Secret Garden Party proves itself unlike any other festival as 20,000 ‘Childish Things’ indulge in a weekend of extraordinary festival fun

Crowd at Secret Garden Party

Crowd at Secret Garden Party - Credit: Archant

Secret Garden Party returned to Abbots Ripton last weekend encouraging childishness and imagination from all its 20,000 Gardeners.

After picking up a free (yes, FREE) festival programme/book, perfectly titled ‘My First Secret Garden Party: A Guide To Having Fun’, and setting up our campervan, Thursday allowed us to explore...

A giant magical snail named Shaboo and a Godzilla-sized creation of Fantastic Mr Fox are just two of the fantastical structures scattered throughout the lakeside setting while golden encrusted pineapples and vibrant didgeridoos hang from the trees and neon illuminated Big Brother-like eyes jump out from the trees in the tunnel leading up to hidden stage, The Labyrinth - there’s no shortage of things to see or do at Secret Garden Party.

At 4pm, Liverpool indie boppers Spring King draw a growing crowd to The Crossroads; a marquee set up like an old Western bar tavern with beer barrels, dusty cloth carpet underfoot and a trio of old looking sofas. Specialising in catchy melodies and jangly guitar riffs, their tracks, Can I, and fan-favourite, Mumma, have their audience bouncing: teenage guys sporting tie dye tops and baggy ‘hippy’ trousers; the girls in vibrant geometric prints: all covered in face paint and glitter.

Despite a muddy start - rain pelted down from 6am Friday to 6am Saturday - leaving the expansive festival site a sludgy nightmare to navigate through, spirits still remained surprisingly high on Friday.

Flyte’s catchy indie pop tracks Closer Together and Spiral make for the perfect predecessor to Jack Garratt, who, billed as ‘a bearded one man troubadour in his element’, welcomes one of Friday’s largest crowds - despite a relentless downpour of rain.

Think of Garratt as a more electronic-led Ed Sheeran and you’re not too far off. Aside from the similarity that both perform alone, Garratt’s emotion-fuelled voice, most notably in Water and breakout track The Love You’re Given, bear no doubt that he could easily captivate arena sized crowds before long. It’s no surprise, then, that he’s joining Mumford & Sons on their US tour later this year. In Chemical, his voice erupts over a bass-heavy synth beat, while on new single Weathered, there are brilliant hints of Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah. As a sea of umbrellas becomes visible, he comments, “this is amazing, so many of you are here despite the sh***y weather,” before fondly crediting last year’s slot on the Where The Wild Things Are stage as “one of the greatest gigs that I’ve ever had.” On the strength of today’s performance, it’s not hard to imagine Jack Garratt headlining in the not so distant future.

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Later, Lianne La Havas - whose house Prince used as a base to record his new album last year - was announced as the secret guest, and rightly so. Heading to the Garden armed with material from her new album Blood, as well as a strong back catalogue of subtle soul crossover hits from her debut Is Your Love Big Enough, the softly spoken singer seems genuinely humbled; “I don’t really know what to say, I’ve never been a secret guest before” she reveals. While new single Unstoppable proves itself a future hit, it’s one of her earliest releases, Forget, which gets the biggest reaction; the crowd faithfully singing back each word.

Then, over at the Where The Wild Things Are stage (another childhood throwback), it’s a tale of two female forces: Jagaara and Hinds; both performing in the twig-covered woodland setting.

First up are London sisterly trio Jagaara, whose tracks Outlines and In The Dark blend Haim-like guitar riffs with euphoric, powerful choruses. Stating, “lets get even more wet”, they take a different approach, firmly standing their ground against the weather.

Buzz band, Hinds, formerly known as Deers, bounce onstage, bringing their shouty garage rock to an excited audience. “We are Hinds. We come from a sunny place called Madrid so f*** the rain” shouts their lead singer. Somewhat like a rockier, shoutier, more extravert Warpaint, the all female quartet offer a refreshing take on the ‘girl band’ - you wouldn’t catch the Little Mix girls swearing or swigging from a can of Carlsberg onstage. As a guy wrapped in cellophane holding up a human sized plaster with a Go Pro on his head works his way through the crowd high-fiving everyone in his path, the band declare, “this has been one of our best gigs”.

Friday night headliners, Jungle, ram The Great Stage with their funk filled hits Julia and The Heat, as a massive crowd scrambles to catch a glimpse. Having transitioned from elusive hipsters; their press shots used to be shrouded in mystery, to a mainstream Radio 1 playlisted collective, their rise to household name status seems increasingly imminent.

Darwin Deez and his kooky band, meanwhile, seem to be having as much fun onstage as the mass of fans watching them. With an energetic charisma throughout, it shows they love their job. Regular screams of ‘I love Darwin Deez’ are heard as the indie artist - who is preparing to release his third album - rattles through older fan favourites Constellations, Bad Day and Up In The Clouds. You Can’t Be My Girl and Chelsea’s Hotel from Deez’s second album go down just as strongly, before set closer Radar Detector, which is arguably one of the best indie pop tracks of the decade, ends the set in true singalong style, leaving the crowd pining for more.

Waking up to a far brighter, though no less muddy Saturday, it takes over 30 minutes to trudge through the thick sludge, preventing yourself from falling over.

London three-piece rock band Yak are hammering their set with heavy riffs and drumbeats, though it doesn’t seem to go anywhere and their lead singer comes off the wrong side of sarcastic. Salvation, which sounds like a mix of Drenge and Palma Violets, comes before Yak’s barefooted lead singer proclaims, “we’re gonna play a nice quiet one now to bore the sh** out of you”; an unnecessary comment which sounds arrogant for a band still in their infancy. Shooting himself in the foot again and winning no new fans, he insults, “I hope you’re all muddy and having a miserable time. It’s £200 a ticket isn’t it?”

Rather than listening to Yak’s nonchalant negativity any longer, Natty’s roots and reggae based productions provide some much needed upbeat and feel good vibes on The Great Stage.

Soon, French Cuban sisters Ibeyi’s experimental soul creations would impress a growing crowd on The Great Stage. Set opener ‘Ghosts’, and later ‘Mama Says’, certify why the vocally flawless twins were so quickly signed by XL Recordings - the label on which they released their debut album earlier this year. Beyond their voices, the duo tell a clear narrative: growing up listening to Yoruba chants; “that’s what we want to share with you today”, they express. Yaneera, an emotively poignant track named after their elder sister is deeply passionate, while another has everyone emptying their lungs singing “I’m on my way, on my way” in cohesive unison. Diverse and unique, Ibeyi leave having delivered one of the festival’s most experimental performances.

Synth pop five-piece Fickle Friends later draw a growing crowd, as their female frontwoman commends, “you’re outdoing last year already”. Paris, a song to “groove to”, comes before their self-proclaimed “festival song” Say No More; during the latter a helicopter flies over and circles the stage with a marriage proposal on its banner.

Then, back on The Great Stage, Honne deliver smooth electronica with their perfect-for-a-late-night-summer-drive tracks Coastal Love and All InThe Value.

Psychedelic quintet Temples, who later play a 1am live show in the Psychedelic Smithsonian, follow; their tracks Shelter Song and Keep In The Dark satisfying the hippy audiences apatite.

Commuting, once again, to Where The Wild Things Are, we meet Ekkah, a female duo who bounce onstage with “downtown disco” hits in abundance. 7am’s catchy chorus welcomes the first malacca shake all weekend and the duo’s simple but effective dance routines prove their onstage charisma can’t be criticised. With a crowd which forms itself into conga lines, Bex and Rebecca - hence the name, Ekkah - are covered in sparkly feather skirts, lots of glitter, and their handclap dance routines win them a number of new fans. Last Chance To Dance, with its Chic referencing funky basslines is a chart hit waiting to happen.

Come 10pm, there’s an amazing firework display and a glitterbomb of sorts as paragliders drop tons of glitter on the audience below.

On Sunday, Gardeners are encouraged to ‘Make A Rainbow’ during a mass paint fight before five actors from the hugely popular television series Game Of Thrones are on hand for a Q&A - something not so many ordinary festivals can offer.

But, then, Secret Garden Party is certainly no ordinary festival. Instead, it’s wholly extraordinary and that’s why it’s grown from a 1,000 person event way back when to the worst kept secret everyone wants a ticket to today!

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