Live Review

Secret Garden Party 2013: Day One

The merriness is surreal and it’s clear not much has changed since this time last year.

Photo: Rachael Wright / Secret Garden Party
Loping across the picture-postcard Secret Garden Party site after a heavy Thursday night, the merriness is surreal and it’s clear not much has changed since this time last year. We’ve entered the same, colourful civilisation and it’s almost blinding. There’s a naked man on a bicycle, a pirate ship playing Public Enemy in the middle of the lake, messages dangling from branches and chai tea on virtually every corner. A food stall offers us seven Lebanese mezze, kids race on space hoppers, a helter skelter looms. There are people playing croquet. The tenth edition of Cambridgeshire’s most bonkers bash is already mystifying.

Breathtaking art is everywhere, but most terrifying is a 20-foot hay sculpture of a wolf festooned in a Native American style headdress, stood prominent on a hill overlooking the East Lake. Speaking of which, it’s only 10:17am but crowds are already tearing off their clothes, unveiling their beach bods, clambering into the water and diving precariously from a wooden structure at its centre. 100m away, the affluent lever themselves into hot tubs which surround a quite exquisite lily pond.

What we really need is a good dose of zoning out, and Kettering psych-flecked dream-pop outfit Temples on the Great Stage seem to have the right idea. Although they resemble your stereotypical Woodstock act, leering at the crowd through obfuscating hair and wearing frilly jackets over long-necked shirts, their sound isn’t totally as expected. Essentially Tame Impala with fewer licks, they weave layers of guitar mutters and squalls, bringing harmless jams about being “taken away to the twilight zone” out into the more Creation Records end of psychedelia, much like Weird Dreams did on their a-tiny-bit-successful debut album last year. Whilst most of Temples’ songs offer promise, debut single ‘Shelter Song’ is still their best.

Distracted momentarily by two (very cute) border terriers seemingly roaming free, owner-less through the main stage crowds, we next head over to the cosy Crossroads stage to catch someone we haven’t heard of, for the thrill. Sat on a stool is Nia, a London-based singer-songwriter, plucking her guitar and singing with a Joanna Newsom-like frailty. Her sound harks back to 40s blues, and songs from her recent ‘Doctor Doctor’ EP leave her select audience in raptures.

By this time, we’ve got wind of a secret set about to take place in the acoustic Living Room tent. Down in our schedule under the witty name Electric Honey Badgers, clearly thought up with less than 30 seconds ‘til deadline, the special guest turns out to be none other than John Lewis ad star and chart-topping internet sensation Gabrielle Aplin. Playing the same venue she reportedly stunned back in 2011, her sound isn’t really our cup of tea, but the commanding vocal on Frankie Goes To Hollywood cover ‘The Power Of Love’ is undeniably arresting. The rest of the time, her delicate voice, backed by the most streamlined strain of folk-pop possible, provides a satisfactory antidote to the heat.

Energy wise, fellow Number One pop artist John Newman is totally different. Pulling the biggest crowd of the weekend to the twig-covered Where The Wild Things Are stage, this is Newman’s first ever festival performance per se but he emanates all the vigour and oomph of an experienced legend. Racing through a set of back-to-back gold, from the raspiest ravines of his most downtempo ballads to the loveable stage swings and handclaps of new single ‘Cheating’, it’s the singalong during ‘Love Me Again’ which really startles. That said, what we love most is that he has his whole style sorted. He has an entity. The whole package is there. He’s a brand-in-making. Concealed in a caravan backstage, we found out earlier on from the man himself that he’s wearing an Alexander McQueen shirt and some self-designed bling, combining to create a truly recognisable look, without even mentioning that defining blonde streak haircut of his. The monochrome make-up of his stage-show and backing band is a clear reference to 60s soul, and all this goes hand-in-hand with his admirable dance moves, particularly the James Brown-recalling Mic Stand Hold.

The set of the day, however, comes late at night from Bristol funky-garage duo AZ&TOR, who pack out the intimate, dome-shaped Ethnoblingatarium. Delivering a perfect hour-long set of belly-wobbling bass and attitude-filled MCing, Rich Main (TOR) flips through his CDs and mixes at ease whilst Aisha Zoe (AZ) wows punters with her powerhouse vocals and unquestionable charisma. Constructing vocal loops and corresponding bass drops at lightning speed, the best bits come courtesy of new single ‘Sit Back’ and silk-smooth covers of ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Say My Name’. Certainly an act to look out for.

Tags: Temples, Features

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