I've just got back from my first visit to Secret Garden Party, where I had a lovely weekend with my girlfriend Emily. We met up with a few friends over the weekend, but it was nice to have a fun weekend away together, where we were enjoying a festival and not working! Secret Garden Party is held in Abbots Ripton, Cambridgeshire and is a vibrant and creative festival, held in beautiful grounds. The festival put a huge amount of effort into making the site look visually impressive, with a giant Emerald City being the centrepiece this year, in the middle of the lake that the festival is set around.
The festival theme this year was 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road'. Although you would think this was a homage to Wizard of Oz, the pretentious theme explanation on the SGP website seemed to confuse a lot of people. I even e-mailed the SGP info address for clarification and bizarrely they said "think Alice in Wonderland". From what I gather, the theme was meant to be something along the lines of saying goodbye to the norm, or even music? Anyway, it had me confused and the fact that very few people dressed up speaks volumes. They should make it simple and have a clear main day for fancy dress. On the Saturday at Bestival, EVERYONE dresses up in the festival theme.
The Emerald City in the centre of the lake at Secret Garden Party
You can queue up to use boats on the lake and even board the Emerald City, which is pretty cool! A friend of friend was involved in cleaning the lake before the festival, where they skim off the worst of the algae and pump it over to one side of the lake. There was also an almighty queue all weekend to bathe in the safe swimming area within the lake. This did look tempting, although there were a very small number of showers on site, which I would have wanted to use if I had taken a dip! My friend went for a swim on Sunday, after the lake had been showered with fireworks on the Saturday night and came up in horrible bumps all over her body. I don't think dirty lakes are the best place to swim at the best of times, so probably best that I gave it a miss.
All over the site are lovely art installations created by different artists. Emily had met a girl at NASS Festival a couple of weeks ago [in the queue for the showers!] who was telling her all about an installation she was creating with her dad for SGP. Having been told the festival theme was music [I'm glad they got a clear explanation!] they created a huge cloud, which was suspended from a tree. You could step inside it and view the Emerald City through a perspex pane, with lyrics written on it from Lou Reed's Perfect Day. There were so many clever and quirky installations - I'd love to have a go at creating one myself one day.
We'd heard about some funny games going on in the Colli-silly-um, presented by Bearded Kitten. We arrived just in time to watch two hairy volunteers from the crowd, being clipped into harnesses, covered in wax strips and suspended several feet off the ground. They had two minutes to rip as many wax strips off each other as possible. It all got pretty aggressive and they were both covered in blood by the end of it! This was probably the weirdest thing I've ever seen, but kind of a can't look away, but you don't know why you're watching it type of thing! This truly bizarre spectacle was followed by the stage floor being removed, to expose a jelly wrestling put dug into the ground. Lots of nakedness ensued and it all got a bit seedy. Nakedness was a bit of a running theme at the festival, which more than a few ladies walking around topless, with or without painted boobs and various other displays of flesh!
Mid-air hair waxing
After a more hectic start to the festival and deciding we wanted to spend a bit more time chilling out, we found loads of really lovely and much more relaxing areas of the festival. We spent lots of time sheltering from the beautiful, but everso hot weather and enjoyed chilling on a hammock on Friday afternoon.
We also found a nice little stage called The Living Room, where most of the music is quite stripped back and a great place to chill out during the day. There are lots of sofas in this quilted material marquee and the whole tent is decorated like a lounge. We checked out Joe Summers on Friday, who I've seen play many times before, as we were in the same year at Uni. I've not seen him live for a long time, and it was really very lovely to see him play again. We also checked out Meadowlark here later in the weekend, but we weren't overly impressed.
Joe Summers in The Living Room
Our highlight of the whole festival was The Village Hall area, which was a collection of quirky activities, placed around the main Village Hall tent, which hosted a wide range of crazy and entertaining performances. You could try 'Knitting Naked' if you fancied it and it was most strange to see a couple actually knitting in the buff! During the weekend we kept going back to this area, as without fail there was always something fun going on.
It's a running joke with some of my friends that I've wanted to put on a barn dance for ages and I was hugely excited to discover that they were having one at The Village Hall! The band were called the Ceilidh Liberation Front, who did a fun take on the traditional barn dance. It was total bedlam taking part, as most people were pretty boozy, but this only added to fun!
We also took part in Indeedy Musical Bingo at The Village Hall over the weekend, where instead of numbers being called, the DJ plays songs that you cross off, with prizes won for one line, two lines and so on. This was the Hip Hop Edition, which I admit is not really my strong point, but Emily and I had a laugh trying to work out if we had some of the songs we didn't know on our card!
On the Sunday we went to the very busy Village Hall Dog Show, which was won by a huge Great Dane dog called Techno, dressed up as the Lion from the Wizard of Oz, accompanied by his owners and friends dressed as the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Dorothy! The dog show was followed by a human fashion show, which was hilarious, especially as it was hosted by 'the local Vicar' Ian, who made lots of dead-pan and mostly inappropriate jokes!
Ceilidh at the Secret Garden Party Village Hall
Hip Hop Musical Bingo card
We'd seen a group of people doing Lindyhop and Swing dancing to bands in The Village Hall and discovered that they were running Swing lessons in the Ampitheatre each afternoon. We went to the Saturday afternoon Swing lesson and learnt lots of moves, which was awesome, but absolutely sweltering in the sunshine! Emily and I are really keen to do more lessons in the future, when we settle down again after travelling this year.
Swing lesson in the Ampitheatre
There's a lovely big area on site called The Sanctuary, which is set around a much smaller lake and lots of chilled out activities to do during the day. This includes trapeze lessons, massages, yoga lessons, a big hot tub area and lots more relaxing ways to fill your day. This area was also host to the Remedy Bar and Kitchen, which was basically a proper restaurant, with a delicious and well presented menu and not overly expensive either. We enjoyed a really tasty cheese board and some gin and elderflower cocktails. It felt strange having such a posh dinner at a festival!
Cheese board at The Remedy Bar and Kitchen at Secret Garden Party
On Sunday morning, we were really excited to go and see Beans On Toast on the Where The Wild Things Are Stage. These is the prettiest of all the stages at Secret Garden Party, beautifully decorated with tree branches, with four huge dragonfly sculptures on the front of it. We've seen Beans On Toast perform several times before, but not for quite a long time, so it was great to hear some of his older songs and a few ones we hadn't heard before too. Beans quickly sound checked and went on 10-minutes early, so he could make the most of what he said was his eighth or ninth outing at SGP.
Beans plays songs about sex, drugs and politics with his trademark hoarse voice and guitar and has very funny and charming banter between songs that has you in stitches. I could listen to him sing and ramble on all day! I was wondering recently if he was still with his girlfriend who he used to talk about lots at his shows, so it was lovely to hear him dedicate his last song of the set to his girlfriend Lizzie B, who he said he was "f**king marrying" soon!
Later on the Sunday we saw a huge paint fight, which was really spectacular compared to the much smaller one we saw at Truck Festival last weekend. We decided not to take part, but it was impressive to watch from a little distance away. Apparently Secret Garden Party was the first festival to host a paint fight, first doing one seven years ago.
Paint fight at The Great Stage
I'd been massively looking forward to seeing Martha Reeves and the Vandellas all weekend. Dancing in the Street came out 50 years ago this year, so I thought it was incredible that Martha and her band were still touring. We sat up on the hill overlooking The Great Stage and watched the end of Alabama 3's set, which we found very boring. With 15-minutes to go until Martha et al, we spotted some space at the barrier, so decided to watch the show from the very front.
When the band started and Martha took to the stage, there weren't a huge crowd, but it very quickly filled up and we couldn't believe that we'd managed to get ourselves space right at the front! Martha and her backing singers, who are two of her 10 sisters, were such incredible performers and looked like they were really enjoying themselves. The backing band were also very talented, making the whole performance really exciting. Martha's sisters threw flowers out into the crowd during the show and Emily managed to catch one [which she later threw back at Martha during the encore!] The whole show was such an amazing experience and something I'll never forget.
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas on The Great Stage
We'd been looking forward to 'the big burn' all weekend, when the centrepiece of the festival is spectacularly set alight. We had a great spot at the side of the lake, just in time to watch the Emerald City get remotely set alight. I've seen pictures of last years' pirate ship set ablaze and it was great to see this years big burn myself. There's something so mesmerising about a huge fire.
To finish our first visit to Secret Garden Party, we went for one last visit to The Village Hall. There's a smaller Christmas Bar next door, where there was a folky four-piece rock band called The Dimmocks playing singalong covers. Singing and dancing here was the perfect way to end a really lovely weekend.
The big burn on the Sunday night at Secret Garden Party. Goodbye Emerald City
The festival was absolutely fantastic overall and I'd definitely recommend checking it out. The only main negative thing at the festival for me was the very poor quality of the toilets, along with them not being emptied very often and the sheer lack of them. They really need to have way more loos and book a much better company as the design of these loos was really bad. It seemed a shame that they had spent so much time, effort and money on most aspects of the site, but really skimped on the loos. There was also a shortage of water points, with long queues at many times of the day, not helped by people using them to have a cold shower [due to shortage of showers on site also!]
The age limit was also a bit of a weird one. I overheard some families talking to each other, saying they had been approached by lots of people over the weekend, asking why they had bought their kids to the festival. The families said that the free ticket offer to under 12s made the festival seem very kid friendly, but they had found it very difficult to avoid all of the stuff going on around the site, which really wasn't kid friendly. The kids area itself was very small and would not entertain a family for a whole afternoon, let alone four days. More festivals should have an 18+ policy in my opinion, including this one.