermittent, until early evening, and there’s the occasional burst of sunshine.

Divorce are a great start to my day with their slow, fuzzy, indie vibes that seem to match the varying weather outside the tent perfectly. The sun shines for Rae Morris and her wonderful piano arrangements. There’s probably no better way to nurse a hangover, sitting in the sunshine as she serenades the crowd, just a piano and a sublime voice. Despite having already released four albums Holiday Ghosts are new to me and I’m kicking myself for this. Brilliant guitar interplay between electric and acoustic with playful drums and bass riffs holding it all together. They reflect perfectly the late 70s, early 80’s New York sounds of bands like The Feelies with some hints of the Velvets. Songs range from slowish rhythms to full on indie pop splendour. It’s a fantastic set and a band I won’t miss next time they tour. English Teacher on the main stage have developed a lot from the days they were known as Frank and bring a great sound full of quirky, modern post-punk goodness. Vocals that are spoken rather than sung, rumbling bass riffs, pointed guitars stabs and songs that suddenly change tempo part way through. A lot of bands do it nowadays but that doesn’t mean it’s become boring.

Back in In The Dock Plastic Mermaids ooze angst and emotion and, via main vocalist Douglas Richards, wear their hearts firmly on their sleeves. With a sound that’s hard to pin down they’re a band you need to watch to appreciate. Electronic? Psychedelic? Futuristic? In The Dock is packed out to witness a set that builds and builds to a rousing finale. An absolute afternoon highlight. Gwenno on the main stage brings luscious ballads sung in a Cornish dialect. This may seem a little incongruous for a festival but she’s well appreciated by those watching.

An early evening slot is perfect for The Mary Wallopers – a fantastic reincarnation of everything that was good and nothing that was bad about The Pogues. Punk influenced, fast paced, singalong, storytelling Irish folky rock n roll. Infectious stuff and little wonder it’s so packed in here that outside barriers are up, stewards are on the entrances and it’s a strict one out – one in although I doubt many actually left. Just a few songs in and the place is bouncing. Songs, some of which are hundreds of years old, are painfully relevant in today’s modern Britain. Rip-off landlords and the cost of living. This is a band that really should resonate with people facing the genuine struggles of of simple day to day living.

Back on main stage The Big Moon clearly enjoy what they do and their togetherness as a group of people shines through. It’s easy listening indie rock with a catchy pop vibe. What shines through and makes The Big Moon great to watch is their own obvious sense of joy at being together performing on stage.

But it starts to rain and after our permitted 3 songs in the pit I dash back to my van where I face a dilemma. I sit there and the rain doesn’t stop. A couple of fellow photographers have already made the decision to leave. But I really want to see The Delgados. But, at the moment I’m reasonably dry, my cameras are dry, the van is already packed and I notice there’s a tractor by the entrance gate in case anyone needs to be towed out. I whimp out and opt to leave, a decision I regret Monday morning because things turned out OK at the site.

So, Deer Shed Festival you won me over with your welcoming, friendly, safe vibes. This has to be the best festival for anyone with young children as there’s virtually zero chance of them being bored.  And whoever books the bands does an incredible job.

Some posts on social media say this year wasn’t as good as previous years, that there’d been obvious cutbacks, and by all accounts the toilets were horrendous by Monday morning. I wouldn’t know. What I do know is that it’s a festival I’ll be recommending in the future.

All photos and words: Steve White

Click on any image below to open a slide show of many, many more photos.



Steve White

Back to top